Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Salt of the Earth

July 27, 2010

Susan Graham, Paul Groves, and an exiting David Zinman
Photo: mine 2010

Mahler is not a name that one typically associates with chamber music. However, I was in Santa Fe over the weekend where things often appear in a new and different light. And thanks to the programming folks at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, which just kicked off on July 18, Mahler’s music did make a substantial and rather grand appearance on the stage of the tiny St Francis Auditorium. Of course the other person to thank for last weekend’s Mahler was Arnold Schoenberg. (And really isn’t that just about always the case in all great things musical these days?) Schoenberg created the stripped-down chamber version of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde for fifteen instrumentalists and two vocalists that fit perfectly into the notion of “chamber music,” although there is nothing slight or tiny about Mahler’s grand romantic songs of love and death even with those forces.

And to make clear the fact that this performance, which I saw Sunday and was repeated on Monday, was grand, the festival brought in conductor David Zinman and soloists Susan Graham and Paul Groves. Graham is SFCMF’s first “Artist-in-Residence” and this was one of several performances she was giving during the festival while Groves is currently starring in the title role of Les Contes d’Hoffmann with Santa Fe Opera. (I should also mention that the excellent ensemble included Jeremy Denk on piano, who also appeared on July 27 in a program previewing his latest recording of Ives, to appear on iTunes today.) Both soloists seemed at the peak of their powers here, giving warm and engaging interpretations of these alternately jovial and bleak songs.

The chamber ensemble behind them has the task of sounding much bigger than they actually are. And though things started out a little hesitant, by the halfway point they filled the hall with sound one would associate with far more players. Perhaps Zinman’s balance was more toward the revelry than the loss in these songs, but it was not a superficial interpretation by any means. Even during Graham’s lengthy final song “Der Abschied” there was a lovely and inviting intimacy. And while there are always very lovely evenings in the high desert of Santa Fe, this one stood out with such a memorable performance.


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