We welcome the following review from guest contributor Sophia Vastek
, another Ionarts exclusive.
Tuesday evening at the Music Center at Strathmore, the German Embassy presented an incredibly powerful concert in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The musicians were the Twelve Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic, one of the finest orchestras in the world (scheduled to play tonight at Carnegie Hall), and their cello section only exceeded the high-bar expectations of their parent ensemble. Touted as an “orchestra within an orchestra,” the cellists started with Bach and ended with Duke Ellington, running the gamut of sacred and secular in between and purveying comfortable ease with all. Even without a clear leader, the musicians were so perfectly unified in every aspect that they seemed to transcend their numbers and were truly of one mind.
The opening of the Bach, a selection from The Art of Fugue, was so transparent and utterly simple that it did not sound like three instruments were playing (which they were). The piece was exactly as Bach should be, without the added weight of interpretation and what could have been heaviness through sheer numbers. In an arrangement of the Trio from Mendelssohn's Elijah, the musicians showcased the ability of their instrument to imitate the human voice, in the range of the cello and warmth of its sound. Again, in the Poulenc cantata, the Romantic and thick harmonies were hauntingly pastoral, but sung simplicity in typical Poulenc fashion was most important. Even amid the most complex textures, the ensemble never became merely a wash of sound. A Verdi selection was especially multi-faceted: each layer a different idea and quality all together, despite being comprised of the same instruments. In Casals’ arrangement of Song of the Birds, a Catalan folksong, compounded by the thick droning accompaniment, the first cellist’s solo (which comprises the bulk of the piece) was utterly hair-raising.
Andrew Lindemann Malone, Playing the Dozen: The 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic at the Music Center at Strathmore (DMV Classical, November 12)
This concert, part of a series of events hosted by the German Embassy entitled “Freedom Without Walls,” was introduced by German Ambassador Klaus Scharioth, who expressed his country’s gratitude to the United States for supporting them in their time of rebuilding. The program was a powerful argument that all things are possible, especially if there is music such as this in the world.