Wednesday’s Child: The Artist at 60
This is essentially a letter from Munich, where my wife and I flew last week – I to celebrate the composer Vladimir Genin’s sixtieth birthday, Olga to take part in a grosse Jubiläumskonzert in honor of the occasion. This took place on Sunday evening in Munich’s Gasteig, incongruously – for anyone familiar with Genin’s music – a modernist monstrosity along the lines of London’s Barbican and the new Seine Musicale in Paris.
Does anybody remember Tom Lehrer? “It is a sobering thought,” he once quipped, “that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years.” One thought that kept going through my mind during the concert had to do with how much the reckoning of age, and of an artist’s age in particular, had changed in the last two centuries. This fact, however you look at it, is one of the very few that can be marshalled in support of the notion of progress, along with painless dentistry and the fountain pen.
Partly this is to do with social membranes between generations having become more porous, allowing a kind of continual rejuvenation by osmosis. Of the thirty or so musicians who had come to the Gasteig to pay tribute to Genin, only the great German cellist Guido Schiefen is over 50, while all the rest were in their twenties and thirties. Like Cleopatra bathing in donkey milk, today’s aging artist is in a position of vampirizing on the ideas, gifts, and aspirations of youth without absorbing their asinine, uniquely modern joviality.
The Menuhin Academy Soloists, who had come in from Switzerland where the Academy was founded nearly a half-century ago by the legendary violinist, opened the concert with Genin’s 2010 Sinfonietta für Streicher, reminiscent of a Sicilian dessert called Sette Veli, only here instead of seven different kinds of chocolate were seven different kinds of sadness, held together by mysterious pizzicati. Excerpts from the 2013 vocal cycle on Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, originally scored for piano quintet and here reduced to the essentials of cello and piano, followed, with the Swiss soprano Sybille Diethelm in Chagall-like flight above Guido’s and Olga’s imaginary city.
After the interval the stage became Olga’s, with three parts from the 2011 seven-part, 55-minutes-long piano cycle Seven Melodies for the Dial, which Genin based on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 77 and dedicated to her. In 2012 Olga performed the cycle’s European premiere in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and recorded it for the Dutch label Challenge Records. Here, too, she played the 27 minutes of this immensely complex contemporary work from memory, an almost frightening feat of discipline which was duly acknowledged with a standing ovation.
The concert concluded with Genin’s most recent work, a concerto for violin and strings, written for and dedicated to the evening’s violinist, the Ukrainian Valeriy Sokolov armed with a 1703 Stradivari. Ten years ago Sokolov, who, like Genin, now lives in Germany, already played the world premiere of Boris Tishchenko’s violin concerto at Carnegie Hall, and on Sunday everyone at Gasteig could see that the 60-year-old celebrant was immensely moved by his 30-year-old dedicatee’s performance.
What a night that was. Alas, I must draw a veil of discretion over the inevitable question of much drink was consumed afterwards.