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The Musical States of America

New York
06/22/2024 -  
Ned Rorem: Song Suite: “In Spain and in New York” – “The Airport” – “My Papa’s Waltz” – “A Bridge for Marc” – “Early in the Morning” (transcr. Peloquin) – Piano Sonata No. 1
Aaron Jay Kernis: Elegy - for those we lost – Un Bacio - A Kiss (Romance and Transfiguration) on themes by John Corigliano and Mark Adamo
David Del Tredici: Late in the Game

Marc Peloquin (Pianist)

M. Peloquin at BargeMusic (© Samuel A. Dog)

Intelligence is silence, truth is being invisible. But what a racket I make in declaring this.
Ned Rorem

Well, American composers are the best composers. At this time in the world, we are where the energy is. We are the most diverse, the most iconoclastic, the most maverick, and the most skillful.
David Del Tredici

Listening to Marc Peloquin play David Del Tredici or Ned Rorem, as he did in BargeMusic this afternoon, is comparable to watching Pascal think a Pensée or Darwin measure a wren’s beak. Mr. Peloquin had not only collaborated with these two composers, he arranged and recorded their complete piano works, and they in turn dedicated their own pieces to him.

Their mutual identification was symbiotic. And with his affinity for American music, he added Aaron Jay Kernis to his recital, the composer himself in the audience.

The audience knew the composers, many knew Mr. Peloquin, and their applause was well‑earned and personal. Although I had met Mr. Del Tredici in BargeMusic some years ago, my own relationships were hardly personal, and reactions to the program were mixed.

I have nothing but respect for Mr. Peloquin, who ran through a gamut of emotional and technical fireworks. On the other hand, some of it didn’t quite reach me. Blame the weather or blame my own proclivities.

Mr. Kernis was represented by two works, his Elegy - for those we lost was a semi mournful but hardly lugubrious obsequy. On the other hand, his A Kiss (Romance and Transfiguration) was a tour de force transforming six works–by John Corigliano and Mark Adamo–none of which I was familiar. One is certain that those with more knowledge would appreciate the exercise more than this listener.

N. Rorem/D. Del Tredici

With David Del Tridici, one is not on firmer soil. “Firm” is not the word for the composer of Alice. The word for Mr. Del Tredici is quirky. In the best way. Three pieces, “Farewell, R.W.,” “Bittersweet” and “Monk” (not the pianist) were for friends and lovers, dead or dying. Yet all three were hammered home with glee, nostalgia, sometimes jumping motives, sometimes with dancelike merriment.

Then we come to “Gloss,” which could be called jazzy. Except this was jazz with a velvet touch. The way Mel Tormé used to sing jazz. Not jazz replicas or jazz quotes, but a natural sense that the melody deserved such a coating.

It must have been a delight to be with Mr. Del Tredici as a friend or a pianist. For this was indeed an artist of joy, real joy.

The bookend pieces were by Ned Rorem, the first a quintet of songs arranged (re‑composed?) for piano. I must confess to loving Rorem’s diaries, his short essays, his life in Paris more than his music. He is widely seen as the greatest “serious” song‑composer of the 20th Century, and the five here might be word‑worthy. The melodies were banal. Simple, craftily harmonized, well arranged. Yet (to these perhaps Philistine ears) the melodies ranged between Poulenc and Sondheim, without the emotional inspiration of either.

Rorem’s First Piano Sonata was unquestionably an able, tuneful, difficult and sophisticated work. (If Julius Katchen made the first recording, it had to have merit.) From the Poulenc/Ibert-style opening to a torrential Tarantella, a short gentle Nocturne to a “knuckle-breaking” (Rorem’s words) Toccata, it had an abundance of charm, naïveté and a blessed delight.

Harry Rolnick



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