Gabriel Kahane and Alisa Weilerstein Saturday night at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis.
Amazing sometimes how "everything works in together," to paraphrase the poet James Schuyler. Like on Saturday evening at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis, where two young music talents presented a program that combined the nearly 300-year-old Cello Suites of Bach and songs based on messages from the website Craigslist.
Cellist Alisa Weilerstein and composer/singer Gabriel Kahane, who've known each other since childhood, have not performed together until this two-week mini-tour, with stops in Vancouver, California, Maryland and, finally, Minneapolis.
Weilerstein, not yet 30, spends much of her time as a guest soloist playing in big concert halls with symphony orchestras. So it was an intense and rare pleasure to see her alone and up close in the Southern, where she performed with great feeling the Bach cello suites nos. 3 (see video below) and 5. The two suites themselves offered stark contrast. The No. 3 (in C Major) was full of fire and speed, never more so than in the fiendishly fast dances of the "Courante" and "Gigue," while the No. 5 (in C Minor), was much more singing and mournful, a lush and often dark lament. Weilerstein played each with eyes mostly closed, coaxing from her cello that miraculous mix of mathematical precision and emotion that is Bach's trademark.
Kahane, his shock of curly blond hair barely contained by a stocking cap, ran to the piano. He praised Weilerstein as "the Edge of Bach land." His chirpy between-song comments included references to his having had "six MRIs in the past two years," and advice never to read the Joan Didion novel "Play It As It Lays" if "you are depressed in an efficiency apartment in Los Angeles following a devastating breakup." His songs, at the piano and on an electrified acoustic guitar, included "Durrants" and "North Adams" as well as the hilarious "Neurotic and Lonely" from his "Craigslistlieder" song cycle.
More seriously, Kahane and Weilerstein ended the show with the Twin Cities premiere of Kahane's new composition set to poetry of Pulitzer winner Galway Kinnell. Kahane chose Kinnell's "Little Sleeps Head," in which a father soothes a crying infant and meditates on mortality. Kahane sings seven sections from the poem in a piece that combines cello, voice and piano in various combinations. There's a dramatic opening in the cello, with text about the child's sudden awakening from a nightmare. In other parts, the cello is plucked alongside a skittery piano. There's plenty of drama (maybe too much?) in the music, and Kinnell's words, as sung by Kahane, convey a doting father's dark thoughts about the impermanence of infancy, the threats of time and a child's inevitable growing-up. A solo cello part starts the final part, evoking a spare, moonlit, late-night scene, as the child, calmed, is returned to the crib and Kahane sings "farewell, farewell."
Below, video of Weilerstein playing the last two parts of the Bach Cello Suite No. 3.