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Cello recital showcases many styles of Alterman

By Adam Hughes

Section: Arts

April 24, 2009

“Student recital” is a term that carries an air of sloppiness and unprofessionalism. My immediate mental image of the word “recital” is a bunch of elementary school children dressed in matching outfits, leaping and falling all over a stage in a vain attempt at ballet. The audience is full of parents, each individual proud of his or her child but disdainful of the affair as a whole, checking their watches impatiently amidst muffled guffaws whenever a particularly glaring mistake is made. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks this way; that’s the popular conception of a recital.

But a student recital is a very different affair in college. For Music Performance majors, the senior recital is the ultimate test of their talents, their greatest chance in the solo spotlight, and the final required rite of passage to earn their degree. And these are no clumsy rookies — they have devoted four years of education to reaching this point, and in many cases, they are prepared to make music their life’s work. Still, until you have the opportunity to attend a senior recital, you can be forgiven for underestimating the talent that these graduating student possess.

On April 3rd, I had the opportunity to attend Eric Alterman’s senior cello recital. I first met Eric through the Student Union. We served on both the Senate and the Executive Board together and had collaborated on several projects, and it was in this capacity that I knew him best. I knew he played the cello as well, and I’d seen him many times performing as a member of Mochila. But Beethoven is a completely different musical world then Arabic-jazz fusion, so I was looking forward to seeing a side of Eric’s life that was still unfamiliar to me.

Accompanied only by pianist Joy Cline Phinney, Eric begin his performance with Igor Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, and from the sprightly opening bars, I know I was hearing something fantastic. This was a very complex piece by the greatest composer of the twentieth century, and it was being played flawlessly and emotionally. No, I hadn’t actually expected a slapdash, messy performance, but it takes seeing a great musician in action to understand how talented he truly is.

The Suite Italienne is representative of Stravinsky’s neoclassical style, a style which owes as much to Baroque formality as to Classical simplicity. Eric explains, “I have always had a love for Baroque music… There is an incredible juxtaposition of formal structure and intense expression, within a larger context of intricate polyphony.” The third movement was particularly impressive, requiring Eric to execute a series of quick transitions between plucking and bowing over the course of a very dynamic piece. The lively fourth movement was performed at a stunning tempo while Eric’s hand flew over the whole neck of the cello to cover the wide tonal range.

When the piece was finished, Phinney left the stage, leaving Eric alone to perform Benjamin Britten’s Suite No. 3 for Solo Cello. I found Britten’s Suite to be somewhat fragmented, and the cello is limited in use as a solo instrument; consequently, I found this to be the least musically compelling work of the recital. However, it was the most impressive in terms of the demands on the performer. As Eric told me later, “The Britten is a particularly difficult performance to pull off. Because it is both a solo work and has no pause for the entire 22 minutes duration, it requires an exhausting level of concentration. Memorizing the work was a challenge, yet it helped my concentration by enabling me be more spontaneous in the performance and channel a stronger communication with the audience.”

The piece owes a lot to Bach; the fourth movement, in particular, reminded me of the famous Prelude to Bach’s first cello suite. Eric was stellar alone on stage, attacking the cello with fierce bowing in the fifth movement and delicately snaking through the linear melody of the eighth. The highlight, however, was the fugue in the sixth movement. The cello is not designed as a polyphonic instrument, but Eric skillfully wove multiple lines of melody together simultaneously to create a satisfying whole.

The final composition was Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 102 no. 2 in D for Cello and Piano. The first movement compiled brilliantly spry and complex melodies and great interplay between Eric and Joy Cline Phinney, who provided a very solid accompaniment throughout the recital and made difficult passages sound effortless in their fluidity. The second movement was driven by Eric’s emotional playing, which brought out both the moodiness and the beauty of the slow themes. Finally, the recital ended with yet another Baroque atavism in the lively fugue of the third movement, combining multiple piano lines with the cello.

I left the recital amazed at the performance I had just witnessed. Eric, too, was pleased: “I was very happy with how it went, especially considering that it was my first time performing this set of technically and musically challenging works. It would be great to continue performing and polishing them.” Please do continue, Eric. You may still be a student, but your recital proves you have a bright future, and I look forward to hearing you again.

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