Monday, December 14, 2015

A lovely Sunday afternoon in the wilds of suburbia

Taking part in the Salon Extraordinaire in Gladwynne Sunday are, from left, Qin Qian, erhu; Rollin Wilber, piano; Tom Kozumplik, perciussion; Anndrea Clearfield, emcee; Karthryn Woodard, piano; Michele Cann, piano; Joe Soprani, accordion; and John Byrne, leader of the John Byrne Band.

Yesterday I attended my first (and I hope not my last) Salon Extraordinaire, a free concert organized by the composer Andrea Clearfield and held in the comfortable confines of the Main Line Reform Temple in Gladwynne.  Eclecticism was the order of the day as the performers, each of whom got about ten or so minutes to perform, comprised two classical pianists, a Celtic band, a Chinese violinist (that is, a woman who played the Chinese violin, though she also happened to be Chinese), an Italian accordionist (that is, an Italian-American who played the accordion, though on this occasion he happened to play Italian music), and a percussionist-composer who in performance also uses electronic effects, such a voice loops and digital echoes.

Everyone was a standout, and I sat grinning dippily through the whole affair, but the performers who made the deepest impression on me at the time were Qin Qian (pronounced Chin Chan), the erhu player  who was accomanied deferentially by pianist Kathryn Woodard;  and the percussionist, Tom Kozumplik. Not that they were any better than anyone else. It’s just that something about my mood or the novelty of the sounds provoked a stronger response.  Qian played three selections, all composed in the 1960s, but all employing traditional Chinese materials. The first mimicked the galloping of Mongolian horse racing, the last bird song, and the one in the middle, while not specifically imitative, evoked moonlight on a stream as only pentatonic scales can.  Together, they made a small sonata in three movements – fast, slow, fast – and Qian was great fun to watch, grinning slyly as she tore into the rapid figurations. The erhu has a rough sound to match its rough look, and Qian’s facial expressions made it clear that what seemed to Western ears like screeches and wrong notes are all part of the tradition.

The afternoon closed with the young piano virtuoso Michele Cann playing Adolf Schulz-Elver’s  “Arabesques on ‘An der schönen blauen Donau.’” The music itself is either dazzling or hilarious, depending on your definition of taste, but Cann was a marvel, and a great audience favorite. It should be mentioned that the piano at the temple was used by Samuel Barber during his days at the Curtis Institute, purchased and donated by a pair of congregants.    

I enjoyed meeting the accordionist Joe Soprani, whom I interviewed for my preview piece on the salon, but he was rather difficult to hear in performance. He played two pieces ― Julie Giroux’s “Italian Rhapsody” and Rachmaninoff’s “Italian Polka” ― and was, in each case, accompanied by recordings of the US Air Force Band. It was an unwise decision, in my view. On the one hand, the sound system didn’t really convey the kick of big band, and on the other, it seemed at times Soprani was holding back, afraid he would drown it out. He’s a great musician who's had the most remarkable and varied career of anyone onstage yesterday. Next time, I’d like to hear him go it alone and find out just how much volume he can squeeze out of that box.     

One word on the notion of salons: Andrea Clearfield likes to say her own salons were inspired by the salon culture of the 17th and 18th centuries in Italy and France, which themselves, she said, trace their roots all the way back to ancient Greece. She also asked if me if I could recommend any books or research on the subject. It might be grist for an interesting historical discussion, but it seems to me all the justification is unnecessary. How much precedent, really, do you need to bring musicians together for an afternoon?  


Cal said...

Ten minutes on stage could hardly have constituted a gig for any of these musicians. Was part of their pay (if there was any) the opportunity to listen to everybody else?

Joe Barron said...

I don't know about pay scales, if any. You'd have to ask Andrea. At the literary salon I attend, i have to pay to participate.