Gyorgy vs. Big Ben

Roethlisberger, that is. Sunday night the Trattoria dell'Arte, across Seventh Avenue from Carnegie Hall, was empty. Zankel Hall wasn't full, even for Gyorgy Kurtag's New York debut as a performer. Later that night, the streets were empty and cabs impossible to come by.

Sunday night I forswore the Super Bowl in favor of Georgy and his wife Marta Kurtag playing piano solo and four-hands in music of Bartok, Bach and Kurtag. I felt on the far end of a very wide spectrum. Over there were 100 million Americans and millions more worldwide gripped by what seems to have been a great game, judging the new commercials, scarfing wings and chips and beer, in our annual great communal macho ritual.

In Zankel, there were the sweetly aged Gyorgy and Marta, crammed onto a piano bench not quite long enough for their bottoms. They played a curiously thick and shiny upright piano, on either side of which were futuristic looking Bose speakers, two pairs each consisting of a short and boxy subwoofer (?) and a tall skinny round tower. A bald head huddled behind the piano, emerging uncredited with its body attached to take a bow at the end.

Head and body turned out to belong to their son, also named Gyorgy, who used to work at IRCAM and who was twiddling with the volume levels, reportedly note by note. The piano had the mute pedal permanently depressed, yet the sound was modestly amplified. The result turned what was already hushed, contemplative, monastic into something strangely assertive yet cottony in sound. A pianistic clavichord, I thought at the time.

The playing and the music were slow, measured. The placid tempos and dogged articulation of the notes almost sounded amateurish at first, but quickly cast their spell. In his later years Kurtag deals in fragments, self-contained snippets, short and intense and quirky, often in homage to others. Here the music came from his Jatekok (Games), an ongoing project dating from 1973 and now up to eight books of music.

Before the intermission came half an hour of solo Kurtag violin music, the Hipartita (2004), intensely dispatched by Hiromi Kikuchi, a longtime Kurtag exponent. But the real business of the night was the Kurtags at their upright. It was, at the time and in retrospect, an extraordinary musical experience -- miles from the norm in present-day classical concert-going in New York, and God knows miles from the roaring excitement of a stadium in Tampa and Bruce at halftime. The Zankel audience responded with a standing, roaring ovation of its own, and won three Bach encores in reward.  

February 4, 2009 10:26 PM | | Comments (0)

Leave a comment

Blogroll

For an ongoing conversation and news reports about arts journalism, go to the blog of the National Arts Journalism Program, here.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by John Rockwell published on February 4, 2009 10:26 PM.

Max Neuhaus, R.I.P. was the previous entry in this blog.

Snobbery Lives! is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads


AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

culture
About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Dewey21C
Richard Kessler on arts education
diacritical
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Flyover
Art from the American Outback
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

dance
Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

jazz
Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
ListenGood
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Rifftides
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

media
Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
On the Record
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Overflow
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
PianoMorphosis
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
PostClassic
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Sandow
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds

publishing
book/daddy
Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

theatre
Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

visual
Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
Artopia
John Perreault's art diary
CultureGrrl
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.