Leon Botstein opened The Orchestra Now with “Four Sea Interludes” from Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes. These evocative mood pieces produced radiant, seascape vistas. The audience rode the swells, being transported to another magical world that defied explanation. Music caressed and bewitched our ears. We were transported to the Land of Lotus Eaters and had no desire to return home.
Harold Farberman appeared to conduct the Adagio from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 10. The magic was in the music, yet it was also clear that it was the magi conductor who coaxed a memorable performance from these graduate students. There was an inexplicable subtlety to the performance, a unified layering and finesse. Violinists Amos C. Fayette and Drew Youmans from Stanfordville stood out. A haunting English (thus melding in with the concert’s avowedly British themes) shepherd’s tune develops into two contrasting themes that offer intricate mellow conflict.
To help me understand what Farberman had done, I briefly spoke to clarinetist Micah Candiotti-Pacheco. During intermission tōn graduate students are encouraged to mix with the audience. Micah expressed his great admiration for Farberman; Micha declared that Farberman possessed incisive nuance and that he had learned many things from Farberman that he did not know about music. He said with a chuckle that Farberman was intensely rhythmic, but that “you could not put a metronome to his music.”
Micah’s ambition is to play in a major orchestra. What he likes about the tōn program is its open ambiance. He has an audition with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra next week and he is free to go, while many conservatory programs would not give him that freedom. Micah explained that his father was an amateur pianist who loved music, who encouraged his clarinet lessons at nine. When young, his father usually woke him and his siblings up every morning by playing the piano. His father may not have gotten this idea from Montaigne, but it is clearly a concept that produces an intense love of music and a great generous soul.
I must confess I am not a fan of Walton’s Cello Concerto which sounds to me more like diligent work than divine inspiration. The Concerto proposes to dramatize the arc of life from ticking cradle to silent entombment. Oscillating harmonies in the first movement raise some suspense. The second movement achieves a balance between cello and orchestra that blossoms in dialogue and concludes with gently mocking cello humor, yet the third movement offers little more than ranting cello raging about disintegration and death as the orchestra proposes futile, token objection. The winding sheet of a fugue envelops the mournful cello, declaring death of the fugue itself, a subject which might work better as essay than musical lesson. John Belk sawed away with fierce intensity, especially in the climatic third movement, where both the upper and lower registers of cello virtuosity attempt to portray the orchestra as irrelevant conformity, which is really a specious argument. T.S. Eliot’s formula of beginning with a bang and ending with dramatic whimper appeared to me like an old shoe lost in a dim corner of a warehouse. There are more exciting cello concertos in the British repertoire. Perhaps something like Havergal Brian’s cello concerto would be more venturesome.
Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations is a peculiar masterpiece. Listening to recordings remains interesting, but a live performance (as music goers know) is something entirely else. Here Leon Botstein delivered the shimmering intensity that the piece invites with its adroit orchestration. I particularly enjoyed the modest and melodic horns that Botstein tamed and molded into the texture of the whole cloth. There was a nice small clarinet moment. Elgar’s marvel invites repeated listening for its enigmatic portraits of people depicted in mischievous epyllion format. Here is rarefied insular genius evoking wit, character, and genial pleasure. What a pleasant way to conclude a concert!