Edvard Grieg: Sonata # 3
Alfred Schnittke: Sonata # 1
Anton Webern: Four Pieces for Violin and Piano
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata # 9
Robert McDonald (piano)
From the current issue of the magazine First of the Month:
“Recently, I attended a recital at Carnegie Hall by one of the most important musicians of our time. Midori had sailed along through half of the first movement of a Mozart sonata when she abruptly stopped playing and signaled her accompanist to do the same. Stepping up to center stage, she announced that she was not satisfied with the tuning of her instrument and begged the audience’s indulgence while she tweaked it a semiquaver or two. Virtually nobody in that hall would have noticed this tiny indiscretion, but, for such a consummate artist, it was necessary to expose herself, warts and all, in order to serve the greater good, the music itself. I could literally hear her teacher, Dorothy Delay, the embodiment of the safe approach, turning over in her grave. The crowd was, of course, very impressed with her courage and greeted the decision with applause. But Midori had violated the first principle of modern academia: like the characters in Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo, she had recklessly crossed the line and involved the audience in the performance. For her, classical music doesn’t belong in the museum but is rather a living, breathing entity. She is the same performer whose very public rejection of and resignation from the Juilliard system sent shockwaves throughout the art music world some years ago. Now herself a committed teacher, she gives a pessimist like me some hope for the future and the survival of a beloved art form assailed daily by the forces of cultural barbarism and, what is ultimately worse, the spineless enemy within.”
Twenty years of concerts have served to bolster the aura of confidence which has always surrounded Midori. Not just another wunderkind, it was apparent from the outset that she was a musician with an intellectual bent, not content simply to dazzle, but to educate as well. Now thoroughly matured and focused, she can execute a recital program brilliantly that includes pieces not designed to enhance popularity but rather to edify and instruct. This evening’s recital at Carnegie took on the shape of the new, improved Midori. To be sure, there was an astonishingly beautiful rendition of a romantic work (the Grieg) and a thoughtful and self-effacingly pristine piece from the classics (the Kreutzer). However, these two offerings were paired with two essays from the bad old days of the previous century, presented lovingly and without apology.
To a listener well versed in the musical history of the 1900’s, the Schnittke sonata is positively retro, calling up images of carhops and beach parties as securely as any Broadway or TV show. It is a compendium of styles from the past, everything from Bartókian minor seconds to jazzy slides ala Ravel. But for the Midori crowd, a decidedly younger and more interestingly shod group than the relatively stodgy Carnegie norm, this work was perhaps more in tune with pop sensibilities, its revolutionary nostalgia comforting and familiar in a way that Beethoven’s is not. Particularly heartening was this powerful artist’s declamation of the Webern, each individual phrase so delicately caressed, a series of miraculous births and first flights from the nest. If one is going to expose a new generation to the gifts of the Second Viennese School, then this type of quality performance constitutes the ideal forum.
Not to say that I envision lines outside the local Tower tomorrow morning made up of newbies clamoring for the Boulez box of the complete works of Webern, but a serious and committed performance of this music, presented as the equal of every other piece on the program, might just turn one or two nubile heads towards a challenging and different aesthetic perspective. Of course, just playing these works as expertly and gorgeously as this pair of recitalists (my favorite moment of all was Mr. McDonald’s heartbreaking introduction to the second movement of the Grieg) is more than enough; the fact that they can dovetail on their own cachet with a younger crowd and introduce a whole other realm of musical thought is just delicious icing on the cake.
Frederick L. Kirshnit