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Student Prodigies at Bard

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Fri Mar 24th, 2017

Joe Burke and Anna Obbagy at Bard Hall

Amid a burst of casual sleet, at Bard Hall two students performed a recital and then responded to the audience in a Q and A session moderated by composer Joan Tower. Anna Obbagy performed Frederick Chopin’s Ballade in F minor, Op. 52. This rather dramatic piece, a favorite of concert performers (composed in 1842), remains notable for its use of polyphony and intense, enigmatic pauses (the silence itself becoming part of the music) and contains some melodic repetition which the pianist must invest with different interpretation. Chopin invented the genre of the Ballade, the idea coming from narrative folk-poems containing refrains. As a pianist, Obbagy’s virtue resides in the asset that she is completely ambidextrous. Her shading of melodic refrains was outstanding amid a narrative that twisted and swerved. Here was clearly a talented student (with lyrical finesse and the ability to nail complex chords) who might achieve a career. She has an audition this summer with the Hungarian Philharmonic in Budapest.     

Accompanied by Anna, Joe Burke played the first two of three movements from Johannes Brahms’ Viola Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 120 no. 1. As one of Brahms’ last chamber music pieces (and along with its number 2 sequel, the only viola pieces Brahms ever wrote), this piece is prized for its density and powerful sentiment. Although the sonata is fairly difficult to play, it has a simplicity that is delightful. For me it is a lyrical reflection on the sublime joys of childhood. Burke captured its Romantic intensity, reflective wisdom, and emotional delight. There was power and strength in the many low notes that are so important to the mood of this piece.

In the lively Q & A that followed an audience member asked Burke who was his favorite composer. He replied, “I play the viola, so you might be surprised at my answer: Beethoven!” Joan Tower jumped up from her chair and said excitedly, “He’s mine, too. Let me give you a hug!” And she did.

The semester at Bard rapidly approaches its seasonal conclusion. Both Anna and Joe, both French majors, play in a trio called the Immovable Do Trio with the much-acclaimed clarinetist Victor Toth; they would like to continue their music and French studies in a one-month program in Tours, France. They are attempting to fund this goal by performing house concerts. For further information call 609-751-6329. Here’s the link to their Go-Fund-me project.

Later in the afternoon the Degree Recital Graduate Orchestral Conducting Program featured conductors Lucas Paiva and Haley Rudolph (depicted in teaser photo) with members of the Bard Conservatory Orchestra and The Orchestra Now. Each conducted samplings of major concert works. Both conductors had different gestures, yet both eschewed the tyrannical approach and employed a gentle encouragement that evoked an enthusiastic response from the students.

Among the many pieces played Paiva’s standouts were the ball excerpt from Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz; Pavia’s own energetic composition Fantasia on Two Brazilian Themes, and “Great Gate of Kiev” from Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition while he displayed delicacy and acute balance in his conducting of the Adagio excerpt from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony no. 5.

Highlights of Haley Rudolph’s baton included an Allegro excerpt from Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5 in C minor, the Andante and an excerpt from the Allegro of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 5 in E minor, and an Allegro excerpt from Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 5 in D minor. Rudolph’s own composition Atmosphere (2017) conveyed adroit flow and sharp irony: the opening French horn posed mystery and its brief sardonic comment at the conclusion to the other instruments conveyed trenchant, ironic humor at being ignored.

Throughout the duration of these concerts, violin Concertmaster Michael Rau and violinist Andres Rivas played with exceptional tone and vibrancy. Lucas Paiva and Haley Rudolph are two conductors you will hear about in the future—no doubt about that.