What does Johannes Brahms have in common with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Motivation? Spirit?
Janet Goodman Guggenheim, the pianist who will join the Spokane String Quartet for its performance Sunday, made the connection for me. I had called to interview her for this preview, and got her answering machine. So she called me back and got my answering machine.
Just to keep things interesting, my machine has a Dr. King speech excerpt: “Keep this movement going, keep this movement rolling. In spite of the difficulties - and we’re gonna have a few more difficulties - keep on moving, keep climbing. If you can’t fly, run; if you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl, but by all means, keep moving.”
Many first-time callers are miffed, but not Guggenheim. After identifying herself, which is more than my tape does, she jumped in with the comment that Brahms’ Piano Quartet Op. 25 keeps on moving, keeps the movement going, followed by “Gosh, I hope I’ve got the right number.” But when I called her back, she persevered, and insisted the quote captured the spirit of the piece.
The preaching-to-the-choir aspect of writing classical previews is wondering whether more than a handful of readers find didactic musicology an enticement to attend a concert rather than a cure for insomnia. And whether this handful would go anyway. So it’s great to run into someone like Guggenheim, who can be so open-minded about a piece she has played before and make it sound exciting.
I could say that this work comes from Brahms’ Hamburg years, before he moved to Vienna. After the 1848 Hungarian uprising, many Hungarian refugees passed through Hamburg fleeing their country and these people, violinist Eduard Remenyi in particular, influenced Brahms’ music. The Finale of the Piano Quartet is in a style learned from the Hungarian violinist, a thrilling “alla zingarese.”
Guggenheim, however, says of the Brahms that “it’s particularly passionate and very emotional. It’s full of passion, torment and tenderness: it has everything. In fact, almost every adjective you can think of applies to some spot in this piece.”
Guggenheim grew up in Spokane - her father, Roy Goodman, owned a music store in town in the ‘40s and ‘50s. She has fond memories of Hutton School, playing in the first Music and Arts Festival in 1946, and studying with Margaret Saunders Ott. Although she was at Juilliard working on her master’s degree at the same time Spokane String Quartet violinist Kelly Farris was there, this is the first time she will perform with the SSQ.
Guggenheim says that her return to Spokane after performing all over the world with the likes of Itzhak Perlman, Miriam Fried, Gary Karr and Barry Tuckwell is “…like coming full circle. Coming back is a recycling process: bringing a lifetime of musical experience back to where I started.”
The SSQ will open the concert with Bela Bartok’s String Quartet No. 5. Commissioned by the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation in 1934, this work is one of several in which he experimented with the arch form. It is palindromic (think of “race car” backwards): The themes and tempos come back more or less in retrograde to resolve and balance the piece by unwinding.
Reading dry, lifeless writing about these pieces does not come close to hearing them come to life in person. These are two great works, so go listen. “If you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl …”
xxxx Spokane String Quartet Location and time: The Met, Sunday, 3 p.m. Tickets: $10, $8 for seniors/students, available at The Met, Hoffman Music, Street Music and at G&B;