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Virtuosic Exuberance

New York
Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall
10/30/2023 -  
Missy Mazzoli: Still Life with Avalanche
Samuel Barber: Summer Music, Op. 31
Franz Schubert: Piano Quintet in A Major “Trout”, D 667

Ensemble Connect: Catherine Boyack (Flute), Joseph Jordan (Oboe), Yasmina Spiegelberg (Clarinet), Marty Tung (Bassoon), Ryan Dresen (Horn), David Bernat (Violin), Ramón Carrero-Martínez (Viola), Frankie Carr (Cello), Marguerite Cox (Bass), Oliver Xu (Percussion), Chelsea Wang (Piano)

Ensemble Connect (© Fadi Kheir)

As for my own music, I’ve never written a book about it. I’m not pedagogical... When I write an abstract piano sonata or a concerto, I write what I feel. I’m not a self‑conscious composer.
Samuel Barber

For me, writing music is a way of processing the world. It’s not a concrete thing, as in, ‘This piece is about giraffes.’ It’s much more of an emotional sort of thing. I want people to find something out about themselves through my music, something that was inaccessible before, something that they were suppressing, something that they couldn’t really confront.
Missy Mazzoli

“Youth,” said George Bernard Shaw, “is a wonderful thing. What a shame it has to be wasted on children.”

Nothing has been wasted on the youthful artists of Ensemble Connect. Founded in 2007 by execs of Carnegie Hall and Juilliard, they are part (says the official description) “of a two‑year fellowship program for extraordinary young musicians to prepare them...” in every fact of music.

That goal is variegated and worthy. The lodestone word is “extraordinary” In three works which demanded the utmost individual dexterity, skill, and just plain technical mastery, these 11 players could knock the socks off groups twice their age. Add to that the never-ending joy they displayed.

One hates to single out any. Yet one can’t resist the astonishing keyboard of Chelsea Wang, Catherine Boyack’s swirling flute, or Oliver Xu’s Dylan‑like simultaneous harmonica/aggregation of percussion tools.

This is unfair to the other artists, but they all had their moments in a trio of contrasting works, ending with the ensemble-daunting Schubert “Trout” Quintet.

How to tackle this work showing both the youthful exuberance and echt-Schubertian lyricism.

This group galloped down the first path. That first movement had lively rhythms if not ideal balance. Perhaps it was my seat, but Ms. Wang’s piano–fluent, precisely articulate–overwhelmed the four string players. The Andante was less poetry than perfection, five players who knew each other and certainly knew how to work together.

The Scherzo was jolting. Not so much an Allegro as a Furioso. Their playing was uniformly, yet the music was almost a vapor. Of course the centerpiece was the “Trout” variations themselves. Perhaps the variety was missing, but oh! What beautiful solos from cellist Frankie Carr and David Bernat’s violin. Altogether a satisfying performance.

The first half had two contrasting American works. Unfair it may be, but Samuel Barber’s Summer Music seemed rather...well, let’s say bloodless. All five wind players seriously took Barber’s different moods. Yet these moods, ranging from vaguely Copland’ish melody to a perfect simulation of the indolent moods of Sacre. Barber’s piece simply was five super-talented people simulating the notes of a super-talented composer. One respected, never quite connected.

M. Mazzoli

That connection–ecstatic, funny, sad, jarring (the sudden piano dissonance after the first reedy four measures) and filled with prismatic color–was shown in Missy Mazzoli’s Still Life with Avalanche.

The avalanche, she described as the death of a relative while she was writing.

This was frankly a digression. What we had in an all‑too‑short ten minutes, a fascinating thesaurus of vivid colors from all six players. Harmonica and piano and marimba together, clarinet bopping klezmer style, flute twittering high above the two strings.

Rhythmically, remember Samuel Beckett’s “Go on! Call that going? Call that on?” Ms. Mazzoli created a seamless amalgam of murmuring, crying out, pseudo‑waltz and honest pathos, all pushing forward. Yes, going on!

The title was Still Life, yet this was a Jackson Pollock tableau of colors, paints and spaces, a controlled yet manic criss‑crossing and looping their lines.

Ms. Mazzoli, in the audience, needed six virtuosi. And in Connect Ensemble, she must have been wholly fulfilled.

Harry Rolnick



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