In this issue: Pianist Timo Andres performing “How can I live in your world of ideas?”; an excerpt from Cappella Mediterranea’s production of Rameau’s Les indes galantes; pianist Martha Argerich performing Chopin’s Largo and Finale from Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58; Chris Thile performing “Too Many Notes;” an excerpt from Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites
Now, More Than Ever: Issue 29
Timo Andres: “How can I live in your world of ideas?”
Timo Andres, piano
American composer and pianist Timo Andres—see also Issue 12 (May 14)of Now, More Than Ever—was born in Palo Alto, grew up in Connecticut, and studied in the pre-college program at Juilliard and at Yale University. His work has received wide acclaim, with commissions coming from organizations such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, and Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, as well as artists including Gabriel Kahane and Philip Glass. He currently makes his home in Brooklyn, New York.
Andres’ primary musical influences range from bands such as Sigur Rós and Radiohead to classical composers including Mozart, Brahms, and Schumann. This particular piece, originally composed for two pianos but revised here for one in response to the current coronavirus pandemic, is something of a musical dialogue that features direct quotations (“needle drops,” in Andres’ words) from Beethoven and Schumann as well as “flashbacks” in the styles of other composers—all in conversation with the present, as represented by the bluesy figure played by Andres’ left hand.
The first time I heard this piece I was totally entranced, a response that has only grown stronger with time, so when I saw that Andres had recorded it from the isolation of his New York apartment, I jumped at the chance to include it in Now, More Than Ever.
“How can I live in your world of ideas?” was written when Andres was a graduate student at Yale. The story goes that, upon hearing it, his professor became angry, saying something like, “I don’t like that piece! He thinks he can do whatever he wants with history!” It’s our good fortune that Andres didn’t listen. For my money, he’s one of the most gifted composers of his generation.
Rameau: “Viens Hymen” from Les indes galantes
Sabine Devieilhe, soprano Cal Hunt, dancer Serge Saitta, transverse flute Bintou Dembélé, choreography Cappella Mediterranea Leonardo García Alarcón, conductor
We’ve already encountered this brilliant production of Rameau’s Les indes galantes in Issue 21 (June 25)of Now, More Than Ever, but I’m happy to revisit it, if only to take another look at Bintou Dembélé’s hip hop-inspired choreography and the glorious vocal contributions of Sabine Devieilhe, Europe’s most in-demand coloratura soprano at the moment. This is her big aria, and you can certainly hear why she’s so popular—Devieilhe’s natural musicianship and directness of communication, informed by her extraordinary technique, combine for a deeply satisfying performance.
Note the comment on the YouTube page—“Not one single moment without absolute perfection.” I couldn’t agree more! And as for dancer Cal Hunt, his moves are so liquid, so graceful, it’s as if he has no bones in his body. He’s the perfect foil to the pliancy of Devieilhe’s interpretation.
Chopin: Largo and Finale from Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58
Martha Argerich, piano
(If this video did not begin at 12:06, please reset it.)
There are many striking things about this performance, but it’s the ending that really threw me for a loop. There’s no applause. And suddenly you realize that there’s no audience. At the time when the performer usually basks in a huge ovation, Argerich simply stands up, looks around—a bit uncomfortably—performs half a bow, and walks off the stage. A sign of the times, I’m sad to say.
Still, we’re incredibly lucky to have this video, which was recorded recently by Medici.tv in Hamburg’s Laeiszhalle. Argerich has for many years resisted solo repertoire because she doesn’t enjoy going out on stage on her own. It seems that the current pandemic may have encouraged her to change her mind.
If you have the time, Argerich’s entire performance here is well worth watching. But if you’re in a rush, I recommend these final two movements. It might not be as famous as the third movement of Chopin’s Second Piano Sonata (the funeral march), but the Third Sonata’s slow movement stands with his greatest achievements, with a dreamy middle section that seems to emanate from another world. This is followed by a daredevil finale that challenges even the most nimble and precise of performers. In anyone’s hands, there’s real propulsion in this music, but in Argerich’s, the joy of it becomes completely irresistible.
Adding to this year’s bad news—and something you may have missed in the rush of events—was the recent cancellation by American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio of Live from Here with Chris Thile, the variety program that replaced the famed A Prairie Home Companion. We’re all fighting budget cuts related to COVID-19 these days, and this is another loss; the show has been an incredible showcase for Thile’s musical curiosity and natural big-heartedness.
I found this clip, recorded before Thile had taken on his hosting duties, a wonderfully self-aware, hilarious, and virtuosic performance about his dating life, and I couldn’t resist sharing it with you. Thile is now happily married, with a young son, and it’s impossible not to get drawn into his world. I defy anyone to listen to this and not smile.
Poulenc: Finale and “Salve Regina” from Dialogues des Carmélites
Maria Ewing (Blanche de la Force) Régine Crespin (Madame de Croissy, The Old Prioress) Jessye Norman (Madame Lidoine) Florence Quivar (Mere Marie) Betsy Norden (Soeur Constance) Manuel Rosenthal, conductor
As John J. O’Connor wrote in the New York Times in 1987:
Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites is that opera rarity, a 20th-century work that has gained widespread admittance to the standard repertory. It had its premiere at La Scala in 1957…. Inspired by a Georges Bernanos play, Dialogues, with a libretto by Emmet Lavery, unfolds during the French Revolution, between 1789 and 1792. The aristocratic Blanche, young and fearful, joins a Carmelite convent in search of salvation through prayer, but she finds the quest more difficult than anticipated. Meanwhile, the aged Prioress is dying a bitter death, losing the faith that has sustained her through a lifetime as a Carmelite. Her successor arrives just as the revolutionary mobs are proscribing religious observances and demanding the lives of priests and nuns. Blanche runs away from the convent but returns in the final scene as the sisters go to their martyrdom, their singing of the “Salve Regina” punctuated with the offstage swish and thump of the guillotine.
In this thrilling and devastating final scene, we watch as each of the nuns walks to her death. It has always struck me that, for the majority of this work, the action plays out on a very meditative scale, with everything allowed to unfold in its own time. But in the opera’s final 20 minutes, the pace suddenly quickens; it’s as if we’re watching the events on fast forward. The shock we feel is due both to the urgency of the story and to the way our sense of time has been disrupted.
The Met’s marvelous 1987 cast—featuring Maria Ewing, Régine Crespin (who appeared in the Paris premiere of the opera in 1957), Jessye Norman, Florence Quivar, and Betsy Norden—couldn’t be bettered. All in all, an unforgettable conclusion to one of the most brilliant productions of the opera ever mounted. I hope the Met never retires it!