Dateline Putney on Friday: At Yellow Barn, a (taped) baby fusses and gurgles in its crib as a baroque violin tenderly hovers with fragments of antique chorales and lullabies. Harriet Langley (Sydney, NEC) peacefully parses out the recursive, dreamy lines of Thurídur Jónsdóttir’s INNI–musica da camera. Jonsdottir’s disquieting lullaby bookended opening night with Caroline Shaw’s By and By (more anon), both stunning works by serenely confident women composers who gave spiritual liftoff to Yellow Barn’s summer adventure. (In between came M Trio and eclectic early 20th century choices…)
Coleman Itzkoff, cello (Rice, USC) gave a head-tossing, self-assured reading of Mendelssohn’s Sonata in B-flat Major, Op.45, backed with Viennese dash by pianist Frankl. They dovetailed their lines as tightly as the mortise-and-tenon joinery of the room arching overhead. Frankl and Knopp waded through Ravel’s four-hand transcription of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune with a bit extra forte and a barrelhouse bass line.
We repaired to the bar at intermission, where Yellow Barn brings new meaning to ‘youth will be served.’ Instead of the humdrum wine, beer, and coffee offerings to elder patrons, two scoopers merrily dispensed vanilla ice cream, with blueberries or coffee as optional toppings. And, after a sketchy day of showers, a full moon shone on the garden’s wide-awake audience and sleeping day lilies. Doubly refreshing!
Omer Quartet (Erica Tursi and Mason Yu, violins (Cleveland Institute, Juilliard); Jinsun Hong, viola (South Korea, Curtis Institute, NEC); Julia Yang, cello (Tallahassee; Northwestern, NEC) neatly handled the treacherous hairpins and outs of Bartók’s String Quartet No.3 (1927), slashed with anguished sforzandi, sighing glissandi, and the cello’s woozy cimbalom. Ninety years on and the eldritch harmonies, sneakily disguised motif returns, and wacko 3/8 – 5/8 metric shifts still raise one’s hackles!
Cellist Edvard Pogossian (Los Angeles, Juilliard) and pianist Vivian Hornik Weilerstein (Brookline, MA, NEC) controlled dynamics and shifted accents cannily in Janáček’s Pohádka (Fairy Tale) (1910/1923). The late-blooming Czech’s earliest surviving instrumental duo, this three-movement quasi sonata fantasy indulges in brisk conversations between piano and pizzicato cello, with twists and turns in the tale; the duo formed clouds that shimmer, dart, and dissipate.
Melanie Henley Heyn, soprano (Pennsylvania) sang the shape-note folk hymns of Caroline Shaw’s By and By (2010/2017) with the radiant bedazzlement of the born-again. The accompanying string quartet (Suliman Tekalli (Florida, Juilliard, Cleveland Institute), Magdalena Filipczak (Poland, City University of New York), violins; Meredith Kufchak, (Ohio, Rice, SF Conservatory) viola; Yang, cello) underpinned Heyn’s emotive range from shining hope to sheepish doubt with shuddering col legnos, haloes of fire and ice, and open stringed octaves that irradiated cosmic iridescence. I felt like singing along!
Saturday morning maestro Gilbert Kalish delivered a humdinger of a master class, amiably and thoroughly critiquing two young pianists’ bourgeoning interpretations of Mozart’s C Major Sonata (1784) and Ravel’s Sonatine. His focus was on decision-making: dynamic choices interpreting marking-free Mozart with Abigail Sin (Singapore, Royal Academy of Music) and optimizing Ravel’s evocative tone colors with Tomer Gewirtzman (Israel, Juilliard). Kalish then exhorted the audience bravely to enter the meticulous, exacting microcosm of Appalachian original George Crumb, as two of his haunting Lorca miniatures were sung by Heyn, delicately accompanied by flautist Rosie Gallagher (Sydney, Juilliard, Royal Academy of Music) and Marion Ravot (Paris, Paris Conservatoire, Juilliard).
Saturday’s concert held less of the kick-off night’s high vibes, but was solid and satisfying. Percussionist Sam Seyong Um (Eastman, Yale) provided fizz factor and commanded concentration as he malleted a single cymbal in long crescendo to recreate a motorcycle’s distant tire-hum and gear-grind on a wet highway in LA, according to composer James Tenney for his Maximusic (1965). Hammering of tom-toms, bongos, and metalwork – all-out Blue Man style — followed, swooning into a deep soft-mallet caress of a 36” tam-tam. A few moments after the audience’s applause of approval, came a roar of camaraderie from the peanut gallery, as Um joined his colleagues.
Okay, folks! — ears sharp for reassessing Mendelssohn? Order and calm were restored, with pianist Ellen Hwangbo (DC, SUNY-Stony Brook) at the helm in the Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 49, and sweet legato singing in thirds by cellist Bonnie Hampton (CA, faculty at SF Conservatory, Juilliard) and violinist Emma Frucht (NY, Harvard), recalling the moody sobriety of Costat-Thibaud-Casals.
A timid if competent reading of Mozart’s Clarinet Trio in E-flat Major, K.498 “Kegelstatt” brought back maestro Kalish with clarinetist Ran Kampel (Tel Aviv, USC, Eastman) and violist Hong, who played with genial personality.
Heyn and Kalish delivered yet another coup with stunning selections from Hugo Wolf’s Spanisches und Italienisches Liederbücher, as the vibrant soprano echoed the radiant resonance of born-again madness she’d summoned in the Shaw last night for Wolf’s intensely felt songs, swooning in nearly Rosicrucian incandescence.
We exited on a much earthier Papa Bach high—Brandenburg Three—exuberantly swung on 3 violins, violas, and cellos, bass, and harpsichord by students from six states, Seoul, and Toronto, in a copacetic gathering of sunny youth.
Looking forward: Guest composer, clarinetist Jorg Widmann (Berlin, Juilliard) returns (from 2016) on July 25-29. Yellow Barn runs through August 5. Go! Putney’s nearer than you think: our odometer logged just 99 miles from Belmont.
Fred Bouchard, lifelong music journalist for Downbeat Magazine, The New York City Jazz Record and other publications, has until recently contributed to Massachusetts Beverage Business and Fodor’s Boston. Now retired from teaching music journalism at Berklee College of Music, he pursues interests in writing on travel, nature and wine.