Meditations on Music: Sunday, April 17 Recitals

As Spring Term entered its third week, junior and senior recitals in the Conservatory seemed to grow more and more frequent, and in some cases, one may have found themselves going to many a day. Such was the case for me this past Sunday, April 17, as I saw five of my friends put on recitals that exhibited the devotion of much time and effort. In this atypical column, I will share three short stream-of-conscious meditations on each concert:

I. Alek Wasserman, piano –- Sunday, April 17, 11 a.m., Harper Hall.

As I sat down for senior Alek Wasserman’s recital, I realized I had never seen him play solo piano for more than a couple minutes, if at all. This experience was a bit strange for me, as most of the friends I see perform I have seen perform before. The unfamiliarity I had with his playing only accentuated how he pored over the music that was either in his memory or in front of him, letting his emotions and connection to the pieces pour out of his fingertips and through the ivory. This approach to playing was the case for each of his five very different pieces, with each showcasing a drastically different side of his playing and approach to music.

The concert began with perhaps my favorite portion—excerpts from “24 Preludes” by Chopin. With each prelude—a minute long on average—Wasserman put me in a long moment of transfixion and wonder, something I do not encounter much with more traditional, completely composed instrumental music. I felt like I was hearing this type of music in a new light, one that made sense and moved me like never before. This feeling continued on to the contrasting pieces but was no doubt at its strongest throughout the Chopin selections.

As I listened to the following pieces—one by Arnold Schoenberg, another by John Luther Adams, one composed by a friend and collaborator, junior Isaac Mayhew and an original composition—the question of why this concert resonated with me so much would not leave my mind. It still is there, nagging me, as I write this meditation, and I still have no answer.

Until I come up with one, I will have to accept the fact that sometimes the way music interacts with its listeners is inexplicable, mysterious, incomprehensible and sometimes all three.

II. Alaina Leisten, bassoon, and Nathan Gornick, clarinet—Sunday, April 17, 3 p.m., Harper Hall.

It is a pleasure seeing people who are good friends with each other put on a joint recital, especially when they work well together musically and otherwise and create a cohesive program. Throughout the recital—even before the piece they actually played together—I saw and heard what seemed like juniors Alaina Leisten and Gornick feeding off each other’s creative vibes and desire to share the music they love with their audience. With selections that emphasized their technical and lyrical chops, both juniors left the audience in awe and feeling close to the music.

What made me closer to this music—which I was, for the most part, pretty unfamiliar with—was the way Leisten and Nathan Gornick let their personalities show through the way they played. Because I am much more well-versed in jazz and improvisatory music, I often am intimidated by composed music because of its different connotations and preconceived notions.

This intimidation leads me to not check out much of this music, so I do not often see how the performers of this kind of music can connect to the music and audience in both similar and different ways than the music I am more comfortable with. For whatever reason, as I listened to Leisten and Gornick’s recital, my mind opened up and I began to feel the connections and power behind the music they played. Through their program choices, overall sound and attitude while playing, it was clear that their instruments were extensions of themselves and that the recital was a platform meant to highlight that extension.

III. Irene Durbak, percussion, and Dominic Ellis, trombone –- Sunday, April 17, 8 p.m., Harper Hall.

Walking into a dark Harper Hall filled with ambient electronic music accompanied by percussion is not a typical opening for a recital, although I partly wish it was. With minimal music going on and a gradual decrescendo of chatter from the audience as they settled in, “On the Density of Life” by junior Jason Koth set a wonderful mood for the concert, inspiring deep listening throughout even though the other pieces were unlike the introduction. The oddity of an ambient piece followed by a long moment of silence certainly put the following pieces in a much different light for many reasons.

For one, the transition to the next piece was positively overwhelming—the applause following the silence as the performers walked out was deafening, and the duet for trombone and percussion by juniors Dominic Ellis and Irene Durbak, respectively, was anything but ambient. While this statement is obvious to those who witnessed the recital, I mention it because I had never heard anything quite like it. The ardor of Koth’s piece transferred over, but I was suddenly thrown into a musical atmosphere of a stronger intensity and movement. The grand rollercoaster of the program continued with song-like and pained trombone, spoken word interjecting marimba, flute fluttering over auxiliary percussion and an intriguing piece for four low instruments aptly named “The Low Quartet.” The leaps and bounds from the drastically different pieces were, to say the least, exciting, and it was remarkable to see the two musicians transverse those changes.

It was a beautiful experience covering all three of these recitals in one column because it forced me to experience them both as a whole and on their own. With each perspective, my appreciation for the few hours of music that I am often ignorant of grows. It makes me content to know that with so many of these recitals left to attend, I am not going solely to support my friend; rather I am just beginning to relish the music they share.