Picnic Concert

At the Music Academy of the West, Thursday, August 14.

Baritone Christopher Herbert (center) sang Samuel Barber's setting of Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" accompanied by a string quartet. Seated, left to right: Michelle Abraham, Dawn Gingrich, Jillian Bloom, and Tasha Clearman.
David Bazemore

The Music Academy’s annual Picnic Concert series, which ended last Thursday, extends an invitation for us to eat, drink and be generally merry in elegant fashion, and then partake of concerts by students in the sumptuously renovated Hahn Hall. The program is always TBA (to be announced) and diverse, like a picnic basket full of treats.

Last Thursday, the air was bittersweet for the swan song event. The program’s prize was Sergei Prokofiev’s Quintet in G Minor. A mutant group of string and woodwind players gave a potent reading of a piece by turns jaunty, angular, and tuneful. It’s got that Prokofiev piquancy we know and increasingly love, a palatable 20th-century aesthetic.

We heard two pieces by Johannes Brahms-the Zwei Ges¤nge, Op. 91, sung beauteously by mezzo-soprano Ana Mihanovic, and the Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in A, Op. 100, featuring violinist Ji Eun Kim and pianist Liang-yu Wang, in fine form. Sheer violin virtuosity came via Pablo de Sarasate’s showpiece Carmen Fantasy, which was played with precision and panache by Chinese player Tianjie Lu (His pianist partner Danielle Naler introduced the piece and her Beijing-based collaborator by saying that “this could be an Olympic event”).

Another vocal piece, Samuel Barber’s setting of Mathew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” was presented with the proper melancholic stateliness by baritone Christopher Herbert, backed by a string quartet. From other corners of the instrumental and compositional world came flutist Paul Gardner, playing George H¼e’s Fantasie, double bassist Lewis Heald taking on Giovanni Bottesini’s Grande Allegro di Concerto “alla Mendelssohn,” and a trio performing Madeleine Dring’s lyrical Trio for Flute, Oboe and Piano.

Pardon the pun, but the concert did in fact end with a series of highly coordinated bangs, courtesy of the seven-piece percussion ensemble giving vent to-er, performing-Christopher Rouse’s Ogoun Badagris. Exciting percussion music has played a part in the picnic concert series this summer. In this case, the music was loud and good, not just good and loud. Rouse’s work was inspired by Haitian voodoo rituals and legends of human sacrifice (a blindfolded “volunteer” from the audience sat stage front, the surrogate sacrificial lamb). It amounted to a joyful noise and a tight, cathartic clangor to close out the last musical supper-till next year.


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