New York Festival of Song: Russell Platt and Friends
Nowadays, to attach the words "new" and "classical music" is to inspire fear and disgust. A precise sound leaps rapidly to mind: shrill and atonal. Our leading universities have trained a great many manufacturers of this excrement.
So one arrives at a concert featuring the work of young composers with trepidation.
When I showed up on Tuesday at the season finale performance of the New York Festival of Song, however, this anxiety was mitigated by the knowledge that the concert would feature the music of composer-critic Russell Platt, and that he had helped select the rest of the music filling out the eclectic program.
I must say here that I have known Russell for many years, and that I consider him a friend. I assert that proudly because I have listened to heartbreakingly lyrical music of his authorship more than once before, and I do not think I was the only member of the not inconsiderable crowd who looked forward to his melodies with a certain sangfroid.
The audience would not be disappointed. Pianist Thomas Sauer and Baritone Mischa Bouvier led off the concert with three of Platt’s songs set to the verses of acclaimed poet Paul Muldoon.
The first two of these songs made an especially powerful impression. Platt’s "Cuba," arranged to a Muldoon poem about the Missile Crisis, includes a memorably triumphant and romantic middle passage. His "Bran" followed. It ended with a lovely, very tender melody.
Among the other musicians on the program likely the best composition presented was one by Carla Kihlstedt which featured a strange mix of instruments: a field drum, a peculiar organ, a violin and something that used the horn of a trumpet attached to a second violin. Loosely hung around an adaptation of a Robert Louis Stevenson poem, Kihlstedt’s "Paper Prison" was tuneful and affecting.
Ironically, as a performer, Kilhstedt was the bearer of the evening’s one obvious mishap: a punishingly awful composition by modernist composer Lisa Bielawa. This tuneless wail was the sort of thing that reminds one of the old joke about the avant-garde: "I have suffered for my art, and now I want others to suffer as well."
Thankfully, Bielawa’s piece could not diminish the recollection of Platt’s songs. Let’s hope there are more soon to come.