Faculty RecitalNathaniel Parke, cello
Elizabeth Wright, piano
It is easy to overlook the element that defines the difference between excellent and merely adequate. Musical organizations like schools or music groups may focus on things like buildings, an abundance of practice space, the finest available instruments or progressive music. However, these are just support beams of music education and performance and as important as they are, they would only be holding up empty space without people who carry the torch of musical tradition well, passing a flame to new generations with dedication, unflagging enthusiasm and optimism. Nathaniel Parke is just one of the outstanding Williams faculty who constitute that human element, the secret sauce that really makes the difference. His excellence as a teacher can be enjoyed indirectly by experiencing the performances of his students. But every so often there is an opportunity to hear this very sought after musician in a performance that features his personal musical tastes, interests and passions. Joining him is his peer on piano, Elizabeth Wright, studio instructor of piano and fellow faculty member.
This ambitious program should prove challenging to the performers, and pleasing to the listeners.
The unaccompanied Bach Suite for Cello No. 4 in E-flat is on the must-hear list of any musician, cellist or not, and is a genial entry point for any listener to the world of baroque music. For some, the cello suites define the eternally sublime experience that is the music of J.S. Bach: for all of his complexity and subtlety, Bach’s ability to speak to us through the ages as channeled by a master musician can be as uncanny as it is moving. Mr. Parke’s interpretation of this great work is performed on an instrument that has performed in countless settings over the centuries: both instrument and piece were born at about the same time. The cello, made in 1721 by C.G. Testore, is united with a musician who has a deep visceral understanding of why this music survives as a triumph of human invention and spirit. To hear instrument and musician united on this journey is grasp the soul of Bach.
While it may be understandable that the great composers favored high voices, it is not necessarily fair that they neglected the instruments who dwell in the middle and lower frequencies. In classical literature the violin, the soprano, and the tenor have all the fun. However, this does not mean that the baritone voices cannot fight back against the sins of omission as committed by the great composers. Brahms, for instance, did compose two fine cello sonatas, but still it is hard for cellists to keep their hands off of the rest of the literature. The art of transcription opens up new avenues for cellists to access territory otherwise denied them, and the literature is enriched by this cross-pollination Sometimes the best way to get some great music is to take a piece for violin and massage it to fit the rich timbre of the cello. Violin Sonata No. 1 by Brahms, arranged for cello in D major, is a pleasure as originally scored, and a joy when performed on the cello.
The Sonata for Cello and Piano by Samuel Barber might be removed by time and geography from Bach, whom the composer studied, and from Brahms, for whom he felt a great musical kinship, but has become part of the great canon of solo works for cello. Samuel Barber, born in 1910 in West Chester, Pennsylvania, was an early bloomer, who contributed a significant American voice to musical thought. Composed when Barber was just 22 years old, the piece was a precursor of the many great things yet to come in the composer’s lifetime.
Another German composer who recognized the potential of the solo cello voice was Paul Hindemith. The Hindemith Sonata for Solo Cello is a twentieth century consideration of this instrument. Not as familiar to listeners as Bach, Hindemith is a composer who clearly had his eye on the road ahead, but was not at averse to checking the rear-view mirror for inspiration and reference. A composer who was also rigorous in form and structure, he was as intent on exploring dissonant harmony as Bach was intent on exploring counterpoint. This unaccompanied piece for cello offers a contrast in style and content to the Bach.
Nathaniel Parke is a member of the Bennington String Quartet, principal cello of the Berkshire Symphony and co-principal cello of the Berkshire Opera Orchestra. He has also been a member of the Boston Composers String Quartet with whom he can be heard performing new works by Boston composers on the MMC label. He is currently artist associate in cello at Williams College and instructor of cello at Bennington College in addition to maintaining a studio of private students. He has served as a faculty member and chamber music coach at the Longy School of Music, Skidmore College, SUNY Albany and the Chamber Music Conference and Composer’s Forum of the East. As a soloist, he has been heard with the Wellesley, Berkshire and Sage City Symphonies. His free-lance work in the Albany, N.Y. and Boston areas ranges from period instrument performances to premieres of new works. He can be heard on Albany records performing solo cello music by Ileana Perez-Velasquez. He received his training at the Longy School of Music studying with George Neikrug, and in London with William Pleeth. He holds an MFA from Bennington College where he studied with Maxine Neuman.
Elizabeth Wright, has performed extensively throughout the United States, Europe, the USSR and Japan. She has appeared in recital with many distinguished artists and was awarded the prize of Outstanding Accompanist at the Fourth International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Ms. Wright premiered and recorded many new works, performing in such groups as the American Composers Orchestra, the Aspen Contemporary Festival and Orpheus. She is principal pianist with the American Symphony Orchestra and was for many years piano soloist for both the Martha Graham Dance Company and the Paul Taylor Dance Company. She has been an artist-teacher for the Lincoln Center Institute and has served on the faculties of the Mannes College of Music, Bennington, and Princeton. Appearing frequently on PBS, Ms. Wright has recorded on the Gasparo, Opus One and CRI labels.