January 16, 2019

Gustavo Dudamel Continues his Residency in Princeton with Second Week of Music

By Nancy Plum

In the second installment of his year-long residency through Princeton University Concerts, Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel returned to Princeton last week for several days of music-making, panel discussions, and educational activities focusing on the theme “Music and Faith.” Bracketed by a master class with the El Sistema-inspired Trenton Music Makers Orchestra and panel discussions on music education and music’s role in social change, the keynote concert last Monday night in Richardson Auditorium featured musicians from the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Violinists Bing Wang and Rebecca Reale, violist Teng Li, cellist Ben Hong, and clarinetist Boris Allakhverdyan, joined by Princeton University pianist and faculty member Juri Seo, presented a concert featuring music of 20th-century Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, a world premiere of a piece by Seo, and a solid gold standard from the master of chamber music — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  

Monday night’s sold-out concert was preceded by a “musical preview” by students of Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA), an initiative founded by Dudamel and also inspired by the Venezuelan-based El Sistema music pedagogy. Eleven instrumentalists from YOLA, including both current students and alumni, performed four chamber works, demonstrating both technical ability and self-assurance in performance. The musicians of YOLA blended together as an ensemble in whichever combination they were in, and particularly agile playing was heard from clarinetist Dameon Williams and oboist Alice Morales.  

The five musicians of the Los Angeles Philharmonic who performed Monday night no doubt came to Princeton at Dudamel’s invitation, but it is a rare treat for symphonic orchestra players to perform chamber music, and these instrumentalists clearly relished the opportunity. Violinist Wang and pianist Seo immediately drew the audience in with a performance of Arvo Pärt’s exquisite one-movement Spiegel im Spiegel (“Mirror in the Mirror”). The parallel mirrors of the title were reflected by sweet and supple violin lines, never played above a quiet dynamic level by Wang and Seo’s triadic piano accompaniment, like icy raindrops as she demonstrated a very gentle touch on the full range of the keyboard.

The four string players returned later in the program to perform another of Pärt’s signature works, but one in a very different style. Second violinist Reale provided a consistent drone against the other three players in Pärt’s string quartet Fratres. A Russian Orthodox composer living in a repressive political environment, Pärt infused this work with 14th-century compositional style and harmonics, as well as a hymn-like quality. Cellist Hong provided a pizzicato open fifth bridge between each “verse,” as the piece built in intensity and tonality, while the musicians effectively played somewhat starkly without vibrato.  

Juri Seo’s Lost Songs, scored for string quartet and clarinet, and receiving its world premiere in this concert, draws material from the breaths and songs of a now extinct bird from the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Against a light and airy string texture, clarinetist Allakhverdyan brought the music down to earth and found a touch of Gershwin in the solo line. Especially effective orchestration was heard in an echo conversation between Allakhverdyan and cellist Hong. Allakhverdyan had his share of technically difficult passages, all of which he maneuvered well.

The musicians of the LA Philharmonic closed the concert with a sweet bit of musical dessert in Mozart’s Quintet in A Major for Clarinet and Strings. The players began the work as if they were outdoors at a Viennese serenade, with refreshments served on a cool night. Allakhverdyan demonstrated clean runs in the clarinet solo line from the outset, with clean accompaniment from the string quartet and an especially lean sound from Hong. Throughout the work, the ensemble effectively fell into cadences well, bringing out dynamic contrasts in the third movement menuetto. Allakhverdyan had no trouble filling the hall with his solo clarinet playing, and the players brought the work to a spirited close with a movement in which Mozart quoted shades of his previous Marriage of Figaro.  

Gustavo Dudamel’s residency in Princeton, divided into three parts over this academic year, has brought performance and musical conversation to all corners of Princeton University’s campus, as well as the community, with collaborations among a number of area organizations and individuals. Dudamel speaks often of breaking down the walls of classical music, and of music as a human right. The Princeton community is clearly enjoying Dudamel’s “spirit of adventure” as he leaves his mark on the Princeton area cultural arena.