Thursday, June 28, 2007

With Nimble Voice — Happy Birthday, Hughie

Hughes Cuenod, 105, tenor & newlywed, born 26 June 1902

When harpsichordist, Albert Fuller reminisces about performances with Swiss tenor, Hughes Cuenod, his eyes mist up, “Dear, we improvised everything.” Hughie and Albert share a friendship that extends deep into the last century. I recommend the book, "Hugues Cuenod With a Nimble Voice: Conversations With Francois Hundry (Lives in Music, No. 1)" that Albert translated in 1999. Hughie's joy in life is irresistible—I'm sure we all could benefit from more of it.

I had heard so many wonderful stories about Hughes Cuenod as Albert's student, that when the Juilliard orchestra went to Evian, France in 1991, I made the pilgrimage across Lac Léman to meet him and his partner, Alfred.

This photograph was taken that morning. Hughie here is a spry 90. He turned 105 two days ago, and has married (unioned?) Alfred, as Swiss law now permits civil unions without gender discrimination. (Thank you to Alex Ross for the birthday posting on The Rest is Noise.)

As I walked to our meeting point, I realized I didn't know how to recognize Hughie having only heard stories and recordings. All I knew was that he was a very tall, lean, gay, Swiss, tenor, and that would have to be enough. Approaching the café, I saw a dashing gentleman in sunglasses sitting cross-legged on a small folding chair, his breast bright red under a seersucker jacket with a brilliantly colored scarf around his neck. Absently, he dismantled a croissant for two or three prattling birds.

"Bonjour, Monsieur Cuenod," I extended my hand. "I'm Jim Roe."

“For Hugues Cuenod–in his 100th year” by W. D. Snodgrass

Midway along our road sometimes a voice
Sounds, prohibiting all heldenblustering choices

Of timbre, overtones or fashions;
Fifty years back, when I first heard you sing
I thought: “The poems I’ve written lack for nothing

But such clarity, such passion.”

With Nadia Boulanger when young, you went

Touring through languages and continents,

Collegia, festivals and venues;
To countertenor from youth’s baritone,
You made each form, period and style your own,

Tasting your way down this art’s menu.

From Frescobaldi, Couperin, Monteverdi,
To Neidhardt, Bach, Schutz’ Sacred Concerti

Then Fauré, Debussy, Auric;
Di Lasso to “A Lover and His Lass,”
Josquin to Stravinsky’s Rake’s Progress.

Machaut’s Mass to Coward’s Bitter Sweet.

With an untroubled, easy grace and verve,
You’d fill in for a friend whose wrenched-up nerves

Failed, sang through 60 years unchanged
By travel, time or untold cigarettes.
At 85, you called your debut at the Met

“A little bonbon after lunch.”

“How could I lose my voice,” you were known to banter;

“I never had one”—just a dry, white, unmannered

Mask tone with the bel canto breathing
That carried your song’s deep impulse truly
From mouth to nerve ends like a fine, rich Pouilly.

Why not just say: one voice for all seasons.

Published in The New Criterion, Volume 22, February 2004, on page 39

More . . .

The tenor (and friend) Robert White, sent me this photo for the site.
He took it in 2004 at Hughie's home in Lully.
Bobby adds, "He was 102, looking incredible!"

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Marcos Castro — Mexican Metamorphosis

Just home from the framers (the wonderful Chelsea Frames, thank you Jaclyn) is my new picture by the young Mexican artist, Marcos Castro. This is my third piece of his, and it is wonderful. I was with my friend Alvin when I picked it up yesterday, and when they unwrapped it for inspection, everyone’s eyes lit up. “That is really beautiful,” Alvin said.

Castro imagines Ovidian moments of metamorphosis that balance menace and opportunity, crisis and blessing. In my new work,

“Lobo-arbol” (2007)
Ink and watercolor on paper
27. 56 x 19.7 inches

he pictures the threatening presence of a wolf miraculously transforming into a peaceful grove of trees. He moves from fear to peace through a cloud rising from the wolf’s back. Beginning with clear delineations, the cloud becomes abstract before taking the form of the forest floor. Representation is replaced with splatters, drips and drops of ink and watercolor, washes of brown hues, and conspicuous mark making. At the transformation point from wolf to tree ("Lobo-arbol"), Castro removes any artifice of realism to reveal his presence as artist. The image becomes two-dimensional for a remarkable moment. With ink spattering across the paper, the abstract climax of the picture feels joyfully improvised. As the eye moves up through the picture's narrative, a new reality emerges. The artist recedes and from the transformative cloud arises terra firma. Ovid would enjoy the tiny drops of ink flying through the trees.

I thank Gustavo Arróniz of arróniz arte contemporáneo, in Mexico City for introducing me to Castro’s work and helping me collect his pictures. They are flying out of the gallery, often spoken for before they’re even finished.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Were I not working that night . . .

One of the disadvantages of being a performer is missing concerts because you're playing elsewhere that night.

Paige West, founder of the Chelsea contemporary art gallery, Mixed Greens, and the art blog, Art Addict, has a regular feature, "If I lived in . . ." in which she recommends art shows/galleries/exhibits she'd see if she lived in other cities. So with apologies to Ms. West, tonight I'll start an occasional posting of concerts I'd attend, "were I not working that night."

This weekend at Bargemusic—the wonderful floating concert series with breathtaking views of lower Manhattan—presents some dear friends and great musicians, the indomitable Flux Quartet. They offer a (excuse me) kickass program of 20th- and 21st-century string quartets. (An aside is irresistible at this point. Flux's second violinist, Conrad Harris married violinist, Pauline Kim over a year ago. They are dear friends and colleagues. The ceremony was stylish and divine, as they are. For the bride's maids' processional, Flux performed the "Quodlibet" from John Cage's String Quartet in Four Parts. Utter brilliance! And highly recommended for the post-Pachelbel set.) (There's just something about scordatura that so suits a wedding.)

Here is what's on offer:

June 27 Wednesday, 8 pm
June 29 Friday, 8 pm
June 30 Saturday, 8 pm

Nancarrow String Quartet No.3 (1987)
Weill String Quartet, Op. 8 (1923)
Yotam Haber String Quartet, Commissioned by Bargemusic, World Premiere (2007)
Ligeti String Quartet No. 1 Métamorphoses nocturnes (1953-54)

Flux String Quartet
Tom Chiu, violinConrad Harris, violin
Max Mandel, viola
Dave Eggar, cello

In highly stimulating company is the young Israeli composer, Yotam Haber, who has just won the Rome prize and was a 2005 Guggenheim Fellow. I know Yotam through one of my dearest friends, Rick Faria. Rick is Associate Professor of Clarinet at Ithaca College, a gourmet and gourmand, a lover of the work of Charles Bukowski, the finest of musicians, an expert in gnarly and complex avant-garde repertoire, and the man who introduced me to so many of the Sybaritic pleasures I now find essential to life.

I'm very interested in Yotam's music, and I love to hear the Fluxes. So it is a drag that I cannot board the Barge this weekend. But I hope you do!


Anthony Tommasini's Times review makes me all the sorrier I missed it. " . . . the Flux players held nothing back in this bracing program." " . . . the collective chaos of this defiant and mercurial music also made the piece exhilarating, especially in this gnashing and vigorous performance."

The rest is noise, too.

The following comment is by Stravinsky discussing the first movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony.

"The most remarkable aspect of the movement . . . is the rhythmic. The irregular durations are confined to the unsounding music, the varying-in-length silences." (NYRB, Oct. 22, 1970)

My current searchings through silence (musical, Quakerly, public, private) have, indeed, varied in length lately. A much looked-forward-to long weekend in the Woodstock home of my friends Abbe and Holly and their two boys, was cut (very) short by a last minute call to play solo oboe on Swan Lake with ABT. (With all the Proust in my life recently, I was about to type: Swann's Lake.) I'm often happiest when working, but now back in the city, I really miss the quality of homey quiet there in the woods, especially in the morning before the boys (or the moms) awoke. If there is a place with access to the "still small voice," that certainly is one.

I live in a quiet part of Manhattan, West 106th Street. I'm lucky in this. I am on the top floor in the back and share no walls in the building. I often wake up to the sounds of birds singing. So on this beautiful summer morning in New York City, I'm trying to recreate my Woodstock idyll before heading out into the race.

I have the birds and the breeze, and I am so grateful to have the unsounding music of a sleeping family still fresh in my ears and heart.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Captured Mysteries

Until the end of the month, you can see the exquisitely imagined photographs of Parisian artist, Jean-Michel Fauquet, in his first American solo show at Haim Chanin Fine Arts.

In the last year, the gallery relocated to a new space at 121 West 19th Street, 10th Floor. Somewhat outside the press of Chelsea's gallery ghetto, Haim Chanin's new home presents art in a domestic environment. We don't all live in white-box lofts, and art takes on new life in this context. If there is a future direction developing for contemporary art galleries, Haim Chanin is leading the way with this move.

Fauquet's work exists in the penumbra of fantasy and reality. It plays with ideas of set pieces and nature, with the blurred lines dividing past and present, ancient and future. Even lines between photography, painting, and sculpture blur. Fauquet manipulates his pictures with paint and wax. The cotton paper on which they are printed is rare and no longer mass produced. Its depth and richness offer tactile sophistication while creating layers of interest as objects as well as images.

Though my friend and I visited a number of galleries this afternoon, Fauquet's images insinuated themselves into my memory throughout the day and into the evening. The mysteries of his imagination envision poetic narratives that now enliven my own. Like images extracted from a dream, they live in a shadow world where memory slips from our grasp and emotion and art conspire to stop time, if only for a moment.

The show runs through June 30th. Try to visit. The gallery director is a lovely friend named Mathilde Simian.


Jean-Michel Fauquet - KAÏROS
May 3 - June 30, 2007

Haim Chanin Fine Arts
121 West 19th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10011
T 646 230 72 00
F 212 255 3145

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


With an adept step into the world of music criticism, Maureen Dowd offers stylistic (and stylish) analysis of Hillary Clinton’s new campaign song in today's New York Times. “It doesn’t bode well for the cultural health of the country that Hillary picked a song by Celine Dion, who combines the worst of Vegas and Canada.” One wonders what the best of Vegas and Canada would sound like.

It reminds me of a parlor game we played in the Juilliard dorm. Some assigned text stated: “Ned Rorem is America’s Poulenc.” So, I wondered, who is France’s Ned Rorem? Discuss! These things quickly spiraled into arcana: If Havergal Brian is Britain’s Howard Hansen, then . . .

Please add your own!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Lohin Geduld Gallery
531 West 25th Street, NYC
Extended through June 22, 2007

During this delightful caesura in my performance schedule, I'm feasting on the best of our city. The show of Nicolas Carone sculpture at Lohin Geduld amazes. I wasn't going to post it, because by the time I got there, it was the last day of the show. Deus ex machina: an extension! So, please, try to visit!

Entering the gallery, you are welcomed into a gathering of faces characterized by repose, depth, and familiarity. We are so far from the disembodied, art-deco coolness of Brancusi's heads. Carone has filled the room with people you recognize, people you know, even friends. I couldn't shake the feeling that this assembly had been waiting for me. My mind went to the Fayoum portraits I saw at the Menil Collection while living in Houston. Those faces—so familiar across the centuries—made the past seem present. Carone's faces make the present seem a part of the eternal and offer the promise of permanence to the relationships that make our daily lives precious.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Sculpture: Forty Years
MoMA June 3 - September 10, 2007

Please go to the MoMA this summer for the Richard Serra sculptures! It is the most kinesthetically joyous art I've ever experienced. I loved sharing the exhibition with small groups of urban kids, laughing and chasing around the curves of Band (2006) as if they owned it. In the garden, I became absorbed in a tiny, beautiful detail of corrosion that looked like a miniature masterpiece of abstract expressionism, one precious square inch on the many tons of Torqued Ellipse IV (1998). After walking through Sequence (2006) on the second floor several times, I could feel its shapes in my body. Upon entering the sixth floor gallery, you immediately are given chance to step directly onto a sculpture, Delineator (1974-75). Look up; you're already in it!

"I consider space to be a material.
The articulation of space has come to take precedence over other concerns. I attempt to use sculptural form to make space distinct."
---Richard Serra

The Rest is Noise, too.

Silence has been on my usually unquiet mind: the quality of silence, which is often complex; the need for silence, which I often ignore; and the pleasure of silence, a New Yorker’s dream.

Silence is one of music’s raw materials. The actual sounding of no sound creates punctuation, drama, and color. To indicate a duration of silence, the composer writes a “rest” in the place of notes. However, “rest” hardly describes it. Keeping track of where you are when not playing is a complex rhythmic skill. Ask anyone who’s played Webern.

In the symphonic music of Mozart, I’m often as impressed by the trumpeters as the violinists. Whereas the violins carry the main melodic material and are prominent almost every moment, Mozart gives the trumpets mostly rests. Their few entrances, often in unison or octaves, tend to be declarative fanfares announcing structural junctures. The concentration and calm needed to execute such far-spaced entrances are performance skills with their own special techniques and anxieties.

Within a piece, composers sometimes indicate a pause before introducing new material. Some of the most esoteric conversations in chamber music rehearsals concern the time such silences are allotted. On stage, however, they are magical moments, the tension palpable as the silence stretches.

The founder of Helicon, Albert Fuller, is one of America’s great harpsichordists. Harpsichords are not “touch-sensitive” instruments, meaning that the strength with which a key is depressed does not affect the loudness or softness of the sound. Albert explained that modulating the silences within a passage creates the impression of dynamic variation. A note played after a split second of silence is heard as louder than one within a musical line. Silence gives strength to utterance.

I loved the quote by composer Carl Nielsen, Alex Ross posted on his indispensable blog The Rest is Noise, last Friday.

"If music were to assume human form and explain its essence, it may say something like this: '...I love the vast surface of silence; and it is my chief delight to break it.'"

When in a quiet room with good acoustics, I often imagine filling it with music, but I am learning how much there is to hear in the sound of silence. A rest is noise, too.

The photo of Albert Fuller teaching in his studio is by Peter Schaaf.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Uncrowded Air - More Church of John Cage

I returned to the Fifteenth Street Quakers this morning for their 9:30 A.M. meeting. This early service was reputed to have no speaking - at all. An hour of gathered silence shared by, well, Friends. Whatever taste I got last week, I knew more silence would suit me fine.

I played an elaborate wedding yesterday (The Orchestra of St. Luke's had been hired to provide the music, which should give you an idea of the scale involved.) and the tumult of the Catholic liturgy only increased my anticipation for this morning's meeting. Once again, the green-shadowed sunlight streaming through the windows against the unadorned white walls and pews made this room seem like a precious place in the midst of Manhattan's rough and tumble. Those who meditate know that particular process of taming the day-to-day, cluttered mind into the meditative, quieted mind. There was such chatter inside my head, it was like a live reading of Finnegan's Wake. (Yesterday was Bloomsday . . . ) About half way through the hour, though, I managed to at least near some inner stillness.

When I opened my eyes, I was surprised to notice in the corner of the room, sticking up from behind a white-painted wooden screen, the scroll of a string bass. It struck me - music - there was none. In fact, I could imagine no music, sound, or voice that possibly could enhance the experience. The gathered silence that we organized and shared resounded complete and full of personal meaning.

I don't know why there is a string bass in a corner of the Quaker Meeting House on East 15th Street, but I rather hope no one ever plays it, or if they do, that it's a transcription of 4'33". How would you notate that for bass?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


I spent a lovely Monday afternoon with my friend and Helicon Board Member, Joan Easton. We had lunch at her club on the Upper East Side and then took the six-gallery art walk recommended by Grace Glueck in the May 25, 2007 New York Times.

The show at Richard L. Feigen & Co., 34 East 69th Street, was remarkable. Titled, "SUBLIME CONVERGENCE - Gothic to the Abstract," the exhibition presents Gothic Christian panels with numinous 20th-century abstract paintings. (Image to the right: Taddeo Gaddi, Saint Anthony Abbot, circa 1345-50, tempera and gold leaf on panel) Entering the exhibition one is met with a Taddeo di Bartolo, Saint Simon, circa 1395, robes flowing aglow in pink and gold. Next to it hang two luminous Robert Ryman (b. 1930) abstracts of brilliant white, clouding into rich shades of blue near the edges. The effect was striking. "My God!" I murmured. Richard Feigen asks in his introductory essay, "How do certain basic strains of the human personality straddle seven centuries?" The attempt to represent ineffable human experience in tangible objects of art is the mysterious endeavor that unites mankind throughout history.

It is the effect I was after earlier this season with Helicon's 81st Symposium, The Art of English Song. By presenting Purcell, Britten, and Vaughan Williams together on the same program—in this case, sung brilliantly by the tenor, Nicholas Phan—I hoped to offer similar cross-century insights, and a few "My God!" moments, too.

Feigen closes his introduction noting, "So much of the focus today is exclusively on the contemporary. If this exhibition accomplishes its purpose, it will make earlier periods more accessible to the public." Ah, the contrast between the worlds of visual art and art music. While contemporary music fights for cultural relevancy, the contemporary art market is cash-flooded and super-chic. ("Drunk with money" is how Alan Riding put it in his article about Damien Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull in today's Times.)

Why can the purest abstraction on canvas be visually comprehensible and culturally relevant, while aural abstraction is met with such resistance? (Work to the right: Robert Ryman, "Series #9 (White)" 2004, oil on canvas, 53 x 53 inches, courtesy PaceWildenstein) The key is in the physical act of perception. Visual art is experienced as being outside the body. It can be consumed either by glancing or by staring. However intent the viewer's gaze, the painting stays fixedly on the wall. Music, on the other hand, is experienced inside the listener's head, right between the ears and behind the eyes. That's a very personal place. Though we see the musicians either near or far, the music they play doesn't stay with them, it goes right into us. Furthermore, music exists in time. If we don't like a painting, we look away. A piece of music, however, could last minutes, which easily feel like days if you dislike it. If you love it, even hours can evaporate, disappearing in the reverie of musical enjoyment. I remember feeling this way at the end of a Die Walküre performance at The Met. It's a very long opera, but as it was coming into the home stretch, I couldn't bare the idea of the beauty stopping. Even as it slipped from out my grasp, I tried to hold onto the impossible moment.

One of the pleasures of playing as often as I do with the New York City Ballet, is the rich body of Stravinsky's music in their repertoire. Works that stand (unjustly) just outside the symphonic canon, such as Agon, Symphony in Three Movements, Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra (which is part of Jewels), Orpheus, Jeu de Cartes, Apollo, and the Violin Concerto, are staples of this company.

Stravinsky's Violin Concerto is one of Balanchine's great masterpieces, and as such is presented often by the company. The performances by concertmaster, Kurt Nikkanen are stunning for their virtuosity, lyrical beauty, and his obsessive realization of Stravinsky's detail-rich musical vocabulary. While playing this work, my ear is drawn to the many references to music of the past, particularly Bach. Stravinsky's counterpoint balances on the finest point (this is a ballet, after all) between mystery and meaningfulness. In the final movement there is an arresting duet between a protagonist French horn and demurely responsive soloist. (I loved the days when Paul Ingraham played the first horn part and his wife Jean played the solo. There could be no more touching version of this passage.) The horn line arches downward with so much longing as the violin line flutters, flushing with the attention. Yet, this utterly beautiful music remains essentially abstract, and the counterpoint mysterious in its particulars.

Fusing old and new music, Stravinsky created Janus-like pieces that sing in both forgotten and undiscovered tongues. Tropes of earlier music lead into unexpected expressive territory. A new language is inexplicably understandable, even as details of its dialect remain mysterious.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Crowded Air in the Church of John Cage

This morning I attended my first Quaker meeting, the 15th Street Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. I’ve been drawn to the idea of Friends’ worship for several years. Last week at a dinner party, I met law professor, blogger, and violist, Susan Crawford. She is a dear friend of several of mine, and when she said she’d been raised Quaker, plans for this morning quickly took shape. We were joined by our mutual friend, Bejun Mehta, who, like me was making his first visit to a Friends’ meeting. Helicon Member and Quaker, Sarah O. H. Johnson was there, as well.

As a touring chamber musician, I often play concerts in old New England churches. Beautiful examples in Blue Hill, ME and Shelter Island, NY come right to mind. Entering them empty before a concert, their silent, expectant acoustic makes me want to Jackson Pollack the air with scales and arpeggios. The 15th Street Meeting House, I noticed, did not have that affect on me. We were gathering for silence.

At first all I perceived was a general, indistinct lack of purposeful sound. Shortly it sorted itself into its various components, all pleasurable in this cool early summer New York Sunday morning. The soft whoosh of passing cars, squeaking benches and complaining floor boards as the assembled assembled, coughs, a sneeze, and the unconcerned prattling of birds, all wove the tapestry of silence. I couldn’t help but think of John Cage's 4’33” which my friend, Pedja Muzijevic is playing at Maverick Concerts this summer. What makes a performance of that piece by Pedja apposite, as opposed to, say, my performance of it, is the withholding of one thing to make room for another. Were I, who cannot play the piano, to sit unplaying before one, it would be to the general relief of anyone in ear shot. Pedja—with his life of stored musical art in his finger tips—brings the silence into special relief by not crowding it with notes. So, this morning, a group of New Yorkers who in their everyday lives may very well speak fast, loud, and with authority, sat together in a room and withheld speech.

In this special quiet waiting, other liturgies seemed all gaudy baubles and clangorous songs. The experience of this corporate silence was deeply meaningful. In the way a day at the contemporary art galleries in Chelsea makes everything looks like art on the way home, today, every quiet moment gave opportunity for a deeper silence. At intermission in the orchestra lounge of the State Theater, I didn’t read the paper or check my messages, nor did I on the M7 bus going home after the matinee. Instead I sat and tried to find the feeling of stillness I had with the Quakers.

The air is crowded. We who make our life’s work the art of sound crowd it daily in pursuit of our voice, our technique, our expression of music’s beauty. Maybe we musicians especially need the nourishment of the silent moment. Many thanks to Dan Coleman for introducing me to the Emily Dickinson poem, below. This morning, it sang its silent accord with the Quakers' quiet waiting.

Musicians wrestle everywhere —
All day — among the crowded air
I hear the silver strife —
And - waking - long before the morn —
Such transport breaks upon the town
I think it that “New Life”!

It is not Bird — it has no nest —
Nor “Band” — in brass and scarlet — drest —
Nor Tamborin — nor Man —
It is not Hymn from pulpit read —
The “Morning Stars” the Treble led
On Time’s first Afternoon!

Some — say — it is “the Spheres” — at play!
Some say that bright Majority
Of vanished Dames — and Men!
Some — think it service in the place
Where we — with late — celestial face —
Please God — shall Ascertain!

Saturday, June 09, 2007


Deep-seated anxiety accompanies the onset of spring.

As a child it meant the end of school and the coming of outdoors-based physical activities. Widely described as fun, they were not by me. All sports were torture, but one in particular . . . Our family had a set of dirt bikes scaled for each member. I received my first at the age of six, I think. (“Jimmy, look what we got for you!” When it wasn’t the Encyclopedia Britannica I so coveted, and turned out to be a 50 cc dirt bike, I knew mine would be a very confusing childhood.) We’d load up our trailer emblazoned with reflective letters spelling, “JESUS IS LORD,” and head to the power lines. There we’d ride our motor cycles loudly up and down the sand-covered hills. These outings filled me with dread, terror, and deep sadness, all of which I gamely hid, feigning enthusiasm. Why wasn’t fun any fun?

As a teenager and into my college years, summer meant the end of music and the beginning of farm work. (I financed my education and musical winters largely through summer work on a 500 acre cherry farm in Acme, Michigan.) It’s easy to romanticize youthful dog days spent on the farm—overalls and a sprig of grass between the teeth—but modern agro-industry is non-union factory work done outside. For twelve hours a day, six days a week, we worked. I learned to drive a tractor, fork lift, flat bed truck, and many difficult lessons, but I paid for my schooling and new oboes.

As a Juilliard student, summer meant poverty. Because gigs and teaching dried up, I lived on an impressively Spartan budget. To save the $2.30 round trip subway fare to Greenwich Village, I’d walk three miles each way to go out. That way I could afford a beer. I learned a lot about New York on those walks, and in my dorm room I had central AC and a view of the Hudson River.

So, my reflexive reaction to the rising mercury is still tinged with dread, though now I have summers that better suit me. Music festivals bring chamber music, touring, new friends, and wonderful performances. I have had many memorable ones with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s at Caramoor. Recent seasons have also included chamber music at Skaneateles, Moab, Crested Butte, and Mt. Desert Island, Maine, principal oboe for visiting ballet companies at Lincoln Center, a trip to Japan with the NYCO, and concerto performances at Manchester, VT and the Mostly Mozart Festival in NYC.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Zéphyros and Pedja Muzijevic performed at Tannery Pond, and from that vantage point, I looked ahead to a truly lovely summer.

• June - Chamber music and NYCB performances
• July - one Caramoor concert, two weeks at Saratoga, NY with the NYCB, and a week’s vacation in between
• August - the Mostly Mozart Festival (I'll be playing 2nd oboe in the orchestra this season.)

Somewhere in that time (I know exactly when) I turn 40. With that milestone in the picture, I feel fortunate to have a summer filled with great performances. Had someone whispered in the ear of that little boy wiped-out with his dirt bike under a power line that on his 40th birthday he would be in New York City rehearsing Mozart and Schubert at Lincoln Center, the oppressive heat of those small town summers might have lifted a little.

Little Jimmy, c. 1974, dreaming of books . . .

Friday, June 08, 2007

In the posts below, I've outlined the programs for Helicon's 23rd Season, 2007-2008. The following is a short introduction to our organization.

In 1985, harpsichordist, scholar, educator, conductor, and raconteur, Albert Fuller, in the company of Alice Tully and Gregory B. Smith, brought together a group of musicians and music lovers to create The Helicon Foundation. Taking its name from the Greek mountain revered as the home of Memory and her daughters, the nine Muses, the organization's goal was to address a need in the New York music community. Large concert halls and the manner of playing necessary to fill them had pulled music away from what composers knew and intended. Helicon bridges that gap with style and élan, presenting chamber music in an intimate setting and using the instruments and performance techniques of the period. In 2006, James Roe succeeded Albert Fuller as Artistic Director, to continue Helicon’s goals into its third decade.

• CHAMBER MUSIC IN AN INTIMATE SPACEHelicon returns chamber music to an intimate space where the audience can follow a performer’s every nuance and experience proximity to music’s expressive power.

• PERIOD INSTRUMENTS & PERFORMANCE PRACTICEOur musicians seek out the sounds composers knew by using the instruments and performance techniques of the time.

• PROGRAMMINGBy focusing on a single composer or specific cultural question, Helicon Symposiums deepen our experience through immersion and focused inquiry.

• MUSICIANSHelicon chooses its musicians for their virtuosity, openness, and musical creativity, and provides the opportunity to know them as artists and people.

• COMMUNITYHelicon’s unique Membership structure connects music lovers and musicians who share the enjoyment of musical exploration.

Helicon has produced over 80 Symposiums covering a broad range of musical genres, from the 14th through the 21st centuries. From these Symposiums have arisen recordings, public concerts, educational programs, and most importantly, a body of performers and music lovers with a deepened experience of music in their lives.

James R. Roe, Artistic Director
Albert Fuller, Founder
William A. Simon, President

Website currently under construction.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Helicon Foundation's 23 Season
Symposium LXXXIII - 14 October 2007
“The Pinnacle of Classicism”
Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven

Mark Steinberg, violin
Lutzke, ’cello
Pedja Muzijevic, fortepiano

Haydn Piano Trio in C
Mozart Violin Sonata, K. 454
Beethoven Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 1, No. 1

Though Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven stand at the center of the Classical music canon, it is still rare to hear their music on the kind of instruments they knew.

The fortepiano, one of Europe’s great pre-electronic technological achievements, rapidly evolved from the late 1700s through the 19th Century. Composers were protagonists this process, writing music that fully marshaled the capacities of each new model. For this concert, Pedja Muzijevic will play a fortepiano based on those of the 1790s, ideally suited to this music.

Pedja Muzijevic, piano

Written within a decade of each other, the three works on this program reveal the shared musical influences of the greatest Classical composers.

Mark Steinberg, violin

When I contacted Myron Lutzke about this concert, he remarked that “these pieces are all old friends.”

Myron Lutzke, 'cello

Could there be better company in which to open our 23rd Season?

The Helicon Foundation
James Roe,
Artistic Director • Albert Fuller, Founder

The Helicon Foundation's 23rd Season
Symposium LXXXIV - 9 December 2007
Romantic Russian Music

Lauren Skuce, soprano
Jennifer Frautschi, violin
Pedja Muzijevic, piano

Prokofiev Violin Sonata No. 1, in F Minor
Rachmaninov Art Songs
Mussorgsky “Pictures at an Exhibition”

In June of 1994, Albert Fuller and I attended England’s Aldeburgh Festival to hear Pedja Muzijevic play “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" autograph score

Helicon’s first Symposium exploring the deeply expressive Russian repertoire features Pedja’s interpretation of Mussorgsky’s masterpiece with works by his countrymen, Prokofiev and Rachmaninov.

Pedja Muzijevic, piano

Prokofiev returned to the USSR in 1936 and shortly thereafter began work on a violin sonata that would take him eight years to complete. It was premiered by David Oistrakh with whom Prokofiev collaborated to ensure the virtuosic demands of the solo part suited the violin.

Jennifer Frautschi, violin

To perform Rachmaninov’s lush art songs, Helicon welcomes the award-winning soprano, Lauren Skuce, whose singing was recently praised in The New York Times as “bright and agile, becoming brilliantly liquid and sexy in the high register.”

Lauren Skuce, soprano

The Helicon Foundation
James Roe,
Artistic Director • Albert Fuller, Founder

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Helicon Foundation's 23rd Season
Symposium LXXXV - 10 February 2008
“The Mysterious World of Heinrich Biber
Baroque Virtuoso Violin Music

Colin Jacobsen, violin
Robert Wolinsky, harpsichord & organ
Myron Lutzke, ’cello
Sonatas and Solos for Violin by Heinrich Biber

Heinrich Biber (1644-1704) was one of the great violin virtuosos of his day and a composer with a deeply personal language. The works on this program inhabit both the virtuosic and numinous worlds of his music. Listening to Biber, I am reminded of the marvelous Duccio “Madonna and Child” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The front edge of its frame is charred in two places by candles, because this work of great artistic sophistication was used to enhance personal devotion. Likewise, Biber’s music places extraordinary demands on performers, yet seems aimed not at public display, but rather, the intensely personal work of faith and spiritual understanding. We are pleased to welcome virtuoso violinist, Colin Jacobsen, back to Helicon to perform this remarkable music with the formidable continuo team of Myron Lutzke and Robert Wolinsky.

The Helicon Foundation
James Roe, Artistic Director • Albert Fuller, Founder

The Helicon Foundation's 23rd Season
Symposium LXXXVI - 27 April 2008
“Transfigured Night”
Romantic String Sextets by
Johannes Brahms and Arnold Schoenberg

Vera Beths & Mark Steinberg, violins
Dov Scheindlin & David Cerutti, violas
Myron Lutzke & Nina Lee, celli

Brahms String Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36
Schoenberg Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4

We close our 23rd season with two works that limn the acme and apotheosis of the Romantic Era. The youthful vigor of Brahms’ String Sextet, Op. 36 will be enhanced by the richness of our ensemble’s twenty-four gut strings. Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (“Transfigured Night”), composed in 1899, is the first “symphonic poem” scaled for chamber music. Based on a Richard Dehmel poem, Schoenberg’s richly expressive music follows the story of a couple discovering the redemptive power of truth, forgiveness, and love. Presenting such 19th-century masterpieces in rare gut-string performance is central to Helicon’s mission. To lead this important performance, the renowned Amsterdam-based violinist Vera Beths makes her Helicon debut.

"Transfigured Night" (Verklärte Nacht)
by Richard Dehmel
(Translation:1992 Lionel Salter)

Two People are walking through the bare, cold grove;
the moon accompanies them, they gaze at it. The moon courses above the
high oaks; not a cloud obscures the light of heaven, into which the black
treetops reach. A woman's voice speaks:

I am carrying a child, and not of yours;
I walk in sin beside you.
I have deeply transgressed against myself.
I no longer believed in happiness
and yet had a great yearning
for purposeful life, for the happiness
and responsibility of motherhood; so I dared
and, shuddering, let my body
be embraced by a strange man,
and have become pregnant from it.
Now life has taken its revenge,
now that I have met you.

She walks with awkward step.
She looks up: the moon accompanies them.
Her dark glance is inundated with light.
A man's voice speaks:

Let the child you have conceived
be no burden to your soul.
see, how brightly the universe gleams!
There is a radiance on everything;
you drift with me on a cold sea,
but a special warmth flickers
from you to me, from me to you.
This will transfigure the other's child;
you will bare it for me, from me;
you have brought radiance on me,
you have made me a child myself.

He clasps her round her strong hips.
Their breath mingles in the breeze.
Two people go through the tall, clear night

Richard Dehmel (1863-1920)

The Helicon Foundation
James Roe, Artistic Director • Albert Fuller, Founder

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


The next posting of my Shunshô prints is number 86 in the 100 Poets, 100 Poems series (Ogura Hyakunin Isshu). This poet is Saigyō Hōshi.

"Saigyō was a member of the Fujiwara family, an eccentric monk, and a famous poet, who lived A.D. 1115-1188. He was once in attendance on the Emperor, when a bird by fluttering its wings began scattering the blossoms of a plum tree. The Emperor directed him to drive off the bird, but the priest, with an excess of zeal, killed it by a stroke of his fan. On reaching home his wife told him that she had dreamt that she was changed into a bird and that he had struck her; and this incident made such an impression upon him, that he retired from Court, and spent the rest of his life as a monk." (Bio from "The Internet Sacred Text Archive.")

Saigyō Hōshi

Nageke tote
Tsuki ya wa mono o
Kakochi gao naru
Waga namida kana

The Monk

Should I blame the moon
For bringing forth this sadness,
As if it pictured grief?
Lifting up my troubled face,
I regard it through my tears.

The Monk Saigyō

The moon to me now
Is a thing to be deplored,
Forcing me to think
Till my face grows drawn and tense,
And I feel the tears begin.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
Sonata for Oboe and Piano (1962)

Élégie • ScherzoDéploration

When Christian Steiner first spoke with me about having Zéphyros open the 2007 series of Tannery Pond Concerts, he had recently attended a performance of the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet that included Poulenc's Sonata for Oboe and Piano. He was so taken by those four unaccompanied notes the oboe sings at the beginning of the piece—high, arching, eloquently longing for something lost—that he envisioned this work as the perfect way to open the season.

Written at the end of his life, this work is both fragmentary and rhapsodic, boisterous with joy and abject in grief. Without the long melodies that make the sonatas for flute and clarinet so memorable, this work seems to actually be about the inner workings of memory itself. Poulenc changes moods with little warning, the way the emotions careen between joy and sorrow when faced with terrible loss.

Characteristic of the composer, the careening is not only emotional. Poulenc's musical language encompasses the sacred and profane, literally. Deeply dedicated to his Catholic faith, Poulenc writes an arresting passage in the beginning of the third movement in which the oboe intones a lamenting chant over sustained bell sounds from the piano. This incantation gradually losses its emotional composure spinning into a ululating climax of chromatic ornamentation. Poulenc understood wind instruments as well as any composer, and this passage perfectly marshals the oboe's capacities.

In his program notes for the concert, Clair W. Van Ausdall writes of Poulenc's "dazzling chic," a phrase I quite like. In the "trio" of Poulenc's Scherzo movement, he introduces a wistful cabaret song based on a melodic fragment by Prokofieff, to whose memory the work is dedicated. Lilting between 3/4 and 4/4 time, the melody is so songful, it's hard to believe there aren't lyrics. For Poulenc, the combining of cabaret and chant, the numinous and popular functions of music, is so utterly natural it must have come from deep within his own understanding of humanity and faith.

The musical rhetoric of this work is so direct and communicative, it was a pleasure to present it to a new audience. Performing with my dear friend Pedja Muzijevic is always a thrill.

Berkshire Eagle

Tannery Pond "Past is present"
By Andrew L. Pincus, Special to The Eagle

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"NEW LEBANON, N.Y. — Who would have believed that a mere oboe and piano could evoke as much grief as there is in Poulenc's 1961 sonata?

Beautifully realized by oboist James Roe and Pedja Muzijevic, the work is a memorial to Prokofiev, who died in 1953. Between an opening elegy and a closing lamentation, the middle movement is a scherzo that clearly recalls the Russian composer's mix of irony and tenderness, including references to his "Romeo and Juliet" ballet.

As Clair W. Van Ausdall's always readable program notes pointed out, the work became an elegy for Poulenc himself when he died in 1963 without composing anything else. With warmth of tone and wide-ranging expressivity, Roe made his oboe all but speak of sorrow and loss."