June 27--The Gesher Music Festival, now completing its fourth season, brings talented young instrumentalists to St. Louis for a week of intensive music-making.
Two the programs are repeated in different venues. Concert I: "Dreams and Prayers," was first heard Wednesday evening in the Wool Studio Theatre at the Jewish Community Center.
The Wool is a black-box space, with four rows of seats around three walls. For concerts, it has an acoustical shell behind the piano. A substantial portion of the audience sit close to the players; that makes the sound less than optimal for them.
The Gesher is dedicated to "presenting music that connects in some way to the Jewish experience," as producer Kathleen Sitzer observed in her notes, and the program did a fine job of that. Three of four works were by Jewish composers, using Jewish themes to good effect.
The informally dressed musicians stand to play, where feasible, and give brief spoken program notes before each piece. The first was the Trio for Flute, Viola and Cello by the too-little-known French composer Albert Roussel (1869-1937), a contemporary of Debussy and Ravel.
Roussel originally intended to become a mathematician, and the first movement of his trio sounded a bit like something a French mathematician would write. It became more interesting in the second movement; the final movement was entirely engaging. It was well played by flutist Sarah Frisof, violist Laura Reycraft and cellist Patti Garvey.
The next two works were by Ernest Bloch (1880-1959), "Nigun," from the 1923 "Baal Shem" for violin with piano, and "Prayer," an excerpt from "From Jewish Life," composed in 1924 for cello and piano. "Nigun" gives the violinist the opportunity to spin cantorial phrases on his instrument, and violinist Tam Travers did a fine job of it.
"Prayer" was performed on double bass by Adam Anello, who made a convincing case for it as a solo instrument. Pianist Daniel Pesca proved an excellent accompanist and musical partner in both works.
The second half had just one substantial work, Osvaldo Golijov's "Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind," in five movements. Inspired by the writings of a 12th century ProvenÇal rabbi, it features a string quartet, often in minimalist mode, beneath a wailing klezmer clarinet.
Jack Marquardt rang all the changes on three clarinets; the score frequently pushes the bass clarinet into the very attic of its range, to sometimes eerie, sometimes painful effect. It's a tricky score that demands a lot of its soloist, and Marquardt delivered, expertly accompanied by Ellen McSweeney and Tavers on violin, Dominic Johnson on viola and Gesher artistic director Sara Sitzer on cello. It wasn't always easy to listen to, and would be better in a more conventional hall, but it was an interesting and worthwhile choice.
Gesher Music Festival: Concert 2, 'Child'
When -- 3 p.m. Sunday
Where -- Wool Studio Theatre, Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive
How much -- $20
More info -- 314-442-3283 or geshermusicfestival.org
Sarah Bryan Miller is the Post-Dispatch's classical music critic. Follow Bryan on the Culture Club blog, and on Twitter at @SBMillerMusic.
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