By Patrick Joyal
Last weekend, the Kenyon community was treated to a pair of senior music recitals: a percussion recital by Jonathan Spiegler 13 and a joint vocal concert featuring Willie Plaschke 13 and Nathan Huey 13. The performers, though seniors, were not music majors, but that distinction mattered little in terms of performance ability, as both percussionist and vocalists were, for the most part, stellar. Admirably, Spiegler, Plaschke and Huey performed, not for partial fulfillment of a comprehensive exercise, but simply because they wanted to. Their enthusiasm and love of performing were evident. It was particularly fantastic to see busy Kenyon seniors taking time out of their non-musical academic schedules to practice for months on their own, and also so warmly share their talents on Friday and Saturday.
Spiegler, on Friday night, performed using a wide variety of percussion instruments, demonstrating his prowess on all of them and his general musicality in switching seamlessly from one instrument to another. He began the evening on Kenyons relatively new marimba, performing Clair Omar Mussers tude in B Major, which had a cool, lilting 1920s feel, brought out nicely by Spieglers adept mallet work. Michi, by Japanese marimba virtuoso Keiko Abe, followed, demonstrating deft dynamic and rhythmic control, as well as Spieglers ability to perform contrapuntal sections with equal energy.
Next, Robert Sterns Adventures for One, a work for vibraphone, timpani, suspended cymbal and tom toms, offered a pastiche of contrasting performance techniques and textures. These were primarily showcased by the high, atonal vibraphone lines juxtaposed against the ominous-sounding deep-voiced timpani, played in a variety of ways. Virginia Tate, a marimba work after the intermission, may have been the best mallet piece on the program, and once again showcased Spieglers deep understanding of dynamics, harmony and musical narrative. It was refreshing to hear a Kenyon performer who understood that instrumental music, even with its wordless nature, has an emotional arc. He closed the recital with Prometheus Rapture, a concerto for snare drum and orchestra by Ohio composer Sean Beeson. The piece included a difficult orchestral part, rewritten for piano, which contracted accompanist Lucas Weiss played brilliantly. Spieglers performance was ceaselessly energetic throughout the works seven short movements and featured a virtuosic, fiery cadenza composed by the soloist. The performance was a delight, especially since Kenyon rarely hosts solo percussion performances.
Saturday afternoon featured the combined vocal abilities of Nathan Huey, a rich baritone with an impressive classical range, and Willie Plaschke, a distinct, emotional tenor with a penchant for musical theater. The performance began with a comical drinking song from Mozarts Die Enthrung aus dem Serail, a definite crowd-pleaser that featured the performers combined senses of humor more, perhaps, than their vocal abilities. A set featuring Huey followed, with German lieder composed by Richard Strauss, Hugo Wolf and Robert Schumann, all late-19th-century master composers. Of these, Schumanns Widmung may have been the best performance, as Huey wore the emotions conveyed in the song (composed for Schumanns wife) throughout.
Plaschke followed with a set of solo songs by eccentric and inventive 20th-century American composer Charles Ives. Similarly, one piece stood out from the rest in its musicality, emotional content, and gripping performance: General William Booth Enters Into Heaven. The piece was drawn from Vachel Lindays ragtime fantasy poem chronicling the founder of the Salvation Army leading the poor into heaven. Plaschke brought the boundless zeal of an evangelist preacher to the ambiguous song, but ended it in a distinctly threatening manner, almost quietly speaking the final words over atonal clusters aptly played, once again, by Lucas Weiss. The first half of the program ended with a Prokofiev duet, a transcription of a militaristic Russian folk song, in which the juxtaposition of Plaschkes clear tenor vibrato and Hueys deep bass was striking.
The second half began with a sublime delivery of the duet The Ballad of Booth from Stephan Sondheims Assassins. The work combined Plaschkes musical theater genius with Hueys ability to convey emotions and narrative in a charged mix of historical perspective and passion. Following that, Plaschke performed a set of solo Sondheim with an emotion and flair unseen in the previous Ives, especially in Being Alive, from Company. A selection of Mozart arias followed from Huey. Clearly, Mozart is Hueys forte. The classical perfection the aria embodied was a fine vehicle for both Hueys vocal color and his technical ability. As with the Sondheim, this set was well performed. The recital closed with an interesting choice, the vibrant duet Lilys Eyes from The Secret Garden, which featured the higher ranges of both performers in succession, and whose final, prolonged chord was a shimmering cap to an exciting afternoon.