in: Reviews

December 20, 2010

A Far Cry Before Silence In Tapestry Room

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With construction of a new wing well under way at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Tapestry Room becomes silent. This, as preservation work begins in the gallery. A new concert hall in the wing will open sometime in early 2012. In the meantime, Gardner’s “Sunday Concert Series” continues at MassArt.

The last sounds — of music making — to be heard on Sunday, December 19, were those of Boston’s A Far Cry, the youthful string ensemble making a mark for itself as have so many others who played this room over the years: emerging composers the likes of Edward MacDowell and Charles Martin Loeffler and performers George Proctor and Julie Heinrich.

The silence comes over a century later. Since the building’s opening celebration in 1903, which featured a performance by members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a two-story music hall, there has been music. The upper story became the Tapestry Room, where world-renowned artists have appeared, among them Paderewski, Casals, d’Indy, Rubenstein, Nellie Melba, and Nadia Boulanger. Mahler left his calling card when his knock on the door went unanswered.

Under the museum’s first director, Morris Carter, formal concert programs started up in the 1920s. Since his appointment as Music Director in 1990, Scott Nickrenz has filled Sunday afternoons in the dark, intimate Tapestry Room with some of the most glorious and surprising music ranging from a lecture-demonstration of a Bach Partita by violinist Arnold Steinhardt, of Guarnieri String Quartet fame, to an afternoon of Stockhausen’s 20th-century monument, Mantra, that involved two pianos, ring modulators and three engineers — and somewhere in between, an afternoon of Tin Pan Alley gems.

Nickrenz’s adept and adventurous programming has also filled the seats, most concerts necessitating a posting at the entrance to the museum: “Today’s Concert is Sold Out.” Beginning at 1:30 nearly every Sunday during the fall and spring, concerts have run pretty much up to 3:00. With a short break replacing intermission, the “Sunday Concert Series” has been a musical treat unlike any other around town. Without doubt, it is among the very best destination points in Boston for all kinds of music lovers.

The youthful string ensemble, A Far Cry, is a relatively new bunch of kids on the Boston scene. When they perform as they did in Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten by Arvo Pärt they cannot be topped for their super fine network of sound and expression. From the opening chimes that were set in motion to obtain an entrancing undulation of sheer beauty to the final resting point on a conventional triadic chord turned to human pathos, these young adventurers meditated on the one big sigh that is the shape of this memoriam. They transformed simple descending scales and double stops into the most eloquent of statements. Thinking bookends, they chose to close their program with a similar idea, Musica Celestis by Aaron Kernis.

J. S. Bach’s: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 whistled by on the edge, A Far Cry’s concept a mixed affair. Tuning in the Bach as well as in the Elgar Serenade for Strings (which finally got on its feet a third of the way through the second movement), combined with aggressive bowing and overly obvious singling out of contrapuntal lines considerably reduced the harmonic dimension.

It was already past 3:00 when  a duet featuring Jason Vieaux, guitar, and Julien Labro, bandoneón, surprised. It was almost a half hour of Ástor Piazzola’s Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas arranged for guitar, bandoneón and strings by Labro. If the fabulous colors and unbridled Argentinian passion of the four movements could have been compacted into a smaller time frame, made more coherent as to expectancy and surprise, it could very well have been a singular blockbuster.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in  Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. www.notescape.net

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