Today marked Cal Performances’ return to in-person indoor concerts, and what an opening to the regular 2021/22 season! Tessa Lark on violin and Amy Yang on piano delivered inspiring, sensitive, bravura performances of bold and refreshing repertoire that should call us all back to the concert hall.
I realize that concert reviews are not typical fare for the Berkeley Blog, but the craftsmanship and vivacity they imparted with their playing and programming had to be shared. First, the repertoire. It was an eclectic mix ranging from an early 19th-century Beethoven sonata through early 20th-century Ravel to early 21st-century Torke, Corigliano, Lewis and Lark. Yes, the soloist offered a world premiere of her own work, “Jig and Pop.” She and the audience delighted in the expression of her Kentucky heritage in this piece that evoked Appalachia as well as John Adams. It was a fitting complement to Corigliano’s STOMP for violin and…high heels. Torke’s “Spoon Bread” (movements labeled Cornmeal, Milk and Eggs) also included strains of the blues and bluegrass. We were treated to another world premiere, an arrangement of John Lewis’s “Django” (1954), a jazz standard that pays tribute to the Hungarian jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. Arranger Sam Reider was in the audience to hear the rousing performance and receive the audience’s applause. These recent pieces were bookended by more standard repertoire, sonatas for violin and piano by Beethoven and Ravel. Both pieces showcase the skill and musicality of the violinist and pianist as partners, calling on virtuosity and nuance in equal measure. A breathtaking performance of Ravel’s Tzigane, composed for a Hungarian violinist, echoed the Lewis/Django cultural reference and left the audience on its feet.
I was moved by this imaginative program that showcased astonishing technique as well as sheer fun. The performers showed remarkable ensemble and unity of vision and style for each piece. It was a perfect recipe to pull listeners out of a post-Covid malaise and welcome us back to live music. Several Covid protocols were actually a boon to the experience: audience members were urged to stay home if they had coughs, which can mar performances, and masks covered up random sniffles and the occasional snore. They also seemed to limit chitchat during the performance. Except for single half-sheets of the concert program, slick printed programs have also been eliminated, reducing waste and more extraneous shuffling. The attentive quiet between movements reflected the respectful and expectant energy between audience and performers.
Cal Performances is offering generous discounts to faculty, staff and students on performances by world-class artists. If that’s not sufficient motivation, research on the science of awe offers persuasive evidence of the restorative and galvanizing effects that artistic experiences can offer. Performing arts organizations were hit hard by pandemic restrictions; those that survived, like Cal Performances, stand ready to buoy us through the next phase with models of imagination, collaboration, fortitude and joy. Isn’t that what we all need?