An interim report, because I have one or two more coming up today.
This concert was from the performing arts series of Middlebury College, which is in Vermont, but the performers were located at the University of Illinois. We'll have to get used to this negation of geography. I'm not in communication with Middlebury College; I heard of this from a publicist, but I hastened to sign up, because this is such a fine group with a good program.
They played Mendelssohn's Op. 12, which is the less heard of his early quartets; George Walker's "Lyric," which is perhaps the standard chamber work by an African-American composer; and a new piece by Michi Wiancko, new to me, yet another new musical work addressing global climate change. Wiancko is a master of making clicks, taps, snaps, and wails sound musical, and her employment of these in a movement depicting the soil microbiome underneath Central Park was particularly outstanding.
There was a locally-produced opener, the first choral music I've heard in the pandemic. The Middlebury College choir stood, masked and spaced out at least ten feet part, in the pews of a church to sing Bantu hymns and one by William Billings. The stark wooden interior surely helped with the acoustics, but I was still startled that so few people, and with masks on, could make such a resonant sound.
A favorite group of mine from Menlo appearances, they've exchanged for two new members since I last heard them nearly four years ago, but they've only gotten better. Startlingly effective performances of two Beethoven quartets, finding an unexpected fierceness in Op. 18 No. 1 (wow, does their new violist have bite, the way he digs into his instrument) and employing a supreme gentle tenderness in Op. 132. This quartet has some of the most curvaceous passages of beauty in all Beethoven, if they're played right, and these were played right. And in between came Voices by the ubiquitous Jennifer Higdon, a work that begins in chaos and moves slowly - very slowly, if you ask me - towards healing resolution.
This concert was sponsored by the Syracuse Friends of Chamber Music (and the performers were at home at Indiana University). I'd listened to a previous Syracuse concert (featuring the Jupiter Qt, connectedly enough) two months ago, and saw this one was upcoming, so I signed up and paid for a ticket. But it turned out to be difficult to hear, because there was some technical problem with the Vimeo feed, so all you got if you followed the link was a 30-second placeholder with a voice assuring you the concert was coming. And no matter what you did, you just got the same blurb all over again. Eventually the concert got up, after an apologetic e-mail, but in the meantime I'd actually phoned them in uncertainly over whether the problem was at their end or mine.
Part of a "Women of Broadway" series, co-sponsored by a host of non-profit US theaters, including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which doesn't normally go in for this stuff, but from whom we heard about it. The series also features Patti LuPone and Vanessa Williams, but B. and I prefer Laura Benanti. I'd attended a performance of her Liza Doolittle in My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center last year, and she began this program with a run-through of abridged versions of all her songs from that show. Also featured songs from She Loves Me, Into the Woods, and various other sources. Accompanied by clearly her favorite pianist, plus a guitarist who managed to make his instrument sound like a synthesizer, I'm not sure why. Very nice performances regardless. Unlike the quartets (the Jupiters took a bow after each piece to deep silence), this concert had a gratifying smattering of applause, from the crew members filming it.
Between-songs patter included an account of her small daughter who doesn't like to hear Mommy sing, which must feel dampening. But while Benanti nattered too much, I was impressed with her answer to one audience question (they were on cards), "Do you think entertainers should use their platform to push political views?" Well, no, Benanti replied, but "there's a lot to unpack here." She altered the question to "Do you think humans should use their platform to express their beliefs?" Yes, she said. "I think the word 'push' implies that there's no consent involved ... but I live in the world we all live in," and while normally she keeps her counsel, there are things she feels, as a human, she should speak out about, and specified two she objects to: family separation policies and the threat to equal marriage. Good going.