REVIEW: Itzhak Perlman and Friends

By nature of the profession, musicians are extremely passionate people. Yet, Itzhak Perlman’s dedication and personality somehow stand out among the rest. At 77 years of age, Perlman continues to share his music with audiences across the globe with laid-back, freeform concerts and has no plans of stopping. I had the pleasure of witnessing his collaboration with fellow musicians Emanuel Ax, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and the Julliard String Quartet in last Friday evening’s concert titled Itzhak Perlman and Friends. This special program will only be performed in two other locations: Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall and NYC’s Carnegie Hall. 

Because I’ve primarily only heard entire orchestras perform in Hill Auditorium, I was a little taken aback when Perlman and violinist Areta Zhulla strolled onstage to immediately launch into Jean-Marie Leclair’s Sonata for Two Violins in e minor. With the two voices alone, the performance felt very exposed–yet abundant chords, trills, and echoing melodies kept the piece satisfyingly rich. Perlman and Zhulla exhibited stunning coordination in articulation, playing with the same creaminess in melodic sections and crispy short notes in the faster parts. Following the piece, we were first introduced to Perlman’s playful practice of fist-bumping his fellow performers. 

The next piece, Mozart’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat Major, featured Perlman alongside pianist Emanuel Ax, violist Molly Carr, and cellist Astrid Schween. Amidst the characteristic delicacy-with-underlying-energy Mozart sound, I felt Ax’s phenomenal ability to inject dynamics and subtle nuances into each phrase shined through in the performance.

Concluding the concert was Chausson’s Concert for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet featuring Perlman with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the Julliard String Quartet. This ended up being my favorite piece of the program due to the dramatic ebb and flow of sound and “pretty” quality. The piece plays with a bold, 3 note motif that melts into different passages with singing strings and underlying harp-like piano gymnastics. Perlman’s subtle use of emotional stylistic slides was the cherry on top.

Concerts like this remind me of the immense privilege we hold to experience world-class musicians brought to the university. I highly encourage students to keep an eye out for UMS’s future programming so they don’t miss these amazing opportunities!

PREVIEW: Itzhak Perlman and Friends

There are many versions of Itzhak Perlman floating around in popular culture. For many, he is the iconic, gutwrenching violin solo from Schindler’s List. For concertgoers, he is an international rockstar, having played with every major orchestra and venue out there. For students and music enthusiasts alike, his recordings are textbook–and the recipient of 16 Grammy awards. 

Despite his decorated career, Perlman has always maintained a warm, friendly personality. For his 12th UMS-sponsored visit to Hill Auditorium this Saturday evening, he is bringing along several “friends” (a.k.a highly renowned pianists Emanuel Ax and Jean-Yves Thibaudet as well as the Julliard String Quartet) for an Avengers-esque mixed chamber music performance. 

Apart from the big names coming together in this performance, I am excited to experience more types of chamber music. The program will feature Jean-Marie Leclaire’s Sonata for Two Violins in e minor, Mozart’s Piano Quartet No. 2, and Ernest Chausson’s Concert for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet. While I played in my own quartet throughout high school, anything beyond the standard 4-part instrumentation is totally beyond my scope of knowledge!

REVIEW: Berliner Philharmoniker (Friday Program)

One thing my childhood piano teacher of twelve years always told me was that a good performance made you feel taken care of. If you feel nervous on stage, so does your audience. If you are comfortable, the natural rise and fall of the music emerges and your listeners can comfortably breathe along each phrase. 

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of seeing the Berlin Philharmonic play at the Hill Auditorium. Pen and notebook in hand, I was reminded of my teacher’s words when the pages stubbornly remained relatively blank. When faced with the golden standard of the orchestral world, I suddenly found it very difficult to come up with any constructive comments. For the concert’s two-hour duration spanning raucous 21st-century sounds to Mozart’s pristine motifs, all I could do was sit back and think: this is so nice.

As the orchestra members made their way to their seats, I was surprised to see the second violins and cellos settle down in each other’s usual sections, with the basses gathered on the left side of the stage behind the cellos. While this seating arrangement made sense for the Mozart concerto later in the program, it was interesting to hear it used for Unstuck, a recent composition by Michigan native Andrew Norman. It is difficult to describe what happens in the piece–eerie, yet beautiful melodies are sandwiched between messy, frantic climaxes. Blurry tutti slides carry the listener from one idea to the next to the point where you forget where the piece even started. I rarely get a good view of the basses when I watch concerts, but this time around I was able to observe how they were constantly employed to add subtle, textural elements–slaps, snaps, dry scrubbing–to the ensemble.

Next up was the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Major performed by concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley. I don’t typically listen to Mozart over other composers, but Bendix-Balgley’s interpretation felt like a return to the fundamentals and allowed me to appreciate his music. His solo part was impeccably clean and sweet with a bell-like quality. The hardest part of playing Mozart is to make it sound effortless–both the ensemble and soloist mastered this element. The candenzas, written by Bendix-Balgley himself, were complex and brilliant.

Concluding the concert was the Korngold Symphony in F-Sharp Major. There is a lot of discourse surrounding Korngold and his validity as a serious composer due to his career writing music for films–an argument I find silly. The cinematic lushness and bold tuttis give the piece a distinct mood, while the free-spirited clarinet solo at the beginning of the first movement introduces an engaging story of conflict and resolution throughout the work. 

Part of the reason why the Berlin Phil is able to produce such a distinct sound is the combination of intense coordination and soloistic playing. By matching the exact speed and positions of each bow, the strings are able to meld together and mask any sense of bowings. I can only hope that everyone could have the chance to hear them perform live because it is truly a magnificent experience.

PREVIEW: Berliner Philharmoniker (Friday Program)

UMS really outdid themselves this season. I remember my jaw dropping when I heard the lineup announcement–Trevor Noah, Emerson Quartet, Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell? Now, through Bert’s Ticket Program (which you should be taking advantage of), I get to hear the Berlin Philharmonic for free this Friday at 8 PM in the Hill Auditorium. 

While the classical music world may be foreign to a lot of people, the Berlin Philharmonic carries powerful brand name recognition across musicians and the general public alike. Founded in 1882, the orchestra boasts a rich history of being led by some of the greatest conductors of all time. Adding onto the legacy, maestro Kirill Petrenko will be conducting two different concerts over two nights in Ann Arbor. Friday’s program will feature Andrew Norman’s Unstuck, the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Major performed by concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley, and the Korngold Symphony in F-Sharp Major.

As a violinist, I felt drawn to the first night’s program because of the opportunity to hear Bendix-Balgley in his element solo. However, I also look forward to hearing the Korngold Symphony for the first time. From the late-Romantic period, Korngold’s compositions tend to have a grand, cinematic quality that I especially enjoy in his Violin Concerto in D Major. Given that Andrew Norman is a contemporary composer, I expect Unstuck to be wild and cacophonous–qualities that I am excited to hear adapted into the Berlin Philharmonic’s iconic sound.

Event information: https://ums.org/performance/berliner-philharmoniker-2022/

If you missed getting tickets, orchestra members will also be hosting master classes for SMTD students open to the public throughout Friday and Saturday!

REVIEW: Trace Bundy

After an exam-dense week, Trace Bundy’s show was a breath of fresh air to end my Friday. On top of his flashy fingerstyle techniques, Bundy’s playful personality shined through. Maintaining a conversational tone throughout the performance, he truly created an environment that felt much like a laid-back living room jam session with friends.

Because it was my first time at The Ark, I did not know what to expect in terms of layout or general audience demographic. The venue seems to be run by volunteers who are all very passionate about sharing great music. I was pleasantly surprised by the casual seating around mini tables scattered across an open floor plan, so my friends and I grabbed a couple of hot chocolates from the stand and settled down in the front.

Bundy opened the show by giving a quick overview of the different fingerstyle techniques he typically incorporates into his compositions, including tapping, percussive thumping, and looping. This really set the stage for an ongoing discussion about the technical elements that were showcased throughout the set list, which was great if you like to geek out over that stuff (like me).

Each of the songs Bundy included in the set seemed to highlight a different concept, which kept the performance engaging and showcased his range. Here were some of my favorite bits:

  • Frankie Valli’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. Bundy introduced this as a recent project he took on inspired by the song’s ambiguous chord progressions, which he achieved using a myriad of customized capos (all at the same time, of course). Capos work by clipping to the neck of the guitar and pressing down across all the strings so that the resulting notes you play are shifted up by the same interval. However, by sawing the end off a capo or drilling a tunnel through, Bundy is able to only shift certain strings at a time.
  • Dueling Ninjas. This is one of Bundy’s original compositions from his Adapt album. Played entirely by finger tapping, he explained how each hand represented a ninja with a different personality.
  • Overtime. Bundy demonstrated how he used a delay pedal to create an underlying beat at one tempo and play in between at a slightly different tempo. This created an interesting rhythmical texture and hurt my head trying to grasp how he kept track of the beats.
  • Love Song. My personal favorite! Once again, Bundy brought out a handful of capos and somehow incorporated the procedure of clipping them on/off and sliding them around into the song like a choreographed dance.

I encourage everyone to keep Trace Bundy on their radar! I have a lot of respect for musicians who are not only eager to share their thought processes but are also able to present them in an accessible way to get everyone excited about something like music theory. Speaking to him after the show, I found that he is also just a kind and down-to-earth person. 

PREVIEW: Trace Bundy

Dubbed “Acoustic Ninja” by fans, Bundy crafts intricate guitar arrangements of popular songs and original compositions using harmonics, looping, and multiple capos. His dazzling techniques have taken him across 28 countries and garnered over 45 million views on Youtube. Back for his mini Midwest tour, the seasoned performer will be playing at The Ark this Saturday!

With a nickname like Acoustic Ninja, I felt compelled to dig deeper into his story. Outside of classical music, I love following fingerstyle guitar and the likes of Sungha Jung, Ichika Nito, Tim Henson, and Yvette Young. To my surprise, I found out that a young Sungha Jung had opened several of Bundy’s shows in Korea and toured with him in the US back in 2009 (check out their Billie Jean arrangement!). 

Fingerstyle guitar is not tied to a single genre of music and is mainly distinguished by plucking the strings with all five fingers rather than with a pick. Bundy has a personal bio on his website describing how he discovered a love for music theory and was shaped by the up-and-coming wave of musicians developing this complex playing style. I could definitely relate to the excitement fingerstyle brings, as there is so much space for innovation and experimentation. It has gained even more popularity in recent years, with younger guitarists like Marcin Patrzalek on America’s Got Talent receiving widespread attention. I look forward to seeing what Bundy brings to the table, especially since he once acted as a mentor figure for one of my guitar inspirations.

Join me to see Trace Bundy live at The Ark this Saturday, October 8th @8PM! 

Event info: https://theark.org/event/trace-bundy-221008/