Friday, July 27, 2012

Great Expectations

It may be true that the old adages about "Timing is everything" and "Location, location, location" can also apply to music. From my vantage point at the Cyr Center on July 15, this was an exquisite performance and a welcome introduction to some unfamiliar pieces -- a breath of fresh air in the sultry heat followed literally by a dramatic downpour of desperately needed rain. Some members of the audience were moved to tears at the beauty of what they heard from Jesse Mills and Rieko Aizawa, and could probably be convinced to organize a fan club without much prodding.

Others were rather jaded, having been recently immersed in music at other events and not fully appreciative of the gift of that afternoon's performance. I was impressed with the weight the piano was given; the violin did not dominate as is so often the case. Others expressed disappointment that the familiar primacy of the violin was missing and felt the piano was "too loud." I have learned over the years that most professional musicians, and this supremely talented pair in particular, were fully aware of the balance they struck, that the sounds they produced were exactly as they intended them to be and as they believe the composer intended as well. I for one found the results to be inspiring and breathtakingly beautiful.

Rieko and Jesse came to Stamford from New Hampshire, taking a day off from their work as artists in residence at a summer camp for young composers. They returned to New Hampshire afterwards and two days later would give the young artists the extraordinary opportunity to hear world-class musicians perform the works they had written. When one is a prodigy and meets with great success at a very young age, as Rieko Aizawa did at 13, how high the bar is set for them and how difficult those expectations must be to live up to. Now as an adult, she is "just" another spectacularly talented pianist. How casual we have become about such phenomenal artistry in our midst.

It is our great hope that Jesse Mills and Rieko Aizawa will return to Stamford very soon for another superb performance, and we wish them all the best in their own careers and in their work teaching and inspiring the next generation of musicians.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Duo Prism in Concert at the Cyr Center Sunday July 15 at 3PM

Duo Prism (l to r): Jesse Mills, violin and
Rieko Aizawa, piano
Friends of Music continues its 26th Season with a much-anticipated performance by Duo Prism on Sunday, July 15 at 3:00PM at the Cyr Center in Stamford. Duo Prism includes Jesse Mills, violin and Rieko Aizawa, piano.

Those of us who heard the Silver Jubilee Chamber Ensemble at the 25th Anniversary concert last June will never forget Concertmaster Jesse Mills. The amazing group of talented musicians that he helped organize on such short notice and his leadership, charm and vibrant performance inspired and amazed us. We immediately invited him to return, and much to our delight he agreed! This year he will perform for us with his partner -- in music and in life -- Rieko Aizawa.

I will not repeat their lengthy credentials here; if you want to be thoroughly impressed I refer you to their Web site, or see the condensed version at I'm still pinching myself that these amazing artists are willing to come to the mountains to play for us, in spite of the lack of prestige our little series offers. They certainly have our gratitude and I hope a healthy dose of good karma will be theirs as well.

When Mr. Mills first sent me their proposed program I was a bit hesitant; it seemed too "modern" for our conservative and traditional tastes. Jesse calmly allowed me to listen to a recording of Duo Prism playing the full sonata at an earlier date in Chicago, and of course it was beautiful and stirring and will no doubt be thoroughly enjoyed by us lucky folks on Sunday in the Catskills.

The program for July 15 is planned as follows:

Sonata for Piano and Violin No. 1 in D major, Op. 12 No. 1 (1798)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

I. Allegro con brio
II. Tema con variazioni: Andante con moto
III. Rondo: Allegro

Violin Sonata, Op. 119 (1942-43)
Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc (1899-1963)
I. Allegro con fuoco
II. Intermezzo:  Très lent et calme
III. Presto tragico


Selections from Night Music
Ned Rorem (1923 - )
      The Two Moths

Sonata No. 3 in c minor, Op. 45 (1886-87)
Edvard Grieg (1843 - 1907)
I. Allegro molto ed Appassionato
II. Allegretto espressivo alla Romanza
III. Allegro animato

We thank all of our donors and the Robinson-Broadhurst Foundation in particular for your generous support, which makes this concert and our entire series possible. We are indeed fortunate people to have access to such amazing music right here at home.

We hope to see you on July 15th at the Cyr Center in Stamford for what will undoubtedly be a superb performance by Duo Prism!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Ambassadors of Jazz

What a wonderful performance we enjoyed on Father's Day! There is definitely a trend developing this year, at least in my observations, and a healthy one at that. The musicians who come to perform in Stamford are often an international group, and these fabulous Jazz performers were no exception. Like our first concert this year, I found myself cajoling our regular attendees to come, since many who attend the classical features say they "don't like Jazz" (or Opera, as the case was back in April). And like the artists from the Lindemann Program and the Metropolitan opera, these three men (all from the Juilliard School at one time or another in their lives) provided a wonderful opportunity for us to stretch our musical comfort zone without causing any distress, and also provided a lovely afternoon for many who already know they do like Jazz, or at least the Jazz standards that Clovis Nicolas, John Chin and Kenny Washington played for us.

In fact Mr. Nicolas said to me after the concert that Mr. Washington, who teaches at Juilliard, is well known among the students as working to pass the torch for the great Jazz standards -- he is a standard bearer for the standards as is were. Judging from the rousing ovation the trio received, Mr. Washington should be happy for a job well done in that effort as well.

It was another perfectly beautiful summer day, and it was so enchanting to sit and hear the gentle variations on familiar tunes (and some that were new to us as well) while watching the sun sparkling on the surface of the water across the lawn and the lush green of the foliage as it grew into fullness from the ripening of the season. I promise to add some photos here soon and apologize for the delay in posting this. I hope as with the Opera performances as the seasons progress and we continue to offer a Jazz option that more and more people, familiar faces and new ones, will come to treasure these performances as much as we do the classical offerings.

Thank you so much, gentlemen!