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29th Olympic Music Festival closes brilliantly

By Bernard Jacobsen, The Seattle Times
September 2, 2012
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A review of the final weekend of the 2012 Olympic Music Festival in Quilcene. The program included works by Brahms, Bernstein and Ravel, and performances by Julio Elizalde and Michael Brown.

Michael Brown made an impressive debut in Quilcene as a composer last week. This weekend he returned in a different capacity, joining Julio Elizalde in a two-piano recital that brought a brilliant conclusion to this summer's Olympic Music Festival's 29th season.

Brilliance was not the only quality in evidence. Brahms' Variations on the "St. Antoni Chorale" — a theme traditionally but wrongly attributed to Haydn — opened the program in a performance that was as notable for its dynamic subtlety and delicate phrasing as for its more assertive strengths. It was followed by the two-piano version of the suite Stravinsky arranged for Artur Rubinstein from his ballet "Petrushka." Here Elizalde at piano no. 1 and Brown at no. 2 — they changed places for the second half of the program — wowed the audience with crisp articulation, seemingly instinctive unanimity and accuracy of marksmanship.

The juxtaposition of Bernstein and Ravel after intermission put me in mind of "Songs of Innocence and of Experience" — William Blake's title for a collection of his poems. On the other side of the Atlantic, as I once had occasion to witness at a party in Paris, Leonard Bernstein was inclined to comport himself under a veneer of faux-European sophistication that was more disturbing than impressive. In New York, all his masterly music-making and political involvement aside, he could behave more like your typical streetwise American kid; and "West Side Story" is surely the quintessential New York piece. Brown and Elizalde played seven movements from the musical (arranged by John Musto) with an appropriate blend of headlong swing and seductive charm.

To Bernstein's evocation of New World pizazz and violence, Ravel's "La Valse" provided a supremely cultivated and unmistakably European contrast. As the title makes clear, this is not just a waltz but a piece about "The Waltz." It depicts a world of sumptuous romantic glamour, in the throes of disintegration. Every aspect of this great piece — the apprehensive rumbles of its opening, the grace and elegance of the dance itself and the whiplash frenzy of the forces that finally overwhelm it — was vividly captured in a performance of compelling artistry and power.

This was a recital fully worthy of what has been an outstanding 29th season for Alan Iglitzin's wonderful bucolic concert series. Please note that contributions are still needed to ensure that there will be a 30th — and the Olympic Music Festival is altogether too good a local amenity to lose.

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