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This Hallowed Ground

New York
Brooklyn Fulton Ferry Landing
11/30/2001 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonatas for Cello and Piano Nos. 2 & 3, 6 Bagatelles, Op. 126, "Ghost" Trio
Phillip Bush (piano)
Mark Peskanov (violin)
Rupert Buchner (cello)

“Classical music as gesture signifies knowledge of the tragedy of the human condition, affirmation of human destiny, courage, cheerful serenity.”

Hermann Hesse, Magister Ludi

Four days after the terrorist attacks on America, I made a pilgrimage to the spot which most powerfully encapsulates my view of lower Manhattan. The Fulton Ferry Landing in Brooklyn, just across the East River, affords the best look at the southern tip of the island and includes in its vista of the harbor a spectacular angle on the Statue of Liberty. This has been for years my place of orientation largely because of the presence of Bargemusic, a unique concert venue afloat on the water and designed to allow the glorious skyline to be the constantly changing backdrop of its chamber music stage. The fullest experience occurs in the summer when the sunset, in its various shades of red, gives way slowly to the patterns of the lights radiating from the skyscrapers, providing an added aesthetic dimension that is the envy of other, higher budget halls. But on Saturday, September 15, 2001, the landing was transformed for this frequent visitor. A few candles and flowers adorned the fence as I stared at what was not there. The landscape was forever changed as we had all lost the two front teeth in New York’s smile.

In those first days, the routing of the subways was drastically altered due to damage at some stations and continuing fears of the potentially destructive effects of underground rumblings. My train passed right below ground zero and crept slowly through the deserted World Trade Center station. Although the lights were turned off, there was enough illumination from emergency signs to reveal this usually extremely crowded terminus now eerily empty and it was impossible for one not to feel the presence of the ghosts which will inhabit this underground community forever. I have since been down to the site of the tragedy twice and am working my way through the healing process (everyone grieves in their own way-many of my friends refuse to go anywhere near this part of town). The best way that I can describe the feeling of the place is that it is, like a battlefield, an historic locus whose air will always be ionized by the events of the past. As at the ruins on the Via Argentina in Rome, the repercussions of one terrible act still reverberate in the echo chamber of time.

My first concert at the barge since then was a very uplifting one. Phillip Bush, well known in Japan as the pianist of the quartet Typhoon, anchored a program featuring works from all three of Beethoven’s major periods. Mr. Bush is an intellectual pianist with a solid technique and a phrase building capacity worthy of a composer. He provided firm support to an obviously talented orchestral musician named Rupert Buchner, a member of the cello section of the Bavarian State Orchestra. The duo captured just the right combination of grace and insouciance in the early sonata and dug into a dramatic reading of the middle period third. Mr. Buchner is a dexterous and expressive musician, however, as a budding soloist, his tone lacks warmth and body. His method of play is strictly modern, a deft transition between notes, each of which is delivered with a healthy but not overly sweet portion of vibrato. In the intimate setting of the barge, where the audience is literally right on top of the performers, his small voice was not at all out of place. These were interesting performances, particularly with Mr. Bush exposing their structures to our naked ears, and, although committed and passionate, they could not appropriately be categorized as sensual or loving.

After the interval, the pianist took the time to talk a little about these particular late bagatelles. This type of informal communication is a pleasant adjunct to the floating world experience at this unusual venue. Hearing observations on a composition, not as a lecture but rather as just some thoughts from a friend, enhances the domestic qualities of chamber music and the corresponding fellow feeling of the audience, which does not have to think of itself as separated from the artists in this fraternal setting. The performance of these aphoristic pieces was extraordinary, this thoughtful practitioner emphasizing the creative hand of the totally matured master writing essentially only for his own satisfaction and appreciation (Mr. Bush pointed out in his remarks the “periods of dementia” in these miniatures).

The coordinator of the entire evening was resident artist Mark Peskanov, who joined the others for an intense reading of the Trio in D. His violin looking like a toy in his huge hands, Peskanov plays with a gusto born of his Russian heritage. His tone mirrors his corporeal size: what results is a huge sound. Unfortunately, in a small space, which used to be the owner’s living room, this type of zaftig music making can overwhelm its colleagues. I have heard this fine performer mesh very well with others of similar projecting abilities, but last evening he simply overtook the proceedings. Such an exciting piece can survive a broad-brush approach and the overall effect was thrilling, but many of the original composition’s nuances were lost in the imbalance. One could hardly even hear the ghost departing out the back door.

Now, as December begins, the train routes and life in general are slowly returning to normal. What remains are basic human needs and values. As long as we actively and vigilantly continue to pursue truth and beauty by passing on the legacy of our greatest works of artistic expression, the future of civilization seems secure indeed.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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