Friday, October 29, 2010

Juilliard's Sonatenabend

Event: Sonatenabend
Performers: Juilliard artists
Place: Paul Hall, Juilliard School of Music
Time: 6:00 pm, October 28, 2010
Free event
There was a moment during the performances of the works of Beethoven, Hindemith and Prokofiev given by three duos at the Paul Hall at Juilliard during the free Sonatenabend (“Evening of Sonatas”) event when I caught myself thinking: “These musicians are world-class!”
And so they were: Hannah Sloane, cellist, playing Beethoven’s Sonata # 3 and accompanied by Jillian Zack; Kyle Miller, playing Hindemith’s Sonata for Viola and Piano in F major, Arthur Williford on the piano; and finally Sheryl Hwangbo, a Korean artist giving a stirring rendition of Prokofiev’s angular Sonata # 2 for violin accompanied to perfection by John Arida. The way they gave their accounts of the sonatas said it all: polished, articulate and in this case of Sheryl Hwangbo, dazzling.
I admit that the Beethoven bored me a bit at first. There is something about the works of classical composers like Mozart and Beethoven (who I love to bits) that is so comforting in their structure and conventionality that, upon hearing them, I start to relax and drift into the initial stages of sleep. I know there are a lot of people who claim that ALL classical music puts them to sleep. My case is different. I care, I really do, but I could only keep at bay this impending sense of dreamitude by physically rubbing my eyes and stretching out my eyelids till my eyes pop out. The last thing I needed during this recital was to fall asleep and snore, which I have been known to do, alas. In extreme cases, I have actually pinched myself on the arms and legs just to keep myself awake. I probably would stick a pin in me just to spare myself the ignominy of interrupting the concert onstage with my own. As the Bible has said, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, especially when you’re over 50.
I managed to keep myself awake through the Beethoven sonata, helped by the fact that Hannah Sloane’s cello playing was as robust and silky as the gown she was wearing., not that the dress mattered. I have this sonata, performed by Yo-yo Ma, on my Ipod. The sound of a cello has never failed to lower my blood pressure and take me to that same kingdom of slumber in no time flat. Tonight, I had to not only hear it, but watch this sonata being played onstage by an attractive woman, accompanied by another attractive pianist on a seriously attractive piano, a Fazioli concert grand. It starts with a dramatic solo line by the cello, joined in later by the piano. For me this beginning exemplifies the terrifying, but necessary process, of creating something out of nothing, something artists, whether composer or performer, have to do constantly if they are to remain true to their profession.
Things perked up a bit during the Hindemith portion of the program. This time two guys took to the stage: Kyle Miller on the viola and Arthur Williford on piano. Both were reedy, wore black, and had that slightly diffident but relaxed air that made me think: “Brooklyn”. After launching into the sonata (subtitled Thema mit variazonen), Mr. Miller had to stop to retune his viola because one the strings had gotten loose. After the gravity of the Beethoven, I found this snafu delightfully refreshing and pulled me out of the classical stupor I was sinking into. This set of variations was a tonal piece that, Hindemith being Hindemith, was prevented from lapsing into triteness by subversive placements of discordant notes and chords. Mr. Miller’s performance gave me a new insight of just how lyrical a viola, the poor cousin of the cello and violin, can be.
To me, the highlight of the evening was Sheryl Hwangbo’s performance of the fiendishly difficult Sonata # 2 for Violin and Piano in D Major by Prokofiev. In this Miss Hwangbo, playing a Joann Blafius Weiggert violin was accompanied to perfection by John Arida on the piano. This was collaborative playing of the highest order. From the first chords I knew that I was in for a treat. My drowsiness had completely fled and I was all ears for the acid dissonance of this Prokofiev sonata. From having played a smidgen of Prokofiev, I knew how difficult it is to play this particular composer. That Sheryl and John played all parts of this sonata with verve, clarity, accuracy and polish showed how they have honed their playing through years and years of practice. The bravos and standing ovation at the end of their account were well deserved.
I am now a fan of these free concerts at the Juilliard. Many other schools in Manhattan present professional and student performances that won’t cost anyone a penny. No more $50 tickets, not even $10 cover charges, but instead blissfully free and fully realized performances of music, plays and, hopefully, musicals! There will always be that Broadway play and musical that I will have to attend (Spiderman:Turn off the Dark is on my sights right now; everybody says it's going to be a dud, so I have to be there), but I am glad to discover this alternative source of performances that won’t break the bank!

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