Just by chance, I picked up a very pretty little book by author Whitney Otto called A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity, published in 2002 by Random House. Beautifully written, the story of young singles (mostly singles) in San Francisco in the 1980s just seems to float along, from one thing to another. Bright, very attractive people, who drink too much and take too many drugs, and are not really following a career path, and are looking for love and acceptance and confidence and internal peace, and move from relationship to relationship, tangling up in their many inter-connections, this story itself is sort of shallow and meaningless. But this is not very important to the book. The story is background to the prose, and to the design of the book, modeled after Japanese “pillow books”, with each short chapter introduced by a reproduction of a 18th or 19th Japanese print, with a short description of artist and subject matter. Quite a nice, relaxing read.
On Sunday, we had the privilege of attending a Washington Performing Arts Society benefit concert, held at the home of friends, featuring cellist Evan Drachman and pianist Doris Stevenson. The program featured Haydn’s Concerto in C Major for cello and piano, to me an extraordinary piece that I could listen to again and again (I think). Drachman explained that “concertos” for solo instrument and piano were quite commonly played in the 18th century, and that this particular piece was lost for almost 200 years. Its existence was known, because it had been catalogued by Haydn, but the score was not located until some time in the 1960s, when it was found in a private house somewhere in Europe.
They then played Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei, a piece that I have never cared much. As much as I like the melody to which the Kol Nidrei prayer is sung, I don’t think that Bruch did much to add to it in his composition (any composer could orchestrate Kol Nidrei) and that his additions of other melodies to the score detracts from the feelings inspired by Kol Nidrei.
The third and final piece was Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, a virtuoso piece for cello, that I don’t find particularly inspiring although I do like the basic melody.
Having said all of that, the playing of Drachman was first-class, and even more so I thought was the piano of Doris Stevenson. Stevenson, who is an artist in residence at Williams College and a chamber music pianist of note, played perfectly, I thought. Crisp and clear, with just the right tonality, always creating the right balance with the cello.
Drachman, in addition to being a fine musician, is the grandson of Gregor Piatigorski, the famed cellist, and he leads the Piatigorski Foundation, which sponsors classical music concerts in schools, retirement homes, and other such places where similar concerts are hard to find. He is also a master story teller, and in the question/answer period, told of various anecdotes from his past, including his experiences with former NSO conductor Mstiaslav Rostropovich.
Last night (moving to food), I went to get vegetarian carry-out from Indian Ocean on Connecticut Avenue, taking home okra, chick peas and black daal (dal, dahl). Each impeccably subtly seasoned, none too sharply peppered. Just right.