Play Every Town

251 252 Community Concerts for a Cooler Climate

Launch Concert Review

by Annelies McVoy

That vital question: Sherman Hollow Road to Hinesburg during mud season, or better to go the long way around on the paved roads? And the fateful decision to send it on Sherman Hollow, in spite of several days of freeze-thaw cycles and a heavy rain yesterday and through the night. As you leave Sleepy Hollow and meander along the beaver ponds, it's not bad. The road curves up and down around the ribs of the slopes coming down to the bogs, the dappled light glinting easily through the still-naked trunks of birch, beech, maple, caught here and there by the hemlocks and white pines. You've got this.

But then it softens up a bit, so you focus on the road, swerving around the pits and trying to ride the high edges of the ruts that are firm enough if you can just stay atop them. Good going. Ah, but then! Wow. The entire road becomes a lengthy stretch of churned up slop. A soup of muddy gravel with endless long slurpy ruts just waiting to suck you in and trap your car. Your tires are barely maintaining enough friction to keep you moving forward, your wheels are in up to the hubs, and you're sweeping, swerving – actually fishtailing! – across a stretch of Vermont aptly named Swamp Road. Your hands are doing their best to dance along with the steering wheel as it lurches back and forth, you tease out what guidance you can to encourage maximum forward motion, as your foot is suddenly on highest alert, responding to every variation in muck consistency so as to maintain traction without spinning out. It's a magical balancing act that requires spontaneous access to all of your lifetime accumulation of driving skills – risky, messy – but when you stop at the other end of the road and get out to assess the damages, and laugh at your mud-splattered car that you had just washed the day before (for the first time in years), there's a sense of accomplishment mixed with a recognition that this perhaps was not the best route choice after all.

Last night, at UVM's Redstone Recital Hall (which probably has a real name of some real donor), David Feurzeig made it through mud season on the first half of his program, and came out sparkly clean and shining on the second half. It was fascinating to witness – as the one who has heard these pieces played in the other room for years – the spots where his tires got sucked in, where he drew upon a lifetime of musicianship and pianistic skills to navigate the magnificent muck. This creative driving resulted from deciding to include a long mixture of a Bach Suite interspersed with 20th century American jazzy tunes that he had performed at his first UVM concert over a decade ago, but hadn't focussed much attention on lately.

So imagine the level of ingenuity and creativity necessary to get through this expanse: First David carefully explained the structure of the Bach Suite (Partita no. 1 in B-flat major, op. 1 no.1), informing us that in its day, the suite was the way to expose an audience to music from "different cultures", i.e., the Allemande from Germany, the Courante from Italy, the Sarabande from Spain/Caribbean, the Minuets from France, the Gigue from Brittany/Ireland. But to our ears today, the whole thing just sounds like Dead White Guy Music. So to liven it up, he played "Interludes" between each of Bach's dance movements. Gershwin, Joplin, Feurzieg/Jackson, Bolcom, and Eubie Blake showed up to rub shoulders with Bach. But alas, it had rained heavily yesterday and all through the night, and the roads, well...

So how did he do it? Every musician has mental lapses during performance, even if they're using the music. Performing takes such immense focus, it's just not realistic to be 100% engaged with every single note along the way. A passage you've spent weeks honing to perfection might suddenly come out flat and uninteresting on stage, because you've overthunk it, or you're worried about tying it into the big picture. Or maybe you just stopped to tell the audience why you don't fly anymore due to extreme existential climate terror, and you just turned back to the keys with a zing of "coming out" adrenaline coursing through your arms and hands. Whatever the reason, David amazed us with his magical creative driving skills through those churned up musical ruts. Consider this: each time he swerved, he instantly began improvising – in the style of that composer and that passage – until he found traction again. In so doing, he actually displayed his deep musicality, his exquisite skills as a composer and improviser, and his passionate relationship with each of these composers.

The second half of the concert was what he had spent more time and focus on in recent months. Hence, the roads had dried out, and it was a pleasant ride with Scarlatti, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Brahms, and a sweet ending with his own Stride Rite. Zoey was very much enjoying watching a young man in deep groove state during the concert. I was entranced with the breadth of expressivity and compassion David exhibited.

In attendance were about 70 people, almost all wearing KN95 or surgical masks, including David. Ernie and Darlene came from Huntington. Sophia heroically drove from Newbury to pick up Zoey in Montpelier and then to Burlington after a full day at the veterinary clinic. Katherine Kjelleren and I carpooled for the first time since 2020, and nine of Sammy's friends came, in spite of being in absentia himself!

Kudos and gratitude to David's amazing pit crew: Elizabeth, Willow, and Brady, who are sincerely enjoying the adventures of music management and tech support, and also to Katherine and Zoey for their indispensable assistance with setting up the outdoor reception.

The emissions conscious concert tour has launched! Thanks for all your kind support!