John Cage would have loved the aleatory element in Andrew Burashko’s arrangement of this evening’s music. Burashko invited 6 songwriter/performers to write 2 songs each based on Robert Schumann’s “Piano Quintet in E flat Op.44”: they could choose a bit of melody or other compositional element, a motif from Schumann’s romantically tortured life with his wife Clara, whatever would inspire a couple of songs that would “give old ideas new meanings.”
David Wall (accompanied here by Sacha Livinsky) chose to put ‘Schumansky’ in a Jewish context, and given that the composer was suicidal, Wall combined his sense of futility with a bad meal, in a darkly funny klesmerish song called, “What’s this on my Plate?” Wall based his second offering on a bit of melody from the ‘Quintet’ and alluded to the composer’s attempted suicide by drowning in an hallucinatory aria wherein the composer hears himself and the voices of his wife and her admirer Johannes Brahms.
In a touching song called “Hello Beautiful Life,”Andy Maize meditated on the paradox of Schumann’s love of his wife and how he could jump off a bridge when he was afraid of heights. His second offering, based on a melody from the 4th movement of the “Quintet”, worked off the notions that Schumann’s hallucinations sometimes included hearing the note “A” in his ear, and a feeling that he was shivering. Maize sang in his gritty voice the line “hold me close, don’t let me shiver,” and the feeling became real.
Justin Rutledge picked up the theme of cold and sang in his high pitched beautiful wail to an hypnotic guitar strum the refrain “We were cold, now we’re freezing” Kyrie Kristmanson, sometimes on guitar, sometimes on trumpet, equated Schumann with ‘human’ and sang about the good times of the composer’s love life in the tunes “Talk to Me”, and “We’ve Landed.”
John Southworth composed songs with the best titles: “Queen Lear,” and “La Frileuse”, another reference to frigidity, which he sang accompanied by breath organs and bass. Southworth has a Dylan type delivery and sometimes recalls the jaded cabaret style of Tom Waits–two good things to be likened to.
Martin Tielli and Rob Piltch closed this saucy evening, so light, rich, and varied with a pair of very crazy tunes. What is especially great about the way they and all the performers took Burashko’s example of being open while trying to bridge the minds of classical and popular music, is that all solemnity evaporated. What remains is the delight of invention by talented people who are not competing with or for anything. And that is a great pleasure to experience.
O yes, the Schumann Opus 44 was great, especially the exchanges between David Hetherington’s cello and Steven Dann’s viola during the development of the first movement. It was Schumann who first added piano to string quartet: as Burashko played it, the piano added the percussive beat of drama and rippling flow of life to the sighs and groans of the strings, especially in the second movement. First violin Erica Raum held the group, which included Stephen Sitarski on violin, firmly together from first to last.