In the music world, presenting organizations are doing what they can to satisfy their customers, and to keep themselves afloat. Those are good and lofty goals. To this end—or these ends—the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is offering “Summer Evenings,” online. The latest example is here.
So, I will write about this evening, no? Actually, I watched the very first of the evenings. My post about it may give you a sense of the series at large.
The artistic directors of CMS are David Finckel and Wu Han. They are a cellist and a pianist, and also a married couple. On this first “Summer Evening,” they greeted viewers from their back porch.
In the past, politicians have run “front-porch campaigns.” In a sense, Joe Biden is running one right now. Also in a sense, the Chamber Music Society is running a back-porch campaign.
(I should note that CMS wants viewers to give, “generously,” which is understandable.)
From their back porch, the artistic directors informed us that their summer evenings would consist of a “delightful and refreshing work from the Baroque period”; a piece from the Classical period (whether delightful and refreshing or not); and a “Romantic-era favorite.”
The set-up is this, as far as I can tell: talking in the here and now; and videotaped performances from the past—the recent past.
In this initial “Summer Evening,” the first performance we would hear would be of the Violin Concerto in B flat, Op. 10, No. 1, by Jean-Marie Leclair. That’s Jean-Marie Leclair the Elder, by the way, not to be confused with his little brother, Jean-Marie Leclair the Younger. Their parents made things unnecessarily difficult. In any case, the brothers were Frenchmen, born in 1697 and 1703, respectively.
The soloist in the concerto was Bella Hristova, Bulgarian-born. To introduce the performance, so to speak, she appeared onscreen from her home—I believe her home—in Philadelphia. She talked about Leclair’s concerto. One of the most interesting things she said was that, in addition to the other things he was, Leclair was a professional dancer.
How many composers can boast that? How many people can boast that?
With a CMS ensemble, Hristova played the concerto in May 2018. The music-making, from one and all, was lovely, precise, and noble. It was sharply etched and seamless at the same time. Bella Hristova has the gift of self-possession. She has the further gift of a beautiful sound.
Thinking of Hristova, I thought of what I’ve often said about Leif Ove Andsnes, the Norwegian pianist: “not a hair out of place” (which for Andsnes is true both figuratively and literally).
Our next player would be Anne-Marie McDermott, veteran pianist of CMS. In February 2016, she played a Haydn sonata: the one in G major that Hoboken catalogued as XVI:40. McDermott came to us from her home—I believe—in New York City.
She said that Haydn wrote brilliantly for the piano. He was a pianist himself, and his music fits the hands, as Chopin’s does. This is in contrast with Beethoven, McDermott said.
Yes, that is a curious thing, given that Beethoven was a very good—indeed, great—pianist.
McDermott also commented on Haydn’s humor—with which the G-major sonata in question is laced. “If people don’t have a smile on their face after I’ve finished the sonata,” she said, “I’ve done something wrong.”
They certainly had a smile on their face when she finished in 2016. McDermott played the sonata with intelligence and taste. She observed Classical decorum, if you will, but she was rightly bold within that decorum. All the notes and phrases interlocked. This was mature, musical playing. And Haydn’s humor came out naturally.
Hey, hang on a minute: Is a Haydn piano sonata—or any piano sonata—“chamber music”? No, though you can hear it in a chamber. In any event, we will not hold the Chamber Music Society to strict parameters.
All right, how about our “Romantic-era favorite,” promised by the artistic directors? It was Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No. 2 in A, Op. 81. The pianist was Wu Han herself. But the performance—which took place in January 2018—was introduced by the cellist, Dmitri Atapine, born in Russia, I believe. He appeared onscreen from “sunny Reno, Nevada,” as he said.
In his introductory remarks, he made a nice confession: When he was a student, he thought of this Dvořák quintet as an opportunity for cello solos. As time went on, he gained a greater sense of the work as a whole.
I thought of a wonderful moment in Shakespeare in Love, the hit movie from 1998. I will go from memory. The troupe is rehearsing Romeo and Juliet. They repair to a tavern. A barmaid asks the actor playing the Nurse, “So, this new play of Shakespeare’s: What’s it about?” The actor replies, “Well, you see, there’s this nurse . . .”
How about the performance of the Dvořák quintet, two and a half years ago? Good and competent. This sounds like faint praise—but good and competent is good.
After this video came a discussion involving Wu Han, Anne McDermott, and the others who had participated in this “Summer Evening.” Wu Han hailed the principal backers of the series, if I have understood correctly: Rita and Gustave Hauser. The arts need their Esterházys, their philanthropists, more than ever. Of course, the whole world is rocked. The arts may seem the least of our concerns. Still, this little corner of the world is important.