Review of cultural dialogue concert
By Peter Jacobi
The roster printed in the program book for Tuesday evening’s concert in Recital Hall evinced equality: The music would be performed by violinists William Harvey and Erin Aldridge and pianist Cory Smythe, their three names set in same-sized type.
As things turned out, though Aldridge and Smythe certainly contributed to the affair, this was Harvey’s show. He had planned its content. He had composed a major work as centerpiece. And he was stage front fiddling audaciously from start to finish.
The concert was billed as the IU String Academy’s 25th birthday celebration. In that regard, before the music got under way, founder and director Mimi Zweig had memories to share. So did Emeritus Dean of the Jacobs School Charles Webb, he who had said yes to Zweig’s proposal to start the academy and now praised its accomplishments.
Violinist Harvey, a product of the String Academy and recipient of a degree from IU, then took charge. The warm-up came in the form of four selections taken from Bartok’s multitudinous Duets for Two Violins, which he and Erin Aldridge handled adroitly, every twist and trick therein.
The two followed by bravely wading into 30 minutes of roiling musical waters, these of Harvey’s own devising. What the audience heard is called “Dialogues,” a demanding and often arresting exercise commissioned by Mimi Zweig for the String Academy’s birthday. Nothing of much greater difficulty could have been written for a pair of violinists. The plucking and the sawing, the contrapuntal calisthenics, the elaborate passage work, the extreme dynamics stretching from the barely audible to screeches and screams, the sudden shifts from rhythmic madness to almost prayerful calm and back again, all put tremendous pressure on the performers, pressure they handled masterfully.
In program notes, Harvey addressed what drove him as he composed “Dialogues.” He is founder of Cultures in Harmony, a nonprofit working to promote international understanding through music. “Dialogues,” he says, speaks of the need for improved relationships between Islam and the West. The music is said to express the composer’s reaction to the 9-11 attacks, a terrorist killing of a young ballerina and her family, the contrasting beliefs of Muslims and non-Muslims on moral issues, and the need for prayer and dialogue in the search for peace.
A listener, of course, can read anything into wordless music, leading to very different reactions from what a composer intended. And who, on Tuesday, was likely to remember Harvey’s explanations while listening to a score of such intensity and diversity? Let this listener simply say that “Dialogues” made a strong impression, one that might have been even stronger had its duration been shortened. Length began to sap the music’s impact about two-thirds of the way through.
The remainder of the program also bore witness to Harvey’s international enthusiasms: an attractive “Fantasy El Mansora for Solo Violin” by a prominent Egyptian composer, Attia Sharara; the cavorting Rondo from Mozart’s Violin Concerto Number 5, K.219, “Turkish;” Henry Cowell’s striking and stirring “Homage to Iran,” and a “Moto Perpetuo” by the Iranian Behzad Ranjbaran, who studied music at IU. Harvey’s technical skills and ability to evoke moods from his violin were at all times in clear evidence. For the last three items listed, Cory Smythe provided exemplary partnership on the keyboard.