The Symphonic Juncture

A [Symphonist]: "The one who is not afraid to raise the primal force."

- Boris Asafiev (1917)

Music à la Carte: Echoes That Remain: Week 1 Review (2021)

Updated: Jan 15

Lucia’s love-stricken vibrancy, Elektra’s hysterical ‘last dance’, Salome’s fatal neuroticism, Anna Bolena’s futile rage against her execution inside the Tower of London, even Giselle’s death via betrayal. All these women had life held by the horns and had found, in one way or another, their mortal objective to which they tirelessly strove to complete before succumbing to eternal rest, requiem æternam. Naturally, just as impassionately as they lived, so too did they perish vigorously, refusing to become yet another soul in Hades’ playground to whom one sympathetically reminisces and yet thinks no longer.

The rebellion against the conclusiveness of death is rive within classical music repertoire, from Messiaen Quartet for the end of time and Schubert’s Winterreise to more veiled expressions like Barber’s Adagio for Strings and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no.6, these composers seeking to personify the despondent reality of dying while alive. For a musician, there is not one death but two, when the music ceases to flow and when the heart ceases to function, and for Lili Boulanger, this was tragically her truth, a case of a life returned to God all too soon. KCMS presented, as their inaugural performance for Music à la Carte 2, Lili Boulanger’s the companion set ‘D'un soir triste and D'un matin de printemps’ [1917-18], composed using the final pulses of physical strength she had left after having battled chronic illness for the better part of her entire life. Revealed by Artistic-Director and pianist Min Young Kang, Yale-trained violinist Kate Arndt, and Curtis-graduate cellist Josh Halpern is Lili’s acuminous understanding of her own mortality represented through the sonic art of sound. The first diptych’s elegiac profundity is showcased by Halpern’s generous story-telling, playing the part of sympathetic Father Time, and Arndt’s sagacious bowing, personifying the doleful voice of Lili herself, all supported by Kang’s enigmatic underpinnings, playing the role of the Impressionist epoch itself due to infusions of Ravel, Debussy, and Satie heard within the undulating waves of attempted equilibrium, ominously ‘perfect’ pseudo-unison’s, and jarring, collective outbursts.

The second diptych takes on a superficially lighter visage which by no means suggests a reduction in expressive fervency, as the driving, syncopated theme, excellently introduced by Arndt, supported by Kang, bestowed then to Halpern, initiates a modus operandi of zealous agitationism to Debussian prolongation and back again. The work finally reaches its apex through a back’n’forth pizzicato/bowing pattern, copied by Kang who initiates the burgeoning centrifugalism, the trio then skillfully uniting to reiterate the main theme on top of Kang’s reverberating pedaled, bass octaves. Interpretable as Lili’s frustration at having to leave her future compositions as unmaterialized ‘spirit’, or perhaps embodying Lili’s desire to have one last, resounding hurrah in the face of future silence, the final four minutes of D’un matin remain my favorite because on the tail of the string’s sonorous unison [intonationally perfect], Kang emerges with a beautifully played Ravelian Miroirs-esque moment [3rd mvt. specifically] which expeditiously returns to the nagging m/M second ostinato. From there, it’s all hands on deck as Arndt and Halpern masterfully shadow each other, moving from thematic material to syncopated pizz. action, returning only once more to the Debussian soundscape alongside Kang’s shimmering accompaniment. In a furious, synchronous passion, just like the Maenads during their frenzied revelries, the trio emerges in unison to display Lili’s fiery theme, again aided by Kang’s held-pedal octave pounds supplying the atmosphere with a sense of grandeur, sensed even through headphones and a screen. As Kang provides the rhythmic stability via reinforced ostinati, Arndt and Halpern’s timbral control and dexterous, technical skills are not only utilized but actively illuminated through trading flourishes and collaborative tenacity. Finally, in Paganinian execution, what goes up must come down and thus, Arndt and Halpern dutifully proceed up, and Kang dramatically comes down, the entire process punctuated with liberational gestures from all three.

If one must sum up Kallo’s first week of Echos That Remain I would say this; The ability to play together is easy, the ability to breath, hear, and be together is something else entirely. Not only have these three musicians performed impeccably, infusing every note with a throughline of linear becoming, but more importantly, they have given honor unto Lili’s name and continued the work to secure her legacy in the ears of modern listeners. She may have been released from the earth at the age of 25, but it seems like her music shall forever live on. She may have been overshadowed by her sister, but no longer does that need to occur.

The trailer for Echo's That Remain can be viewed on their YouTube channel, available here.

The Kallos Chamber Music Series is an instrumenta