openers: Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio.
Little Theatre, Aug. 2
The series began 20 years ago, and artistic director Chantal
Juillet preceded Monday’s concert with what no doubt will
be the first of many goodbyes as she and new husband Charles
Dutoit take their talents elsewhere.
Having this world-class trio kick off the summer chamber music
season is testimony to her vision and influence. Programming
has always been a mix of new sounds and standards, and if
the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio’s program (Beethoven-Brahms-Shostakovich)
adhered to the latter, it reminded us why such pieces persevere.
Although Brahms’s big Trio in B Major should be the
fulcrum of any program it inhabits, its thunder was swiped
by the Shostakovich piece that ended the first half. The Russian
composer wrote his Trio No. 2 in E Minor in 1944, after
learning of both the death of a close friend and the horrific
revelations of Nazi death camps.
Shostakovich wore his pain on his artistic sleeve, and this
piece pulses with pain. It’s not unrelenting—he had a wide
range of expressive devices at hand, and even in the seemingly
spare context of a musical threesome he painted textures Brahms
and Beethoven never went near.
It trivializes Beethoven’s Trio in B-flat Major not
at all to note that its finale, a theme and variations, is
as frivolous as the passacaglia variations in Shostakovich’s
trio are heartbreaking.
The performers pushed the piece into the Romantic era with
a number of interpretive techniques, such as the pause before
the first movement’s exposition repeat and the extreme fortissimo
with which they whupped the start of the recapitulation. Unlike
the other two works on the program, this one puts violin (Jaime
Laredo) and cello (Sharon Robinson) in a separate but fairly
equal relationship with the piano, and the string players
work together as one, beautifully matched.
The start of the Shostakovich is technically brutal, calling
for tough-to-play false harmonics from the muted strings as
the work eases through a haunting beginning. Here the trio
was united, with pianist Joseph Kalichstein completely at
home in Shostakovich’s plangent piano language.
And they’re all proficient enough to take the second movement,
an allegro non troppo, not quite so non troppo as I’ve heard
elsewhere without sacrificing accuracy and playing up its
sardonic nature. As noted, the passacaglia that follows was
sculpted magnificently, and the piece concluded with a savage
allegretto that ran a gamut of texture and tone.
And so to Brahms. Here the intensity of performance flagged
somewhat. A few missed notes, a slight sense of weariness.
Perhaps it should have been piece number two. Again, the ensemble
informed it with interpretive touches like a slight pause
just after the opening theme’s pick-up note, touches I find
unnecessary. I fear that the past couple of performer generations
feels a need to personalize the works they play, which I believe
can be done with a closer ear on the metronome.
Nevertheless, it was a passionate performance of a satisfying
piece. Brahms wrote what are probably the most engaging pi
ano parts in chamber-music literature, and Kalichstein made
them transparent. Likewise, Laredo and Robinson added a level
of accomplishment that only comes from combining technical
excellence with a longtime performing relationship.
The program’s encore, appropriate to the season, was jazz
violinist Andy Stein’s trio arrangement of Gershwin’s “Summertime.”
Steve Reich and Musicians, NEXUS, So Percussion 19th Annual
Concert Hall, Woodstock, July 31
Despite music’s designation as a time-based art, space is
often the dimension in which (and upon which) great music
operates. This is something Hervey White understood when he
set out to build the Maverick Concert Hall on his Woodstock
farm in the 1910s. Today, the raw timber structure, built
around living trees with gorgeous antique windows, nestled
into a fairy-tale pocket of the Catskills, remains the remarkable
“chapel” that White dreamed and plays host to one the most
unique chamber music series in the area. The cultivation of
musical space has also been a driving concern of composer
Steve Reich, whose minimalist rhythmic constructions work
insofar as they stunt the listener’s perception of forward
temporal motion and create a percolating sonic space in which
to dwell. On a warm summer night, with the venue’s barn doors
rolled open and stage full of some of the most accomplished
avant percussionists in the world, the two visions couldn’t
have been better married.
Such was the setting for the 19th annual Woodstock Beat, a
benefit performance for the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild. Present
this evening was a clean lineage of the percussion ensemble:
NEXUS musicians who have been performing with Reich since
his start 40 years ago, and So Percussion, a young quartet
that has pushed the genre into popular territory, and, as
the MC joked, “stole NEXUS’ work.” It was fitting, then, that
the program featured a collection of Reich’s most celebrated
compositions, seminal material for the contemporary percussion
To open the show, NEXUS performed Music for Pieces of Wood,
one of Reich’s more concise rhythmic constructions, scored
for five claves. Jason Treuting of So Percussion maintained
a brisk pulse while the four NEXUS musicians systematically
contributed interlocking polyrhythms on claves of different
pitch. The concept is (almost maddeningly) simple—a piece
built entirely on syncopation, with only the vaguest sense
of a tone poem being produced by the five separate pitches—but
the effect was (almost maddeningly) profound. Overlapping
patterns of 12, eight, and six beats created a hypnotic pocket
that threatened to come undone were it not for the central
pulse. It exhibited a degree of focus that would persist throughout
Unlike the first piece, where separate parts were easily discernible,
Nagoya Marimbas, a marimba duet, became impossible
at times to follow who was playing what. The effect was blissfully
Jumping chronologically backward in Reich’s catalog, but forward
in the sophistication of his arrangements, the first set closed
with Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ from
1973. Like a well-coordinated assembly line, the mallet players
cobbled two separate rhythmic processes together on marimba
and glockenspiel, triggering harmonic swells from the organ
and vocalists when the parts came in and out of phase. Astonishingly,
only the vocalists and organist followed charts, as the mallet
players performed, modulated and traded ostinato figures with
hardly a glance between them.
If one of Reich’s greatest themes is the cultivation of order
on the macroscopic plane despite volatility and conflict between
individual voices, a peculiar resonance came at intermission.
The trees around the concert hall echoed the music within
as a chorus of crickets chattered in complex polyrhythms.
For the second set, Reich joined his musicians, sporting his
ever-present black baseball hat. With Russell Hartenberger,
he first performed Clapping Music, a deceptively challenging
round of flamenco hand claps, and then with all hands on deck,
Drumming, one of Reich’s most celebrated percussion
epics. For upwards of 30 minutes, the musicians cycled through
mallet figures and tuned bongo parts, creating an oceanic
wash of phasing patterns that defied the listener to identify
Inspired by the sounds inside and outside the hall, the subsequent
raucous applause took on a fittingly rhythmic character.