Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dumbarton Concerts: Brooklyn Rider plays Beethoven Quartet 14; music by Zhurbin, Glass, itself;; a note on the film/play "Bent"

Tonight, Feb. 25, 2012, a string quartet called Brooklyn Rider (link) performed at for the Dumbarton Concerts in Washington DC. The players are Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violin, Eric Jacobsen, cello (brother of Colin), and Nicholas Cords, viola. Except for the cello, the group performs standing, which is unusual in my concert experience, and makes it a rather athletic looking event.  The group did not have to re-tune instruments before each piece.

Let’s start with the second half of the program.  This comprised the String Quartet #14 in C# Minor by Ludwig Van Beethoven, Op. 131.  The group says that there is significance to the number of movements, seven, but two of these movements are really introductions to what follows.  They took the quartet fast, and played the movements without pause. The opening fugue sounded more like Andante than Adagio. The central A Major “slow movement” in variation form was rather animated, but the fugal nature of the variations matches the first movement.  The only movement in sonata form is the finale, which has a very elaborate and climatic coda, really like another development section.  Is C# minor, instead of D Minor, more difficult to play on strings?

This quartet was a favorite of another patient during my stay at NIH in 1962, which I’ve discussed elsewhere. He had definite opinions on how it should be performed.

The first half opened with a suite called “Seven Steps”  (no apparent connection to "12 steps"), composed by the entire group in collaboration (and this is unusual in classical music, where individual ego rules composition).  It was lighthearted but given to virtuosity, rather like an album of etudes, but played without pause.

They followed with the Suite for String Quartet from Bent by Philip Glass, based on his chamber music score for the early 1997 film ("Bent") directed by Sean Mathias, based on the play by Martin Sherman in 1979.  I believe I saw a small production of the play in Dallas (when I had started living there for the 80s), and I saw the indie British film (Samuel Goldwyn) at the old Janus theater near Dupont Circle in Washington shortly after it appeared.  (I must have seen it when “home” for Christmas after moving to Minneapolis in September of that year.)  The story is summarized in the program notes and is worth mention here. Max (Clive Owen) gets arrested by Nazi storm troopers on “The Night of the Long Knives”. His boyfriend Rudy (Webber) is taken to and is killed on the way to the camps.  Max tries to pretend to be a Jew  (star) rather than gay (pink triangle) but falls in love with Horst (Lothaire Bluteau), sharing the experience of the work detail in the rock quarries.  I recall a graphic scene when Max arrives at the camp where not only is his head buzz-cut, but also his chest hair is dispassionately lopped off.

The music still sounds like typical Glass, with the typical patterns of repetition.

The first half of the concert ended with a string quartet, about 15 minutes, subtitled “Culai”, by Les Ljova Zhurbin, b. 1978.  It makes heavy use of Romanian folk dance rhythms and melodies. The third movement is a wild tarantella that sounds like it should close the work, but then a funeral march (“Doina Neacsu”) closes, following the form of the Tchaikovsky Pathetique (or even the Mahler 9th). 

The group played two encores, one piece being “Music of the Roma”, based on Romanian folk songs, again by Zhurbin, and another encore that sounded like Enesco to me.

Dumbarton Concerts has another young “composer in residence”, Tudor Dominik Maican, whose family has Romanian origin, and I’m hoping we’ll hear some more of his work there soon.

Brooklyn Rider's YouTube video clip of music from Philip Glass's music for "Mishima" (I have not seen that 1985 film; it's in my Netflix queue now.)

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