Cello Reveries at Reid Hall

Well, sometimes a little Facebook procrastination actually does pay off. Last night, while putting off some Schubert reading, I scrolled aimlessly through my News Feed, looking for…something. Suddenly, the words “Paris,” “Reid Hall,” “Concert,” jumped out at me. Professor Boynton — the music department’s strong advocate — had written a post about a performance at Reid Hall.


A Midsummer Night’s Concert would be a good way to describe tonight’s atmosphere. Sun rays beamed through the windows, clouds twirled through the blue expanse, and students milled about — chatting, laughing. In short, not a care in the world.


Appropriate for this aura was the first piece on the program: Bach’s famous Suite No. 1 in G Major.


It is à propos that Bach literally means “stream” in German. Whenever I hear the cello suites, I automatically picture myself plopped down next to a brook. The pebbles whirl along as the water zigs and zags through a Bavarian wood. Peaceful, in a word.


From Bach we made a rather large jump of about 350 years to Peteris Vasks’ Pianissimo, a movement from his Book for Solo Cello. I really enjoyed listening to this piece. It featured a drone, over which the cellist spun out hauntingly modal tunes. Before I go any further, I must commend Hee-Young Lim for her phenomenal work tonight. Lim, the principal cellist of the Rotterdam Philharmonic — no small feat by any means — performed with resolved nuance. Her Bach was warm and her Vask suitably icy.


Lim’s abilities extended beyond the instrumental realm. For Pianissimo, she had to sing while playing the cello. In essence, she created three-lined music all by herself. Harmonizing vocally while playing an instrument is challenging, yet Lim made it sound très facile.


To conclude, Reid Hall featured one of Columbia’s own: Peter Susser.


Susser’s work, Cello Suite, paid clear homage to the first piece on the program. While Bach exhibited continual smoothness, Susser — a cellist himself — integrated intriguing spikes and spices into a recognizably Bachian texture. In The Curb, the fifth dance from his suite, Lim stumbled along a Parisian sidewalk, like a little kid with a lollipop in one hand and a Nintendo DS in the other.


Tonight’s offering presented completely different musical styles. Yet, from one work to the other, I recognized continuities in compositional approaches. Because of these connections, the program achieved unity. This is exactly what well-thought-out, effective programming looks like. Thank you for a cohesive night of cello reveries.




Tracking Tailleferre

Those of you who have spoken with me over the past year or so know that the 20th-century French composer Germaine Tailleferre has become a research obsession of mine. Last fall, I wrote a paper on the pernicious effects of American and French critics on her early reception. I posited that these writers influenced music history textbooks’ assessments of her music.

Since I am currently in Paris — where Tailleferre spent most of her career — I have the wonderful opportunity to visit anywhere related to her life. Today, a tiny alleyway in the 19th arrondissement bearing her name.

Approaching the sign, I was initially disheartened by the young communists of France sticker covering her. I jumped a few times to try to snatch it down, but no luck. Somewhat fittingly, Tailleferre was a member of the Communist Party. However, her participation was brief and nominal.

I was amazed by the high quality of street art on the block. See below this impressive “Odyssey of the 21st Century.” (I wonder what Tailleferre would have thought of these displays.)


After the quick walk through the street  — it is really short, probably only 100 meters or so — I entered the Cité de la Musique. This complex houses the Conservatoire de Paris, the Musée de la musique, and the Philharmonie de Paris. Appropriately, there’s a large music store across from the conservatory. Sidestepping some visitors, I sneaked inside. Surveying the shop, I found myself vis-à-vis with shelves upon shelves of scores. I felt at home.

Since the theme of the day was Tailleferre, I began to search for her. Most of the time, there was a disappointing gulf between “Stravinsky” and “Tchaikovsky.” However, I did have some success. In the melody section, I found vocal reductions for some of her opéras bouffes. Later on, I discovered the orchestra parts in the adjacent room. These finds are most likely impossible in America.


Later this month, I am going to walk through the artistic districts in which Tailleferre lived and worked. Tailleferre also has one relative who lives in Paris, her granddaughter Elvie de Rudder, who I am endeavoring to get in contact with.