Cheapskate's Guide to the Finer Things in Life
Music to our ears: An evening of songs without words
Imagine a relationship in which you are so clearly in concert with your spouse that friends and strangers alike compliment you for being so harmonious, and note how attentively you listen to one another.
You’ll have a chance to watch, listen and learn from just such an amazing couple tonight when Houston Symphony Orchestra Principal Cellist Brinton Averil Smith and guest pianist Evelyn Chen will appear in a free Shepherd School of Music recital at Rice University, where Smith is on the faculty.
The program in Duncan Hall is titled, “Liederabend ohne Worte,” as this will be “an evening of songs without words.” Featuring instrumental pieces inspired by vocal music, the program shown on the Shepherd Performance calendar describes an intriguing mixture of works by composers including Beethoven, Brahms, Falla and Strauss.
I noticed how well these two independently successful musicians performed together when I happened to hear them on KUHF-FM’s “The Front Row.” Each note was so exquisitely well timed, I imagined the two performers continually exchanging glances to make sure each came in at exactly the right moment. I wondered how they worked that out, to produce this extraordinarily adept, sweet-sounding, well-balanced musical conversation.
OK, now’s the time for the punch line to the old joke: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? “Practice!” But I knew, or rather, I felt that it must have taken even more than endless hours and years of diligent practice, tremendous discipline, and unity of determined will to engender the kind of music that goes beyond the ears, to the soul. It was that kind of performance.
After playing several pieces by composers including Korngold and Falla, Smith and Chen must have surprised smiles out of more than a few listeners when they switched to a more recent, bluesy favorite: George and Ira Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” arranged by Jascha Heifetz. Following their performance, Smith and Chen answered questions posed by TFR host St. John Flynn.
As I wasn’t able to ask the question myself, I was glad to hear Flynn ask Smith and Chen what it’s like to live, rehearse and perform with another musician. Smith thoughtfully responded that the couple, who met while training at the Juilliard School, had learned over the years that they could “trust each other’s ears.”
Chen picked up that line of thought, commenting that they had come to understand each other so well, on so many levels, that they could practically read each other’s minds in anticipation during their musical performances. The duo summed up with the statement that they had “learned to listen to one another.” What a concept! Say, world -- maybe this couple is onto something!
All told, the recital, presenting two instruments with their own unique voices, should have quite a lot to say tonight when Smith and Chen perform selected songs without words. I’ll be listening.