I’ve come to a conclusion. There are three important ingredients that can make or break a performance: personal touch, personality and program. These three “P’s” have become essential to today’s successful concerts, recitals and even operas. And all three of them were present, in heaping portions, when we recently attended two of the Ringling International Arts Festival events.
Brooklyn Rider, a string quartet of smart, talented young men — violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords and cellist Eric Jacobsen — has found a special niche in the world of music. They speak and perform interactively. (That’s the personal touch.) They each have their own style reflected in what they wear and how they play (personality). And they program their concerts so we’re entertained and enlightened while they mix the old with the new, the refined with the bristly.
They began with a new work by Jacobsen, called, “Beloved, Do Not Let Me Be Discouraged.” Starting with a moving duet between violin and viola, it was one of the most achingly beautiful, mesmerizing pieces to pass between my ears in years. Folk-like and modal, it was a Middle-Eastern folk song with an Appalachian twist. The only discouraging thing about it was that it was too short.
Next came Beethoven — late Beethoven. And that means Ludwig was already deaf and struggling with all those crazy sounds running around in his head. The C sharp minor quartet, Opus 131, is jarring, dissonant and, for the most part, unpleasant but fascinating. The guys from Brooklyn, N.Y., put him in his place and gave us a performance filled with color and character, something stylistically different from most other performances, but one that left us with something to ponder.
Finally, the quartet gave us a pair of gypsy songs that sounded like a “Rumanian Rhapsody” by Enescu turned inside-out. They were neither Enescu nor inside-out but they were toe-tapping, tambourine-slapping, dancing, sexy fun with the atmospheric cello’s ground-bass slithering and slapping beneath some incredibly virtuosic turns in the upper strings.
A few hours later, we returned to the Historic Asolo for the fearless, formidable Piano Foursome: Inon Barbatan, Adam Golka, Anne-Marie McDermott and Pedja Muzijevic. Again, the important trio of “P’s” were present. Muzijevic took the role of emcee, introducing each pianist and piece with scholarly entertainment. The idea was for each artist to perform individually and then for them all to come together for a grand finale of 40 flying fingers on the four Yamaha grands.
Golka’s performance of Chopin’s “Barcarolle” was deliciously lilting with textured harmonies and dynamics that were enhanced by his beautiful phrasing. Muzijevic took a turn with a trio of short pieces — Liszt’s “Sleepless! Question and Answer,” a linear, almost Scriabin-sounding work the pianist pulled off with finesse; Feldman’s “Intermission,” a pointillistic piece plummeting huge schisms and leaps; and Aleksander Michalowski’s wonderfully fun “Paraphrase on Chopin’s Valse” (aka “Minute Waltz”) performed with a lightness and humor that made the paraphrase’s flourishes sound easy.
The grand finale featured all four piano personalities giving us quadraphonic Czerny (Opus 230, if you’re counting), and tossing out bits and pieces of melodies from Mozart to Liszt in a trilling, thrilling 23-minute crowd-pleaser that added “powerful” to the other “P’s.”
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