The Blue Candlelight Music Series is always a different experience. Held in the Baron House, one of Dallas' grandest mansions, there is an elegance about the whole evening that we ordinary mortals rarely get to experience. From the valet parking to the hand-served hors d'oeurves and quality wines, guests are pampered even before the music begins. The great room of the Baron House is exquisitely decorated with stunning art. Folding chairs are squeezed in-between the existing furniture to allow the sold out crowd seating. Many are dressed to the nines but a more casual polo shirt doesn't seem out of place.
The music is always different. Sometimes it is a chamber ensemble made up of the core musicians that are affiliated and sometimes it is a solo recital by one of them, or a distinguished guest.
On Friday evening, it was something different once again.
Pianist Baya Kakouberi, who is usually in a collaborative role for the chamber music, took a solo turn. In this, she was assisted by Laurie Shulman, one of the top program annotators and writer about music in the business. Visitors to the Dallas Symphony, among many other performing organizations, are familiar with her excellent program notes. With Schulman giving the narration and Kakouberi playing, the two artists took the audience on a trip through the history of piano repertoire from Bach to Prokofiev.
It made for an enlightening evening.
Shulman has a knack for telling you exactly what is going on in any piece of music. She puts it in historical context, explaining the external influences on the composer and how that affected the music. She then gives you signposts to listen for as the performance progresses.
Kakouberi launched into each selection with an eye towards bringing out the characteristics Shulman described. Her formidable technique and natural musicianship allows her to change easily from baroque reserve to jagged modernism. With Shulman's preparation and Kakouberi's sensitive performance, each of the composer's individual style came clearly into focus, even for those of us who thought we already knew all of this stuff. It was an informative experience for musical experts and neophytes alike.
The program was designed to give us as sweeping an overview as possible. We heard a Bach Prelude and Fugue, some Scarlatti sonatas, Schumann's Papillons Op. 2, Debussy's Estampes, four different works by Scriabin, and ended with Prokofiev's massive and fiendishly difficult Sonata No. 7 in B flat Major Op. 83.
Shulman painted a bleak picture of the Prokofiev, one of his so-called war sonatas, and Kakouberi attacked it with abandon. It was her best performance of the evening as she brought out all of the anguish and angularity in the music, pushing the piano to its limits.
The spontaneous standing ovation when she finished was as much a release of pent up tension as it was in appreciation for her stunning performance.
The next concert, on Feb. 17, will feature the outstanding violinist Andrés Cárdenas. Dallas Symphony regulars will remember him as one of the distinguished guest concertmasters who visited during the search for a new occupant in that chair. In addition to his busy schedule as a soloist, he served as concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony from 1989 to 2010 under Maestro Lorin Mazzel.