Sometimes facing a threat brings out the best in musicians. Knowing that they’d have to wrap up their concert before the subway shut down at seven in anticipation of the “Frankenstorm,” did the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony hurry their show yesterday on the Upper East Side? No: whatever tension they must have been feeling, they transcended. Which is what music is all about, right?
For those who’d grown up with the pieces on the program, it was like reconnecting with old friends after a long time away and noticing that they’ve obviously been working out and are in great shape. Between those two – Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto – was a merry prankster who for all his clowning around turned out to be as deep if not deeper than the old friends. That was Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel.
Anyone who might have been introduced to the Schubert wafting from the radio over the kitchen table on, say, WQXR at dinner time was treated to a welcome rediscovery. And pity those hearing this for the first time here – they’re spoiled for life. Both movements were cinematic and bursting with energy: what a career Schubert would have had in the movies if he’d been born a century later! Conductor David Bernard drew a genuinely suspenseful anticipation from the low strings in the introduction, and likewise from the brass as the second movement made its way out of a lustrous gleam.
But the revelation on the bill was the Strauss. The composer was quoted as saying that he wanted to offend audiences with this, and it’s easy to see how that could have happened: in its own precise, Teutonic way, it’s a musical satire, a raised middle finger at some of the very same conventions that Strauss would cave to later in Ein Heldenleben and elsewhere. But that’s another story: this was the young Strauss being as much of a proto punk rocker as he could have been under the circumstances. The orchestra drew obvious relish from all the mockery: the snidely swaggering elisions in mock-heroic passages and the spritely little cadenzas that always draw laughs whenever this is staged. And they made it clear that this was an angry little sprite, all the way through the bombastic march leading up to the scene where he’s on the gallows and even that can’t kill him. In its own sarcastic way, it was as much about joie de vivre as the opening piece.
After that, it was almost impossible to take the heroic first movement of the Beethoven seriously, especially because the orchestra shifted gears and embraced it with a remarkable gravitas. But pianist Terry Eder had something of the sprite in her, which came to the forefront as the second movement opened, slipping into an elegant glide with just a tinge of rubato matched expertly by the conductor and the rest of the ensemble. Bernard is not the kind of maestro who plays his cards close to the vest, and at this point he had a triumphant “yessssss” grin on his face as he did throughout much of the show. The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony’s next concert is on February 9 of next year at 8 PM, repeating on February 10 at 3 PM with an all-Beethoven program bookending the Concerto for Piano No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 with Symphonies No. 1 and No. 7.
American Composers Orchestra honcho Michael Geller has gone on record as saying that producing good concerts isn’t the organization’s main focus: they’re more of a vehicle for new composers to develop fungible, orchestra-ready repertoire. That’s a hefty agenda, but along the way the ACO manages to put out albums and play concerts that are often spectacularly entertaining, not just because of the diversity of the composers whose work they thrash into shape. Carnegie Hall last night was a launching pad for some of that: two world premieres, an American premiere and a familiar crowd-pleaser from an earlier era conducted robustly by guest Jose Serebrier.
Narong Prangcharoen’s The Migration of Lost Souls, inspired by the temple bell music of his native Thailand opened the show dramatically and intensely, essentially a suspenseful, serialistic tone poem punctuated by breathless, often terrorized bursts of agitation. Sepulchral washes of airy strings built to bustling, rapidfire cascades, often utilizing the entire orchestra but also making vivid use of the xylophone to mimic the lickety-split phrasing of northern Thai mor lan music. The carnival of souls finally found peace at the end in the gamelan-like resonance of bells and a boomy bass gong.
Milica Paranosic’s The Tiger’s Wife: Prologue, utilizing texts from the popular Tea Obreht novel, went for similar dramatics with mixed results. It’s a powerful and vivid piece of music, a diptych of sorts, beginning with a tense, niftily orchestrated, suspensefully rhythmic tone poem and ending with a blazing, gypsy-tinged overture. Unfortunately, an inspired performance by the orchestra threatened to be subsumed in a deluge of bells and whistles. Singer Lori Cotler delivered the lyrics with an aptly biting edge, but a lot of that got lost in a tumble of south Indian takadimi drum language. It’s a device she employs with spectacular dexterity and not a little wit in a radically different context, as part of the playful Takadimi Duo. But all the diggity-doo was as out of place here as rosewater on a burek – or in more prosaic terms, like ketchup on ice cream. There were also electronics, which added nothing: Cotler’s vocals were strong, and the orchestra was going full force. Meanwhile, a high-definition vacation video of sorts played on a screen overhead and proved far less interesting than the orchestra. Was this an attempt to connect with a youtube generation that ostensibly can’t relate to anything without visuals? In terms the youtube generation knows well: epic fail.
Some of Charles Ives’ work was paradigm-shifting; his Symphony No. 3 wasn’t. But this performance was hardly boring, the orchestra taking a briskly energetic, sometimes even romping journey through its often folksy “Camp Meeting” cinematics. The boisterous, rhythmic energy wound up with the American premiere of the conductor’s Flute Concerto with Tango. Its tango rhythm is syncopated bracingly in the beginning – it’s missing the heavy, defining third beat – so a recognizable tango per se doesn’t appear until the concluding movement. Along the way, flutist Sharon Bezaly negotiated thicket after thicket of knotty, lickety-split rivulets and a long, taqsim-like, mostly solo interlude on alto flute, all the way through to a dancing coda.
Not only do the ACO premiere their composers’ works, they also workshop them live, which can be a treat to witness for serious listeners and students of the style. The next one is at Mannes College Auditorium on the upper west side on Nov 13 at 2 PM.
Thursday night at BAM’s Next Wave Festival was one of those magical evenings that sends you spilling out into the street afterward, every synapse invigorated, glad to be alive. It was the world premiere of Phil Kline’s lush new arrangement of his iconic Zippo Songs, plus an intoxicatingly enveloping new cycle, Out Cold, played and sung luminously by ACME with crooner Theo Bleckmann at the absolute top of his evocative game. The new Fisher Space black-box theatre was either sold out or close to it. The final performance is tonight, and it isn’t sold out as of this writing (early affernoon). If transcendence is what you’re looking for, get over to BAM by 7 or so. The show starts at 7:30; the space is not on Lafayette Avenue but on that short street that runs perpendicular to it up to the Atlantic Avenue mall.
The program began with three Rumsfeld Songs, three quotes from “the comic evil spirit, if there ever was one,” to quote Kline’s program notes. The dark levity started with the famous pseudo-ontological one about “known knowns” and “known unknowns,” set to a deadpan, mechanically circular tune that gave Bleckmann a platform for just a tinge of Teutonic grandiosity, making for cruelly delicious satire. The second song was a march, the third more restrained, leaving the Iraq war villain’s long-winded, disingenuous disavowal of mass murder to linger. They made a good setup for the Zippo Songs, Kline’s musical setting of aphorisms and poems inscribed on cigarette lighters by American combatants during the Vietnam War.
These songs hadn’t been staged in New York in eight years. The sparseness of the originals played up the cruel irony, bitterness and sheer horror of the soldiers’ words; the new arrangements turned out to be far more rich and sweeping than expected, yet without subsuming any of the lyrical content. The genius of Kline’s craft is simplicity: like his great influence Charles Ives, he pushes the envelope, but he knows a catchy motif when he hears it. Hide a hook in a haystack, turn Kline loose, and he will find it. Which is why the new charts worked as well as they did; ironically, the richer the orchestration, the more memorable the melodies became. Pianist Timothy Andres and vibraphonist Chris Thompson got the choicest intervals, as Kline’s tensely straightforward, gleaming phrases reached the top of their arcs, over pillowy, sustained, shifting sheets held aloft by violinists Caleb Burhans, Ben Russell and Keats Dieffenbach, yMusic violist Nadia Sirota, cellist Clarice Jensen, oboeist Michelle Farah, bassist Logan Coale and flutist Alex Sopp. As with the original versions, the music does not disavow the darkness of the lyrics, instead providing a distantly apprehensive backdrop.
The airiest of these, appropriately enough, was the first one, voicing the soldiers whose goal it was to stay high all the time. The most haunting was the warily pulsing fourth in the series: “If I had a farm in Vietnam and a home in hell, I’d sell my farm and go home,” Bleckmann intoned. The most pensive, atmospheric segment was the most disillusioned: “We are the unwilling, led by the unqualified, doing the unnecessary for the ungrateful.” Emma Griffin’s stage direction had Bleckmann nonchalantly changing costumes and assuming roles to go with them: somehow he was able to hold a perfectly unmodulated, resonant legato through a quick series of pushups and situps that would have had most people panting.
The trippy bossa beat of that song foreshadowed what was to come with Out Cold. Taking his cue from Schubert’s Kafka-esque Winterreise suite as well as the ethereal 1950s “suicide song” collaboration between Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle, Kline brought the broodingly hypnotic lushness up several notches and so did the ensemble and singer. Beginning with a low, raspy wash of strings and throat-singing and ending on a wistful, aptly elegaic note, these were torch songs for a new generation, blending the best of several previous decades’ worth. The bossa nova pulse returned memorably a couple of times, fueled by suspenseful woodblock, vibes and piano; the suite reached a high-point, volumewise with its most rocking number, Million Dollar Bill, noir Orbison chamber pop taken to understated heights of angst, tinkly David Lynch piano contrasting with the blue velvet wash underneath.
Bleckmann shuffled between tables in a darkened bar – One for My Baby in 3D – drinking from random half-empty glassses in A Final Toast, its insistent low strings reminding of Julia Wolfe in a particular intense mood. Where’s the Rest of Me, a creepily dreamy waltz, was followed by the slightly vaudevillian The Season Is Over, which grew dark fast and made a potent segue with To the Night, its noir lustre punctuated by uneasy close harmonies from the ensemble. In its own elegant way, the suite is as evocative a portrayal of loneliness and alienation as Joy Division. Kline has been writing eclectic, relevant music since the 80s; once again, he’s embraced a new genre and made it indelibly his own.
In the simpering, twee world of indie rock, technology is a crutch to be employed whenever possible: after all, what could be more lame than using a crutch whether it’s needed or not? Wednesday night at the World Financial Center, WNYC New Sounds Live host John Schaefer asked Victoire bandleader Missy Mazzoli if electronics were now an essential part of a composer’s arsenal. Not at all, Mazzoli replied, explaining that she simply chose to use them because they were well-suited to her swirling, atmospheric compositional style. And the way she works them into her music, they are, adding subtle colors and textures to her signature gossamer sheen. Yet as much as Mazzoli’s music, especially with this band, is in the here-and-now, the intricacy of her counterpoint and harmonies draws a straight line back to the baroque. Scarlatti would have been mesmerized by what he heard from this group.
They opened with the title track to their 2010 album Cathedral City, Olivia De Prato’s swirling, plaintive violin contrasting with the echoey wishing pool below, mingling with vocals from Caroline Shaw and Mellissa Hughes and Eleonore Oppenheim’s tersely sustained bass. The second song built from nebulously pulsing atmospherics, rising with Eileen Mack’s clarinet, then elegantly handing off to the violin, the exchange of textures pulling tensely away from the center. Meanwhile, keyboardist Lorna Krier got to sink her fingers into some of the night’s juiciest textures: a warped tone not unlike a Hawaiian steel guitar, ominously oscillating organ and reverb-toned electric piano. She also switched back and forth between her keyboard and a mixer, with split-second timing, and made it look easy. Meanwhile, Mazzoli held to stately, terse counterrythms at the keys of her Nord Electro. They closed their short set with A Song for Mick Kelly, imagining how the heroine of Carson McCullers’ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter might have written as a woman in 1930s Georgia. It wasn’t what you’d expect, echoey violin over an atmospheric drone, eventually building to understatedly apprehensive swirls and flurries made all the more dramatic in the absence of the screaming electric guitar part on the album. The contrast between Hughes’ soaring resonance and Shaw’s plaintive timbre enhanced the song’s distant longing.
You have to hand it to Schaefer. As wide a net as he’s cast over the decades, his coverage can be erratic, compounded by the fact that most of the trust-funded dilettantes who would have set up shop in the lofts of experimental music thirty years ago now make indie rock their luxury condo. But few people other than Schaefer would make the connection between Victoire and the evening’s headline act, Vijay Iyer – it was a segue worthy of Bill Graham. Iyer wrapped up the night – scheduled to air sometime in the near future on WNYC – with an epic, menacing version of Accelerando, the title track from his latest album with his long-running trio, bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore.
You could call it the Halloween remix – and that’s how it started, the staggered ipod beat that opens the version on the album (which famously won all those awards earlier this year) high in the mix to the point where in the early going it drowned out Gilmore’s judicious accents. And Gilmore soon fell out of sync with it – whether this was intentional, as if to say, we don’t need this garbage, or simply because he couldn’t hear it onstage, it was a case where technology was very much the enemy. But it was gone quickly. The rest of the song was an eerie, glimmering feast of ominous chromatics and rich sustain. Iyer is extraordinarily perceptive of his surroundings, and within fifteen seconds of the song’s opening, he’d begun hitting the high notes hard to get the piano resonating and echoing in the atrium’s boomy sonics. Crump danced and somersaulted, trading off pushing the rhythm with Iyer as Gilmore added subtle color with his cymbals – he, too, was feeling the room. Rising and falling, they finally went up to the point where Iyer blasted a macabre seven-note riff over and over and then finally wound it down gracefully at the end. And then the show was over. Which might explain why the performance hadn’t drawn every jazz fan in town: knowing that this would be rebroadcast, they made what ultimately might have been the smart move and decided to wait to hear it in the comfort of home.
Guitarist Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord come out of the irreverent Hot Cup Records camp. In their world, nothing is off limits. Humor is always either front and center or lurking around the corner; anger is wholeheartedly embraced; tradition calls for mockery. Punk jazz? Esthetically yes, chopswise no: these guys – bassist Moppa Elliott, saxophonists Jon Irabagon and Bryan Murray and drummer Dan Monaghan – can flat-out play. Lundbom’s previous album Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! mined a savagely satirical vein. His new one, sarcastically titled No New Tunes is considerably subtler. It’s not particularly easy listening. Nothing ends with any kind of resolution. Tonalities lean toward harsh veering on abrasive; structures fall apart on a moment’s notice, but more elegantly than you would expect in this band’s kind of music, considering that the group shares members with Mostly Other People Do the Killing and twisted Merle Haggard cover band Bryan & the Haggards.
A Steve Coleman sample and pummeling, assaultive drums kick off the opening track, The Bad! Thing, leading into a wandering, uneasy guitar solo in 6/4 time, working its way through jagged jousting, rumbling chaos and a sideways, walking swing that ends unresolved. Lundbom plays without effects through what sounds like a vintage Fender Twin amp with plenty of natural reverb and just a tinge of distortion that fits his sometimes offhandedly dismissive lines well. The album’s closing track, an almost shockingly straight-up bop swing tune, is a case in point, its centerpiece being a long, amusing interlude where Lundbom simply will not go off task, holding the center even though nobody else is, refusing to cave to peer pressure until he’s made his point.
Titles are giveaways here. Talent for Surrender is an example of how bandmates can keep just enough distance from each other without completely losing track, shifting through airy convergent harmonies to skronky bop, squiggling Sonny Rollins-influenced sax contrasting with unexpectedly terse rhythm. And Be Made Visible takes at stab at a ballad: not to spoil a good joke, but Murray’s faux romanticisms after an unfulfilled, searching Lundbom solo are…well, what you would expect from this band.
The Other Third One pulses briskly through agitated, spinning bop, sarcastic skronk and a tasty, shivery, casually assaultive Lundbom solo over a rather tongue-in-cheek, too-terse-to-be-true rhythm section. And Follow the Swallow plays unexpectedly low-key, offcenter variations on a bouncy swing ditty, Irabagon refusing to cede centerstage even when Lundbom makes it clear he’s no longer welcome there. That’s the kind of moment that defines this band, and there are lots more of those here: it’s cool to see how these guys have such confidence in what they’re doing that they refuse to take each other seriously. Like many of their scenemates, the band is making this album available on vinyl as well as a download: if you’re looking for a cd, you’ll have to burn one. Although the sound quality of the vinyl (not reviewed here) is bound to be superior to any digital format.
Last night at the first of the Miller Theatre’s relatively impromptu “pop-up concerts” on this season’s calendar, a program titled Minimalism’s Evolution, Ensemble Signal violinist Courtney Orlando and cellist Lauren Radnofsky played what was essentially karaoke. Much as it’s always more entertaining when all the music at a concert is live, considering how fantastic this particular bill was, the substitution of a laptop for a full ensemble was easy to overlook. Playing to any kind of backing track, whether a fullscale recording or just a simple click, can be maddeningly difficult to do with any degree of soul if the pulse of the music is as mechanically hypnotic as it was throughout much of this set. But both musicians were seamless to the point where it was occasionally difficult to figure out what was actually being played and what was already in the can.
The show opened on an auspiciously apprehensive note with Michael Gordon’s Light is Calling, from 2001, with its uneasy push-pull of creepy bell-like electronics and pensive cello melody. Radnofsky carried it with an airy sostenuto ornamented with judicious applications of vibrato, holding steady and terse as the reverbtoned keyb loop gained presence, the cello finally breaking free in a gently triumphant crescendo.
The duo then joined forces for a series of vignettes from Philip Glass’ In the Summer House, the disarmingly simple, haunting suite that launched a thousand suspense movie soundtracks. What is in this summer house, anyway? A guy with an axe lurking just around the corner, it would seem: through trancey loops of minor arpeggios, neoromantic angst hitched to Bach rhythm and circularity, it was a stalker movie for the ears, the two string players alternating an austere contrast with snakily intertwining harmonies and subtle polyrhythms.
Much of the crowd had come out to hear the US premiere of Donnacha Dennehy’s Overstrung, an enveloping, echoey 2010 work for violin and electronics that looped Orlando’s phrases and spun them back into the mix for extra hypnotic effect. She then played a series from Louis Andriessen’s Xenia, a 2005 work for solo violin, whose bracing tonalities grew grittier as the piece went along, the sound engineer slowly adding distortion to the mix until it was almost as if Orlando was wailing on an electric guitar. Radnofsky closed the show on much the same note as she started with Gordon’s only slightly less distantly menacing 1992 tone poem Industry.
The concept of having the audience right up there onstage with the musicians is terrifically successful: the intimacy level was high without being uncomfortable. One question persists, though: was the Columbia community aware that there was free beer and wine at this concert? Is Columbia one of the schools that still has fraternities? Ordinarily, on a college campus, wherever there’s free alcohol, there are usually hundreds and hundreds of people! Next time around, four simple words will be more than enough: free beer, Miller Theatre.
Karl Berger’s Improvisers Orchestra’s performance Thursday night at El Taller Latinoamericano was a Halloween show of sorts, a feast of lush, slowly crescendoing, apprehensive sonics punctuated by bracing cameos from some of New York’s most engaging improvisers. Since 1972, when Berger fouunded the Creative Music Foundation upstate, pretty much everyone who’s anyone in jazz improvisation has had some assocation with him. This tantalizingly brief performance, by their standards anyway (clocking in at just under an hour) was typical in terms of consistent magic and intuitive interplay. LIke the Sam Rivers Trio reunion album recently reviewed here, it was amazing how cohesive and seemingly through-composed the performance seemed despite the group having only batted around some ideas for maybe an hour beforehand. It was a film noir for the ears.
In their own unselfconscious way, this ensemble is one of the world’s most exciting in any style of music, when they’re on – which they almost invariably are. Lately, the Stone has been their New York home, so it was good to see them in somewhat less confining surroundings (with 20 members, that doesn’t leave much room for a crowd at the Avenue C space). If you’ve ever wondered where improvisational conductors like Greg Tate and Butch Morris got their inspiration, look no further than Berger, who had plenty of fun methodically pulling solos, and motifs, and an endless series of crescendos out of the orchestra. As it peaked, this show could have been the Gil Evans Orchestra jamming out something from the legendary 1962 Individualism album. or a late 50s John Barry score in a particularly harrowing moment.
The theme of this show was tense, close harmonies, deftly balanced between highs and lows, reeds and strings. Berger smartly employed Hollis Headrick’s bongos, echoing ominously throughout the room, to amp up the suspense factor. Intense drummer/percussionist John Pietaro utilized the vibraphone set up at the back of his kick drum for extra melodic bite, while drummer Lou Grassi took command of swing interludes and blustery cymbal ambience. Bassist Lisa Dowling played the entirety of the show with a bow, an apt decision since it kept her minimalist menace audible even as the music rose to epic heights. Tenor saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum and vocalist/poet Ingrid Sertso took charge of continuity between segments; strange as it may seem to rely on spontaneous spoken word to maintain a groove, Sertso pulled it off with a surreal nonchalance. “Murder is murder is murder,” she intoned softly at one point.
A flurry of teeth-gnashing, tremolo-picked mandolin, a gracefully sepulchral downward swoop from Sama Nagano’s violin, a richly plaintive soprano sax interlude from Catherine Sikora, frenetically aghast slashes from the baritone saxophone, haunting Ken Ya Kawaguchi shakuhachi and alternately tuneful and droll trumpet from Thomas Heberer all followed in turn over the wary ambience behind them. Berger finally wound up the set by introducing a relatively obscure Ellington theme with his melodica, which the ensemble was quick to pick up, yet held back from completely embracing, lending it the same rich unease that had permeated the first forty-five minutes of the show. As large-scale improvisation goes, it’s hard to think of anything as gripping and altogether fascinating to watch as this was. Berger and the rest of the crew will be at Shapeshifter Lab in Gowanus sometimes in November; watch this space. And the Creative Music Foundation has an archive of performances dating from the 70s, featuring artists like Rivers and Morris, which they plan to share with the public at some future date.
It’s unusual that a month goes by without a B3 album on this page at some point. For some people, funky organ grooves can be overkill; others (guess who) can’t get enough of them. Veteran guitarist Ed Cherry knows a little something about them, considering his association with the guy who might have been the greatest of all Hammond groovemeisters, Jimmy Smith. Cherry’s new album It’s All Good – recently out on Posi-Tone – might sound like a boast, but he backs it up, imaginatively and energetically reinventing a bunch of popular and familiar tunes and in the processs rediscovering their inner soul and blues roots. His accomplice on the B3 is Pat Bianchi, who has blinding speed and an aptitude for pyrotechnics; Cherry gives him a long leash, with predictably adrenalizing results. Drummer Byron Landham’s assignment is simply to keep things tight, which he does effortlessly. Needless to say, Wayne Shorter’s Edda and Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage probably aren’t the first tunes that come to mind as potential material for organ trio, but this crew pulls them off.
The former is done as a jazz waltz, Cherry alternating between hammer-on chordal variations, southern soul mingling with bent-note runs and some bracingly spinning chromatics. The latter is a more traditional B3 swing tune with lots of suave Wes Montgomery-isms. They go fishing for the inner blues in You Don’t Know What Love Is, give In a Sentimental Mood a rather unsentimental nonchalance, then pick up the pace with Kenny Burrell’s Chitlins Con Carne, Landham digging in harder, Cherry building a sunbaked tension as Bianchi spirals and swells.
The most expansive track here, Duke Pearson’s Christo Redentor picks it up even further, Bianchi adding a chromatically-fueled burn, Cherry finally cutting loose with a rapidfire series of flurries out of the second chorus. Another Shorter tune, Deluge, alternates betwen laid-back urbanity and freewheeling soul-blues, while Bill Evans’ Blue in Green gets reinvented as a samba, with one of Bianchi’s wickedest solos.
There are also a couple of Cherry originals here. Mogadishu is jaunty and conversational; the brisk shuffle Something for Charlie (a Charles Earland homage, maybe?) gives the guitarist a platform for his most energetic work here. There’s also a version of Epistrophy that quickly trades in carnivalesque menace for a greasy groove. There’s plenty of terse, thoughtfully animated tunefulness here for fans of both purist guitar jazz and the mighty B3.
Up-and-coming violin virtuoso Hye-Jin Kim is a passionate devotee of the arts, with an infectious joie de vivre. Hopefully at some future date – the Sunday, November 4 concert with the Greenwich Village Orchestra has been postponed – she’ll have the opportunity to rejoin this exciting ensemble for a performance. Prior to the recent hurricane, Kim graciously took some time out of her whirlwind schedule to entertain a few serious and not-so-serious questions about the show and her blossoming career:
Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: You’re playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with the Greenwich Village Orchestra on November 4. Does this piece have special resonance for you, or is this just a chance to gig with a good orchestra?
Hye-Jin Kim: I have always loved Mendelssohn’s music- chamber music, vocal, orchestral, piano, and of course the violin concerto – for the delicate texture and yet highly emotional content. I have not played this piece for some time other than teaching it, so I’m very excited to be performing it with the GVO. This month has become my Mendelssohn phase as I just finished playing an all-Mendelssohn chamber music program for a residency. It’s as good as it gets.
LCC: I love his music too – it’s so indomitable, and inspiring – it always cheers me up. As far as your concert is concerned, I’m always interested in how musicians connect. Is this your debut performance with this particular orchestra? Did they find you or did you find them? Either way, I know you’re in for a good time..
HJK: I worked with the GVO once before, performing the Scottish Fantasy by Bruch with the delightful Pierre Vallet, who was guest conductor for that concert. So I guess I can say that they found me again! I enjoyed every minute playing with them and I really thought we had something special together in the concert. I’m looking forward to working with conductor Barbara Yahr this time, and discovering new things about this concerto.
LCC: How did you ge so lucky as to study with Jaime Laredo and Ida Kafavian when you were 14?
HJK:Going to the Curtis Institute of Music to work with Jaime Laredo and Ida Kavafian is one of the most fortunate things that happened in my life, another one being studying with Miriam Fried, post-Curtis. I do not know how it all happened and I don’t think I was quite aware how lucky I was at the time since I was only 14 years old. I remember playing my auditions in front of the faculty members and thinking to myself “hmm, I don’t know any of them!” The next thing I remember is getting a phone call from Mr. Graffman who was the director of Curtis at the time and he told me that I would be working with Jaime and Ida. And the rest is history.
LCC: You won the Concert Artists Guild International Competition three years ago. I see a million competitions out there, with a million winners, and I get jaded. And yet, some of these players are tremendously good. To what extent has your victory helped your career?
HJK: I have done my share of competitions in the past and did well in some. However, CAG is a bit different in that it awards a management contract to winners. It helped me connect with many musicians and presenters in the performing arts scene..
LCC: I can’t help but notice how busy your concert schedule is. How do you find the time, and the energy, and the focus, to shift between genres, and ensembles, and sometimes play the role of educator?
HJK: It definitely has been a challenge in recent years since I took a teaching position at East Carolina University not too long ago in addition to actively playing solo and chamber music. I find joy in all the things I do in this stage of my career and whether it is a concerto, recital, ensemble, or teaching, what I am doing at the moment is my favorite thing. This mindset helps me stay fresh and energized.
LCC: Every single quote I see about string players from the mainstream classical music press concerns an artist’s tone. Isn’t there a lot, lot more to it than tone – phrasing, dynamics, emotional attunement, the works? Besides, a lot of it depends on the instrument, anyway, right? Do you ever find yourself worrying about your tone?
HJK: Tone for a player is like a person’s personality or character. And with that individual, unique tone, you create phrasing, dynamics, and bring out emotions in music. So I feel that all this is very closely related. It does somewhat depend on the kind of instrument you play, but the tone you create should be from you, not the instrument.
What I search for in my playing is how to shape and use my tone to best express the music I play. To me, that challenge is especially fun.
LCC: Like most string players, you do a lot of chamber music gigs. Is there one particular repertoire, or musical era, that you find yourself gravitating toward especially? I see you like Bach which is always a good sign…
HJK: Bach is my musical home. From there I begin all my other musical journeys to different composers and repertoire. So it’s always nice to come home to Bach as often as I can.
I enjoy playing Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. I know it’s not too original, but I like digging very deep into feelings and emotions like Beethoven and Schubert did.
These days, I spend much time studying and listening to two great English composers with genuine, unique qualities, Elgar and Britten.
LCC: What violin do you play, how old is it and what is its provenance? How did you acquire it?
HJK: I play the Gioffredo Cappa circa 1687. It was crafted in Saluzzo, Italy but 320 years later it ended up in Boston and met me.
LCC: Hmmmm…ok. Now they said you were temperamental in Helsinki. Is that true?
HJK: If they said so!
LCC: That’s a media quote. I stole it from your website.
HJK: It was very cold around the time I played in Helsinki. So I think it was a good thing.
LCC: I see you’re a Phillies fan. I offer my condolences for this year – although the way they came back, after trading away half the team, was impressive. Are you psyched for next year and maybe watching Chase Utley move to third?
HJK: Thank you for your condolences. The September rush was exciting although it was short-lived. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m “psyched” for next year. With the Phillies lately it’s half excitement and half worries about the core guys’ lingering injuries. I think if Halladay comes back strong we will have a shot at having a good season. I really hope that the three young starting pitchers will pitch in the World Series for the Phillies together before the older two, Halladay and Lee, get too old. And I think next year should be the year for them.
I don’t think they will move Utley to third after all and I’m hoping they won’t. I love watching Jimmy Rollins and Utley turning double plays! But who knows…They have many holes to fill in and I’m looking forward to what this off-season holds for them.
LCC: You’re also a devotee of 19th century English Literature. If you could meet one author from that era, who would it be?
HJK: Charlotte Bronte. I visited her home in Yorkshire a couple years ago. I was humbled seeing the stark and severe setting and life circumstances she faced. You get a strong sense of that rough-edged life from her characters, and yet there is incredible beauty and sensitivity in her work. I think that underneath the severe expression she wears in portraits, and from the subjects she addressed in her writing, Charlotte Bronte must have had a tender, if not vulnerable, heart.
LCC: What I’m getting at with all these crazy questions is that a lot of audiences tend to take musicians for granted . If you’re onstage, you’re expected to deliver perfection 100% of the time – audiences sometimes forget that the musicians are everyday people, too, with the same kind of interests, for example, in books and baseball and movies as everybody else. Are those lofty expectations ever exasperating for you?
HJK: I wouldn’t say so. I believe there should be more effort from the performer’s end to communicate their thoughts about music-making and about life beyond the performing world. I try to put together concerts and recitals that reflect my literary interests and to combine those two worlds that I love. I am yet to figure out how baseball would go with music. Maybe that will just have to remain my secret passion!
LCC: Here’s an idea, I’m sure somebody did this before, but I’ll bet there hasn’t been a violinist playing the national anthem before a game in awhile. Think of all the fans who would hear you, it would be good exposure – and that song is a lot easier to play than it is to sing!
Hye-Jin Kim’s performance of the Mendelssohn with the Greenwich Village Orchestra at 3 PM on Sunday, November 4 at the Old Stuyvesant Campus, 345 E 15th St (between 1st/2nd Aves) has been postponed: watch this space for a rescheduled date.
Ezra Weiss’ big band compositions build on simple melodies and riffs fleshed out with terse polyphony: clear, focused, direct, intuitive and brightly acccessible, Jim McNeely-esque with lots of dynamics. Weiss also has a love of false endings: his new album with the Rob Scheps Big Band, Our Path to This Moment, is full of them. The charts are artful, the rhythmic shifts subtle and impactful. While this group doesn’t try to blow you away like the Mingus bands or Orrin Evans’ Captain Black monstrosity, they make a perfectly apt, tight and cohesive fit with Weiss’ attractive tunesmithing.
The title track, which opens the album, is a carefully constructed trip up the staircase – a long one – with guest trumpeter Greg Gisbert maintaining the casual lushness with his solo, followed by Scheps elevating along with the band on soprano sax. After such a methodical climb, the trick endings are almost too much, but the band has a ball with them, particularly the one that sounds like it finally is the real deal. The aptly titled Rise and Fall balances lushness with subtlety, a series of swells and ebbs, hints of a jaz waltz, Gisbert and baritone saxophonist Robert Crowell engaging in some lively bantering – again, the way they end it is counterintuitively fun. Their version of Jule Styne’s It’s You or No One edges thisclose to schmaltz until they hit Weiss’s boisterous samba bounce, Paul Mazzio’s jovially syncopated trumpet solo and then a tasty call-and-response from the highs and lows capping it off.
Kunlangeta is another rise-and-fall number, an ensemble piece replete with rhythmic shifts, a casual Tom Hill trombone solo that goes unexpectedly pensive and more of those “Are we done yet? No!” moments that Weiss love so much. They follow that with the album’s lone ballad, The Promise, altoist David Valdez moving smartly from wistful to animated and back, pianist Ramsey Embick adding a tasteful bluesiness before a meaty series of triplet-fueled crescendos.
Jessie’s Song offers suspenseful lushness that picks up with a joyous latin-inflected gallop behind Scott Hall’s warmly syncopated tenor solo. The album winds up with a richly imaginative arrangement of Wayfaring Stranger: Gisbert kicks it off solo, haunting and desolate before the whole ensemble comes in, riding a dark chromatic riff like it’s their only chance to get out. Neat touches abound: the swirly tenor sax lead-in to Gisbert’s bop-infused first solo; Scheps’ sudden leap from casual to frenetic; and Gisbert winding up his last solo with a casually vicious flurry of chromatics before the whole crew bring it up and blast memorably through a final couple of verses. Props to the rest of the band for pulling it off: Gary Harris and Scott Hall on saxes; Rich Cooper, Greg Garrett and Conte Bennett on trumpets; Stan Bock and John Moak on trombones; Ja’Tik Clark on tuba; Tim Gilson on bass, Ward Griffiths on drums and Chaz Mortimer on percussion.