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Surprised by Joy at Turtle Bay Music School

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Fri Jun 1st, 2018

Edward W. Hardy, Frédérique Gnaman, Eric Cooper, Eugene Dyson

Even if you have lived in Manhattan for a serious period of time, you may not be aware of Turtle Bay Music School on East 52nd St. I think I have walked by it a few times, yet somehow never stopped to discover what it was. Yesterday I found myself there in a small concert hall. I was following up on a young talented violinist whom I first heard play at Bard College with Damien Sneed. I was wondering why a 17 year-old violinist, who sounded great, would be playing with Sneed. When I was invited to a concert consisting of Edward W. Hardy’s classical chamber music, I felt I must attend.

I was not disappointed, despite the congested traffic jam that served as a foil. One of the great pleasures of being a reviewer is to discover new talent and announce it. And this is that happy occasion, although the administration of the school already knows this since it has awarded Hardy—the youngest ever to be so awarded—a six month in-residence scholarship to use the resources of the school. Yet theater buffs may know of Hardy as the composer, music director, and violinist for The Woodsman, which received a 2016 Obie Award. Hardy’s music for that off-Broadway show is available as a cd from numerous sources, including

All music on the program was program music. Apparently, Hardy began composing to furnish music for high-school plays. I like program music because it gives an orientation, yet the danger of fundamentalist reductionism remains a lurking temptation.

The program opened with “Three Pieces Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe.” These solos were witty, nimble things with “Evil Eye” being the most amusing. Inspired by Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, “Lake of Sorrows” was a piece for a quartet. Three members of the Sterling Strings Quartet joined Hardy on stage. The opening solo violin movement was intensely lyrical and pent with surprise in this melancholy meditation on the fate of a princess cursed to live as a swan while a rival steals her beloved prince.

I was not surprised to find out after the concert that Hardy’s favorite violinist is Itzhak Perlman. Hardy was playing (on loan) a “black violin” made by Guy Rabut. This violin was based upon the design of the Guarneri Del Gesu violin; Rabut re-designed all aspects of the violin that had no primary acoustical function with the result that the violin both has an old traditional sound, yet it even sounds better when it is employed in more modern strains of music.

The second and third movements offered unusual and pleasing harmonies with crossing lines, especially in the second violin played by Frédérique Gnaman and the exuberantly resonant cello of Eric Cooper. (I can think of a few quartets who should attempt to sign him.) Hardy provided unusual tremolo and clean pizzicato.

“Vengeance” grew out of violin melody for a production of Antigone, but evolved into a short quartet that dramatizes contemporary injustice while it strives to shun negativity. “Master and Margarita” grew out of a SUNY Purchase play production of Mikhail Bulgakov’s famous novel. The lyric, dramatic opening movement, based upon Russian folk-music, features some runs of 1/16th notes that elicited fragmentary echoes of Alban Berg amid pastoral folklore. “The Devil’s Waltz” achieved enough Germanic abstraction to be amusing. “Yelena’s Theme” was in the form of an Irish jig that conveyed optimism.

I thought “Flying” to be the highlight of the evening. Originally composed for two violins, claves, congas, and piano, it has now become a string quartet. This piece is a portrait of Spanish Harlem. The opening violin solo is haunting, hypnotic. The second movement delivers traces of Cuban dance music with pizzicato. The third movement conveys serene mystery and contemplation through the use of Arabic music: here the viola line of Eugene Dyson shone. The final movement featured a robust density that was fresh and exciting.

“The Pearl Diver” opened with solo violin playing against a recording of the sea. The violin abruptly stopped and we were left with the sound of the whispering waters to imagine the murky depths of the diver’s exploration. The second movement offered a French pas de deux; the third a German lullaby; the fourth, a version of ceremonial Chinese court music.

Selections from the play The Woodsman concluded the performance. What I found remarkable about Hardy’s compositions was their eclectic integration, synthesis, his ability to appropriate folkmusic from various cultures and ingest enough abstraction to display the melodies as capable of more than what they once were, yet preserve the elemental spirit and joy of the folk-melodies. I hope he will grow into a bit more abstraction. He is a young talent that will develop.

There is a half-hour television interview with Hardy below.