Prism Quartet

By Sharon Smullen, Eagle Correspondent

WEST STOCKBRIDGE — Think of a classical music quartet and strings likely spring to mind — certainly not saxophones.

For 37 years, PRISM Quartet has put the single reed-powered brass instruments front and center stage; and on Saturday, Sept. 18, Close Encounters With Music brings them to TurnPark Art Space for an outdoor concert amid two dozen sculptures.

“PRISM Quartet is an astonishing, vibrant group of four saxophonists,” said Yehuda Hanani, cellist and Close Encounters artistic director. “They are superb, very fine musicians, [with] a varied repertoire with lots of contemporary composers.”

Their program, “Hit Parade,” includes works from Bach to present day, “mixing new and old music adapted by wonderful composers,” said Matthew Levy, the last original member still performing with the Philadelphia-based quartet. “These are some of our very favorite pieces that we love to play. It’s all very listenable and enjoyable.”

Levy, tenor, along with Timothy McAllister, soprano; Zachary Shemon, alto; and Taimur Sullivan, baritone, make up PRISM Quartet. 

“[Pulitzer Prize-winning composer William Bolcom] made a gift to PRISM of ‘Schumann Bouquet,’ a beautiful adaptation from Robert Schumann’s piano book ‘Album for the Young,’” Levy said. “Bolcom has written many pieces for saxophone, so he really understands the sound world and lens.”

He added, that Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino’s “Pagine” (Pages) is an anthology derived from works by Bach, Scarlatti and Gershwin, while Michael Daugherty’s “Steamboat” is a “fun rollicking piece drawn from his tuba concerto, [with] strong jazz influence.”

“A saxophone quartet can blend in this incredibly homogenous way, like an organ, with resonating overtones,” Levy said. “It’s a journey; we’re always trying to find a little more beauty.”

Formed in 1984 by students of renowned University of Michigan saxophone teacher Donald Sinta, the ensemble “evolved very organically,” Levy said, with successful competitions, early management, and regional touring leading to national and international engagements.

“We self-present concerts in three states and produce our recordings on our own label. A whole infrastructure helps us realize our vision,” he said. “[Dating back to the 1840s,] you can find groups throughout the saxophone’s history. [As] more and more spring up, chamber music competitions are inundated with saxophone quartets, there’s been an explosion of interest.”

PRISM draws musicians from saxophone studies “mecca” University of Michigan, where performance practices help them blend into the quartet, Levy said. Current members are all 15-25 year ensemble veterans, who teach at Temple, Northwestern and Missouri universities. Soprano player McAllister replaced Sinta.

“Education is really core to our work,” Levy said.

They also have expanded saxophone quartet repertoire by commissioning some 300 pieces over the years.

“When we [started], most repertoire came from mid-20th-century French conservatory school. We wanted to develop works through collaborations with composers at different stages of their careers — master composers who’ve never written saxophone music, Pulitzer Prize-winners, students,” he said. 

This concert follows open-air park performances in Philadelphia and N.Y.C., their first since early 2020.

“Given the state of the world, I think playing outside is a good idea,” Levy said.

Audiences at TurnPark’s rustic stone amphitheater will sit on cushioned stone ledges, folding chairs, or their own lawn chairs.

“In addition to showcasing and adding to [our] own sculpture collection, one of the park’s objectives has been a complementary performance program,” said Alexander Zaretsky, special projects associate for TurnPark Art.

Past events range from classical music concerts by chamber groups and BSO musicians to dance, theater, comedy and film nights. Patrons can arrive early to view artworks.

“It’s exciting to welcome something new and different,” Zaretsky said. “The park is, to some extent, a blank canvas that we try to fill in.”

During lockdown, PRISM released five backlogged albums, with two more due this fall.

Close Encounters With Music also made the most of the pandemic pause.

“We did not miss a beat,” Hanani said. “We had six concerts in the Mahaiwe, sometimes with an entirely empty house, and everything was streamed to our audiences.”

The one bright spot, he said, “was we reached people far away, in Latin America and Europe.” Plans include streaming future concerts, including PRISM Quartet.

Close Encounters returned to in-person programming this summer with two outdoor performances at The Mount in Lenox.

Hanani describes the TurnPark event as “our Janus concert,” referencing the Roman god of transitions’ two faces — one looking back, the other forward. “It finishes our summer season and previews our next season at the same time.”

“The main thing is to keep going, it’s a whole new reality,” he said. “We’re being very optimistic: our slogan is ‘Music Undefeated!’”


Music: Darryl Gangloff

For a quarter of a century, Close Encounters with Music has presented chamber music with commentary to both entertain and inform audiences in the Berkshires and beyond. Under the guidance of founder and Artistic Director Yehuda Hanani, the organization has offered more than 200 thematic concerts that put the composers and their time periods in perspective with additional context.

“That’s the underlying principle: Thematic programming with the best performers,” said Vice President Hannah Hanani, who is Yehuda’s wife. Over the years, they’ve commissioned work from distinguished composers, including Osvaldo Golijov, Paul Schoenfield, Robert Beaser, John Musto, Kenji Bunch and Lera Auerbach. Actors such as Sigourney Weaver, Richard Chamberlain and Jane Alexander have appeared as guest narrators.

“There’s always something adventurous about our pro-gram,” Yehuda said. “Expect the unexpected.”

In celebration of its 25th anniversary season — which kicks off on Oct. 15 at 6 p.m. with a performance by the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington — Close Encounters with Music is marking the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New York state. In fact, this is the start of a three-season initiative to highlight works by women composers.

“This area is so connected to history and American culture and artists and writers, it’s so plugged in to all that, that we try to mine the local connections,” Hannah said. “A lot of the ferment was right here. Susan B. Anthony was born in Adams. There was a march from New York City to Albany along the Hudson River. Ethel Smyth’s opera “Der Wald” is the only piece by a woman the Met has performed in the last 100 years.”

As part of this theme, the Hananis have commissioned Thea Musgrave, Tamar Muskal, Joan Tower and Judith Zaimont to each write three-minute profiles for a “quilt” that focuses on “women of valor,” including Smyth, Emma Lazarus and Sojourner Truth. This quilt will be performed during a season-ending gala at the Mahaiwe on June 10.

“These stories really have to be told, whether through music, art or schools,” Hannah said. As part of this three-season program, the Hananis hope to create an arts curriculum unit that will be taught in high schools. They’re certainly familiar with education initiatives — the Catskill High Peaks Music Festival, a program of Close Encounters with Music, attracts approximately 50 students every summer.

“It has lectures, nature tours and a superb faculty. It’s an inspiring 10 days in the mountains,” Hannah said. “It’s amazing to see people bonding through music.”

Close Encounters with Music’s 25th anniversary season will feature concerts at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center and Saint James Place in Great Barrington, Mass., as well as two talks at The Mount in Lenox, Mass, and the Hudson Opera House in Hudson, N.Y.


Exactly why Close Encounters with Music has subtitled its June 8 evening at Tanglewood “Grieg Revival” remains, in the words of the King of Siam, a puzzlement. Certainly Grieg’s tuneful Peer Gynt Suite, Piano Concerto, three violin sonatas and the most popular of his many songs are so frequently performed that no revival is necessary. But in the case of the main title for the evening, Nordic Lights, the reason is clear. The seeds for the evening, which includes some of Grieg’s most glorious smaller-scaled music as well as spoken excerpts from Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt and Hans Christian Andersen’s works, both read by Broadway and Western Massachusetts Shakespearian sensation Tina Packer, lie in cellist Yehuda Hanani’s frequent trips to Scandinavia for summer festivals.

“On one of these occasions,” he reports, “I was taken to the Finnish woods at midnight, when the sun still shone, to pick wild berries. The colleague who ac-companied me said that the reason the berries were so sweet and succulent was because of their endless exposure to sunlight.” With his taste buds tingling at the thought, Hanani began to ponder the ramifications of life in a region where the sun shines all night in the summer and goes into apparent hibernation in the winter.

“I had never made this connection between the tastiness of the berries and the several months they’re exposed to the midnight sun,” he says. “Those long summers, where everyone seems intoxicated and dizzy, offset the darkness of the winters, with their long brooding nights where everyone goes inward, and many become depressed and suicidal. I wonder if this very strong polarization of the seasons reflects in the dramatic nature of Ibsen’s plays and Bergman’s movies, with the contrast between darkness and the summertime of Wild Strawberries.”

It is the intoxication of Nordic summers that Hanani and his fellow artists hope to share in Tanglewood’s Ozawa Hall. Their main focus is Grieg because his music so clearly evokes place and culture. “His music invokes the place and the culture; you can smell the pine forest and see the fjords,” claims Hanani. “It is tre-mendously physical and immediate, and it is so attractive. You even get a sense of a beautiful tradition of embroidery, native dress, music redolent of nature, and humble homes. As Grieg himself said, his aim was to build dwellings for men [and women] in which they might feel at home and happy.”

Inside and Out

One of the binding forces between Grieg and Ibsen, who were good friends, was their love of Peer Gynt. Packer, who is very much drawn to Ibsen’s feminist consciousness, notes that he “translated the ancient ferocity of his country’s history and landscape into domestic dramas that shook the foundations of European thought: the sense of climbing to the top of mountains and plunging into the depths, the unconscious mind held in the symbolism of the fjords, a combination of great space and small interior rooms from which there may be no escape.”

“Ibsen maps the mind in a way no other playwright does,” she says. It will be very interesting to experience how her readings further illumine the brilliant music that surrounds them.

When I learned that some of Grieg’s most popular songs would be sung by baritone Mischa Bouvier, the familiarity of his name drove me to his website. There I found a glowing quote from San Francisco Classical Voice, a publication I review for. Searching further, I discovered the author of the quote—“immensely sympa-thetic, soulful voice… It’s easy to see why this presumably young artist won awards in four competitions in 2009–2010; his rare vocal and interpretive gifts all but ensure many major solo turns in the years ahead”—was none other than Jason Victor Serinus. Is it a sign of impending old age when you can no longer retain the names of the young artists you love? In any case, consider this an endorsement.

After a performance of Grieg’s virtuosic Violin Sonata No. 3 by Ara Gregorian and pianist Adam Neiman, Hanani joins them to perform Brahms’ gorgeous Trio No. 1, Op. 8. Why Brahms? Not only did Brahms and Grieg know each other, not only were they friendly, but the oft “autumnal” nature of the brooding composer also reminds us of the darkness that follows the Nordic summer’s light. “I’m fond of this first trio for an interesting reason,” says Hanani. “It’s the only piece of chamber music by Brahms for which we have two versions. He wrote it as a young man, and then, much later in life, revised it. It’s fascinating to see how his final version combines the passion of youth with the experience and wisdom that come with maturity.” Is Hanani being a bit selfish by providing this rationale for sticking Brahms in the middle of a Nordic program? Let’s put it this way: I’ve been carrying CDs of the Brahms trios to audio shows for years. Every time I play the opening phrase of the Trio No. 1, Op. 8, I sense hearts opening all around me. Isn’t that reason enough, not only for Brahms’s presence, but also for your own at Close Encounters with Music’s annual Gala Concert? CEWM’s Gala Concert and Reception, Nordic Lights, begins in Tanglewood’s Ozawa Hall on June 8 at 6 pm. —Jason Victor Serinus, Preview Massachusetts



The first notes from the CD under review made me think that I was listening to a previously unknown work of Charles Ives. Folk song, polytonality, “wrong” notes, exuberance all the hallmarks of Ives’s distinctive style are there. It is delightful from the get-go. By the second (“The Basket of Eggs”) of the Six British Folk Songs, I realized that Paul Schoenfield has his own distinctive style: Here the mood becomes much more introspective and meditative, even lyrical. It’s a gorgeous little piece. The variety of styles employed continues through the rest of this cycle and on throughout the CD. Florid passages of running notes, the occasional creeping in of jazz influences, rhythmic vitality, a sly quote here and there (my ears perked up in the fifth of the songs when I heard a snippet of the Shostakovich Fifth), and inventive accompanimental textures are all much in evidence in this music. My earlier description of “delightful” applies to all of the works—and their individual movements on the disc. 

A few words about Schoenfield would probably not be amiss for at least some readers: A native of Detroit, he studied piano with Ozan Marsh, Julius Chajes, and Rudolf Serkin (and believe me, Schoenfield is a terrific pianist!). He began writing music at age seven, essentially training himself to compose by listening to copious quantities of music, often with scores in hand. He cites Bartók and Ravel as having been particularly influential on his own music. Schoenfield later studied at Carnegie Mellon University, ultimately receiving his D.M. from the University of Arizona. He currently is on the faculty of the University of Michigan, and his wide-ranging interests include Talmudic studies and mathematics. 

The solo piano suite Pecadilloes draws inspiration for both its title and music from Rossini’s Sins of My Old Age. The titles of the movements (“Allemande,” “Fughetta,” “Rag,” “Waltz,” “Shuffle,” and “Boogie”) suggest both Baroque and modern jazz influence, and indeed these are to be heard in good measure here. The concluding “Boogie” has the flair of Nikolai Kapustin, but maintains a distinct American flavor. Pianist James Tocco suggests that it is a real killer to play, but he brings off the entire suite with panache and pizzazz aplenty. 

The opening movement, Toccata, of the concluding suite, Refractions, sounds to my ears like the music of Jean Françaix put through an American filter. It contains every ounce of joie de vivre that one would encounter in anything by the French master. The following March is quite a bit more astringent, but delightful in its own way. The Intermezzo again sheds light on Schoenfield’s gifts both as a melodist and a colorist (note the ghostly effect near the end of the movement), and the concluding wild Tarantella again conjures up the ghost of a slightly more polytonal Françaix. 

Given that I’ve already singled out for praise the piano playing of Schoenfield and Tocco on this recital, I must do the same for that of cellist Yehuda Hanani, whose articulation, phrasing, and use of portamento is as good as any cellist I’ve ever heard. He is clearly a major artist on his instrument. The spirited playing of clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein is likewise commendable. His approach to the music perfectly captures its essence, and he also very effectively uses portamento where it’s called for. 

It would be difficult for me to imagine any music lover not being utterly captivated and enchanted by this CD. This disc will be a strong contender for my next Want List, and will be listened to repeatedly in my home. I hope to hear much more of Schoenfield’s work as I have the opportunity (yes, this is a big hint to the editor, should he receive more CDs with this composer’s work on them, to send them my way.) Don’t delay in picking up your copy. David DeBoor Canfield 



Entering its ninth summer, the High Peaks Festival has switched peaks: After years in the Catskills, the educational program of Close Encounters With Music (CEWM) has taken up residence in the Berkshires.

From August 6 through 16, the halls of the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Mass., will be filled with the sounds of some 50 earnest, aspiring chamber musicians — cellists, violinists, violists, and pianists – studying with 14 master professionals. Both students and faculty come from “every corner of the world,” said founder and artistic director Yehuda Hanani.

The Berkshire School became available with the departure this year of the Berkshire Choral Festival, and Hanani was eager to have the High Peaks Festival “closer to home,” specifically to tap into the audience and supporters of the Berkshire-based CEWM.

Each festival has a theme, and this year’s is “the cross-influence of French and Russian culture and art” in the 19th and 20th centuries. Especially in the early 20th, “Paris was filled with Russian exiles — Diaghilev (impresario and founder of the Ballet Russes), Prokofiev, Stravinsky and others.” At the same time, “French was the language of the Russian intelligentsia.”

The 11-day program will include a wide array of concerts, talks, and master classes that will all be open to the public. Nearly every evening will feature a moon-light sonata, a performance by the talented student musicians. At least two concerts will be performed by faculty, and there may be programs mixing faculty and students.

Hanani touted the “family atmosphere” of the festival. “We eat together, take walks, faculty and students living in close proximity.” And he invited visitors to “join us on any level they want.”

“People are interested in seeing what happens in the kitchen before you put a meal on,” comparing that to “how a musical work is put together. So master classes are very popular, and people are welcome to sit in.”

For Hanani, the greatest satisfaction is the international flavor. “I find it moving to see barriers disappearing between cultures, languages. Students sit together and make music. Nothing else matters. It goes beyond music, beyond borders or political disagreements. It’s a reminder of the power of music.”

“Someday,” he half-joked, “We may have the festival at the U.N.”


Great Barrington — The first concert of season 26 for Close Encounters With Music (CEWM) on October 21 was billed as an event of titanic significance. “Genre bending masterworks performed by an all-star cast.” “The pinnacle of chamber music.” If such language sounds to you like marketing hype, then what you are about to read will exceed your personal bounds of credulity (i.e., you won’t believe it). 

Chamber music has always been the locus of strange magic. Inexplicable voodoo. It’s always been that way, and most CEWM concertgoers are aware of how quickly a concert performance can go from ordinary to extraordinary when everything comes together in a perfect storm of musical alchemy. That’s what happened on October 21. CEWM patrons have also learned that sooner or later they’ll be blindsided by a performance so sublime it will defy explanation. This, too, occurred on October 21.

If all you want is a strictly rational account of what happened on the evening of October 21, then perhaps the following will suffice: “Five professional musicians delivered accurate renditions of two works by Schumann and Brahms.” But as anyone who witnessed those performance well knows, such an explanation fails to account for the open-mouthed, deer-in-the headlights expression so many patrons wore throughout the evening. 

Then what does account for it?

To begin with, the pieces on Saturday’s program happen to be two of the world’s all-time most popular chamber music works. Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44 and Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34 are monumental masterworks. As such, they have stood the test of time, and today, 175 years after Schumann published Op. 44, both quintets continue to hold their own against legions of worthy rivals. Generations of listeners – expert and novice – have found these works uniquely engaging, enthralling, unforgettable. That’s why it’s safe to say that if these quintets are not major pinnacles of chamber music, then Beethoven was a Saint Bernard, and Schubert is a frozen dessert. But performances of the two can hardly amount to perfect storms of musical alchemy every time a well intentioned ensemble attempts to master them. It requires extraordinarily advanced musicianship to deliver note-perfect performances of either piece, and only the most exceptionally capable musicians will ever go beyond that. 

And exceptional they were on this Saturday evening: Soyeon Kate Lee, piano; Irina Muresanu and Peter Zazofsky, violin; Michael Strauss, viola; Yehuda Hanani, cello. The group’s playing demonstrated remarkable unity: impossibly tight ensemble at the most critical moments, exquisitely nuanced dynamics, all articulations synchronized to highly improbable tolerances. It was stunning and unforgettable. But still not a perfect storm.

For any chamber music ensemble* to reach hurricane strength, every member of the group must not only demonstrate virtuosic technique. They must also possess vast reserves of mature enthusiasm. Informed spirit, if you will. This often makes the crucial difference between a perfunctory performance and an inspired one. And it was spirit that catapulted these quintet performances over the top.

A founding member of the Muir String Quartet and Professor of Violin at the Boston University School of Music, Peter Zazofsky knows something about spirit. He knows how to summon it, channel it, and model it to others. In other words, he knows how to incite excellence in other musicians and draw them into his grand conspiracy, his not-so-secret plot to create perfect storms of musical alchemy. That’s what he did on Saturday, October 21 at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center.


Great Barrington – The last thing you expect to get from a chamber music performance is a lesson in conducting. But that’s essentially what violinist Julian Rachlin gave the audience on Saturday, December 3, at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. Yes, the season’s second “Close Encounters With Music” (CEWM) presentation was a program of chamber music – a violin sonata by Camille Saint-Saens and a piano quintet by Ceasar Franck. But, unbeknownst to many in Saturday’s Mr, Rachalin is not only a violinist of international repute but also well regarded orchestral conductor in Moscow, Luxembourg, Lucerne, Hamburg, and many other cities on both sides of the Atlantic. Whether directing an ensemble of five or ninety-five, Rachlin exerts a discernible influence on every performance he gives. Yes, all first-chair violinists must be able to act as leaders of their sections, but nobody does the job like Julian Rachlin. His cues are writ large in body language that’s impossible to miss, even from the last row of the auditorium.

Saturday evening’s CEWM program, titled “The Passion of Camile Saints-Saens and Cesar Franck,” focused on music inspired by these two French composers’ romantic infatuation with Franck’s student, Augusta Holmes. So it only made sense that the program should begin with a record of a piece by Mademoiselle Holmes herself. The Wagner-inflected “Nuit et l’amour,” from her symphonic ode for chorus and orchestra “Ludus pro Patria,” proved an enticing introduction to the works of this lesser-known, but worthy, Romantic-era composer. (We’ll hear more from Augusta Holmes in CEWM’s June 10, 2017 program, “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman-Celebrating 100 Years of Woman’s Suffrage!”)

Camille Saint-Saens endured vociferous criticism for his sinful habit of allowing craftsmanship and technique to supersede emotional ardor of the sort popular in his dad. But there was no shortage of emotion in Saturday’s performance of his demanding Violin Sonata No.1, Op. 75.

When competent musicians deliver a technically performance of Saint-Saens’s first violin sonata, it tends to sound like a pianist following a violinist following a composer’s score. That’s okay, since even a perfunctory performance of this sonata is a virtuosic one and amply impressive. But, when Roman Rabinovich (piano) and Diane Cohen (violin) play this piece, it sounds more like an individual musician with four hands playing the piano and violin parts simultaneously while channeling the composer’s thoughts in real time. Whether you called it “controlled spontaneity” or simply “magic,” such unity of purpose and execution made it hard to say who was accompanying whom on this piece. The couple’s performance was brilliant in the sense that it illuminated easy-to-miss details in the score and maintained crystal clarity throughout the densest passages. And they get extremely dense: Saint-Saens wrote it that way to show off his own virtuosic keyboard technique. It’s scary stuff. For the undaunted Rabinovich, however, it was a mirthful frolic celebrating the great composer’s sparkling wit and keen sense of craftsmanship. The music may very well be an expression of the composers frustrated sexual desire, and there’s certainly plenty of tension in it. But there’s also much joy. Perhaps it’s simply the joy he took in his ability to musically distract himself from his baser instincts.

Last on the program, Cesar Franck’s Piano Quintet in F minor may, on first listen, seem appropriate family entertainment. But when its naughty intentions are revealed, it becomes clear that the work is suitable for more mature audiences Franck wrote the piece as an expression of the libidinous impulses he felt for his young composition student, Augusta Holmes and, while the quintet incorporates no text, his dutiful wife’s public condemnation of the piece is a pretty good indication that the composer articulated his unwholesome desires clearly enough.

Cesar Franck’s piano quintet would, of course, of sounded perfectly fine without Julian Rachlin’s direction – the musicianship was there in spades squared, and the players were on their toes, vigilant and ready to charge out of the gate. But, as its most ardent aficionados are well aware, chamber music occasionally gets even better than “perfectly fine.” Sometimes it rises to the level of sublimity and astonishes event the jaded. Unusually gifted directors like Julian Rachlin can facilitate this. And when they do, an interesting piece becomes riveting, a touching one gripping, and a perfunctory recitation of notes becomes strangely and irresistibly powerful. Performed at this level on Saturday evening, Franck’s quintet seized Mahaiwe listeners by the throat and refused to let them go until the very last note had died away.


FROM BACH TO BACHIANAS: Songs Without Words •Yehuda Hanani (vc); Eliot Fisk (gtr) •ALBANY 1510 (78:00)

Regular readers of this publication are bound to know that I’m not generally receptive to programs of works transcribed for settings other than those for which they were intended, much less to programs made up of excerpts from complete works thrown together in a seemingly hodgepodge compilation. I make an exception, however, for this particular album for two reasons: First, a number of these transcriptions aren’t that far removed from their originals; it’s not hard to imagine, for example, that a piece originally for cello and piano, such as Fauré’s Sicilienne, op.78, would be quite effective with the piano part transcribed for guitar. And second, two internationally acclaimed artists, cellist Yehuda Hanani and guitarist Eliot Fisk, have come together here to make well over an hour’s worth of gloriously beautiful music.

My one and only complaint is the skimpy album note; devoted mainly to bios of the two artists, it provides little information about the works on the disc, requiring more time and effort to identify the provenance of some of the pieces than one should have to spend. For example, if you weren’t familiar with Robert Beaser’s Mountain Songs you would learn from the liner note only that they were originally for flute and guitar, but unless you did your own research, you wouldn’t learn that come from a collection of eight songs, of which only four of them—Nos. 1, 2, 7, and 5, in that order—are included in these transcriptions for cello and guitar. Likewise, you wouldn’t necessarily know that César Cui’s “Orientale” is the ninth number out of 24 pieces for violin and piano from the composer’s Kaleidoscope, op. 50; that Bloch’s “Prayer” is the first number in the composer’s suite of three pieces for cello and piano, titled From Jewish Life; that “Andalucia” by Ernesto Lecuona is the second number out of six pieces in the composer’s Suite Andalucia, originally for solo piano; or that Luigi Boccherini’s A­ Major Sonata, published in London sometime between 1770 and 1775, is G 4 in the Yves Gérard catalog of the composer’s works. Information such as this is expected and should be included in an album’s documentation. As for the“Whitman’s sampler” aspect of the disc, Eliot Fisk silences all objections when he writes, “In cheerful defiance of the present ubiquitous tyranny of the one composer CD, these selection shark back to an earlier time, when titans like Casals and Segovia, our respective mentors on cello and guitar, walked the earth and romanticism was king.”

The clutch of Schubert songs is both the easiest and the most problematic to deal with here. As far as I know, Schubert did not write anything for guitar, though a myth persists that he actually played the instrument. It’s not hard to imagine, though, a guitar accompanying his songs in a setting where a piano was unavailable or, as a matter of practicality, not likely to be found, as at a picnic on the bank of a stream. The more debatable issue is the matter of recasting a vocal piece as an instrumental number. Mendelssohn wrote songs without words, but Schubert’s songs are not wordless. Therefore, lovely as these transcriptions for cello and guitar are to listen to, and as beautifully played as they’re by Hanani and Fisk, their contextual meaning is lost.

None of the other items on the disc suffers this fate because each involves the transcription and transposition from one instrumental medium to another. In two cases—the Fauré and the Bloch—the pieces are already for cello, so only the piano parts are here realized on guitar. The Boccherini, which is also originally for cello, is a special case. The G 4 Sonata in question here is one in a long list of some 30 such sonatas Boccherini designated for “cello and basso.” The “basso” part, however, is not what you might think. It’s not the type of figured bass line one would expect to be filled in by a keyboard player performing a continuo function. Though these sonatas are not included in Boccherini’s autograph catalog, there seems to be general agreement that the “basso” part was actually intended for a second cello. Given its unharmonized, unadorned “basso” line, Fisk singles out the Boccherini for special treatment, explaining in his note that he has fleshed out a virtuosic guitar part from the score’s skeletonized second staff. It turns an otherwise drab, Sans Serif­-sounding piece into one with a Wingdings bold personality. If only Boccherini had thought of that.

The Czárdás is the only piece by which Vittorio Monti (1868–1922) is remembered today, though he wrote a number of ballets and operettas during his time in Paris, while serving a stint as conductor of the Lamoureux Orchestra. Composed in 1904, the Czárdás, as you’d guess from its title, is one of those archetypal gypsy violin pieces, the formula for which is enshrined in works such as Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen and Saint-­Saëns’s Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, and grotesquely parodied by Ravel in his Tzigane. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Monti’s Czárdás a work for beginners or unaccomplished amateurs—its perpetual motion second half poses some technical challenges—but the technical demands don’t rise to the level of the Sarasate, Saint-­Saëns, or Ravel pieces. This transcription for cello and guitar works quite well, and the guitar even gives the Czárdás an authentic flavor of music ­making in a gypsy camp, where the violin would probably have been accompanied by a guitar ­like plucked instrument, perhaps a mandolin. All manner of arrangements of the work exist, including one for violin and guitar by a G. dos Santos.

Of Villa­-Lobos’s nine Bachianas Brasileiras suites, the uniquely scored No. 5 for eight cellos and a wordless soprano vocalization has always been the most popular. The first of its two movements, Aria, is a hauntingly beautiful piece, and it’s this movement we hear in this arrangement for a single cello and guitar.

Beaser’s Mountain Songs in their original form for flute and guitar were recorded by Eliot Fisk and Paula Robison on a Pergola CD (5173217), and while I’m sorry to say I haven’t heard it, I have heard and reviewed the flute and guitar versions performed by Carla Auld and Ana Maria Rosadoon MSR in Fanfare 34:5. Much as I liked that recording, for me, the flute simply cannot bring out the deeply rooted feelings of the American heartland that resonate in this music the way the cello can. In just a few musical notes, these songs convey the sense and spirit of America’s Deep South and midlands in a way that words cannot possibly communicate.

While it may be true that composers have rarely written for cello and guitar, Yehuda Hanani is not correct in stating in his album note that no literature exists for this combination of instruments. At least one composer with some degree of name recognition, Friedrich Burgmüller (1806–1874)composed Three Nocturnes for Cello and Guitar, and there are others, too, though perhaps more obscure, such as Justus Johann Friedrich Dotzauer (1783–1860), who composed Potpourri for Cello and Guitar. I imagine if one looked long and hard enough, one could put together a program of original works for cello and guitar, but these transcriptions and arrangements, all made by Hanani and Fisk, suit the instruments nicely and are imaginatively realized as well as superbly played by two master musicians. Highly recommended. Jerry Dubins


By Eli Newberger

Great Barrington – On arriving at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center shortly before intermission on October 25, your reviewer was shown to a seat in the back of the hall. On listening to the final Rondeau (Allegro) movement of Mozart’s 1780 Oboe Quartet in F Major, K.370, embarrassment on arriving late (because I mistakenly thought the starting time was 8 p.m.) turned to astonishment at the quality of the music.

Here were four world-class virtousi tossing off with evident delight a tour de force of scampering runs, perfectly coordinated phrases, and stunning, gorgeous, dynamic surprises. Almost unbelievably, the oboist, James Austin Smith, gave a veritable master class in circular breathing in the service of sublime expression. (Here, a wind player simultaneously breathes in while he blows his instrument, hoping against hope to sustain a continuous line.) One doesn’t listen to music making like this every week, or for that matter, every year, and from this short sample, I knew I had to write about it.

The remaining two pieces of the concert, the Adagio and Rondo for Glass Harmonica and Quartet in C minor, KV.617 (1791) and the Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat Major, KV.493 (1786, Vienna), featured Mozart’s seeking heavenly exultation in his last work of chamber music, and rejoicing in the conversational possibilities of piano and string. The title of the evening seemed well chosen indeed.

The role of glass harmonica, or as Benjamin Franklin described it, Armonica, was performed on celesta by the splendid young pianist, Roman Rabinovich. This transformed the work from a dreamy set of ethereal washes to a vivid exploration of high tonal impulses and delightfully strange collisions of instrumental overtones. And, mirabile dictu, Rabinovich was able to pull from it both dynamic shadings and clearly articulated harmonic transitions. He deployed the limited touch-sensitivity of the celesta with lighthearted subtly and aplomb.

The ensemble was arrayed from left to right: flute, Tara Helen O’Connor; oboe, James Austin Smith: violin, Daniel Philips: celesta, Roman Rabinovich; cello, Yehuda Hanani: and viola, Xiao-Dong Wang. The seating arrangement enabled a beautiful integration of woodwinds and strings, both as sections and as an ensemble. As well, it gave visual access to their sensitive and lively interactions with the celesta.

Yehuda Hanani, its obvious leader, served as the emotional and rhythmic gyroscope of the group, foretelling the dynamic shadings and risings and falling intensities with welcoming glances, subtle bowing gestures, and tonal nuances on his cello. In Hanani’s hands, each impulse of pedal point conveyed a particular rhythmic and expressive meaning. His mastery in this regard was even more especially evident in the piano quartet that followed.

This is an unusual and precious skill in the performance of certain repeated notes, typically the fundamental or dominant of the starting harmony, played in the lower register, which enables melodic, contrapuntal, and harmonic development above, the sustained notes soothing the inevitable dissonances that occur when lines collide. And, as well, pushing the rhythm forward. Too often, all the notes can sound as if they are played the same. Not so here!

The overall sensibility of the glass harmonica work was whimsical and, without question, celestial. One cannot imagine a group of players more delighted to engage with this curious keyboard instrument, which Mr. Rabinovich had played for the first time in rehearsal that very morning.

Together, they projected an exquisitely-unfolding musical story, with an organic sense of pacing and respirational pausing, all the while seizing on delicious, witty exchanges among the characters; across the sections; and in fascinating combinations, such as antiphonal exchanges with the heavenly echoes of the celesta, beckoning, pleading, and laughing, and, toward the end, when the first violin, counterpoised against the viola and cello in unison, leads an exquisite two-part invention, a kind of Mozartian conversation with the guardian of the pearly gates.

Perhaps, toward the end of his short life, Mozart was arguing for acceptance of his dualistic character: to outweigh on the scale of judgment his astoundingly profane behavior and speech with his sublime music.

What of these oddly expressive instruments, the celesta and the glass harmonica? First, Mozart, who died in 1791, could not have known the celesta. A Parisian harmonium builder, Auguste Mustel, invented it in 1886.

To your reviewer, who has actually performed on the celesta at Ozawa Hall, this instrument seemed until now to be a keyboard-powered glockenspiel, blessed with a dampening pedal, great for sugarplum fairies in “Nutcracker” and twinkling presentations of rose crystal in “Der Rosenkavalier,” but of little use in extended passages. Not so here! This was a voyage of discovery, thanks to Roman Rabinovich. This amazing young artist was evidently trained at Curtis and Julliard to create beautiful music on whatever keyboard was available to him.

(Full disclosure: my own star turn on celesta took place on August 23, 2008, in the course of a concert given by the Cupcake Philharmonic Orchestra during Family Day at Tanglewood, while conducting and doubling on piano in support of the magnificent BSO tuba, Mike Roylance, on George Kleinsinger’s and Paul Tripp’s whimsical children’s children’s story, “Tubby the Tuba.” Carolyn Newberger, who drew the portraits that illustrate this review, performed Tubby’s musical confident, Peepo the Piccolo, on her instrument. Carolyn also doubled -on flute – and more than held her own with her seat-mates, the clarinet, Tom Martin, and oboe, Rob Sheena, of the BSO.)

Well prior to Franklin’s invention of the Armonica in 1761, in which 37 glass bowls were mounted horizontally on an iron spindle, turned by a foot-treadle of he kind one would see on an early Singer sewing machine, the ancient Greeks described a “harmonica to produce music for the soul by finger dipping in water,” on glass., a hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica. Then, in Mozart’s time, starting in the 1740’s, the Irish musician, Richard Pockrich, performed in London on a set of upright crystal tankards filled with varying amounts of water.

According to the website of the Philadelphia Franklin Institute, which owns one of Benjamin Franklin’s original Armonicas, commissioned from his instruction from the instrument-maker, Charles James, in London in 1761, Franklin said: “Of all my inventions, the glass Armonica has given me the greatest personal satisfaction.”

In 1773, Mozart and his father encountered one of Franklin’s Armonicas at the home of the physician and author of the theory of “animal magnetism” or “mesmerism,” Franz Anton Mesmer. Franklin, Mesmer, and Mozart were all Freemasons, who welcomed “glass Music,” as it was called, for the promotion of “human harmony.”

Leopold Mozart wrote home that both Mesmer and Wolfgang applied their talents tot he Armonica: “Do you know that Herr von Mesmer plays (the) harmonica unusually well? He is the only person in Vienna who has learned it, and he possesses a much finer glass instrument than Miss Davies does. Wolfgang too has played upon it. How I should like to have one!” Most regrettably, there is no recorded meeting of Franklin and Mozart, however. (One would have liked to be a fly on the wall whenthe talk turned to country matters. They appeared to share certain characterological propensities.)

Notwithstanding the production of more than five thousand of Armonicas in the course of his lifetime, Franklin did not take a penny in royalties. In the year of his death, 1790, he wrote of all of his inventions, “As we enjoy great Advantages from the Inventions of others we should be glad of an Opportunity to serve others by any Invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously.” Take that, Big Pharma and Monsanto.

The E flat chord that began the 1786 piano quartet sounded astonishingly luscious and warm. To a listener who hadn’t previously experienced a live music concert in the Mahaiwe, much less to a full house, balconies and all there was certainly something magical about the acoustics. It had the power of a declaration in the first movement of Beethoven’s Eroica symphony.

But as the performance unfolded, with Roman Romanovich playing a Steinway B piano, seated slightly behind Daniel Phillips, violin, on the left and Yehuda Hanani, cello, to his left; and Xiao-Dong Wang, viola on the right, it was clear that the tonal temperature was equally generated from their unusually warm musical personalities, deeply felt tonal sensibilities, and, and their relentless focus on creating a generous ensemble sound.

Daniel Phillips played with a sweetness and emotional availability that betrayed the stereotype of the first violinist in a quartet. His attentive listening and concern to support the ensemble was marvelous to behold, especially with the recent memory of the Julliard Quartet’s South Mountain concert in Pittsfield. There, a new first violinist, without question a monster player, all but blew his colleagues away. Not so here. This was all in service of exalted quartet performance.

Equally, Xiao-Dong Wang made his viola, notable for a keen and focused resonance in a smallish instrument, into a continuously adaptive alto voice, adjusting subtly in every line and chord to the temperature of the harmony and the angle of the melody.

Where Roman Romanovich’s piano playing was voluble, broadly flowing across the entire piano range, coloristic in best sense of this pre-Romantic idiom, and totally at ease with his demanding, featured role, Yehuda Hanani was more modest as a cellist and leader, attending closely to the flow of the counterpoint and, where needed, pulling back or pushing forth the rhythm. Constantly checking in visually with his colleagues, he energized with his bow and caramel cello sound a broad palette of harmonic and rhythmic emphases and accents. Hanani was an embodiment of Lao-Tse, the philosopher of Daoism, who observed that a good leader is the one whose followers, when the job is done, will think they have done it themselves.

At the rising, intense, accelerating finale of the first movement, marked Allegro, the audience burst into applause. This was fully deserved, and probably as Mozart would have wished it. Rather than to maintain straight faces, the members of the quartet smiled and nodded delightedly. This gave a lovely sense of reciprocity to the proceedings, even as the Emily Posts of chamber music might frown at such a violation of concert etiquette.

The second movement is scored as 3/8, but the predominance of two-bar phrases gives it almost, but not quite, a 6/8 sensibility. Which is to say, it didn’t rock, as in a boat, as 6/8 typically does, but breathed in superbly repeated rhythmic segments, with subtle, and affecting pauses. The melodic expressions, most especially those uttered in pianissimo, moved so gently when the strings were in dialogue with the piano that, abetted by these pauses, they brought tears to one’s eyes, Surely this was mature chamber music performing of the highest order.

The third movement, back in quatrernary rhythm, took the form of a dance. And what a dance! Rabinovich surveyed an entire landscape of pianistic devices, arpeggios, runs, bursts of harmonic variation. But he always held back just enough to yield tantalizing tot he leaping, shimmering sonorities in in the strings. Hanani’s pedal points provided just the frission of predictability and uncertainty to the offset the rising momentum. Everyone, it was clear, was constantly absorbing, thinking, and urging one another on, with extraordinary brio and control.

After a wonderful, delightful exchange of grace notes between the violin and piano – drawing giggles from the audience – the mood suddenly shifted to minor, with blazing runs up and down the piano, with just a hint of impending tragedy. Shortly, however, a sudden, ambiguous diminished chord served as the pivot from sadness to a lively blossoming of the earlier E flat theme. We, relieved, were then treated to a stunning, majestic resolution, a brilliant ending to an unforgettable encounter with music. Bravi!


Me: “How long have you two been together?”

Yoffe: “Too long.”

Me: ‘What is it like when the two of you practice? Do you fight a lot?”

Yoffe: “It’s beautiful.”

Gluzman: “It’s horrible.”

So began an oft-hilarious chat with the husband-wife team of violinist Vadim Gluzman and pianist Angela Yoffe. Hopefully you don’t have to share their Russian Jewish ancestry to understand that at the heart of such self-deprecating humor are two artists so united in their love for music, family, and each other that they do all they can to stay together whenever they go on the road to perform 

“Our daughter Orli, who will be ten in December, plays the violin a little bit,” Gluzman explained. “It was her idea to do it. I think the main reason is, there is a teacher here in Chicago, Betty Hague, who is a family friend for many, many years, even before Orli was born. She runs the Hague Academy of Music, where we’ve given master classes for children for years. Orli grew up seeing the place, and I think she wanted to belong to it on the social level, first of all.” 

“It’s good for her,” says Yoffe. “She’s been traveling to concerts with us since she was three months old. Now she can relate better to what her parents are doing,” 

Gluzman speaks next. “Our schedules are such that, in October and November, Angela travels to Germany with our adorable fourteen-month old Apricot toy poodle, Aviva, who is trained not to bark when she sits in the back at concerts. I travel first to Buffalo and then to Columbus with Orli. My trips are shorter, so Orli will miss less school. I will also do homework with her, mostly in dark movie theaters. Of me and Angela, I was not the good one at school.” 

School, it should be noted, figures prominently in their relationship. Gluzman and Yoffe first met at the same school in Riga when Vadim was about seven years old and Angela was a much older twelve. Later, before Gluzman’s family emigrated with him to Israel, he scheduled a little recital as a farewell. Because his regular pianist had already emigrated, his mother had the inspired idea to call family friend Yoffe to ask her to play. A year later, after Angela’s family emigrated, Gluzman asked her to play in his first recital in Israel.

“Then, already, our relationship was a bit more than about playing music,” says Yoffe with a smile.

Love also figures prominently in Gluzman’s relation ship with cellist Yehuda Hanani, whose Close Encounters with Music series hosts the duo this month.

“I’ve known Yehuda for years, and I’ve played concerts for him for at least twelve years, whenever my schedule allows,” says Gluzman. “He’s a beautiful musician, one of those honest souls you rarely find today. He gives himself to music, and he attracts people who think and feel alike. I think this is part of the success of his series.

“Every time I came to the Berkshires, we talked about someday bringing in me and Angela, but it never worked out. Finally, rather than trying to collaborate with Yehuda on music for trio or more, we decided to make it happen by performing a pre-rehearsed program for duo.”

In the first half, when they play Mozart’s Violin Sonata in F, K377 and Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 80, they go from F major to F minor. “We go from the absolutely bursting-with-champagne-bubbles Mozart to the darkest of the dark in Prokofiev,” says Gluzman, not ing that the duo’s recording of Prokoviev’s First Sonata has recently been released by BIS.

“The Mozart sonata is one of the most extraordinary works—it’s Mozart, so it’s by nature extraordinary. But the way it opens, it really sounds like a champagne cork has popped out of the bottle. Then I hear Piazzolla and Chopin in the second movement variations; to me, one of them is a clear tango.

“It is the sign of the greatest genius when you transcend time and predict the future without trying to. We hear everything from Beethoven on in his writing. For me, this is what makes Mozart’s music so attractive. And then, of course, there is the contrast between the Mozart and Prokofiev’s war sonata, where we sink into the darkest parts of human emotion.” 

The second half begins with two suites. Stravinsky’s is, in Gluzman’s words, “sparkling neo-classical ballet music,” while Tchaikovsky’s earlier composition “drips with schmaltz.” 

The last piece, Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s paraphrase on Figaro from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, is pure fun. It was written for Jascha Heifetz after he helped the composer escape repressions in Europe. Expect the duo to pull out all the stops. 

“Once you feel the unspoken that flows between per formers onstage, it becomes addictive,” says Gluzman at the end of our conversation.  

“Yes, you have a place in your hearts for it,” says Yoffe. “If it’s not with you, you become empty.” 

“Basically, we are addicts, and we need to fulfill the addiction,” says her husband. “Maybe that’s not the most poetic way of explaining it, but it is very true. When you realize that you can express yourself and be understood and felt on a much higher level, it’s a feeling like nothing else.” 

The Miraculous Violin: An Evening with Vadim Gluzman and Angela Yoffe takes place Saturday, Dec. 21 at 6 p.m. at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington. Call 413-528-010 or see