Miller Theatre at Columbia University kicked off what will surely be a brilliant season on September 28 with a vintage pairing–Johann Sebastian Bach and Philip Glass. Grammy-nominated self-conducted chamber orchestra A Far Cry joined forces with NYC’s own pianist Simone Dinnerstein for familiar works and the New York premiere of new piece by Glass in a divinely-inspired package. And their tour begins here.
A Far Cry is a Boston-based ensemble, whose moves are not only musical but terpsichorean. The first act paired a palate-pleasing presentation of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto Number Three in G Major, BWV 1048, with Glass’ Symphony Number Three. The Bach featured a mise en abyme of a chamber within a chamber—three violinists, three violas, two cellos and a bass—and the playing was so sublime and none of the strings could remain still. The violins and violas were dancers, as light on their feet as the music and enraptured as they were. The cellos and bass were like poets, having a conversation of their own, in this lively cocktail party. When they added the full strength of the ensemble for the Glass, Movement I was vibrating sinuous sweep, punctuated with modal sway. There was a broad “Rodeo” type feel to Movement II, and urgency to the low intoning figure. Movement III was thought rendered as sound, with a Roma-esque feel, while Movement IV had the sensation of a dark Capriccio Espagnol or something from a haunted Tim Burton western.
The second act featured Simone Dinnerstein first on Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in G minor, BWV1058. The Allegro led off with great energy and dynamic control, which segued into the commanding and majestic Andante, which appears to make pronouncements, then follow up with rational argument. The Allegro assai had exchanges between Dinnerstein and the ensemble, showing their joy in the unity of effort and the beauty of the sound they created together. There is rapture in the creation of the experience of performance, which was evident in the bubble created on stage that enveloped us all. Particularly beautiful passages abounded.
The final piece of the evening was written expressly for Dinnerstein. Glass heard her play when she visited him at home for a short program of Schubert, as well as his work. He knew he’d write something expressly for her, and the result is his Piano Concerto Number Three. When Glass studied under the renowned Nadia Boulanger, she taught him to analyze Bach and study what made his music so timeless, and the result is this vintage beauty.
The Movements I and II are written to be played immediately after one another, and the beginning is a Romantic-era, Chopin-esque Impressionistic delight. Later, there is a lushness and melancholy beauty like a bittersweet snowfall. Movement III is dedicated to Arvo Pärt and Glass acknowledges that, while it is inspired by him, its minimalist beauty is not what Pärt would write himself. This is truly the measure of admiration.
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