This past Sunday, a large crowd in Sheldon Hall Ballroom saw the first concert of the music department of the year. Professor Jon Shallit, violin, and Howard Spindler, piano, of the Eastman School of Music performed a series of works by composers of the Romantic Period.
As it was revealed between the first and second pieces, the concert was originally conceived as a concert for a class discussing the Romantic Period from a player’s perspective taught by Shallit. Ironically, the class was canceled because of low attendance. Shallit playfully commented, “This is life.”
The two, dressed causally in white shirts and black slacks, talked to the crowd to discuss many of the pieces, as well as the overall feel and nature of the concert. Shallit and Spindler discussed how Romantic music broke out of the stuffy shell of restraint in the Classical Period, and was about freedom and expression. They quoted Beethoven’s life motto, “Freedom above all.”
Shallit said that in this spirit, he wouldn’t be doing things in the conventional way.
“Hey, I’m old.” Shallit said. “If I don’t have fun now, I never will.”
The two commented on how they were performing the pieces with unbridled emotion and were willing to make improvisatory changes and interpretations to the pieces as they played. Detailing the Romantic styling, they commented that Romantic sonatas (in comparison to Classical sonatas) were sets of vignettes detailing “real life drama with a lot of passion.” To complete the classroom atmosphere, each of the pieces on the program gave a small hint as to what the piece was about and what forms it used.
Throughout the whole concert, Shallit’s energy on stage was palpable, with intense bow draws and attacks, strong accents and a lot of movement.
The concert began with Sonata in F major, Op. 8 by Edvard Grieg. Greig, a Norwegian composer, brought some Norwegian folk song themes to this sonata, particularly in the first movement, moving from dark lyrical sections to bright, dance sections. The second movement was more chromatic (stepped more outside the key of F major) and featured more jumping and jagged melodies and ended with a nice pizzicato ending that elicited a smile from Shallit and a slight giggle from the audience. The third movement was the most dazzling with fast sections and chromatic lines and ended with Shallit throwing his arms up in exuberance at the end.
The next piece was Melodie Op. 42 No. 3 by Peter Tchaikovsky, a composer known for his operas and ballets. The piece was typical Tchaikovsky, with beautiful, lyrical melodies and arpeggios (playing each note of a chord in a rhythm).
The final piece before intermission was Allegretto from Sonata in A minor, Op. 105 by Robert Schumann. Schumann was famous for composing Lieder (songs for voice and piano), and this piece followed in the lied example. The piece felt sweet and sad, with chromatic touches and a pizzicato ending.
Following a brief intermission, the duo picked back up with Sonata in A major Op. 100 by Johannes Brahms. The description in the program was a perfect summary of Brahms, “A perfect marriage – classical form with Romantic passion.” The first movement, allegro amabile, was impassioned, sweet, loving, wild and used the whole violin, as the name would suggest. The end was so intense that the audience made a collective mistake and applauded at the end of the movement.
The second movement had two varying themes, a sweet theme and a theme that Spindler called “diabolical.” The contrast was unique, and the end featured double stop (playing two strings at once) chords on the violin.
The third movement had a recurring theme, which Shallit said he would try to play as many different ways as possible, in contrast to a recording he heard in which performers played the theme the same way every time. The piece ended in a dazzle, with more double stop playing, and a loose hair from Shallit’s bow. After the applause, Spindler commented that he enjoyed the audience’s applause after movements, saying that he never cared for the classical tradition of silence between movements. He also said that he liked that the last two pieces were in A major, which in the Classical world is considered the “sunshine, and everything is right key.”
The final piece was Sonata in A major by César Franck. The first movement, allegro, was smooth with a nice floating ending. The second movement, recitavo-fantasia, is unusual because it contained, essentially, two songs together. The pieces had an impressionist feel with a lot of padding sounds, with drifting melodies and chord planing (chords played in parallel with the same quality), including a very interesting section in fantasia when the two alternated playing lines. The final movement, allegro poco mosso was in the form of a canon (explained by Spindler as “follow me, follow you”) that had a happy and joyful, yet dark sound. The repeating motives built up a huge, dazzling ending that had Shallit giving an audible grunt and throwing his hands up after the piece.
The concert ended with a long and warm applause, with a few on their feet. It was a wonderful concert to start the concert calendar.