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BargeMusic’s Eight-Course Banquet

New York
01/03/2020 -  & January 4, 5, 2020
Maya Miro Johnson: Manuscripts Don’t Burn
Veronika Krausas: The Master and Margarita Suite (excerpts) for Speaking Pianist (World Premiere): Yellow Flower Waltz; Have you Stopped Loving Me?; A Fantasia; Behemoth’s Somersaults into Cognac: A Bagatelle; Time To Go: A Sarabande; The 14th of the Month of Nisan
Ljova (Lev Zhurbin): Caprices for Fadolin Solo (Excerpts)
Eric Moe: Scree Slope (World Premiere) – Like Diamonds, we are cut with our own dust (New York Premiere)
Takama Itoh: But Beautiful (New York Premiere)
Kevin Puts: Aria for Cello and Piano (World Premiere)
David Taylor: Houdini’s Lament for Solo Bass Trombone
Adolphus Hailstork: From Three Spirituals for String Trio: We Shall Overcome; It’s A Great Day

Inna Faliks (Piano/Voice); Ljova (Lev Zhurbin) (Fandolin); Eric Moe (Piano); Duo Yumeno: Yoko Reikano Kimura (Koto), Hikaru Tamaki (Cello); Julian Schwarz (Cello), Marika Bournaki (Piano); David Taylor (Bass Trombone); Semplice Players: Avi Nagin (Violin), Matthew Cohen (Viola), Julian Schwarz (Cello)

H. Tamaki, Y. R. Kimura (© John Broughton)

"Is that vodka?" Margarita asked weakly. The cat jumped up in his seat with indignation. "I beg pardon, my queen," he rasped, "Would I ever allow myself to offer vodka to a lady? This is pure alcohol!
Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita

Love is funny or it’s sad, Or it’s quiet or it’s mad; It’s a good thing or it’s bad, But beautiful!
Johnny Burke (Lyrics), Jimmy van Heusen (Music)

Lady Day and Tony Bennett, Lena Horne and Frank Sinatra...just about everybody sung Just Beautiful (as if anybody could make the lyrics and music more bittersweet and beautiful than they are on paper). But nobody ever played Just Beautiful like the Duo Yumeno at Barge Music last night. Without a single note of the original!

Then again, in this annual event of new music (Here and Now Winter Festival), nothing was quite as it seemed. And that was all to the good. For the eight composers represented here in a 90-minute musical blowout last night (and tonight and tomorrow) transformed and transmogrified what we thought we knew. Whether a Russian cult novel or a string instrument, a Montana mountain trail or a Bob Dylan classic. The notes could scream agony or late-19th Century retro. But all was fascinating in the most diverse fashion.

L. Zhurbin/I. Faliks

That wondrous virtuoso pianist Inna Faliks has commissioned music to be written for the Ukrainian-Russian cult novel–symbolic, funny, sarcastic, allegorical and damned frustrating–The Master and Margarita, some of which was played here.

The perfect composer would have been Scriabin, but the 18-year-old composer Maya Miro Johnson did a good job in Manuscripts Don’t Burn, ending with a quote spoken by the pianist. With her red fashion shoes pressed firmly on the pedal, Ms. Faliks echoed and resonated from simple one-note tunes to crazy-fast phrasing. Musically I couldn’t judge it. Atmospherically, it was scary.

More substantial, I felt, were excerpts from a suite by Veronika Krausas, each movement a different musical form, and each enhanced by words from the novel spoken by Ms. Faliks. The form was not quite original in Russian music: Sergei Prokofiev’s rarely-performed Eugen Onegin, for orchestra and speaker is utterly enchanting, devoid of even a nuance of his customary bite. Ms. Krausas’ work has same care, feeling, understanding. One hopes soon to hear the entire work, to be recorded by the pianist.

Ljova (the pen name of violist Lev Zhurbin) had invented the six-string Fadolin (his own neologism), which encompasses violin and viola, and was played with two folksy caprices. The most charming artist then encompassed the audience. While he improvised, we were supposed to record any portion of his music, then play it back while he was playing. The result was a muted but entertaining “Piece for orchestra of violins and violas.”

The single indescribable work was Takuma Itoh’s But Beautiful, based (say the program notes) on the “multitudes of dichotomies” in the lyrics (see above). Plus the dichotomies of two instruments from two different worlds (koto and cello).

That was hardly necessary to capture the beauty of two instruments which could share the same timbre, two musicians who live now in New York and understand the compromises needed here. Yes, Hikaru Tamaki is a master cellist. Yoko Reikano Kimura is probably a master koto player, Here, though, her instrument was played more like harp or even harpsichord than with the swaying nebulous tones for Japanese music.

The combination, then, was not so much an opposing dichotomy as an alignment of feelings and colors.

Eric Moe’s two short piano works were written in the Montana mountains, one with a quote from John Webster which could have referred to the winds. The other about the back-and-forth steps on mountain scree. They were both beautifully crafted but...

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (when it actually had snow), I found the enemy was not the height: it was the scree! The Master and Margarita might have said that the mountain is Christ– the scree is Satan!

David Taylor’s penultimate title might have missed a comma: Houdini’s Lament for Solo Bass Trombone. Did Houdini really mourn for the instrument? Or was this an ode for “slide-of-hand.” Mr. Taylor has both incredibly eclectic resume (from Hovhaness to Sinatra to Mingus to Streisand) and an equally eclectic sound from an instrument over which he reigns. On the other hand, at BargeMusic, he has been known to play interminably and incessantly. Last night he kept his work down to around 13 minutes, providing, if not great music, an infinite variety of growls, songs, choo-choo trains, whistles, trumpets, mutes, and yes, even a bass trombone.

Finally, what can one say about Julian Schwarz, the scion of conductor Gerald? His rich full-bodied cello was put to use with two ensembles. First, with his wife Marika Bournaki, in Kevin Puts Aria for Cello and Piano, a work which exhibited both artists at their most romantic in a piece which could have been written in the late 19th Century. The two “spirituals” with the Semplice Trio were hardly ground-breaking: they could have easily been written by Dvorák in is American period. At the same time, Adolphus Hailstork’s two bagatelles were a suitable paean to music not “here and now” but any time, anywhere.

Harry Rolnick



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