Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Another Thrill Ride with the Greenwich Village Orchestra

There’s no thrill like being right on top of a symphony orchestra as they stampede through a particularly energetic passage. It’s almost like standing too close to the tracks as a train goes by: you literally feel the music as much as you hear it. And at the Greenwich Village Orchestra’s concerts, you don’t have to have a hedge fund in order to get a front row seat (a $15 donation gets you in; as at Merkin Hall, seats are general admission). Their previous performance back in November looked to be pretty much sold out; their concert this past Sunday wasn’t, probably because the program was more obscure (and maybe because it was what has become unseasonably cold outside). As it turned out, nobody took those front-row seats this time, probably because the sightlines are better a little further back in the auditorium. Standing in for the orchestra’s music director Barbara Yahr, conductor Pierre Vallet led the ensemble through a joyous, often Christmasy program that began and ended on a celebratory note. Conceivably, this particular bill would have been an appropriate choice for the New York Philharmonic Society to play sometime in the winter of 1886.

The first piece was Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger. Although it’s hardly profound, it’s impossible not to pick up on the subtleties and get lost in the music if you’re only about fifteen feet from the stage. A cynic might say that the orchestra figured, ok, if we have to play this thing, we might as well have fun with it – and they did! It wasn’t quite unbridled lust, but it was close to it – and the piece’s artful little touches, like the tense, shivery strings leading up to a crescendo in the midsection (“Uh oh, is the singer up there going to blow it, or win the contest? This suspense is killing me!”) were undeniable. The opera it comes from is farcical – it’s an ancestor of American Idol – but this orchestra redeemed it, at least this particular excerpt.

German/Jewish Romantic composer Max Bruch is best known for his plaintively powerful Kol Nidre Variations. The Orchestra played his four-part Scottish Fantasy suite, which isn’t quite as gripping, but it’s awfully close, particularly the lushly moody opening movement. Guest violinist Hye-Jin Kim was obviously enjoying herself as she made her way through meticulously bracing variations on the Scottish folk themes on which the piece is based. It’s a showcase for virtuoso fiddle-dance moves, and Kim made the most of them as the work picked up steam, its cinematics shifting from rugged Scottish coastline to country dance and then a triumphant battle theme, Vallet literally dancing on his toes on the podium as the orchestra swung through the changes with congenial majesty.

The concluding piece was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, which is vastly underrated as Beethoven goes. The backstory here is that when he wrote this, Beethoven was in the midst of a particularly fertile period, even by his standards. He’d already started the Fifth Symphony, but then received a commission from a German nobleman (in those days, there were no foundations for the arts and no Kickstarter: you went straight to the one-percenters) who was a big fan of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2. Perhaps cynically, it seems the composer figured something like, “What the heck, I’ll knock off this one and then get back to my new magnum opus.” But he didn’t just phone it in – in its warm, comfortably glimmering way, this was a joy to hear. A well-oiled, perfectly balanced machine, the orchestra made their way through the suspenseful atmospherics of the opening movement, to a sudden, blustery gallop and then the buoyantly swaying minuet in the second, awash in the glimmering contentment of the high strings against warmly nocturnal, sustained brass and woodwind tones. After the stately, hypnotic, bass-driven pulse of the third movement, violinist/concertmaster Robert Hayden nimbly led the rest of the strings through the understatedly apprehensive flurries of chromatics that finally lit the fuse for several entertainingly Beethovenesque false endings. In the back, Yahr grinned in appreciation for the way her orchestra had bonded with Vallet, and vice versa. The GVO’s next concert is especially choice: March 25 at 3 PM at Washington Irving HS Auditorium on Irving Place, featuring Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance and Violin Concerto followed by Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 directed by up-and-coming conductor Farkhad Khudyev.

February 15, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fun with Anat Cohen at the Miller Theatre

Jazz reedwoman Anat Cohen’s show Saturday night at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre looked to be sold out, or very close to it. Early on, she explained to the crowd that playing music for her was akin to bantering, and her bandmates no doubt agreed. Pianist Jason Lindner, bassist Omer Avital and drummer Daniel Freedman joined her in a mostly upbeat, often joyously melodic, high-energy set that reflected both her eclecticism and her fondness for Brazilian styles. This show wasn’t about crazed bop assaultiveness or weird tempos: it was all about meaningful contributions, and memorable tunes, and sometimes exuberant, sometimes sly interplay. Cohen’s fearsome technique is matched by her unselfconsciously warm approach to the music: when she wasn’t playing, she swayed, eyes closed, radiating a contented grin. Beginning on clarinet, then switching to soprano sax and then tenor for awhile, she and Lindner alternated between casually incisive swirls and cascades, and more contemplative passages marked by smartly chosen chromatics that made a vividly darker contrast with an otherwise high-spirited vibe.

The opening track, Anat’s Dance, was a Lindner composition, its bright, dramatic hooks giving way to a moody piano solo that finally rose with a rippling triumph against Freedman’s crescendoing cymbal atmospherics. They built an edgy funk tune out of the next number, setting Brazilian tropicalisms to a summery soul-infused groove, a mood they’d revisit in even more casually amped-up mode with their Coasters cover that closed their first set.

Cohen switched to tenor for their take of Frank Foster’s The Wedding, with a tone as smoky and as attuned to the song’s wee-hours congeniality as her crystalline clarity on the higher-register instruments had been earlier in the set. The song is essentially a jazzed-up soul groove, so it only made sense that when it came time for his solo, Avital would go up high on the fingerboard for some bright, bluesy guitar voicings that contrasted with Lindner’s more considered, impressionistic cheeriness.

When Freedman and Lindner left the stage for the next tune, Cohen worked the situation for laughs, then joined Avital for a swirlingly gorgeous clarinet-and-bass duo that blended slinky Bahian ebullience with brazing klezmer tonalities. The samba-jazz ballad they followed with was a rousingly successful journey through dynamics that began pensively, took an upward trajectory with Cohen’s most biting solo of the night and ended on an unexpectedly brooding note as the clarinet it down elegantly. They closed with a hypnotically rhythmic Freedman composition that the drummer cleverly morphed from an Ethiopian-flavored triplet rhythm to a practically disco shuffle – it wouldn’t have been out of place in the Either/Orchestra catalog. The crowd wanted an encore, but the house lights came up immediately.

Beyond Cohen’s popularity, maybe another reason the hall was so well-populated is that these Miller Theatre jazz shows are a real bargain: tickets were $25, with none of the drink minimums, or mandatory coat check, or the other nickel-and-dime concessions that some of the big-ticket jazz clubs get you for. The next one of these is on the 25th of this month with Don Byron’s New Gospel Quintet.

February 15, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment