Morton_Feldman

A Morton Feldman Celebration

Three concerts, one day: the music of American composer Morton Feldman

Apartment House

Gordon Mackay, violin
Anton Lukoszevieze, cello
Simon Limbrick, percussion
Kerry Yong, piano
Mira Benjamin, violin
Bridget Carey, viola
Mark Knoop, piano
Josephine Stephenson, soprano
Morgan Pearse, baritone
Letty Stott, horn

 


Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 9 January, 2021
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The current decade will see a plethora of anniversaries marking the centenary of composers influential on both sides of the Atlantic, and while that for Morton Feldman is still five years away, there is no reason why his music could not be the focus of a day-long commemoration such as that given at Wigmore Hall over the course of this morning, afternoon, and evening. Feldman’s output is as diverse in content as in its duration, and these concerts featured pieces lasting from a few minutes to an hour-and-a-quarter as to underline the range of his creativity.

Concert One @ 11.30am:
Gordon Mackay, violin
Anton Lukoszevieze, cello
Simon Limbrick, percussion
Kerry Yong, piano

The first of these concerts was designed to focus on the music from Feldman’s earlier years, in which predominantly short works and non-standard notations were the order of the day. It began, however, with Last Pieces (1959) – four limpid and sometimes gnomic though by no means inscrutable piano miniatures from that period of transition when graphic notation was being replaced by fully written-out scores. Violin took the stage in the ruminative tribute that is For Aaron Copland (1981), while piano returned for the improvisatory Vertical Thoughts 4 (1963), followed by cello in the equally refracted Projection 1 (1950) then piano again for the exquisitely pointillist Extensions 3 (1952). These instruments combined with vibraphone for the ethereally elegant Durations 4 (1961), piano re-emerging for what was the comparatively abrasive Intersection III (1953), then the more typically introspective Intermission VI (1953). Violin and piano pursued a tellingly laconic interplay in Extensions 1 (1951), before this first event drew to its close with the delicately fugitive percussion in The King of Denmark (1964).

Concert Two @ 3.00pm:
Gordon Mackay, violin
Mira Benjamin, violin
Bridget Carey, viola
Anton Lukoszevieze, cello
Mark Knoop, piano

The second of these concerts was devoted to a single work from Feldman’s last years, where duration is frequently taken to great lengths. Although it is by no means the longest of these pieces, Piano and String Quartet (1985) stills comes in at an imposing seventy-eight minutes and can be considered typical in its, for the most part, subdued dynamic and long-term unfolding where continuity of means should never be mistaken for any lack of variety in content. Indeed, what makes these late works so distinctive is the degree to which Feldman expands on basic motifs and gestures such that there is no literal repetition across their frequently vast expanses. This is evident in the present work, whose instrumental line-up might well place it within a lineage of ‘piano quintets’ that were among the most substantial chamber pieces from the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, but here plays no part in an interaction which is wholly devoid of rhetoric. Yet there is a cumulative dimension to the overall design, most evident in a sense of this music coming full circle through the clinching of its formal and expressive potential.

Concert Three @ 7.30pm:
Josephine Stephenson, soprano
Morgan Pearse, baritone
Letty Stott, horn
Mira Benjamin, violin
Bridget Carey, viola
Anton Lukoszevieze, cello
Simon Limbrick, percussion
Mark Knoop, piano

The last of these concerts began with Palais de Mari (1986) – itself Feldman’s final work for piano. Inspired by the ruins (depicted at the Louvre) of the Babylonian palace, this unfolds as a succession of sonorities whose imperfect symmetry commands attention over its (relatively modest) twenty-three minutes. After which, it was back to earlier decades with the hieratic interplay of violin, cello, piano and chimes in Four Instruments (1965), then the sustained sombreness of horn and cello in Two Instruments (1958). A welcome inclusion was one of this composer’s relatively few vocal works which features a text – in this case some obliquely allusive verses by Frank O’Hara for baritone with violin, viola, cello, piano and chimes in The O’Hara Songs (1962). More typical was the eddying rumination conveyed by cello and piano in Durations 2 (1960), before the programme reached its ending with the plaintive melancholy of (wordless) soprano, violin, cello, horn, piano and chimes in For Franz Kline (1962) – one of numerous ‘tributes’ that became a feature of Feldman’s later years, which here made for a fitting close.

Throughout the day, the qualities of this music were enhanced by those of the performances. Formed by Anton Lukoszevieze some twenty-five years ago, Apartment House has made Feldman a core part of its always enterprising repertoire, and there could be no doubting the insight and commitment of its collective response. Good to hear that it has just been appointed one of the Wigmore’s ensembles in residence so that one can look forward to frequent return visits – by which time, the image of a virtually empty auditorium will have been consigned to the past.

These concerts can be viewed online (donation encouraged) at:
Concert One: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orVr-H8XQco
Concert Two: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMZW8GNbI7U
Concert Three: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEqs2jJRpsA

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