Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Two Controversies and a Conversation

Many thanks to BH to scoring me a ticket for the premiere of Elliott Carter's Two Controversies and a Conversation June 9 at Symphony Space in New York City. The piece is an expansion of Carter's Conversations, a small double concerto for piano, percussion and chamber orchestra first played in June 2011 at the Aldeburgh Festival. The two brief "controversies" were added at the suggestion of Oliver Knussen, who conducted the premiere of Conversations. On first hearing, I'm not sure what they added to the work, since they went by rather fast. They're both fairly brief and declamatory, and I liked Conversations well enough on its own. Still, the performance was memorable. Colin Currie was the percussion soloist, as he was at Aldeburgh, and the young pianist Huebner was more than an adequate substitute for Pierre-Laurent Aimard, the other soloist for whom Conversations was written. I got to speak to Huebner at intermission. (BH seemed to know absolutely everyone in the hall that night, and he introduced me to at least half of them.) He said the piece was fun to play and not nearly so hairy as the piano music from Carter's heroic period.

Mr. Carter was there, too, in a wheelchair, and was interviewed before the performance by Magnus Lindberg. He (Carter) was pretty funny about the practical problems of writing for percussion, which he said was largely a matter of having "the poor guy" run around too much. Ultimately, he said, he just had to stop thinking about it.

The rest of the program was also very strong. My mind began to wander during Boulez' ...explosante-fixe..., but I was quite taken with Nachlese Vb: Liederzyklus, for soprano and chamber orchestra, by the Swiss composer Michael Jarrell, whom I had not heard of before.

Read Steve Smith’s review.

Then listen to the concert, courtesy of WQXR.

I've tried embedding it, but it doesn't seem to want to play. Maybe you'll have better luck:

Sorry I've been offline so long. Been rather overwhelmed at work, and haven't had much focus the rest of the time. I'm leading exactly the kind of life my parents' envisioned for me, I think — long hours, low pay, no recognition, the kind of Darwinian struggle that teaches you that life is unfair and you had better dammed well pull yourself up by your bootstraps because if you don't no one else is going to and there's nothing to look forward to once the honeymoon is over and the only available comforts are religion and drink.

Yes, Adam and Betty, you were right. Happy now?


Cal said...

I had no trouble with the audio recording. Thanks for providing it.

I’m not sure what I would have made of this piece without the word “Conversation” in the title. My first time through, I kind of ignored it and found myself falling back on images of an urban scene at night with uncertainty in the air, etc. But listening again and taking the title fully into account, I heard a completely different piece.

It was like listening to a conversation between two parties speaking a language I didn’t know. I could tell that the topic was grave and that both parties were respectul but unyielding. The piano seemed more repetitive and intransigent; the percussion, more creative in its arguements. But in the end, nobody won. The final note on the (I guess it was a) triangle seems to have given the last word to the percussion, but I didn’t sense victory. It was a conversation that, in real life, one would not dare to interrupt.

Joe Barron said...

This is another reason why I don't trust mp3 files. At the end of the "Conversation," when the percussionist hits that high ping! on a finger cymbal (not a triangle), the pianist is playing a cluster chord in the lowest part keyboard. It barely comes through on the Internet download, though you can hear it if you strain a bit. So, really, no one has the last word. To me, the ending suggests that for all their civility, the protagonists are still far apart, occupying, as they do, the extreme ends of musical space. It's a witty effect, and it got a chuckle from the audience at Symphony Space.

Cal said...

I listened to the ending again and heard, not a chord, but a single very low note. So, correct, no one has the last word. Interesting, though, that they agree to play the last note together.

I am still glad that you provided the file. Otherwise, I would never have heard the piece.

Joe Barron said...

You have better ears than I do. I looked at the score online, and the piano's final gesture is indeed a single note - its very lowest, in fact, the A at the left end of the keyboard. The percussion intrument is a crotale, which plays a C, notated two ledger lines above the treble staff and marked 15ma - the piano's highest note, incidentally.