Well, I’m on my way back to Philly after a busy two days in New York with Ensemble Epomeo. We enjoyed our chat with Carl at WKCR- it was fun but challenging in the studio. They have a larger space for recording ensembles, but had we been in there, it would have been just about impossible to carry on a conversation with Carl between the pieces. Instead, we were in the booth with him, sort of tucked around the edges of the console. Byron and David were both more or less behind me, and we had to use the same mics for talking and playing, which felt odd, but I’m told sounded fine on air. If we can get permission, we’ll make the show available as a podcast on the E2 website.
WKCR has a wonderfully daring programming philosophy, a refreshing change from the mild-mannered banalities that most public radio stations feel overwhelming market pressure to stick to. After our two hours of live, mostly contemporary chamber music they were doing an hour of avante jazz. This meant we could present a pretty intense and thoughtful program with confidence, focusing on the most radical and experimental parts of our repertoire. We were also able to curate the morning with some recordings of related pieces on CD- bits of Bartok (the final Mesto from the 6th quartet as a cousin to the twilight world of the Schnittke) and the Beethoven op 95 Quartet in comparison with the Op 9 no 3 String Trio.
Our private concert in the evening was fun- I always enjoy house concerts where the audience is there for the music, and this house is one where that is always the case. Of course, we’re learning a lot from doing this program over and over. It really makes me painfully aware of what a pity it is that most concerts only get done once.
Of all the pieces we’re doing on the tour, it is the Schnittke that we’ve lived with the longest, but I’m still making discoveries in every rehearsal, and my thoughts about the meaning of the piece continue to evolve. Schnittke seems to have become almost completely unfashionable among critics and most composers since his death, but fashion is the word. Fashions and trends are amusing phenomena, but whether a piece is in or out with the taste-setters of the day has nothing to do with its status as a work of art. When you can live with a piece like this and continue find new layers of meaning, new relationships between musical ideas, new intersections of process and content there’s no room to be snooty. It’s genius.
Just one example- there is a peculiarly iconic chord progression that occurs several times in the piece. It goes from a major triad up a half step to a minor triad, which means the two chords share the same third. Schnittke has a way of setting this progression as though it is a moment when we step back from the line of the drama and contemplate what has happened. What is interesting now is that we’re finding more and more ways in which this progression doesn’t just stand apart as a sort of incantation, but is knitted into the piece in countless other ways which aren’t immediately perceptible. Sometimes it is presented horizontally, other times he layers the two chords on top of each other. It also turns out that the progression itself shares it’s musical DNA with the main theme of the work, something that’s a bit hard to hear, but clear on the page if you look for it.
We’ve got another concert tonight, doing a slightly shortened and lightened version of our tour program, and we have to finish preparing our children’s program- the first kids concert is tomorrow and I still have some notes to learn in Hansel and Gretel.