Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Three Fried Chamber Players research competition

So, we have put together a new folk rock combo, and Monday night was our first band outing. I had suggested a night out for free chamber music in University City with players from the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and the Washington University Department of Music.

There was something of a joke at play here. We are styling this version of a band previously known as Three Fried Men as "Three Fried Chamber Players," so the conceit was that we were "researching the competition". Everyone agreed, most of us showed up, Adam Long even brought a date, but none of us really knew what to expect.

Andrea Kaplan took the stage, first, alone with her flute. After a brief but helpful introduction, in which she revealed that the composer of the piece was "most famous for being Yoko Ono's first husband," she performed "In a Living Memory" by Toshi Ichiyanagi. This adventurous workout struck my ears as Ornette Coleman for Japanese flute, more than chamber music as commonly practiced in sedate settings like the 560 Music Center, and that was just fine.

Then, an amusing game of musical chairs, in which what looked like Wash U music students tried to appear hip and serious-minded while moving furniture - to the wrong places, repeatedly. When two pianos, one with a chair for a page-turner, plus three more chairs, two for cellists and one for a horn player, had been assembled, a man took the microphone and talked to us.

He was Seth Carlin, who heads the piano program at Wash U, says his bio in the concert handout. He emerged as something of the bandleader and apparent curator of the night's music as he dedicated the concert to his father, the late Herbert J. Carlin (1917-2009). Carlin Sr., we were told, had been a scientist, musical enthusiast and amateur musician, with a predeliction for flute (which we had just heard, solo) and piano, of which we were about to hear two.

I am taking the other pianist, Maryse Carlin, for Seth's wife. She opened the piece, and then throughout traded licks and melodic runs with Seth on the other piano. Their interplay and counterpoint was both matched and further offset by the interplay and counterpoint of the two cellists, Sebastien Gingras (dude) and Melissa Brooks - not a dude, and in a gown that was not a fuddy duddy gown, far from it. Roger Kaza sat between the two cellists, playing horn on a very different rhythmic and melodic schedule from the two sets of interplay and counterpoint see-sawing all around him, as the pianos and cellos rolled back and forth in the imagination of Robert Schumann.

The piece was "Andante and Variations for two pianos, two cellos, and horn," and it is safe to say that all of us in attendance from our little folk combo - Adam, his date Little G, Dave Melson, and Josh Weinstein - aim one day to possess a performance of that piece, and perhaps a cup of coffee and late oranges in a sunny chair with that cellist in her not fuddy duddy gown.

The intermission was interesting for the urology jokes I heard en route to the water closet. The classical music crowd certainly does tend to attract your veteran and witty medical practitioners.
The evening concluded with Schubert's "Trout" Quintet in A. Major, Op. 114. This was a lot to take in - in a good way.

There was, first, a striking visual element. The beautful woman cellist was back, now triangulated with two differently beautful string players, violinist Joo Kim and Shannon Farrell Williams on viola. We came for the music, to be sure, and would never reduce these exquisitely talented musicians to their physical forms, but we are all superficial creatures, in addition to whatever depths we may plumb.

We were ravished by the surface.

We were taken through five movements, each with their own internal dramas. There were pauses within the movements, which left us counting silently and looking around at every pause, trying to figure out if it was over yet. The only thing worse than not applauding when you wanted to applaud was bursting into thunderclaps of applause when there is still another movement to be played.

When we were absolutely, positively convinced we could start clapping, we kept clapping - the whole room, of maybe seventy dedicated music lovers taking in free chamber music on snowstormy Monday night - and clapping for a long time.

I turned to Josh and said what I often thought. "I hate this ritual of slapping our hands together, over and over, but it's the accepted way to show them how much we loved the music."

"Maybe we could start a new ritual," Josh said. "Like French kissing."

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