Cellist, pianist will perform French composers’ works

Cellist Rhonda Rider and pianist Judith Gordon have been playing together for more than 20 years, us

Cellist Rhonda Rider and pianist Judith Gordon have been playing together for more than 20 years, usually in a chamber music setting in the Music from Salem series. So Rider is particularly looking forward to their recital on Sunday.

“Her playing is gorgeous. No one sounds like Judith,” said Rider. “We have a musical friendship that we build on . . . like a conversation in which you discover new things.”

Because it’s spring, Rider thought the audience would welcome an “April in Paris” concert with music written only by French composers. She chose Couperin’s “Pièces en Concert,” Fauré’s two cello sonatas, and Debussy’s Sonata in D Major.

Rider and Gordon

WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Hubbard Hall, 25 East Main St., Cambridge

HOW MUCH: $29 (suggested donation)

MORE INFO: 677-2495, www.musicfromsalem.org

Short dance pieces

The six short dance pieces by Francois Couperin (1668-1733) are light, very evocative and fun, Rider said. Since many of his works are versatile enough to be played on different instruments, these dances are transcriptions for cello.

The Fauré and the Debussy are far more complex. Although both are early 20th century impressionistic pieces, their styles are very different, Rider said. The Debussy is short with quickly changing moods.

“There can be 10 emotions in a few seconds,” she said.

The piece started out to depict the clown Pierrot in love with the moon. So listeners can hear a bit of a serenade. But Debussy goes on to use all kinds of colors from the cello, which includes plucking and eerie bow techniques, she said.

The Fauré sonatas in D minor, Op. 109 and G minor, Op. 117 are full of surprises and not played often, Rider said.

“No other composer modulates in such an unusual way. You don’t have a home key. It’s more subtle,” she said. “But the landscape is not gradual. It’s like going directly from New York to Arizona in terms of color and sensibility.”

What the Debussy and Fauré share is that the lead line or who has the melody is disguised.

“Decisions have to be made,” Rider said. “We must go on faith as to what happens.”

Changing approaches

Although they performed these pieces two years ago, it has still been necessary to read the sonatas often over the last few months in addition to substantial rehearsal time.

“Our interpretations have evolved,” Rider said. “Our ideas are new and hopefully better than years ago.”

The technique required for the Debussy and Fauré is difficult in that both musicians must make it all sound natural. “You need finesse,” Rider said. “Occasionally there are awkward passages. These need to flow. The Fauré piano part is especially not idiomatic. The harmonies are unusual.”

But all this is part of the job, she said. During the year, Gordon teaches piano and chamber music at Smith College. Rider, who was a founding member of the Naumburg Award-winning Lydian Quartet before she help found the celebrated piano trio Triple Helix, is coordinator of chamber music and a cello professor at Boston Conservatory and Boston University.

This summer, Rider returns for her 10th year to the Asian Youth Orchestra in Hong Kong, where she coaches young professionals from all over the Far East who will perform Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. The music will be as new to them as to her.

“I’ve never played in orchestras and the level is very high here. I have my homework cut out for me,” she said with a laugh.

Weeklong seminar

Before she leaves for China, however, Rider will hold a cello seminar at Hubbard Hall, dedicated to contemporary music, for 10 cellists who are completing their graduate work. They come from Poland, Greece, the Philippines and the United States. The seminar will run for a week beginning May 27 with the cellists and guest cellist David Russell giving a concert June 3 at Hubbard Hall. Rider won’t return to the Music from Salem series until 2013.

Gordon, who is the MFS series’ co-director with violist Lila Brown, will perform not only at the cello seminar but also will play the three July concerts on the Music from Salem series, which opens July 7.

Categories: Life and Arts

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