Chou Wen-Chung in His 91st Year, at Merkin Concert Hall Last Night

by danielgoode

February 21, 2014 10:16:31 PM EST

With only three pieces on the program it wasn’t exactly a Retrospective. Nor was it a Recital (as in ‘here’s what I do’). Better than either of these, it was an Event!

Student of Varése after he arrived from China in 1946; his copyist and editor, he completed Varése’s Nocturnal, orchestrated his Etude Pour Espace—Chou is also his literary executor and lives with his wife, Yi-an, in Varése’s house on Sullivan Street in the Village along with some of Varése s cherished instruments. And as you might expect, he was influenced by Varése’s aesthetic. But with a new self-imposed task: to make a personal synthesis of “East and West.”

Cursive for flute and piano was beautifully played by Jayn Rosenfeld (flute) and Christopher Oldfather (pianist, with coloristic inside plucks, et al). Cursive hand-writing which is no longer taught or readable by young people, was Chou’s bridge to the calligraphies of Asia. I resolved then and there to practice my own cursive which is now deficient from over-use of the computer. The piece was quite atonal on first listen.

Twilight Colors for a luscious sextet of three winds and three strings, was the first piece on the program, played vividly by Boston Musica Viva, and conducted by Richard Pittman. Right away I felt a difference in the role of rhythm. A dotted rhythm, a triplet was not a Western “authority figure” driving the music motivically. Rather, it was more like a loving receptacle of a sound, of a tone, of several tones. There was room for a breath of contemplation, time slowed down. Different from Cage’s ‘let the sounds be themselves,’ but equal in setting itself apart from the European grammar of connection. 

Echoes from the Gorge was the last piece on the program, played brilliantly by the percussion quartet,Talujon, on a large array of quite standard Western percussion instruments. A glorious noise piece in many movements. Often in the silence between movements the wooden chimes, charmingly, had a few more soft sounds left to say. I was thinking while listening: all these instruments, didn’t they come from “the East?” I watched one player repeatedly strike the giant tam-tam near its rim with three small-headed mallets, eliciting nothing but high piercing frequencies, not the low bonging we expect from a big gong. Just then there was a huge noisy climax of “ear-cleaning” zinging tutti tremolos. 

Since color was a theme of the concert, I must report that all but two of the players wore the standard ho-hum uniform of black. Only Jayn Rosenfeld in a pale purple blouse, and Christopher Oldfather in a mauve shirt, begged to differ. 

It was a small, but loving audience. Chou Wen-chung came up on stage to receive the applause and a bouquet. Small, dapper, charming, with a full head of grey-flecked hair—when I introduced myself later, he graciously thanked me for coming to the concert. 

Thumb-nail Review #36

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