The notice advertised at the head of the program for the Monday night Jan. 20 concert at Idyllwild Arts Academy read “A celebration of equality in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Taken at a glance, the celebratory nature of the event, as scheduled on the day set aside for the civil rights champion’s memory, seemed a bit contrived when considering the variety of programmed pieces, as well as that of the performers involved.
An indication of the eclecticism of the program (pieces from two French composers, one each from contemporary American and Australian composers), plus the origins of the three players (two Americans and one Australian) should give the term “equality” extra luster as certainly the performances themselves did.
Beginning with one of several arrangements, composer Darius Milhaud made of the incidental music for a 1937 performance of a children’s production of “Scaramouche” — this being for two pianos — the nature of the title character came across in his modern dress as being not only clownish (as would befit a commedia dell’arte persona) but also as a bit of a roistering, braggart captain-type.
Both Idyllwild Arts Music Department Chair Dr. Jeanette Louise Yaryan’s part effectively demonstrated these qualities, when bolstered by guest musician Coady Green’s solid basso continuo in all three movements, and in the concluding “Brazileira,” was particularly piquant in its South American pleasantry.
The following two selections (all pieces being played with only short pauses between) featured the latest addition to Idyllwild Arts Academy’s faculty and a worthier subject could not be more desired. Kate Prestia-Schaub’s pedagogical credentials could not be called into question for the delivery of Pierre Sancan’s familiar “Sonatine for Flute and Piano.” Her clarity of sound production was more than evident from the many required roulades delivered without apparent effort, especially in the final “Anime” movement. Following that with a somewhat more subdued performance of American jazz performer/composer Martin Kennedy’s “Four Songs for Flute and Piano,” Prestia-Schaub calmly delivered the four “songs without words” in the decreasing tempi required (from “ferocious” to “Andante”) as well as the requisite “jazz feel” in an overall classical context. In both selections, Yaryan provided more than adequate accompanying prowess.
But it was with the program’s final selection, Australian composer Stuart Greenbaum’s “Sonata for Piano, Four Hands,” that the overall message of “equality” was reached. Greenbaum’s works for vocal choruses (the more familiar to North American audiences) were indicated in all three movements of this particular work, where each voice projected a quality of sound rarely indicated in modern piano compositions.
In the movement titled “Solar,” one could feel the energic drive of the sun’s power throughout and the movement “The Expanding Universe” equated a Gustav Holst-like trans-Neptunian serenity with more modernistic piano techniques. And the work’s final movement, “Earthrise,” gave additional meaning to the famous photograph taken from the moon’s surface of the Earth in the vastness of space, evoking equality through unity of peaceful purpose.
Green’s solidity of performance practice was again in evidence throughout and one needs to congratulate the University of Melbourne’s Conservatorium of Music for its allowing him to demonstrate that practice in this venue with a further encouragement for assistance in Australia’s battles with wildfires as an adjunct to a harmonious sense of environmental oneness, for which Dr. King would have approved.