With no seats to be had, several latecomers simply sat on the floor in the back of Preston Bradley Hall, some also spilling out of the hall towards the staircase. Ann Murray, Director of the International Music Foundation, said that there had not been a crowd this large since the Vermeer Quartet performed years ago.
The sensation that drew the crowd was cellist Gabriel Cabezas, whose performance was touted by email promotions in the weeks prior to the concert. Ann Murray, in an aside after the performance, said “That young man is going places.”
Rita Simó, founder of The Peoples Music School and Life Trustee of the Chicago Symphony who was in attendance used the same words to describe Cabezas’ performance, as well as admiring fellow pianist Amy J. Yang’s performance, and especially her mastery of pianissimo accents throughout.
Cabezas had chosen the program –Jean Sibelius’ “Four Pieces, Op.78” and Johannes Brahms “Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1 in E minor, Op. 38” – saying he was aiming for “a baroque feel with the influences of older music.”
Though the two composers are from later years, the fancy mosaic surrounds of the hall did seem to fade from our attention during the performance as the music– at times fugal, minuet, or drawing from folk melodies—transported us to the feel of a baroque music salon.
WFMT-simulcast listeners missed the visual demonstration of passion from the two musicians, as well as their intimate leans towards each other during one or another transition in the music.
Of all the enthusiasts for Cabezas’ playing, perhaps the words of his fellow performer Amy J. Yang summarize his talent best. She says, “Gabriel is one of those rare musicians who can assimilate a piece of music so profoundly that when he plays it seems so nature and commanding. The music comes from his being—from his bones. Even when we are playing standard cello repertoire he is still discovering the music, usually playing by memory. He knows the piano part well too. His natural musicality is just breathtaking.”
No one in the audience would have suspected that Cabezas and Yang only had time for one rehearsal before the concert given both of their heavy performance and performance-related travel schedules. Both graduates of Curtis Institute of Music, where Amy J. Yang is now also on the faculty, they both report and demonstrate great comfort in each other’s approach to the music at hand.
Cabezas, a Chicagoland native says that performing at the Dame Myra Hess concert was especially a treat because “I was happy to see a lot of people at the concert. I got to play music I hadn’t played in a long time. And the hall is so close to my parent’s house that I could play the concert and walk home. It was low stress and fun.”
Cabezas was started on the cello at a Suzuki school when he was four, and has been playing professionally since he was 14. Since he graduated from Curtis he guesstimates that he has played 35 concerts around the world.
For Yang this was a return trip to Chicago, having participated in Ravinia’s Steans Institute in both 2006 and 2007 and also performing at an earlier Dame Myra Hess concert with clarinetist Moran Katz a few years ago. Also an accomplished visual artist, Yang was disappointed that her schedule didn’t also allow her visits to Chicago’s museums and a long tour of Millennium Park.
While Yang was more of an accompanist role in the Sibelius piece, we were better able to hear her piano mastery in the Brahms “Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1”. Yang says of the music they performed, “Sibelius’ work is very simple and sparse. The piano never has the melody except in the third movement. These pieces move the listeners based on their musicality, not the technique. The tunes are simple yet quirky and unique. With Sibelius’ work there is a different symmetry than the norm. Instead of two bars there are five.”
Yang continues, “Brahms’ masterpiece has such different movements…There is something haunting about this piece. Gabe chose the repertoire, but I love it.”
Yang, a native of China who later moved with her musician parents to Houston, actually began playing piano when she was just a toddler. She recounts, “My father is a composer, his father was a choral conductor and my mother is a soprano. When I was young my father taught piano and we all lived in one room with the piano. They say I would actually go to the piano and correct students’ notes from time to time.”
Outstanding performances from the chamber repertoire are presented—at no charge—in the weekly Dame Myra Hess concerts at 12:15 in Preston Bradley Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E Washington St, Chicago.
Visit the International Music Foundation website for a schedule of upcoming performances.
Photos: Peter Kachergis, unless otherwise indicated