My confusion over the scheduled beginning of Adam Tendler’s Maverick Concerts debut on July 4th caused me to miss the first half of his program. (Maverick’s evening concerts have three different start times this season, due to artists’ schedules.) This loss was particularly unfortunate for me, since Tendler’s all-American Fourth of July program was the most adventurous concert of the entire season. What I heard made me regret the loss even more.
John Cage is inextricably linked with the history of Maverick Concerts because his famous/notorious “4’33″” was premiered there in 1952. We have been “hearing” it there every few seasons in recent years. Tendler “played” it, too, but only after performing Cage’s “Sonatas and Interludes” of 1946-48, music written when Cage was still writing real music. The famous “prepared piano” was an invention caused by necessity. Inadequate space at a dance performance led Cage to create a percussion orchestra that could be played by a single pianist. I know this music from recordings and was greatly looking forward to hearing it. Musically knowledgeable friends assured me that Tendler made a compelling experience out of the music, which only made me feel worse.
Henry Cowell is also linked with Maverick’s history. He lived the last 23 years of his life in Woodstock, and at least one of his late works was premiered at Maverick, a Piano Trio. By 1946, when Cowell moved to Woodstock, his pioneering piano compositions were long behind him. Hardly anybody seems to play these early Cowell pieces any more, which is a pity. While inventing various new techniques of playing the piano (including the tone clusters which inspired Bartók when he heard Cowell), he also created some of his most interesting and exciting music.
Tendler began his selection with Cowell’s very early “Anger Dance,” written when he was 17. It uses dogged repetition as a technique. Tendler worried me a bit because he played the piece with a lot less anger than I hear from Cowell’s own recording. However, in a generous selection of a dozen pieces, that was my only problem with the performances. In the pieces I was familiar with, like the prophetic “Advertisement,” Tendler applied a powerful technique, very wide dynamic range, and interpretive insight that enabled him to draw the maximum musical value from these sometimes crazy pieces. “Advertisement,” for example, sounded thoroughly crazed, which is its point. Although it might remind a listener of far more recent styles of advertising, it was inspired by advertising lights and was written even before radio.
Aside from my own enjoyment, I think it’s a measure of Tendler’s success that the audience was completely silent during the entire sequence of pieces and then greeted the conclusion with a huge outburst of applause. He really brought those pieces alive while making them sound as though they could have been written last week. I hope I get to hear this wonderful musician again. Maybe he can play more Cowell. I met Cowell’s widow Sidney late in her life, and she told me there were hundreds of his pieces that had never been performed or published.