The Juilliard Does Berio
October 14, 2008
While le tout New-York was across the street at the Metropolitan Opera House hearing the prima of John Adams’s Dr. Atomic, I couldn’t bear to miss another chance to hear smaller-scale contemporary music in a place that seems to be cultivating it with a success that only increases. (I will hear the second performance of the Dr. Atomic production.)
It is gratifying to report that Axiom’s Messiaen, lauded here, was very far from being a one-off triumph. Last night’s tribute to the School’s former faculty member Luciano Berio was equally impressive in its virtuosity and its dedication to the music at hand. In a different way from Messiaen’s, Berio’s music requires a concentration on detail, especially melodic detail, that sometimes recalls the distinctions familiar in Baroque music between what is structural and what is ornamental. Or so it seems to me.
Those unfamiliar with Berio’s style can do no better than listen to performances by his first wife and muse, Cathy Berberian, for her singing is surely the ideal that every instrumentalist — even unto the very percussionists — would do well to keep in mind as a model.
But, speaking of models, I don’t know what Jeffrey Milarsky does to get these performances from the students, but it seems to work. Any idea that it’s mere self-motivation on the part of obviously gifted young musicians seemed to be contradicted by the testimony of the young soloist who, having finished her punishing part, came into the theater and happened to sit next to me. When I asked how much coaching she had received from Mr. Milarsky in performing her musical feat, she immediately and strongly suggested that his help had been crucial.
So, if you’re at all open to difficult music well performed — and performed by musicians who seem unconscious of its difficulty –, I recommend watching for performances by the Julliard School’s Axiom. Even if you don’t happen to like a specific composition being performed, you can delight in the skill and dedication displayed by the performance. And if an eloquent performance leads to an appreciation of the work being interpreted, it certainly won’t be the first time in music history that such a thing has happened.