Round midnight at Festival Miami 2004,
reviewed by LAWRENCE BUDMEN
Thelonious Monk was one of the most original, inventive jazz artists of our time. At once an avantgardist and a classicist, Monk infused jazz with the gossamer textures of Debussy. Round Midnight was Monk's most famous composition. A bluesy, languorous theme, Round Midnight seems to spring from Monk's creative heart and soul. The piece became both the dramatic and musical thematic material for a moody, blues tinged film (starring jazz great Dexter Gordon) by the French director Bertrand Tavernier in the late 1980s. In 2000 the extraordinary Italian pianist Emanuele Arciuli collaborated with a cornucopia of American and European composers on a series of Round Midnight Variations -- a remarkable homage to Monk's fertile musical invention. On 27 September 2004 Arciuli presented his Round Midnight program at the University of Miami's Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables, Florida, USA -- the opening event of Festival Miami 2004.
In many ways the Round Midnight concert encapsulated what Festival Miami is all about: cultural fusion, a celebration of the creative spirit, and a forum for remarkable artists who embrace the future as well as the past. Arciuli is definitely an artist for the 21st century. A scrupulous musician and scholar, both a creative and performing artist, Arciuli is a champion of modernity. Yet his rigorous musicianship and keyboard technique is second to none. Always striving for new artistic limits, Arciuli was the perfect artistic incubator for the Monk project. The heart of the program's first half -- Waiting for Monk -- is a suite of nine variations by the octogenarian composer George Crumb. Crumb's Rumination on Monk's Theme opens with an eerie, haunting nocturnal theme. The pianist plucks the piano strings and strikes them with a mallet -- 'purple haze' effects that enliven the score's third section premonition. Cobweb and Peaseblossom is a witty, technically daunting Scherzo that recalls Bartok's Second Piano Concerto. The 'Incantation' section is an imaginative gloss on a theme by Glazunov (from the ballet Raymonda) -- an avant garde composer's backward glance at the nineteenth century Russian musical heritage. The Burlesca -- Golliwog Revisited -- quotes Debussy's Golliwog's Cakewalk, Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, and Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel with a touch of Louis Moreau Gottschalk thrown in for good measure -- a delightfully satirical view of pianistic delights and beyond. Blues in the Night is a tribute to the great jazz piano tradition which Thelonious Monk embraced and transfigured. The wonderful, harp-like sounds of the strumming (by hand) of piano strings in Cadenza with Tolling Bells sets up Crumb's magical finale Midnight Transfiguration -- a glistening, evocative fusion of jazz and post Messiaen modernism. Few pianists possess the incredible technique to encompass George Crumb's futurist musical visions. Arciuli not only met every challenge but played with gleaming tone, a patina of coloristic variety, and heartfelt conviction -- artistry on the highest level!
Copyright © 19 October 2004
Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA