Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 26, 2012

Close Encounters with Music: Trade Winds, From China with Love

Mahaiwe Theater, Great Barrington, MA
April 21, 2012
by Michael J. Moran
In setting the stage for this concert’s “musical dialogue between East and West,” cellist and CEWM Artistic Director Yehuda Hanani noted that while western music typically features “a buildup of tension followed by release,” Chinese music seeks instead to achieve “a state of nirvana.” The enterprising selection of European and Chinese music that followed largely confirmed this distinction.

The program opened with Ravel’s “Mother Goose” Suite in an arrangement by the performer, Bulgarian-born pianist Emma Tahmizian. Before playing, she explained that her arrangement focused on the “magical notes” connecting the five movements and that she would omit the second movement, “Little Tom Thumb.” This was an unfortunate loss, as her playing was rich in detail and nuance, and her arrangement gave the piquant music a newly chromatic edge.

For the rest of the program’s first half, Tahmizian was joined by Israeli violinist Hagai Shaham. Their taut but flexible rendition of Debussy’s “Violin Sonata” made it sound both jazzier and more exotic than usual. The exhilaration they demonstrated in a passionate account of Joseph Achron’s soulful “Hebrew Melody” looked much like the nirvana that Hanani associated with Chinese music. And they were so exuberant in Fritz Kreisler’s “Tambourin Chinois” that Shaham broke at least one string before it ended.

"Empress of Pipa" Liu Fang
After intermission China’s “Empress of Pipa,” Liu Fang, played three traditional Chinese pieces on the pipa, a sort of Chinese lute that produces a high-pitched, bell-like sound. The concluding march, “King Chu Doffs His Armor,” built especially well to an ecstatic climax. The speed with which Fang plucked her strings was often mesmerizing, but every note she played was crystal clear. 

Cellist Hanani then joined her for two American premieres: Zhou Long’s “Green,” and Ahmad Hamdan’s “From Ahmad to Liu Fang.” Though the balance between the two instruments didn’t always work, Long’s piece made the stronger impression.

It was a gutsy move to conclude the program with Tahmizian’s dazzling account of Leo Ornstein’s “A la Chinoise,” which, though written almost a century ago, sounded like the most modern and cosmopolitan work of the evening.