On May 15, the International Music Foundation’s sponsored Dame Myra Hess Concert at the Chicago Cultural Center included five works played by Yves Dharamraj (cello) and Riko Higuma (piano).
The concert was well worth the trip inside from the beautiful spring day in full flower across the street in Millennium Park.
Dharamraj and Higuma are consummate musicians, and both the program selected by Dharamraj and the great feeling they both gave to music somewhat off-the-beaten path of typical cello/piano duets made for an uplifting experience.
We were in fact quite lucky that each made the return trip to Chicago, both having performed at the WFMT-simulcast Dame Myra Hess concerts before. Higuma is very active in the Zodiac Trio, which often takes her from her New York home to Paris.
It is somewhat hard to believe that Riko shared that she was in fact “extra nervous” during that performance. She has been working with the Zodiac Trio for seven years, and taking this detour with Yves was not as familiar. That they hadn’t been playing together since childhood was not in any way apparent to the audience.
Likewise, Dharamraj is on constant tour and now also one of the driving forces behind the New Docta International Music Festival of Cordoba, Argentina, aiming “to become the leading music festival in all of Latin America”, introducing classical music to new audiences, championing the composers of Argentina, among other objectives. When you hear of that and learn that Dr. Dharamraj graduated cum laude from Yale University with a Bachelor of Arts in History (Medieval Mediterranean Studies), a Master of Music, and an Artist Diploma and later earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the Julliard School—the obvious question becomes, “When does the man sleep?”
Making sure that he takes the cello repertoire beyond the old standards made famous by Pablo Casals seems to permeate Dharamraj’s work. This was not only apparent at the concert but when you listen and watch some of the exciting Dharamraj videos on YouTube such as De Falla’s “Ritual Fire Dance” arr. Piatagorsky
or Villa-Lobos’ “Song of the Black Swan”
The unusual May 15 program included: “Toccata for Cello and Piano” by Girolamo Fescobaldi (1583-1643) Arr Gaspar Cassadó; Samuel Barber’s “Sonata for cello and piano, Op. 6”; “Song without Words, Op. 109” by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847); “L’heure exquise” by Reynaldo Hahn (1874 -1947) and “In the Style of Albéniz” by Rodion Shchedrin (b. 1932).
Dr. Dharamraj explained his choices for this excellent program saying, “Programming is like storytelling. I find it important for a successful program to flow well within highs and lows and to have a nice mix of styles. It should be just as much about what the artist has to offer as it should provide the audience with an overall authentic emotional journey.
“ With the Frescobaldi, we have a quasi-Baroque, bright and welcoming, fanfare-like piece. It's an exciting opening piece that sets the stage for something more somber, serious, and dense to follow.
“ Then came the main ‘plot’ of the story. Barber’s early 20th-century American lyrical,brooding and stormy sonata with moments of ardent sentimentality.
“Mendelssohn’s classical ‘Song without words’ provides relief after the intense Barber to let the audience breathe out and relax.
“Hahn’s early 20th Century French art song offers that magical "aww" moment that we always hope people remember. The stillness allows for the ensuing excitement to burst to life. This piece also has personal significance for me, as it was one of the last songs I ever heard my grandfather sing before he passed away.
“Finally we have Shchedrin’s Soviet era bravura piece to finish off with panache. This is the piece that incorporates the more non-traditional ‘extended’ techniques one now often finds in new music -- strumming, pitch bending, sharp harmonics, crass slides and wide vibrato -- all to bring to life this sardonic mock-tango that is hopefully a crowd-pleaser.”
And pleased the crowd was! At the conclusion the duo received a standing ovation from the crowd.
If Dharamraj has his way, and one truly senses that he will, we will next be flying to Argentina to hear him play with his compatriots at the New Docta International Music Festival in Argentina. Like Muti, Yo Yo Ma and others who point their musical quiver towards uplifting Chicago’s underprivileged youth, Dr. Dharamraj is rallying support to nourish the souls of Latin America and nurture Latin American youth through the New Docta program.
He would like our support ---see www.tinyurl.com/NewDocta on how you can help. Meanwhile, listen to his arrangement of Piazzolla’s Libertango to get you in the mood to do anything.
And for even more listening pleasure-- take another listen to the Zodiac Trio, which has performed previously at the Dame Myra Hess concerts--
Photo Credit Riko Higuma and Zodiac Trio: Irina Mednik
Photo Credit Riko Higuma playing piano: Christophe Ceruti
Photo Credit Yves Dharamraj: David Friedlander
Photo Credit Preston Bradley Hall: Peter Kachergis
Dame Myra Hess Concert Series
Every Wednesday 12:15
Preston Bradley Hall
Chicago Cultural Center
Free Admission. Donations Accepted.