Along the lovely shores of Lake Winnipesaukee on Thursday evening, July 22, one could hear Cello Celebration: Beethoven, Schubert, and “Home on the Range!” Held at Anderson Hall of Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, NH., this event was part of the “Celebrity Concert Series,” faculty concerts of the Heifetz International Music Institute. The mission of the Institute, led by violinist and founding director Daniel Heifetz, is to promote “the art of communication through performance and education,” or put another way, “to develop the expressive potential of every performer.” Students have two private lessons a week and plenty of opportunity to perform in public as well as the studio. They are coached in chamber music and also receive “Communication Training.” This concept has become a major thread in the changing fabric of musical conservatories’ curricula in recent years, so this six-week summer program prepares upper-level high-school musicians for that in its idiosyncratic manner. Readers may want to refer to one Heifetz student’s well-written and positive blog (with pictures) about her experience at the Institute in 2009 that includes similarly thoughtful responses by others. All of the “Celebrity” concerts have a “down home” facet that apparently is intended to engage the audience through humor.
This evening opened with a vigorously dramatic airing of Beethoven’s Sonata No.3 in A major for violoncello and piano, op. 69 (score), performed by the young Israeli cellist Amit Peled, on the faculty of the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. His colleague at the piano was Russian-born Dina Vainshtein, a collaborative pianist at both New England Conservatory and Walnut Hill School. Both performers have stunning technical ability, which earned loud raves from most of the audience save this one and a small boy (a budding cellist) sitting next to me — the wisdom of the old and the young? — who said he “didn’t like it at all.” Peled, in addition to being very tall (6’5,”) and striking looking, especially with his long, curly, dark hair and handsome features, plays his oversized, sweet, resonant Guarneri (1689) with exaggerated facial expressions and sweeping arm movements, often throwing back his head with eyes closed, cheeks puffing visibly. Vainshtein was note-perfect and played lickety-split (in spite of the fact that the first movement is marked Allegro, ma non troppo), with probably the most beautiful tones available on the fine Yamaha grand — when there was time for them. But the two seemed to be working at cross purposes, pulling against each other, and often not even together in spite of frequent gestural nodding of heads to suggest precise attacks or releases.
The “comic relief” was provided by A Cellist’s Variations on “Home on the Range by Tom Flaherty, who teaches at Pomona College. This six-minute piece, written in 1990 for cello quartet, was performed, as Peled put it on stage, by “a Russian, a Norwegian, an Argentinian, and a Jew”: Dmitry Volkov, Hans Goldstein, Marcelo Montes, all of whom appeared to be students, and Peled. They strode down the aisle, which was the mode of entrance for all on stage, in dress pants, black tops, red kerchiefs tied around their necks, and straw cowboy hats. All were stifling giggles on stage and played “the Range” for every inch of humor. Some of the variations included recognizable bits from the cello repertory (Schubert, &c.). Enough said. The affable audience loved it.
The last work, by Schubert, was titled on the program simply Quintet in C Major for Two Cellos (score, warning: 7.4 MB). That would be his only string quintet, the last chamber work that he wrote, probably in September, 1828, and not published until 1853 as op. posth. 163 (D. 956). It was played by violinists Daniel Phillips and James Buswell, violist Robert Vernon, and cellists Steven Doane and Rosemary Elliott. One challenge of the piece is to balance the added weight of the lower sonic range with the delicacy of the upper, when each comprises only two instruments. There were beautiful solutions, possible only because of all the performers’ constant sensitivity to each other. These are all mature musicians of the highest rank with rich experience in both concertizing and teaching, who were obviously relishing this unique opportunity to make music for an audience. The fact that they had not previously performed together, and probably would not again, added to the excitement they projected. Phillips is a founding member of the Orion String Quartet; Buswell, all smiles, is well known to Boston audiences; Vernon is principal violist with the Cleveland Orchestra; Doane and Elliott, both on the faculty of the Eastman School, also share the relationship of man and wife. (They reported that this was only the second time they had performed together in concert, which added to the excitement for them and us.) The work is a long one — most recordings are timed at a few minutes under an hour — but this audience was absolutely quiet, hanging on every phrase in palpable appreciation, long after the last note ended. This one work was every bit worth the trip.
One wonders: It is rather odd, in a summer institute bent on teaching musical communication to students, that the program notes, like those of concerts at most musical conservatories, omit any discussion of the music itself. Instead, compilers simply download performers’ plaudits from the Internet. There is a lost opportunity here to teach written as well as verbal and musical expression about music to students who will need it later. O well.