Some performers, specifically musicians, walk on the stage and have an unmistakable presence, a certain swagger of sorts when they meet the audience’s eyes. They have a certain ease of step and self-assured expression on their faces as they take a seat on the stage, hardly speaking a word. With a deep inhale of the lungs and a sassy hand gesture, the performers play the first few notes of a wonderful composition too lovely for human ears to take in. Or so it seemed when Joshua Gordon, master of the cello, performed at “Converging Tracks: Music for Cello Alone and With Violin” on Saturday, Sept. 24.
Gordon took center stage at Slosberg to showcase his almost perfected talent, wonderfully complemented by the euphoric sounds of Andrea Segar’s violin. His display of masterful musicianship dominated the first half of the program, while Segar’s intimidatingly gorgeous violin performance delighted the audience for part of the second half of the concert.
The cellist used his performance as a means of channeling his distressed, raw and altogether conflicted feelings regarding the attacks on Sept. 11, which killed 2,996 people and wounded 6,000 others. According to Gordon’s program notes, he wrote that, “After dealing with watching the disaster unfold on live television … I found myself back in my old Upper West Side apartment, where the day had started with the loudest sound I have ever heard as hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 roared low and fast.”
With that said, Bach’s “Suite No. 5 in C Minor for Unaccompanied Cello” makes all the more sense in the light of this revelation. A poignant piece with six movements that explore the innate human capacity to feel a mix of tumultuous emotions, the composition begins on a sour note and ends on a much lighter one—not quite happy, but verging on calm and numb. What began as a rapid, mostly monotone and lethargic piece eventually transitioned to one of sadness, then dread and finally the overtones of acceptance. “It may be a cliche to talk about turning to music for solace, but I needed to do something for my own sanity,” Gordon candidly admitted. His ability to convey these emotions throughout the piece was uncanny, and proved his finesse with the large and unwieldy cello.
Gordon’s illustrious career precedes him. A cellist who has participated in a many orchestral groups, such as the Lydian String Quartet in 2002, the New York Chamber Soloists, the Group for Contemporary Music and the New Millennium Ensemble, Gordon has managed to make huge strides in his career and gained significant experience over the years.
He is a chamber musician, instructor and recording artist who has received ample praise from his greatest critics and colleagues alike. The New Yorker reviewed his duo with pianist Randall Hodgkinson as “insightful and impassioned,” and he has been a guest for a number of ensembles including such well-known names as Juilliard, the Boston Chamber Music Society and Cassatt.
The latter piece, “Oyan!” was composed by Franghiz Ali-Zadeh and perfectly combines contemporary Western-style techniques and elements of more traditional Azerbaijani music. It is this boldness that makes “Oyan!” an interesting piece; namely, the dichotomy between these two distinct facets makes it unlike anything I’ve heard before. According to Gordon, “The title of this work literally means ‘awaken!’ in Azerbaijani. But far more is expressed by this word that just that. It can also mean, ‘Come to yourself! Be courageous! Rebel!’—for a new day, for good deeds, for an act of heroism.” A splendidly woven piece, its ultimate performance was wonderfully choreographed and precisely played. Definitely the best performance of the night, the professionalism and memorable transitions managed to take the concert to a whole other level.
In her youth, Segar’s experience speaks volumes about her raw talent and outrageous expertise as a violinist. Receiving both her undergraduate and Master of Music degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music, she went on to become a faculty member at the New England Conservatory Preparatory School. Her performances have aired on NPR’s Performance Today as well as on other classic radio stations throughout the country. Segar is a member of the Lydian String Quartet and is an associate professor of practice at Brandeis.
Like other musical performances that happen at Slosberg, this addition to the 2016-2017 Concert Series was a pleasure to experience because of how different it was from previous concerts. The talent that stems from a single individual’s dedication to their craft is something that, however intangible, doesn’t seem so anymore when in attendance of the soloists’ performances. I was left speechless at the wonder that is honed talent, skill and grace with the bow and fingertips, and it is quite possible that you would have been too.