Days & Nights Festival, October 4, 2013

Days & Nights Fest’s excellent chamber music

By Scott MacClelland

The chamber music season in Carmel got off to a great start Friday night when the Days & Nights Festival players served up an outstanding survey of works by Schubert, Schumann, festival-founder Philip Glass, and two plainly talented young Americans, Nico Muhly and Bryce Dessner. The musicians themselves came with world-class credentials. glass20110611-01.jpg

Violinist Maria Bachmann—who some local presenter should capture ASAP—is renowned for her art in this country, Europe and Japan. She has a growing stable of CD recordings, notably “Kiss on Wood” representing the best of mostly late 20th century works. (Her ‘wood’ is an 18th century Gagliano fiddle.) On that CD cover, she’s a Goth-brunette; now she’s a radiant blonde. She was joined then, as in the Sunset Center concert, by pianist Jon Klibonoff, winner of numerous competitions and well known for his solo and chamber music recitals. He and Bachmann have collaborated on many occasions; they recorded and have performed in concert Glass Heart, the sonata Glass wrote for her. (Click here for an excerpt on YouTube or see our Links of Interest page.) Their colleagues in Carmel, of equal talent and accomplishments and each with his own catalog of CD recordings, were violinist Jesse Mills, violist David Harding and cellist Matt Haimovitz.  

The program opened with Schubert’s so-called Notturno in E-flat, a single movement that was intended for a full piano trio which was either never completed or was lost. It’s a haunting, melancholy work that bristles dramatically in the middle. The distinctive reading by Klibonoff, Mills and Haimovitz was both deeply personal—by all three—and broadly expansive.

Following, in order of presentation, were Nico Muhly’s string quartet, Diacritical Marks, Bryce Dessner’s string quartet Aheym (Yiddish for ‘homeward’), a tiny but relentless piano trio titled Head On by Glass and Glass’ serene The Orchard in an arrangement for violin and piano played by Glass and Bachmann. Both the Muhly and Dessner were vivid and memorable. Expect to hear their names more in future. (You can sample their music on YouTube.)  

The 18-minute-long Muhly, from 2011 and in eight short movements, made remarkable use of its original materials recycling them in different configurations as the sections progressed. Often second violin and viola were paired with short repeating figures while the cello, later joined by the first violin, sang ethereal melodies. Drones were used for harmonic support. The generally lyrical interior movements followed a propulsive first while the finale grew powerful with fugal imitation. Dessner, perhaps better known as a rock guitarist, opens his quartet with intense broken chords in ¾ time. Call and response ensued, with viola and cello in lock step. The complex texture of the four instruments veered into steely sul ponticello (bowing on the bridge) from time to time. Then the cello took the marching lead to be joined by the others in a thrilling climax to the eight minute work.

The program closed with Schumann’s great Piano Quintet, also in E-flat, with Bachmann now as first violin. In it you can easily hear the promise of Brahms to come. This hair-raising, room-filling performance brought down the house, cheers bellowing above the audience’s electrified reaction.