Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Freedom Fighters From Music and the Theatre Speak Out Against Authoritarianism and Mass Hysteria

A panel discussion on CHD TV a couple of days ago, moderated by Mary Holland, featured six artists from the worlds of music and theatre who provided a revealing inside look at how the plandemic has destroyed the performing arts. Yet, the takeaway is that there is considerable hope for the future.

Holland (who appears as a conductor in a fleeting second of the video if you look closely) mentioned that there were artists who were afraid to join her six panelists on the show for fear of reprisals. The first one in a fascinating lineup, versatile opera singer Lisa Eden, organized a benefit concert in Greenwich, Connecticut for Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense organization and spoke truth to propaganda. She revealed that she’d suffered myelitis as a result of vaccines required for travel two decades ago. While there are classical artists speaking out against lockdowner restrictions and the lethal Covid injection campaign, their ranks seem to be slim at this point.

Eden has a medical exemption, but initially lost all her work in the performing arts, or as she terms it, “The carrot that gets people being ‘vaccinated.’ I think there was an agenda to shut down the arts in the manner that they did,” Eden asserts. She fled New York at the beginning of the lockdown: “I know Fauci from chronic fatigue syndrome and how he rebranded it, so I just left New York.”

When she returned, she was shocked to find that “My colleagues who stayed in New York were highly traumatized. There was this hypervigilance, people being afraid to be around you.”

The music director at her Connecticut church job “was deathly afraid of me,” as she recalls. He refused to let her sing unmuzzled when restrictions were lifted, required her to wear it when leading the choir, and to put it back on the second she wasn’t singing.

The priest at the church saw how ridiculous the situation was: in a “compromise,” she was eventually exiled to the side of the room opposite the music director as punishment for the crime of thinking for herself. “You’re being labeled as germy, or dirty, or not fit to be around people ” she recalled. “Meanwhile, this music director was on public transportation, on the train – you’re around ‘unvaccinated’ people all day.”

Later, Eden was able to sing with other ensembles including Lighthouse Opera, who didn’t make her “stand out like a scarlet letter.”

“I keep trying to come back to New York but the restrictions that persist, they’re requiring boosters now.” Eden mentioned how ubiquitous compliance with Covid theatre has become, beyond this city: “It’s a tightrope this whole time because of the polilticization, and the arts are highly liberal because it triggers things that have been programmed,” about what it means to be unjabbed. “I’m selfish, I’m horrible, I’m a granny-killer, all these really horrible associations.”

She also addressed the superspreader myth: “Another one of those propaganda/hypnosis words…singers were scapegoated as superspreaders. and singing is regarded as superspreader activity….used to curtail our right to worship and our freedom of assembly. I feel personally offended that we were scapegoated as somehow deadly and dangerous and called nonessential…there’s a lot of healing that needs to take place around this trauma that’s been inflicted on us….the trauma of propaganda. It’s made people fearful of each other, and fearful of normal activities.”

Like Eden, oboeist Gerry Reuter – the longest-tenured member of the Dorian Wind Quintet – was barred from work when the arts were criminalized during the lockdown. Reuter says that in the spring of 2021, his bandmates forced him to meet with them in Central Park since they were afraid to be indoors with him because he didn’t take the lethal Covid injection or comply with their requests that he subject himself to a meaningless PCR test.

As he tells it, a year later, the rest of the quintet were still afraid to meet with him indoors and then sent him a letter telling him he was being allowed to resign. A month later, this past July, he got the pink slip from the ensemble he’d played with for forty years.

Reuter related a hilarious moment from a rehearsal during the lockdown when the group members were playing fifteen feet apart from each other. One of them mentioned a MIT study that cited the oboe as being the superspreader of all wind instruments…when in reality the oboe is the one which requires the least air to play!

“I’m not surprised that they would fall in line with the narrative…it tells you a lot about how deep and real your relationships may not be,” says Reuter. He sees the experience of the past thirty-two months as character-building. “We have a whole new network of wonderful friends. something that comes from a place that’s really deep, not a matter of convenience.”

He was quick to give a shout out to St. Anthony of Padua Church in Fairfield, Connecticut and their music director Frank Maraci, who continued to program artists who refused the lethal injections. Reuter has also noticed that woodwinds are conspicuosly absent from many chamber music concerts since the lockdown.

Violinist Jeffrey Ellenberger lost his jobs at the Bar Harbor Festival, with the Masterwork Chorus and the New York Mandolin Orchestra. “The emotional pain of being around colleagues who think you’re contagious is so ridiculous,” he related. “The alienation is really staggering, but on the positive side there are groups like this,” he asserted, relating to his fellow panelists. Lately the now-politically marooned, former leftist Ellenberger has been playing a lot of house concerts. “It’s much better, but the scars will take awhile to heal over.”

Actress Dagmar Stansova was driving from her North Carolina home to Los Angeles, the first stop on a world tour, just as the lockdown was unleashed. She couldn’t resume after theatres reopened since she’s unjabbed. Her dad had been vaccine-injured, and her mother, a doctor, forbade her from taking the lethal injection. “I’m still a little bit in shock from betrayal from the industry,” she told Holland. Stansova, who has been a Screen Actors Guild member since 1981, is now “trying to create a new world.”

“It’s not like just going someplace and they want you to put a mask on, you just say, I’ll go somewhere else…all the people I knew in Los Angeles and the Screen Actors Guild, I know only one person who’s going the route I’m going. All the other people have the fake passports.”

Stansova spoke forcefully to the power of the arts: “Art can be used for good or evil…working in Hollywood, I realized that I was giving my life force to an agenda that I didn’t agree with. In the last couple of years when I saw certain shows normalizing myocarditis in children, I’d be like, WHAT???” It’s not only important for artists to be artists, but for all people to become more of an artist.”

Stansova defines an artist as “Someone who is available and capable of feeling…where we are right now, all this artificial intelligence and technocracy is the opposite of feeling, trying to remove us from our native human capacities…you can’t access good art without being connected to your feelings.”

“Propaganda is a skill…we have to be a skilful as they are at inverting the inversions that they have put out into the media,” she explained. “The communists regarded art as very dangerous. Art is something that can create the space for us to become more compassionate, more outraged if need be, so that we can process the chaos of being alive…maybe we can process all the grief, all the friends that we are losing, some of my friends who have passed away after the injections. Where we have our imagination in full play along with our logic, not just one or the other, we can find the compassion for all the people, including the people on the so-called other side. What they are going through, and the fear that they’re in, and the betrayal that we are going through…to find the compassion to rise above and be the expression of our best selves.”

Singer and Epoch Times reporter Enrico Trigoso, whose mother was murdered by the Pfizer shot, auditioned and was accepted by a bunch of choirs, but when they found out he didn’t take the injection, that killed those opportunities. In his dialogue with Holland, he focused on the commonalities between the lockdown and communism, and how communism targeted the spirituality implicit in the arts. Quoting Herbert Marcuse, he reminded how “Art subverts the dominant consciousness,” and how that can be weaponized.”

Actress and former Rockette Heather Berman was injured by the tetanus vaccine six years ago. Her activism was springboarded by a conversation with Dr. Pam Popper, founder of Make Americans Free Again and author of the first plandemic expose, the 2020 book COVID Operation.

“Being vaccine injured, there was no way that I was going to set and be masked for twelve to fourteen hours and get tested,” Berman insists. She discussed how the SAG/AFTRA “Return to Work” agreement was put into place without any input from the union rank and file. “It seemed to trickle down to all other entertainment…with daily testing, masks, completely covered up, hands, face, shields, like they were going to a hospital – I saw this whole thing playing out, OMG this was insane. They’re up to two boosters, this includes children! They were even going to test infants!

SAG/AFTRA have continued the Return to Work agreement through January of next year.

“We’re all told we don’t ‘make it’ until we’re on Broadway, in Hollywood or at Lincoln Center. That’s the lie,” Berman insists. “The more of us that gather, including those who have been injected – there are many with fake cards, plus those who got injected – we’re going to be a stronger front against this darkness that’s literally trying to obliterate us. Without the arts, what is humanity? I can’t imagine anyone would want to live on this planet without the arts!”

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November 20, 2022 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, theatre | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Welcome Return For Pianist Max Lifchitz’s Latin-Tinged Chamber Music Series

Monday night at the National Opera Center, pianist Max Lifchitz admitted that he was “a little scared” by the prospect of plunging back into live performance after being sidelined by plandemic restrictions for the past two years. It was a triumphant return to his niche, the terrain where the Second Viennese School meets south-of-the-border sounds. Until the 2020 lockdown, Lifchitz and his various North/South orchestral configurations had been a familiar presence in concert spaces around New York and beyond.

Picking up where he’d been rudely interrupted, he opened with Robert Fleisher’s 6 Little Piano Pieces, a brief Schoenberg-inspired partita: jazz-inflected modalities within a minimalist stroll with little flourishes that leapt to the surface. Robert Martin’s 2 Ancient Pieces, emphatic student works from a half-century ago, were as effective a segue as a reflection of that era’s 12-tone obsessions (with a few winks to sweeten them).

Lifchtitz romped through Ruth Crawford Seeger’s 2 Piano Pieces in Mixed Accents, a final pair of miniatures built around minimalist, cascading eighth-note phrases. With as much power on her low end as the curlicues at the top, soprano Maria Brea took centerstage for an expresssive interpretation of Osvaldo Golijov‘s Lua Descolorida (“Colorless Moon”), a steady, almost marching nocturne with more than a a hint of a ranchera ballad.

Next, mezzo-soprano Melisa Bonetti took over for Jimmy Kachulis’ Healing Waters of the Amazon. From the opening mantra, “Come on and heal me,” over Lifchitz’s brightly methodical, increasingly bracing chromatic drive, she made it an aptly bittersweet invocation against what the world has had to battle since March of 2020.

Brea returned to sing Odaline de la Martinez’s 4 Afro-Cuban Poems, including a bouncy one about a Cuban guy in love with an American woman whose language he can’t speak, and a shout-out to a girl who does all the hard work around the house. Lifchitz’s own Me Acero y Me Retiro (“I Approach and I Withdraw”) featured both singers in an expansive, dynamically shifting, distantly imploring dialogue and then a harmonically bristling duet after a spaciously climbing, enigmatic piano intro. Lifchitz mirrored that with an arresting, syncopated solo fugue for a coda. It was the highlight of the night.

He closed the program with a trio of brief piano pieces. Venezuelan composer Francisco Zapata-Bello‘s leaping Scherzo Latino perfectly capsulized Lifchitz’s primary focus over the years. William Ortiz‘s Max en Soho Jamming con the Orishas was another of the concert’s high points, a mashup of ragtime and chromatic Scarlatti with a danse macabre at the center. Lifchitz went back to energetic twelve-tone territory for the final piece on the bill, Aurelio de la Vega’s Hamenagem.

November 17, 2022 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The New York Composers Circle Keep the Creative Torch Burning Through Troubled Times

Last night at the cozy little Church of the Transfiguration on East 29th Street, the New York Composers Circle staged an intriguing performance of five world premieres and a New York premiere that featured a persistent unease as well as moments of puckish humor and considerable outside-the-box imagination.

Pianist Craig Ketter opened the concert with Hubert Howe‘s Moments of Uncertainty, which followed a staggered, increasingly spacious, warily Messiaenic call-and-response through a series of subtle dynamic shifts, some of them increasingly stark and minimalist. In less prosaic terms, a cautious stroll through a briar patch: daunting, but doable with care, as Ketter made sure.

He followed with four preludes and fugues from the second collection that Dary John Mizelle had written to keep himself entertained during the lockdown. Stern blues and oldtime gospel riffs in oddly strolling tempos would disintegrate into atonal ambiguity or push up against a steady, grimly looped walking bassline. A tongue-in-cheek sensibility sometimes percolated to the surface amid the thorns, especially in the baroque gestures of the fugues.

Bill Zito played Richard Brooks‘ Sonata for Guitar, a harmonically biting pavane descending to lithe fingerpicking and back as the first movement warmed with some Elizabethan tinges. The remainder of the work was an acerbic blend of baroque stairstepping with wry jazz phrasing, hints of flamenco and some welcome, recurringly humorous bits.

After the intermission, Ketter returned to the piano for Roger Blanc‘s Fantasy Variations, which the composer described as an attempt to get “maximum bang for buck” out of a seven-note scale. Uneasy close harmonies persisted in the opening stroll, which became more of a hauntingly hypnotic, rising and falling march. Ketter reveled casually in the fanged chromaties of the warily swinging fugue that followed. Blanc invested his buck well here.

Guitarist Oren Fader played Igor Vorobyov’s 2019 piece Elegy in the Old Style, a New York premiere springboarded by the Composers Circle’s ongoing cultural exchange with some of their Moscow colleagues. A call-and-response between spiky harmonics and spare, broodingly resonant chords harked back to Scriabin, an unexpected influence for guitar music. As Fader alternated between steady cascades and a brooding, spacious minimalism, it became a pensive ballad, interrupted.

The final piece on the bill was Consolations, a solo piano partita by Dana Dimitri Richardson. Ketter methodically parsed an increasingly agitated, chromatically-charged ballad for angst and rippling poignancy, then found a missing link between Rachmaninoff and Mompou. The progression from chiming, insistent belltones to High Romantic echoes amid a clenched-teeth, syncopatedly punching drive was the high point of the night.

The third part came across as a somber mid 20th century homage to the Chopin E minor prelude, the fourth a ringing, resounding mashup of a Balkan funeral ballad, Russian romanticism and late-period Ligeti, maybe. It made for a darkly glittering driving coda.

The New York Composers Circle’s next concert is Nov 20 at 2 PM with a program of works-in-progress TBA at the National Opera Center’s 7th floor studio at 333 7th Ave. in midtown. Space is limited and a rsvp is a good idea

November 16, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Dynamic, Rewarding Choral Concert at Trinity Church

Two and a half years ago, it was uncertain if choral music in New York that wasn’t clandestine would ever exist again. So it was rewarding to walk into Trinity Church yesterday to see the Downtown Voices and the Novus NY string quartet gathered together onstage, and to see hardly a single surgical mask amid an impressively sizeable crowd who’d assembled in the pews.

Yet it was ironic to the extreme to view the blue-and-gold color scheme – ubiquitously associated with lockdown propaganda in Europe, less so here – projected behind the choir and ensemble, on a day when news of a cryptocurrency ponzi scheme laundering American taxpayer money through Ukraine to the Democratic Party was exploding around the world.

The music was a welcome diversion. Reduced to most basic and prosaic terms, the theme was minimalism in counterpoint. The effect was at times hypnotic, at times entrancing and frequently exhilarating. The highlight of the evening was Ola Gjeilo‘s partita Dark and Luminous Night. Once the quartet had introduced a fleetingly uneasy theme, the choir joined in a series of kinetic peaks and icy lulls, conductor Stephen Sands leading them from just short of a stampede to echoes of dark European folk and heroic Romanticism.

A more quietly captivating if equally dynamic piece was an arrangement of Jessie Montgomery‘s Source Code for choir and string quartet. An anxious chromatic violin theme and variations stood out over a quiet drone, quite a contrast with the orchestral version that A Far Cry played in Central Park last summer. Infused with bluesy cello glissandos over stark sustained chords, the two groups descended to a hazier, more wary ambience and eventual whispery rapture.

The singers and quartet nimbly negotiated the subtle but rhythmically tricky and demandingly spacious, characteristically cell-like development of the concert’s centerpiece, David Lang‘s National Anthems. A soprano soloist who resonated over the methodically staggered pulse of her choirmates added an air of poignancy. Lyrically, this seemed less a celebration of sovereignty than a distantly troubled and disjointed prayer for liberation, a profoundly relevant work for our time.

The concert’s most traditional and briefest moment was a calmly nocturnal Undine Smith Moore arrangement of the spiritual We Shall Walk Through the Valley.

The next concert at Trinity Church is December 4 at 3 PM with Jamaican jazz piano legend Monty Alexander and his trio. Admission is free; it couldn’t hurt to get there about ten minutes early if you want a good seat.

November 14, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Picturesque, Darkly Kaleidoscopic Album of New Wendy Griffiths Piano Music

Wendy Griffiths is best known as the primary songwriter, lead singer and one of three keyboardists in brilliantly shapeshifting New York art-rock band Changing Modes. In addition to her eleven records with the band, she’s also a prolific classical composer who’s written ballet music, string quartets and works for piano. The latest album of Griffiths’ instrumental music is Views from the Keyboard, a collection of solo piano pieces played by Elizabeth Rodgers, streaming at youtube.

Unsurprisingly, these short pieces reflect the same outside-the-box sensibility, quirky humor and vividness of Griffiths’ rock songs. Rodgers plays with grace and fluidity throughout a series of often labyrinthine idiomatic twists which flash by in a split second. This is 21st century composition as entertainment, informed by a sensibility that’s sometimes phantasmagorical, at other times irresistibly comedic. The intensity of the music on both sides of the emotional spectrum rises as the album goes along.

Three Views From Mexico has hints of flamenco modalities, ragtime, Webern and a brisk close-harmonied stroll which could be Mompou in a rare high-energy moment. A suite of miniatures, Rogue Taxidermy includes the tiptoeing, playfully sotto-voce Consider the Hortle; the deviously phrased Tortitude; the evocatively kinetic, neoromantic Moth Frog; the delightful Meowl; Lone Wolf, a defiantly individualistic vignette; Lunar Mothfish, a slightly turbulent mini-nocturne; the determined March of the Pengupines and finally, the disquietingly warped Zebra Prawn Blues.

The Sheltering Suite comprises My Corona, a light-fingered romp which is about neither beer nor a vintage Toyota; the self-explanatory Jumping Bean; Climbing the Walls, which is more troublingly self-descriptive; Dream Song, which is essentially a synopsis of the whole album; an opaque Lamentation; and the mutedly strutting Danse Mechanique.

Christmas, 1989 appears to have been less than festive time. Griffiths’ Seven Places in America captures Los Angeles as thisclose to frantic (a recent portrait, maybe?); paints Miami as a danse macabre; and uncovers a sinister poltergeist amid San Francisco fog. In fifty-seven seconds, New York decays from steady forebearance to a somber, unresolved lull, while the picture brightens considerably for Maine’s Isle au Haut and the bluesy solidity of Chicago.

The concluding suite, Four Strong Winds begins with the icy pointillisms and clusters but also the friendlier sway of Boreas. Zephyr hops and skips between blithe and brooding; Eurus comes across as a moody, insistent Balkan dance. Rodgers closes the album with Notos, an early Ligeti-flavored coda. Much like Griffiths’ rock band, this is as charming as it is disconcerting.

Changing Modes are playing Bar Freda, 801 Seneca Ave. in Ridgewood on Nov 13 at 8 PM; cover is $10. Take the M to Seneca Ave.

November 11, 2022 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Thoughtful, Understatedly Gorgeous Live Album From Eric Vloeimans and Will Holshouser

Trumpeter Eric Vloeimans and accordionist Will Holshouser‘s new album Two for the Road – streaming at Bandcamp – is yet more proof that more artists should make live records. The duo recorded it about a year ago while on tour in the Netherlands. Vloeimans has a richly lyrical resonance which is ideally suited to this unorthodox duo format, and Holshouser – a connoisseur of Punjabi music – has found a similarly simpatico sparring partner. There’s lots of unselfconscious beauty here, whether you call this pastoral jazz, or new classical music, or folk tunes for that matter.

Vloeimans opens Tibi Gratias, a stately, gentle canon, with a wafting solo; later, Holshouser builds it to a lush, steady chordal drive. The miking on the accordion is fantastic and captures the entirety of Holshouser’s range, including the lows that some accordion recordings miss out on. In general, he gets more time in the spotlight here than his collaborator.

There are three “innermissions” by Vloeimans here, all composed during the 2020 lockdown. The first makes a good segue, the two slowly working their way out of waltz time to more trickier syncopation, an unexpectedly murky accordion interlude and a gorgeous, distantly flamenco-tinged conclusion.

Deep Gap is even more straightforwardly bright: it could be a Civil War-era march with moments of unexpectedly puckish humor. The duo continue in a playful vein with Innermission 12 as they build around a goofy quote, Holshouser spiraling and blipping steadily, Vloeimans picking up the pace. The good cheer continues in the bluesy waltz Innermission 2, Vloeimans choosing his spots with a New Orleans flair.

The two musicians remain in 3/4 time to reinvent a Muppets movie theme as a spare, surprisingly pensive, terse ballad. They take more of a charge into the album’s most expansive track, Redbud Winter, lithe trumpet over puffing, emphatic accordion with echoes of Indian music. Holshouser introduces an enigmatically balmy waltz interlude followed by a jaunty contrapuntal conversation before they bring it full circle.

They emerge from a bit of a haze to minimalist variations on a slowly staggered ballad theme in MoMu and follow with Innermission 9, working an insistent bounce over a moody, vampy 70s soul-inflected tune. It has more bite than anything else on the album, Vloeimans picking up with his jovial arpeggios as the two wind it out.

To Louis seems to be a homage to someone beyond the obvious, a slinky 6/8 tune where Vloeimans ranges from hazy, to incisive, to some of the album’s most soaring moments. Variations on a tensely rhythmic, Indian-flavored theme alternate with balmy balladry in Innermission 1l, then the two musicians make catchy reggae out of it. They close with a lullaby.

November 6, 2022 Posted by | classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Enigmatically Ominous Michael Hersch Works for Soprano, Orchestra and Small Ensemble

Michael Hersch might be the most macabre of all contemporary classical composers. While the macabre is one of many themes in his music, it’s hard to think of anyone who goes as deeply into it as he has, from his chilling musical portraits of the inmates of a closed ward in a mental hospital, to the torments of terminal cancer patients. His latest album The Script of Storms – streaming at New Focus Recordings – comprises two suites.

The first is Cortext and Ankle, a setting of texts by the doomed writer Christopher Middleton, sung by soprano Ah Young Hong and backed by innovative chamber group Ensemble Klang. In the second, she sings the words of Fawzi Karim with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tito Muñoz.

There’s horror, and fingertips being torn off, “the dead tangled in a heap,” and an ineluctable end to all things in the initial eleven-part sequence. It’s prime material for prime Hersch, although the music itself is generally more airily portentous than sinister.

The brief overture is the closest thing to traditional film noir music that Hersch has written: an anxious, acidic bustle with furtive percussion flickers. Hong enters with a poignant, wistful resonance, until the group explodes with brassy growl and dramatic intensity behind her, a recurrent and judiciously utilized device. Austere, slowly shifting segments follow in turn. Hersch is known for employing a lot of space, and he does that here.

Anton van Houten’s determined trombone crescendos along with sudden bursts of activity from saxophonists Michiel van Dijk and Erik-Jan de With contrast with Hong’s resolute calm, but she leaps without warning to a full-throttle arioso power. Pianist Saskia Lankhoorn is often required to do the same. Percussionist Joey Marijs gets to contribute occasional surreal, clanking industrial textures, while guitarist Pete Harden’s contributions are even more skeletal.

The nine-part title suite, a grim reflection on the 1958 coup d’etat in Iraq and summary execution of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Said, is closer to Hersch’s earlier work, even as it follows much of the same template as the album’s first piece.

Ominous trombone also features heavily here. Anxious clusters of strings and reeds burst in, only to disappear. Familiar and juicily spine-tingling Bernard Herrmann tropes appear everywhere: shrieking high winds, ghostly slithers, and doppler crescendos. The drifting close harmonies and microtonal mist toward the end of the suite are particularly delicious, if disquiet is your thing. The persistent rhythmic overlays are just as clever as they are effective. As fits the subject matter, this is a horror film for the ears and a mighty effective one. Not for the faint of heart, but Hersch is the rare composer who seems committed to never backing away from any subject matter, no matter how disturbing.

October 27, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, opera, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dora Pejačević’s Richly Exhilarating Orchestral Works Rescued From Obscurity on a New Album

Dora Pejačević was rich. She was glamorous. She was talented. But she would eventually estrange herself from the medieval castles she grew up with in order to pursue her passion as a classical composer. She wrote some of her most compelling works while serving as a volunteer nurse during World War I.

She foretold her own death at 37.

The Budapest-born pianist and violinist remains a revered cult figure in Eastern Europe but is largely unknown in the west. While other women in the first decades of the 20th century struggled to succeed in the classical music world, Pejačević became the first Croatian composer to write both a modern symphony and piano concerto. There’s an album by the BBC Symphony Orchestra with pianist Peter Donohoe which contains both, streaming at youtube, here and here. It should go long way toward bringing this often exhilarating composer’s output to a larger audience.

Sakari Oramo leads the orchestra in a lavish, towering performance of Pejačević’s Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 33 and her Symphony in F sharp minor, Op. 41. This is not subtle music, but for those who gravitate toward toward epic grandeur and High Romantic angst, Donohoe and the ensemble are irresistible forces.

He revels in the unbridled Rachmaninovian crush,, determined flourishes, persistent longing and sharp-fanged chromatics of the first movement of the Concerto. Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Symphony No. 2 are the obvious antecedents, and Oramo rolls with that rollercoaster of emotion spiced with deceptively simple textural contrasts: this isn’t merely virtuoso piano awash in strings.

Hushed anticipation and delicately starry glitter interchange in the second movement. Donohoe really gets to flex in the precise volleys and cascades of the third as the composer adds unexpectedly puckish humor and Rachmaninovian triumph. It leaves you breathless.

The dynamics are no less striking in the Symphony. Oramo nimbly negotiating the first movement’s shifts between brassy heroics, a light-footed dance awash in dreamy counterpoint, Dvorakian swells and moments of puffy pageantry.

Searchingly crystalline solos from oboe, bassoon and horn figure pointedly in the second movement, its unease muted but ever-present amidst the swells and foreshadowing: the sheer terseness and purpose of Pejačević’s craftsmanship really shines here.

Movement three, a minuet, echoes Tschaikovsky at his most balletsque and goofy. Oramo holds back on the throttle just a little in the battle scene that kicks off the final movement, exercising similar restraint in the dissociatively reflective, nostalgic succession of scenes that follow. Can’t this war be over, Pejačević seems to ask with more than a little cynicism, as the orchestra finally reach for the rafters.

Both these pieces deserve to be standard repertoire: everyone involved with the project deserves a mention for helping to lead the way.

In case you’re wondering what happened to Pejačević, she died in 1923, a month after giving birth to her only child.

October 3, 2022 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Magical, Deviously Dynamic, Cutting-Edge Debut Album From Violinist Sarah Bernstein’s Veer Quartet

Violinist Sarah Bernstein inhabits one of the most magically otherworldly and distinctive sound worlds around. She’s the rare composer who can write catchy, riff-based microtonal music, and she’s also a rapturous improviser. One of the most enjoyable concerts anyone at this blog has been at over the past few years was an afternoon with her intricate Veer Quartet in an East Village community garden in the fall of 2019.

Shortly thereafter, she recorded her debut album with the group: of all the releases which were derailed by the 2020 plandemic, this is arguably the best and is up at Bandcamp. It’s more chromatically focused than microtonal, and it’s the high point among Bernstein’s many and often somewhat more jazz-oriented albums. She and her bandmates – violinist Sana Nagano. violist Leonor Falcon and cellist Nick Jozwiak – are playing the album release show this Halloween at 8 PM at the Zurcher Gallery at 33 Bleecker St. off Lafayette. Cover is $20. And Nagano has a show with her louder but similarly otherworldly Atomic Pigeons band on Sept 28 at 8 PM at Mama Tried in Gowanus.

The quartet open the first number on the new record. Frames No.1 with an irresistibly goofy joke, then Jozwiak racewalks a bassline, Falcon climbs and descends with an uneasy calm. The group coalesce, first with stabbing unison motives that expand into spacious washes, gracefully dancing pizzicato and another couple of ridiculous jokes juxtaposed with bracing glissandos and rhythmic accents. All string quartets should be this diversely funny – and not just when they’re playing Beethoven.

There’s a sense of longing and loss in the second cut, News Cycle Progression, a diptych which begins lingering and resonant and shifts to a series of increasingly agitated, incisive flickers; Bernstein makes a palimpsest out of them at the end.

The group open the album’s big epic, Clay Myth as a ballad without words, Bernstein’s wistful melody over a hazy vamp from the rest of the ensemble. An enigmatic, blues-tinged solo from Jozwiak over circular pizzicato eventually cedes for a tantalizingly acerbic variation on the opening theme. The quartet take it out with a bouncy, tightly ornamented, increasingly biting folk-tinged violin theme and a couple of unexpected detours.

Bernstein interpolates stabbing riffage within an uneasy, steadily crescendoing theme in World Warrior, then the individual voices square off. With its paint-peeling, slithery breaks it’s the closest thing to violin metal here.

The ensemble open Nightmorning with a stern heroic theme, Bernstein quickly disassembling and scattering it to the wind across a vast, mostly vacant lot. A shivery, cello-fueled return, simmering fires bobbing up among slides and misty microtonal harmonies follow in turn, with striking hints of a cheery swing jazz tune. Ligeti’s most haunting work from the 1950s comes to mind: it’s the most adventurous and gripping piece here.

There’s a similarly somber, circling, Bartokian sensibility as well as a furtive Bernard Herrmann passage in the final cut, Hidden, a hauntingly insistent coda. Barring the unforeseen, you’ll see this on the best albums of 2022 page here at the end of the year.

September 24, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The East Coast Chamber Orchestra Provide a Lush, Sweeping Coda to This Year’s Naumburg Bandshell Concerts

Yesterday evening was this year’s final installment of the newly resumed and increasingly popular Naumburg Bandshell concerts. Needless to say, it’s been heartwarming to see attendance continuing to grow like it has in the last couple of weeks, although considering how this city was deprived of live music for the better part of the past two years, that turnout is hardly a surprise.

Self-directed string ensemble the East Coast Chamber Orchestra opened their own return to the bandshell with Adolphus Hailstork’s Sonata di Chiesa, a series of variations on allusively gospel-tinged themes. The orchestra quickly shifted from a stern march to a triumphant hymnal swirl with violin and cello front and center in majestic, restrained interplay which grew more carefree. A lively, buoyant dance interlude gave way to what might be termed a balmy southern soul pastorale which resonated in the early evening mugginess hanging over the park.

Slowly and methodically, the ensemble brought the theme down to the cellos out of a Dvorakian wariness, then rose with more than a hint of stately plainchant that grew more lush and windswept. The orchestra took it out with a return to a triumphant waltz.

Next on the bill was a triptych bookending a pair of rare Peruvian renaissance songs around a Josquin lost-love canon, arranged for strings by Maureen Nelson. Matching sumptuous sweep with an icepick precision from the violins, these fifteenth-century pieces reflected European grace more than any discernible indigenous influences.

The orchestra wound up the evening with a vigorous, richly dynamic, Mahlerian arrangement of Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14, “Death and the Maiden.” A stiletto grace underpinned the initial heroic theme: the first of the series of blustering riffs from the cellos, before the false ending, packed a visceral wallop. The effect was much the same again after the group returned from a comfortably lulling counterpoint.

It didn’t take long for the orchestra to bring that anthemic edge back after the initial ballad theme in the andante second movement, where the heroine is reassured that she shouldn’t fear the reaper.

Awash in wistful lushness, the third movement rose to a High Romantic angst that a mere four strings couldn’t have hoped to match. Impressively, the coda was as balletesque as it was symphonic. They encored with an unhurried arrangement of the Bach chorale Schmucke Dich, o Liebe Seele, raising it to a plushness considerably beyond the spare version which is a staple of the organ repertoire.

One issue that needs to be resolved for next year, which wasn’t a significant problem earlier this summer, was when a Parks Department truck with a shrieking backup alarm interrupted the end of the Peruvian baroque suite…and then returned during one of the concert’s quietest moments. Stupidity? Sadism? There are two ways to deal with that issue. It couldn’t hurt for the organizers (and the New York Philharmonic, whose Central Park shows have been just as rudely interrupted) to get the word out to those behind the wheel. A simpler solution would involve a pair of wire cutters.

August 3, 2022 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment