The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Michael Kellerman, October 23, 2009, Arts

Salon Concerts 20th Anniversary Season Opener

Private residence

Oct. 18

What is it about live music that gets us off our couches rather than throw on a favorite playlist and save the money? I suppose we in our double capital (state and live music) celebrate human theatre as much as any other burg, that universal experience of watching music happen in real time. No doubt we have the spectrum – from the sticky floors of an alley-entrance club to the salons of the chamber-music set. Still, why not spend an idyllic Sunday afternoon such as the one we had last weekend, sipping a caipirinha on a sunny patio instead?

First off, there was the view. The opening of Salon Concerts' 20th anniversary season took place at the magnificent home of Robert and Jannis Baldwin, perched high in the West Lake Hills looking down over Austin's entire panorama, from the 360 bridge over Downtown to Oak Hill. The airy French Renaissance foyer that played host was so grand that you felt extra special just to be there and was crammed with 75 or so guests, to the point where the audience was tightly wrapped (and rapt) around the musicians.

After weaving through the crowd, pianist Anton Nel and clarinetist Nathan Williams opened the concert with the "Dance Preludes" by Witold Lutoslawski. Based on Polish folk music, this mid-20th century piece was a memorable patchwork of bouncing dance rhythms and longing, modal winter scenes. A standout was the third movement, set in differing meters for both players, which played as a back-and-forth chase for rhythmic high ground. Nel and Williams were a joy to watch, the tone set for a virtuosic afternoon.

Next was Claude Debussy's "Première Rhapsodie," which makes equal use of the piano and clarinet as soloist. The performance lived up to its title, from Williams' gorgeous, round opening high tones to Nel's graceful handling of Debussy's famous parallel block chords.

After cellist Douglas Harvey joined Nel for a spirited performance of Beethoven's enjoyable if not memorable variations on music from Mozart's The Magic Flute, the trio came back from intermission for Johannes Brahms' "Trio, Op. 114." Brahms was threatening early retirement when he was inspired by a master clarinetist to write some of the greats of the instrument's repertoire. Hearing the performance of the "Trio," anchored by Nel's amazing precision, I was glad Brahms didn't quit early. Harvey, already at the top of Austin's game after a short time, was assured and emotive. It's exciting to consider what's to come for the cellist as he explores the solo world more and more, in the vein of talents like ... Mr. Nel. Bravo to all three musicians for showing us, up close and personal, why nothing trumps a live experience.

Two decades ago, Robert Rudié founded Salon Concerts as spirited chamber performances in period dress. Today, the organization has blossomed, bringing Austin's finest classical musicians into the intimacy of our living rooms ... dressed as they please (though Williams' playful paisley and Nel's bright-green stripes provided a costume show of the eclectic sort).

A big Brahms lover myself, I came home and cued up the clarinet quintet to recapture some of the buzz from the afternoon. Though this concert might not have been everyone's idea of an ideal live music experience, would anyone disagree that it's fantastic to have such an incredible option?

Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.