By Luke Quinton
Austin American Statesman
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
The Austin Chamber Music Center’s 2011-12 season opened with a typically challenging and diverse concert at the First Unitarian Church Saturday night. Not only did it feature music that veers slightly off the beaten path, but it enlisted two of our city’s finest to play it, Anne Akiko Meyers and Bion Tsang.
Those who have seen Meyers on a larger stage will attest to her uncommon intensity. She was born to play big halls and auditoriums.
Meyers’ facial expressions communicate concentration, determination and, occasionally, satisfaction. At times her tone pierced the air of the church with an overwhelming delivery of sound.
In Ravel’s “Sonata for Violin and Piano” each movement is strictly unlike its predecessor. It’s got some fierce counterpoint, and called on Meyers to play her Stradivarius, according to Ravel, “like a banjo.”
A few in the audience shuddered at that thought, but Meyers really plucked the string with force before whirling through the nimble third movement.
Like the other works of the evening, it showcased the cross-pollination of French and Asian culture that occurred after Ravel and Debussy attended the World’s Fair in Paris.
Tsang and ACMC director Michelle Schumann opened the evening with Debussy’s “Sonata for Cello and Piano.”
Tsang gave silence plenty of space in the first movement, and though some tones felt a little thin the indelible tune carried nicely and his pizzicato was sensitive and lush.
“Black Earth” by Fazil Say achieves a neat middle eastern effect by manipulating the piano strings. Schumann paced the work beautifully.
The “Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor” by Anton Arensky caused a moment of drama when one of the piano pages was discovered missing. It brought things to a brief halt, and a smile or a laugh by the trio might have relaxed the tension, but by the third movement it was ancient history.
For all this outstanding playing, the atmosphere of the First Unitarian Church can be hard to love.
Mostly, it’s the lack of stage lighting. There is something in the human species that prefers sitting in darkness; perhaps an atavistic memory of campfire stories.
Darkness removes distraction, focuses our eyes stage-ward, and helps us locate that special feeling of absorption. It delineates a line that separates our ordinary lives from the stage, and even for music this good, that separation matters.
Luke Quinton is an American-Statesman freelance arts critic.