What a lovely way to spend a Friday evening!
Richard Sherman, flutist extraordinaire (principal flute Lansing Symphony; professor of flute, MSU, etc.), created a series of chamber music concerts which takes place at Absolute Gallery in Old Town, Lansing. Aptly, the series is called Absolute Music.
This, its first season, had six concerts, featuring all manner of chamber music; piano four hands, woodwind music, voice, narration, and others. The concert I heard featured ICARUS, a trio made up flute, piano and cello - an ensemble you don't hear often.
The music was played in large area which is part of Absolute Gallery. The atmosphere was perfect for chamber music with the room's old brick walls, art of various types festooning the walls, and the building's original tin ceiling (probably from at the turn of the century) completing the look. The sound was a bit of a problem, though. It was very live and sometimes harsh because the only soft things in the room were our bodies and clothes.
But the music and the performances were sublime. Besides Sherman, Robert deMaine, cellist, is principal chair for the Detroit Symphony and pianist James Wilhelmsen, who received at DMA from U of M is in charge of the Clarkston Conservatory.
As an ensemble, Icarus was passionate, virtuosic and driven. The programming featured the works of Hummel, Saint-Saens (four pieces by Saint-Saens - but lots of variety) and the best, a piece by American composer Normal Dello-Joio. And the exciting encore featured a pulsating tango by Astor Piazzolla, the modern king of tangos.
Here's hoping that next year they will be able to add some kind of platform for the musicians to play on. As of now, only the first few rows of the audience were able to see the players do their magic.
Besides the ensemble, we also got a chance to hear two solo pieces played by deMaine, and two played by Sherman.
The live acoustics of the hall sometimes had a detrimental effect on the music. Although Wilhelmsen is an excellent pianist, his playing was often very loud and even bangy. This was caused, no doubt, by the acoustics, since he was very musical otherwise. Sometimes in the Hummel especially, the flute was hidden entirely.
During the refreshing Dello Joio, however, the orchestration was so elegant that each instrument was able to shine without being encumbered, despite the hall.
Throughout the concert, I was impressed by the ravishing tone and probing musicianship of cellist deMaine. Although I have heard Saint-Saens' The Swan countless times, under his fingers the music had new life and new emotions.
The hall was packed with about 70 listeners, the grand piano was donated by Marshall Music, and the food at intermission was from Noodles and Company. And the best part is that Sherman announced that Absolute Music has enough funding to continue for another year. BRAVO!
Chamber music is tough to do. It needs the right hall, the right musicians, and the right audience. Sherman hit a home run on all three counts. I'll announce next year's season as soon as I hear.