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Duo Explores a Century of American Musical Milestones

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The idea of a pair of concerts by Gilbert Kalish and me, covering in some brief way a large musical topic, is an outgrowth of our more than 30 years together of playing concerts, giving lecture-recitals, and presenting pairs and series of concerts devoted to one musical subject.

Gilbert Kalish (left) and Joel Krosnick.

(Photo by Peter Schaaf)

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In past years, we have given series devoted to explorations of Romanticism (from Mendelssohn, Brahms, and Schumann to Ernest Bacon and Ralph Shapey of more recent times), of the 20th century (from Reger, Hindemith, Debussy, and late Fauré to Ives, Babbitt, and Carter). More recently, at Juilliard we devoted two concerts in 2005 to the complete works for cello and piano of Beethoven (from the early sonatas and variations of the late 18th century; through the middle-period masterwork, the Sonata for Piano and Cello No, 3, Op. 69; to the beginning late-period works of the Sonatas Nos. 4 and 5, Op. 102). We have found that such explorations tend to cast all of the works, when played alongside each other, in a new and interesting light.

So this year, for two concerts at Juilliard, Gil and I have chosen to highlight “American Milestones of the Last 100 Years.” There are so very many memorable such milestones, just for cello and piano, that I must immediately say that these concerts comprise just a very few works by only a few of the many composers who have had a great influence on our lives and careers as musicians.

Of the older works, we have chosen the Sonata of Henry Cowell (from 1915, when the composer was 18 years old), and A Life by Ernst Bacon (written between 1946 and l970, outlining roughly the birth and death of the composer’s son, Paul Bacon). The Cowell work represents some investigational scholarship done by me at the Library of Congress, resulting in sonata fragments becoming a complete original sonata by one of America’s earliest maverick visionaries. Gil and I find the work to be an early representative of the wonderful early American crosscurrents of naive lyricism, hymn-tune references, dance impulses, simple mischievousness, and memories of old Europe. The Bacon work, given its long span of creation, goes from heartfelt mystical sentiment, through harshly dissonant counterpoint, to a memorable collage of all of those elements mysteriously remembered. Gil and I feel strongly that Ernst Bacon has not received his due recognition for the eloquent master he is.

The third “older work” is the great Sonata from 1948 by Elliott Carter, which will close our first program on November 13. This work has “transformed itself” from a problematic “new work” (as it was regarded when Gil and I started our careers) into one of the great classic works of any time period. We are proud to have this masterwork in our repertory, and equally proud to play it here at Juilliard, near the beginning of a great Carter 100th-anniversary celebration.

There will be one remarkable and unusual Rhapsody, for violoncello, with vibraphone and piano accompaniment, by the great Donald Martino, whose death last December saddened so many of us. This very chromatic and lyrical composition, to be performed on the first concert with the kind help of percussionist Daniel Druckman, is a very late work, and is reminiscent of the late chromatic style of his Fifth String Quartet, given its premiere in a revised version on a Focus! festival concert in 2006 by Tetras, a fine young quartet from Juilliard, just two months after the composer’s death.

There are two works each by Ralph Shapey and Richard Wernick, two composers with whom we have had long and cherished relationships. The Shapey works are Prelude and Scherzando, from 2001 (written for my daughter, Gwen Krosnick, and premiered by her in 2002), included on the first program—and on the second program, the Sonata Appassionata, a magnificently complex three-movement work from 1995, written for Gil and me, which we still find very exciting and challenging to perform.

The Wernick works are his Duo from 2002, on the second program; and the Double Duo from 2004, for two cellos and two pianos, of which we will give the premiere on the first concert, with the gracious partnership of cellist Darrett Adkins and pianist Christina Dahl.

The first two movements of the Duo were finished on September 10, 2001; the eloquent last movement was written in memory of the tragic events of the following day. We played this remarkable work together in a recital at Juilliard four years ago, in its first New York performance.

The Double Duo underlines another “milestone” so important to the history of music in any century: the premiere performance, caused by a relationship between performer and composer that results in the writing of a work, such as the Double Duo, or Robert Stern’s Tekiah G’olah: Reflections on “Shofar,” a work written for us that will be premiered on the December 6 concert. I will not say a great deal about either the Wernick or Stern new works, because we are still figuring out the details of what it is they can mean to us—and therefore, to the audience for whom we will play.

That very process is terribly important to us as performers, and very meaningful to share with all the brilliant young musicians who are studying here at Juilliard. Playing such a pair of concerts means much to Gilbert Kalish and me, because of our relationships with the works, and with the composers who wrote them. Playing such concerts at Juilliard means even more—because in doing so, we share our sense of the importance of playing the music of our time with a large number of the very musicians who will carry our profession into the future.

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