I heard a concert online by the Brooklyn Chamber Music Society on January 18, 2021. It was streamed a couple of days before, video from a couple of performances. The first set was a December 2016 performance of Schumann’s Three Romances for oboe and piano, played by oboist Nathan Hughes, and wait a minute, is that Jeff Sykes at the piano? It IS!
Jeff is an old friend and an amazing pianist. He was the first pianist I ever turned pages for! He and Bethel Balge played Messaien’s two-piano monsterpiece *Visions de l’Amen* and Jeff asked me to turn pages. It must have been the late 80s. I thought, “How hard could it be?” Ah, the ignorance of youth! I’m surprised I ever turned pages again, what a nightmare of a piece, so abstract, so overactive, so many freaking notes. But I guess I liked it and I was definitely good. I estimate that I turned pages for about 300 concerts over the years, and Jeff was the pianist for at least 50 of them.
Jeff and my friend Stephanie Jutt co-founded the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society in 1992 and I became their page turner of choice not long after. It was Stephanie who told me about the Brooklyn Chamber Music Society concert.
The Schumann was fantastic. The oboist played beautifully, he was full of melancholy. Jeff has always had a sublime way with Romantic music. What a treat to hear and see him playing chamber music.
I’m wasn't sure if I had heard the Schubert quintet before, but I knew it by reputation. It’s written for an unusual combo, string quartet plus an extra cello. The Brooklyn performance was from April 2019, and the musicians were Anthony Marwood and Carmit Zori (violins), Hsin Yun-Huang (viola), and Edward Arron and Sophie Shao (celli). What an amazing piece, and wow, they really went after it, they held nothing back. They played with authority and excitement. Fascinating how a string quartet already feels like it has plenty of body and range of expression, but you add just one more instrument and it becomes something bigger and more robust.
That Schubert - - I can’t think of another composer who combines elegance with passion in such equal doses. Discuss. Romantic with a capital R, to be sure. There were some sections where the two celli gave a dark chocolate sound to the music, I loved that. But then the violins would launch up into the stratosphere and we’d get some raspberry mousse.
I said earlier that I wasn’t sure I had heard the piece before, but the second movement sounded very familiar. Of course I immediately assumed I’ve heard it in a movie. Thank you, Google: it was used in *Conspiracy* and *The Human Stain.* I feel like I must have seen *Conspiracy* - - a movie about the Nazis starring Kenneth Brannagh, and Stanley Tucci “Gimme a Smoochie” playing Adolf Eichmann? How could I not have seen this? And *The Human Stain,* I’ve definitely seen that, an adaptation of the Philip Roth novel, starring Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, and Ed Harris. But the thing I remember best in that movie was the performance by Anna Deavere Smith, she totally took over in her brief role. I don’t remember this piece from either of those movies, maybe it was another movie. Who knows. Who cares.
The third movement was also very familiar, so I think I must have heard a performance of the piece at some point. Lots of dark chocolate in this movement, and some daring changes of mood and harmony. The players had a fabulous dancelike quality in the final movement, they really nailed it. They were clearly working hard but also seemed to be having fun, and what could be more delightful than that?
The whole concert is on YouTube: