It has been quite a while since I have contributed to this blog, and I intend to be more prolific in 2015. I endeavor to give my thoughts on performances that I am able to attend and my personal views on literature, as reading is my great love outside of music. The occupation of a performer who tries to nurture a wide range of works leaves little room for the discipline of writing. A great deal of the musical performances I have attended and will attend in the future, mostly on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, will not appear in this blog. My attitudes, feelings and beliefs on most of the classical guitar repertoire that I actually perform and record will remain unwritten as long as I am able to put forward my arguments as a practicing musician, by playing the guitar.
Be that as it may, I had the good fortune of attending a recital by the Samadi-Keene Duo last week. The initial reason for attending was to hear the world premier of a work by David Mitchell, whom I grew up with, played duets with and eventually went to college with in Atlanta. We were both students of John Sutherland. Also, piano/guitar duos are extremely rare.
I was intrigued.
The venue seemed to be in the living-room of a rather large home on the Lower East Side (the last cool neighborhood in New York City). The audience, mostly young, were seated on comfortable sofas. High-end sound equipment was pervasive and we were literally surrounded by an impressive book collection, neatly organized on wall to wall shelves. It was the perfect place for two instrumentalists to make music, and this was the sort of thing that certain American families did to keep themselves entertained by the fire in the years before television put a bullet into the national brain.
The first half of the program was devoted to “The Classical Era in Vienna.” Generous portions of Anton Diabelli, Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Mauro Giuliani were presented with rather pristine and careful, however stylistically correct readings. Personally I feel that a little goes a long way with guitar music from this era, and maybe it would have been a good idea if the first half was titled “Music of Two Centuries” with, in addition to one or two of the classical sets, a major Baroque offering. Johann Sebastian Bach would be the obvious choice, but doubtless there exist some suites by perhaps such masters as Handel, Pachelbel, Purcell, Sweelinck, Buxtehude or Vivaldi that would sit well on the guitar.
It would have given the program a more three-dimensional quality, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I simply wanted to hear what such polished musicians could do with music from the Baroque Period.
After the intermission we were treated to “Works of the 20th and 21st Century.”
The Fantasie, Op. 145 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was my favorite piece on the program. This composer, one of the most important in the development of classical guitar in the 20th Century, wrote countless solo works for Segovia and a popular guitar concerto. Almost every classical guitarist has played his music at least one point of his or her life, and he is quite famous for his gorgeous slow movements.
David Mitchell’s Lake Avondale: A Beautiful Day, is also a beautiful piece. This might be my second favorite on the program. It begins with an effective use of a glass bottle rubbed across the guitar strings, and then gives way to a series of absorbing melodies, all with a tonal center.
There is a short percussion section on the actual guitar which works great, but I think I could have done without the guitarist snapping his fingers and the pianist clapping her hands.
Bravo David! I did not know that you had it in you when we were chums back in the 90s. I would love to hear this piece again, and will seek out your other works.
The concert ended with Fantasie by Hans Haug – a remarkable piece which is almost never performed.
Guitarist Dan Keene has a solid technique and a truly great instinct for ensemble music. He has an amazing right hand, and his warm tone can be listened to forever. He took great pains to use different tone colors, and for this I admire him tremendously. He was always at ease with everything he was doing and I do not think he ever played a wrong note.
If seen through the lens of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Apollonian and Dionysian duality, his interpretations would lean more toward Apollo’s approach to the art of sculpture. Perhaps I could have heard a little more passion and blood-and-guts in the first half of the program, but in the second half he was right on the money.
Equally impressive was pianist Kristin Samadi, whose understanding of and sensitivity to the soft, intimate voice of the guitar cannot be matched. Never in my life have I heard a pianist better matched with classical guitar. She has a light touch which always resonates well, and her phrasing was not only beautiful but intelligent, original and convincing.
She also happens to be easy on the eyes.
Together, these two musicians have the ability to breathe life into music – an ability which can never be taken for granted. This holds true today as well as in the past.
What a lovely and memorable evening.
Mrs. Samadi and Mr. Keene are serious about their craft. There is talk of a debut CD, and this is a duo to look out for.