Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Explosive Finale to the One World Symphony’s Season

“When’s the last time you went to a symphonic concert and looked at the program and didn’t see a single date of death?” conductor Sung Jin Hong asked the Chelsea crowd assembled at the One World Symphony‘s concluding concert of the 2013 season this past May 20. Hong had a good point: it’s not often that an established fullsize orchestra programs a whole bill of living composers. Hong designed this one to go out on an explosive note and succeeded spectacularly. While he didn’t address the concert’s politically charged content, the program did: “American Affairs: Great • Atomic • Desire.”

This orchestra is known for surprises, and there were a couple early on that raised the bar almost impossibly high for the rest of the bill. Soprano Adrienne Metzinger went deep into noir cabaret mode for a lurid take of Benjamin Britten’s Funeral Blues, backed with a stalker’s intensity by pianist Gulnara Mitzanova and the orchestra’s first chair bassist, Justin Lee. Soprano Sonya Headlam had a hard act to follow, but ended up raising the roof with a spine-tingling take of Gershwin’s Summertime, the orchestra lush and balmy behind her as she went to the top of her register, adding a tingling mix of overtones and blues as she brought the song to redline with a triumphant crescendo.

Spring-loaded, catlike and looking somewhat feral on the podium, Hong ran the rest of the concert as a suite – he has a Leonard Bernstein-like aptitude for making connections between what at first glance might seem like completely unrelated pieces. Over the evocative, bittersweetly orchestrated ragtime of John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby, Headlam continued with a more subtly vivid song, Where Is the Old Warm World, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s doomed Daisy offering some wistful foreshadowing. Mezzo-soprano Eva Sun then gave voice to the character Myrtle’s plaintive ache as the backdrop grew more contemplatively atmospheric.

Soprano Ashley Becker aired out the moody intensity of two songs from Andre Previn’s score to A Streetcar Named Desire: the uneasy Sea Air, and a sultry take of I Want Magic. From there they segued into two selections from John Adams’ chilling Robert Oppenheimer-inspired Doctor Atomic, Mitzanova returning for a broodingly opaque turn in front of the orchestra singing Am I In Your Light, the atomic scientist’s wife’s lament.

Baritone Douglas Jabara got the most spectacular of the vocal numbers and made the most of it with a gut-wrenchingly intense, anguished take of Batter My Heart, channeling what the composer felt to be Oppenheimer’s dread for the death and destruction his invention was about to cause (and for his legacy no less, it seems) via text from John Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV. Offstage before the concert, Jabara said that he believed that Oppenheimer knew the sonnet, and he sang it with that kind of bitter certitude, dashing offstage with a dramatic self-effacement as it ended. From there the orchestra took the Bernard Herrmann-esque horror to a logical, shattering conclusion via a bridge written by Hong as a showsstopping percussion feature with the timpani, gongs and bass drum exploding and then lingering in a firestorm of waves for what seemed minutes on end. It captured the catastrophic horror of the explosion over Hiroshima, not to mention the horrific loss of civilian life, more evocatively than words could possibly have expressed.

Hong programmed the world premiere of his own Edge immediately afterward, a bold and potentially suicidal choice given the previous work’s pyrotechnics. That the conductor’s equally haunting narrative – a setting of Sylvia Plath’s final poem, loaded with vengeful Medea references – wasn’t anticlimactic speaks to its power, and the orchestra’s commitment to it. Soprano Sara Paar had only been given a week to learn it, Hong told the crowd, but she brought it to life with a clenched-teeth, angst-fueled focus against shivery layers of glissandos from the strings. Even when the work lightened toward the end – Plath wasn’t going to kill her kids, after all – the mortally wounded atmopshere lingered. Few orchestras would take such a gamble by ending their season on such a dark note; then again, this ensemble has no fear of taking chances.

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May 23, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Marc Ribot Brings Noir Heat and Chills at the New School

Without Shahzad Ismaily, this review would not have happened. Not knowing that reservations were required for Marc Ribot’s concert Saturday night at the New School, we showed up without them, and the door crew, expecting a sellout, turned us away (which actually wasn’t unreasonable: by showtime, there were still a few open seats, but the auditorium was pretty close to capacity). Overhearing us kvetching outside and plotting our next move, Ismaily came to the rescue (he doesn’t know us; we’d never met before) and comped us in. So now we know that Shahzad Ismaily is as good a guy as he is a musician. His bass work was as inspiring as always, an effortless mix of fat, slinky, swingingly tuneful riffs and vamps while Ribot and his nine-piece noir orchestra prowled and snarled seductively overhead.

Marc Ribot may be famous for being able to play in any style ever invented, but the chameleonic guitarist has found his niche. He’s never sounded more articulate, or been able to interpolate all the things he does best – menacingly twangy atmospherics, frenetic noise and tersely slashing blues – as entertainingly and irresistibly as he does with his noir soundtrack stuff. Among the material on this cinematic-themed bill were pieces of the soundtrack to the noir films Scene of the Crime and Touch of Evil along with a selection of noir (and noir-influenced) instrumentals by the Lounge Lizards, John Zorn and Ribot himself. It was creepy, and sexy, and intense to the point that by the end, pretty much everybody including the band seemed pretty exhausted. The best New York concert so far this year? Arguably, yes.

One of the night’s high points was a John Barry scene titled Kill for Pussy, from the Body Heat soundtrack, tinkly piano and sultry/deadly Doug Wieselman alto sax over a relentless, brooding pulse that took on a slightly less menacing, more lurid tinge as it progressed. The other was an insistent, galloping Ribot chase scene, the slasher going in for the jugular, spinal cord, skull and everything else within reach in a frenzy of horns and atonal tremolo-picking. His Strat drenched in reverb, Ribot turned a noir cabaret Andre Previn tableau from Scene of the Crime into chilling southwestern gothic, later leading a tongue-in-cheek parade through a reggae version of a Henry Mancini piece lit up by Curtis Fowlkes’ triumphant trombone. The Lynchian midsummer night scene that opened the show vamped on a couple of chords as it shifted almost imperceptibly from suburban gothic twang to a mutant Stax/Volt blues and back again lushly with the strings going full tilt. A John Zorn piece from the 80s burned through an explosion of horns, a chase scene, some Chuck Berry and then reggae, all in three minutes. The rest of the show mixed twisted striptease themes with an evil marionettes’ dance, a cover of the Get Carter theme done as Herbie Hancock might have circa 1971, and a couple of Lounge Lizards tunes: an early one that saw Ismaily walking crazy scales as the band squawked, screamed and shuddered, and a later, much quieter piece that marvelously built suspense, from apprehension to something more like sheer terror. Let’s hope this isn’t the last we see of this amazing band, which also included John Mettam on drums, vibraphone and bongos; Christina Courtin on viola; Christopher Hoffman on cello; Rob Burger on acoustic and electric piano and organ, and a violinist whose name we didn’t catch.

April 5, 2011 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment