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Elliott And Friends

New York
Juilliard School’s Peter Jay Sharp Theater
01/26/2008 -  
Varèse: Intégrales

Carter: Triple Duo – Penthode – Clarinet Concerto

Stravinsky: Concertino

Boulez: Dérive

Ismail Lumanovski (clarinet)
Musicians from the Lucerne Festival Academy Ensemble and the New Juilliard Ensemble, Pierre Boulez (conductor)

The subtitle for this most extraordinary concert was “Celebrating Elliott Carter’s 100th Year”, but the young musicians and their sainted conductor were doing more than paying tribute to America’s most distinguished living composer. The concert included works by three other composers, all of whom worked with, influenced, were friends with, and made Elliott Carter one of the iconic figures of American music in the 20th – and now 21st Century.

The composer, whose centenary will be celebrated in December this year, was in the audience, applauding, chatting away, coming up to the stage to congratulate the performers at the end. But it was the music itself which was most important here. And even more important is that Pierre Boulez – at the age of 82, quite junior to the composer – conducted every work. Stately, upright, seemingly unemotional, Boulez led his artists with conservative strokes, cueing only when necessary. Of course in works like Carter’s Penthode actual cueing would have been impossible, since every one of the 20 instruments came in at different times, usually within a measure or two.

But back to that later. First, the non-Carter works. And I have to confess that I took sheer pleasure in these three more than the composer of the evening. This was not because I was familiar with two of them. But Stravinsky, Varèse and Boulez himself composed works which, though of different musical languages, were pithy, made their statements, and then were finished while we still relished their art.

Starting with the Varèse Intégrales, we had a work written back in the birth year of Boulez himself, which shamelessly was fiercely loud, unashamedly pounded its message home and was deeply emotional. At times, it resembled an extended metamorphosis of a half-measure from Stravsinky’s Rite of Spring, but the “beams of light” which the composer wanted were always shining. I have heard more vibrant performances of this work, but never one so meticulous. Ditto for Stravinsky’s Concertino, orchestrated from a string quartet. Almost classical in form, the work made its point darting from unexpected notes to a beautiful violin solo to a most tender ending. Boulez contributed his own Dérive which almost certainly had its own technical background. I heard it as a short hushed study in murmurs and trills, a five-minute dart into the shadows, into half-sunlight, and then night.

Elliott Carter has the combination asset and liability of being extremely literate about his own works. And herein lies the problem. It was interesting to know that his Penthode was influenced by an East Indian music which passed a line continuously from one player to another, but the chamber orchestra, to this listener, was soon bored by the obvious brilliance of the composition. About one-third through, I watched one of the percussionists make his sounds (few more than a tap or a brush or a quick pianissimo bang). The rest became a series of tones from which I could make little musical logic.

The Triple Duo was different. I had played the piece twice yesterday afternoon, and was absolutely delighted with the gabby, happy “conversation” among the six players. Yes, I could basically follow Carter’s explanation that each group of instruments had different rules involving the intervals. But the effect as a whole had a jolly good-humored (if longish) colloquy, complete with musical puns, jabs, and discussions which quickly went from one “topic” to another. Alas, with Boulez’s pinprick-perfect conducting, that humor evaporated. Here were six wonderful players simply…well, playing. The spontaneity of the musical talk was long gone, though one immediately recognized the genius of the discussion.

The final work, Carter’s Clarinet Concerto performed – no, let us say, unbelievably played – by the Macedonian-born Ismail Lumanovski was more accessible in visual than aural terms. The artist played each of the eight short movements standing by a different instrumental combination, casually strolling from one group to another and playing with a virtuosity I have never heard on this instrument. Carter never went outside the usual aural possibilities of the clarinet (as, say, Berio does in his Sequenzas), but within the extremes, he made it lively, engaging and (if some formally incomprehensible) a tribute to the artist and the obviously delighted Mr. Carter.

CODA: The entire week will be devoted to Elliott Carter, not only in New York, but throughout America and Europe. Here, though, are the programs for the composer at the Juilliard School. Except for the final concert, no tickets are required.

Monday January 28, 2008
Canaries (1949); Canto (1966) (Tomoya Aomori, timpani)
Esprit rude, esprit doux I – Esprit rude, esprit doux II, (1994) (Nadia Kyne, flute; Sean Rice, clarinet; Alexander Lipowski, marimba)
Sonata for Cello and Piano (1948) (Emily Brausa, cello; Hiromi Fukuda, piano)
Trilogy (1992) (Nicholas Stovall, oboe; Michelle Gott, harp)
Riconoscenza (1984) (Francesca Anderegg, violin)
Rhapsodic Musings (2001) (Emilie-Anne Gendron, violin)
Retrouvailles (2000) and Caténaires (2006) (Vasileios Varvaresos, piano)

Tuesday January 29, 2008
Three Poems of Robert Frost (1980) (David McFerrin, baritone)
Quintet for Piano and winds (1991) (Alexandra Lambertson, oboe; Bryan Conger, clarinet; Brigette Bencoe, French horn; Joshua Firer, bassoon; Jacek Mysinski, piano)
Asko Concerto (2000)
Tempo e tempi (1999) (Jennifer Zetlan, soprano; Jessica Pearlman, oboe and English horn; David Fulmer, violin; Hannah Sloane, cello)
Asko Concerto (repeat performance)

Thursday January 31, 2008
Call (2003) (Brent Grapes and Jeffrey Missal, trumpets; Alexander Kienle, French horn)
Warble for Lilac-Time (1943, rev. 1954) (Frederique Vezina, soprano; Jonathan Ware, piano)
Voyage (1943) (Renée Tatum Tatum, mezzo-soprano; Jonathan Ware, piano)
Enchanted Preludes (1988) (Jeremiah Bills, flute; Jason Calloway, cello)
Two Diversions (1999) (David Berry, piano)
Gra (1993) (Moran Katz, clarinet)
Hiyoku (2001) (Moran Katz and Sean Rice, clarinets)
Con leggerezza pensosa (1990) (David Fulmer, violin; Tibi Cziger, clarinet; Yves Dharamraj, cello)
Quintet for Piano and String Quartet (1997) (Francesca Anderegg and David Fulmer, violins; Kyle Armbrust, viola; Caroline Stinson, cello; Matthew Odell, piano)

Friday February 1, 2008
Elegy (1943), arranged for string quartet (1946)
Fragment 1 (1994) – Fragment 2 (1999) (Ann Miller and Nicole Jeong, violins; Luke Fleming, viola; Elizabeth Lara, cello)
March; Saeta (1949) (Chihiro Shibayama, timpani)
Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello, and Harpsichord (1952) (Chelsea Knox, flute; Jeffrey Reinhardt, oboe; David Huckaby, cello; Alexandra Snyder, harpsichord)
90+ (1994) (Liza Stepanova, piano)
Figment (1994) – Figment 2 (2001) (Kye-Yong Sarah Kwon, cello)
Brass Quintet (1974) (Chris Coletti and Alexander White, trumpets; Eric Reed, French horn; Bradley Williams, trombone; Louis Bremer, bass trombone)

Saturday February 2, 2008
Juilliard Orchestra, James Levine, conductor
IVES Orchestral Set No. 1: Three Places in New England (1903-14)
CARTER Cello Concerto (2000) (Dane Johansen, cello)
CARTER Symphonia: sum fluxae pretium spei (1993-96)(New York premiere)

Harry Rolnick



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