Among the more ambitious undertakings of the august CMS is a series curated by Beth Helgeson that produces works by living composers. While they range from the young and old, they are all recognized by their peers and appreciated by the performers. Last Thursday, March 21, four established voices were performed by the exceptional talents of CMS players.
David Serkin Ludwig, whose name suggests that he is endowed with a musical background, offered a piece that was full of whimsy, references and seriously interesting playing. “Aria Fantasy for Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello” (2013) was played by Michael Brown, Bella Hristova, Richard O’Neil and Mihai Marcia on the instruments named in that order. The major line was mostly in the piano, but also moved to the strings. Except for two moments when the pianist was asked to stand up and stretch so he could reach deep into the piano to pluck a string (a good technique to stimulate physical exercise) the music stuck to the historic norms of the instruments. In other words, it was tonal, and most pleasingly so.
Ludwig (b. 1974) was on hand to offer a few brief comments in which he mentioned that the violin part was to be played by his wife (who as a Young Concert Artist will play a recital at Merkin Hall the following Tuesday). He also mentioned that he was moved by the variations of the Goldberg Variations which appeared most congenial at the opening and closing of the piece, and otherwise served as his inspiration. One could hear all kinds of allusions from Beethoven to sirens and bells. The piece benefitted from a sense of structure and organization frequently missing in contemporary music, and from hewing to a set of ideas that made sense. We thought this an excellent addition to the repertoire.
Matthias Pintcher’s “Janusgeist for Viola and Cello” was mostly about a few sounds interrupting silence and could be called minimal. A trio by Charles Wuorinen, another well-known name in the contemporary music world, was difficult but not jagged, slightly wild but contained; artful and humorous. Alexandra du Bois’ “Apotheose d’un reve” describes dreams of Paris and the bells of Notre Dame, then the flat farmland of Indiana. I guess dreams are that way. Bella Hristova’s violin sang with deep emotion while Michael Brown deftly moved through the demanding changes that were sometimes at odds with the strings. Gothic windows and the Great Plains make for strange dreamscapes, yet the players pulled it off.
What these concerts establish is that our living composers produce works of considerable depth, charm, and integrity. There was a cohesiveness to these four works that show that the role of the curator can be as important as that of the performers. When we leave a concert feeling uplifted, inspired, and look at the world with a new and positive light, we know the value of music.