We need to have a quiet talk about pianists and their closet desires to be percussionists. In fact, we already are: by any rational definition, the piano is a percussion instrument – we hit a key, which in turn causes a hammer to hit a string, and sound is produced. But most pianists spend their entire professional lives trying not to make a piano sound like a percussion instrument. Our greatest inspiration in this endeavor is Chopin, whose music invites an approach more akin to singing.
But every once in awhile, the urge to be percussive takes over. My colleague, the great artist Emanuel Ax, took tympani lessons which culminated in a cameo performance in a Beethoven Overture with the Toronto Symphony. My approach is less subtle: I just work in percussion instruments whenever they’re handy.
When our program annotator Jeff O’Kelly wrote, of Gershwin’s piano duet arrangement of his Cuban Overture, that “one cannot help regretting the loss of the exotic percussion instruments,” Jamie and I took that as a personal challenge, and not only were the congas very handy (yes, on rare occasions, I can multitask…) but Jamie used his wedding band to great effect in the quiet, middle section of the overture as well.
The Cuban Overture was the beginning of a program that went in many directions. Coming up with program titles is great fun. As Artistic Director, Aloysia often has an idea and makes the music fit. This program sprung from several requests from the artists themselves, and from the beginning was clearly about global variety, featuring not only the Cuban rhythms, but Czech bravura, Russian ballet, German Lieder, and Argentinian Tangos. As we were fussing about the title, I was simultaneously booking flights for an upcoming tour. On the Continental web site, I departed “Round Trip” mode and clicked on “Multiple Destinations” and thought, “Aha, there’s our title!”
Martin Chalifour, fresh off the plane at 5pm from having performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl the night before, dazzled with a Kreisler Caprice, the Ysaÿe Ballade, and two pieces by Joseph Suk.
We were, honestly, a bit concerned about the tight turnaround time and the lack of comfort time to rehearse, which we solved by having a quick pre-festival rehearsal last April when I was in L.A. with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
Following Chalifour, the viola/piano duo of Yizhak Schotten and Katherine Collier took us to Prokofiev’s Russia with their own customized arrangement of Five Pieces from the Ballet Romeo and Juliet.
Schotten has a prodigious repertoire of viola jokes, and then proves them all false whenever he plays. Collier had more notes than the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra.
Yizhak and Katherine have directed festivals and chamber music series across the country for over 30 years – it’s a pleasure to welcome them to Orcas this year.
Multiple Destinations took a turn towards Germany for a selection of Hugo Wolf songs which I performed with baritone Philip Cutlip in his farewell performance at this year’s Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival. This was my first experience with Wolf.
What utterly gorgeous music! Never one to give you the harmony you expect, Wolf, in his fanatic devotion to mirroring the text, surprises constantly. Philip was a joy.
The Gryphon Trio (Jamie Parker, piano, Annalee Patipatanakoon, violin and Roman Borys, cello) presented the beautiful multimedia work Old Photographs by Christos Hatzis, and rounded out Multiple Destinations with a set of tangos by Astor Piazzolla.
Multiple Destinations was performed on August 19th at 7:30pm and August 20th at 5:00pm. In case you’re wondering how I prepared for the 5pm concert – I got up early and baked 5 peach/ginger pies so that I’d have dessert ready when all the musicians came over for dinner…