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A Singular Salamagundi

New York
08/28/2013 -  & August 30*, September 1, 2013
Colin Jacobsen: 13 4 3 for Three Violins – Project Pterodactyl for Solo Flute (World Premieres) – Vocalissimus for Mezzo-soprano and Piano
David Del Tredici: Dynamic Duo “Farewell” for Violin and Bass Trombone (World Premiere) – The Felix Variations for Solo Trombone
Jesse Mills: 4th Caprice Fantasy (World Premiere)
Oliver Knussen: Variations, Opus 24
Patrice Fouillaud: Volumen
Russell Platt: Three Songs
Elliott Carter: Retracing
Elizabeth Adams: What Solidarity Sounds Like for Bass Clarinet and Trombone
James Nyoraku Schlefer: Sankyoku Number 1 for Koto, Shakuhachi and Cello

Blythe Gaissert (Mezzo-Soprano), Alex Sopp (Flute), Peter Kolkay (Bassoon), Felix Del Tredici (Trombone), Colin Jacobsen, Jess Mills, Mark Peskanov (Violins), James Nyoraku Schlefer (Shakuhachi), Yokio Reikano Kimura (Koto), Eikarus Tamaki (Cello), Jason Wirth, Steven Beck (Pianos)

D. Del Tredici, S. Beck (© Coco T. Dog)

Like a dating service managed in an insane asylum, BargeMusic’s annual Labor Day concerts have paired up the most unimaginable duos and trios this weekend. These nights, David Del Tredici marries up fiddle and bass trombone (as well as marrying Paganini to the same trombone).

Not only does that same trombone play duet with bass clarinet, but soloist Felix Del Tredici ties a rubber tube to his instrument, resembling a colostomy operation.

The weekend also pairs the words of Wallace Stephens to the sounds of bassoon, the sounds of a Brooklyn park bird with a solo flute, and two Japanese instruments to what could have been the Modern Jazz Quartet.

Next to all of this, Oliver Knussen’s highly complex Variations, played with fluent confidence by Steven Beck, sounds absolutely normal.

Yet, while the instrumentation is (to say the least) abnormal, nothing is doubtful about the players or composers, all of whom are deft in their own right.

F. Del Tredici (© Coco T. Dog)

If a particular star must to be found,it’s virtuoso trombonist Felix Del Tredici. Nephew of composer David Del Tredici, (who took uncommon delight in the lad’s performance), Felix took his uncle’s “Paganini” Variations, transforming his instrument into a virtual fiddle of dexterity, using the variety of mutes to a prism of colors.

It could have been incredible technique, a performance equal to Uncle David’s own legerdemain–or perhaps the trombonist’s magical “slide of hand.”

Nor does Felix Del Tredici stop there. In Elizabeth Adams’s What Solidarity Sounds Like for Bass Clarinet and Trombone, the individual calls and notes, linked together, might not make much structural sense, but the sounds, including that rubber hose, were...well, enchanting.

Perhaps the most surprising work is David Del Tredici’s Dynamic Duo for violin and bass trombone, a combination never imagined in the world of music previous to this. Mark Peskanov, that fine violinist who leads BargeMusic as President/Artistic and Executive Director, and who has the imagination to program these oddities, is the fiddler to Felix Del Tredici. One would have imagined that the contrast would be the raison d’être, (à la Berlioz’ piccolo and trombone in the Requiem), but no, the two artists play mirror images, imitate each other, form a kind of an enchanting rebus puzzle.

Composer Colin Jacobsen was the other star here, as violinist and composer. He first appears here in the opening, with Mr. Peskanov and composer Jesse Mills in another Paganini piece, for three violins. The 13th Caprice was the subject, but the trio extends the variations into bluesy, classical and purely colorful harmonies. (Again, this is an odd group, since nobody can think of three violins playing without either piano or orchestra.)

Mr. Jacobsen also gives mezzo Blythe Gaissert chances to show her sounds, furies, mutterings and thesaurus of styles in Vocalissimus. He also inspired flautist Alex Sopp the chance to play bird-like flute with electronic flute, all inspired by a bird in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

The three solo pieces by bassoonist Peter Kolkay are admirably done–but more important is the story of Elliott Carter’s Retracing, a 94-second virtuoso work.

“I had met the composer when he was a young 93 years old,” relates Kolkay, “and informally suggested that he write a piece for solo bassoon, as he had for other solo instruments. A few months later I was in West Virginia, and a package came for me. It was Elliott Carter’s piece that I play tonight. He hadn’t forgotten.”

H. Tamaki, J. Nyoraku Schlefer, Y, Reikano Kimura (© Coco T. Dog)

Finally, after this ever entrancing, always singular program comes composer-shakuhachi player James Nyoraku Shelefer. He had made an equally impressive appearance exactly a year ago at the other Labor Day salmagundi of music, but here he outdid himself.

Accompanied by cellist Hiraku Tamaki, and a koto-player Yoko Reikano Kimura, he plays two movements from what I consider to the most pleasing and curious music of the evening. I must first state that Ms. Kimura is a teacher at (take a deep shakuhachi-style breath) The Institute of Contemporary Music for Traditional Japanese Instruments. So these three were right at home in the first movement, a work of ultra-cool 1960’s music that could have been written by the Modern Jazz Quartet. The second movement is more challenging. A pentatonic theme, akin to Sakura(yawn) is offered by the three, but now it is extended, blasting away, with chilling orchestral effects, crescendos, hushes, sighing, swirls from the zither, blasts from the flute–and finally back to the original melody.

That finished Friday evening, a repeat from Wednesday to be repeated on Sunday. But those colors, inspirations and utterly bizarre matings are memorable enough to last...well, at least until next year’s BargeMusic Labor Day offering.

Harry Rolnick



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