A Portland Miracle

I witnessed a miracle between Christmas and New Year in a former warehouse sprawled across a block of Louisville’s long-neglected Portland district.  There, on December 29, 2017, the Lebanese-Hungarian pianist Nada embodied the soul of Brahms’ Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, weaving exquisite poetry with orchestra conductor Jason Raff within the walls of the cutting-edge artistic venue The Tim Faulkner Gallery.  The orchestra, assembled for the occasion, had rehearsed exactly once; when something this ravishing appears in the world against all odds, miraculous is the only word that suffices.

To be sure, the orchestra was smaller than we are accustomed to hearing in Brahms, with fewer string reinforcements, but the acoustics nurtured the sound, and the intensely sensitive listening of the players rendered the texture limpid. This was no competition between soloist and ensemble, but a rapturous love duet.

A special feature of the concert was the intimate proximity of audience to musicians.  The listeners were viewers too, captivated by the compelling presence of Nada, a Raphaelite beauty whose delicate back, shoulders and arms are animated by exquisitely articulated muscularity.  With calm, flexible gestures of her whole body, she coaxed mellow eloquence from the rich-voiced Steinway.  Her phrasing dove-tailed seamlessly with the soulful playing of the orchestra players. Her range of touches, colors and textures, from ringing chords to crystalline filigree, was deployed with grace and dignity.  This was an intimate Brahms, constantly lyrical, the singing quality of her sound more like lieder than opera.

Jason Raff is an accompanist of rare ability.  The score of the Brahms B-flat Concerto is a minefield of rhythmic, textural and harmonic traps,  but he conducted with such clarity and precision that I heard everything suspended in unforced transparency. Instantly he responded to tempo fluctuations from Nada without ever overreacting or seizing the reins from her.  Melodies flowed back-and-forth between Nada and the orchestra players organically,  complementing each others’ inflections.

Special thanks must be given to Tim Faulkner for creating a space of such open-ended creative possibility.  Presenting classical music in unconventional venues like his, attracting the curiosity of new audiences, represents a boundless direction for the artistic life of Louisville.

– Frank Richmond