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Musicians often speak of professional lineages: identifying a musician’s teachers, the teachers of those teachers, and so on. For example, the violinist William Terwilliger was a student of Zvi Zeitlin and Donald Weilerstein, the latter being for twenty years the first violinist of the renowned Cleveland Quartet. The pianist Andrew Cooperstock was a student of David Bar-Illan and Samuel Sanders, the latter being one of the foremost collaborative pianists of the twentieth century. When Terwilliger and Cooperstock perform together as the duo “Opus Two,” we expect a high standard, and an audience of more than 150 had their highest expectations fulfilled on Tuesday in Flat Rock with an outstanding all-Gershwin concert sponsored by Blue Ridge Community College.
The concert opened with a 1927 work “Short Story for violin and piano” that was Gershwin’s only original composition for that duo. This was followed by three transcriptions by Jascha Heifetz and a 2012 transcription by Eric Stern that was commissioned by Opus Two for this program.
Gershwin died at age 39 of a brain tumor, and left only three of a planned larger set of preludes for piano. Sympathetically transcribed by Heifetz, these became a vehicle to display the tonal depths of Terwilliger’s violin against the sharp syncopation of Cooperstock’s piano. Ivan Galamian is Terwilliger’s “musical grandfather” (Zeitlin and Weilerstein both studied with Galamian) and Terwilliger has that characteristic big Russian string sound. This is so appropriate for Gershwin’s brash jazzy music that I could tell we were in for a treat.
The Heifetz arrangement of four selections from Porgy and Bess came next, and Terwilliger came through with an exotic shimmering sound in “My Man’s Gone Now” and virtuosic double stopping in “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” complemented by equally virtuosic piano runs and slides from Cooperstock, culminating in a brilliant finale “Tempo di Blues.” This was followed by excerpts from An American in Paris.
Heifetz provided good transcriptions, but he was upstaged by Broadway composer and arranger Eric Stern whose simply brilliant Suite from Girl Crazy includes precursors and bridges so that the work is a unified whole, not a suite of four separate songs. A hint of “I Got Rhythm” preceded “But Not for Me.” A connecting passage quoted from “Rhapsody in Blue” (not a part of “Girl Crazy”) leading into “Biding My Time.” A solo violin passage bridged into “Embraceable You” out of whose final measures came the concluding “I Got Rhythm.”
In these modern days, audiences expect something visual; watching two men play their instruments doesn’t satisfy modern tastes. Opus Two satisfied those expectations. The famous Leslie Caron/Gene Kelly ballet sequence was screened prior to the An American In Paris transcription, and Judy Garland’s version of “Biding My Time” was screened prior to the Girl Crazy suite. A picture of Gershwin (cigar and all) was projected on the screen during the remainder of the concert. The video presentation was tasteful and appropriate.
Opus Two has been a duo for over twenty years now. They came to international attention in 1993 when they became Artistic Ambassadors for the United States Information Agency. Since then, they have represented the best of America on six continents. In this program, they are ambassadors for the music of George Gershwin, offering some of the finest of that composer’s music in transcriptions for violin and piano. It made one proud to be an American.