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Poetry and Poundings

New York
Merkin Concert Hall
09/09/2008 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Bagatellles , Opus 33 – Rondo/Capriccio in G Major, Opus 129 (“Rage Over A Lost Penny”)
Robert Schumann: Forest Scenes, Opus 82 – Carnival Prank from Vienna, Opus 26
Samir Odeh-Tamimi: Skiá (Shadow) – Memory for Forgetfulness

Soheil Nasseri (Piano)

S. Nasseri

Like so many young artists, Soheil Nasseri greets the world from several doors at one time. Nigel Kennedy and Joshua Bell broke the mould of monastic artistes, by hanging out as much as they hung in there. Virtually every other musician under 30 easily balances celebrity and fun. And when Soheil Nasseri got a headline in the New York Daily News about enjoying rock ‘n’ roll along with Rimsky….well, he probably shrugged it off.

But Nasseri has a singularity even here. With an Iranian ancestry, he takes Middle Eastern politics seriously—and follows the inspired path set by Daniel Barenboim in trying to bring both sides to the artistic table.

Like Midori, he is also serious about educating even the most inner-city schools in music, and he has the cool demeanor, the youth, the obviously genial personality and instinctive relationship to offer a look into the magical side of serious music. So far he has played in 60 American schools to audiences of over 25,000.

Add this to innumerable recitals in America and Europe. None yet with major orchestras, but with a fascinating repertory of traditional and contemporary works from here and the Middle East.

His recital to an enthralled audience of youth, Iranians, and the usual New Yorkers garnered standing ovations (though no encores), and he deserved the adulations, with some very nice playing of Beethoven, Schumann, and two Palestinian pieces.

The two Schumanns couldn’t have been more different. Waldszenen (Forest Scenes) opened the program with elegant simple playing. The echoing of “The Inn” (the translation of herberge as “hostel” is inadequate) were limpidly lovely, the hunting song had a militant delight, and it was only in the final “Farewell” that some digital errors put a wrinkle into the elegiac ending.

The final work was Schumann’s Vienna Carnival, which Nasseri whizzed through, with no problems at all. Which of course was something of a problem. Yes, even outside that nocturnal interlude, this work must breathe, it must be music as well as frolicking atmosphere. Nasseri caught the atmosphere, the kinetic electricity, but something was awry. We were taken for a state-of-the-art racing-car ride around the city, and the engine was perfect. But oh how we would have liked to take a look at the carnival, stop for a coffee and rubato.

Beethoven’s early Bagatelles are futuristic pieces which Beethoven never bothered to make “playable” for the early 18th Century. The results were dissonances, strange key changes, an ordinary andnate tune wanders all over the keyboard played with finesse.

The most interesting works were those from the famed Palestinian composer, Samir Odeh-Tamimi. Like Nasseri (who commissioned the first work), Odeh-Tamimi has made his name in all kinds of music, but these two pieces were difficult to classify.

Basically, Odeh-Tamimi has bypassed the elements of music. The two works lacked pulse, meter, melody, counterpoint, and harmony, leaving us with resonance and volume. Not that this was displeasing. I rather enjoyed the endless banging tone-clusters. They were usually as loud as possible, sometimes faded before the next, but they each came as a surprise.

In Skiá, each tone-cluster (the kinds of chords for which Henry Cowell would use a measuring ruler), the fingers performed trills within trills, repeated notes, other digital phenomena which could barely be heard, but assumed a quantum mechanical aural combination of pulses and waves.

The next work, based on a poem of the late Mahmoud Darwish, was shorter and had three added instruments: the interior of the piano, some metal (or wooden) sticks rolled together, and one little cymbal (for one strike).

I was never certain where it was going, don’t know this poem, and the resonances hardly had the nuances of gamelan. But within its temporal space, Nasseri created some nice noises and, like his playing, was delightful to hear.

Soheil Nasseri’s website

Harry Rolnick



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