IN: Reviews

Daring Programming, Promising Young Soloists Reward at Pro Arte Concert


Where are these kids coming from? To go to a concert (in this case, Pro Arte at Sanders Theatre, this afternoon, November 29) and hear two local youngsters who play as well or better than some touring pros, is quite a testament. Not to mention the imaginative, beautifully conceived program put together by conductor Gunther Schuller.

Pianist Daniel Kim played the first movement (Allegro con brio) of Beethoven’s Piano Concert No. 3 in C minor with lyricism, pedal control, and phrasing, not to mention a pretty mature interpretation, that was plainly unbelievable from a 12-year-old.  He told us, in a question-and-answer session after the concert, that he chose this piece because he likes the variation in emotions — playful, fiery. He gave us that. The reprise of the opening fortissimo chords showed he had that under control, and his chromatic runs were clear and delicate.

Cellist Jonas Ellsworth, playing the Allegretto from Shostakovich’s Cello Concert No. 1 in E Flat Major, profoundly understood the contrasts of biting harshness and lyricism, satire and pessimism, that this piece, so like much of Shostakovich, gave us. Ellsworth shows unusually profound musicality.

It was hard to believe, in this age of myriad music-making sources, that the orchestra’s rendering of piercing screams and cries came from traditional string instruments.  Gunther Schuller pointed out that the piece relates to Moussorgsky’s Dances of Death and Nazi marches to the Death Camps, hard for any of us to comprehend, but so shatteringly evoked in this performance.

The second half of the program consisted of two pieces for string orchestra — one with trumpet solo at the end. Conductor Schuller has noted how audiences like “loud” and that programmers often give the audience a “sandwich” with harder works between crowd-pleasers. So it was daring for him to program Dvorak’s beautifully calm, lonely, gentle, Notturno in B Major, originally intended to be one of two “slow” movements in his String Quartet in G Major. Coughs from the audience were copious at first, and a few people got up and left, but by half-way through the piece, one sensed that the audience had succumbed to the pure beauty of the melodic line. Mr. Schuller is passionate about the beauty of so-called dissonances, a view well illustrated in this quiet piece and its careful interpretation. The audience was rapt all the way through the slowly evolving, extended diminuendo to the conclusion.

Another piece profoundly affected by World War II, Arthur Honneger’s Symphony No. 2 in D, gives a prominent role to the violas — the prefect instrument for melancholy; the solo parts were played beautifully by Anne Black. An insistent B-flat, C, C, C, B-flat, A theme reappears and reappears. A long lugubrious passage for violas, cellos, and bass, slowly climbs upward to the entrance of the upper-register violins. A sudden drop to the mourning cellos and basses again fades into pianissimo with violas and cellos. An incredible cello solo from Steve Laven also reappears, three times with the violins’ counter melody like a passacaglia, all this in an intimate level of expression.

The third movement, a quick change of mood, starts with pizzicato, jumping skipping, jaunty, with unusual leaping intervals. The violas again have a melody line, in canon-like role with the violins. Then a trumpet enters, with a major-key hymn tune, promising redemption.

Having been treated during an interview to Mr. Schuller’s theories on music and its performance, in which he elucidated his views on the lack of a range of dynamics in so many current performances, and his love of supposed “dissonances” (for an article now posted on the Boston Musical Intelligencer here), it was a profound pleasure to have both these points illustrated, first in the achingly beautiful Dvorak Notturno, then even more so in the Honneger Symphony.

Bettina A. Norton, editor of the Intelligencer, is a retired museum professional. She has published widely in her field, American historical prints, and in later years, was editor and publisher of The Beacon Hill Chronicle. She has been attending classical music concerts “since the waning years of World War II.”

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  1. Here, here. Ms. Norton put my experience as an audience member–and long time Pro Arte devotee– into words. The world needs Pro Arte!

    Comment by Genie Ware — December 3, 2009 at 11:48 pm

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