By Robert Reid
On Monday evening, Hidden Valley Music Seminars presented the sixth Masters Festival concert of the summer series. The festival brings some of the finest performer/teachers from the world of music to Carmel Valley each summer to conduct master classes. Students are drawn from all over the world. During the teaching sessions that run for a week the artists present a formal evening concert in the intimate, relaxed atmosphere of the theater.
The Monday concert featured two New York Philharmonic woodwind veterans: the principal bassoonist, Judith LeClair, and the associate principal clarinetist, Mark Nuccio. Their piano accompanist was the young Hungarian, Zsolt Balagh.
At most Hidden Valley performances, instrumental sonatas are on the program. This year, Ms. LeClair announced that the concert would feature instrumental concertos. Since she had just performed Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto in B flat Major with the New York Philharmonic, she chose to perform the version for bassoon and piano. And Mark Nuccio will perform Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto with the Philharmonic in three concerts at Avery Fisher Hall this coming weekend, so he gave us a preview using the version for clarinet and piano. In both pieces pianist Balagh, who recently completed a master’s degree in collaborative piano at the Juilliard School, backed the wind players with challenging keyboard versions of complicated orchestral scores.
Ms. LeClair has visited Hidden Valley each summer to teach and perform for some thirty years. She met her future husband, the pianist Jonathan Feldman, at Hidden Valley. She truly enjoys her brief summer stints here and the joy was evident in her performance. Her gorgeous tone and impeccable technique were a marvel. She made it sound so easy, even though the bassoon is the most fiendish of woodwind instruments. A friend commented that she never realized a bassoon could be played so beautifully and with such clean articulation of the notes in the quick passages.
This is Mark Nuccio’s second year at Hidden Valley. Having audited the master class last year, I can attest that he is a most personable, knowledgeable and able clarinet teacher. In the Copland concerto (written for Benny Goodman in 1948), Nuccio brought out the wide variety of tonal and technical effects in splendid fashion. The New York audiences will be thrilled to hear his performance this weekend.
The evening concert concluded with the Mendelssohn Concert Piece No. 1, Op 113, originally written for clarinet, bassett horn—a member of the clarinet family—and piano. The piece is most often performed these days by two skilled and nimble clarinet players, but Nuccio explained that a friend had arranged the basset horn part for bassoon and that the music seemed to “lie well” for the instrument. Ms. LeClair commented, “We’ll see,” and then promptly ripped through the demanding showpiece. All three performers distinguished themselves and the large audience responded with a deserved standing ovation.
Immediately following the concert, students and audience members went on stage for a post-concert reception—where you can often learn the most interesting things from the performers. For instance, I discovered that the fine Steinway concert grand piano, jokingly accused of being “always flat”, was slightly retuned upward from 440 Hz. pitch to 441 to accommodate the New Yorkers who work at 442. And since the New York Philharmonic will soon be in residence at Vail, Colorado, high in the mountains, Mr. Nuccio discussed the difficulties of performing wind instruments in the dry and rarified air. He, for one, goes early to Colorado to acclimate to the altitude.