If names like Orban, Schoenfield, Bowen, Basegmezler, Bernofsky, Liebermann, Bruce, Fokkens, Blanc, Cui, Babin, Bogár, Dancla, Sitt, Premru, Zivkovic, Gurlit, Kapustin, Van Anrooij, and dozens of others would appear overnight on the labels of tinned or glass packed food in supermarkets, no one would buy them the next morning. There would be pandemonium. “Where has my favourite All Gold, KOO, Rhodes, Bull Brand, Lucky Star, Black Cat, Saldanha, Enterprise, or Ina Paarman disappeared to?
Seeing that we’ve, hopefully by now, caught you, the reader’s full attention, you might already intuitively have detected that this column is dangerously steering towards consumerism and the way we are indoctrinated by the brands, and even worse, by cleverly designed labels, which will guarantee the kind of instant gratification most of us adore. The Dutch have a saying that goes like this: “Wat de boer niet kent, dat lust hij niet”, which, loosely translated, reads: “Food that is unknown to the farmer, he won’t stomach to eat.” (Pun aggressively intended).
In the same way the majority of music lovers are, perhaps totally unconsciously, often in favour of a sparse musical diet coming from “safe” sources or brands they do know. They would never ever consider to take a leap into the realm of the unknown, the exotic, a boundary shifting experience or something which might just reek of some sort of creative experimentation. PAUL BOEKKOOI lost some sleep about this rather concerning issue after listening intensely to Monday’s Faculty Concert 4, with music by Lauren Bernofsky, Lowell Liebermann and David Bruce.
American born Lauren Bernofsky (1967- ) has a reputation which stretches much further than her specialist field of tuition, namely brass. Her three-movement Trio for Brass, written in 2002, is one of those extremely effective pieces within a relatively scarce idiom – except perhaps in countries like the USA, Norway, and a number of others where a brass tradition has been flourishing for long. Three top-notch brass performers on the SICMF’s Faculty, Billy Ray Hunter (trumpet), Weston Sprott (trombone) and Jeff Nelsen (French horn), were on top form in this perfectly structured, extremely exposed and virtuoso piece.
Bernofsky’s music is tonal, relatively straightforward and thus in no way difficult to comprehend or enjoy. For a couple of moments one could wonder if a child would sleep through the Berceuse (Lullaby) of the second movement, but by the time the finale, marked Vivo (and challengingly fast the tempo was), picked up speed, one’s mouth hung open, due to the virtuoso interchange between the three performers. I thought the run-up to reach the final chord was effective enough to make one’s jaw drop.
The Trio No.2, Opus 87 by Lowell Liebermann (56) opens mysteriously and for some time it feels as if the three instruments – piano, flute and ‘cello – follow their own course, but not for long. The kind of, musically speaking, individual trajectory of each instrument develops into a more organically growing wholesomeness and starts interconnecting the thematic elements which initially felt a bit like loose ends. A lot of attention is given to the particular tonal qualities of each instrument. Towards the middle of the first movement, marked Moderato con pazzia, there is a section for solo piano, sounding quite a bit like Ravel, before a higher level of intensity is let lose between all three instruments.
Apart from the idiomatic implementation of each instrument’s strongest characteristics, looking back at this movement made one also aware of the warmth the music itself reflected and how at times the thought crossed that Liebermann is, in a way, like a 21st century Brahms through his thematic interconnectivity as well as his very positive tendency to make one aware of the tonal diversity he creates and sustains.
One presumes that some of the four movement flowed into each other without a pause. The notes, neither the markings in the programme are all but clear regarding this. However, the Cortège predominated with a meditative atmosphere, while in the movement which follows, Placido, there were rich tonal contrasts to be found and some telling, florid and richly lyrical solos for the flute and ‘cello. With highly dedicated musicianship constantly in evidence, the interlinked success of the combination of Demarre McGill (flute), Thomas Carroll (‘cello), and Megan-Geoffrey Prins (piano), totally hooked one into a relatively new work with its hallmark of near greatness encapsulated by this top-notch trio.
The long awaited Stellenbosch première of Gumboots by David Bruce (born 1970), who resides in Britain, was the spot-on hit of the evening in a performance by Ferdinand Steiner (clarinet, bass clarinet), Nicholas Dautricourt (violin 1), Hugo Ticciati ( violin 2), Meena Bhasin (viola) and Saeunn Thorsteinsdóttir (‘cello). It hit like a juggernaut at full speed.
In the single movement Part 1, and Part 2 made up of five dances, there is not a moment where the piece can leave the listener unmoved. Part 1 opens as a mysterious, atmospheric, but also, initially, as a very secluded piece of music. The bass clarinet and the viola have a duo which is unnerving. This is not a comfortable introduction, although, as the melody progresses, it becomes very haunting. Then Part 2, the beginning of the party, arrives. Initially there’s a kind of acidic edge to it. Bruce doesn’t describe the first dance as being “Angry, with attitude” for nothing. Soon the mood changes to a more outspoken optimism, with another wacky viola solo by Bhasin and the clarinet reaching towards its highest possible C’s. His chalumeau register at the other end is as resonant as it is rich. Steiner’s feat of technical perfection is only overtaken by his artistic adaptiveness into a rough African idiom for which he seems, as he fully demonstrated, to have a natural and spontaneous aptitude.
Since this year’s SICMF programme was printed, it has been established that this performance of Gumboots was not a South African première. It has already been performed in Durban during May 2015 by the KZNPO String Quartet, with Annelise De Villiers performing the clarinet part. There was also one given at the Harare Festival of the Arts in Zimbabwe.
As a post scriptum to today’s blog, a request may well be in place. With some of the musicians introducing the performed work(s) verbally, it is often difficult to hear them when sitting far back in the last three or four rows in the Endler. Could a microphone and speaker be arranged for this purpose?