Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Music at Menlo, week 3

The Menlo festival is over now, which is both sad because I got to hear a lot of good music, and a relief because it occupied most of my time for three weeks and I had to write six reviews.

Indeed, I probably couldn't have lost my pocket calendar (which went with my bag in the Atlanta airport) at a less disruptive time, since the Menlo calendar is so detailed I was keeping, as I usually do, a timeline in a printout from a computer file, so all I had to do was print out another copy when I got home, and then remember my very few non-Menlo appointments of the period, like the dentist.

As for six reviews, two of them came in the final week, of the Budapest concert and the Vienna one.

The Budapest one I approached with some trepidation. I wasn't that familiar with the music, as I mentioned last week, and I was a late substitute for a colleague who couldn't go. On top of which it was the third review I had to write within 7 days. I never intended to be so prolific when I took up reviewing, and I approached the concert with a sense of mental exhaustion, feeling my creative juices squeezed dry. I jotted down various hopelessly random phrases between movements, but somehow it turned into a review. I count it one of my better efforts at conveying the character of what I heard, especially in the Bartók. I only wish I'd had DGK there to hear it with me. He would have been as gobsmacked as I.

I got to just one of the three master classes held during the final week, but there was also a "Café Conversation" held in the same noon-hour time slot on Tuesday. This was an interview with the Calidore Quartet, who went on to play that Bartók that evening, conducted by festival co-director David Finckel. Finckel doesn't speak much at Menlo, for instance never giving the introduction that precedes each mainstage concert, but he was unstoppable here, talking more than all four quartet members combined, and interrupting the interview to give a spontaneous and lucid 15-minute lecture on the history of the string quartet. When the quartet did speak, they were lucid too. I've long been irked at the movie A Late Quartet, in which Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a second violinist who's disgruntled because he can't explain what a second violinist does. Any real second violinist, I thought, wouldn't have any trouble with that question, and this one didn't. (He likes the variety of roles he plays in the music, and being part of the glue that holds the sound together.)

Other concerts I got to included the final blowout Prelude concerts by the International Program students - a delightful menu of the Franck Violin Sonata, Brahms' Piano Quartet No. 3, and the Schubert String Quintet - a Young Performers concert (the 10-to-18-year-olds) that featured two movements of an early and rather uncharacteristic Piano Quintet by Bartók, and an innovation at Menlo, what they're calling "Overture" concerts, collaborations between mainstage artists and International Program ones, who continually prove themselves ready for prime time. The Calidore players mixed it up with four of the I.P. folks in the Mendelssohn Octet, one of four or five 19C chamber music pieces I never miss any opportunity to hear.

Now I get to catch my breath a little before going down to Santa Cruz next weekend for the Cabrillo new music festival for my next assignment.

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