Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Here’s the legend. I may fudge a detail or slightly misremember a quote, but that’s how legends go. This really happened.

Shortly after the great contralto Kathleen Ferrier was diagnosed with the cancer that would kill her, she performed Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde
(“Song of the Earth”) under the baton of Mahler’s friend Bruno Walter. At the end of the last, and by far longest, song, “Der Abschied” (“Farewell”), she broked down in tears and failed to sing the last repitition of the last word, “ewig” (“ever” -- “Everywhere, for ever, horizons are blue and bright! / For ever and ever . . .”). After the performance she apologized in horror to Walter, who magnificently replied, “My dear Miss Ferrier, were we all such artists as you, we all would have been in tears.”

I heard a gorgeous rendition of “Der Abschied” a week and a half ago, and it’s not solely because the legend of Kathleen Ferrier’s tears was echoing in my mind as I listened that I got teary at the end. Kathryn Weld sang it -- and the Seattle Chamber Players and Friends played the scaled-down arrangement -- beautifully, with exquisite tenderness, delicacy, and strength.

It’s a massive piece -- a 28-minute song, with recurring riffs and a gradually unfolding melody. Weld and the band held the audience spellbound. Weld has tremendous stage presence, standing still with her hands against her thighs, swaying slightly to the music, rooted like a willow in a gentle breeze. But that wouldn’t matter if she didn’t deploy her rich tone in service to a well-felt musical line.

“Der Abschied” was one piece of five presented by Seattle Chamber Players that night over the course of three and a half hours, and two of the remaining four rivaled the Mahler for vividness and splendor.

Pianist/vocalist/composer/sampler-player/koto-player Tomoko Mukaiyama was a featured performer on three of the evening’s other four pieces. Her musicianship was the equal of Weld’s, and her stage presence was even more striking.

A solo piano recital of Sommer Reisen (“Summer Travel”), Mukaiyama’s own 35- or 40-minute piece that incorporates a Schubert Impromptu, opened the evening. As she took the stage to the crowd’s applause, she banged the first chord as she was sitting down and before the applause had finished -- Well! That got our attention. The piece blended a nuanced and powerful reading of the Schubert with her own sometimes dissonant, sometimes lilting and somewhat minimalist-inspired digressions, and occasionally her own recordings of urban soundscapes, recorded in five different Japanese cities. A splendid opener to the evening.

The evening’s other enchantment came from Tao, a piece by the Nederlands post-minimalist composer Louis Andriessen, for solo piano, women’s voices, and ensemble. Mukaiyama was the piano soloist. The piece’s details have faded in the 10 days since I heard it, but I remember being struck by Mukuiyama’s powerful playing, and the smooth shimmering glitter of the ensemble and four female singers. The composer and performers wove a tight sonic texture. The bright dissonance of the singing reminded me that Andriessen is a highly regarded Stravinsky scholar. At the end of the piece, Mukaiyama moved from the piano to the koto, where she plucked a few sounds and sang, quietly, into a microphone, as the ensemble pianist, Harumi Flesher, played some of the same figures that Mukaiyama had played as a soloist. Flesher played from a piano farther back from the foot of the stage, with the piano’s top not raised as highly, so her sound was muted compared to the soloist’s. The visual/sonic confusion played pleasant mental tricks. Mukaiyama’s non-professional-sounding singing added an unexpected, delightful color as the piece closed.

The remaining two pieces -- Bagatellen by Heiner Goeggels, for violin, clarinet, and sampler; and Farewell by Zhou Long, for pipa and erhu solo and ensemble -- both had striking moments as well. The Seattle Chamber Players’ violinist Mikhail Shmidt and clarinetist Laura DeLuca shone in Bagatellen as they played frenetic, dissonant unisons over deadening, down-tempo industrial/techno beat from the sampler, which Tomoko Mukaiyama wielded. The piece closed with self-generating noise from the sampler, as Shmidt and DeLuca had left the stage, leaving Mukaiyama alone onstage with the grey noise, looking as though she were auditioning for a catastrophic Beckett play. I would have cast her. The most memorable moment in Zhou Long’s piece, which pleasantly melded Chinese and Western timbres and harmonies, came when Jonathan Chan on erhu (a two-stringed Chinese instrument played with a bow) and Joshua Roman on cello played glissandos in harmony, making a unique and delightful sound.

The Seattle Chamber Players are a local treasure. I saw them over three days in January, and now all four times I’ve seen them, they have filled the air with stimulating, memorable, expertly played, exploratory sound.

-- Photo of Tomoko Mukaiyama lifted from here.

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?