The Terezín Music Foundation’s Gala at Symphony Hall on November 12th began with yet another reminder of how much was lost or destroyed during the Nazis’ reign of terror: in this instance, Gideon Klein’s unfinished Duo for Violin and Cello (1941), performed by violinist Si-Jing Huang and cellist Sato Knudsen. This work was not “unfinished” in the same sense as Schubert’s eponymous symphony, however. Klein, a Moravian Jew, could not complete the Duo because the Nazis decided to send him on their own special “concert” tour: first to the Nazi Concentration Camp at Theresienstadt, where he would meet fellow Jewish musicians such as Viktor Ullmann, Pavel Haas (a student of Leoš Janáček) and Hans Krása (a Schoenberg pupil), and ultimately to Auschwitz and Fürstengrube, where he died at some point between 1944 and 1945 at the age of 26. Huang and Knudsen performed this powerful fragment with impeccable ensemble and intonation, and with the power, intensity and commitment it deserved.
Dawn Upshaw then came on stage with her long-time collaborator Gilbert Kalish to sing six songs by Charles Ives. Or should I say, share them with us. (Full disclosure: I have performed with Ms. Upshaw. I played the harpsichord part in a series of performances of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress by the BSO and Seiji Ozawa, in which Ms. Upshaw sang the “Anne Trulove” of Stravinsky’s and W.H. Auden’s dreams). Ms. Upshaw might not have the huge or drop-dead gorgeous instrument of other vocalists from the “can-belto” school, but she can communicate the meaning and emotional content of a song like no other. Ives’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me” and “Tom Sails Away” made one cry, and “Ann Street” made everyone laugh. Who knew that the irreverent composer of dissonant marching bands colliding in a town square, or noisy symphonies quoting every American folk tune or patriotic anthem ever written, had such a soft and sensitive side? Upshaw proved it. There were no printed texts in the program, but who needs them when someone with Dawn Upshaw’s diction is singing?
The remainder of the program was performed by the pianist Simone Dinnerstein. She played Schumann’s Kinderszenen, J. S. Bach’s Partita in B-flat major (BWV 825) and a work commissioned by the Foundation, Nico Muhy’s You Can’t Get There From Here. I am sorry to say that these were a disappointment. The Schumann, I feel, was over-interpreted and over-pedaled. The Bach Partita also missed the mark. I love to hear Bach played on the piano, and many of his keyboard works (e.g., Italian Concerto, the “manualiter” Toccatas) in fact sound better on the piano than on the harpsichord. But whatever instrument you use, you still have to play in style. In the case of a Baroque suite (i.e., a Partita), it is important to know, and convey, the character and performance styles of each of the individual dances that comprise it.
According to Mr. Muhly’s notes, “You Can’t Get There From Here is a meditation…on ‘The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book’.” The structure and content of this sprawling piece was not discernible after only one hearing; nor was any connection to “The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book,” despite the fact that I have been playing music from both volumes for the past 50 years. Perhaps all of this will reveal itself in future performances.