Skip to main content Skip to footer site map



With the world in growing turmoil, what we need is Music, Tales and Magic, which is just what the ASPECT Chamber Music presented on March 11, 2020. The stately auditorium of the Bohemian National Hall was the setting for this enchanting concert. Interspersed with fascinating commentary by Dr. John Brewer, Professor Emeritus of History and Literature at California Institute of Technology, the music was provided by cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan and pianist Noreen Cassidy-Polera. Dr. Brewer described how magic is often portrayed in music, and not just literally (as in 28 operatic versions of the Orpheus story!). They often "glide together" in a flight from the reality we live. In this way, he said, magic and music can emotionally give us what we most want. Dr. Brewer introduced the first half of the musical program by talking about the rise of national consciousness in the nineteenth century. Many countries such as Ireland, Wales, Hungary, and Germany had a lively folk music culture which found its way into the music of composers of that time.

Ludwig van Beethoven's (1770-1827) Seven Variations on a theme from Mozart's "The Magic Flute" begins with a folk music-like melody but swiftly becomes Beethoven's own. Mr. Hakhnazaryan and Ms. Cassidy-Polera gave an elegantly shaped performance of this charming work. Their tight ensemble with its polished phrasing and nuanced dynamics took the audience on an unexpected emotional joyride. And more was on the way.

The plaintive Solveig's Song from "Peer Gynt" by Norway's Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), impressive with Mr.Hakhnazaryan's double-stop harmonics at the end, was followed by the Polish composer Fryderyk Chopin's (1810-1849) Polonaise Brillante in C major. It was a spirited mood-changer indeed. Ms. Cassidy-Polera, an equal partner in every way, sent metaphysical sparks flying out of the piano. It was truly breathtaking to see these two outstanding musicians play with and off of each other. If they had begun and ended the concert right there it would have been enough.Both performers displayed great dynamic sensitivity in the performance of Gabriel Fauré's (1845-1924) Après un Rêve. This brief work is often thought of as a mere study piece, but as usual with "simple" compositions it is far more profound than it seems. In the capable hands of Ms. Cassidy-Polera and Mr. Hakhnazaryan it took on a meaningful life of its own.

The Bohemian-born David Popper's Dance of the Elves finished out the first half of the concert. Popper (1843-1913) was known as a chamber musician and teacher, not as a composer. This fiendishly difficult perpetuum mobile piece established him among the first rank of nineteenth century composers. Mr.Hakhnazaryan tossed off all of the notes with perfect articulation, dynamics, and a great sense of fun. He even smiled, as well he should. It was a bravura performance.

Dr. Brewer gave some more interesting remarks about nationalism and folk elements in nineteenth century music, after which there was a brief lagniappé of a piece, Giovanni Sollima's (b.1962) gorgeous and gorgeously played Lamentation for cello. The final piece on the program was Grieg's Cello Sonata. This is Grieg's only major work for cello and piano, and it is equally difficult for both cellist and pianist. Mr.Hakhnazaryan's 1707 Guarneri cello sang out in this lush, richly voiced piece. Both Ms. Cassidy-Polera and Mr.Haknazaryan performed the prayer-like Andante movement with exquisite care and deep sensitivity.

ASPECT Chamber Music Series will be hosting three more concerts (with illustrated lectures) this Spring. Visit for further information. This is a brilliant series and their events are not to be missed!

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes, and More from Your Favorite Broadway Stars

Related Articles View More Classical Music Stories

From This Author Joanna Barouch