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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Columbus Symphony: Beethoven, Brahms and Bermel

The Columbus Symphony presents Beethoven's Piano Concerto 1 in C, Op. 15, Brahms Symphony no. 2 in D, Op. 73 and Derek Bermel's A Shout, A Whisper, A Trace in The Southern Theater, Friday October 30 and Saturday, October 31 at 8 p.m. Columbus Symphony Music Director Rossen Milanov conducts, with Shai Wosner, piano

Derek Bermel (b. New York, 1967) was unknown to me until this week. That only proves my Bermel ignorance. Bermel is a composer, impresario, clarinetist and musician who produces concerts and writer in an  idiom embracing funk and world music. Bermel trained at Yale as an ethnomusicologist. He follows composers like Bartok-a model for A Shout, A Whisper, A Trace who went about the Carpathian mountains ninety years ago writing down the songs he heard wherever he stopped. Taverns, churches, cat houses with no cats, Bartok had an ear for music hungry to get back to the earth.Mr. Bermel's travels have taken him throughout Central Europe and South America,. His interests and influences (dare I say) include the Brazilian caixxi, the Thracian folk style of Bulgaria, and even the uilean pipes from my people in Dublin.
Derek Bermel
advanced age. I need to get out more.

A Shout, A Whisper, A Trace was written in 2009 for the American Composer's Orchestra and the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra. The scoring is for 2 flutes, 2 horns, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 clarinets, strings and percussion.The rhythmic propulsion make this an accessible piece. The use of layering, of laying one sound atop on another keeps our attention.



Beethoven (1770-1827) moved to Vienna in 1892. Mozart had just died, not long after encouraging he younger man,  telling the doubting Papa Beethoven, "Your son will make a great noise in the world." The elderly Haydn, newly freed from his elegant indenture in Esterhazy was accepting pupils in Vienna. They young Beethoven made his way to Haydn's influence, where he was no doubt reminded to revere Mozart as well.

Young Beethoven
If in 1792 the young Beethoven was untried as a composer, nobody doubted his sublime gifts as a pianist. One assumes he was not the unkempt and unwashed angry man of his later years. He would have gotten nowhere fast among the Viennese nobility.  It was a pianist that Beethoven introduced himself to Vienna.. His gifts at the keyboard aroused enough interest for him to play his own C Major Piano Concerto, first in Prague (Boston to Vienna's New York) then in Vienna in 1798.

I suppose its necessary to tell you that this concerto, labelled number 1, was the third the composer wrote. Number two was first and there was one more, a piece of juvenilia not published. Never mind. Beethoven thought very highly of this work.. He kept it from being published until 1801. He wanted it for his own concerts, a calling card useful in announcing his strong new talent to new audiences.

The C Major concerto owes a lot to Haydn's tight sense of structure and Mozart's grace. Still, original touches begin with the solo entrance, two and a half minutes into the first movement, playing a theme unrelated to the orchestral introduction. Nevertheless, Beethoven at this point wasn't afraid to use a Mozartian delicacy in his writing, even if he couldn't always match that master's subtlety. The second movement is understated compared to later Beethoven, but offers a loveliness that would have kept the public from going off the rails


As for Brahms, always remember to take your summer vacation! Brahms would repair lakeside in the mountains outside Vienna-as Mahler did a generation later-using his down time away from teaching, conducting and performing to create new work. In 1876 he wrote the felicitous Symphony number 2. The tortured fifteen years it took to get a first symphony out of the composer are here nowhere evident. This is the work of a mature man who is happy to be set in his ways. He knows his craft, and he knows how to please an audience. Not for nothing has this 2nd symphony been compared to Beethoven's 6th, the Pastorale.There's a serenity in Brahms's, D Major Symphony. Shafts of light bleed through the sometimes thick orchestration. Brahms loved his doubled and tripled brass and winds. He liked a thick texture where a lot was going on. Here, the writing is more grateful to the ear, with an immediacy that says "go ahead, enjoy!"

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