jennifer frautschi

Kids, music, and the heart’s desire

Wishes fulfilled: After 22 years, Bruce Adolphe's "Marita and Her Heart's Desire" returns to Chamber Music Northwest, where its journey began.

Chamber Music Northwest has entered its fifth and final week – the venerable summer festival winds up its 46th season on Sunday, July 31 – and on the previous Saturday afternoon I zipped over to Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium to catch a family concert, Bruce Adolphe’s Marita and Her Heart’s Desire, a show I had first seen 22 years earlier when it premiered at CMNW, with the same narrator, the terrific Portland voice actor Michele Mariana. Marita was being performed the following two nights, too, on a more formal program that also included some Milhaud, Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Suite, and selections from another Adolphe piece, Einstein’s Light. But I wanted to see the kids, and the quirkily titled pre-show “Instrument Petting Zoo” in the lobby, and so I went to the shorter and more casual daytime show.

A trip to the moon, gossamer wings not included: "Marita and Her Heart's Desire."

A trip to the moon, gossamer wings not included: “Marita and Her Heart’s Desire.”

For anyone worried about the future of great music, the petting zoo was a revelation. Kids crowded the lobby, rushing up close to the instruments while their parents lurked behind. Trombones, violins, cornets: the place was cluttered with musical noisemakers, and kids were touching, blatting, bowing, trying things out. This was the musical nitty gritty: not just listening, but making music, even in crude and elementary form, and I couldn’t help thinking that some of these kids were going to choose an instrument, and buy one (that’s where the parents come in), and start practicing, and make this a lifelong thing. That’s how you pass it along.

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We’ll be hearing a lot about the centennial of Igor Stravinsky’s landmark ballet score The Rite of Spring next year, but I wish equal attention had been paid to this year’s centenary of an equally radical musical advance — though one far less influential because it was hardly heard at the time. Pianist Gilbert Kalish’s stirring performance of the great American composer Charles Ives’s tumultuous Concord Sonata at Portland International Piano Festival Thursday conclusively demonstrated not just how revolutionary an achievement the nearly hour long work is — but also its rough-hewn beauty, probably more evident 100 years after its creation than it was to the stuffy New Englanders of Ives’s time. In Kalish’s able hands, Ives not only evokes what turn of the century Massachusetts and its famous residents looked like, but also how they thought and how he felt about it all.

Few performers would even attempt such a complex masterwork, and not many more could handle Schubert’s equally ambitious last sonata. Kalish played both — a choice that proved unfortunately more adventurous than satisfying, because hearing the two back to back might not have been exhausting for the 77 year old piano legend but it sure was for some in the audience. Shorter, lighter weight works might have complemented the Ives better. As it was, Kalish delivered a performance of Schubert that was more thoughtful than passionate, and a little pedantic, more like giving a tour of a monumental edifice than truly inhabiting it. But Kalish’s spectacular, moving Ives performance alone was worth the price of admission, and another triumph for PPI.

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