Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Violinist Movses Pogossian Pulls Together a Stunning, Uneasy Album of New Armenian Classical Music

It’s astonishing how influential Armenian music has been, considering how small the country is, not to mention the pre-World War I holocaust there which resulted in the murder of as much as 85% of the population and most of its intelligentsia. While Armenian culture has thrived throughout the global diaspora, in the past hundred years the country managed to withstand a stifling Soviet occupation and emerged with wellspring of new music. Violinist Movses Pogossian‘s new album Modulation Necklace – streaming at Bandcamp – celebrates a series of intense, powerful, edgy works by 21st century composers from throughout the global Armenian community.

Artur Avanesov’s somber, stately, acidically crescendoing Quasi Harena Maris begins as a microtonal string quartet played by Pogossian and Ji Eun Hwang, violist Morgan O’Shaughnessey and cellist Niall Ferguson. The composer enters, on piano, with a brooding minimalism as the strings recede to wisps and washes. His fierce block chords shift between dark neoromanticism and unsettled close harmonies, the strings echoing the dichotomy between anthemic intensity and relentless, blustery unease. The sparse, clustering suspense on the way out is chilling. On one hand, there are echoes of the great Danish composer Per Norgard; on the other, this is like nothing you’ve ever heard. What a showstopper to open this album.

The quartet of Avanesov, violinist Varty Manouelian, violist Scott St. John and cellist Antonio Lysy play Ashot Zhrabyan’s Novelette. The ache of the string introduction is more visceral here, Avanesov pouncing in as they reach a horrified peak. Hazy atmospherics alternate with bracing swells, together and individually, the pianist punctuating the storm as it passes through and then returns with a marching vengeance. A stabbing, suspiciously petulant insistence peaks out, then the stern strings take over and end with an unexpectedly quiet triumph.

Avanesov, Manouelian and Tyler deliver Michel Petrossian‘s A Fiery Flame, a Flaming Fire with equal parts individual playfulness and a tight cohesiveness, yet one which remains unsettled until a starkly decisive conclusion. It’s an exploration of identity in an increasingly syncretic world. Have we lost a heritage, or are we creating a brand new, more universal one? The answer seems to be yes to both questions.

The UCLA VEM Ensemble: Hwang and O’Shaughnessey with violinist Aiko Richter, cellist Jason Pegis and mezzo-soprano Danielle Segen tackle Artashes Kartalyan’s Tekeyan Triptych, a setting of poems on longing and posterity by Vahan Tekeyan, a major 20th century figure. In the liner notes, Segen gets high marks from the ensemble for her Armenian pronunciation; the dynamically shifting music echoes late Debussy, with melodies that range from the baroque to Armenian traditional melodies, most anthemically in the second number.

Saxophonist Katisse Buckingham and percussionist Dustin Donahue’s take of Ashot Kartalyan‘s five-part Suite for Saxophone and Percussion shifts from kinetic high/low contrasts, to jaunty bits of vibraphone jazz, a hint of furtive suspense, a beautifully bittersweet ballad and a booming, dancing coda. Avanesov ends the album with seven miniatures from his Feux Follets collection, which range from warm neoromanticism, to lingering minimalism and biting Near Eastern modes. If this is typical of what’s coming out of the Armenian world now, we need to hear more of it!

July 8, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Brick from the Wall to Wall Behind the Wall

In a good year, Symphony Space’s annual Wall to Wall music marathon could easily be the best concert of the year – for those who have the time. Fortuitously, for those whose schedules don’t allow a Shoah-length commitment, the venue begins these early in the day (hey – 11 AM on a Saturday is early). This year’s program was titled Wall to Wall Behind the Wall, i.e. music by former Soviet bloc composers, an eye-opening parade of first-class performers and works, many of them either New York or world premieres – the Symphony Space folks really outdid themselves this year.

The program opened on a familiar, cosmopolitan note with Bartok’s jazz-inflected Contrasts for Violin, Clarinet and Piano. It was premiered here in New York with Benny Goodman on clarinet and Bartok himself on piano; the Israeli Chamber Project – Tibi Cziger on clarinet, Itamar Zorman on violin and Assaff Weissman on piano – cleverly mined its surprisingly playful jumps and characteristically jarring, percussive riffage.

Russian Jewish composer Alexander Krein’s Esquisses Hebraiques was performed hauntingly and beautifully by the Colorado Quartet plus clarinetist Jo-Ann Sternberg. It’s a series of klezmer themes, laments as well as a dance. Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes made a particularly choice if obvious segue, on balance heavier on West than East, played by the same crew plus pianist Margaret Kampmeier.

Contemporary Armenian composer Tigram Mansurian’s Agnus Dei, done by Sternberg, Julie Rosenfeld of the Colorado Quartet on violin and her bandmate Katie Schlaikjer on cello plus Artur Avanesov on piano was a New York premiere, a wondrously soulful, ambient Henryk Gorecki-ish suite of shifting voices and warm, rapt textures. A world premiere, Zurab Nadarejshvili’s Dialogue with Urban Songs grew sneakily and very effectively from jaunty ragtime to creepy, played by the Poulenc Trio (Vladimir Lande on oboe, Bryan Young on bassoon and Irina Kaplan Lande on piano).

Russian-American composer Nataliya Medvedovskaya’s cinematic First Snow proved to be a vivid and apt work for the global warming era – she misses her home country’s ever-present winter snow. She described it to the audience beforehand as a cold piece, and as much as it relies on astringent atonalities, the way it tracks a winter storm – or two – is often unabashedly amusing. The Poulenc Trio were joined here by Anton Lande on violin. After that, another Twentieth Century Armenian, Arno Babajanyan was represented by his Poem, played by Avanesov on piano, knotty and dramatic but more mathematical than it was emotionally resonant. By now, it was around one in the afternoon; a flute suite was next on the bill, which for our crew of low-register fans was a signal that it was time to attend to a long list of Saturday chores (and then celebrate in the evening at Barbes with Serena Jost and Chicha Libre). Steve Smith of the Times got to Symphony Space at six and offers his insights on the rest of the program.

May 17, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment