Peninsula Reviews

by Richard Lynde

Inna Faliks began the “Music/Words” series in New York, and with her recent relocation as head of the Herb Alpert Piano Department at UCLA, has continued this unique and memorable practice to our state and county. In Ellen Bass, she could not have picked a better partner. Our poet said that for her this new way of thinking about music is “a conversation.” It began with her quiet reading of “Relax,” about bad things that will happen, such as fungus on tomatoes, cats run over, even a lesbian wife, all stated with a wry humor: like those to follow, what she called “talking poems” meant to be read aloud, something she is very good at. Faliks then took to the keyboard in Schedrin’s (b. 1932) “Basso Ostinato,” a blizzard of sound that was wild, fast, jazzy like Gershwin and reflective of Prokofiev and Stravinsky, a tour de force with underlying humor and perfect control.

Then Ellen Bass read again, this time, “Jazz,” about sending her poems out into the world as if a child, a modern take on our great 17th century American Ann Bradstreet’s own similar feelings. In “Waiting for Rain” she tells how the ancient philosopher Lucretius got her through the night with his idea of atoms “combining” and “recombining” amid the void. “When you return,” magically has eggs going back to shells, “letters unwrite themselves” and diamonds to coal to rotting leaves. Amazing imagery, fresh and immediate.

Next, Inna Faliks played the Mozart (1756-91) “Fantasie in D Minor K. 397,” a brief, intensely moody departure from his sonatas, which she made startling with its shifts between the opening Andante, then Adagio than a Presto played almost too fast to hear, but with perfect accuracy to end the high mini drama. Then, in “If you know,” Bass told of ticket takers touching palms with concert goers, followed by “God’s Grief” with startling images of God, Joan of Arc, Houdini – her words as magical as his magic tricks. In “God in Trouble” a beached whale decomposes, then in “Listening” she imagines having heard Keats read his “Autumn” to a friend. To “words like wine/ I listened with my spine,” both funny and profound.

Then in a brilliant stroke for both performers and audience, Faliks departed from the printed program which had Bass reading between movements of the huge Brahms (1833-97) “Sonata No. 2 in F Sharp Minor,” written and played by the composer in 1853 when he was “only” 20 and full of storm and stress along with tenderness. In the often fiendishly difficult and architecturally perfect four-movement work, played straight through and received with tumultuous applause, the noble work was the best-performed these ears have heard on this mighty Yamaha since Yevgeny Sudbin in a big Scriabin sonata almost two years ago. The Brahms began with a huge attack blaring forth the “allegro, not too fast but with energy.” The “andante with expression” was a stroll with purpose, a meditation that becomes intense and moody, alternating playfulness with severity, then lushness – typical of Brahms, and with Faliks sitting, as usual, with her face right over the keys, as expressive as the notes she was playing. The moving Scherzo was hardly a musical “joke,” but a brief lead up to the “Finale,” played with a gripping intensity, blazing keys played flat-fingered for speed like Horowitz, then a maternal tenderness like the famous Brahms “Lullaby,” coherent in all its many moods, and ending with a big bang. All gave a standing ovation.

Then Bass read three concluding poems, ending with “Reincarnation,” not returning as the “totem of a shaman,” but rather as an OYSTER! Very funny, very apt, very original, like all of her works. Faliks then concluded the intermissionless 110-minute program, which passed as if in a dream, with Liszt’s (1811-86) “La Campanella,” a glittering whimsical bon-bon that left a grateful audience with church bells ringing in our heads.

“…in a brilliant stroke for both performers and audience, Faliks… had [Ellen] Bass reading between movements of the huge Brahms (1833-97) “Sonata No. 2 in F Sharp Minor,” written and played by the composer in 1853 when he was “only” 20 and full of storm and stress along with tenderness. In the often fiendishly difficult and architecturally perfect four-movement work, played straight through and received with tumultuous applause, the noble work was the best-performed these ears have heard on this mighty Yamaha since Yevgeny Sudbin in a big Scriabin sonata almost two years ago. The Brahms began with a huge attack blaring forth the “allegro, not too fast but with energy.” The “andante with expression” was a stroll with purpose, a meditation that becomes intense and moody, alternating playfulness with severity, then lushness – typical of Brahms, and with Faliks sitting, as usual, with her face right over the keys, as expressive as the notes she was playing. The moving Scherzo was hardly a musical “joke,” but a brief lead up to the “Finale,” played with a gripping intensity, blazing keys played flat-fingered for speed like Horowitz, then a maternal tenderness like the famous Brahms “Lullaby,” coherent in all its many moods, and ending with a big bang. All gave a standing ovation.”

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Chicago Sun-Times

By Dorothy Andries

Sometimes a concert is so graceful and so unusual that it must be mentioned. Such was the program “Music/Words” the evening of Saturday May 2 in the Music Institute of Chicago’s Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston.

Pianist Inna Faliks performed three works by Beethoven, interspersed by three sets of poems by German poets Goethe and Schiller, read by Peter van de Graaff. Faliks has a national career and was featured in MIC’s fourth annual Distinguished Alumni Concert because at one point she studied with the late Emilio del Rosario, one of the community music school’s outstanding teachers.

Van de Graaff is a bass-baritone, who sings with numerous area groups and has performed internationally. He is also a long-time announcer on radio station WFMT, and it was for his speaking voice that he was engaged for this enterprise.

The evening opened with three poems by Goethe. There’s nothing like a good radio voice and van de Graaff has one of the best. He presented the poems with clarity and precision and, when appropriate, decidedly cheerful animation.

Who can object to an all-Beethoven program? Faliks eagerly embraced the challenge of that monumental composer. She opened with his Polonaise in C, which begins with crashing chords, but includes delicate moments. She handled everything deftly, displaying speed and her formidable technique throughout.

Her second number was Beethoven’s Fantasia, Op. 77, a free flowing fire-and-ice composition. It seemed an ideal match with her temperament.

Van de Graaff demonstrated his dramatic abilities in the poems by Schiller. Especially memorable was “The Breeze,” in which his voice dropped to a whisper as the words tell of sleep. The well-chosen finale was “Elysium,” which bespoke eternal rest and joy.

Faliks concluded the night with Sonata No. 32, giving the work a nimble, graceful performance, showing off her dexterity, as well as her dynamic reach.

She is associate professor of piano at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music. The Music/Words, now in its sixth season in New York City, is her own creation. The MIC concert was so carefully crafted and delightfully done that it resembled a salon experience.

This imaginative event lasted just over an hour, but was as satisfying, actually even more so, than a program twice its length.

More programs of the Music Institute of Chicago at musicinst.org.

The Glass

by Chris McGovern

Le Poisson Rouge was the scene where pianist Inna Faliks resumed her Music/Words series with a program of classical and contemporary classical music mixed with spoken word, and immediately sprang into action with Rodion Shchedrin’s “Basso Ostinato”, a piece that didn’t even appear on the printed program, but seemed to set a strong pace for the evening’s selections. It turned out that Inna was really playing the encore first instead of last because she says that the Beethoven piece she closed with (the Sonata Op. 111; We’ll get into this shortly) is so epic that it cannot be followed by an encore. It was probably a good call.

The show felt a bit odd in terms of its placement of material. While you have music that is sure to be in line with a perfectly consistent classical recital, even with the new piece by John Eaton, there was the poetry read by its author Sandra Beasley that, while I really appreciated her work and her quirky style (the volume and character of her delivery would have impressed the casting chiefs of Broadway), wasn’t sure gelled within the framework of this concert. In-between Inna’s selections, Beasley came on and read several original poems that were titled after lines from A.C. Baldwin’s “The Traveler’s Vade Mecum” (While it would have been genuinely practical for me to have read that beforehand, I haven’t) as well as 2 stand-alone poems titled “King” and “Mercy”. Now, it probably hurts me that I am literarily challenged to begin with, but when you have so many artists now that are merging or attempting to merge different art forms together on a single concert stage, it takes daring performances to produce the example that sets the bar–Having said this, I applaud both Faliks and Beasley for making strides in presenting this kind of concert–I still think maybe a concert with more of a new music motif would be a better placement for Beasley’s material, but perhaps if her readings had been in collaboration with Faliks’ piano work, I might feel differently.

Of the music that made up the rest of the concert, Faliks was a glowing presence on the LPR Yamaha Grand (whose lid had a perfect reflection of the piano harp strings from my vantage point) and gave beautiful attack on the John Corigliano piece Fantasia On an Ostinato. The ostinato in question is the theme from the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 7th–This is clearly becoming one of the most-quoted classical pieces in music having heard it in this context, and Zoe Keating’s arrangement for solo cello. Strangely enough, Pete Seeger doodling it on the banjo was something I heard recently as well.

The premiere of Eaton’s Songs of Nature…and Beyond had guest vocalist David Adam Moore and Inna performing much of the way from inside the piano–Inna had used a shot glass and a towel placed on the strings and Moore sang into the piano mike on a few lines (He even bumped his head on the lid during one of the sections, but seemed to be okay and laughed it off). The piece itself is a considerably melodic work given that the experimental nature of the performance keeps it in an edgier playing field. Moore’s booming voice had a magnificent range and clarity, and his delivery of the text (two of the selected poems are from WB Yeats and Wallace Stevens) was effectively executed (EDITOR’S NOTE: I haven’t read those beforehand, either).

Faliks’ reading of Beethoven’s Sonata #32 in c minor, Op. 111 was the finale of this concert–Played beautifully, and the piece has such a stunning presence in any concert setting with its almost swing-like Arietta, and that seemingly endless trill. Faliks indeed made the right call to switch the encore to the start of the program in order for the coda of the sonata to resonate gently into the night.

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Sequenza 21

by Kyle Lynch

Last Sunday evening, pianist Inna Faliks closed the fourth season of her Music/Words series at the West Village institution, Cornelia Street Café, in New York City. It was an intimate affair in the Café’s cozy basement theatre, and Inna was joined by soprano Samatha Malk, Brazilian pianist and singer Clarice Assad, and poet Irina Mashinski. The potpourri of solo piano, songs, and poetry readings hearkens back to old European salons of the turn of the century. Yet the evening was thoroughly enjoyable and modern.

Irina Mashinski set the mood of the first half of the concert with the opening poem “The Room” preceding piano works by Ludwig van Beethoven and Arnold Schoenberg. In the poem, a lady carefully furnishes and arranges a room—only to prepare for “an explosion.” Beethoven’s Fantasia in G minor, op. 77 presents a loose set of variations that continually drifts abroad to far reaching keys, different tempos and moods. If Beethoven was preparing later generations of composers to push the limits of tonality, then Schoenberg set the explosion of tonality with the early atonal work, Three Pieces for Piano, op. 11, when he “emancipated the dissonance” the year before in 1908.

Inna Faliks played with sensitivity, bringing out the lyricism and power in both pieces, and also highlighted the wry humor and abrupt shifts in Fantasia in G minor. A rarer side of Schoenberg was heard with a smattering of early songs. Influenced by the lieder of Gustav Mahler, these songs were filled with lush romantic yearnings and enchanting forest scenes. Samantha Malks sang with a clear tone and warmth, particularly in a stirring performance of “Waldesnacht”. Three selections from Schoenberg’s cabaret songs, Brettl-Lieder, were also delightfully presented. A solo piano transcription by Franz Liszt of an art song by Frederic Chopin, “The Wish”, created an effective transition between the two sets of Schoenberg songs. Ms. Faliks deftly performed it charm and ebullience.

Irina Mashinski interspersed her poems between the movements and pieces. She created a synergy of mood by selecting poems to match the music. For Schoenberg’s Three Pieces, Ms. Mashinski described scenes of urban destruction and apocalyptic anxiety, such as depictions of the legendary sunken city of Atlantis. In another poem, “The End of the World”, someone ignores recent, tragic news by burying the newspaper in a trash can—only to expect the end of the world for each following day. The audience, perhaps overwhelmed by the angst stirred up from the poems and Schoenberg’s atonal moodiness, only first applauded midway through the concert after the mood lightened with Schoenberg’s early songs. Such can be the enveloping power of music and poetry. Any remaining tension disappeared after the applause, and the performers appeared gratified to receive the recognition.

The evening was capped off by Clarice Assad with a different sort of music. Steeped in the tradition of Brazilian popular music, Ms. Assad began singing “Falsa Baiana” while tapping out a samba rhythm on a pandeiro (a kind of Brazilian tambourine), before turning to the piano. She improvised fluidly throughout her set before ending with the Italian standard “Senza Fine”. It was a wonderful way to finish a concert that began so earnestly—journeying from intense dread to a song about unceasing love.

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Lucid Culture

Virtuoso pianist Inna Faliks’ latest installment of her innovative Music/Words series last night was a throwback to the Paris salons of the late 1800s, in the aptly lowlit atmosphere of the back room at the Gershwin Hotel. As she describes it, the concept of the series is to match music with poetry that shares a mood or evokes similar emotions, rather than referring to specific ideas or events. As an attempt to link two worlds that otherwise don’t usually intersect, it’s an admirable idea. Musically, this program was extremely diverse, spanning from classical to late Romantic, with Faliks pulling one of the obscurities she’s so fond of out of the woodwork as well. Lyrically, it was surreal, impactful, and relevant. Poet Tom Thompson doesn’t waste words: he finds the logic in cruel irony, assembles scenes vividly yet economically, and makes connections – like the commonalities in the desires of a child at play and a hungry spider – that might seem farfetched at face value but make perfect sense as he describes them (spiders got a lot of time this time out). “The lake is tired of being a mirror…it closes its one historical eye before we ever get to use it,” he observed bleakly. In an understatedly moving account of his son’s experience with seizures, Thompson coldly acknowledged how in one culture, people who suffer from them get killed, while in another they’re worshipped. A New York water tower became a “wholly owned subsidiary” of the dead leaves that get under the screws that hold it together; people and insects in Central Park shared a fate brought on by their inability to escape their desires. If insightfully ominous, loaded imagery is your thing, Thompson has a couple of collections out from alicejamesbooks that you should investigate.

The music was good too. In between trios of poems, Faliks alternated with pianist Dimitri Dover, who warmed up the performance with the Haydn’s uncharacteristically pensive Sonata in C Minor., Hob. 16:20. A bit later, he played three selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, the best being the anxiously stately “Montagues and Capulets” scene followed by Mercutio’s scampering cinematics. He joined Faliks for a perfectly synchronized four-handed take of another uncharacteristic piece, Liszt’s reflective, remarkably terse Symphonic Poem #4: Orpheus, eventually ending the show with three intuitive, energetic Debussy preludes and then a rather stern take on Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2, Op. 31.

Although the program put her on the bill lower than Dover and Thompson, Faliks was still the star of this show, playing with her signature blend of lithe grace and raw power, particularly as she made her way through the nocturnal scenes of Liszt’s Harmonies du Soir, and then the composer’s transcription of Paganini’s La Campanella, which she imbued with playful charm and then maintained it all the way through the dance’s knotty, rapidfire thicket of staccato. Her obscurity du jour turned out to be 20th century Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin’s Basso Ostinato, a fascinatingly biting, expansively acidic prelude that built from a walking bassline to echoes of Alban Berg and Vincent Persichetti. Faliks’ next program in the Music/Words series, on April 22 at 7:30 PM at the Cornelia Street Cafe with Brazilian pianist Clarice Assad and poet Irina Mashinski promises to be equally intriguing.

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  1. Rzewski "The People United Shall Never Be Defeated" (excerpt, improvised cadenza) Inna Faliks 8:36
  2. Mozart Piano Concerto #20 - I Inna Faliks 15:12
  3. Mozart Piano Concerto #20 - II Inna Faliks 10:27
  4. Mozart Piano Concerto #20 - III Inna Faliks 8:26