Tuesday , April 16 2024
Dan Flanagan 'The Bow and the Brush'

Concert Review: Violinist Dan Flanagan Unfurls ‘The Bow and the Brush’

Many of us struggled to keep our creative energy flowing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Violinist Dan Flanagan did so by commissioning short pieces for solo violin inspired by works of art, some paintings from past eras, most by living artists. A number of the composers were in the audience Monday night for his gracious performance of a set of these works at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall.

Paintings Transposed to Music

The program, titled “The Bow and the Brush,” revealed the composers’ stylistic differences and idiosyncrasies. It also exposed the impressive breadth of the violinist’s technique.

Mr. Flanagan introduced each piece in a warm, low-key style veined with humor. He had many fans and compatriots in attendance. But his endearing manner helped disarm listeners who might not have expected some of the avant-garde sounds that emanated from his violin. His winning manner will stand him in good stead as he presents the program to overseas audiences.

The 19 selections (out of some 30 so far composed) ranged greatly in style and mood. The most accessible included the violinist’s own two compositions. He loaded a brand-new one about his cat with joking musical quotes, while “An Animated Street in Autumn,” after a painting of that title by Impressionist-era artist Jean-François Raffaëlli, inspired him to heights of virtuosic whimsy.

Other relatively friendly pieces included “The Collection” by Shinji Eshima, which harked back to the Romantic era; the descriptive and amusing “Raven’s Dance” by Linda Marcel; and the bluesy “Blue Swan” by Evan Price. In “Émergence” Jacques Desjardins merged white noise techniques, low hums, and high harmonics to create intriguingly atmospheric music inspired by a mysterious painting by Susan Bostrom-Wong. Michael Panther’s “Pastel Lake” is just plain pretty.

One of the most interesting pieces was the hypnotic “The Only Way Through Is Slow” by Libby Larsen, inspired by an abstract painting in various shades of blue by Nikki Vismara. Increasingly active and even violent figures and gestures always drop back to the same repeating note in this oddly captivating composition.

SFHP (IV) (2019) by Nikki Vismara
“SFHP (IV)” (2019) by Nikki Vismara

There were only a few I didn’t care for, such as an uninspiring work by Trevor Weston (whose a cappella choral piece “Slowly” I enjoyed much more at a recent concert by leading-edge choral ensemble C4) and an (intentionally, I assume) horrid, scratchy few minutes by Edmund Campion. But for the most part each piece had its merits and its interesting aspects.

Dancing in the Shadows

Others I enjoyed and/or appreciated included “Shadow Breaking” by Nathaniel Stookey. Shaded and solemn, then skittering, it calls for much simultaneous bowing and plucking. Another was James Stephenson’s “Guillaumin,” a semi-programmatic caper inspired by a painting by Armand Guillaumin of the exterior of a barn with a ladder ascending to an upper window, suggesting a mystery: What’s up there? The music progresses from a barn dance to an eerie suggestion of what might be lurking upstairs.

"Cour de Ferme, Breuillet" (1888) by Armand Guillaumin
“Cour de Ferme, Breuillet” (1888) by Armand Guillaumin

The sweet “Danses” by Catherine Neville showcased Mr. Flanagan’s warm, rich tone, evident too in the very different, 12-tone “Couple au lit” by David Mecionis, which evoked the enigma of the Jean-Louis Forain painting that inspired it.

Dan Flanagan is touring with “The Bow and the Brush” in the U.S. and Europe. The first set of pieces from the collection is available on CD and digital, with a second set on the way.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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