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Friday, April 12, 2019

Concert Review: A Stream of Knots and Crosses

Andrew Rudin celebrates his 80th birthday at Bargemusic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Andew Rudin with the Moog synthesizer and at his current workstation.
The composer turned 80 last night and celebrated with a birthday concert at Bargemusic.
The composer Andrew Rudin celebrated his birthday on Thursday night, with an intimate concert of his  works at Bargemusic. Mr. Rudin, a pioneer in who wrote the first large-scale work for the Moog synthesizer, is now 80 years old. The program focused exclusively on piano and chamber works for acoustic instruments.

The evening started with Portrait Minatures: Three Women, a triptych of short works for piano. Marcantonio Barone's playing shone a bright spotlight on each of these pieces, depictions of three women that Mr. Rudin enjoyed friendships with in the summer of 1979. Valse Gracieuse was angular and elegant, written around a coded anagram of the name of the poet Grace Schulman (G-D-("re" in solfeige) C-E). These four notes were spinned into knotty gossamer.

The second was the South African novelist Rose Moss, a wistful movement. The third is caled The Answered Question and s a tribute to the composer Louise Talma. Here, Mr. Rudin constructed an elaborate sound-world around "To be or not to be" from Shakespeare's Hamlet. This work also shows its debt to fellow American maverick Charles Ives, in its sharp left turns and final tone cluster built around the note B, a reference to Ives' own The Unanswered Question.

Mr. Barone was joined by clarinetist Alan Kay for the next pieces, collected as Ephemera (Pages from a Sketchbook). These little works are firmly in the tradition piano miniatures, with the clarinet taking flights and fireworks of fancy above the keyboard. Each of these wisp-like works appealed to the ear with their bizarre quirks and turns. The only down side was that Mr. Kay and Mr. Barone were occasionally accompanied by the toot of the city's new harbor ferries, an unwanted but unavoidable wind accompaniment at Bargemusic.

The last major piano work on the program was Mr. Rudin's piano sonata, written for pianist Beth Levin. Here it was the duty of soloist Carl Patrick Bolleia to wrestle with this beast. However, Mr. Rudin's work responded to his heroic efforts by delivering the occasional pianistic equivalent of hitting the soloist over the head with a folding chair. The three movements opened with a complex Andante melanconico, itself a sardonic reflection on the current state of piano composition. Other references abounded, and the whole climaxed with a go-for-broke final movement that challenged Mr. Bolleia before he triumphed over the final, thundering coda.

The most challenging and entertaining piece on the program was next. Circadia was a piano trio (Ms. Levin, violinist Elmira Darvarova and cellist Samuel Magil) in four movements, intended to reflect the full cycle of a day. Built on a short chord progression that repeats throughout each of its movements like the chiming of a clock, this work proved turbulent and engaging throughout. Of special note was the boisterous final movement, a kind of rondo where jarring, scraped violin chords announced each launch of the motto theme and set of fresh difficulties for the three players.

Mr. Rudin took the stage to warm applause for the last piece Consolation. This gentle work was dreamy, with his piano accompanying Mr. Magill's cello before the two players temporarily switched roles. Finally the cello won the day. The concert ended with a brief and entertaining set of new music variations for four hands. Laughter broke out in the Barge as the listeners realized that Mr. Rudin and Mr. Barone were in fact playing a version of "Happy Birthday," an appropriate end to a small but poignant celebration of music and life.

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