Reviews

 

 

NC Symphony Performs Both Double Concerto and Triple Concerto – A Rare Treat

Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Zuill Bailey

Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Philippe Quint

Rob Davidson

Awadagin Pratt


Event  Information

 

Raleigh -- ( Fri., Apr. 15, 2016 - Sat., Apr. 16, 2016 )

North Carolina Symphony: Beethoven Triple & Brahms Double
Performed by North Carolina Symphony (Grant Llewellyn, conductor); Philippe Quint, violin; Zuill Bailey, cello; Awadagin Pratt, piano
$ -- Meymandi Concert Hall at Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts , (919) 733-2750 , http://www.ncsymphony.org/

 

 

 

 

 

April 16, 2016 - Raleigh, NC:

 


Double concertos are among the least common of genres in the repertoire of Western music, and of course triple concertos are even more rare; it is definitely an uncommon treat to hear both on the same program. This is exactly what the NC Symphony did – with a trio of fantastic and world-renowned soloists, they performed the most well-known triple concerto, Beethoven's Op. 56, and one of the most well-known double concertos, Brahms' Op. 102. The concert was already bound to be fantastic with pianist Awadagin Pratt, violinist Philippe Quint, and cellist Zuill Bailey, but the added element of live recording for future release by Five/Four Productions gave these performances even more weight. This is the NC Symphony's third recording with Bailey. Quint and Pratt have graced the NC Symphony stage many times as well. Previous recordings have soared to the top of the Billboard and New York Times classical charts; this recording is bound to be monumental upon release.

Without three soloists that work seamlessly together, a performance of Beethoven's Triple Concerto for piano, violin, cello, and orchestra would be next to impossible. Of course, this was not a problem for the talented artists and the NC Symphony under the baton of Grant Llewellyn. The concerto is extremely demanding technically, especially in the first movement (Allegro), where frequent passages of rapid patterns are played in harmony between the violin and cello. These patterns require absolute uniformity of expression, executed perfectly by Quint and Bailey. Meanwhile, Pratt's articulations in similar passages were incredibly unwavering too, translating the phrasing to an instrument with a completely different timbre.

The overall theme of the first movement is joyful and decidedly major, with little dissonance. The interplay among the soloists and orchestra was fascinating to behold – there was so much to take in at once, especially in the energetic first movement. The resulting texture is incredibly unique. Most frequently, the theme began with Quint, who traded to Bailey, and then to Pratt; these exchanges seemed effortless despite the necessary amount of concentration and musical engagement required.

The second movement, Largo, gave rise to a mellow and romantic melody; Quint's sense of lyricism and Bailey's articulate expression were especially apparent here. The piano was more independent in this movement, and Pratt's sweeping arpeggios moved gently up and down the keys. The third movement, Rondo alla pollaca, is a delightful romp containing the most energetic material of the work as a whole. The rondo theme is naturally dance-like, reminiscent of the Polish polonaise. Suddenly, triple meter turns to a wildly fast duple, with flying figures traded brilliantly amongst all three soloists. Of course, the rondo theme then returns with an ending of bold, triumphant chords.

Brahms' Concerto in A minor for violin, cello, and orchestra is his last large-scale orchestral work. It contrasts Beethoven's concerto in that there are many changing textures and moods within each movement. In addition, there are more truly cadenza-like solos throughout. The beginning of the Allegro movement is mysterious – a pizzicato cello creates this mood, and the violin has a similar solo shortly after. This movement contains fascinating melodic progression – moving from a solemn and strong mood to capricious major mode and back again. The two soloists frequently exchanged parts of the melody back and forth, and the movement ended grandly with a minor cadence after an increase in urgency and energy.

The second movement, Andante, contains a soaring and falling melody, led by the soloists frequently in unison. This movement, perhaps more than any other, is a kind of music that listeners can let wash over them – it is fully engrossing due to its detail, yet strikingly beautiful. The final movement, Vivace non troppo, is grand and playful, with quickly moving patterns and an accented theme for the rondo. Every time this theme returns, it is more boundless and bolder than the last. For the soloists, this movement was a whirlwind; the violin and cello wove in and out of one another as well as with the orchestra.

The dramatic and breathless ending brought the house immediately to its feet, recognizing the absolute mastery and unparalleled musical sensitivity of all three performers that evening.

 


 

Attending a concert can sometimes feel somewhat artificial: You go to a formal venue to hear musicians engaging in their art, in the company of hundreds (or thousands) of relative strangers — it is a highly contrived and manufactured experience.
 
Last Saturday’s Salon Series concert by the Cypress String Quartet was nothing like that.
 
The performance at the intimate auditorium of the Kanbar Performing Arts Center in San Francisco followed the conventions of a contemporary concert. But with the members of CSQ only inches away from an audience of friends and long-time supporters, the concert’s organic and direct personal impact increased dramatically.
 
CSQ, which consists of Cecily Ward and Tom Stone (violins); Ethan Filner (viola); and Jennifer Kloetzel (cello), had engaged their friends and colleagues Zuill Bailey (cello) and Barry Shiffman (viola) to perform the two string sextets that composer Johannes Brahms created as his Opus 18 and 36. 
 
Brahms wrote these sextets in 1860 and 1864-5 respectively. He was a perfectionist who was extremely self-critical as a composer. In his attempts to compose a string quartet — for many composers the highest and most difficult form of music writing — he found that he needed more options in harmony, color, and symphonic texture to express himself. With two violins, violas, and cellos each, the string sextet gave Brahms enough possibilities: He did not, indeed, publish the first of a total of three string quartets until his Opus 51, in 1873, claiming to have destroyed or abandoned 20 previous attempts.
 
With six hard-working, deeply engaged musicians literally at arm’s length, the atmosphere is thick with vibrating air; you can not only hear the strings resonating, but even feel the sound waves permeate your body, like music by osmosis.With six hard-working, deeply engaged musicians literally at arm’s length, the atmosphere is thick with vibrating air; you can not only hear the strings resonating, but even feel the sound waves permeate your body, like music by osmosis.
 
Also part of the experience is the extraneous sounds that musicians make when playing their instruments: fingers sliding across strings, the soft rustling of clothing or feet moving across the carpet, bodily gestures or intakes of breath for emphasis or phrasing.  
 
And then there are the eyes. Follow the musicians’ eyes and you follow the music and the instruments’ forever changing roles. Within Brahms’ musical fabric, they are constantly shape-shifting, moving from lead voice to rhythmic punctuation or countermelody, sometimes from one note to the next. This is especially prevalent in Opus 36, where Brahms’ writing is even more dense and complex than in the First Sextet, with its more Classical orientation.
 
Needless to say, this performance of both Brahms’ Sextets by “Cypress Plus Two” was one of the finest examples of chamber string ensemble playing I have ever attended; one for the history books and my list of personal favorites.
 
It is unfortunate and at the same time understandable that CSQ has decided to disband after 20 fruitful years of playing together, but most good things must come to an end.
 
Based on last Saturday’s performance and the plans for the months ahead until the farewell concert on June 26, CSQ is going out with a bang.

Native Dutchman Niels Swinkels is a freelance journalist, musicologist, and sound engineer. Before moving to San Francisco, he was the arts editor and senior classical music/opera critic for Brabants Dagblad, a regional daily newspaper in the Netherlands. As a freelance writer and sound engineer, he currently works for San Francisco Opera, KALW Local Public Radio, Elevation Online, Earprint Productions, and others.

- See more at: https://www.sfcv.org/reviews/cypress-string-quartet/cypress-quartet-brahms-by-osmosis#sthash.nbxpKXsc.dpuf

TROY — Friday's concert at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall was intended as a kind of prelude and kickoff for a weeklong workshop in August on the cello suites of J.S. Bach. But the main attraction was soloist Zuill Bailey. It would be easy to spend a week's time with him, no matter what music he wanted to play and discuss.

 

When Bailey chatted with the audience in between pieces, he was full of likeable good humor and fascinating historical tidbits. But more important was the gorgeous quality of his playing.

He opened, appropriately, with the Bach Cello Suite No. 1, moving through the long lines with a breathless ease and elegance. Practically every phrase had something both intimate and declarative, joyful and heroic.

 

Pianist Navah Perlman joined him for most of the balance of the program. The Brahms Sonata in E Minor, which came next, felt in certain ways like an expansion of the Bach, broader and more romantic, even more entrancing. Actually, in his remarks Bailey managed to reference all of the music on the program back to Bach. There's a lesson there about the primacy of Bach that most every musician would understand.

Perlman seemed a tad restrained in the Brahms, as if she was deliberately keeping one dynamic level down. But her sound as well as her mastery of thick and complicated passages came to the fore after intermission in the Mendelssohn Concert Variations. And in Chopin's Polonaise Brillante the two players showed a fine sense of partnership, sharing the sonic spotlight and exploring the music with a rollicking playfulness.
 

Yet the focus of the night was on the cello, and also on community. To highlight this, Bailey invited three of our region's finest players to join him — Erica Pickhardt, Petia Kassarova, and Andre Laurent O'Neill. They must have found a quick chemistry together, since they added a sizeable work to the program, Max Bruch's "Kol Nidrei." Bailey delivered the searing solo line as the trio supported him, playing the material originally written for full orchestra.

The quartet reassembled and returned to Bach for the evening's finale. It was an arrangement of a Pastorale, and brought to mind the lush and singing piece popularly known as the "Air on the G String."

Judging from this program, the adult students who come together with Bailey in August will be in for quiet an experience. Hopefully, the organizers will provide more opportunities for audiences to share the bliss.

Joseph Dalton is a freelance writer based in Troy.

Review: Williamsburg Symphonia delivers again in season finale

 

The Williamsburg Symphonia closed its music season in high style with a stylish program that was superbly handled by the musicians under the knowing baton of Janna Hymes. It was a program that was filled with listening pleasures of varied dimension.

In what is a broken-record observation, it is important to realize how fortunate we are to have such quality music readily available in Williamsburg. The impact Hymes and her orchestra have had on our community and its reputation as a go-to place for quality music is more than gratifying. The community support and the orchestra's growing outreach into the community truly enriches our lives.

The featured guest for the evening was cellist Zuill Bailey, a performer internationally noted for his superior playing abilities and, as at least one lady suggested and many more no doubt thought, his handsome presence. Bailey is considered one of the top cellists in today's market and he proved his standing in his performance of the Schumann Cello Concerto in A Minor.

The Schumann's four movements are played without break due to Schumann's dislike of the possibility of applause between movements. It often lends itself toward moodier moments, not surprisingly given his bouts with mood swings. Yet, there's an overall sense of optimism that prevails, buoyed by heightened lyricism and emotional drive.

The concerto is not a virtuoso piece but rather one resembling a dialogue between the instrument and orchestra. That said, it is not without technical demands, which found Bailey impressively handling running passages with fingers (and occasionally his full head of hair) flying. His masterful control of the instrument and the Schumann resulted in a performance of excitement, passion, soulful lyricism, especially in the slower section that approached moments of ethereal quality.

Hymes effectively created a perfect balance between soloist and orchestra, allowing a highly musical dialogue to develop, along with a strong emotional dimension.

He provided an encore of the Prelude of Bach's Suite No. 1. Whereas many treat these unaccompanied gems as technical exercises, Bailey brought to this brief movement an extraordinary lyrical and solo-inspired quality that was defining.

The program closed with a rip roaring performance of Mozart's Symphony No. 41 in C Major, the "Jupiter." In short, it was a thrilling ride that thoroughly tapped into the work's elegance and excitement, offering a smashing close to another rewarding musical season.

New CD

Zuill Bailey