Concert Review: From the Sixth Hour: A Piano Quartet, Atlantic Music Festival, 8/3/11

Article first published as Concert Review: From the Sixth Hour: A Piano Quartet, Atlantic Music Festival, 8/3/11 on Blogcritics.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to hear the piano quartet piece From the Sixth Hour at the Atlantic Music Festival. This festival meets every year at Colby College, Maine, for a wonderful four weeks of free classical music concerts open to the public. This piece was featured at the last marathon chamber concert on August 3, 2011, running from 7:00 PM to past midnight. I was not one of the brave souls who dared to stay the entire time, but what I heard was a wonderful combination of old and new music, excellently communicated to a responsive audience.

This particular piece was composed by AMF’s artistic director, Solbong Kim, a graduate in composition from the renowned Curtis Institute. As an active composer, he has written many pieces for chamber and orchestra, had his works performed and recorded by various music groups, and he has been the recipient of many prestigious composition awards, such as the Presser Music Award in 2005. His works have been much admired for their sophistication, and it is easy to see why.

From the Sixth Hour was performed by Sang Woo Kang, pianist; Dennis Kim, violinist; Pu Reum Cho, violist; and Marco Pereira, cellist. They were an excellent group of players. A note about the selection of performers: it was a diverse mix of musicians from various stages in their careers, as well as originating from different countries. Kim and Kang are established musicians. Kim is the concertmaster of the Tampere Orchestra in Finland, and Kang is a concert pianist and professor of music at Providence College in Rhode Island. Pereira, a professional cellist and likewise an established musician, hails from Portugal, while Cho, at the age of 19, was easily the youngest person in the grouping, and hailed from South Korea. They were a wonderful representation of the diversity of the musicians at this music festival […]

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Portrait of a Lady: Music and Words

Article first published as Portrait of a Lady: Music and Words on Blogcritics.

The blend of music and literature is an interesting thing. The most prevalent mix of such can be seen in songs, where poems by people like Wordsworth or Shelley are set to music. But what of music in literature?

For instance, music features largely in T.S. Eliot’s poem “Portrait of a Lady.” In this picture of upper-class society, a young man has a friendship with a woman, whose age is unknown. The poem unfolds through conversations, visits, and a carefully selected set of musical metaphors. But why and how does he use the specific musical images he does, such as Chopin’s Preludes contrasted against the street piano, or the cracked trumpets and out-of-tune violins in his head? Eliot, as a Modernist writer, was concerned with themes of isolation: the little person living in the big city, the Prufrockian “do I dare” impulse. It was a problem that he saw, and a problem that perhaps still exists, especially in the digital age. What does one do with this often terrible isolation?

The first example is the concert scene, where the man comes “to hear the latest Pole / Transmit the Preludes, through his hair and fingertips.” Chopin, the composer mentioned, is “intimate,” the type of composer whose music (or “soul”) is meant for the small “concert room” where friends will view this music with respect, and not insist on dissecting it through too many questions. Yet there is something mocking about the “transmission” of the music through the “hair” as well as the fingertips, as if the pianist is so preoccupied with an overdramatic representation of feeling that even his hair shows it. It would then seem that this feeling fails to touch the speaker. It would seem that here is a disconnect between the “old-time” Romantic age and the speaker’s sensibilities […]

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