Monday, February 17, 2020

immersion weekend

I've been attending various events with the Violins of Hope's current local residency, some to review them, because this is a big deal locally, some for background, and some just out of curiosity, since they're only here for two months and this is the only chance I'll have. A few of them converged on this weekend.

First, there was in San Mateo the most locally convenient of several programs of folk music, appropriate as many of the violins were klezmer instruments in their previous life. We had short sets by specialists in klezmer (accompanied by accordion), Irish folk (accompanied by guitar), American (mostly cajun and Mississippi delta, also with guitar), and - something of an outlier in this bunch - Indian classical music (accompanied by tabla). This was very popular, and it's a good thing I got there an hour early, because there were almost enough people already lined up to fill the room.

That evening there was a pay event at the nearby Jewish Community Center with the Ariel Quartet, who'd be playing a concert with some of the instruments the next day. They performed a preview of part of the concert, and answered questions (some of which proved useful), and the audience, mostly local machers, preened itself.

Next evening, the Ariel concert, at Kohl Mansion, which I was there to review, though in this case I might have come anyway. I'd dug up enough clips of the Ariels performing other works that I had some idea of the blistering commitment they'd bring to Schubert's "Death and the Maiden." I felt as if I'd been taken apart by the coruscating second movement; the remaining two put me back together again.

Writing the review was an interesting challenge. I've said before that I place no significance in listening to a violin because it went through the Holocaust, even though that's the whole point of the project. I said if I reviewed these, I'd just be concerned with their sound. And here's what happened: the Ariel quartet players are so very good that it became obvious to a reviewer's ear that the violins aren't very good. Nor should they be. It's the Holocaust that makes them significant: other than that, they're just 19th century German workaday instruments, not fit for the hands of a great quartet. So I wrote around that and tried to place more emphasis on what the players did manage to do with them.

Perhaps fortunately, my editors counter-acted this by loading the article down with photos of historical significance.

That was for SFCV, so since I couldn't cover this one for the Daily Journal, I had to pick something else for them for this month. So I went to Stanford for the Philharmonia Baroque concert. This featured Bach's comic-opera "Coffee Cantata." I had my best moment thinking up an adjective describing the voice of the soprano singing the part of the coffee-addict daughter. Her style was bright, her mien was briskly energetic, in short she was ... oh come on, it's too obvious.

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