Monday, November 19, 2007

The End of the Musical Affair

I had to rely on my feed to learn that the Beaux Arts Trio is disbanding. Here is how Matthew Rye put it:

After more than half a century at the forefront of chamber music performance, the Beaux Arts Trio is undertaking its very last season and, in the process, saying farewell to its favourite audiences around the world.

Rye's review dealt with the offering to their "favourite audience" in London at Wigmore Hall, which was a performance of the two Schubert piano trios back-to-back. The reason for the farewell tour was also summarized by Rye:

Yet now Pressler is in his 84th year he understandably needs respite from a great ensemble's punishing touring schedule.

Having heard Menahem Pressler at the San Francisco Conservatory only a month ago, I know that, as a pianist and teacher, he is still going strong; but I can appreciate what Rye wrote about a "punishing touring schedule." Pressler not only needs that respite but also well deserves it.

I would also like to be so bold as to suggest that the time may be right for other reasons. I do not think I had an occasion to hear violinist Daniel Guilet; so my first enduring memory (which happened to include the second of the Schubert trios) of the Beaux Arts took place after Isidore Cohen left the Julliard Quartet to join Pressler and Bernard Greenhouse. There followed any number of efforts to catch their performances wherever I happened to be. I remember them introducing me to the Ives trio on a Sunday afternoon at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and I remember when they did the full cycle of Beethoven trios at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Simply put, they played an integral role in shifting my study of music from the art and craft of composition to the art and craft of performance; and the opportunity to see Pressler conduct a master class in my "home town" affirmed that his understanding of the nature of performance is as sharp as it ever was.

Having said all that, I have to confess that I was more than a little disappointed to hear Pressler perform with the "current generation" of the Beaux Arts, violinist Daniel Hope and cellist Antonio Meneses. The sense of an intimate conversation was just not there at the concert I attended. I might have attributed this to an inevitable "generation gap." However, that same "generation gap" was present in the performance of the Brahms G major piano quartet at the San Francisco Conservatory; and that conversation, which covers an extremely broad range of "topics," was as intimate as I could have desired. Since all of the other performers (two students and one faculty) were on the other side of the "generation gap," I cannot possibly conclude that Pressler is too old to be playing chamber music with today's crop of musicians.

On the other hand it may also be that this Conservatory is more of a special place than I had realized. On several occasions I have heard them take pride in being the only institution where one can take a major in chamber music. This most recently came up with a visit from Bonnie Hampton, who formed that program and now teaches at Julliard (which does not have a similar offering). I do know that, when I was living in Palo Alto after my return from Singapore (where it was almost impossible to hear chamber music), there were plenty of opportunities to attend chamber music recitals; but most of them did not seem to have that sense of intimacy and commitment that I had recalled from my time around New York and Los Angeles. Now I have the luxury of getting more chamber music than can fit on my plate just by walking a few blocks south on Van Ness Avenue, and I am enjoying every minute of it. Thus, I see the passing of the Beaux Arts trio basically as the passing of a torch; and, from where I sit as I write this, I am confident that this torch will be passing into good hands, thanks, in no small part, to the pedagogical efforts of Menahem Pressler.

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