Karl Henning & Mark Gresham | 25 JAN 2021
Four and a half months ago, on Sunday, September 6, 2020 violinist Chee-Yun, cellist Zuill Bailey and pianist Natasha Paremski performed and recorded for video a program of music by Johannes Brahms, César Franck and Astor Piazzolla in a private home in El Paso, Texas. In this endeavor they adhered faithfully to CDC guidelines: Beforehand they all confirmed testing negative for the novel coronavirus, for ten days they inhabited a “bubble,” interacting with no one on the outside.
On the evening of Saturday, January 23, 2021, that performance was aired as the opening concert of the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta‘s 2021 spring virtual series, streamed on the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts Virtual Stage.
The concert opened with “Otoño Porteño” (“Autumn”) and “Primavera Porteño” (“Spring”), both from Piazzolla’s Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (“The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”) as arranged for piano trio by the Italian-born Argentine cellist José Bragato.
After that, Bailey departed the screen and did not return until the final work of the program. (The ultimate significance of that will be addressed at the end of this article.)
Chee-Yun and Paremski then performed two well-known large works for violin and piano: Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Opus 108 (1886-88) and Franck’s Violin Sonata in A (1886). They played with fine sensitivity to one another throughout, with richly cooperative expressivity. In the third movement of the Brahms, “Un poco presto e con sentimento,” they played with assured balance between the movement’s internal contrast between coquettish playfulness and a warm Gemütlichkeit. The dramatic peak of the Brahms is the fourth movement, “Presto agitato,” eliciting wonderful electricity from the duo.
As noted earlier Franck composed his Sonata in the same year in which Brahms began work on his Opus 108. Both composers are celebrated both for rich warmth of tone, and their mastery of subtle counterpoint. The opening “Allegretto ben moderato” of the Franck begins with an ethereal delicacy which seems to overlap with Debussy, who was coming of musical age at this time. In contrast to the Brahms, the dramatic center of the Franck is the second movement “Allegro.” An elegant, disarmingly artless canon opens the concluding “Allegretto poco mosso.”
The violin and piano set was rounded out with Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango, arranged by Tatar-Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina. Bailey then returned to the screen for the final work, another tango nuevo by Piazzolla, Oblivion arranged by Bragato.
Now, as promised, the bit about Bailey’s absence during the majority middle of the concert.
The entire program above was initially streamed on Saturday evening. However, by Sunday the “on demand” edit that can be found online at the Schwartz Center’s Virtual Stage was absent all of the music by Piazzolla, so entirely absent the presence of cellist Bailey. The All-Star Trio concert had become a Duo concert – made more confusing because the introduction by ECMSA artistic director William Ransom, which included talk about the trio of musicians, was left fully intact, adding to the confusion of those who tuned in the next day rather than at the time of the initial Saturday stream.
The reason? According to Ransom: the licensing for Piazzolla’s music. When you get into video, licensing can become both very expensive and limiting if you are being legit and playing by the rules. ECMSA was only able to obtain permission for inclusion of Piazzolla’s music in the first streaming, but not for leaving the video online for subsequent on-demand viewing.
With the presence of YouTube and Vimeo making free viewing has become an expected norm for the populace at large, even if the realities behind it are often misapprehended by audiences and musicians alike. The relatively lucrative realm of video for publishers – whether deployed via broadcast television, cable television, fixed media or internet streaming — involves some of the most complex licensing issues on the planet. And where the music of a composer like Piazzolla is both under copyright and in demand, the publisher has the leverage.
We’ll not go into the details of that here, but suffice it to say that in a concert world that has mostly gone virtual, necessary licensing for video streaming is yet another factor concert presenters ultimately cannot ignore. ■