I write to you from the night of Wednesday, May 11th, several hours after junior Ethan Cobb’s “Junior Cello Recital.” Cobb performed five pieces over 45 minutes. He was solo for the first three, and then joined by a Juilliard pianist.
The first piece, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suite No 6 in D Major, featured a prominent, almost bouncing rhythm, accented by long slurs of what were probably 32nd or 64th notes--executed with precision by Cobb. In the context of the whole night, it rooted the concert in the classical tradition and world, suggesting the development of the living tradition of 20th and 21st century classical music embodied by both the later pieces, and by Cobb himself.
The second, Gyorgy Ligeti’s Cello Sonata for solo cello, displayed the almost creepy harmonies and moving double stops of the postwar. The piece, written from 1948 to 1953, suggests to my ear the bizarre or surreal edge that, as we are led to understand it, permeated the time.
The third, David Popper’s Etude No 22, was a string of long slurs leading to and ending in harmonics. Etudes are of course learning pieces, and this one was devoted to string crosses and harmonics, featuring the very highest registers of the cello, which are not familiar territory for cellists. For the public record, David Popper is a kind of cellist’s cellist. All serious cellists study his work, and Cobb is clearly one of them.
The next piece, in which Cobb was joined by guest pianist Bo-Kyung Park, was Sergei Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante, reputed to be the most difficult piece in the standard cello repertoire. I am no expert, but it could well be. The piece is long, grueling, and lightning fast to perform. Cobb didn’t even break a sweat, whipping his fingers across the fingerboard with almost indifferent ease. He conquered that piece, making it a glory of technique.
The final piece, Edward Elgar’s Salut D’Amour, was a classy way to end the night. The piece was written by Elgar as an engagement present for his wife, and features a flowing and inviting melody. It’s always nice to send people out into a beautiful spring night armed with a beautiful tune. Cobb delivered, if--and this is my one critique--a bit quickly for my taste. I cannot begrudge him for that, though, because the entire audience was outraged that he didn’t encore. Seriously, we were considering making him encore.
Ethan is a man of enormous seriousness about his music and his work, and his devotion shines through in his professional level performances, combining perfect technique with a taste for speed. He is something of a race car cellist. Furthermore, I might comment that Ethan is really rather humble about his work and talents, and probably would not want me to eulogize in this manner. But it must be said: this recital was the musical event of the year.
If you missed it, I trust you now feel appropriate regret, provided you are a person of conscience--but you can do something to fix this! You can clap Ethan on the shoulder as you see him pad unassumingly through the hallways. Remember, though: whatever you do, do not mess with the hands. Considering the message of that famed author Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket, who recently wrote for The Guardian, “When people hear an orchestra it moves them – but they often need to be reminded of that,” I would encourage all Riverdale students to expose themselves to more classical music, and especially to do so in the context of supporting one of Riverdale’s great student artists.
Remember, therefore, to go to Ethan Cobb’s senior concert recital in the spring of 2017.
You certainly will not regret it.