New Gallery Concert Series
Sarah Bob, Founder
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Weston, MA
Sunday, February 16, 2003
by Katie DeBonville
Pianist Sarah Bob is a trailblazer when it comes to championing the works of modern composers and combining art media in the process. When Bob founded the New Gallery Concert Series, her vision was to have musicians perform new music in a setting that showcased new works of visual art. Now in its third season, the New Gallery Concert Series continues to accomplish this mission and is on its way to becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, a designation that will give the series the status it needs to continue to grow and support new works of musical and visual art.
The performance in Weston, a repeat of one held in May of 2002 in Boston, included Arvo Pärt’s Fratres and Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time and featured the artwork of Boston artist Narda Boughton. While not strictly new works of music, Bob explained that the selection of these two works reflected Boughton’s drawings. “Pärt’s work conveys a sense of something coming from nothing, and Messiaen’s work corresponds with the beauty and bravery of Narda Boughton’s work,” Bob stated prior to the start of the performance.
Violinist Piotr Buczek joined Bob for the Pärt performance. The work opens with a wispy, scratchy series of notes on the violin; the sound gradually increases not only in volume but in depth. Fratres is marked by nuances; it requires thorough musical understanding and delicacy on the part of both instrumentalists. Bob and Buczek are more than capable of the talent and and depth required to perform the piece convincingly. Buczek’s versatility is particularly noteworthy; he is equally at home playing the quiet harmonics at the heights of the violin’s range or digging into the strings with a bowing technique that elicits a beautifully rich sound.
Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time is, according to Bob, “a piece about a journey, a piece of such extraordinary power.” Composed while Messiaen was in a prison camp during World War II, the piece was written for broken instruments and first performed at Stalag VII A in Gorlitz, Silesia. Bob and Buczek were joined by Michael Norsworthy on clarinet and Benjamin Schwartz for the performance, which was truly stunning. Norsworthy demonstrates amazing tone in each of the clarinet’s registers, his melodic lines are sinuous and simply beautiful, and his crescendos are subtle and effective. In the second movement, Vocalise, Bob plays the delicate piano line as though her fingers are tiptoeing over the instrument’s keys.
There are two keys to a successful performance of Messiaen’s work: a comprehension of the music on an emotional level and the ability of the members of the quartet to communicate with each other in executing the piece. Bob, Buczek, Norsworthy and Schwartz do this with apparent ease. Sounds seem to come from nowhere and fade to nothing, which can be attributed to the musicians’ shared understanding of Messiaen and his compositional tendencies. Quartet for the End of Time is a triumphant work, and even though it was composed in turmoil in 1941, it possesses an air of timelessness and peace. This afternoon’s rendering of the work was triumphant and peaceful in its own right, and its performers must be commended for that.