Claire Chase at Weill Recital Hall
The New York Times, April 24, 2010
Just because violinist Jennifer Koh and flutist Claire Chase both spend a great deal of time playing contemporary works -- and playing them fiercely -- is no reason to doubt that either could play the standard repertoire just as brilliantly. Still, it was fascinating to hear Koh play a heart-stopping Brahms Violin Concerto with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and Chase making a Bach sonata sound spontaneous and brimming with life on the same day. Jacques Lacombe, the music-director designate of the NJSO, and his interesting programming ideas will surely be the topic of a future blog post in the not-distant future.
And why, in the short space allotted to Claire's review, did I opt to devote a whole sentence to the fellow who wrote the program notes? Mainly because Whit Bernard, the writer in question, wrote this about Franco Donatoni's Fili, which followed the Bach sonata on the program:
There is an almost Baroque excess to this piece: music that first strikes the listener for its sparse pointillism is suddenly smothered in frenetic ornament, only to be exposed again in its naked simplicity.
Slightly techy, but easy enough to follow. Then, this:
This textural schizophrenia demands a tight, virtuosic collaboration between performers. Watch Claire and Jacob communicate each gesture -- taking turns in the lead, triggering one another's responses, angling for the end to each tightly wound silence.
Rather than leaving us to wonder whether we've parsed what we read before, Bernard gives us something tangible to watch out for: the way the two players manage to cue and take prompts from one another while executing their own treacherously challenging parts. Then, a few lines later, the real coup:
A few weeks ago, Claire and Jacob performed the piece at an outreach event for elementary school students. The children's responses brilliantly capture the shimmering, frenetic texture of this music: "Popcorn! exclaimed one student, but another cut him off, shouting, "NO! Pop ROCKS!" Others heard animals, citing everything from "angry pretty butterflies" to a "waltz with a hippo." Who needs music theorists, anyway?
Sly, charming and accurate -- and at the same time, Bernard points out that children listen to new music with far less prejudice than do most adults. The program notes are full of similarly quotable passages. Nicely done.