Ambition pay for Gidon Kremer

11.21.06
Gidon Kremer
The Los Angeles Times

We always look to Gidon Kremer for iconoclastic, enterprising programs - and he delivered yet another good one Sunday night at Royce Hall, in league with a pair of young, brilliant colleagues from the former Soviet Union.

This fresh idea was called "After Bach," where the music of the fountainhead of Leipzig served as a launching pad and recurring reference point for a stream-of-consciousness excursion into the 20th century (and slightly into the 21st). The subtext was Kremer's own career, for the program included two composers, Arvo Pärt and Astor Piazzolla, whom Kremer lifted into the international classical mainstream almost all by himself.

A liquid treatment of the "Fuga canonica" from Bach's "The Musical Offering" for violin and vibraphone gave way to Pärt's "Fratres," whose rapid opening arpeggios seemed to lead the way from Bach's world backward and forward into Pärt's serene, medieval/contemporary cave.

Two Bach Chorales - contemplative and mesmerizing in the hands of Lithuanian pianist Andrius Zlabys - served as opening meditations for Bartók's Sonata for Solo Violin, itself a homage to Bach's Chaconne before spinning off into its own universe. Kremer lifted Bartók onto a new plane with powerful self-dialogues and gusts of passion, turning it into a concerto for orchestra for one.

The Yugoslavian-born Stevan Kovac Tickmayer, once a composer-in-residence at Kremer's Lockenhaus Festival, contributed Three Variations on a Hymn of Bach, where piano, violin and vibraphone eventually coalesced in a sparkling, if brief, wash of sound at the close.

Then the astounding, musically multilingual Ukrainian vibraphonist Andrei Pushkarev delivered his own impressions of three Bach inventions in the styles of jazz pianists Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and Dave Brubeck. He caught both Evans' dreamy impressionism and underrated ability to swing, though Peterson's agile voice was less in evidence and the Brubeck homage was dominated by the playful 5/4-meter vamp of, what else, "Take Five."

Did Kremer reach too far off the concept with Piazzolla? Not really, for both Bach and Piazzolla sprung much of their music from the rhythms of dances - and Pushkarev's arrangements of the Argentine tangomeister's "Le Grand Tango" and "Three Milongas" received incisive, showman-like performances.