On February 16, a program at Bard College’s Bitó Conservatory Building devoted to the music of Hungarian composer György Kurtág, planned as the first of an annual festival, proved both fascinating and exhausting. I showed up for the pre-concert talk by Julia Galieva-Szokolay at 1 p.m. Full of interesting information and even some audio and video examples, it went on for a full hour.
We then had what sounded as though it was going to be an exciting event, a phone conversation with the 94-year-old composer from his home in Hungary. Unfortunately, Kurtág spoke in Hungarian (the pre-concert talk included a clip of him reading poetry in English), and his translator was hard to hear and only occasionally comprehensible. By the time the concert itself reached intermission, we’d been sitting for two and a half hours. No wonder most of the audience left.
I don’t think it was the music that drove people away. Kurtág is sometimes compelling. A group of children’s pieces from Games, Book 1 were played by eight Bard students. The brief pieces all had involving content. The last one, “Homage to Tchaikovsky,” was actually quite funny, taking the opening piano passage from the First Piano Concerto and turning Tchaikovsky’s chords into wild dissonances.
From this one I learned the pattern of Kurtág’s various Homages, which take a recognizable bit from familiar music and play drastically with it. The entire remainder of the program was made up of short pieces, mostly from other sets of Games, played by numerous other pianists and a few other instrumentalists. I didn’t love them all, but the overall impression I was left with (also from hearing his work in the past) is that this composer writes involving music. I’ll look forward to next year’s Kurtág celebration in hopes it’s planned to be more listener-friendly.
Bard has quite a bit of interesting music coming up in March. On March 13, the excellent pianist Benjamin Hochman continues his Mozart Sonata series at Bitó at 8 p.m. The next afternoon at 1 p.m., pianist Sung-Soo Cho plays the complete piano etudes of Scriabin, an extremely formidable task, also at Bitó, On Sunday, March 15, violinist Todd Philips and pianist Rachel Yunkyung Choo will play four Beethoven Violin Sonatas at Olin Hall at 3 p.m. These concerts are all free, no ticket required.
Saugerties Pro Musica continues its series on Sunday, March 15, at 3 p.m. with cellist Natasha Farny and pianist Eliran Avny in a “Celebrating Women Composers” program of Louise Farranc, Clara Schumann, Lera Auerbach, Ellen Taafe Zwilich, Ethel Smyth, and Nina Simone. These concerts take place at Saugerties United Methodist Church, Washington Avenue at Post Street.
One of my favorite local groups is the Poné Ensemble, mostly members of the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, Its concert on March 22, presumably at 3 p.m. (not listed on line), at the New Paltz United Methodist Church on Main Street will include music of Maurice Ravel, Malcolm Arnold, Woodstock’s own Peter Schickele, Shirley Hoffman Warren, and Leanna Primiani.
This ensemble selects recent music for its value and its accessibility. I love these concerts and recommend them highly.
Speaking of the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, its next concert, at the Bardavon in Poughkeepsie on March 28 at 8 p.m., adds the excellent chorus Capella Festiva for the magnificent Requiem by Mozart, his last, unfinished work and one of his most dramatic. The program also includes Schwantner’s “New Morning for the World” with texts by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a stirring piece of music. Actor Guy Davis will read the texts.
SUNY New Paltz has an interesting-sounding concert coming up on Tuesday, March 10, 7:30 at Studley Theatre. Music department students will play piano music of Ravel and Misty Mazzioli, along with Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet (not heard very often because it requires a doublebass).
The new Fair John Art Space & Music Salon, corner of Fair and John in Kingston, presents members of The Orchestra Now in a preview of this summer’s Bard Music Festival, with works of Nadia and Lili Boulanger and Ravel’s String Quartet. To this writer, Lili Boulanger, who died at 24, was one of the twentieth century’s great composers. The concert starts at 8. Info at frenchimpressions.bpt.me.
The Rhinebeck Chamber Music Society, displaced for the season from its usual home in Rhinebeck, presents a program of “Miniatures,” mostly original compositions for clarinet and piano but including some arrangements and improvisations, performed by Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh and pianist Florian Weber. This one, at 3 p.m., is at the Morton Memorial Library in Rhinecliff. Info at rcms.org.
The Ulster Chamber Music Series, similarly displaced by church construction, has moved to the larger Redeemer Lutheran Church, 104 Wurts St., in Kingston. On Sunday, March 29, at 3 p.m., the Neave Trio plays works of Haydn, Schumann, Shostakovich and Eric Nathan. Not to denigrate any of the other music, but the Shostakovich is one of his masterpieces.
And the excellent Piano Plus series at the Olive Free Library, curated by composer George Tsontakis, returns on Saturday, March 21, at 4 p.m. I’ve heard some music by John Halle, recently retired from Bard, and always enjoyed it, but I’ve never heard him play the piano before. He’ll be playing music of Bach and Debussy, and three “Obliterated Standards” obliterated by Tsontakis, also joined by the Mana Sax Quartet for Halle‘s own “Street Music.”
Don’t miss this one!
Guest Review / Judith Kerman
Also on February 16, Saugerties Pro Musica presented the ensemble Duo Mondo on February 16 at Saugerties United Methodist Church. Cellist Rebecca Hartka and guitarist Jose Lezcano offered an energetic Iberian-flavored program that made excellent use of their fine instruments’ contrasting textures and the performers’ expressive musicianship.
Joaquin Nin’s lively “Spanish Suite” demonstrated balance and interplay of voices.
The two original compositions, Hartke’s meditative solo “Bone Dust to Star Dust” and Lezcano’s duet “Key West Suite” exhibited a variety of moods and influences. The duet was particularly virtuosic.
Two short works by Astor Piazzolla and a song by Gabriel Fauré, effectively transcribed from voice and piano, were all lovely and romantic. The final sonata by Brazilian Radames Gnattali highlighted once again the interplay of voices, including humorous contrasting of cello pizzicato and guitar.