The mission of the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, according to its website, is “to engage our community in a life more beautiful through the shared experience and transformative impact of chamber music.” A near-capacity audience shared that experience at the Perelman last week when the violinist Pamela Frank and the pianist Stephen Prutsman performed six succulent violin sonatas composed by J.S. Bach between 1717 and 1723.
Frank appears to be fully recovered from a string of injuries that prevented her from performing for some time. In 2001 a hand injury was treated with acupuncture, which in turn damaged nerves in her arm. Then in 2012 she suffered a fall that caused severe pain in her neck and numbness in her hand. But at the Perelman on Tuesday, all I saw was a pure virtuoso.
Prutsman, who replaced another Philadelphia favorite, Peter Serkin (who died of cancer on February 1), turned out to be the surprise of the evening. A former jazz and rock musician, he has added an exquisite classical sensitivity to his musical lexicon as well.
If the Philadelphia Orchestra audience skews to a more conservative classical-music crowd, the PCMS clientele appear even more devoted to an even more limited repertoire. Tuesday’s audience also happened to consist overwhelmingly of people past the typical retirement age. I couldn’t help wondering: What force enticed all these senior citizens to the Perelman on a rainy, windswept weeknight when most people in America were home, glued to their TV sets watching the results of the Super Tuesday primaries trickle in? Maybe it was the audience's hunger for the kind of shared transformative experience that Bach delivers but that neither Joe Biden nor Bernie Sanders nor even Donald Trump is capable of providing. And maybe it was the perception—more salient, perhaps, and possibly more common, too, among those whose time is growing short—that some things endure in this world and some things fade away.
What, When, Where
The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society presents Pamela Frank. J.S. Bach: Six sonatas for violin and harpsichord. Pamela Frank, violin; Stephen Prutsman, piano. Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. March 3 at the Kimmel Center's Perelman Theater, Broad and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia. (215) 569-8080 or www.pcmsconcerts.org