Sunday, 29 June 2014

Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival 2014

It's been a crazy but extremely rewarding couple of weeks as we took in the 2014 Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, subtitled "In the Shadow of Bach". My own little Warhol-esque art-take on the festival above is actually a pretty apt representation of the wide-ranging character of this year's Musical Offerings (pardon the pun). There were 20 concerts offered, but really only 14 that any one individual could attend as some were at the same time at different venues; we attended 12 of them! We had to travel quite far for most of them, crossing an international border every time for all but one; average travel time was about an hour each way. Honestly, it was worth every minute in the car. Only one performance was disappointing, a combination of a composer I really don't like and a sub-par performance by one of the musicians. That's quite incredible when the sheer volume of performers and performances are taken into account! Rather than dwell on the one little negative, I'll share some of the highlights (for me). In order of performance:

1) Roberta Gary's complete "Art of the Fugue" on organ. This 80-year-old legend gave just the right balance of clarity, depth and wonder to the AotF (take that, LotR!). Entrancing!

2) Frederic Chiu's two "Classical Smackdown" performances (Debussy vs Prokofiev and Bach vs. Philip Glass). Chiu is one of my new favourite pianists! He's smart, charming and an amazing musician. The first smackdown was on our side of border (Canada), so we took one of Mike's 12-year-old piano students to it...he loved it! His mom said he didn't stop talking about it once he got home. The second one was performed in a stone chapel by candlelight as a monster storm had blown out the electricity. Serendipity, that - one of the most atmospheric concerts I've ever been to. The Glass was especially ethereal in that setting.

3) The Bach Chaconne from the partita No.2 in D minor. Originally for solo violin, this was an arrangement by Mendelssohn for violin and piano, a great performance by Tai Murray and Frederic Chiu. [As an aside, it was Mendelssohn who, in part, helped resurrect Bach's music from possible oblivion.]

4) The "prelude" to a concert at Temple Beth-El introduced me to my first classical saxophone quartet and I was completely blown away. The Donald Sinta Quartet are amazing (I'm running out of superlatives, LOL!). We would see programs by these guys twice more, both as good as the first.

5) Bach's Fantasy and Fugue in G minor (arr. Liszt), originally set to be performed by James Tocco (festival director and great pianist - he's also a very approachable guy!), performed by Woori Kim, a really strong, memorable performance. A PhD in music in her own right, she was also one of the two hard-working page turners for the whole festival, and a very nice person!

6) Poulenc's "The Story of Babar the Little Elephant", performed by James Tocco on piano and read by Rhoya Tocco Didden. This quite bizarre story (for those of you who have never read it, it really is quite avant-garde, funny, tragic and touching) was complemented beautifully by Poulenc's music.

7) THEN there was the incredibly fun, moving, jaw-dropping evening of music with Peter Schickele. This was one of the musical highlights of all time, I think. Many people are familiar with his alter-ego creation, PDQ Bach, but Schickele is also a composer of modern "serious" music of very great merit. Beautiful stuff. And, after this concert, not only am I convinced that the blues should only ever be played on bassoons, I have been singing "Howdy There" from Oedipus Tex.....quite the ear-worm.

8) The Telegraph Quartet!!!! They played the Britten String Quartet No. 1 in D (Op. 25) as the prelude in an UNBEARABLY hot church. It completely entranced me.

9) At the same UNBEARABLY hot church, 23-year-old Ivan Moschuk gave one of the best piano recitals I have ever heard. Bravo!

10) The world premiere of Sahba Aminkia's "Night and Fog"; so incredibly raw and moving at the same time.....

 The final concert held several treats: 

11) A really interesting piece by Joel Hoffman, "Self-Portrait with JS", in which he takes Bach's Sonata for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord in G major and by either subtracting notes, freezing certain unusual chords in time or "spinning the wheels" in repeating sequences gives a brilliant whole new look at Bach.

12) The Eisenhower Dance company interpreting the third Brandenburg Concerto. This was one of those times when you're watching with mouth hanging open and bated breath! The troupe of six dancers did nothing less than make counterpoint visible in three dimensions. Absolutely captivating.

13) James Tocco, David Buck, Kimberly Kaloyanides Kennedy and the Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings presenting the fifth Brandenburg, performed on piano rather than harpsichord (upon which the other two Brandenburgs were performed). This was basically what could be called the very first piano concerto because, although written for a state-of-the-art harpsichord that Bach had acquired it really is best heard on piano (sacrilege? But no, my friend! The writing actually seems like Bach knew where the technology would or should go!).

At the end of the concert, there was a very moving tribute to James Tocco who would be stepping down as Artistic Director after 21 years! He will return as a performer, though. We said goodbye to our two page-turner friends whom we had come to know over the course of the two weeks and trundled on home.

This whole festival was every superlative I can think of.......

....I guess there's not much more to say!!!!!

[Check in tomorrow for my own little tribute to Bach....]

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