The Emory Chamber Music Association’s Cooke Noontime Concert Series held at the Carlos Museum is a bit challenging to attend. First of all, it’s at noon on a workday. Secondly, there are two or three buses of residents from retirement homes who get there at around 11:20a and take up more than 75% of the seats and the remaining 25% are generally gone by 11:40a. So you pretty much have to be available for two hours in the middle of a workday, plus you have to pay for parking at a university campus that’s probably nowhere near anywhere you need to be. Then you only get a one hour concert that is often just a collection of single movements extracted from larger works. Generally, it’s not worth it for me to go but, still, if I have the time then I often find myself there wondering how concerned I should be about my addiction to live music. Today, though, was worth it. I had reason to take the day off and got there around 11:15a and, after waiting in the hallway of the third floor of the Museum with the exits all blocked by the crowd until the doors opened at 11:30a, I was able to get a fairly decent seat to hear what turned out to be a pretty amazing concert by cellist Matt Haimovitz and violinist Tim Fain.
The program was split into two and a third parts and the programming was centered around Bach. Haimovitz took the first half of the program, performing Bach’s preludes from suit numbers 1 & 3 for cello in G major and C major, respectively. He did a good job with each, with suite no. 1 standing out as my favorite of the two both in terms of Bach’s composition and Haimovitz’ playing. Prior to each, though, he performed an overture from the Overtures to Bach series that he commissioned and recorded earlier this year. The first was by Philip Glass and was simply titled “Overture to Bach.” This particular piece didn’t impress me. Lacking the repeated arpeggios for which he is best known, the work sounded to me like a Neo-romantic impersonation of Bach and lacked somewhat in coherency and aesthetic clarity.
The next overture, however, more than made up for the disappointing Glass. The performance of “Run,” by Vijay Iyer, was dominated by an urgent, almost sawing at the strings that brought some rather uncommon sounds from the cello. It was like a long, mad run through a fascinating dream-scape built up from themes from Bach’s Suite no. 3 for cello. There were moments where I had to look at Haimovitz’ hands to see how the sound was being made, such as when his bow would lightly drift up and down the strings to bring out a rather alien sound or when he was bowing with his right hand while his left seamlessly performed both the fingering and played pizzicato notes with a free finger. Most remarkable was that this 21st century piece – one that fell well out of the range of sounds that you’d hear from a work from the common practice period – drew an exceptionally enthusiastic, positive reaction from the audience of retirees. There were a number of hands applauding over the audience members’ heads and there was even at least one person who went to her feet.
Tim Fain played solo for the next two pieces on the program. He began with a masterful performance of the chiaccona from Bach’s partita for violin no. 2. This was followed by an exciting performance of Kevin Puts’ “Arches,” another 21st century work. Fain described it by saying something along the lines of it sounding like waking up excited for a very good day and I think that is an apt description. As Fain played, he created the eponymous arches over his instrument with his bow as he shifted quickly across the strings, from the G string down to the E and then back up, repeating this movement throughout the entire piece. It was enjoyable to watch both because Fain is very dancey as he plays and also because the bowing was so impressive. At times it looked like he was just pumping sound from his violin into the audience. Again, the audience seemed to love the piece.
As a kind of encore or, perhaps, more of a preview, Haimovitz joined Fain on the stage to perform duets 1 and 3 from Glass’ double concerto for violin, cello, and orchestra, which will be featured in a concert that the two musicians are giving with the Emory University Symphony Orchestra tomorrow evening. These duets were much in a much more recognizable style for Glass and they were played well by the two musicians. Again, the audience seemed to love the excerpts from a 21st work.
Overall, this was an excellent concert and definitely worth risking my life in a disorganized crowd that created a fire hazard while waiting for the doors to open. I’m always very happy to see a predominantly older audience enjoying works written by living composers and I am overjoyed to have seen how enthusiastic this audience was about works that were so far from familiar. And I’m particularly grateful to live in a city with so many music organizations that are willing to take a risk on programming like this.