Last Friday night, droves of students and community members arrived for the highly-anticipated performance of cellist Ronald Feldman, artist-in-residence, lecturer in music and director of instrumental activities. Feldman is also the conductor of the Berkshire Symphony Orchestra. Famed conductor and composer John Williams called him “a brilliant conductor, who displays the best leadership qualities . . . an outstandingly high level of musicianship that imbues his conducting style with strength, taste and imagination.” The concert, which was free and open to the public in a packed Brooks-Rogers, explored the nuances of music from Catalonia, Spain and the Basque regions, including pieces by such composers as Enrique Granados, Maurice Ravel and Gaspar Cassado. Accompanied by acclaimed pianists Elizabeth Wright and Soomi Lee, Feldman gave a beautiful and compelling performance that consistently moved the crowd to applause.
A contrast between rough, frenzied tones and sweeter ones that were more romantic and flowing characterized the entire concert. Pieces such as “Intermezzo” by Granados, “Suite populaire Espagnole” by Manuel de Falla and “Requiebroas” by Cassados in particular alternated between smooth, floating passages and sharper, more violent ones, often soaring up into higher registers before making wild, dizzy falls down into the bass. In such passages, the eye was often drawn to Feldman’s intensely expressive face, always alive with emotion as he seemed to immerse himself in the performance.
One of the highlights of the night was Heitor Villa-Lobos’s “Cantilena,” a piece in which several talented musicians joined Feldman. Colleague Nat Parke, artist associate in cello, six cello students and soprano Kerry Ryer Parke, artist associate in voice took to the stage for a powerful performance. While the cellos wove together melodies half-plucked, half-bowed, Parke’s voice at first lightly skimmed across the top in a wordless song. After a pause however, Parke surprised the audience by bursting into loud, powerful song, joined by the accompanying cellos to create an effect less romantic (in comparison to the previous section) than tragic. In the final section, cello and voice seemed to meld beautifully as Feldman took up the melody as well, framed by the light plucking of the student cellists.
Despite the largely serious, expressive tone of the night, the performance was not without its humorous points – before performing “Neapolitan Song” by Cesar Casella, Feldman described it as a “funny” song that he simply “couldn’t resist” putting into the program. While the piano began by pounding out a loud melody, the cello alternated between a cheerful, lolloping harmony and slow, coy squeaks that often made the audience laugh out loud. For those who doubted the ability of classical music to truly convey emotion, the piece stood as proof, conveying a sort of simple comedy without ever having to resort to words.
After the intermission, the concert took a break from Spanish-influenced melodies and instead Feldman and Soomi Lee performed the Russian masterpiece Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor opus 19 by Serge Rachmaninoff. In the first movement, the slow romantic melody played by both cello and piano made a sudden transition into a much fiercer strain, moving Lee to play with so much force that she actually leapt off her seat at several points. The second movement was often characterized by incredible speed in the piano line as the melody spiraled up to a climax and back down, while in the third, the cello entered after a flowing piano introduction, echoing the piano’s melody like the voice of a singer. In the final movement, both instruments entered with an explosion of vitality. It was this vitality that ended the concert on an upbeat note, earning the performers a series of enthusiastic curtain calls.