Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Dynamic, Relevant Grand Finale to This Year’s Momenta Festival

Over the past four years, the Momenta Festival has become one of New York’s most exciting annual events. Each member of the irrepressibly daring Momenta Quartet takes his or her turn programming a night. The festival usually ends on violinist Emilie-Anne Gendron’s birthday. This year’s grand finale, Friday night at the Tenri Institute, happened to be cellist Michael Haas’ birthday: he and the group celebrated by going starkly deep into a program centered around Bartok’s harrowing String Quartet No. 4. As he explained succinctly before the show, it’s a piece he’d been scheming to play ever since joining the ensemble five years ago.  As was the case last year, admission was free, and there was high-grade craft beer afterward, also courtesy of the hosts. What more could a concertgoer possibly want?

They opened with Eric Nathan’s diptych Four to One, from 2011. Interestingly, this was the only contemporary work on the bill. It set it the bar almost impossibly high for the rest of the evening, notwithstanding the iconic Bartok quartet immediately afterward. Right off the bat, it became a harried, relentless, microtonal rollercoaster ride, the group holding fast to the counterpoint amidst the storm. Violist Stephanie Griffin’s plaintive assertions were particularly striking, as was Gendron’s turn in the rather cruel spotlight over a menacing wash in the second part. Haas’ cello was also stark yet prominent: it’s not hard to see why he’d want to program this. It reminded a lot of Michael Hersch’s recent, troubling microtonal work.

The performance of the Bartok turned out to be one of the very best of many witnessed by this blog or its owner over the past couple of decades. The persistent sense of doom the quartet parsed with razorwire intensity had particular resonance in this post-2016 election era. Menacingly emphatic gestures leapt from the dark interweave of the first movement, danger drawing ever closer. The circle dance in the second was just as macabre, especially with the exchanges of voices between instruments. Haas’ plaintive cavatina, echoed incisively by violinist Alex Shiozaki, brought the longing and if-only atmosphere of the third to a peak: it was impossible not to think of Shostakovich being influenced by this when writing his String Quartet No. 7. Both the savagery and after-the-battle emotional depletion of the final movement were just as indelible a reminder of the perilous consequences of fascism. The more things change…

Augmented by the Argus Quartet – violinists Jason Issokson and Clara Kim, cellist Joann Whang and guest violist Rose Hashimoto – the Momentas wound up the program with a triumphantly anthemic take of Enescu’s Octet for Strings in C Major. The young composer wrote it at nineteen in a rather successful attempt to outdo Mendelssohn at teenage octetry. The main theme has a suspenseful Andalucian feel, which grew to echo the Ravel bolero in places: together, the group reveled in the dramatic foreshadowing, even if it grew facile in places. A more mature composer might have written it half as long, but even so, when the synopsis of the final movement finally circled back, there was no denying how much of a party this merry band had brought.

The Momenta Quartet are currently on tour: their next gig is tomorrow night, Oct 24 at 7:30 PM playing works by Agustin Fernandez, Roberto Sierra, Eric Nathan, and Philip Glass at Santa Teresa Church in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The Argus Quartet’s next New York show is on Nov 13 at 7:30 PM at Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, playing an excellent, diverse program including Janacek’s String Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters,” along with works by Haydn, Ted Hearne, Juri Seo and Christopher Theofanidis. Cover is $25/$15 stud.

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October 23, 2018 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Far Cry Play a Demanding, Witheringly Relevant Program in Withering Heat in Central Park

It’s already an achievement when all eighteen members of a string orchestra can be on the same page and get everything right in the comfortable confines of a concert hall. It’s another thing entirely to do that in ninety-plus degree heat, facing a Manhattan sunset. Tuesday night at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park, A Far Cry really worked up a sweat doing a whole lot more in a brilliantly programmed mix of mostly dark works with potent resonance for the pre-impeachment Trump era. 

The highlight could have been Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 3, from 1994. Managing to negotiate the thicket of hypnotic, often ominous circular riffage that foreshadowed Glass’ Dracula soundtrack from five years later was impressive enough. Yet the group dug in for both the jokes – the trick ending at the end of the first movement and the “who, me?” exchanges of pizzicato in the final one – – along with relentless macabre understatement. From the muted, wounded whispers of the introduction, dynamics were ripe to rise with a pulse just short of bloodcurdling. Much as the second movement is on the slow side, it’s also very percussive, and the ensemble were on that as well, bassists Erik Higgins and Karl Doty exchanging fanged serpentine phrases beneath circling cloudbanks of melody.

It’s one of Glass’ most Lynchian works, and it set the stage lusciously well for an even more dynamically bristling interpretation of Bartok’s Divertimento for String Orchestra. WQXR’s Elliott Forrest, the night’s emcee, explained that the composer had written it in 1939 before escaping the encroaching fascism in his native Hungary. The ensemble kept their cards close to the vest through the straightforwardly strutting phony pageantry that opens the triptych but then got their claws out for the anguished, jaggedly slashing danse macabre afterward. Likewise, the contrast between the sense of depletion and loss in the second movement and the defiantly jaunty coda was breathtaking. As a musical hail-Mary pass (and raised middle finger at the Nazis and their enablers), it’s akin to Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel cheating the hangman.  

The group closed with Osvaldo Golijov’s Tenebrae, rising from stillness to aching, Glass-ine echo effects and then an elegaic processional, a brooding conclusion to an often haunting evening.

The warmup piece – in every sense of the word – was Mozart’s Divertimento in F, K.138, a prescient student work written when he was 15 that lacks the colorful voicings he’d develop just a few years later, but its coy hooks still pop up in movies and on NPR all the time. As one of the band members mused to the crowd, who knew that this piece would ever be played in such a major city, let alone to a full house. Mozart would no doubt be plenty proud of himself.

And a special shout-out to the pretty blonde woman in the black sundress who shared an entire bag of walnut-banana crunch  – a high-class take on Fiddle Faddle – with the hungry blog proprietor seated behind her. If you see this, be in touch – reciprocity is due.

A Far Cry’s next performance is a program including Moussorgsky’s Pictures At an Exhibition plus a Jessica Meyer world premiere and works by Bernstein and Respighi at 3 PM on September 8 at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The next concert at the Naumburg Bandshell is this coming Tuesday, July 17 at 7:30 PM with popular indie classical orchestra the Knights playing works by Anna Clyne along with Brahms’ Hungarian Dances and works by Armenian icon Komitas Vardapet. Get there early if you want a seat. 

July 14, 2018 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Intense, Riveting Album and a Midtown Show by the Sirius Quartet

The Sirius Quartet  – violinists Gregor Huebner and Fung Chern Hwei, violist Ron Lawrence and cellist Jeremy Harman – play seriously exciting, tuneful, sophisticated music. They’re the rare chamber ensemble who can strike a chord with fans of heavy rock, psychedelia and jazz in addition to the indie classical crowd. They’re playing on an intriguing twinbill, with special guest violinist Tracy Silverman, tonight, Jan 5 at around 9:30 PM at Club Bonafide that makes more sense thematically than you might think. Longtime Astor Piazzolla collaborator and nuevo tango pianist Pablo Ziegler and his ensemble open the night at 7:30, cover is $15 and the club’s webpage notes with some relish that you’re welcome to stay for both acts at no extra charge.

The Sirius Quartet’s latest album Paths Become Lines is streaming at Spotify,  opening with its title number, a pedal note shifting suspensefully between individual voices, pulsing with a steely precision as the melody develops elegantly and tensely around them. The darkly bluesy, chromatically-charged exchanges that follow are no less elegant but absolutely ferocious.

The second number, Ceili, is a sharp, insistent, staccato piece, in a Julia Wolfe vein. Plaintive cello interchanges with aching midrange washes; it grows more anthemic as it goes on. Jeff Lynne only wishes he’d put something this stark and downright electric on ELO’s third album.

Racing Mind builds to a swinging jazz-infused waltz out of a circular tension anchored by a bubbly cello bassline that gets subsumed almost triumphantly by tersely shifting and then spiraling riffage. Spidey Falls! is a cinematic showstopper, a frenetic crescendo right off the bat giving way to a harrowingly brisk stroll that’s part Big Lazy crime jazz, part Bernard Herrmann and part Piazzolla, then an acerbically circling theme in a 90s Turtle Island vein before the cell digs in and a violin solo signals a return to the turbocharged tarantella. String metal in 2017 doesn’t get any more entertaining than this.

The next piece is a fullscale string quartet. Slow, austere, staggered counterpoint gives way to an insistent chase theme that calms slightly and goes marching, with a hint of tango. The second movement, Shir La Shalom is slow and atmospheric, a canon at halfspeed that builds to a wounded anthem. The third opens with stern, stark cello but quickly morphs into a syncopated folk dance and increasingly rhythmic variations. The breathless, rather breathtaking conclusion mashes up Piazzolla at his most avant garde, early Bartok, swing jazz and furtive cinematics.

Get In Line, a staggered, chromatic dance, veers toward the blues as well as bluesmetal, spiced with an evil, shivery glissandos and tritones, suspenseful pauses and an allusively marionettish cello solo. The album winds up with its most expansive number, Heal and its series of variations on a hypnotic, pizzicato dance theme that finally rises, again in a tango direction, to fearsome heights. Other than the Chiara String Quartet‘s relevatory Bartok By Heart double-cd set, and the Kepler Quartet‘s concluding chapter in their wild Ben Johnston microtonal quartet series, there hasn’t been a string quartet album this exciting released in many months.

January 5, 2017 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Chiara String Quartet Play Bartok By Heart: A Harrowing, Landmark Achievement

There’s an argument that Bela Bartok’s string quartets are the holy grail of that repertoire. Sure, Beethoven wrote more of them, and so did Shostakovich, and others, but in terms of unrelenting, harrowing intensity, Bartok is unsurpassed. And the Bartok cycle is as daunting to play as it is darkly exhilarating to hear. On one hand, that the Chiara String Quartet would be able to play all six Bartok quartets from memory isn’t as staggering a feat as it might seem, since plenty of other world-class ensembles could do that if they put the time into it. It’s how this ensemble does it that makes their forthcoming double album Bartok By Heart, and their continued performances of these works, such a landmark achievement.

As Chiara cellist Gregory Beaver has explained, the group’s purpose in memorizing all this sometimes cruelly difficult material is to bring the composer’s themes – many of them inspired by or pilfered from North African, Middle Eastern and Romany music – back to their roots. In the process, the group discovered how conversational – some might say folksy – much of it actually turns out to be. New York audiences are in for a treat when the quartet play all six pieces over two nights to celebrate the album’s release at National Sawdust. The August 30, 7 PM concert features Quartets Nos. 1, 3 and 5; the following night, August 31 features Nos. 2, 4 and 6. Advance tix are $20, and considering how expensive chamber music of this caliber has become in this city, that’s a bargain.

How do these recordings stand out from the rest of the pack? In general, the convivial quality of the composer’s counterpoint – echoing the call-and-response of so many of the original folk themes – comes to the forefront. Dynamics are also front and center, but this interpretation is especially noteworthy for how vigorous the quieter passages are. Bartok’s later quartets, in particular, rely heavily on all sorts of extended technique, high harmonics, ghostly glissandos and sardonically plucky pizzicato, and the group really sink their teeth into them. Passages like the second movement of Quartet No. 3, with all its sepulchral strolls, rises from unease to genuinely murderous heights. Yet, when they have to play their cards closer to the vest, as in the slithery foreshadowing of the twisted dance that develops in the first movement of No. 5, the ensemble revels in that mystery as well.

Emotional content becomes more inescapable within the context of interplay between individual instrumental voices. Bartok saw himself as an exile, and was horror-stricken by the rise of fascism in Europe in the wake of World War I. So it’s no surprise how much of a sense of alienation, abandonment and loss – from Bartok’s point of view, culturally as well as personally – permeates these performances. That, and a grim humor: for example, the wide-angle vibrato of violinists Rebecca Fischer and Hyeyung Julie Yoon against the plaintive presence of Jonah Sirota’s viola, as they bring to life the the anguished, embittered Quartet No. 1 and its unvarnished narrative of love gone hopelessly off the rails. As underscored in the liner notes by Gabriela Lena Frank  a longtime Chiara collaborator – all this makes the ensemble’s take on this music every bit as relevant now as it was during the waves of displacement, and nationalist terror, and genocide that coincided with the Great War that was supposed to end them all

August 24, 2016 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pianist Judit Gabos Plays a Brilliantly Enlightening, Eclectic Portrait of Bela Bartok

Romanian-born Judit Gabos was Gyorgy Ligeti’s go-to pianist, so it’s no surprise that she would negoatiate a series of pieces from the composer’s rhythmically challenging Musicaricercata as precisely and effortlessly nimbly as she did in a “composer portrait” of Bela Bartok at the Hungarian Consulate last night. And as much as her performance of works by Bartok and Liszt were nothing less than a revelation, the icing on the cake was how she took the audience on a journey that connected the dots between the late Romantic period and postminimalism. Piano music doesn’t often get performed with as much insight and emotionally attuned prowess as Gabos gave to this program

She opened with Liszt’s Sursumcorda, explaining that Bartok often played it in concert early in his career. It’s awash in resonant lustre that eventually gives way to…well, it’s Liszt, you know what’s coming, it’s just a matter of time before the pyrotechnics appear. So an aptly triumphant, blazing take of Bartok’s Allegro Barbaro made for a good segue. Then Bartok the individualist appeared. Gabos reveled in the creepily cartoonish hide-and-seek of the dyptich Out of Doors, raising the question of whether or how much Raymond Scott or Bernard Herrmann might have stolen from its poltergeist cinematics.

Gabos then spanned the emotional spectrum, illustrating both Bartok’s meticulousness as a musicologist as well as his irrepressible penchant for using folk themes as a launching pad for his signature, thorny blend of chromatics and rustically bracing close harmonies. She began with his suite of Three Folk Songs from Csik County, then his expansive Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, Op. 20 and closed with a rousing take of his Romanian Folk Dance. On one hand, the Ligeti pieces afterward couldn’t help but be anticlimactic even as they offered a look at where one composer springboarded off of Bartok. But Gabos’ decision to close with a change of pace, a rather stately, consonantly anthemic segment brought the program full circle: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

This recital was staged by the Balassi Institute, who program all sorts of excellent Hungarian cultural events around the globe. The next one in New York is a concert by adventurous large jazz ensemble the Modern Art Orchestra downstairs at Symphony Space on November 11, with sets at 6:15 and 7:30 PM; advance tix are $16.

October 13, 2015 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Chiara String Quartet Bring Their Hauntingly Intuitive Bartok Cycle to Bargemusic

What was the crowd like at the Chiara String Quartet‘s exhilarating, intuitive performance of the first half of the Bartok cycle at Bargemusic Friday night? Lots of young people. For that matter, the audience skewed young and old: twentysomethings and fiftysomethings, Generation X being more or less absent. Then again, that’s not surprising: the best legacy that demographic’s been able to muster is “hipster irony.” And the concert sold out, quickly, reaffirming that if Lincoln Center was in Brooklyn, it would be a hotspot. The more simpering, insipid twee-ness poisoning the neighborhood, the greater the backlash, and there is no more satisfying emotional home for that backlash than the music of Bela Bartok.

Ironically (in the genuine sense of the word), Bartok came from a ruling-class background. His music doesn’t critique speculation or gentification: to be antiwar and antifascist was more than enough fuel for his inimitably bleak vision. Gregory Beaver, the Quartet’s passionately eloquent cellist, shared his personal appreciation for Bartok’s own passion as a musicologist, someone who wasn’t content to merely appropriate peasant melodies: he went straight to the source, even if that meant all the way to Morocco. Beaver had a digitized copy of one of Bartok’s North African field recordings in his phone and played it for the audience, telling them to keep an eye out for it in the third movement of String Quartet No. 2. Sure enough, there it was for violinist Rebecca Fischer to voice with a vigorous but wary precision.

How did this performance compare with other ensembles’ interpretations? Those same qualities reaffirmed themselves again and again. As reference points, the Borromeo Quartet’s performance of Bartok’s String Quartet No.4 at Jordan Hall in Boston, and the Calder Quartet’s take of No. 6 (both of which were also on the bill here) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last year each had a more anthemic quality than this group’s more intimate, minutely crafted versions. Then again, it’s possible that observation may be colored by the fact that Bargemusic is an intimate venue and those other two are not, and that the groups there may have been playing to those rooms’ sonics. Even so, it was riveting to watch Fischer’s and Hyeyung Julie Yoon’s violins build a marvelously mysterious, distant dust-storm ambience on the third movement of Quartet No. 6, or or to witness the ambered blend that Beaver and violist Jonah Sirota created in the final movement of No. 4. And the way the group negotiated the spiky, pungee-trap pizzicato of the third movement of No. 4 was a treat worth every penny of the $35 cover.

Speaking of which, the Chiara String Quartet return to Bargemusic on October 17 at 8 PM to play Bartok’s String Quartets Nos. 1, 3 and 5, which promise to be every bit as riveting. By the time the doors opened for last week’s performance, there weren’t a lot of seats available: since Bargemusic began selling tickets online, they go fast. Get ’em now while there are still some left – students and seniors both get a discount.

October 2, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A World-Class Symphony Orchestra on the Upper East Side

Intimacy with a group of performers has its pros and cons. If the crew onstage are on their game, everyone in the audience feels like they’re in it with them. By the same token, in close quarters you hear every mistake. So it was especially rewarding to watch the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony from up close this past Sunday on the Upper East Side, through an unselfconsciously triumphant, blemish-free, world-class performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 as well as Samuel Barber’s Knoxville Summer of 1915 and Bartok’s paradigm-shifting Dance Suite, Sz. 77, 86a.

The subtext of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 mirrors its triumphant bursts and dips: “So you think I’m deaf,” the composer retorts: “Wait til you hear the tunes I’ve got in my head.” Conductor David Bernard led the ensemble from memory, quickly establishing a dichotomy between lingering lustre from the brass and winds and a brisk efficiency from the strings. He brought out every bit of that dreamy/acerbic contrast with a pinpoint, precise articulation, through the the regal waltz of the second movement, the bubbly dynamic leaps and dips of the third and the sweeping, majestic crescendos of the third, unafraid to let Beethoven’s puckish wit peek out from between the towering peaks at the end.

If the subtext of the Beethoven is beating the odds, the subtext of the Barber is apprehension, the calm of a southern night veiling a relentless alienation. Soprano Tamra Paselk channeled that with a minutely focused, dynamically rich performance that didn’t shy away from the waiting gloom in James Agee’s lyric. At one point early on she seemed overcome by the bittersweetness of the imagery: watching her fight and quickly pull herself out of that emotional abyss was shattering to witness. The classical world abounds with cookie-cutter singers: how refreshing to hear a singer who articulates not only the syllables – something too few classically-trained voices consistently do – but also the underlying content. The orchestra provided an aptly pillowy and then cloudy backdrop.

As joyous and refreshing as the Beethoven was, the Bartok was even better. It’s an early post-World War I piece, as challenging as anything Stravinsky ever wrote, sort of a less rhythmic take on what the Russian composer was going for with Le Sacre du Printemps. Like Stravinsky, Bartok uses his native land’s folk dances as a stepping-off point, if he doesn’t go back as many centuries (or maybe even millennia) as Stravinsky did. This performance was awash in rich irony: a caustically sarcastic pairing of bassoon and cello; deadpan noir Keystone Kops romps; Balkan chromatics and agitation alternating with the occasionally calmer, balletesque pulse. Bernard kept the suspense relentless, a look of eager anticipation on his face, as if to say, “Just stay with it, I can tell you’re feeling it,” and the orchestra responded in kind. The future may be cloudy for big metropolitan symphony orchestras but it looks positively sunny for community-based groups like this one. The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony’s next performance is May 3 at 8 PM, repeating on May 4 at 3 PM with Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 and the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 featuring soloist Spencer Meyer. And a smaller ensemble closer in size to the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony’s name performs wind quintets and sextets by Mozart, Taffanel and Poulenc on March 16 at 3 PM at All Saints Church, 230 E 60th St (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues).

February 27, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Caroline Goulding and Michael Brown Wake Up Lincoln Center

Did violinist Caroline Goulding and pianist Michael Brown stay up all night before their concert at Lincoln Center on Sunday? They played as if they had, and during the latter part of the performance, as if it was still Halloween. Goulding told the late-morning crowd that an intricate Bach sonata and a shattering one by Bartok were the ideal way to start a Sunday, and from how vividly and passionately she and Brown tackled those pieces, she may not have been kidding. Both musicians are rising stars, have victories in major competitions and a conversational repartee in concert: they make a good team.

Bach was busy in his years in Leipzig, Germany; along with running a demanding church music program, he also booked a venue, not to mention writing and performing at the weekly program there. His Sonata No. 3 in E, BVW 1016 dates from that fertile period. At this point in history, for a composer to engage both performers in a duo piece is expected, but  that wasn’t the case in Bach’s time. If liberating the piano from the role of playing rhythm for a lead instrument wasn’t actually a Bach invention, it was definitely an innovation. With this particular piece, he hides a lament in the middle of artfully interwoven, upbeat concert music. The duo brought a sense of suspense to the pensive opening, Brown animating the second movement with a marvelous light staccato touch, as if to say, “In case you’re wondering, this was written for harpsichord.” Sometimes this work calls for role reversals, poignancy from the piano and atmosphere from the violin; both musicians remained closely attuned to those demands through slow, expressive middle passages and then a triumphant waltz out.

The piece de resistance was Bartok’s Sonata No. 1 for Piano and Violin. On one hand, this 1921 work, with its modernist tonalities, proto gypsy-rock and minimalist passages, is completely in the here and now. On the other, it captures its era, the composer and most of Europe still piecing themselves back together in the aftershock of World War I and much that preceded it. From Brown’s first creepy, upwardly cascading motif, there was no doubt that the pyrotechnics afterward would be harrowing. The two performers went deep into it for a rendition that was both horror-stricken and elegaic. Brown’s alternately moody reflecting-pool sostenuto and menacing, low lefthand slasher chords anchored Goulding’s elegantly anxious, sky-searching washes of sound that contrasted later with gnashing, rapidfire cadenzas. The two worked a cinematic exchange of voices through variations on a muted, funereal bell tone from the depths of the piano; a bit later, Goulding hit an imploring, pedaled motif where it looked like her hand was going to cramp up as it stretched up the fingerboard, or that she was about to break her bow.

The final movement began with a fiery Romany dance twisted cruelly out of shape, more maimed than threatening – a metaphor for what happened to Bartok’s home turf? Brown’s Hungarian stalker boogie held the violin’s danse macabre to the ground, shifting to ancient, otherworldly ancient folk harmonies, to an anguished bustle out. The duo encored with a handful of Bartok’s Hungarian Dances, Goulding delivering the second with legato high harmonics so silken it was as if she was playing a theremin. In a morning full of dazzling displays of technique, this was the most stunning, justifying the price of admission all by itself.

Who was in the crowd at this hour? Retirees from the neighborhood, for the most part, although there was a noticeably younger contingent as well. Not only are these morning concerts at the Walter Reade Theatre a bargain at $20, they also come with a coffee reception with the artists afterward. And you can choose your seat at the box office. While there were plenty of concertgoers at the ticket window beforehand, many more had already reserved theirs, which seems the safer option considering that by the time the show started, the theatre appeared to be sold out. The next one of these  is at 10:30 AM on December 15 with pianists Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung playing Stravinsky’s Petrouschka plus works by Astor Piazzolla.

November 11, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thrills and Chills: the Calder Quartet Play Bartok at the Met

The musicians of the Calder Quartet – violinists Benjamin Jacobson and Andrew Bulbrook, violist Jonathan Moerschel and cellist Eric Byers – first joined forces to play the Bartok Fourth. Instant cred, or what? That quartet is emotionally harrowing, cruelly difficult, one of the most iconic in the entire string quartet canon, and the ensemble treated the crowd at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to a chilling, intense performance of it Friday night. The Calder Quartet are midway through their survey of the entire Bartok quartet cycle here; their next performance will be at the museum on Nov 22 at 7 PM, featuring Quartets Nos. 2 and 6 plus a selection of Iva Bittova works on which they’ll be joined by the edgy Czech violinst/composer herself.

The Quartet opened this concert with Quartet No. 3. It’s the shortest of Bartok’s quartets and maybe the most succinct, the group following its uneasy, moody atmospherics up to a lively danse macabre. In their program notes, they’d taken care to mention that both quartets on the bill reflect a war-torn early 20th century European milieu whose angst permeates them The group negotiated the composer’s thickets of glissandos, diabolical leaps and many dichotomies – easy, swinging rhythm versus harsh tonalities, alternately calm and jarring counterpoint and atmospheric/violent contrasts with a steadfastness that underscored Bartok’s impending sense of doom.

That horror came to the forefront with String Quartet No. 4. Agitation alternated with ominous stillness in the second and third movements, then the creepy, marionettish pizzicato in the fourth and finally another menacing dance out in the final fifth movement. It’s not clear who is the victor in the triumphantly evil conclusion, avenging allies or their enemy. Afterward, in maybe a deliberate attempt to deflect the awestruck intensity they’d created, the group backed the vocalist of an indie rock band, sending the energy in the opposite direction. It was a brave attempt at classical/indie cross-pollination; if that was successful in putting a few extra bodies in the seats for the thrills and chills of the Bartok, so much the better.

November 3, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brooklyn Rider’s Walking Fire – Their Most Intense Recording Yet

Taking its title from a Rumi love poem, Brooklyn Rider‘s new album A Walking Fire captures the state-of-the-art New York string quartet at their most animated and eclectic, even by their standards. Violinist Colin Jacobsen, cellist Eric Jacobsen, violinist Johnny Gandelsman and violist Nicholas Cords arguably embrace interests beyond the classical repertoire more than any other quartet in recent memory, from Central Asian and Persian music to Romany and even Americana sounds. This one finds them diving into Eastern European music new and old via a suite by one of this era’s most cinematic composers, as well as a haunting early Modernist/late Romantic warhorse, along with a gripping Middle Eastern-flavored trio written by Colin Jacobsen.

The first is violist/composer Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin’s Culai, a homage to the late violinist and Taraf de Haidoucks bandleader Nicolae “Culai” Neacsu. In five parts, the group moves through a caffeinated, circular, balletesque pulse to low-key, Romany jazz-inspired atmospherics, a gentle but expressive Balkan dance dedicated to singer Romica Puceanu, a frantic tarantella (previously recorded by Zhurbin’s rocking string ensemble the Kontraband) and finally the poignant, elegaic Funeral Doina.

Bartok’s String Quartet No. 2 doesn’t have the ferocity of the quartet that preceded it but there’s still plenty of raw anger, as one might expect from a work written in the midst of World War I. What distinguishes this version from the many other superb ones out there? Brooklyn Rider digs in hard, particularly in the low registers, Cords and Eric Jacobsen doing most of the heavy lifting in elevating the bitterness and angst (not to mention the sophistication of Bartok’s harmony). Riddled with apprehension, there’s a persistent contrast between an elegant staccato and a snaky legato that uncoils with a proto-Shostakovian dread. A wary subtlety dominates, especially as the high strings rise against the cello’s stern anchor in the initial moderato movement before giving way to the relentless pulse and anguished cadenzas of the second and the somber, smoky, funereal crescendo of the third. It’s a quietly, bitterly matter-of-fact showstopper.

Colin Jacobsen’s Three Miniatures for String Quartet draw on surrealistic, Persian-inspired imagery as well as Brooklyn Rider’s close association with the great Iranian composer Kayhan Kalhor. Majnun’s Moonshine works apprehensively minimalist permutations on a darkly catchy, allusively chromatic dance vamp, while The Flowers of Esfahan shifts from an amiably twinkling nocturnal cityscape to an unexpectedly shivery swell. The title track employs Kalhor’s signature fluttering motives and otherworldly close harmonies over steady cello for an atmosphere that’s equally infused with dread and longing. Jacobsen, and the rest of the ensemble, succeed mightily in evoking one of their great inspirations with a triptych that manages not to be anticlimactic in view of what it has to follow – the decision not to close the album with the Bartok instead was very brave.

June 28, 2013 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment