Sunday, December 4, 2011
Rubin Museum of Art, NY
The Rubin Museum of Art, a wonderful collection of Himalayan artifacts, culture and history was the backdrop for the chamber concert by TwoSense (Pianist Lisa Moore and cellist Ashley Bathgate, both of whom are also associated with the Bang On a Can All-Stars). The program titled “Resonating Light: The Remains” was intended by the duo to show that the pieces from the Himalayan exhibition (particularly a bullet-ravaged 12th century Bodhisattva) were an inspiration for the program, and some of the artifacts spoke to other artistic directions made for the programming of the concert. The artifacts and several other images were shown on a slide projection during the concert (A different one for each piece), and the 2nd half of the show started with a discussion about the museum pieces and their relation to the music.
The program was beautifully intense, starting with the compelling Grand Duet for Cello and Piano by twentieth-century Russian female composer Galina Ustvolskaya. What was interesting about this performance was that Bathgate had to perform on the black platform on the far right of the stage separate from Moore (This was a instruction that Ultstvolskaya herself had made for the piece), and this seemed to create a much more focused connection between the two soloists. The Grand Duet itself was a very modernist-sounding delight with percussive elements and Stravinsky-esque tempos, and ending with a cello cadenza, played superbly by Bathgate, that itself concluded with a sustained B, puncuated by Moore’s piercing high-pitched chords on the piano.
After the duo returned to the stage and Bathgate moved to her proper place in the middle of it, the NY premiere of Daniel Wohl‘s One Piece, scored for piano, cello and electronics (Provided by composer Wohl on the iPad) was next. The piece provided an interesting combination, despite the electronic part being barely audible until towards the end (It was a technical glitch in the sound system that caused this), but otherwise, it was not necessarily a noticeable mistake and still managed to sound as if the composer intended to create that effect.
Paul Kerekes‘ Reach was the first of 2 world premieres at the concert. Kerekes, who by the way also served as page-turner for Moore, created a wonderful 2-part piece that displayed great building-up intensity in the first half–the second as a brooding nocturne.
The first half of the program wrapped up with the beautiful and lugubrious Louange Pour L’Éternité De Jesus from Quartet For the End of Time by Messiaen.
The second half of the program had the biggest highlights of the evening. After the lengthy panel discussion the music resumed with an astonishing piece by Martin Bresnick titled Prayers Remain Forever, based on a poem by Yehuda Amichai. As great as the program had been, this was an unforseen turning point as we were treated to perhaps some of the most explosive and impassioned playing ever from these performers. This piece by Bresnick being the 2nd world premiere of the night was also the 2nd to have a building-up factor, but its intentsity was much more emotionally charged, and an incredible set of dynamics from Moore and Bathgate culminating in a piercing climax left the duo visibly winded by the end as this piece earned them the evening’s biggest audience reaction.
Ashley Bathgate once told me that when she had programmed a Robert Schumann work among the later works of 20th century and living composers in a previous concert, an audience member had told her the new pieces “made Schumann sound young”. Apparently they are continuing this practice since they had Schumann’s Fantasiestucke (A piece originally written for clarinet and piano, but Schumann alternately allows for the use of either violin or cello) in this program, and it did give off a feeling of young compeitiveness in a challenging assortment of works.
The closer, of course, was the most different of all the pieces in the show; an arrangement by Bresnick of the Jack Bruce/Cream song “As You Said” for cello, piano and vocals. Just when you think you might not be able to imagine a classical reading of a rock song, and also when you think you could never imagine any kind of serious acceptance of classical musicians singing in the performance, this literally happened at this concert before my eyes. Bathgate and Moore looked a bit nervous when they started it, but once it was underway, the duo convinced me they can do anything. The vocals were beautiful, and they used harmony that reminded me of some of the best rock harmonizing this side of The Beatles or Yes.
Underlying artistic theme or not, this was a divine, exciting performance from a duo that have great experience in both classics and new works. I look forward to hearing even more from them.
Page for TwoSense on Lisa Moore’s official website