Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Swing, lo! — Looking across the jazz landscape through three new recordings

Young jazz players may hone their improvisational skills on tunes known to their predecessors and teachers, but when it comes to stepping out on their own, many newcomers these days are founding their artistry almost solely on their own compositions. Given their compositional serioiusness, they are reaching instrumentally and sometimes formally in the direction of the classical genre, while remaining jazz musicians.

This is a new wrinkle in jazz history, something a little more fluid and less awkward than the "Third Stream" music of four decades ago. Respect for the current developments has been extended from the classical direction, too; after all, Charles Mingus never received a commissioning grant from Chamber Music America.

This practice unites extensive musical forethought with spontaneity to raise the creative profile of musicians trying to make their mark. Here are three whose new recordings will stand or fall on perceptions of what kind of bandleaders and original thinkers they are perceived to be.

Israeli reed player Oran Etkin casts a wide net.
Oran Etkin is a clarinetist-saxophonist from Israel. "Gathering Light" (Motema Music) reflects his quirky gift for absorption, not only from the jazz world but from his heritage along with glimmers of world music. Several of his compositions slyly explore aspects of the blues, with exotic coloring, like "Der Gasn Nign (Street Song)" and "Takeda (Homesick Blues)."

The band he leads is flexibly deployed, from a catchy pairing with bassist Ben Allison forthrightly titled "All I Really Want to Do is Dance" to such raucous full-band numbers as "Guangzhou Taxi," which also involves guitarist Lionel Loueke, trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, and drummer Nasheet Waits.

Etkin's manner as a player of clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor saxophone is ingratiating and  wide-ranging. His composing gifts are exercised with more mixed results, usually high-spirited but sometimes aimless.  He favors rangy melodies with wide interval leaps; he is not above showing off, but musically he's a likable fellow. He chooses simpatico sidemen, particularly Waits and Allison. Loueke is one of the more interesting guitarists to have emerged in the past decade, and his low-key West African lilt suits Etkin's folk-derived muse.

Anne Mette Iversen wants you to listen from the beginning, and go straight through.
Today's jazzers are a self-conscious lot, if the words they provide for news releases and booklet notes are any indication. If the high intentionality comes across as engaging music, that's all well and good. Fortunately, that's mostly the case with bassist Anne Mette Iversen whose Double Life quintet is joined with a string quartet called 4Corners in "So Many Roads" (BJU Records).

So insistent is Iversen on the unity of this work that she figures its 36-and-a-half minutes are adequate for a CD. Moreover, the work's segments — from Prologue through Epilogue, with four Chapters in between — are not given individual timings. Instead, the listed timings are cumulative; the track list tells you how much time has elapsed from the first note.

You are supposed to listen to "So Many Roads" from start to finish, in order — don't press "shuffle" or "random"! — and fortunately it is worth hearing as the composer intends. The string quartet (in contrast to some pieces written with a jazz perspective) is used as more than an atmospheric supplement to the work of the quintet. Besides Iversen, Double Life consists of John Ellis, saxophones; Peter Dahlgren, trombone; Danny Grissett, piano, and Otis Brown III, drums. The two ensembles are complementary and well-integrated into textures used to delineate moods that are sometimes lively and devil-may-care, sometimes brooding and reflective.

Tom Guarna takes care of business — with guitar and charts.
One of the most refreshing guitar styles that have come to my attention recently is that of Tom Guarna.  He can stretch out with imagination, stringing together garlands of sound that rarely seem to be just taking up space. He's a cogent improviser, with a compositional gift that never wastes a phrase.

On "Rush" (BJU Records), he leads a fine band, with particularly enthralling work from saxophonist Joel Frahm, another thrifty player who never forgets to "tell a story" in his solos. Also on hand is the estimable keyboard player Danny Grissett, heading a rhythm section smoothly filled out by bassist Orlando Le Fleming and drummer Johnathan Blake. In the arrangements, the guitar-sax partnership displays admirable variety and resourcefulness. One hopes this personnel stays intact for a while, because "Rush" bodes well for Guarna's future as a bandleader who knows who he's writing for and what they're capable of.







Monday, April 21, 2014

Bound for glory: What makes us laugh, why comedy may not be pretty, and why we can't do without it


"There are definitions of various passions, mostly based on a competitive view of life; for instance, laughter is sudden glory."

                       -- Bertrand Russell, describing Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathan" in "A History of Western Philosophy" (1945)

Thomas Hobbes got it right about laughter.

In the long history of attempts to define humor and scrutinize what makes us laugh, this almost offhand sentence in the middle of Lord Russell's long discussion of Hobbes' philosophy is the best I've come across.

Why there should be this odd vocal, physical expression of a particular type of joy is puzzling. "Sudden glory" gets it, it seems to me. It explains  why comedy — however fiercely loyal we are to our peculiar preferences — is often vulgar, impolite, offensive, aggressive and, finally, necessary.

Laughter is also bonding, like hardly any other common mode of communication besides prayer, than which it is probably more universal. To laugh feels as essential as eating and sleeping. Need I also mention sex? Of course I must.

You don't have to be as pessimistic as the 17th-century English philosopher to agree that our passions are basically competitive. Lifelong, we are after victory in so many ways, even if a host of them can be justified as benign, or at least harmless. Yet triumphalism is embedded in human nature, and is frequently ugly. And it is often bound up with laughter.

The other Hobbes (right) did, too.
We may train ourselves to love all humankind, but we are always looking for affinities with subgroups, allies in the struggle to be superior, sometimes groups no larger than our lone selves. Jokes are instrumental in this continual struggle. Even when we laugh at ourselves, we are less motivated by humility than by the "sudden glory" of feeling superior to our lesser selves — the part that is foolish, gullible, outlandish, clueless or prideful. The butt of jokes.

When those qualities we aren't proud of are exposed in a joke, we feel so much better than when such exposure in ordinary life surprises us uncomfortably or tangibly diminishes us. The feeling of relief plays a large role in laughter, but it can't be the whole story. Some kinds of relief are sobering. They bring a sudden onset of relaxation after a period of tension — just as laughter does — but the relaxed feeling may merely set up a new situation of anxiety as we deal with what we have just learned.

The explosion of relaxation that is laughter becomes the trumpet heralding victory. Think of any joke you have heard recently: Chances are it led you in a particular direction of understanding up to the punch line, which fooled you by going in a different direction.

Henny Youngman knew the glory.
 A couple of old, short examples: "Man is the only animal that blushes — or needs to" (Mark Twain). "Take my wife — please!" (Henny Youngman). The "set-up" precedes the dash in each example; the punch line follows it. Both one-liners start out as faux-serious statements: Twain seems to be putting forward a biological truism; suddenly it becomes a satirical jab. Youngman seems to be introducing an example; suddenly we've landed in marital woe. The reason you don't take being misled badly is that you are covered in the sudden glory of getting the joke, and that trumps the momentary bemusement.

Longer jokes toy with the misdirection longer. In many theatrical farces, our victory over inadequately informed characters lasts longer than we probably deserve, and we laugh ourselves silly. We're enjoying triumph over an extended misunderstanding the characters are caught up in. Mistaken identity plays a big role: Think of "The Comedy of Errors," "Charley's Aunt" or "The Foreigner." And remember the dialogue in "Lend Me a Tenor" when the diva and the confused title character are talking in parallel streams about making love and doing "Otello" together. (I look forward to seeing another Ken Ludwig comedy, "The Game's Afoot," in an Indiana Repertory Theatre production opening this week.)

Taking in such a play — in the twinkling of the eye, with only the effort of staying alert and being reasonably intelligent — you have won an easy victory. Understanding things is basic to survival. When we get a joke, we are bathed in a triumph of understanding, and we laugh. This explains why it's hard to laugh the second time we hear a joke, even if we found it hilarious the first time. And if the joke heard the first time strikes us as offensive or dull, despite the best intentions of the teller, it means we don't feel a part of the victory he or she is offering to share. The glory has bypassed us; the competition victory belongs to a race run elsewhere, by someone else, to alien cheers.

How often after dreaming does a nightmare seem funny in retrospect! Awake, we enjoy the glory of knowing that the situation we dreamed up isn't true. We need to feel our conscious self is superior to the self that comes up with the dream world's weird scenarios. Glory, hallelujah!

Recently I dreamed that an elderly friend of ours out of state had sent us a greeting card with this handwritten note:  "Happy Easter — we're all doing well these days except for the syphilis." In the dream Susan and I were appalled: we had never had the slightest hint an STD was afflicting her family, thought it extremely unlikely, and thus wondered which family members could possibly be suffering the dire consequences of unsafe sex. Above all, we marveled that such unsettling information would be imparted on an Easter card.

Dreams are unruly, like jokes. The scandalous dream becomes funny when we know that the truth is unutterably distant from what the dream has presented. A psychologist might well have some uncomfortable theories, echoing Hobbes, as to what victory I was after subconsciously in concocting such an unseemly dream about a dear friend. I'll pass by any speculation in dignified silence.

Dreams remind me of another nighttime phenomenon: insomnia.  Last night Susan and I found ourselves sleepless at the same time. It was pitch black outside. We snuggled and talked for a while, trying to figure out how to get back to sleep. She advised: "Think of all the people we know who are probably sleeping right now. Try to think of one person for each letter of the alphabet."

An amusing thought, but undercut by envy. Envy and its cousin, jealousy, lie at the opposite pole from laughter. No tragic hero in Shakespeare has less of a sense of humor than Othello. Even King Lear probably presided over much merriment — he kept a well-regarded Fool at court, after all — before he became obsessed with his legacy. Hamlet is the only figure in this exalted category who's well acquainted with laughter. Significantly, he envies no one, except perhaps the dead.

As I mulled over my wife's advice to think about likely sleepers of our acquaintance, she added: "If you're not sure, call them up."

We both laughed. Envy was banished. We had bested the lucky sleepers, if only in our imaginations.

Ah, sweet victory! Oh, the sudden glory!  Soon we were both asleep again.












       


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Martin Luther King went to the mountaintop, but IRT play tries to climb higher

There's no underestimating the risks Katori Hall assumed in writing a play about Martin Luther King Jr.'s last hours on Earth.

"The Mountaintop" — now at Indiana Repertory Theatre through April 27 — tackles more than a martyred historical figure many people regard with reverence. The young minister who defined the American civil-rights movement and established the value of nonviolent protest as an agent of social change is almost inadequately defined by the cliche "larger than life."

Camae (Tracey N. Bonner) bemuses Martin Luther King Jr. (David Alan Anderson).
And yet drama has to right-size even heroes to effect a genuine emotional exchange between actors and spectators. Ms. Hall has done that with determination: Her MLK comes onstage with a weakness for cigarettes, raging semi-jocularly at Ralph David Abernathy to bring him some Pall Malls.  He soon displays  a susceptibility to female charms, as well as fear of thunderstorms and the FBI (both well-founded) and a weariness unto death that engenders deep doubts as to the efficacy of his mission.

This flawed man is nonetheless a hero, and the play mirrors both the flaws and the heroism. Set in the Memphis' Lorraine Motel, which has since 1968 become a kind of national shrine, "The Mountaintop" benefits here from the all-out performances of David Alan Anderson as King and Tracey N. Bonner as Camae, tussling titanically on the night before King's assassination. IRT associate artistic director Courtney Sale directs.

Katori Hall's play imagines what happened the day before this fateful appearance.
Who's Camae? I hear you ask. The uniformed motel maid is Hall's creation, vital to the story she wants to tell. Camae enters Room 306 in response to the pastor's request for coffee. He's attempting to fuel his mind to complete a hell-raising speech about the country he loves and often despairs of.

What Camae also is forces me to violate widely accepted "spoiler etiquette" in order to write about "The Mountaintop" at all. I feel justified in doing so because Camae's identity as more than a saucy motel employee becomes clear fairly early in the action, not at the end. Thus, much of "The Mountaintop"'s substance rests on Camae's revelation that she is an angel, an emissary of God come to call her (the pronoun is repeatedly underlined) servant home.

Whatever place angels may have in a person's theology, I hope many of us recognize that the use of angels in today's popular culture is kitsch. The most common perception, which Hall shares, is that angels are beatified human beings returned from the heavenly afterlife at the behest of the Almighty. Ghosts are also kitsch, but their appeal can never be exhausted in popular or high art because everyone feels the presence of dear departed ones in daily life. It takes a major leap of faith to elevate them to angelic status, though doing so doubtless comforts many believers.

The materiality and presence of human traits in angels goes way back, but it's still important to realize that the dramatic plaything Hall makes of Camae is a far cry from the being so crucial to the event Christians are celebrating this weekend. In Matthew, it is an angel with a "countenance...like lightning" who descends from heaven, rolls back the stone, and tells the two Marys that Jesus has risen from the dead. The other synoptic gospels make the messenger's identity ambiguous by saying the good news is conveyed by one white-robed young man (Mark) or two (Luke).

In Hall's imagination, a recently deceased human being can quickly be reprogrammed to carry out an angelic mission. I respect spoiler etiquette enough not to reveal why Camae is particularly suited to the task. Quite a lot of "The Mountaintop" builds on how much Camae and Martin come to know about each other's earthly trials, then moves that relationship onto a supernatural plane. This lofty plateau will be taken for "spiritual" by some of the show's patrons, but to me it felt manipulative and borderline farcical (especially in Martin's contentious phone conversation with God, after Camae has dialed a lengthy series of numbers to put him through).

The sound and lighting design (the work of Tom Horan and Kate Leahy, respectively) is bent toward maximizing the wonders of King's encounter with his fate. It works well, and near the end gets boosted into a dramatically superfluous, amplified narration in list form of events and people between King's death and today. That's accompanied by a rapidly shifting photographic montage on translucent screens that suddenly surround the stage. The doomed minister is granted the vision to reward his extraordinary service to others and his grudging acceptance of the fate that will end it all.

Hall uses an awful lot of stage time having King complain about being cut off just when he's about to bring his broadened vision of social justice to the nation's attention by supporting the sanitation workers' strike in Memphis. There is so much more he needs to do, he protests.

At this point, a unique prophet and driver of social change is reduced almost too much in stature. Any one of us (apart from the terminally ill), if informed of our particular demise by Someone From Beyond, would whine about it. What King could have accomplished is arguably greater than the putative deeds of most who die too young.

But who wouldn't try to argue God out of such a seemingly arbitrary, premature decision? And wouldn't a man as devout as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., facing eternity, be more likely to ask for redemption than for the dubious privilege of continuing his earthly struggle?

In sum, it's not in the early part of "The Mountaintop" that King is cut down to size. The interweaving of his weakness and his strength is well-handled. But the intrusiveness of the angel and her bad news takes him down too far, because his sense of injustice becomes wholly personal and private.

When King at the end comes to the front of the stage and twice asks for an "Ay-men" to his vision for America, he gets it — and deserves it. But, whatever honor the playwright may have intended, he also deserves to be free of an angelic visitation that makes him a pawn in some feminized deity's cruel game.

 [Photo credit: Zach Rosing]








Friday, April 18, 2014

1990 IVCI laureate David Kim gives special zing to Ronen Chamber Ensemble program

David Kim participated throughout, and his contributions were vital.
You could tell from the way David Kim and Rohan De Silva played the Gavotte with Two Variations in Igor Stravinsky's "Suite Italienne" that the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis' annual collaborative concert with the Ronen Chamber Ensemble would be something special.

The opening piece on the concert Thursday night did not involve the durable chamber-music organization co-directed by David Bellman and Ingrid Fischer-Bellman. But the quality of the guest artists helped ensure that the rising tide of Kim and De Silva would lift all musical boats. The audience that nearly filled the Basile Theater at the Indiana History Center seemed to agree by the time the concert wrapped up with Erno Dohnanyi's Sextet in C major for piano, violin, viola, cello, clarinet and horn.

That one Stravinsky movement had an adroit blend of 18th-century poise and 20th-century modernist detachment. The two variations were lent independent profiles, following the crisply characterized gavotte theme. The whole suite was played with distinction, but the gavotte-and-variations confirmed  how insightful artists can impart personality to emotionally reserved music.

De Silva and Kim, a 1990 IVCI laureate who is now concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, were also in the spotlight after intermission, performing Brahms' Sonata No. 2 in A major, op. 100. Admirable was the linking of contrasting episodes in the second movement, utterly natural as it unrolled. Kim's bow control and phrasing were exquisite in the finale, and the tone got a rich exhibition with the music's focus on the violin's lower range.

Kim's involvement in the other two works on the program was crucial to their success. But it couldn't do much to sustain my interest in John Corigliano's "Soliloquy" for clarinet and string quartet. Adapted from a movement of the composer's Clarinet Concerto, the work is a nostalgic evocation of his father, John Corigliano Sr., concertmaster for 23 years of the New York Philharmonic.

The piece is well put together, but, on first hearing, seemed mostly an excuse for low-key, reflective dialogue between first violin (Kim) and clarinet (Bellman). A logical choice for this program, it justified itself mainly in that sense. (And, in a technological aside, it demonstrated that Kim was just as deft turning iPad pages with his right foot while sitting down as he had been standing up in "Suite Italienne.")

The concert's second half was devoted to the Dohnanyi Sextet. Dohnanyi was an obvious yet effective composer, a kind of Brahms lite: The first movement of this piece is almost comically grandiloquent, with the charge led by the horn. Guest pianist and violinist and the Ronen group launched into it with gusto.

As the performance proceeded, it soon became clear that Kim's violin was casting his two string colleagues (violist Nancy Agres and cellist Fischer-Bellman) in the shade. It's not that he displayed a domineering manner, but that the other two players needed to project more.

Better balance was displayed in the slow movement, but when the score abounded with shorter note values, especially in the first and last movements, Kim's colleagues lacked the guest violinist's oomph. Apart from a few horn burbles, the winds (Rob Danforth and Bellman) acquitted themselves well throughout, and Da Silva evinced his usual facility and panache at the keyboard.







Thursday, April 17, 2014

Putting its interpretive heritage to work, Takacs Quartet presents 3 Bartok quartets for Ensemble Music finale

Takacs Quartet made a return visit to focus on Bela Bartok.
Some works of art seem to address what the time of their creation needs and expresses, as well as what suits the personality and artistic development of their creators.

The six string quartets of Bela Bartok are certainly representative of that truth for the early 20th century. They have outlived their time, of course, to become among the permanent glories of the repertoire.

Wednesday night at the Indiana History Center, the Takacs Quartet played three of them. The concert was the season finale of the Ensemble Music Society, whose services to classical music in Indianapolis are unique and enduring. The quartet, now in residence at the University of Colorado, was formed in Budapest in 1975; two original members remain, second violinist Karoly Schranz and cellist Andras Fejer.

Bartok (1881-1945) emerged from the shadow of late Romanticism, with an early overlay of Debussyan impressionism, to forge an original kind of modernism. His aesthetic took rhythmic, melodic and harmonic cues from the Magyar folk music in which the Hungarian was steeped by both affinity and avocation.

First violinist Edward Dusinberre provided concise, enlightening program notes from the stage during the first half, supplementing Marianne W. Tobias' worthwhile contributions to the booklet. He made the connection between Bartok's times and his artistic decisions explicit, especially with respect to Quartet No. 6 (1939), a product of gloomy personal and political circumstances.

The Takacs' performance of Bartok's final piece for two violins, viola, and cello put in high profile the synthesis the composer achieved between the slow, sad introduction of each movement and its distinct character. By the finale, the "mesto" (sad) indication governs everything, with total ensemble commitment to developing the reigning mood and the material used to express it. In contrast to what precedes it, the last movement's chaste use of string sonorities, relieved only by a late, electrifying tremolo shudder sul ponticello, received a poised demonstration in this performance.

In the earlier movements, the sad music was outlined spellbindingly by violist Geraldine Walther (first movement),  Fejer (second movement), and Dusinberre (third movement). Of the main sections, the droll vigor imparted to the "Burletta: Moderato" stood out for its blend of control and wild abandon.

The concert opened with a performance of Quartet No. 2 (1915-17), with Debussyan colors marking the first movement in particular. The second movement brings out the rough and playful side of the composer; those aspects are strenuous and dissonant in early Bartok. By the time of the late Concerto for Orchestra, the rough playfulness had been smoothed out, but remained characteristic. The Takacs tore into that movement in a way that offered maximum contrast with the "Lento" finale, music that seemed to offer something sustaining to cling to.

Quartet No. 4 (1928) brought the concert up to intermission. The brutal first movement sounded emotionally detached, which struck me as apt, considering the work's emergence in modernism's heyday. I wouldn't fault any of the interpretive decisions behind this persuasive reading.

The sinister, elfin quality of the second movement balanced its more insouciant companion movement: the fourth — all pizzicato with a wry ending. The aching tension evident in Fejer's performance of the third-movement cello melody was carried throughout, making of this centerpiece an emotional fulcrum on which the whole balanced.

The feeling of satisfying completeness after the three works were so well performed meant that no encore was offered — or expected, despite the loud, jubilant ovation, which indicated the audience felt sufficiently rewarded.



Tuesday, April 15, 2014

University of Indianapolis faculty end their season with a smooth display of collegiality

If the way they performed together Monday night is any indication, the music faculty of the University of Indianapolis is a most harmonious group.

I will not inquire too closely what goes on at their faculty meetings in order to preserve my pleasant notion of a "peaceable kingdom" reigning over the DeHaan Fine Arts Center. The "Season Finale" concert was probably a public display of an estimable rapport among musicians associated with the department through full- and part-time teaching there.
Three musicians: Anne McCafferty, Harry Miedema, Anne Reynolds.

That's not to omit Nick Tucker, one of the stellar graduates of UIndy's jazz program, which has been shepherded into eminence by Harry Miedema, who retires at the end of the current school year.  A tenor saxophonist of wide professional experience before getting into academia, Miedema has consistently raised the visibility and substance of jazz education at the Southside school. To boost its public profile, he has put together in recent years a season-long jazz concert series culminating in the annual Jazz Week, recently concluded.

Bassist Tucker and  Miedema combined for a program-ending duet, Miles Davis' "Solar," a jazz standard for nearly 60 years. After an interwoven out-of-tempo introduction, the compatible duo launched into the tune.  The performance was relaxed, swinging, affectionate and no doubt a mite nostalgic.

Piquantly heralding that performance in the otherwise all-classical program was Charles Ives' "Largo" for violin and piano.  With its folkish theme, elaborated unpredictably and with some agitation, the composition shares a rough emotional and stylistic affinity with jazz — though of course it is in no sense jazz.

Typical of Ives, even in its reflective main section, the piece is too idiosyncratic and flavored with dissonance to take a mollycoddling approach to its material. Violinist Austin Hartman and pianist Richard Ratliff showed a seamless partnership throughout.

Hartman and Ratliff opened the concert, with cellist Dennis McCafferty, in Haydn's Piano Trio in G major. The three displayed well-coordinated lightness of touch, resilience and gracefulness that served the music well. Without overemphasis, they brought out the score's imaginative variety.

The program's other instrumental work involved five UIndy-associated professionals playing a woodwind quintet by Paul Hindemith. "Kleine Kammermusik", op. 24, No. 2, has maximum craftsmanship and minimum charm, like much of the German composer's output.

Over the course of five crisply characterized movements, it has some amusing effects. It must be fun to play. But it is granola-bar music to listen to. Flutist Anne Reynolds, oboist Pamela French, clarinetist Cathryn Gross, hornist Darin Sorley, and bassoonist Mark Ortwein invested their performance with as much charm as the score seems to offer. My takeaway from it was delight in the solid ensemble rapport that typified the whole program.

Four Brahms duets brought together department chair Kathleen Hacker, soprano, and Mitzi Westra, mezzo-soprano, assisted by pianist Elisabeth Hoegberg. The singers blended well, and they never missed a trick expressively. When "Klosterfraeulein" (The young nun) wistfully addresses lambs in springtime, Hacker and Westra were buoyant in sympathy.  The series of joyous rhetorical questions in "Die Boten der Liebe" (The messengers of love) conveyed pure focus on the loved one, carried along by an excess of rapture.

As the temperature plunged outside and flurries approached, it was good to be reminded by such a performance that the season of love and renewal is surely upon us.





Saturday, April 12, 2014

APA Fellow Sean Chen makes first concerto appearance here since winning Cliburn bronze

Launched into prominence by the golden boost of the 2013 American Pianists Association Classical Fellowship, Sean Chen is back in Indianapolis this weekend to indicate — not that anyone needed more evidence — that his victory here was no fluke.

Sean Chen showed his good taste with a reflective Bach encore.
The vehicle is Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, in two Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra performances with German conductor Christoph Konig on the podium at Hilbert Circle Theatre.

Chen displayed crisp articulation through the thickets of figuration and octaves in the outer movements, with the addition of expressive insight that seemed to freshen up the familiar work.

His tone in the "Andantino semplice" had a rare refinement for a young player, and the effect was mesmerizing, especially with the contrast offered by the frantic waltz in the middle. It was well-coordinated with scurrying strings by Konig. The finale had a rhythmic liveliness that suited Konig's style as an accompanist, making for hand-in-glove coordination up through the final thrilling bars.

The concert opened with this year's Glick Young Composer's Showcase winner, "Supercell" by Troy Armstrong.  The young Oklahoman's work was rooted in his background in one of the country's prime regions for tornadoes.

For about six minutes, the orchestra swirled with foreboding and devastation. There was astutely managed contrast in the eerie periods of calm between moments of impact.  We could be grateful for the composer's taste in doing something more than producing a frightful noise. There was menace enough in his incorporation of man-made sounds: warning sirens mimicked by a near-the-bridge viola whine. On top of that, it was musically evident that nature was the master — as it is in real life.


Leading up to intermission was that miracle of late Mozart, Symphony No. 41 in C major ("Jupiter"). Konig's approach was quite detailed, but there seemed an overall appreciation of the equal weight the score gives to — let's introduce a couple of other classical gods here — Dionysian and Apollonian qualities. In other words, this masterpiece, especially in the last movement, displays Mozart as a learned, high-minded musician as well as a reveler. "The learned musician" is a phrase associated with Christoph Wolff's much-acclaimed biography of J.S. Bach more than a decade ago. Ideally applied to Bach, it in no way can be read as downplaying the emotional import of Bach's music.  But in the finale of this symphony, Mozart, usually thought of as an instinctive genius deft with deep feelings, deserves that phrase as well.

The finale was given all due glory in Friday's performance. But from the start, Konig had some winning ideas about the piece. The "Allegro vivace" had a seductiveness and sweetness that recalled Mozart's great operatic comedies. The interpretation we heard could almost have had words set to it by Lorenzo Da Ponte, the librettist of "The Marriage of Figaro" and "Cosi fan tutte."

The lightness of mood never meant gliding over intricate detail. Konig made the most of the expressive complexity of the slow movement. After that, the minuet movement was given an affectionate cast. I was reminded of one of the P.D.Q. Bach parodies by Peter Schickele, in which the main theme morphs into the lilting German love song, "Du, du, liegst mir im Herzen."

Then we were ready for the ascent of Olympus in the last movement. In performances like this one, astonishment never ceases. You keep saying to yourself, "I can't believe he just did THAT, and now here comes THIS." Very few pieces one has heard often can so dependably render you slack-jawed with wonder. This is one of them, and so it did in this cloud-capped performance.