The nostalgic albeit dry-eyed vibe made for more celebratory and familial than valedictory sensations Sunday at Shalin Liu Performance Center, as artistic director / pianist David Deveau ended his 22-year institutional reign embraced in warmth and acclaim. More than half of the 400 auditors seemed to be either board members or volunteers of the well-grounded Rockport Music organization. Continuing executive director Tony Beadle opened the brief spoken tribute segment with the news that, although he was “bummed out,” he knew that Deveau, newly minted as artistic director emeritus, would be going on to more great things. Uncharacteristically reluctant to speak, Deveau then noted how he felt like an observer at his own funeral. He vowed to fulfill the emeritus duties “whatever they may be.” He also welcomed his successor Barry Shiffman, who witnessed the first half from a standing position in the balcony.
Beethoven’s Opus 1 Trio, old chamber music friend to all, seemed like more an introductory number than an exit-stage-right vehicle. Violinist Andrés Cárdenes and cellist Anne Martindale Williams joined Deveau for a relaxed, “we know how this goes” take, which with refined tones from all three, rubbed a happy gloss on a bittersweet occasion. The first movement unfolded with burnished calm, then bit by bit, it revealed mature, wiser energies. Deveau delivered his personal brand of marbled pianistic luminosity. The Andante second movement took the cantabile direction to heart, producing sweet sentiment without sentimentality. As it developed, the simplicity of the tune acquired some of the required edge. Although throat lumps absented themselves, the end of the moment came too soon nevertheless. The Scherzo arrived like a towhead child as Deveau illuminated the rapidly twisting byways with dappled light. The Presto finale found all three players firmly planted on their seats, even while sounding lively and quick. The false starts and repeats received the requisite winks. Their collective wit, laidback brilliance, and generous engagement banished all guile.
The not shy violist (violin doubler) and artistic director-designate Shiffman, who made it a foursome for Dvořák’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, showed at once that he is an adherent of the Zander dictum of sitting on one butt cheek. He visually embodied sonic projection with revelatory WYSIWYG. Not that the other string players did not emote, but they did so with less demonstrative fanfare.
Whether it was the entrance of Shiffman or the collective immersion into the bigger, louder universe of Dvořák, the players unabashedly squeezed juice and jollity aplenty from that ripe fruit. Clearly the driver of this deluxe contrivance, Deveau proved himself outgoing in his going-out as he was 22 years earlier in his coming-in. His rhapsodic, puckish, and lithe embellishments perfectly complemented Williams’s irresistible stroking of the big cello tune in the Lento, which concluded with transcendent dignity. The Allegro moderato, grazioso third movement registered as an irrepressible country dance. Sounding at times like a cimbalom, Deveau provided stylistic surprises as the strings swung with gypsyetical abandon. The Finale was informed by marvelous interplay between the concertmaster-mannered Cárdenes and the more dangerous, restless Shiffman. The viola centricity of this movement ignited the passing torch.
Having led RCMF to national importance through elegance, warmth, understatement, and taste, David Deveau can leave the stage not just with pride but also continuing in a state of amazing performing grace.
For a foretaste of Shiffman’s own distinctive style and vision, click HERE to see the schedule of his first offseason bookings.
Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Intelligencer