in: Reviews

February 14, 2011

Charity with a Novel Ear

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WGBH’s Cathy Fuller introduced the concert on Friday, February 11, 2011, as an evening of works in E-flat — a key of comfort and solace, appropriate for the cause: audience members packed the parlor of Back Bay’s Emmanuel Church for the fourth in the Greater Boston Food Bank’s series, Music for Food for Music, bringing either non-perishable foods or making cash donations to the organization. Headed by Kim Kashkashian, the evening showcased New England Conservatory faculty performing works by Bach and Mozart.

I have known the Bach E-flat cello suite (the fourth suite–BWV 1010) or the Mozart viola quintet (K614) for practically my entire musical life; these works almost continually inhabit radio waves around the world. Would the music on Friday evening somehow play an auxiliary role to the cause itself? Would performing challenging or interesting works scare away audiences and detract from the benefit?

Neither of these issues proved to be of concern. Dimitry Murrath performed the cello suite on the viola — a transformation that managed just enough awareness of the original to make the work foreign. As much as I was expecting the richness of the cello, Murrath’s viola shifted the work to a more supple timbre, preferring the finesse of the hand-held instrument to the gravitas of the grounded cello. So although it was awkward to miss the pedal associated with the rich arpeggiations of the Prelude that comes so naturally on the cello, it was engaging to hear the soaring virtuosity of these broken chords on the viola. The otherwise-garrulous Gigue on the cello became an honest gigue on Murrath’s viola, true dance music that maintained an almost-improvisatory air of levity.

The performance of the Mozart viola quintet by Kim Kashkashian with Miriam Fried, Deborah Pae, Dimitri Murrath, and Lucy Chapman was unlike any with which I was familiar. It’s hard to remember that, above elegance, Mozart’s work is also funny, somehow inherently affable, an aspect that was accentuated by the fine ensemble work. In particular, the sublime humor of Mozart’s work was palpable in the initial Allegro di molto and concluding Finale: Allegretto, as the ensemble exchanged knowing glances in their vivid performances. This is not to ignore the stately, yet intimate Andante, or the playful Menuetto: Allegretto sandwiched between two movements. A lively performance, the ensemble colored the work with a novel vitality.

More meaningful than the musical achievements of the evening, donations from Friday evening’s attendance raised more than six thousand meals for the Greater Boston Food Bank. Although I can appreciate the importance of these donations, it is sobering to realize that the Greater Boston Food Bank serves more than 1,600 children every day. Perhaps the achievement of the evening are more meaningful on a different level: audience members were informed that ten percent of families in the Boston area suffer from “food insecurity, nutritional unavailability”  — really, hunger — is a real problem for so many so close to home. The well-conceived music engaged and educated Boston’s musical community about such a real problem, guaranteeing a more important success from an evening of beautiful and unusual performances.

The Music for Food for Music series continues their concert series on Friday, 11 March 2011. More information about the Greater Boston Food Bank can be found here.

Sudeep Agarwala is a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He performs with various choral groups throughout Boston and Cambridge.

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