Fort Worth — The Cliburn’s Iconic Paris Festival concert on Feb. 15 was the second concert of five in the series. Befitting to the location of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the theme was “Modernism.”
The performance was incredible from beginning to end, with talented young musicians who blew me away with intense skill and passion in their playing. I happened to be in the front row, a few feet from the performers. There was absolutely no barrier between myself and the amazing circle of musicians. But even though I had this wonderful seat, at some point I closed my eyes to feel how it might be to listen from a back row. With my eyes closed, I heard intensely how they not only played off of each other but engaged with each other. Their combined sound was highly emotionally charged. Their commitment was complete.
The first piece performed was Three Pieces for Cello and Piano by Nadia Boulanger. The first movement began with a gentle feeling, like someone was touching a feather to my soul—so soft and beautiful was the sound between the cello and the piano. The second movement was more majestic and stately. The third movement charged in, but not as an attack, but rather a controlled interplay. Dasol Kim on piano and Jonathan Lo on cello were always in charge, although the music seemed designed to feel reckless and out of control.
The second work by Francis Poulenc, the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, was written near the end of Poulenc’s life. It was smart programming to go to this change of style from Boulanger. Stanislav Chernyshev on clarinet and Dasol Kim on piano performed the three contrasting movements with incredible artistry. The clarinet hopping between octaves and the notes trickling in-between was simply exquisite.
Jacques Marquis, president and CEO of the festival, mentioned in his introduction that the third work, Gaspard de la nuit by Maurice Ravel, is one they often hear in competition and so they requested to hear this piano work in this concert as well. The “Le Gibet” movement was most memorable with a repeated note throughout that held on to the listener like a conjoined twin, never letting one go, while the rest of the piece revolved and spun around, above, and below that one, singular, relentless tone. It gave me a feeling of no matter how many obstacles life throws at you, if your core holds fast, you will make it through.
The last movement “Scarbo,” was mystical. The skill of pianist Kim soared through. His fluttering on a repeated note reckoned to the high-speed beating a hummingbird’s wings that miraculously keeps it in flight. Kim’s fingers blurred in movement but the sound was distinct and mesmerizing.
After intermission, the first work by Igor Stravinsky entitled Five Easy Pieces For Piano Duet required four hands on the same piano—Louis Schwizgebel and Dasol Kim. The adjective “easy” in the title is, well, to be taken with a chuckle. Perhaps the effect of the five short pieces is quick and to the point, but nothing is “easy” about Stravinsky’s ingeniously composed music. I especially enjoyed the fifth piece, entitled “Galop,” which frolicked delightfully in a simply but unrelenting way.
The concert concluded with Claude Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor. In this impressionist work with tonal shifts, the audience can truly experience how the modern French style of composition values pleasure and mood much more so than form. The Rolston String Quartet drew this value out by displaying a voracious hunger to reveal the inner soul of the music. Although the work was layered and complex, they never resorted to a boring display of mechanics and dexterity. In fact, many times it felt as though the music climaxed with delirious fevers of emotion, swarming and swirling around the room. The quartet plucked their strings and tossed motifs back and forth between them, yet always played as one unit.
When Jacques Marquis introduced Debussy’s Quartet he emphasized that at its premier, this work was only liked by “some” Parisians. However, I can attest that the audience’s amused and joyful gasps at the end of each movement, reflected that they were enveloped and overtaken by the quartet’s performance.