Darkness With the Light, Inspired by a Buddhist Chant

By ANNE MIDGETTE, New York Times, May 22, 2007

New York, USA -- Change is hard. Classical music likes its status quo: the same great music in the same great halls. So the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s move to a new location for its final concert of the season on Sunday afternoon — since Alice Tully Hall has closed for renovations — seemed to throw some audience members a curve.

Just finding the Frederick P. Rose Hall in the Time Warner Center was evidently a challenge to many, including two couples who stood on the sidewalk, peering anxiously through the glass doors of the mall as if not daring to go in and look around.

Change can also be good. This hall seemed well suited to chamber music, its oval curve sweeping performers and audience into the same embrace. It even added freshness to a vivid program that steered a fine course between embracing the new and demonstrating that the Chamber Music Society is still mainly about responsible stewardship of the old.

Song, folk elements and national color were the common themes of the program. The new was a solo piano work by Bright Sheng, “My Other Song,” written for Yefim Bronfman, who gave its first performance here. The piece was grounded in a kind of purity, growing from an opening movement that largely consisted of a single silvery melodic line and culminating in a fourth movement derived from a Buddhist chant.

The second movement was increasingly discursive, the third added an element of earthy darkness to the music’s light, and both allowed Mr. Bronfman to show some sturm und drang. But the most distinctive thing about the piece was its assured calm. Its points of departure and return, between taut chords, suggest a radiant self-sufficiency, like an Andrea Mantegna painting in which figures simply stand, their drama created not through a depiction of action but through the technique of perspective, which was new then.

The new piece was framed by Erno Dohnanyi’s Serenade in C, brisk and bracing with Hungarian Gypsy overtones, and Dvorak’s piano Quartet in E-flat. Cho-Liang Lin, Paul Neubauer and David Finckel dug into the music with a raw sense of daring that never violated the bounds of good taste. Mr. Finckel, who is also the society’s co-artistic director, was the consummate good host, drawing in his guests with smiles and spirited playing. The Dvorak was a powerful odyssey that represented, in this new home, the very best of the old.