By Derek Simon
A friend of mine, who despises classical music, once sniped to me that “the background of movies” is the only fit place for “that kind of music.” Ironically, she hit upon a truth about music, but not in the way that she initially intended. It is true that you often hear classical-esque music during movies but why is that? Perhaps instrumental music is a natural partner to visual storytelling? Classical music takes this interpretation to an abstract level: a story without words or pictures, a story entirely comprised of sounds.
No composer in history ever set about writing a piece of music “at random.” Beethoven didn’t just start scribbling notes to the Ninth Symphony (after all, there are thousands of them). He had ideas in his head that he wanted to express through music, or, in other words, he wanted to tell a story. And just like any other story, virtually every piece of classical music has a beginning, middle, and end. And there are also main characters and minor characters: primary themes and secondary themes. There’s depth and complexity to the characters, as depicted by harmonies and various types of melodic modulations. The plot itself is how the melodies transform, interweave, and reform throughout the piece, usually leading to some kind of climax and ending in some sort of resolution. Part of the fun is trying to decipher how these disparate elements combine to create the whole piece, the complete tale.
Or one can simply listen to and enjoy the music. Classical music, like every other genre of music, is simply sound that makes us feel after all. A universal theme of every culture is the creation and love of music. Classical music is the Western world’s historic contribution to this anthology. So sit back and analyze away or close your eyes and let the music tell its own story.
As of this writing, the Tri-I Concerts for December and January have not been finalized, but I present here what has been confirmed.
January 1: Cecelia Hall, mezzo-soprano, and Ken Noda, piano http://www.cami.com/?webid=2270
The first concert of the New Year kicks off with this up-and-coming, Julliard-trained opera star. Described as “rich-voiced” by the New York Times, she has performed at prestigious venues from the Lyric Opera in Chicago to the acclaimed Tanglewood Music Festival. She performs from a diverse repertoire, but the specific pieces for this concert are not yet known. The versatile pianist Ken Noda will accompany Hall in this recital.
January 10: Louis Schwizgebel, piano http://www.louisschwizgebel.com/index.php?page=home
This young pianist and BBC New Generation Artist is another rising star on the international scene, and he has performed with top-billed orchestras across the world. Tackling a diverse and challenging repertoire from Beethoven to Ravel and everything in between, he recently released his first solo album “Poems.” The specific details of his program are unknown but will undoubtedly showcase his pianistic prowess.
January 17: Julia Bullock, soprano, and Renate Rohlfing, piano
This young, highly praised singer brings a powerful voice and “ravishingly visceral” (as described by the New York Times) talent to her art. Audiences worldwide have been moved by her passionate and impressive performances. She will be accompanied by the accomplished pianist Renate Rohlfing. Ms. Bullock will perform works by Messiaen, Rossini, Berio, Rubinstein, Montsalvatge, and Nina Simone, as well as arrangements of Joséphine Baker songs by critically acclaimed jazz pianist and composer Jeremy Siskind (http://www.jeremysiskind.com/). A premier song cycle by young American composer David Hertzberg (http://davidhertzbergmusic.com/) will also be featured.
January 31: Aleksey Semenenko, violin, and Ina Firsova, piano http://www.yca.org/roster/aleksey-semenenko/
This 23-year old Ukrainian violinist is yet another up-and-coming performer featured this month. He makes his New York Debut at the Merkin Concert Hall at Lincoln Center on Tuesday, February 4 but we get a special preview of his concert. Mr. Semenko will perform Sonata No. 4 in A minor, Op. 23 by Beethoven, a charming conversation between violin and piano. Ernest Chausson’s Poème, Op. 25 is filled with longing—its easy to hear why it’s a violin repertory staple. Eugene Ysaye’s Sonata for solo violin No. 3 “Ballade” is an aggressive, impressive feat of violinistic fireworks. Claude Debussy mostly wrote for piano but his Sonata in G minor L. 140 for violin and piano is no less delightful and original than his other works. Tchaikovsky’s Valse-Scherzo, Op. 34 is a playful work. The concert concludes with I Palpiti (heartbeats), Op. 13 by Paganini, which moves like a dreamy waltz but is replete with the extreme difficulty (including passages in absurdly high registers) its composer is known for.