ANGELA HEWITT & JULIAN BARNES
March 17, 2014
Perhaps you should be wary when a piece of fiction is inundated with cultural references. Does she really think in mentioning Godard or Christopher Wren she is somehow in their league? Can she imbue cultural capital upon herself through namedropping? Conversely, how many more plays can Stoppard smother with Pink Floyd references? Should we tolerate all this nonsense? What if they do it well? Then is it tolerable? Yes? Yes.
Pianist Angela Hewitt, alongside the novelist Julian Barnes, recently programmed an evening celebrating prose and poetry and short piano works by the composers that inspired their writing. Held at Le Poisson Rouge, Barnes introduced and read the pieces that were then followed on by Hewitt's performances. The matchings of poetry and music included Lars Gustafsson's "The Stillness of the World Before Bach" with the Prelude No. 1 in C major and Ricercar a 3, Lisel Mueller's "Romantics" with Brahm's Intermezzo in E-flat major, Robert Browning's "A Toccata of Galuppi's" with Baldassare Galuppi's Sonata No. 3 in D minor, and Alastair Reid's "Lesson in Music" with Schubert's Impromptu in G-flat major.
Notably, Barnes possesses not only a Booker Prize, but also the stentorian purr of a voice that endeared throughout the evening. The program also provided the opportunity to watch Julian Barnes listen to music. He proved to be a very thoughtful-looking novelist with, as they became visible upon his pant legs cinching up each time he sat down to listen to Hewitt, lively red socks.
Although Barnes' particularly charmed in reading Reid's playfully didactic poem - which had him assuming the guise of Hewitt's music instructor - he did best in reading the prose works he had chosen. The segment from Turgenev's Fathers and Sons - centered around a young woman playing Mozart for guests out of her duty to appear marriageable - was both tender and embittered - and, perhaps, itself a comment on the use of art as an ornament to affect culture.
Hewitt responded with a lilting, elegant Sonata in C minor. Barnes also read one of his own, choosing a segment from "The Silence", a work that depicts Sibelius during his three decade self-imposed exile from composition and publishing. The evening concluded with the Finnish master's Romance in D-flat major. It was all very prim, but the kind of unique and lovable program that further cements Le Poisson Rouge as one of the most versatile, intelligent showcases of talent in the city.