Last night’s Gala was, by all accounts, a grand success. Though I don’t have the exact attendance and financial information in front of me, I know that we surpassed expectations both in the number of tickets sold and for the benefactors’ dinner and auction. So, a lot of generosity was extended from within and without the organization for a wonderful cause: The Choir’s educational outreach efforts. As such, there’s a lot of gratitude for all those who donated or bid on items for the auction, those who attended the dinner as benefactors, and those who purchased tickets for the concert. Randall Biggs, from Janney Montgomery Scott, the premier corporate sponsor, spoke movingly of his connection to the choir, on both professional and personal levels. Former choral scholar, recent University of Michigan graduate, and daughter of our principal flute and trumpet (proud parents Robin Kani and Larry Wright), Liz Wright, acted as a strolling violinist at the dinner, and wowed everyone with her impeccable playing. Don Wertman served as auctioneer, and generated a lot of excitement (as well as prompted a lot of generosity by the bidders). The dinner was lovely, and kudos to everyone who worked so hard to make it a grand success. Following that, we strolled across the street to Central Moravian which was already crowded with eager audience members for a recital of stunning artistry and beauty.
Hilary Hahn and Valentina Lisitsa offered an absolutely breathtaking program of beautiful classics and stimulating new music. In fact, the 13 short pieces from Ms. Hahn’s “In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores” project were given their East Coast premieres last night, with one of the composers, Tina Davidson, in the audience. Both Greg and Hilary remarked on the serendipity of hearing these premieres in a space that saw the first American performances of several of Bach’s choral masterpieces. I imagine that some of the pieces might have taken audience members out of their aural comfort zone, but I can hardly think of a better first experience for listeners of some of the compositional styles represented. Some were introspective, some were flashy, and all were given passionate and committed performances by Hilary and Valentina. What really impressed me about their playing, beyond their complete technical mastery, was the enormous service they did for each of the composers they performed.
Let’s face it, sometimes when you witness a virtuoso performance, you marvel at the performer as much as, if not more than, the music itself. While there was no question that Hilary and Valentina are operating at the highest levels, they conjured up the fully-realized visions of 16 different composers on the program, in a stunning bit of musical alchemy. In the midst of their playing, it felt as though the performers disappeared and gave us a window to the imaginations of that remarkable assembly of composers. I wished I’d taken notes on each of the individual pieces, because they were all beautiful, but I hope it suffices to say that Ms. Hahn has done the musical world a great service by commissioning these pieces.
I don’t want to give short shrift to the earlier composers also represented on the program. The Beethoven was rendered with great elegance and zest, and the Brahms was a real barn-burner. During the Fuga of the Bach Sonata, with multiple strands of counterpoint being volleyed with great intensity and passion, I was struck by how generous a performer Ms. Hahn is. Again, as a listener, I was amazed by the compositional brilliance of Bach, and only as the piece ended did I realize what an enormous feat it took to bring those notes to life. Playing with that balance of passion and precision is a highwire act, to be sure, and the ovation that followed the end of that sonata was deeply-felt, and richly deserved, as were the standing ovation and multiple curtain calls that followed the concert.
The generosity continued after the concert: Hilary and Valentina signed easily a hundred programs, tickets and CDs. Several string studios and youth orchestras were represented in the audience, and many of those young musicians were eager to spend a moment with the performers and receive their autographs. I can well imagine the exhaustion of the performers, and yet they sat and cheerfully signed each and every one. As I alluded in my preview of this concert, a mountain top musical experience like this can play a significant role in the artistic formation of a young musician. I simply cannot imagine that last night won’t result in exponentially increased practice time for young string players around the region, which is entirely fitting, given the aims of the evening. A lot of shoe leather was expended making sure word got out to these young musicians, their parents, and their teachers. Thanks to our wonderful administrative staff for making sure they were invited and felt welcome, and for the care and cheer with which they welcome the entire audience to events such as this. Particular thanks to Gala co-chairs Fred and Elaine Gehris and Marsha Snyder for their vision and hard work in making the evening come to fruition. I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone, but in case I have, to all involved: a job marvelously done.
Update, Sunday evening: Steve Siegel has a review up on the Morning Call’s LV Music Blog. He also praises the heroic page-turning of The Choir’s own Martha Popichack, to which I can only add a hearty hear, hear!