Winners and masters
The two Pergamenschikow Julians in concert,
reviewed by TESS CREBBIN
When left-wing terrorists murdered German banker Jürgen Ponto in 1977, his wife Ignes reacted. With grief, naturally, but from that personal grief arose a grim determination to create beauty out of abomination and she founded a society to support talented young artists through what became known as the Jürgen Ponto Foundation. Today, it has become one of the most important organisations in Germany to aid the careers of talented young musicians from all walks of classical music. When it comes to cello, the most promising new talents in Germany are considered to be the last six Boris Pergamenschikow students. Of that group of six, the Ponto Foundation has sponsored the two Julians, Julian Steckel and Julian Arp, and both are also taking part in the Winners and Masters Concert Series of the Kulturkreis Gasteig. So it was gratifying to see the proud face of Ignes Ponto, a trained pianist, in the audience when enthusiastic clapping, foot stomping and bravo calls rewarded Julian Steckel's extraordinary concert performance at the Munich Gasteig venue on 16 October 2004.
The Pablo Casals competition runner up, and multi-prize winning young cellist, is on a roll. The concert lasted a good two hours and was a treat for cello enthusiasts, providing the highest standard of playing as one has become used to from Steckel. Partnered by Mara Mednik on piano, the young cellist had designed a challenging program that would have sent many older colleagues running for cover. They started with Beethoven's Mozart Variations from The Magic Flute (Variations on the theme from 'Men who feel love'), followed by Schubert's Sonata in A minor Arpeggione D821. During the break that followed, some enthusiastic audience comments could be overheard: 'I thought the cello was going to take off and soar', one older gentleman remarked. 'I have never heard anything like that. Where does one learn to play like that?' And one pretty young lady fell not only for the cello playing but for the cellist as well, it seems, for she commented: 'During Beethoven, the depth of sound, the beauty of the tone, the sheer unlimited range of colors, brought tears to my eyes. And, incidentally, isn't the cellist just a most wonderful looking and charming young man?'
After the break, Steckel went the extra mile, having picked for himself some of the most difficult cello works there are. Following the well-known fairytale for cello and piano by Leos Janácek (1854-1928), he really went to town with the Variations on a Slovak Theme by Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959). The Czech composer had immigrated to the United States in the early 1940s and had spent several years as professor of composition at the renowned Princeton University, New Jersey. Anyone who knows Princeton also knows that they pride themselves in making things very difficult for their students, wishing to provide only the highest standard of education, so a composer who is picked to teach there is also a composer who does not make it easy on the instrumentalists. Steckel negotiated the difficult final allegro with a refreshing dose of youthfulness, which provides a welcome influx into a local music scene that threatens to become rather stuffy, and technical perfection of the finest.
Copyright © 21 October 2004
Tess Crebbin, Germany