Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Lively Tribute to Bargemusic Founder Olga Bloom

“We do more shows than anybody else,” bragged violinist and Bargemusic honcho Mark Peskanov, and that was no overstatement. New York orchestras and classical ensembles typically take at least the end of the summer off, but Bargemusic goes year-round. “First it was two nights. Then we said, could we do three?” He gave a quizzical look. “Now here we are, on a Monday!”

He was there on the converted 1899 coffee barge like he is most every day, this time to celebrate the birthday of Olga Bloom, who founded Bargemusic (and lived there for quite some time in the late 70s), whose vision of a noncommercial, non-corporate creative space for classical musicians and chamber music devotees has mushroomed beyond anyone’s expectations. Vital and active in music until almost the end of her life, she would have been turning 93. “We usually don’t talk much here,” Peskanov admitted, and he’s right. With the space’s Manhattan harbor view and the quality of the music here (“It has to go through me, so you know it has to be on the highest level,” Peskanov asserted), there’s no need to gild the lily: Bargemusic remains unsurpassed as a date spot, year after year.

There was music, too. Peskanov, a pyrotechnically skilled player, began with soaring yet precise solo Bach on violin in tribute to Bloom, who would typically begin the day by doing the same, “completely one with the music,” as Peskanov remembered her in the morning when he’d hear her playing from outside. He recalled how Leopold Stokowski would chide her for playing too loud: defiantly, she refused to tone down her act. For Bloom, Peskanov said, the string quartet was the highest expression of human creativity, so this particular night made a good excuse for him to join forces with violinist Laura Goldberg, violist Ah Ling Neu and cellist Guy Fishman for a romp through quartets by two of Bloom’s favorite composers, Beethoven and Haydn. The former’s String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No. 4 began as it seemed how Bloom might have played it herself, irrepressibly jaunty on the opening allegro before contrasting powerfully, wary and wounded, with the andante scherzoso second movement. From there they worked their way up again to end on the vibrant note they began with. They picked up the pace even further with Haydn’s String Quartet in C, Op. 54, No. 2, throwing all caution to the wind and giving new meaning to the presto dynamic as it wound up joyously. Definitely not the sort of thing for people who consider string quartets to be good background music, but as an example of how passionate and exciting the genre can be, it was a thrill to be on the boat that night.

This quartet is back on the barge on May 12 at 8 PM and then on May 13 at 3 PM, doing the Beethoven and Haydn plus Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2 in D; tickets are $35 and early arrival is highly advised. It’s also worth mentioning Bargemusic’s free, weekly Saturday 3 PM concerts: promoted as “family” shows, squalling infants don’t seem to be an issue, and as Peskanov can attest, the performers are first-rate.

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April 4, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Miori Sugiyama Plays Chopin at Bargemusic, Brooklyn NY 2/6/10

A fresh, vigorous, potently counterintuitive interpretation of iconic Chopin works for solo piano. Miori Sugiyama’s formidable technique is matched by an equally fine-tuned emotional intelligence- she gets this music – and a hair-trigger detector for devices that might cross the line into cliche. Those she wanted nothing to do with. No disrespect to Chopin, but Romantic piano music can be just as stylized as any other genre and there are places where it’s hardly difficult to figure out what he wrote to pay the bills, and what came straight from the heart. Sugiyama wasted no time in going for authenticity of emotion. From a contemporary perspective, it wouldn’t be completely accurate to describe how she tackled the program as radical – no electronics or rock band were involved – but sixty years ago it would have been. When a familiar trope loomed, she’d get a running start and go sailing over it, sidestep it with a jump or a quick turn or simply trample it in a stampede to get to the good stuff. It was as effective a performance as it was personal and individual.

The Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23 benefited vastly from a strikingly rubato approach: Sugiyama didn’t let the courtly waltziness of much of it fake her out a bit, uncovering every raw, resonant tonality she could find. A pair of nocturnes (F Sharp Minor, Op. 15, No. 2 and C Sharp, Op. 27, No. 2) gave her less of an opportunity to mine for that kind of treasure: in her hands, they glimmered comfortably but not complacently. By contrast, the Scherzo No. 1 in B Minor, Op. 20 was a breathtaking showcase for a lightning sostenuto attack, rushing rapids punctuated by pregnant pauses, if ever so brief before the torrents returned. Ironically, the one piece that might have benefited from a straight-up reading instead of an attempt to find its inner menschkeit was the Scherzo No. 2 in B Flat Minor, Op. 31, a staple of classical radio for decades whose martial theme stops just short of bombast (with that one, the temptation is to ham it up Victor Borge style). Sugiyama wound up the program with an inspired, fluid precision that defied another kind of serious rocking as river waves got the barge swaying, definitely not in time with the music. The Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise in E Flat, Op. 22, more of a real nocturne than anything else on the bill, was given the chance to build gracefully. Sugiyama then blasted through a minuet passage, got it out of the way and brought the intensity to redline with molten-metal glissandos leading inexorably to a fiery conclusion.

Miori Sugiyama is also playing the big upcoming Chopin marathon at the World Financial Center, March 1-5: watch this space.

February 7, 2010 Posted by | classical music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The American String Quartet Plays Robert Sirota, Irving Fine and Others at Bargemusic, Brooklyn NY 4/26/09

The American String Quartet had played the Brooklyn debut of Manhattan School of Music President Robert Sirota’s 9/11-themed Triptych suite the previous night. Looking across the river at Manhattan from inside the barge the following afternoon, the Twin Towers’ absence became more and more striking as the first movement built to a frantic, chaotic, horror-stricken crescendo of tritones and dissonance. From an audience perspective (particularly as witnessed by someone who was three blocks away when Tower Two blew up), the music was viscerally harrowing. Lucid Culture puts up a year-end “best New York concerts” list, and while being far from definitive, you can bet this performance will be on it.

 

Sirota was in New York on 9/11 and over the following months, writing the suite in tandem with Deborah Patterson’s painting of the same name – the artists’ intent was for the music to reinforce the painting and vice versa. To say that both are impactful would be a ridiculous understatement. The suite’s first movement, Desecration began with a shock, immediately followed by frenetic anguish that eventually fell apart, leading to a mournful solo by violinist Peter Winograd and eventually an evocation of car alarms (Sirota imagined that the destruction of the towers would have set off every one of them in Manhattan, an insult added to injury that thankfully didn’t occur) followed by a brief, single siren played on violin, fading into the distance.

 

The second movement, Lamentation began stark and modernist, growing more insistent, anguish finally turning to outrage, the impossibility of being able to fathom the enormity of the event intensely and vividly captured by a tentative cello line eventually passed to the other instruments, ending with a simple, defeated fade to solo violin. It’s not known how deeply the composer was able to investigate the mystery surrounding the tragedy, or whether this is simply a rendering of the city’s collective emotional state.

 

At last, some consonance appeared in the final movement, Prayer, reaching for solace and not finding it, interestingly with less of a feeling of communion and inclusiveness than there was at the time. While the months afterward brought out in many respects a beautiful and unforgettable period of camaraderie and compassion among New Yorkers, the conclusion of Sirota’s work rightfully maintains a persistent and unavoidable sense of loss. As riveting and heartbreaking as the piece is to witness in concert, one can only imagine how difficult it must be to play, especially for a New York group such as this, but the musicians didn’t let on.

 

The rest of the bill was a thicket of knotty cerebrality, but the Quartet accentuated its emotion and also its frequent good humor. They’d opened with Irving Fine’s 1952 String Quartet, an astonishing and powerfully Stravinskian work delivering many of the tropes of Romanticism in a completely different language, jeweled with suspense, horror-movie cadences and complete defiance in places. Winograd related an amusing anecdote about how his father, also a noted musician, knew Fine, who was notoriously prickly. After hearing the piece, the story made perfect sense. The ensemble also tackled Henry Cowell’s strange and often boisterously witty, improvisationally-driven String Quartet No. 3, the “Mosaic,” named for its interwoven, deceptively simple themes designed to be repeated as the performers see fit. They closed with Walter Piston’s String Quartet No. 1, another work which cast numerous codas and cadenzas straight out of Brahms or Beethoven straight into the drink where they landed dazed. Did Mingus know Piston’s work? One would think so from hearing this piece.

 

Shock of shocks, the barge wasn’t sold out, either. Fault of the depression? Maybe. The challenging nature of the program? That would be strange – Ives and his ilk don’t usually scare the crowds off. From the looks of it these days, Bargemusic could be something you could decide on at the spur of the moment, a wonderfully romantic idea.

April 28, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Karine Poghosyan at the Piano at Bargemusic, Brooklyn NY 4/11/09

The barge, tethered at the old Brooklyn Heights Fulton Ferry landing had pretty much stopped swaying by the time Karine Poghosyan settled in at the keys: for awhile, it looked like it was going to be a rocky ride. Instead, it was as if the waves parted and gave the Armenian-American virtuoso clear passage through a brutally challenging, frequently exhilarating performance. She warmed up with Haydn’s warmly consonant Piano Sonata No. 38 in F Major, Hob XVI: 23 and then tackled Chopin’s Four Mazurkas, Op. 67, beginning with a remarkably understated take on the famous first one in G. Other pianists schmaltz this up: she didn’t. The haunting G Minor Mazurka – as well as the more upbeat, gypsy-inflected C Minor and A Minor Mazurkas – were extraordinary, Poghosyan pushing to the absolute limits of rubato, bringing out every microtone of longing and drama.

 

Then she launched into Liszt’s knotty, spectacular Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C Sharp Minor, the first of two show-stoppers. She took its hammering staccato chords, spectacular lefthand leaps from the lowest to highest registers and scurrying sixteenth-note runs down the scale in the right and while she didn’t make them look effortless, she had such command that she was able to pull out all the stops and blast her way through them without ever losing her footing. That she was able to shift gears after that, with a poignant, impeccably sensitive rendition of Rachmaninoff’s Elegie in E Flat Minor, Op. 3, No. 1 was perhaps just as impressive. Then she ratcheted the intensity up to redline again and stayed there for the entirety of Stravinsky’s 1921 piano arrangement of three movements from Petrouchka: the gypsyish Danse Russse, evoking the Chopin earlier in the program; an utterly macabre, resoundingly successful romp through Chez Petrouchka and ending with La Semaine Grasse, a revelation, vastly more powerful than the ballet’s original orchestral score. Anyone with the desire to get to the root of the composer’s paradigm-shifting, deathly tonalities would do well to discover this version.  

 

Poghosyan’s next recital is a trio performance on April 17 at 7 PM with Bela Horvath, violin and John Popham, cello at the Yamaha Piano Salon, 689 Fifth Avenue (at 54th Street), followed by a solo show on April 27 at 7 PM at Steinway Hall, 109 West 57th Street featuring works by Mozart, Chopin, De Falla, Sirota, and Stravinsky.

April 12, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment