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Cutting Edge Classical at Bard

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Wed Mar 29th, 2017

Peter Miyamoto, Julie Rosenfeld, and Marka Gustavsson

Violinist Julie Rosenfeld (depicted in teaser photo) and pianist Peter Miyamoto performed a concert of contemporary living composers at Bard’s Lászlo Z. Bitó Building. This recital was the imminent prelude to recording these compostions over the weekend; these were eclectic, unusual, and edgy. They opened with Katherine Hoover’s “Three Dances” (2014); I found the first movement “Arabesque” to be interesting, yet in the subsequent two movements the piano was confined to the background.

Laura Kaminsky’s “undercurrent” (2015) conveyed elusive mystery with a more vigorous role for piano. The two movements bore unorthodox yet lovely terminology: “Ethereal, otherworldly” and “Shimmering, warm.” The piano featured thumping bass notes, while the violin soared and floated in the upper register. The tension between the two emitted the energy of a polarized dialectic that somehow achieved balance and harmony.

“Amen Choruses” (2016) by John Halle began with a bouncy jazz rhythm, yet the piece evolved from the earthy into the spiritually classic with prescient, mystic energy. At one point Rosenfeld’s1750 Giovanni Battista Guadagnini violin satirically aped the sound of a lowly ukulele as she strummed with her fingers. The hopscotching of styles was pleasantly disorientating as the music engaged in dialog with the piano.   

“Duo in One Movement” (2015) by Kenneth Fuchs offered a mélange of styles from folksy to stride piano to classical, and frenetically, strident classical as Rosenfeld’s violin sounded like it was walking a high wire. Here Miyamoto produced chameleon-like pianistic wonders—few pianists have the ability to switch styles at the drop of a note. I was immersed in the gripping tension of this swirling, wandering kaleidoscope, despite traditional labels for movements. On the whole, the piece was classical, encasing and devouring other popular modalities.

Tamar Muskal’s “Where Do We Belong” (2015) likewise explored popular styles as if to question “what is the nature of musical taste?” The austerely classical mode rose to a strident crescendo in the “Enlightenment” movement, concluding with mellow climax in the succeeding movement. The demands on the violinist were extraordinary with sudden bursts of fierce energy. Rosenfeld appeared to be illuminated by adrenalin.

“Life (Still) Goes On” (2015) by Stefan Freund was my favorite piece. I was more able to relax into the propulsive and calm reflection of the piece, although the fierce run of the crescendo caused a violin string to snap. Although I lost the thread during repair, I found this piece to be more strongly integrated as a unity than the other pieces, but that was not to diminish the originality and achievement of the preceding pieces.   

As an encore, Bard College violist Marka Gustavsson joined Rosenfeld for Ernst Toch’s Divertimento for Violin and Viola, op. 37, no. 2 which she had recently discovered in the library. Toch (1887-1964) is known primarily for “The Geological Fugue,” yet this piece begged the question of why it is not performed more often. In the first movement questions appear to be tossed between violin and viola, then the violin dominates the second movement, but in the third movement the viola emerges to challenge the violin. The only recoding of this piece appears to be done by with Jascha Heifetz on violin and Gregor Piatigorsky on cello. That Adagio second movement appears below.

The audience was small but intensely appreciative.