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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Haunting, Picturesque Portrait of an Iconic Black Sea Port by Ukrainian Pianist Vadim Neselovskyi

Over the past ten years, Ukrainian pianist Vadim Neselovskyi has built a career out of writing brooding, evocative songs without words that draw equally on jazz, the High Romantic classical tradition and 21st century composition. He takes the inspiration for his new solo album Odesa: A Musical Walk Through a Legendary City – streaming at Bandcamp – from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. It’s a colorful, picturesque, and aptly stormy portrait of the pianist’s home turf.

He opens his salute to the city’s railway station with a turbulent, stygian lefthand, rising to a bouncing but emphatic drive with hints of Tschaikovsky and a bustling minor-key folk dance. As the train moves out of the city, the ride calms and the tormented mood lifts on the wings of Neselovskyi’s righthand accents. Ultimately, the message is hopeful: you can’t keep this train off the rails for long.

Winter in Odesa is a steady, icy stroll, Neselovskyi’s glistening melody rising and falling canonically. Potemkin Stairs, inspired by the famous city landmark, has a thorny, intricate, frequently crosshanded melody, its rippling variations echoing late 70s art-rock as well as Herbie Hancock’s Rockit. Neselovskyi fires off lightning upper-register clusters over a strutting lefthand in Acacia Trees, drawing on a famous movie theme by Odessan composer Isaac Dunaevsky.

There’s similarly rapidfire articulacy but also lingering disquiet in Waltz of Odesa Conservatory, a shout-out to Neselovskyi’s teenage alma mater. October 1941 is an outright chilling tableau that commemorates the massacre of Jews there at the hands of the Nazis: machine gun fire. civilians falling left and right and after a pregnant pause, a stunned wisp of what could be a playground song. It’s one of the most harrowing pieces of music released in recent months.

He lifts the mood with Jewish Dance, a diptych with a bright, allusively chromatic intro that grows more glittery, percussive and North African-flavored. It brings to mind the work of Lebanese composer Tarek Yamani.

My First Rock Concert is Neselovskyi’s playfully contrapuntal, incisively kinetic tribute to defiant Russian rock songwriter Victor Tsoy and his new wave hit Blood Type (and also Jimi Hendrix, maybe).

As he winds up the album, Neselovskyi references Mussorgsky with a couple of brief, grimly bounding interludes, the second to introduce the final cut, The Renaissance of Odesa, a pensive, muted pavane that offers (very, very) guarded hope for the future once the twin nightmare of the Putin invasion and the Zelensky dystopia is over.

Neselovskyi starts a European tour at the end of the month. Those interested in how he plays similarly moody but more postbop-influenced material can catch him as part of drummer Christian Finger‘s trio tomorrow, July 3 at the Blue Note with sets at half past noon and 2:30 PM; cover is $15.

July 2, 2022 Posted by | classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Elegant Party in Central Park with the Handel and Haydn Society at the Naumburg Bandshell

Every year, a new generation of classical music fans discovers the annual series of free Naumburg Bandshell concerts in Central Park, which ran uninterrupted for 114 years until the disaster of 2020. Judging from the crowd last night, there’s no shortage of younger supporters to continue the tradition where all the seats fill up as much as an hour before the concert.

This time out was a deep dive into the baroque, with violinist Aisslinn Nosky leading period instrument ensemble the Handel and Haydn Society through an intricate and intuitive performance of what was essentially party music for the ruling classes of Europe right around the time the formerly Dutch colony across the pond was starting to get restless. If Woody Allen had been a figure from around the turn of the 18th century, this is probably what he would have been listening to (and maybe playing – clarinetists abounded in those days).

The ensemble opened with Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in D Major, with a bit of a hush and what seemed like a striking emphasis on steely pedalpoint as much as the equally insistent exchanges of contrapuntal voicings. The crowd immediately responded after the first movement. Likewise, the lushly emphatic bowing in the second movement, which the group quickly turned into a lively dance with a Vivaldiesque series of flurries on the way out.

That boisterous energy set the stage for the rest of the night. The group followed with 18th century British composer Charles Avison’s Scarlatti-inspired Concerto Grosso No. 5 in D Minor, digging into the stately rhythm of the first movement with gusto and an inspired bluster when the score permitted. Nosky shifted from sharp-toothed articulation to an elegant legato sway in the second movement and the waltzing conclusion.

The piece de resistance was Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in A minor, RV 356, a romp where Nosky rose from a practically conspiratorial, sotto-voce understatement to an incisive precision matched by a welcome, raw attack echoed by the group’s low strings (and a couple of planes passing overhead to bolster the low end). Was the second movement just hazy ambience? Hardly. The group held those resonant notes for dear life, 1711-style, at least until bursting out on the wings of Nosky’s fugal attack.

Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso after Corelli, Op. 5, No. 5 in G Minor, from 1727, got a matter-of-fact, energetic sway and contrasting lushness (as well as a vividly plaintive interlude) before the sprightly country dance in the second movement.

After the intermission, the group flipped the script with Corelli and his Concerto Grosso in B-flat Major, Op. 6, No. 11, a gently emphatic pavane introducing tightly choreographed scurrying and a second movement where the pregnant pauses early on took the audience completely by surprise.

Harpsichordist Ian Watson was called on for his most prominent role of the night in Handel’s Concerto Grosso in F Major, Op. 6, No. 9. The strings maintained a bouncy tenacity through the composer’s endlessly permutating volleys and then surprisingly poignant exchanges before the lively, contrastingly stately waltzes afterward

The final piece on the bill was Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso in D Minor, La Follia, after Corelli, Op. 5, No.12, Nosky foreshadowing the low strings’ intense response (and drawing a spontaneous burst of applause from the crowd) with her rapidfire work in the opening movement. Through the tradeoffs between lulls and liveliness, it was the most sophisticated piece of the night, and the crowd roared their appreciation.

This year’s Naumburg Bandshell concert series continues on July 12 at 7:30 PM with chamber orchestra A Far Cry playing an innovative program of string arrangements of Bartok miniatures plus works by Dvorak, Beethoven, Franghiz Ali-Zadeh and Karl Doty. Take the 2 or 3 to 72nd St., walk east and get there early if you want a seat.

June 29, 2022 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Max Richter Playfully Reinvents an Iconic Vivaldi Suite – Again

A decade after reinterpreting Vivaldi on his playfully innovative Recomposed album with the Britten Sinfonia and violinist Daniel Hope, keyboardist Max Richter has opted to revisit lucrative territory with his latest project The New Four Seasons. Violinist Elena Urioste and the Chineke Orchestra join the composer, who unobtrusively plays a vintage Moog synth as well as sprightly harpsichord on the new vinyl record, streaming at Spotify.

Is this art-rock? The avant garde? Modern classical? Ambient music? A little, or sometimes a lot of all of those labels come into play here. Spring is reconstituted in four parts, the other seasons in three. Frequently, Richter’s cuisinarted baroque barely resembles the original. All the same, it’s playful, sometimes affectingly pensive music and draws the listener into his allusive treasure hunt.

Birdsong-like strings chatter and flutter over a somber loop from the basses as Spring begins, shifting to a steady, often hypnotic pavane. Richter lets the composer’s hushed anticipatory riffs from Summer resonate; from there, he makes a striding march out of it and then brings it down to a suspenseful summer-evening pulse. The conclusion, with Urioste going lickety-split, is a visceral thrill.

The goofy quasi-flamenco syncopation of the intro to Autumn borders on the ridiculous, but Urioste’s quicksilver volleys quickly take charge. Richter’s shift to sheer luxuriance is a welcome contrast, as is the stately harpsichord movement and the kinetic conclusion. 

Winter is where Richter reaches furthest into the avant garde, notably with the microtonal introduction kicking off a memorably blustery, symphonic sweep. Urioste’s wary lyricism and then her precise run through the closing labyrinth take centerstage as the suite winds up. 

Where can you hear Vivaldi around New York this summer? Tonight, June 28 at 7:30 PM at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park, where Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, led by violinist Aisslinn Nosky play works by Corelli, Vivaldi, Geminiani, Handel and Charles Avison. Get there early if you want a seat.

June 28, 2022 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Knights Make History With Beethoven and Janacek at the Naumburg Bandshell

Last night at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park was a welcome return for one of New York’s most enduring cosmopolitan traditions. This was a particularly clever installment. It’s been done before: pairing Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata with Janacek’s String Quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata.” A Naumburg Concert favorite, chamber orchestra the Knights worked several levels of meta with new symphonic arrangements of both: the former a chart by violinist Colin Jacobsen, the latter a collaboration between his brother Eric and Knights horn player Mike Atkinson.

Orchestral scores for both works go back as far as Tschaikovsky, who did it with Beethoven. Likewise, there have been plenty of programs pairing both of the original pieces. But yesterday evening’s concert might have been the first time two orchestral versions of both have been played on the same bill. It turned out to be as colorful as expected, considering the ensemble’s penchant for surprise.

They opened with a Colin Jacobsen piece, playfully titled Kreutzings, rising from dizzyingly dissociative layers through jaunty microtonal glissandos from around the ensemble, to a coyly contrapuntal waltz. Flickers of each of the night’s main composers bubbled to the surface occasionally as the strings joined in precise, steady eighth notes while winding their way out.

Jacobsen, celebrating his birthday, served as soloist in the Beethoven. Crisp, elegant cheer interchanged with a little suspense and a bustling freshness that veered toward the raw side in the opening movement, confirming how well this material lends itself to orchestral sweep and majesty. Jacobsen quickly went for silkiness and ran with it amid anxious Vivaldiesque counterpoint. The restless thicket of low strings toward the end was a particularly juicy moment for the orchestra to sink their teeth into.

As if by design, a passing airplane introduced the andante second movement, bubbly woodwinds picking up the pace considerably before Jacobsen took over with a fine-toothed staccato. The bristling energy never dissipated, through lushness and a coyly pulsing bounce beneath the violinist’s spirals, flurries and animated pizzicato. Interestingly, the finale was on the spare and restrained side, despite the velocity: an urbane party that earned a contrastingly raucous standing ovation.

After the intermission, the ensemble tackled Anna Clyne’s Stride. Echoing the concert’s opening number, fleeting hints of Beethoven percolated amid tense close harmonies and microtones over a striding tempo flecked with rather suspenseful lulls and a long trajectory up to an anthemic, Dvorakian coda. Clyne doesn’t usually go for fullscale High Romantic: turns out she excels at it. This was a revelation.

Janacek’s first quartet follows the drama and familial mischegas of the Tolstoy tale, giving us an extra level of meta. Furtive Balkan chromatics quickly receded for an aching lushness and unexpected pageantry in the opening movement, only to reappear in a tensely gripping, Bernard Herrmann vein. Giving the anxious conversation in the third movement to the woodwinds paid magnificently poignant dividends on the way to an equally memorable stampede out. The ensemble encored with flutist Alex Sopp leading the group through a lickety-split, buoyant arrangement of a Taraf de Haidoucks Romany dance tune.

For those who missed the concert, the Knights managed to record the Beethoven and Janacek in February 2020, just under the wire before the fateful events that would crush the world a few weeks later. The next Naumburg Bandshell concert is on June 28 at 7:30 PM with the Handel and Haydn Society, led by violinist Aisslinn Nosky, playing works by Corelli, Vivaldi, Geminiani, Handel and Charles Avison.

June 15, 2022 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Danny Holt Tackles the Fiery, Lyrical Music of a Legendary David Bowie Pianist

Many years ago, this blog’s adoptive owner had what turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see David Bowie in concert. As far as bucket-list shows go, this was at the very top.

It was a huge disappointment. The long-since-razed Roseland Ballroom in midtown Manhattan had notoriously bad, boomy sound. The Thin White Duke didn’t play guitar, the setlist was mostly forgettable 1990s material, and he had that awful, florid guitarist who played with him in his even more forgettable Tin Machine project.

One of the few upsides to the concert was that it was the first time that Bowie had performed with pianist Mike Garson since the 1970s. And Garson seemed to be jumping out of his shoes to be playing the gig, firing off one elegant, rapidfire cascade after another. Fast forward to 2022: Garson is making a rare Manhattan small-club appearance at Mezzrow on June 19 at 7:30 PM with Don Falzone on bass and Billy Mintz on drums. Cover is $25 cash at the door, but this could be an instance where you might want to make a reservation in advance.

One Garson album that fans need to hear actually doesn’t have Garson on it. He came up with the material while improvising on a Yamaha Disclavier (the digitally-empowered precursor to the Steinway Spirio). Pianist Danny Holt plays those transcriptions on his latest release, Piano Music of Mike Garson, streaming at Spotify. Most of them could be considered preludes, or suites of them.

Holt opens dramatically with the aptly titled Homage to Chopin and Godowsky, a look back at the kind of daunting, lyrical rivulets and meticulously articulated chords Garson wowed the crowd with at that Roseland show all those years ago. The second track, a Bowie homage, is a fondly Asian-tinged fugue of sorts.

There are fifteen other pieces on the album, spanning a characteristically wide swath of styles. Rampaging art-rock gives way to thorny Ligeti-esque interludes, labyrinthine passages that could be Schumann or Janacek, insistently rhythmic moments that come across as High Romantic Steve Reich, and a warmly inviting nocturne or two..

Needless to say, Garson’s skills creating this kind of intensity out of thin air are undiminished, and Holt deserves equal credit for having both the good taste and chops to deliver Garsons’s icepick lefthand and intricately harmonized two-handed passages with equal flair and precision.

June 12, 2022 Posted by | classical music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Martin Wind’s New York Bass Quartet Have Irresistible Fun Beyond the Low Registers

Bassist Martin Wind‘s new album Air with his New York Bass Quartet – streaming at Bandcamp – is sublimely ridiculous fun for those of us who gravitate to the low registers. Like most members of the four-string fraternity, Wind and his accomplices – Gregg August, Jordan Frazier and Sam Suggs – are heartily aware of the comedic possibilities that abound in the F clef. Yet Wind’s arrangements here are as erudite as they are irresistibly amusing. As party music, this is pretty hard to beat. And to Wind’s further credit, he uses pretty much the entirety of his axe’s sonic capability – there are places where these guys sound like a cello rock band or even a string quartet.

They open with a sotto-voce, tiptoeing four-bass arrangement that sticks pretty close to a famous Bach piece that a psychedelic group from the 1960s ripped off for the most-played radio single in British history. Then Wind and his merry band make low-register bluegrass out of it – and guest Gary Versace comes in on organ as the group pivot to a lowdown funk groove. The solo, of course, is for bass – that’s August doing the tongue-in-cheek pirouette.

The third track, a Beatles medley that starts with Long and Winding Road and continues with an emphasis on the chamber pop side of the Fab Four, is even funnier, considering how artfully Wind weaves the individual themes together.

They do Birdland as a clave tune, and then as funk, with Lenny White on drums and Versace on organ again: again, no spoilers. Matt Wilson’s suspenseful tom-toms and Versace’s misterioso organ simmer beneath a surprising plaintiveness and judicious solos all around in an epic arrangement of Charlie Haden’s Silence.

Wind’s first original here, I’d Rather Eat is a hypnotic, rhythmically pulsing, judiciously contrapuntal piece that brings to mind cellist Julia Kent’s more insistently minimalist work. The group’s gorgeously bittersweet take of Pat Metheny’s Tell Her You Saw Me has the bassists plucking out piano voicings, plus Versace on piano and accordion.

Wind’s other tune here, Iceland Romance is a tango with surprising poignancy but also several good jokes, They bring the album full circle by revisiting Procol Harum – woops, Bach. Whether you call this classical music, or the avant garde, or jazz, it’s an awful lot of fun.

Wind’s next gig is with Wilson’s great Honey and Salt quintet at the Saratoga Jazz Festival on June 25. And Verrsace is leading a trio, from the piano, at Mezzrow on June 15 with sets at 7:30 and 9. Cover is $25 cash at the door.

June 10, 2022 Posted by | classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Classical Pianist Ruth Slenczynska Releases a Thoughtfully Lyrical New Album With a Record-Breaking Backstory

Pianist Ruth Slenczynska’s new album My Life in Music – streaming at Spotify – is an attractive and individualistic mix of standard repertoire and a handful of surprises.

She opens with a thoughtfully opulent take of Rachmaninoff’s Daisies, from his Romances, Op. 18 and follows with his Prelude No.5 in G major with its dancing, glittery righthand clusters. She plays Samuel Barber’s Nocturne (Homage to John Field) with a considered, brooding simmer. She gives a deadpan steadiness but also a determined grit to a considerably different, ragtime-tinged Barber tune, Let’s Sit It Out and Wait, from his suite Fresh From West Chester.

Slenczynska opts for a balletesque grace in Chopin’s Grande Valse Brillante in Eb, op. 18, eschewing the floridness so many other pianists give it, an approach that works equally well a little later in Grieg’s Wedding Day in Trodhaugen. And in her hands, her tenderly yet playfully articulated version of Chopin’s famous Berceuse is a revelation: those echo effects are irresistible. As is her generous use of space in an unselfconsciously unhurried interpretation of Debussy’s The Girl With the Flaxen Hair.

The other Chopin pieces here have similarly distinctive insights. There’s a lowlit Etude No. 3 in E Major, and a cheery, strolling Prelude in G Major, Op. 18. The longest and most energetic work here is the Fantaisie in F Minor: Slenczynska slows much of it down practically to dirge speed and volume, an effect which is both comedic and enlightening, as she picks up a remarkable amount of detail and dramatic contrast. She closes the album with a methodically articulated version of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C# minor, BWV 849.

Now for the punchline: Slenczynska is 97 years old. It is astonishing how undiminished both her chops and her ideas are.

She made her stage debut at four, her European debut at five. Every major pianist of the 1930s including Sergei Rachmaninoff was eager to coach her. She is his last living student; she treasures the Faberge egg necklace he gave her. She would go on to record ten albums and tour the world, earning a reputation as a very colorful, entertaining performer. This new album is her first in sixty years, undoubtedly a record-breaking achievement. Let’s hope she got at least a two-album deal out of it.

May 7, 2022 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The London Symphony Orchestra Return With an Epically Efficient Double Live Stravinsky Album

The London Symphony Orchestra‘s live recording of Vaughan Williams’ Fourth and Sixth Symphonies topped the list of the best albums of 2021 at Lucid Cuture’s sister blog, across all styles of music. Released at a moment when it was not clear whether they would ever play again, these harrowing, impassioned, often violent performances captured the state of the world in the months following the fateful events of March 2020 better than any other record last year.

So how beautiful is it to know that the orchestra are back together, performing again and releasing more live albums from their seemingly inexhaustible archives? Their latest is an epic double live album from two September, 2017 dates at the Barbican featuring Simon Rattle conducting Stravinsky’s three iconic ballet scores: The Firebird, Petrouchka and the Rite of Spring. While the 1961 Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky studio recordings by what was essentially a pickup orchestra of A-list New York musicians remains a favorite, this one – streaming at Spotify – is distinctive and individualistic, and rewarding for many different reasons.

The Firebird is pillowy and on the brisk side. A dance troupe would get quite the workout spiraling across the stage to this. From the almost imperceptible fade up, Rattle makes it clear that this defining work of what would become noir cinematic music is first and foremost a nocturne. The pulse is stiletto-precise, especially in the few minutes leading up to the lush, starry capture scene. The exchanges between Olivier Stankiewicz’s oboe and Bryn Lewis’ harp are ghostly and fleeting, as are the high woodwinds in the scene with the princess and the golden apple. And yet, Stankiewicz’s approach is strikingly blunt in the famous interlude barely a minute later.

As Rattle saw it that night, the devil in the even more famous diabolical dance seems to be a mathematician, although those numbers are pixelated rather than crunched. That the orchestra manage to keep such a meticulous balance at this speed is breathtaking, although this version is several steps short of the blunderbuss attack Leonard Bernstein would follow in its most explosive moments.

The second work (spelled “Petrushka” if you’re looking to pull it up as a stand-alone piece) has welcome bluster in places, although Rattle also goes for lushness and precision more than febrile intensity: for all we know, a ballet company really could be pirouetting and leaping in front of them. The “Russian dance” is far more scintillating than rustic, but the scene after in the protagonist’s cell is as cinematic and majestically frantic as you could want. Mutedly striding mystery, clamoring brass, portentous low strings and devious winds all shine in this very high-definition portrait.

An enigmatic, mysterious sensibility lingers in the rare calmer moments of The Rite of Spring, an uncommon, welcome touch. There’s Slavic ruggedness but also a steely precision: f you want a fullscale bacchanal, sink your teeth into the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony’s live recording from 2015 – whoomp!

This is all about clarity and distinctive voices: hostages are seized, but with nimble choreography. Likewise, the series of string swells and pulsing low brass are revelatory late in the first movement, such that it is. Rattle’s attention to detail brings out unexpected humor in the occasional quirky curlicue or offbeat percussion riff: there are innumerable levels of meaning that may be new to a lot of listeners

The London Symphony Orchestra’s next symphonic performance is May 8 at 7 PM at the Barbican in London with Dima Slobodeniouk conducting Sofia Gubaidulina’s Offertorium and Sibelius’ Symphony No 2. Baiba Skride is the violin soloist; you can get in for £18. The orchestra also offer what they call a “wildcard” option for last-minute rush tickets for even less in case the concert isn’t sold out.

May 4, 2022 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Poignant, Rapturous, Gorgeous Armenian Classical Album by the Aznavoorian Duo

The most rapturously poignant album of the year so far is Gems From Armenia, by the Aznavoorian Duo, streaming at Spotify. Sisters Ani and Marta Aznavoorian – cello and piano, respectively – draw on their heritage for a lyrical playlist of material that spans from the 19th century to the present. It underscores the disproportionately rich influence this tiny nation’s music continues to make around the globe.

They open with a steady, spare, pensive theme, Chinar Es by foundational Romantic-era composer and musicologist Komitas. As she often does throughout the album, Ani plays in the high midrange, with a stark vibrato that sometimes evokes a kamancheh spike fiddle. A second Komitas tune, Tsirani Tsar comes across as a more nocturnal variation, lowlit by Marta’s distantly starry piano. The third, Garoun A, is a gorgeous solo piano work, more mysteriously modern and practically furtive in places. The duo continue with a balletesque grace in the fourth, Al Ailux, both hypnotic and pulsingly rhythmic.

The fifth, Krunk is not a drinking song but an achingly beautiful love ballad and a launching pad for some of Ani’s most incisive, soaringly lyrical work here. The best-known in a long line of great Armenian composers, Aram Khachaturian is represented first by the emotive miniature Ivan Sings and then his lively, pointillistic tribute to his hometown of Yerevan.

Marta plays Arno Babajanian’s Elegy with restraint but also close attention to ornamentation that mimics the microtones of Armenian folk music. Ani returns for his Aria and Dance, a fondly reflective ballad and variations.

The duo make their way methodically from a stern, tightly clustering intensity through more sparsely lyrical passages in the first movement of Avet Terterian’s Sonata for Cello and Piano. They let the allusive chromatics and poignancy speak for itself, understatedly, in the second movement and romp with a triumphant, acerbic glitter through the conclusion.

The two bring out High Romantic passion in Serouj Kradjian‘s arrangement of the traditional ballad Sari Siroun Yar and follow with Alexander Arutiunian’s Impromptu, a dynamic mashup of a levantine dance and Rachmaninovian lustre.

Vache Sharafyan’s Petrified Dance, an elegy for Armenian soldiers, is the most subdued and vividly sepulchral work on the program. The sisters conclude with the world-premiere of Peter Boyer’s Mount Ararat, climbing from a portentous cello melody to a syncopated gallop up the slope, with stunning, chromatically bristling breaks to view the scenery. This unselfconsciously beautiful collection deserves a second volume. For that matter, the Aznavoorians could have a franchise here if they felt like it.

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

A Colorful Environmentalist Playlist From Yolanda Kondonassis

Harpist Yolanda Kondonassis is a force of nature. The author of The Composer’s Guide to Writing Well for the Modern Harp has wide-ranging and impeccable taste in repertoire, from Satie to Hovhaness and just about all points in between. Her new solo album Five Minutes For Earth – streaming at Spotify – is a sparkling, dynamically rich collection of new works inspired by nature and the need to preserve our world from manmade disasters. Most of these pieces are on the short side, commissioned from an eclectic mix of well-known and up-and-coming composers.

The first number, Takuma Itoh’s Kohola Sings, traces the migration of humpbacked whales through the desolate depths, to a convivial, intricately woven crescendo. Kondonassis begins Michael Daugherty‘s Hear the Dust Blow, an Oklahoma Dust Bowl tableau. with gentle guitar-like voicings in a ballad without words that dissipates in cascades and frenetic flurries.

With its careful cadences and occasional enigmatic close harmonies, Aaron Jay Kernis‘ On Hearing Nightbirds at Dusk seems to focus more on the dusk than the birds. Kondonassis gets to revel in her instrument’s wide expanse throughout the elegant trajectories and sudden bursts in Chen Yi‘s Dark Mountains.

There’s muted mystery as Maximo Diego Pujol’s Milonga para mi Tierra unfolds, to a graceful tango. Reena Ismail‘s Inconvenient Wounds balances murk and sudden smoky smudges against a delicate lattice, a striking cautionary tale. Gary Schocker’s Memory of Trees shares a dichotomy, in this case between the catchy baroque melody at the center, and more unsettled passages.

As Earth Dreams, by Keith Fitch is not a portrait of troubled sleep, although its starry milieu is definitely restless. Jocelyn Chambers packs a lot of catchy, broodingly strolling riffage into her miniature Melting Point. In The Demise of the Shepard Glacier. Philip Maneval balances spacious phrases and steady rivulets to illustrate the slow disappearance of the Montana ice formation.

Kondonassis follows a brisk series of eighth-note passages and feathery interludes in Patrick Harlin‘s Time Lapse. Green, by Zhou Long is a spare and allusively Asian-tinged piece originally written for pipa and wood flute. Nathaniel Heyder‘s Earthview portrays a descent to earth through the atmosphere, an imperiled planet coming into clearer focus via insistent anchor notes and eerie, Messiaenic tonalities.

The album’s most verdantly minimalist number, complete with wry woodland sounds, is Meditation at Perkiomen Creek, a Pennsylvania tableau by Daniel Dorff. The final composition is Stephen Hartke‘s Fault Line, with its stabbing phantasmagoria and close-harmonied disquiet: it’s a strong closer.

Happily. greenwashing doesn’t seem to factor into Kondonassis’ agenda. She’s not endorsing any sinister schemes like the abolition of home or motor vehicle ownership, or the imposition of personal carbon allowances or Chinese communist-style social credit scores. She just loves the outdoors – which, in the context of 2022, is a welcome and genuinely radical concept.

April 16, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment