THE NEW ROMANTICS at Conrad’s Baker-Baum Concert Hall
The La Jolla Music Society continues to bring some of the world’s finest musicians to the Conrad’s Baker-Baum Concert Hall. Although The Conrad is open year-round, summers are a treat due to the Society’s Summerfest series, this year up to four weeks packed with 15 concerts.
Music Director Inon Barnatan chose the theme “Under the Influence”, and many concerts were designed to evoke the feelings and emotions associated with the cities or times in which famous composers lived. This concert was dubbed “The New Romantics”.
Romantic-era composers sought out beautiful melodies, exciting rhythms, and gorgeous textures to evoke emotions ranging from sadness to elation. Barnatan’s well-chosen lineup of Schubert, Hamelin and Dvorak did just that.
The program opened with Schubert’s Quartettsatz. The piece was written as the first movement of the usual four for a quartet, but Schubert abandoned the project. Why? Many have speculated; nobody knows. Although a single movement, the piece is cataloged as his 12th quartet, an earlier cousin of his better known “unfinished” symphony. The Dover Quartet (violins Joel Link and Bryan Lee, viola Milena Pajaro-Van De Stadt and cello Camden Shaw) provided a full and lush sound in the ensembles, clear and precise solos, perfect balances and a dynamic often reaching the top. passionate romanticism.
Although it’s a short piece, for those of us who value melody above all else, it’s a tough act to
follow. And that was the mission for the creation of the piano quintet of contemporary composer-pianist Marc-André Hamelin in what he calls a “completed version”. The pianist cites the influence of Liszt and Wagner, but I thought more often of the harmonies and string writing of Ravel and Debussy in the first movement and the magical, playful Mendelssohn in the final fourth. A dark second rivals the sinister “funeral” movement of Chopin’s second piano sonata, while the austere and phantasmagorical bitonality of the third plunges us resolutely into the 20th century.
The Dover quartet joined Hamelin in a performance I doubt could be bettered. There were driving climaxes, delightful string playing, poignant slow passages and possibly the most technically brilliant pianist since Liszt. Emotions ranging from “sorrow to elation” justify its place in a “New Romantics” program. But–
The quintet lacks the immediately appealing melodies of popular romantic composers such as Schubert and Dvorak. Perhaps additional ratings would convince me that its substantial intellectual appeal is compensation enough. Of course, he fascinates an unusual mix of styles and a piano that often seems more of a dissociated ironic commentator than an integral part of the texture. I would welcome a recording to see if familiarity breeds affection.
Violinist Stefan Jackiw, cellist Clive Greensmith and pianist Barnatan ended the evening with Dvořák’s Piano Trio in F minor. I’m usually on the negative side when it comes to clapping between moves, but I clap as loudly as anyone in praise of a cheerfully exuberant first move. Barnatan couldn’t hide a smirk as the audience expressed their enthusiastic approval. The exceptional performance of the trio closed an exceptional concert, an experience enriched by the obvious pleasure of the musician in bringing the music to life.
Those who missed the concert prelude featuring barefoot violinist Tessa Lark missed an enjoyable half-hour recital with a laugh-out-loud personal anecdote on one of the tracks. Lark excels at both classical violin and bluegrass violin which she likes to call “Stradgrass”. Amid a few examples of bluegrass, including some of her own work, she gave impressive renditions of Bach’s Third Partita, a Telemann Jig and the difficult finale of Ysaye’s 4th Sonata.
Her laid-back barefoot entrance was finally explained when she ripped through John Corigliano’s STOMP with a performance enhanced by the rhythmically bluegrass-influenced stomp of a bare right foot across the venue’s wooden-floored stage. Yeah ah!
Lark said Corigliano wrote the piece for a Tchaikovsky competition in 2011 as a challenge for the contestants, including her, but was unable to perform it because she was eliminated in the first round.
When she then won a competition in New York for which Corigliano was also a judge, not recognizing her from the Russian competition, he said that her unusual style was perfect for a play he had written called STOMP. Did she know him? Somewhat embarrassed by Russia, she lied and said no. Long story short, she was the soloist on the first recording of the work.
Summerfest continues until August 26. Visit the La Jolla Music Society website for schedule and ticket information.
The revised performance took place on August 12, 2022.