by Leslie Gerber
Since the Music Director of Maverick Concerts, Alexander Platt, is a conductor, it’s understandable that he has wanted to bring his performing skills to the festival. As the leader of annual chamber orchestra concerts he ever pleases.
Maverick seats only about 200 inside and about 100 outdoors, and therefore made do nicely with 16 players this year, most of them from the Caroga Arts Ensemble based in the Adirondacks. Still, even a small orchestra costs money to rehearse, and the longer the program, the more expensive the rehearsals. Yesterday we had an entire first half of solo piano followed by Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with the band of 16.
We’ve heard the admirable pianist Adam Tendler before at Maverick. This year, though his half-concert seemed to work less well. He began with Luciano Berio’s Sequenza IV, which sounded as though the composer was trying out a series of ugly clashing sounds in more or less random order. No doubt some kind of rigid intellectual structure stood behind the piece, but it wasn’t apparent to this semi-knowledgeable listener. The Berio provided sheer bliss, though, compared with Philip Glass’s Two Pages from 1968. I ran into a composer friend, more familiar with Glass’s music than I am, who said that this piece is Glass at his most extreme. It began with a boring 5-note phrase repeated very quickly 20 times (I counted). The piece then went on to repeat similar and similarly boring phrases many times at the same rapid tempo for about 20 minutes. (Even Tendler couldn’t manage to keep the tempo exactly even, although he obviously tried his best.) Some of the audience seemed somehow to enjoy this music. To me, it felt like torture. I have never heard any piece of music I disliked more.
The small-orchestra arrangement of Das Lied von der Erde had been advertised as being by Arnold Schoenberg, but that was an exaggeration. Apparently Schoenberg began to make the arrangement but gave up halfway into the second song. Many years later, Rainer Riehn completed it. For the most part it simply reduced the string sections to single players, and then filled in textures with piano and harmonium. The percussion may have been reduced somewhat (I didn’t have a score with me to check), but it was certainly present. The winds were all single. Most small orchestra arrangements which use a piano sound pretty lame, but this arrangement made a much better impression; the piano blended in well.
Elizabeth Bishop commanded the stage with a large rich voice and a large personality. Very convincing in all her songs, she sang the final “Der Abscheid” with aching beauty. Tenor Barry Banks has a bit smaller voice than Bishop, but he too sang well, capturing the wildness of “The Drunkard in Spring” most convincingly.
Platt had plenty of opportunity to show his qualities as a conductor, pacing each song right on target. The emotional climate of Mahler’s masterpiece may overall be somewhat grim, but it varies greatly and the singers and players projected those variations vividly, and the transparent arrangement gave virtually all the instrumentalists solo moments―every one of them splendid. That must be some festival they have in the Adirondacks!
The Mahler proved very satisfying, and I’m grateful to all concerned.
Leslie Gerber, who lives in Woodstock, New York, has been reviewing professionally since 1966, for such venues as Performance Today, Fanfare, and Amazon.com. He also publishes the Parnassus Records label.