If there's one thing they have in abundance in Kazan and it's environs, it's marvelous performance halls. The Gala final concert of May 29 took us to perhaps the grandest of them all, the Saideshev State Large Concert Hall of the Republic of Tatarstan. A big name for a big space, complete with a big organ to decorate the back wall impressively.
The Gala began at 5 PM, a time which would be thoroughly impractical on a Wednesday in New York, but which brought a full house this Wednesday in Kazan.
First up was a piece by Svetlana Zarakhova (as differentiated from my dear friend Svetlana Zakharova, the great piano teacher in Ukraine) for piano, choir, flute, bass and percussion. This strong, interestingly rhythmic Tatar piece was highlighted by the marvelous sound of the Hiyal chamber chorus. The work is almost anthemic, with gorgeous, rich harmonies in the final pages.
Then, the last festival performance of The Lumina Quartet. They presented another of Paul Chihara's terrific Ellington arrangements, this time, "I'm Beginning to See the Light" for clarinet and string quartet, with the redoubtable Philip Bashor on clarinet and a substitute violist, Kamille Monasypov, the group's regular violist Boris Deviatov having already returned to New York.
Their final selection, an encore performance, was "Falls to with an Appetite" - a serenade for clarinet and string quartet, by the already discussed Gene Pritsker (http://www.genepritsker.com/index.html). As I had said in Part 4 of this magnum opus, Pritsker has a great ear for string sonorities and makes the most of this instrumental combination. There is some truly exceptional music here that the quartet and Philip Bashor really make the most of. I had also previously mentioned that Kazan writer and composer Oleg Lubivetz had supplied a review of the piece. He writes,
"Gene Pritsker's Serenade for Clarinet and String Quartet, performed at the Festival "Europe-Asia 2005" by the Lumina String Quartet and clarinetist Philip Bashor is a serious composition where the expressive idiomatic clarinet line is a part of an alive, flowing stream of sound. This line is clearly distinguished on the canvas of the composition. Also impressive is a successful realization of form, which is not necessarily the case with some other composers, who while announcing a certain structure give us in fact something entirely different."
"Pritsker's music has one immediately distinctive feature, particularly for a European ear: its musical language is peculiarly American. First of all the energy, density of texture, rhythmic variety and drive, constant tonal - harmonic and enharmonic exchanges, sometimes with great frequencies. Excluded are conventional ways of developing, instead, it is an unending flow of changes of melodic and polyphonic elements."
"Pritsker's fantasy is unending and all these various elements are logical and convincing. Even when the elements seem unrelated, still one almost immediately can see strong connection."
"Gene Pritsker managed to create a well-proportioned dynamic composition that strongly represents the American school."
It should be mentioned that meeting Oleg Lubivetz brings two strong impressions - 1. surprise that such a physically imposing man could have such a quiet, gentle voice and 2. amazement at his very strong resemblance to Sean Connery. He does not, however, drive an Aston Martin or make much of a fuss about how his martinis are stirred.
Next on the bill was our, by now, good friends from the Belgian Rapid Deployment Consort who presented individual clarinet and violin solos with tape - grooves on Tagore melodies.
Then, Kazan's own Tatar Brass Quintet with raucous and very enjoyable variations on Tatar melodies, followed by a short but fun four-hands piano piece by an Italian composer, performed by 2 Russian pianists to great effect.
By this time, we had really begun to look forward to Arkady Shilkloper's performances, and this final one of the festival did not disappoint. He presented a wonderful arrangement of the immortal Jaco Pastorius' Theresa for French horn and strings as well as another alpenhorn groove which also became a lovely piece for horn and strings. The Saideshev State Large Concert Hall has fabulous reverb, just right for this instrument, and he really demonstrated this with the final piece for French horn and strings, with a nice swing from the orchestra and an ambience not unlike a theme from a good detective film noir. Shilkloper is a remarkable and constantly amazing player. We are hoping to get him to New York sometime soon, so if you see any listings for him in concert, as they say, run, don't walk ...
More good things in the second half of the show, highlighted by music of our good friend and host Rashid Kalimoullin. Again, you can read much more about him at http://www.muscentre.org/cgi-bin/eng/get.pl?id=27 and I would urge you to hear some sound samples of his music and perhaps purchase some of his CDs at http://www.classicalcds.net/kalimoullin/index.html. Two of his works were presented, one for piano, horn (Shilkloper) and composer as percussionist and page-turner, and the other, Sounds of the Forest, for chamber orchestra. The latter was an especially appropriate way to send this marvelous and wonderfully wide-ranging concert.
Of course, this being Russia, the only real way to end the Festival was with a big, big party. This one, back at the Composer's Union, featured too much to eat and drink, members of Ziggurat and other groups in a huge, loud, frequently wild improvisation session and the priceless sight of a writer who was attending the Festival dancing dangerously backwards around the room after having gotten a bit too deep into the vodka. All this and music, too.
Tranquility was restored on our long, almost elegiac train ride back to Moscow. No "interesting" cabin mates this time, just a beautiful trip through the vastness of the Russian steppes in the long, midsummer twilight. A festival, people, city and time and to remember.