June 21, 2009

The Musical Pursuit of Life

Justin Katz

Friday's pre-dinner musical interlude consisted of three soloists with piano accompaniment by Dom Ambrose, one of the abbey's monks, a graduate of Harvard and attendee at Julliard who now teaches music theory and English.

First came trumpeter Nathaniel Hepler, a professional with that instrument. Mr. Hepler played Bruce Broughton's "Oliver's Birthday" and a Sonata by Eric Ewazen.

Second was Evan Geiger, currently a graduate student in music at the Manhattan School, on horn. He and Dom Wolverton played Adagio and Allegro for Horn, Op. 70, by Robert Schumann, the audio of which I select for my excerpt for several reasons: I've always had an affection for the sound of the French horn; Marc Comtois and I had a subsequent disagreement about the quality of that instrument in general; I was too slow on the record trigger to capture the beginning of "Oliver's Birthday"; and I note a death year next to Mr. Schumann's birth year in the program, so there will be one less party in any complaints about intellectual property. Stream, download (8 min, 55 sec).

Closing out the program were tenor Troy Quinn performances of Handel's "Ombra mai fu" from Xerses and "Johanna" from Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd (an odd interposition, given the content of the conference). Mr. Quinn (although — and mortality taps me on the shoulder as I write this — very young to my eye) is the school's director of music. Infer no ageism with that; music can be a young-man's game, and in my limited observations, Troy is a man of substantial knowledge and ability.

To dispel accusations of ageism in the other direction, I'll note that Dom Ambrose Wolverton was the star of the performance. I overheard, as I attempted to advance my blogging backlog during a rehearsal, that he'd had no more than ten days to learn the music. To be honest, I don't know what the monk's schedule might have been during that week and a half, but it was quite an achievement, whatever the case.

Once again, the figure of the hooded robe at the piano served to disprove my erroneous impressions of what life as a monk entails. As a man fully happy in his role as a husband and father, I nonetheless pass by my own piano with lament all too frequently (or, every time I pass by my piano) and cannot find fault with a life that has deliberately made way for contemplation and such pursuits as music.