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Remembering Laura Flax at Bard

Homage to a great clarinetist
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sun Apr 2nd, 2017

Marka Gustavsson and Ericka Allen with page-turner Victor Toth

The Bardian Ensemble put on a concert in loving memory of Laura Flax (depicted in teaser photo), recently deceased Bard Professor of Clarinet, at The Lasló Z. Bitó Conservatory Building on Sunday afternoon. Opening the concert were five clarinet students from Laura Flax's class during the current semester. They played selections from J.S. Bach's "Chorale Preludes." They played with unified elegiac tone, which was the motif of the concert. I was especially impressed with Jingyu Mao, perhaps enhanced by my seating angle from which I could hear him better than other clarinetists. Jingyu Mao, an undergraduate senior, also majors in urban planning, in which he intends to pursue a career. After the concert I had a pleasant conversation with him.

A instrumental trio next performed "Pur ti Mio" from Claudio Monteverdi's ground-breaking opera L'incoronazione di Poppea." This concluding lament of the opera contains the words "no more pain, no deathly grief, O my life, my treasure." The French horns of Julia Pilant and Julie Landsman captured that lament with piano backup by Erika Allen.

I was moved by the plangent melancholy of Franz Strauss' "Nocturne," a genre I am perhaps overly fond of. Landsman and Allen may have invested more melancholy in the piece than Strauss ever intended but I was transfixed by this rendition. In similar fashion, they played Strauss' well-known "Les Adieux" ("Farewells).

Marka Gustavsson on viola played the Scherzo from "Intermezzo" by Robert Schumann, followed by Johannes Brahms' Sonata' "F.A.E." The initials present a musical cryptogram in German which translate as "free but lonely"; the piece only employs the notes F, A, and E. This was a collaborative composition with Albert Dietrich and Robert Schumann, who came up with the conceit in 1853. This was thematically appropriate since the acronym contained letters relevant to Laura Flax's name.

Gustavsson and Landsman then played a short duet by Agostina Belloli, an early Nineteenth century Italian composer whose name was new to me; the emotional tenor of the piece was quite appropriate.

Julia Pilant and Erika Allen emerged to play "Nell" by Gabriel Fauré, who set a poem by Leconte de Lisle to music. One of the lines says Nell has created an eternal murmur in my heart. They then played another short piece by Fauré, which translates as "Since the lower soul," This brief lament was powerful.

Landsman, Pilant, and Allen concluded the event with "Lullaby for Addie" (2014), a recent composition by James Naigus that offered a consoling note.

Bardian Ensemble concerts usually feature quartets and trios. That this program was dominated by duets subtlety indicated the loss of Laura Flax.

While melancholy and moving, this was a well-conceived tribute to Laura Flax who was such an intense performer and teacher at Bard. Bard is accepting donations for a music teaching studio to be named in honor of Laura Flax. Leon Botstein has set this project in motion with a generous contribution. Everyone at Bard misses Laura greatly. Donations in honor of Laura may be made online at bard.edu/conservatory.