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August 26, 2010

Music Festivals

Summer is the time when many musicians abandon their urban posts and kick up their heels at the more rural, or at any rate regional, music festivals. If you visit, say, Music@Menlo--the terrific, intimate festival that Wu Han and David Finckel have been running for a number of years in the small suburban town of Menlo Park, California--you are likely to see the same musicians you have spotted during the year at Alice Tully Hall (Han and Finckel's other venue, where they direct the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center), but this time wearing big smiles and recently acquired tans. Han, who can be quite warm and friendly in even her Lincoln Center introductions, positively bursts with enthusiasm when she introduces the Music@Menlo concerts, and you can see why after you've been to a few.

My favorite, among this year's very strong batch, was a concert called "Aftermath: 1945" that featured three pieces one wouldn't normally hear programmed together--mainly because each one is strong enough to knock your socks off, so they jostle each other mightily when put together.  Shostakovich's Eighth Quartet (dedicated to the memory of the "victims of war and fascism"), Benjamin Britten's stirring vocal piece titled The Holy Sonnets of John Donne, and Richard Strauss's strange, disturbing Metamorphosen are all masterpieces of their type, and it is a type that makes you want to quail or weep or make some other gesture of submission in the face of the powerful music.  In this case, the intimacy of the auditorium strengthened the effect, so that we in the first few rows were almost blown backward by the remarkable tenor voice of Matthew Plenk, who sang the Holy Sonnets with musical verve and perfect diction.  The other musicians (the pianist Ken Noda in the Britten, the Miró Quartet performing the Shostakovich, and an assortment of Lincoln Center regulars doing the Strauss) were equally good, and it was a stunning experience to hear one of these works after another in a single evening.  My only suggestion would have been to have two intermissions rather than one, so as to allow each piece the breathing room it needed--though it almost seems churlish of me to make any suggestion at all about what was otherwise a perfect evening.
August 26, 2010 2:10 PM | | Comments (0)

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