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A Patriotic Buffet

New York
07/05/2019 -  
“In Honor of Independence Day”
Scott Wheeler: Cowley Meditation – Portrait of Shane Crabree
John Adams: China Gates
Victoria Bond: Binary (Second Movement)
Lukas Foss: For Lenny: Variations on New York
Leonard Bernstein: Anniversaries: For Stephen Sondheim; For Leo Smit; For Aaron Copland; For Elizabeth B. Ehrman; For Susanna Kyle; In Memoriam: Goddard Lieberson; For Felicia
Leonard Bernstein/Leo Smit: Four Movements from West Side Story
Fred Hersch: Nocturne for the Left Hand Alone
Louis-Moreau Gottschalk: L’Union, Opus 48

Olga Vinokur (Pianist)

O. Vinokur at BargeMusic (© Samuel A.Dog)

The way to write American music is simple. All you have to do is be American and then write any kind of music you wish.
Virgil Thomson (1896-1989)

Olga Vinokur, always a welcome artist at BargeMusic, dedicated her post Fourth-of-July concert to American composers. And while her choices didn’t have the fearsome attitude of D.C’s gasless motionless tanks or an oration by a gasbag illiterate, she had enough rare pieces to make the concert memorable.

The only real liability here was that Ms. Vinokur presented bits and pieces (or, to be more charitable, a buffet), rather than balancing out the recital with a real chunky piece of American beefsteak. No Ives movement (for which Ms. Vinokur is more than able), no Copland Fantasy, and only a single movement from Victoria Bond’s hefty Binary.

The asset, though, was that much of the music was rare and (continuing the beefsteak image) well done. Yes, we all knew John Adams very early China Gates, and Olga Vinokur emphasized the modes and that trademark repetition. We certainly knew West Side Story selections–though few were familiar with Leo Smit’s variations.

Ms. Vinokur had performed this before at BargeMusic, but one was still entranced with the late composer’s offering of his friend Leonard Bernstein. This was no piano transcription, but a joyful whirlwind, ending with a quodlibet of tunes which obviously made the original composer happy.

After all, Mr. Bernstein had celebrated Leo Smits in one of his Anniversaries, eight of which were played by Ms. Vinokur. Like Virgil Thomson, Bernstein wrote a few dozen tributes to his friends, and probably reeled off the minute-long bagatelles in as short as it was to play them. When the pianist finished, we knew that Elizabeth B. Ehrman was a jolly lady, that Goddard Lieberson was as balletic as his profession–and that Bernstein’s wife was a practical, no-nonsense lady!

To finish the Bernstein selections, Ms. Vinokur played Lukas Foss’ short testimonial to the Boston-born artist with his own New York. Not the Sinatra tune but a jazzy Manhattan elegy.

L. Bernstein/L.-M. Gottschalk

The only 19th Century tribute was for Louis-Moreau’s own quodlibet, L’Union. Like all Gottschalk, it was a happy melange of Lisztian acrobatics, jingoistic Americana (My Country Tis of Thee, Columbia the Gem of the Ocean etc etc) and a joyful work for artist, audience and probably his latter-living avatar, Charles Ives.

What an endlessly entrancing pianist Moreau must have been, just as his life was endlessly colorful. He knew everybody from Walt Whitman to Franz Liszt. Yet was Frederic Chopin as ardently anti-Semitic as his reputation? He greeted the Jewish-Creole artist after a recital, saying, “You are the King of Pianists.”

It was fine playing here, but anybody who can master Gottschalk masters the emotions as a corollary.

Ms. Vinokur started with two short works by Scott Wheeler, and played part of Ms. Bond’s Binary with the momentum of any Brazilian samba. I confess that I only know Victoria Bond’s stage works, but she obviously knows how to write some dynamic piano music.

The penultimate piece was a schmaltzy piece for left hand by Fred Hersch. It was a tour de force, I guess, but hardly up with the too-short minor master pieces by Moreau, Bernstein and Adams.

Never mind. The hour-long concert, starting at 7 pm was short enough that we could watch the shadows of the sun on the East River, and stroll along BargeMusic’s anchorage. A site for sore eyes and welcoming ears.

Harry Rolnick



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