I heard a concert by violinist Alex Fortes on 9/27/20, presented by Open Space Music. Fortes is a member of A Far Cry, a chamber orchestra in Boston. A Far Cry is a partner to Open Space Music, their musicians often perform on the series (the August concert by Robyn Bollinger was another A Far Cry collaboration).
The concert was preceded by a pre-recorded conversation between Fortes and Hyeyung Yoon, co-founder of Open Space Music. The program was called “Code Switching” and Fortes talked about the concept of code switching. It’s way too complex for me to summarize here, please Google at will! He said his experience in code switching is rooted in his childhood - - he grew up speaking a mixture of Spanish, Yiddish, and Russian. He said music was a place away from the confusion of language, where things made sense to him and he could make himself understood. He created this program to cover a wide range of styles, and each individual piece also mixed various styles, languages, and forms.
He opened with Gabriela Lena Frank’s “Khan’s Recitative: Elu d’vorim.” This piece showed off his juicy, meaty sound. It had a complex mixture of moods: reverent, emotional, inward-facing. It would be a gorgeous opening for a chamber music concert, a concert with more than one performer! Fortes said that the piece is perfect for the evening, since Yom Kippur had started at sundown.
The next piece was “Blue” by George Walker. Fortes played it well, but I didn’t like it very much, it seemed a little slapdash and disorganized. His next piece was an arrangement he did of a piece from the 12th century, “Ato, Bishop of Troyes - Portum in Ultimo from Codex Calixtinus.” The 12th century, can you stand it? It was super cool, and it gave me a special charge to be hearing truly ancient music.
He played a piece by Juan Carrillo, a little-known composer from the end of the 19th century. The piece was called ““Poco Lento, Como Improvisando” from “Casi Sonata en Cuartos de Tono para Violin solo.” Which I think translated as “Rather slow, as if improvised, from an almost sonata in quarter tones.” Carrillo didn’t think the 12 notes of the Western scale gave him what he needed, so he wrote in a microtone scale of 24 pitches to an octave - - quarter steps between the traditional half steps. It made me a little nauseous! It sounded like he was playing out of tune, but I’m sure he was perfectly playing what was written. The pitches were in the cracks between the pitches I grew up hearing/playing/singing. Always good to have your ears opened in a new way, right? Even with the mild nausea. Fortes played the hell out of it. Here's a performance of the first movement in a version for cello, played by Jimena Giménez Cacho:
The next piece was “Recitative for Ysäye” by Fritz Kreisler. I think I could say that Kreisler wrote some of the greatest music for the violin, though I’m not sure I would say he was one of the greatest composers to write for the violin. Do you see the distinction? The title of the piece is a nod to Belgian composer and violinist Eugène-Auguste Ysäye. Fortes played it with strength, depth, and flavor.
Fortes said that “Whispering Sarabande” had been introduced the night before by composer Scott Wheeler. The first performance was done at Bargemusic, a concert venue on a boat off the coast of Brooklyn, and Wheeler wanted us to hear the water lapping against the boat. It’s a uniformly quiet piece, which made me want to lean in and listen. Fortes said that the loudest marking in the score was “piano,” but I’m pretty sure he cheated and did one section at “mezzo piano…”
He ended with two movements from Bach’s G minor sonata, the Adagio and the Fuga. Did you know that Bach was thrown in jail for not speaking to his boss in the correct formal manner? I had never heard that and kinda feel like I should check it out on Snopes. I feel like Bach is the patron saint of the online solo string player industry! Fortes played it with elegance and verve, but I feel like there was a little sketchy intonation in the Fuga. Maybe he was putting in some Carrillo-esque quarter tones…? But even with that, wow, Bach really knew how to bring on the drama.