Mimesis Ensemble, under Scott Dunn’s baton and Katie Reimer’s Musical and Artistic Direction, had a Weill’d evening on May 26. They played “All Roads Do Not Lead Forward,” a brilliant concert at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall, which featured a musical feast that ranged from recent compositions back to Bach. The seeming reverse-order accomplished Reimer’s goal of giving the Bach a new flavor and sound, with the appetizing combination of historical and new works, which all had a common thread running through–each was an illustration of the composer’s style of concerto grosso that has classical musicians “trading fours”… soloists share themes and the entire ensemble become the soloists they are. When each artist is dynamic on their own and they combine, it’s the classical version of the Super Friends.
“Last Round” is Osvaldo Golijov’s tribute to Astor Piazzola, a virtuoso bandoneon artist and the creator of the Nuevo tango style, which fused jazz elements with classical. Piazzola had a stroke at the young age of 71, from which he never recovered, and Golijov wrote a sketch, for what would become this second movement, to write éout his feelings about this influential composer performer. Likened to Handel and Mozart, Piazzola was a polyglot musically, who was always looking for new roads. The title of the work comes from Piazzola’s well-known pugilistic tendencies, often willing to settle disagreements with his fists. Golijov uses frenetic energy and tuneful, yet dissonant, cross-harmonies in the first movement, “Movido, urgente–Subito meno mosso,” that are dynamic, swirling maelstroms of thoughts … perhaps reflecting the tempestuousness of Piazzola’s creativity. This is not a work for the faint of skill–it requires a great ensemble to bring out the nuance. Then–it’s almost instant entropy going into “Muertes Del Angel”–are we hearing the struggle of the brain to clear itself after the stroke? Are we hearing ghostly reminiscences of Piazzola’s earlier life in the Roma-esque romantic violin that makes a fantasy on the Argentine classic “My Beloved Buenos Aires?” The soul struggles, seemingly rallying at one point, only for entropy to ultimately rule.
Mohammed Fairouz’ “Sadat” had its dazzling New York premiere as well. In this work, written in 2013, we get a portrait of Anwar Sadat’s rise to power and his rather sudden end. Fairouz’s blend of onomatopoetic sounds with the Arab pentatonic (Phrygian mode) puts us in the heart of the revolution that made a young Sadat a voice, then a prominent leader, peace maker, and a complicated man. The sharpness of the xylophone is like morse code, heartbeats and bullets at different times. The dreamlike sound of the marimba is at times gentle and at others, insistent. We hear the meeting with Jehan, who would be his inspiration, and his wife and the chaos of the parade that becomes an assassination that is our final recollection gives Western ears an idea of what it must have been like when life went wildly off the rails. Thus ended the first act.
Stravinsky’s Concerto in E-flat Major, “Dumbarton Oaks,” was written more than 20 years after “Rite of Spring.” The late 1930s would ultimately prove difficult, as the composer would lose both his daughter Ludmila and his wife Katya. During the time his daughter was very ill, he wrote this work. E-flat Major is considered by some to be a key reflective of love, devotion, and having a heart-to-heart with a Supreme Being. This work begins very classically yet, then, Stravinsky gives himself over to the music. At the beginning, there are “Spring”-like phrases, both peripatetic and inquisitive. Then some reality of life begins to creep into the idyll–you can almost see thoughts as pictures.
The pièce de résistance of the evening was J. S. Bach’s Piano Concerto Number One in D minor, BWV 1052. Reimer was the soloist, supported by select members of the Mimesis Ensemble. This work was as intense as the other works on the program, and the intensity felt even more so due to the intimacy of the smaller ensemble–each note stood on its own and the intricacy of the solos, which were literally forward moving, was breathtaking. As a pianist, Reimer phrases the work almost as someone would who’s singing a vocal line. The barest of lifts give moment to a phrase and sets it off as a conversation between Bach and soloist. This approach gives warmth to the work that, in other hands, may have sounded automated and machine-like. When a soloist is disrespectful to Bach’s humanity, the passages could be cold, making the piano just a piece of furniture that happens to be musical. Reimer gives that piano a voice that elevates and gives presence to the headlong, brilliantly flashing solo passages. This was a most delightful piece to send an audience out into a sultry night.
Perhaps the most special part of the evening was seeing Reimer receive flowers from her mother, who overcame many obstacles to enjoy her daughter’s work. Friends abounded in the audience, and many fell in love with Mimesis Ensemble for the first time. The dedication of this group to living composers is nonpareil. When their next dates come out, I’m marking my calendar.
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