“I have one question,” a man was saying to Ursula Oppens. “How do they get the piano off the boat?”
“It stays here!” She replied with a smile. “It was born here.”
This kind of genial exchange between artist and audience characterizes intermission at Bargemusic. Performers sit in the boat’s highly visible wings and latecomers risk being poked with a violinist’s bow as he warms up.
Inside the warm wood-paneled room, soundproofed even from the ferry’s blasts, New York’s floating concert hall feels like a visit to times past. Once a lonely cultural outpost on a dying waterfront, Bargemusic – on an actual barge – is now dwarfed by the crowds flocking to Brooklyn Bridge Park or strolling to the water after a visit to the booming DUMBO neighborhood. Will the novelty eventually wear off and the local market demand something new?
Not for now. At 200+ concerts throughout the year, Bargemusic is one of New York’s busiest presenters. The grand piano dominating the performing space limits the repertoire to chamber music, but Artistic Director Mark Peskanov has no trouble filling the calendar with a great variety of artists and music, old and new. I was particularly delighted to notice that he hosts free family concerts every Saturday at 4, all year long. Who else offers that many chances for kids to hear professionals up close?
Peskanov was in performance with Oppens on Friday evening for a program of Beethoven violin sonatas. Peskanov has the tarnished gold of an old-school violinist. Bright, assertive, and at times favoring expression over technique, it’s a tone that calls to mind less the slick soloists of the mp3 generation and more the rough-edged virtuosos of the golden age. Indeed, Peskanov cites Isaac Stern and Rostroprovich as his early proponents.
Oppens, on the other hand, tended toward a mellow cloud of gentle accompaniment, in contrast to the sparkle she brings to contemporary repertoire. Her Beethoven still has all the breath and beauty of the nano-phrases of Nancarrow, and it was welcome to hear her versatility. The first half of the program – Sonata No. 1 and No. 5 the “Spring” – had all the humor and playfulness they needed, even if Oppens and Peskanov didn’t exactly disappear into one another’s tone. It was like watching a conversation between two friends who don’t always agree.
The brilliant, theatrical and perhaps better-rehearsed Sonata No. 7 finished the program, to the toe-tapping delight of the audience. Gone was the gentle Alberti bass of the earlier sonatas, and the assertive qualities of both performers had listeners on the edge of their seats. The duo played the final movement as their encore, because the only thing better than Beethoven is more Beethoven.
Viva Bargemusic! Long may she sway!