Review of NYC Sorabji Concert, 12/6/98
By David Weinberg
Chris Berg's Sorabji concert was a smashing success. Great attendance. There were 250-300 people. Merkin Hall seats about 350. The performances were excellent, the concert was inspiring. Chris started things off by playing Interlude, a short piece. He had some special low lighting, which enhanced the atmosphere. It was beautiful; the piece is almost jazz-like. Then came the Quintet. This was a world premiere. It was almost performed in England in 1991, but was cancelled because the performers just could not get it together. The Quintet was performed very well. Of course, it was quite interesting to me. A few parts were not even recognizable. After intermission came the three songs Fêtes Galantes. The vocalist, Felicity La Fortune, was excellent. The songs sounded a lot like Debussy. Then came the completely formidable Sonata No. 2. This was performed by a phenomenal 21-year old pianist named Tellef Johnson. He is a student at the Eastman School. He is tall and has a baby face. The piece took about 45 minutes. Very complex, very interesting. The audience was extremely appreciative - there were four curtain calls. Finally the legendary Michael Habermann took the stage to perform the American premiere of Sorabji's second Pastiche on the Minute Waltz. This was an exciting, thrilling performance. Habermann cuts an interesting figure. He is very unassuming. He was not even feeling well. He had been experiencing some form of vertigo for about a week. But he played flawlessly.
The concert was immediately followed by a panel discussion on Sorabji. About a hundred people stayed for this. The discussion was very lively. There were 8 panelists, including Chris Berg, Alistair Hinton (head of the Sorabji Archives), who flew in from London for this, and Michael Habermann, who only spoke modestly, a couple of times. There was a bit of interesting chaos, as a crank in the audience stood up and said that this was the worst music he ever heard in his life, he just wanted Bach and Mozart, he thought he was going to get Indian ragas (I don't think he would have liked that), the panelists sounded like Fawlty Towers or Monty Python. I was sitting near this guy and chimed in that within a year I predicted that he would be the world's no.1 defender of Sorabji; this was received by applause from the audience. The panelists were very gracious in dealing with this guy, and despite many attempts on his part to ask more of the same questions, they were skilled at allowing others to ask more interesting questions. This crank kept hanging around after the whole thing, hobnobbing out in front of the concert hall. It was interesting to hobnob out front after the concert. I met Tellef Johnson's parents, who had flown in from South Dakota for the concert. One of the world's greatest pianists, Marc-Andre Hamelin, came in for the concert from Philadelphia. Also Donna Amato, a leading Sorabji interpreter. Then 25 of us went to a restaurant for dinner at 11:30. That was fun. I almost felt like I was in a Tom Wolfe novel. The vocalist, Felicity La Fortune, has appeared on many television shows, like LA Law, and often on the stage. She is beautiful and interesting, but unfortunately she is married to a guy from Hollywood who wears blue-framed glasses. But he seems like a nice guy.
Copyright ©1998 by David Weinberg, all rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission