City Pulse Lansing, MI January 14, 2015
Symphony, guest cellist bring great outdoors to Wharton concert
For all the fiddlers, fandooglers and foom-boomers crowding the stage at Saturday’s Lansing Symphony concert, two distinct figures linger in my mind. I’ll start with the obvious one: Soloist Bion Tsang. For better or worse, in motion or stasis, through reverie and hysteria, the evening’s guest cellist made it impossible to take your eyes off of him.
Not that he was showing off. He seemed determined to take a seemingly cornball piece of music, Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme,” and wring maximum meaning and drama from every bit. He was all business, ear cocked for every cue from the orchestra and maestro Timothy Muffitt.
Every note Tsang played was strong, clear and pure, from subsonic, Russian Orthodox basso tones to supersonic signals that must have made elk look up from the snowy earth in the trackless woods of Northern Lansing.
Tsang ignored the triviality of the opening bars as he began to work out vigorous, virtuosic variations on a neat little promenade theme. This “Rococo” needed the rum — it’s not Tchaikovsky’s finest hour. Between the first few variations, an inane woodwind outburst seems to chirp, “wasn’t that nice.” However, at about the fifth or sixth variation, Tsang jumped off the Good Ship Lollipop and dove deep, stretching time with soundings that unexpectedly reached to the bottom of a silent ocean. Now and then, he would suspend a note like a silver sphere in mid-air. The mid-January tubercular ward of an audience stopped coughing, and maybe even breathing, for what seemed like a very long time. The notes seemed to have no beginning and no end, no audible attack or decay. They were just there.
Suddenly, the cellist came back up for air with a flashy finale that came off as exhilarating, not silly, like gulping oxygen after a frightening encounter with an undertow. Tchaikovsky fools you every time.
His depths are shallower than you think, but his shallows are often deeper.
By Lawrence Cosentino