Lee and Svard, Half Live In Concert At Pomona College

Genevieve Feiwen Lee is Professor of Music at Pomona College and by far the best pianist that I have ever been within fifty feet of. Her performances are always a highlight of the public concert season at Pomona College. Last night was no exception. Again, she demonstrated her exceptional range of skill and interests.
Lois Svard is Professor of Music and Chair of the Department of Music at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Last night was the first time I heard her play. I was impressed but, unlike Professor Lee, Professor Svard was not within fifty feet.
Just before the intermission, Professor Lee and Professor Svard performed Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s “Tonk, for two pianos.” Professor Lee was on stage at Pomona’s Bridges Hall of Music and Professor Svard was at her piano on the Bucknell University campus. Streaming audio and video brought the two performers together for our pleasure. It was both an amazing musical and technological achievement. This would have been impossible only a few years ago. Professor Lee told us that she didn’t think streaming audio and video would become a mainstay of future of musical performance but it will no doubt have a place in that future. (Even assuming an end-to-end fiber optic connection, I’m still wondering how they mitigated group delay issues. Unlike watching a streaming video or even during a teleconference where fairly significant group delays go unnoticed, this performance required a simultaneity that I think would have been impossible with common digital communications delays. The encoders and decoders at both ends must have had blazing speed with amazingly little processing delay.)
While not as high-tech as “Tonk,” the rest of Professor Lee’s program was equally wonderful. She began at the harpsichord with Bach’s “Toccata in G. Major.” As she often does, the teacher in the Professor took a few moments to tell us about the toccata and to illustrate one of its major themes. She is one of the few that do this and I always find it helpful. Moving to the piano, she also entertained us with three of Rachmaninoff’s Preludes. Of course, like many Preludes, these are not preludes to anything but standalone compositions.
The program also featured two premier performances: one composed by Karl Kohn of Pomona College and the other written for Professor Lee by Kurt Rohde. Both pieces were quite different representations of new music. I found the Kohn piece, “Nine Vignettes,” a little hard to get into but somewhere about the fourth vignette I found myself quite caught up in the whole thing.
Professor Lee played the Rohde piece, “One,” for speaking pianist on texts of Jacob Stein, on a specially prepared piano. She began by telling us that Jacob Stein was a pseudonym for her husband, Paul Mann, Professor of English at Pomona. The Stein poem that Professor Lee read as she played had major themes that students of the Hebrew Bible would easily identify. It even mentioned Qumran in a wonderful metaphor. I noted that the piano was specially prepared. I’m not complete sure want all was done to it. Some notes were tuned in abnormal ways; something was done to change the sound quality. And of course, the piece required that Professor Lee strike the piano strings directly with percussion sticks and tap the piano on its side with her hand occasionally; all this while she gave a dramatic reading of her husband’s poem. Both Shirley and I found this piece extremely entertaining but somehow we also found it, as I find much new music, rather depressing. I wish she had ended the program with Rachmaninoff’s Preludes and placed this number earlier in the program so we would have time to get over it.