Richard Goode can remember soprano Sarah Shafer’s audition for the 2010 Marlboro Music Festival. Goode, one of the foremost pianists of our time, was one of Marlboro’s artistic directors and made a habit of hearing all the vocal auditions. “I was struck by this beautiful, very pure and very musicianly singing,” he said recently from his New York home.
Among other things, Shafer sang Schubert’s “Du bist die Ruh,” a gorgeous yet fragile piece. “It’s a difficult song vocally,” Goode said, “but even more it’s the kind of very delicate musical sensitivity required to give that song its full meaning.”
After working together at the festival during two summers, Goode and Shafer last year played a series of recitals mixing songs and brief solo piano works. They are doing so again this year and bring a program of Beethoven, Schumann, Debussy, and Wolf to Rockport on Sunday. The fact that Goode, 70, and Shafer, 25, are at vastly different points in their careers is immaterial; their partnership is fueled by a deep-rooted artistic affinity.
“Whenever you hear another musician who effects a responsive chord, you feel, ah, this person has the kind of understanding of what you feel is central to the music,” said Goode. “Beautiful voices are not so rare, but the combination of a beautiful voice and the underlying sensitivity and sense of emotional nuance is what particularly attracted me to Sarah’s singing.”
Among the works the pair are exploring are some obscure Schumann songs, including “Des Sennen Abschied” (“The Shepherd’s Farewell”), a song that “I don’t think anyone could guess was by Schumann.” He and Shafer also discovered a shared passion for Debussy’s “Ariettes oubliées” (“Forgotten Songs”), six brief but mysteriously beautiful creations.
“They’re intoxicating,” Goode said of the Debussy. “Just the fact that these amazing masterpieces, so concentrated and powerful, each one has almost its own harmonic language, according to the poem. I particularly value very short pieces in which every note counts, completely. The last song has all the emotion of a Puccini opera, pressed into three pages.”
Goode will be back in Boston in January, playing an unusual all-Mozart concert with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Goode’s contribution will be to play Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E-flat, K. 493, with members of the orchestra. (The program will be repeated in March with pianist Menahem Pressler.)
In a sense, the outing will bring Goode’s experience with Boston full circle: Some of his first chamber music experiences came in 1967, on a six-week tour with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players spent mostly in Russia, playing music of Schubert, Mozart, Brahms, and Fauré alongside Joseph Silverstein, Jules Eskin, and other BSO luminaries. He was 24 years old.
“A lot of Russians were incredibly eager to have contact with musicians from the West, American musicians in particular,” he said. “We had some wonderful experiences meeting Russian people, and the level of interest in the music making . . . was terrific. And the concerts went on forever . . . and then encores were demanded.”
Earlier in the year, Goode stepped down as co-artistic director of Marlboro, a post he had held since 1999 with pianist Mitsuko Uchida, who will continue as its sole director. More than the length of his tenure, though, Goode, who first came to Marlboro in 1957, leaves as one of its most recognizable public faces and, perhaps, as the most prominent surviving link to the festival’s founder and guiding spirit, Rudolf Serkin.
“I think partly it’s just that many good things do come to an end,” he said of his decision. “I love the place, of course. And yet, I have the feeling that I just would like to do other things.”
So, what does he intend to do with his newfound free time?
“Well, I might go and visit the Grand Canyon for a change,” Goode said.
This answer seems so out of character for the longtime New Yorker that an interviewer felt compelled to ask whether he was serious.
Yes he was, and part of his thinking went back to Serkin, who came of age when endless summer festivals were not the order of the day. “When he was quite young, his summers were spent in the mountains. He wasn’t playing concerts; he was climbing in the Alps. Summer was a time to recharge your batteries and do something different. So, there are all kinds of possibilities.”
A violinist’s stateside debut
The Moldovan violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja is making her US debut this week, playing Bartok’s Second Violin Concerto with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. But she’s already well known in the UK and Europe: Last year her recording of concertos by Bartok, Ligeti, and Peter Eötvös won Gramophone magazine’s record of the year, praised for the color and intensity of her performances. She has just recorded the Stravinsky Concerto and Prokofiev’s Second Concerto with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Vladimir Jurowski. The new recording is also noteworthy for the muscular power of Kopatchinskaja’s playing and the deep sense of melancholy she unlocks in the Prokofiev.
She’s got some pretty interesting ideas about music, too, as is clear from a promotional video for the new CD. “What is much more interesting is to come behind [the] written score,” she says, “to find the space where you can try to get out this bird from the cage. The bird is the soul of every piece.”
Friday at Mechanics Hall, Worcester; Saturday at Jordan Hall; Sunday at Sanders Theatre. www.bostonphil.orgDavid Weininger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.