Peoples' Symphony Concerts launched their new season last night with a Musicans from Marlboro program at the High School of Fashion Industries auditorium, their substitute location this year while the auditorium at Washington Irving High School gets a make-over. (We are promised new seats, whoopee!!)
Several touring ensembles of young musicians who have participated at the summer Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont criss-cross the country each year, bringing chamber music to the multitudes in performances of music that they have spent months learning under the tutelage of senior members of the profession in the less pressured environment of what is an extended summer school now going back many decades. Some of the musicians are repeat players at this, old hands at a young age.
Hearing one of these groups gives one great hope for the future of classical performance, as they attain a level of technical evidence characteristic of the mature groups that also perform on the PSC series.
They began with Joseph Haydn's String Quartet in A, Op. 55, No. 1, and they lavished great love on it, playing in an expressive manner that I found more characteristic of the mid-20th century romantic approach than the way some quartets now try to incorporate more of the historic approach. But that's OK, because Haydn, despite his dates (1732-1809) is really a transitional figure towards romanticism when it comes to the first two movements of his quartets. (The Menuetto and Vivace finale fall solidly in the classical sphere, and so they played them that way.) But the meltingly gorgeous Adagio cantabile was full of subtle inflections and and graceful harmonic transitions.
Gyorgy Ligeti's Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano from 1982 was a wake-up call between the two all-string pieces. Ligeti's writing for all three instruments is very challenging, especially when he has them going their own way rhythmically, but these young artists seemed to be deeply inside the music, which held no terrors for them. As violinist Soovin Kim explained in brief remarks before they played it, they have worked on this piece off and on for years, finding newer, deeper meaning each time they play it.
Finally, Mendelssohn's String Quintet in A, Op. 18, another miraculous work of the composer's precocious teen years when he was writing with a freshness only sporadically recapturally during his sadly truncated maturity. The style of playing was similar to the Haydn quartet, with an appropriate bow to the lighter approach required for the typically Mendelssohnian scherzo and finale sequence. But, once more, a gorgeous slow movement – in this case marked andante sostenuto – was the highlight.
All of these young musicians made a terrific impression: in the Haydn, violinists Lily Francis and Itamar Zorman, violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, and cellist Paul Wiancko; in the Ligeti, violinist Soovin Kim, hornist Benjamin Jaber and pianist Matan Porat; in the Mendelssohn, Zorman and Kim playing violin, the versatile Francis playing viola along with van de Stadt, and Wiancko providing the firm cello foundation. I was impressed by all of them, but especially by Itamar Zorman. Most classical musicians affect a poker-face while performing, in the great tradition of Jascha Heifetz – the great "stone face" – but not Zorman, whose expressive features mirror every emotional twist and turn of the music. Maybe he'll "grow out" of this, but it makes him the liveliest to watch and helps to draw in the listener.