Tonight was the first of two “Juilliard Young Artists and Their Mentors” concerts at Zankel Hall. What a great idea. When I taught briefly at the University of Georgia many years ago, I was delighted that faculty/student chamber music performances were encouraged. Nearly every where else I’ve been a student or taught, the culture discourages this. Obviously this was a special event, but it is a good idea in principle as well. The students sang and played at a very high level, reminding me of what a great conservatory Juilliard is, and making me proud that I did some of my own study there.
First half of this concert was vocal: Juilliard faculty pianist Brian Zeger was the mentor. There were selections from the Wolf Italienisches Liederbuch with mezzo Isabel Leonard and baritone Matthew Worth, Ravel’s Chansons madecasses, with mezzo Michele Losier, and a late Rossini salon piece for vocal quartet and piano. Zeger played piano in all three works.
After intermission, pianist Joseph Kalichstein told the story of Brahms’s work with the material that started as a string quintet, became the Sonata in F Minor for two pianos, and then was rewritten as the famous Piano Quintet. For this concert, Kalichstein decided to have his students Gregory Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe, an increasingly well-known young piano duo, play the outer two movements, while in between he and a string quartet of students played the slow movement and the scherzo.
It was a real treat to hear this concert. The singers were all fabulous, and I especially enjoyed the semi-staged performance of the Wolf, and the wonderful, somoldering romantic/sexual tension the two singers portrayed. Matthew Worth was commanding both vocally and as a stage presence, and his performance is what remains with me the most strongly. Ms. Losier had the most outstanding gown of the first half (in addition to singing beautifully); it seemed Oscar-worthy. The flutist and cellist in that piece were undeniably good players, but it didn’t really click. The cellist seemed a bit uneasy with the many awkward passages (it’s one of those pieces that’s harder than it looks) and I didn’t feel much synergy from the ensemble–it seemed, surprisingly, under-rehearsed. Before tonight, I hadn’t known that after his operatic career Rossini held a series of private salon concerts for which wrote many works, including the very Rossinian (and fun) “La passegiata” we heard this evening.
And then there was this most unusual peformance of the Brahms (I imagine it has never been done quite this way before.) Anderson and Row have technique to burn, excellent ensemble, play with great energy and enthusiasm, have excellent musicianship, and had clearly worked out their performance in great detail. But as I listened, the first thing that popped into my head was, “not quite Brahms.” There’s a weight and gravitas and sense of rubato that a Brahms performance needs and it takes a while to develop–I wonder if anyone in his or her teens or early twenties can really do a convincing, centered yet flexible Brahms interpretation. As soon as Kalichstein started playing, I said to myself, “now that’s Brahms.” The string players were all excellent, and perhaps because they had their mentor to respond to, it seems they got closer to “it” than did the pianists.
Given the unusual circumstances, Kalichstein had invited applause at the end of each groups performance. All were enthusiastically applauded, and the painists almost got a partial standing ovation from the audience which filled a bit over two thirds of the house.
I’m looking forward very much to tommorow’s event in this series, featuring the Juilliard Quartet and a student quartet, each group playing one work, then joing forces for the Mendelssohn Octet.