World premiere composition impresses audience
By Richard Clark
Three composers caught my attention at the Pacific Arts Association concert Saturday evening. Although they wrote demanding pieces that made their performers perspire, they were compositions quite conservative by today’s standards.
The Pritsker, Schnyder and Herskowitz compositions were no more complicated than the works of, say, Charles Ives, who had to wait 50 years before anyone could understand what he’d done.
Apart from rhythmic variation, a wide range of dynamics, changes of mood, occasional borderline atonality and sprinkles of jazz, there wasn’t much evidence of trendy minimalism or fashionable New Age in these selections. There was no need to “prepare” the Yamaha grand by driving thumbtacks into its felt hammers. Maybe these were the reasons I found the pieces so fascinating.
Martin Kuuskmann, bassoonist, operates under a peculiar handicap. The moment he steps onto the stage, the audience falls head-over-heals in love with him. Here’s a guy who laces a serious concert with a dry sense of humor that is almost corny at times, and he gets away with it. He’s caught in the web of charisma, but he’s no clown.
Martin can defend himself in most any musical argument, like the time Francis Poulenc pitted clarinetist Ted De Corso against him. Neither would give in to the other. It was a hot dispute all the way, until they finally ended it with a sarcastic beep.
Martin’s bassoon seemed literally to talk while Villa-Lobos’ “Ciranda Das Sete Notas” was blowing me away. It was a movement of kaleidoscopic sound, moving from one scene to another and ending, oddly enough, with a “do-re-mi” major scale ascending to a final “do” that tripped and fell an octave, like an off-the-wall Humpty Dumpty.
Most of us are familiar with the “Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras,” but Martin arranged it for bassoon, of all things. The art of bribing a bassoon to sound like a soprano is no easy job, believe me. A bassoon would sooner sound like a bass. But Martin did it! The tone was tender and touching as my warmhearted girlfriends.
Before intermission, five jazz festival all-stars, led by De Corso, joined Martin and Matt Herskowitz in a presentation of Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon.” Each instrumentalist challenged the pianist to imitate him. This Matt did with gusto and charm, triggering an explosion of youthful enthusiasm.
Herskowitz, unscathed by Curtis and Juilliard, plays a mean piano. Still, as a composer, his “La Belle Noyée” was restful as a lady who had drowned so recently that rigor mortis hadn’t displaced relaxation. His “Sicilienne” was composed for Martin, and, given its jazzy inroads, it reminded me of Martin. Matt’s music conveys a deep sincerity and nostalgia. I love it.
Martin can make his bassoon cry. I mean it really happened while he was playing Gershwin’s “Second Prelude.” His bassoon was shedding tears. By the time he finished an encore, the audience was crying, too. Crying with delight.
The nighttime weather brought a dusting of snow and freezing temperatures. Otherwise, more people would have heard the world premier performance of Gene Pritsker’s “Second Suite for Bassoon and Piano.”
Blaine this was a high honor. The
prelude was loaded with pole-vaulting leaps
between peals of mocking laughter.
But it was that unbelievable “Blues
made me want to fasten my seatbelt.
a Tragic Chaccone” enabled me
to recover, thanks to its contrastive
mood, followed by an eclectic “Postlude.”
Swiss composer Daniel Schnyder’s (pronounced like Shneeder) Sonata opened with a “Moderato” stuck between sounds of modern jazz and 19th century impressionism.
The second movement “Langsam” was neither fast nor extreme. Beautiful music needn’t be, you know. But the third movement “Schnell,” skipped, hopped and jumped at great speed, doubtless testing the pianist’s skill. The last movement, ‘Sehr schnell; all breve,” included a lovely melody that, in my opinion, sounded Brazilian.
Let’s persuade Ted and Matt to relocate in Blaine. Here, in a town that’s a hop, skip and a jump to Seattle and Vancouver, they could join Martin in an incomparable music partnership with unlimited possibilities.