The Nova Philharmonic and Paul Joseph Take Third-Stream to the Next Level
Isn’t it amazing how there are so many incredible classical and jazz performances in New York, just a stone’s throw off the beaten path? Last night at Good Shepherd-Faith Church in the Lincoln Center complex was a perfect example, where the Nova Philharmonic teamed up with violinist/composer Gregor Huebner and the Paul Joseph Quartet for a characteristically genre-smashing good time. First on the agenda was Huebner’s own absolutely haunting Ground Zero (from his New York Suite), a tone poem that gave him the opportunity to play while casually circling the audience, conductor Dong-Hyun Kim leading the string orchestra onstage through its chilling, gently keening and then subsiding microtones. The work eventually reached a chilling crescendo with Huebner’s horror-stricken staccato attack against a brooding, dissociative backdrop. As an evocation of the anguish of 9/11, it’s powerfully evocative, more of a look back from a distance than Robert Sirota’s manic-then-bereaved Triptych or Julia Wolfe’s terror-fueled, recently released Big Beautiful Dark & Scary.
The ensemble shifted to warmer, more consonantly enveloping territory with Joel Mandelbaum’s The Past Is Now, a trio of May Sarton poems set to music and delivered with highwire intensity by soprano Kathryn Wieckhorst: in the church’s echoey acoustics, her sheer crystalline power equated to the force of a choir over the lushness of the strings. Mandelbaum’s attention to the rather elegaic lyrical content was both poignant and witty, notably in a furtive, metaphorically-charged passage marking the trail of some nocturnal varmints who’d vanished by daybreak, leaving only their pawprints in the snow. Huebner then rejoined the group for his Concerto con Violin Latino, a bracing, rhythmically-charged suite juxtaposing guajira, bembe and tango themes that began with an anxious, Piazzola-esque sweep and majesty and then romped through the tropics before reverting to a staccato intensity that revisited the angst of the opening piece.
Throughout the performance, Kim’s meticulousness was matched by the ensemble, perhaps most noticeably on the concluding suite, Mozart’s Eine Kliene Nachtmusik. How does one rescue this old standby from the world of credit card commercials and NPR lead-ins? This group’s answer was to dig in and amp it up. And they had to, because this particular performance was billed as a duel of sorts with pianist Paul Joseph and his Quartet – Susan Mitchell on violin, Edgar Mills on bass and Mike Corn on drums – who played their own jazz versions of each of Mozart’s four movements: first the orchestra would play one, then Joseph and crew would come up with a response. Much as it might have been tempting to make hard bop out of it, Joseph did the right thing with a jaunty, ragtime-inflected approach worthy of Dave Brubeck. They swung the opening allegro with gusto, turning the Romanza into bossa nova and the minuet into a jazz waltz. To call what they did eye-opening is an understatement: the strength and irresistible catchiness of Mozart’s melody became even more apparent as they turned a Venetian courtly dance into a blithely bouncy jazz-pop anthem that would be perfectly at home in the Egberto Gismonti songbook. Whenever the glittery attractiveness of the piano threatened to saturate the mix with sugar, Mitchell was there in a split-second with stark, assertive cadenzas and a razor-sharp, slithery legato to add edge and bite. They turned the concluding rondo into a samba, making it as much of a round rhythmically as musically, Mills and Mitchell trading off the tune while Joseph and Corn paired off on an increasingly animated series of percussive jousts that the orchestra finally lept into, completely unexpectedly, and wound out in a joyous crescendo. The audience exploded with a standing ovation. Watch this space for upcoming New York area dates for the Nova Philharmonic and the Paul Joseph Quartet.