Reviews

Cellist Zuill Bailey has a charismatic approach that’s hard to ignore. His sheer technicality heightens his artistry beyond the realm of just passable influence. He adores the cello because it’s the only instrument that you play rested against your heart. Tonight he joins the National Philharmonic Orchestra for a night of virtuosity.

 

The program included Koi Nidrei Op. 47 by Max Bruch, Schelomo: Rhapsodie Hébraïque by Ernest Bloch and Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky, the orchestral Maurice Ravel version.

Zuill Bailey opened for the two pieces for cello and orchestra, Bruch and Bloch. Rhapsodie Hébraïque by Ernest Bloch was particularly enjoyable. The heart felt patterns resonated beautifully throughout the Music Center. Zuill Bailey plays with a passion unparalleled to almost any performer I’ve even seen. It’s as if he cradles his cello whispering to it sweet nothings with his eyes closed. That might sound boring except for the fact that his technical execution is so masterful it will leave you amazed.

It was the compositional philosophy of Bloch to write music that in his words encapsulates the Jewish soul “the complex glowing agitated soul that I feel vibrating throughout the Bible.” This performance was a superb example of that expression.

Post intermission bought on the all so resounding Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky. As revered as the original piano piece has become it is the Maurice Ravel translation that has become my preferred listening method. It was originally intended as a piano accompaniment for an art exhibition with Russian folklore being a prominent theme. Movements included: The Gnome, The Old Castle, The Ox Cart, The Ballet of Unhatched Chicks in Their Shells, The Market at Limoges, The Catacombs, The Hut of Bab-Yaga on Chicken’s legs, and the Great gate of Kiev.

The Baba-Yaga or The Hut of Baba-Yaga on Chicken’s Legs is a personal favorite. The Baba-Yaga is a cannibal witch that dwells deep in the forest in a hut standing on chicken legs. This tableau paints a picture of a wicked scene shrouded in fear and mystery. The performance was astonishing! It gave you goose bumps! The monstrous tones erupted gloriously. Booing brass roars like an agitated beast. Violins wisp at a frantic pace alerting us of the presence of danger. It’s an action packed adventure that will hold your attention. I routinely listen to Gustavo Dudamel’s performance of the Baba Yaga on YouTube from Salzburg 2008.

This was a fantastic concert executed masterfully. It was passionate, adventurous and fun.

 

Backward Looks, Compelling Play: Bailey and Zander

by

Zuill Baliey (file photo)

Zuill Baliey (file photo)

A broken cello string well into Dutilleux’s cello concerto occasioned a quick instrument substitution provided by the second chair cellist. After the restart, for some reason, another move came. Quickly, returning her cello, soloist Zuill Bailey left the stage for a new string. Meanwhile, Benjamin Zander entertained with stories of bows flying and strings popping, lending welcome levity to the Saturday evening concert.

On the intended side, Zander led the Boston Philharmonic at Jordan Hall in French and English music dating back a century or so. Claude Debussy’s Prélude à L’aprés-midi d’un faune and Henri Dutilleux’s Tout un Monde Lointain…found artistic shine, while William Walton’s Scapino Overture and Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations bathed in symphonic lore.

Filling the stage in formal black attire, the Boston Philharmonic, under the baton grandeur of Zander, would prompt thoughts of yesteryear and a tradition of music making still alive, but not necessarily thriving. Noticeably visible were many seats left unoccupied—conjecture, though, might have it that other reasons would be at play. It should be pointed out that the same concert was given the previous Thursday evening and that another would be given the following Sunday.

Certainly, it is difficult at best to try and guess an audience’s real feel for a program, a performance, or a piece. Yet one wonders why so little applause followed the Debussy and, it seemed, even less for the Walton. Have we heard the Frenchman’s Faun masterpiece too often by now? Has the Englishman’s comedic Scapino lost something over time?

Yet, for the newest piece on the block, the Dutilleux, there was. in fact, a standing ovation. Was it for standout cellist Zuill Bailey who miraculously conjured a whole world away, one that an experienced yet perplexed concert goer grasped only as “extraterrestrial?” In his program note—itself demanding some kind of standing O—David St. George reveals, “On the title page of the score the composer gives a slightly fuller quote: ‘Tout un Monde Lointain, absent, Presque defunt’ (‘A whole world away, distant, almost dead’).”

For me, privileged as a young student in Paris to attend several of his Saturday morning composition seminars at the École Normale Supérieure, this Dutilleux is a transitional work. While its timbral and harmonic language illumine, tinges of Viennese Expressionism coupled with metric rhythm darken, if not slightly contradict.

Cello soloist Bailey drew the best out of this work, creating ethereal poignancy, purifying rapture, and sustaining compelling intrigue.

The Philharmonic flourished with the many plush, complex orchestral textures inhabiting the near half-hour score.

Debussy on the whole expounded on architecture rather than summoning French atmospheric dreaming. Wafting through, though, wind solos felt like soft embracing streamers in a spring dreamscape.

On the English side came Sir Walton’s Scapino Overture, a wakeup call, as it were, after intermission. The high speed, high volume, big orchestra piece blazed away. While the Boston Philharmonic once again displayed elevated rituals of artistry appropriate for the overture, very little came of all of it. Why? Walton’s “I-am-one-move-ahead-of-you” wound up being more fatiguing, if not unsurprising, once the listener caught up and caught on.

Elgar’s Enigma Variations fit right into that look back in time—and for the best. Approaching the final destination of those 14 variations which inevitably evoke graduation time, those sonic shadows made for genuine poetry, a glowing and warm. Once again with the orchestra shining in symphonic affect, there was specter of overdoing it. Relaxation and reflection—relief in a word—almost went missing, and when hushed passages were delivered by the Philharmonic, how relished they were.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University.  He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer). www.notescape.net


 

Zuill Bailey had always wanted to play the Dutilleux cello concerto.  

 

The popular cellist has performed some of the grandest concertos in the repertoire as well as a host of new music. But the Dutilleux piece, known for its extreme difficulty, was off limits for him as most conductors refused to program it.

 

That changed this season when Benjamin Zander offered Bailey to chance to perform the concerto with the Boston Philharmonic. Thursday night at Sanders Theatre. Bailey and the ensemble delivered a commanding performance of this infrequently performed  work.

The concerto, titled Tout un monde lointain, reflects five poems by Charles Baudelaire. It comprises a world of shimmering sounds. The music changes shape on a dime, pulsing with energy in some places and weeping in others. The harmonic writing is colorful but occasionally bristly, falling somewhere between Debussyian elegance and the Boulezian avant-garde. But there’s a warmth and humanity to Dutilleux’s style. At one point the orchestra sounds a chord built from all twelve pitches of the chromatic scale; the resulting music shimmers like light on water.

The concerto places unusual demands on the solo instrument, likely why Bailey broke a string in the middle of the first movement. After a quick fix, Bailey, Zander, and the orchestra picked up where they left off and gave a reading of fierce commitment that made the most out of Dutilleux’s occasionally sparse orchestration.  

Bailey conjured a host of sounds from the cello. His playing ranged from glassy harmonics and ghostly slides to percussive pizzicatos. Yet the cellist performed with a remarkable sense of the melodic line. His tone was cool yet singing, like a voice in the wilderness. In response, Zander coaxed playing of delicate colors. The orchestra responded sensitively to make a strong case for a work that deserves to be heard more often


 

MICHAEL DAUGHERTY: Tales of Hemingway; American Gothic; Once Upon a Castle – Zuill Bailey, cello/Paul Jacobs, organ/Nashville Sym. /Giancarlo Guerrero – Naxos

Some of Daugherty’s finest music to date in bold, innovative scenarios.

MICHAEL DAUGHERTY: Tales of Hemingway; American Gothic; Once Upon a Castle – Zuill Bailey, cello/Paul Jacobs, organ/Nashville Sym./Giancarlo Guerrero – Naxos American Classics 8.559798, 77:43 (9/09/16) ****:

I don’t even know where to begin in discussing this latest release from Michael Daugherty except to say that I love it! I have followed Michael’s music for many years now and I have all his recordings. This one might be my favorite.

The “theme” to this album is not really that of the title work; a brilliant and often moving cello concerto inspired by the novels of Ernest Hemingway, but it is really that of the maverick and eccentric spirit in American art and written with much implied respect to this country where being a maverick, eccentric and occasionally controversial personality is still possible.

To this end, Daugherty has crafted three stunning works which pay homage to the reclusive Hemingway, the often wry and bizarre art of Grant Wood and the unabashedly extravagant William Randolph Hearst. The Hemingway piece, Tales of Hemingway, is a beautiful and inventive four movement cello concerto performed wonderfully by the always amazing Zuill Bailey. The novels represented by each movement include Big Two-Hearted River, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea and The Sun Also Rises. This work captures the mood of these masterpieces and, solely as music, is one of the finest works for cello I have heard these past ten years.

American Gothic is essentially a concerto for orchestra after the paintings of Iowa eccentric Grant Wood, including the title work which receives an odd, perky and engaging turn as the “Pitchfork” mentioned in the last movement. Of the three works here this is the one that may sound the most like Daugherty’s signature sound and is a wonderfully entertaining, somewhat wild ride.

Once Upon a Castle, intended to represent the unseemly extravagance of Hearst Castle at San Simeon and the man who created it is absolutely mesmerizing. We get a four movement dream-like visage of the lifestyle of the publishing tycoon and his strangely arrogant but troubled existence. By making the piece an organ concerto, Daugherty allows us to feel both the awe as well as a certain amount of the bizarre quality embedded in the castle’s size, its labyrinthian rooms and long halls that seem nearly pointless. I have been there and my impression was exactly that of awe but oddness; almost creepy. In fact, the “Rosebud” movement channels a famous moment in the movie Citizen Kane wherein the famous couple of the movie (who were intended to be Hearst and his mistress, Marion Davies) argue across a vast, impersonal and pointlessly vast unused room. I also applaud Daugherty for dedicating the “Neptune Pool” to the memory of composer and former colleague William Albright, whose work pioneered new uses of pipe organ – and whose music I heard many years ago.

Ample compliments, yet again, to the Nashville Symphony and maestro Giancarlo Guerrero for stunning performances as well as their ongoing commitment to American contemporary music. This ensemble is becoming one of my favorite American symphony orchestras for these reasons.

If Daugherty’s intent in these works was to simultaneously illustrate the vast array of creative genius in America’s art history and to hold up the culture that allows it; this album is a resounding success. If his intent was simply to create three unusual but highly captivating pieces of music that speak to a wide audience, it succeeds even more. Michael, if you read this; I am a big fan and would love to see what kind of musical portrait you could create of Frank Lloyd Wright, for example.

—Daniel Coombs


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