A Lively Tribute to Bargemusic Founder Olga Bloom
“We do more shows than anybody else,” bragged violinist and Bargemusic honcho Mark Peskanov, and that was no overstatement. New York orchestras and classical ensembles typically take at least the end of the summer off, but Bargemusic goes year-round. “First it was two nights. Then we said, could we do three?” He gave a quizzical look. “Now here we are, on a Monday!”
He was there on the converted 1899 coffee barge like he is most every day, this time to celebrate the birthday of Olga Bloom, who founded Bargemusic (and lived there for quite some time in the late 70s), whose vision of a noncommercial, non-corporate creative space for classical musicians and chamber music devotees has mushroomed beyond anyone’s expectations. Vital and active in music until almost the end of her life, she would have been turning 93. “We usually don’t talk much here,” Peskanov admitted, and he’s right. With the space’s Manhattan harbor view and the quality of the music here (“It has to go through me, so you know it has to be on the highest level,” Peskanov asserted), there’s no need to gild the lily: Bargemusic remains unsurpassed as a date spot, year after year.
There was music, too. Peskanov, a pyrotechnically skilled player, began with soaring yet precise solo Bach on violin in tribute to Bloom, who would typically begin the day by doing the same, “completely one with the music,” as Peskanov remembered her in the morning when he’d hear her playing from outside. He recalled how Leopold Stokowski would chide her for playing too loud: defiantly, she refused to tone down her act. For Bloom, Peskanov said, the string quartet was the highest expression of human creativity, so this particular night made a good excuse for him to join forces with violinist Laura Goldberg, violist Ah Ling Neu and cellist Guy Fishman for a romp through quartets by two of Bloom’s favorite composers, Beethoven and Haydn. The former’s String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No. 4 began as it seemed how Bloom might have played it herself, irrepressibly jaunty on the opening allegro before contrasting powerfully, wary and wounded, with the andante scherzoso second movement. From there they worked their way up again to end on the vibrant note they began with. They picked up the pace even further with Haydn’s String Quartet in C, Op. 54, No. 2, throwing all caution to the wind and giving new meaning to the presto dynamic as it wound up joyously. Definitely not the sort of thing for people who consider string quartets to be good background music, but as an example of how passionate and exciting the genre can be, it was a thrill to be on the boat that night.
This quartet is back on the barge on May 12 at 8 PM and then on May 13 at 3 PM, doing the Beethoven and Haydn plus Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2 in D; tickets are $35 and early arrival is highly advised. It’s also worth mentioning Bargemusic’s free, weekly Saturday 3 PM concerts: promoted as “family” shows, squalling infants don’t seem to be an issue, and as Peskanov can attest, the performers are first-rate.