Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Greenwich Village Orchestra Salute a Beloved, Tireless Champion of Classical Music in This City

Beethoven was just about to dedicate his Third Symphony to Napoleon, but then Napoleon got too big for his britches, crowned himself emperor…and missed his chance to have a Beethoven symphony named in his honor. Last night at the Greenwich Village Orchestra’s sold-out performance in the Lincoln Center complex, conductor Barbara Yahr dismissed the speculation of what unnamed “great man” the composer actually dedicated the mighty piece to after Napoleon went over to the dark side. “I’ve decided that it’s for the greatness in every one of us,” Yahr intimated, and with that, dedicated this concert to the orchestra’s late cellist and longtime publicist Trudy Goldstein.

We lost Trudy a couple of months ago. She insisted that the shoulder problems that brought an end to her performing career were caused by years of tuning cellos for her school students: she was that dedicated. Publicly, she was always first in line to champion young performers. Privately, she lamented the Sovietization and one-size-fits-all approach that’s become so commonplace in music education. Ever the individualist, Trudy wanted everybody to be themselves.

Where an awful lot of people on the business end of classical music tend to be stuffy and stand on ceremony, Trudy was a bon vivant. Her beaming smile, big hugs, unselfconsciously down-to-earth personality and infectious enthusiasm won her a wide circle of friends, but also paid dividends in terms of growing the fan base.

Big-hearted, determined and generous to a fault, Trudy’s biggest dream was to share the transcendence and thrills she’d experienced in a lifetime in classical music. She listened widely and voraciously: she was always up for hearing a new idea or interpretation. She loved everything oldschool about her city: diners, neighborhoods holding their own against an onslaught of gentrification, traipsing all over Chinatown and Greenpoint with her husband Sidney, an erudite and passionate devotee of jazz and fluent speaker of Mandarin Chinese. In her own sweet way, Trudy was a potent influence on an awful lot of people over the years, one of the real unsung heroes of classical music in New York in the late 20th and early 21st century. She is dearly missed.

She would have loved what the orchestra did with Beethoven this time out. His symphonies are all about punchy, catchy hooks and this might be the hookiest and punchiest of all of them. The constant rhythmic shifts are daunting, but the group negotiated these mini-mazes with a seamless grace. And this wasn’t a steamrolling performance: it was a translucent, nuanced one. The way Yahr held the orchestra in check through a deadpan, winking interpretation of the scherzo, where Beethoven is saying, “What on earth are we doing, getting our underwear all up in a knot over this guy,” was almost devastatingly funny. Likewise, the triumph of the coda was more ballet than ballroom blitz. There are some new faces in the brass section, crisp and clear and on their game. Let’s hope they stick around.

As good as that was, the Sibelius Violin Concerto was arguably even better, in context a requiem that packed a wallop. What a haunting tale this one told. Soloist Tosca Opdam painted a harrowing portrait of inconsolable sadness with her angst-fueled shivers, austere grey-sky harmonics and mournful cadenzas as the basses and timpani fluttered through the gloom below. And oboeist Jason Smoller hit a bullseye with his silky solo in a boisterous take of the Berlioz Roman Carnival Overture to open the night.

The Greenwich Village Orchestra’s season last year was ambitious to the extreme, the centerpiece being Beethoven’s Ninth. This year is all about relevance and some heavy issues we’ve all had to deal with since last November. Their next concert is on December 2 at 7:30 PM, back at Good Shepherd/Faith Presbyterian Church at 52 W 66th St with Rachmaninoff’s poignant Vocalise, Michael Daughterty’s explosively kinetic Raise the Roof and Shostakovich’s savagely anti-fascist Symphony No. 10. Tix are $20/$10 stud/srs and considering that last night sold out, this concert probably will too.

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October 22, 2017 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Symphonic Music Losing Its Charm? Not If the Greenwich Village Orchestra Get Their Way

Audiences don’t typically go to symphony orchestra concerts to be held rapt by meticulous counterpoint, or a perfect balance between ominous strings and animated brass, or to watch the orchestra trace a line straight back from Brahms to Bach. People come out to be swept away by the beauty of the music. We’ve all heard the horror stories about how classical music is in its death throes, with the graying of its fan base, the New York City Opera in bankruptcy, ad nauseum. But by judging by the size, enthusiasm, and sheer diversity of the crowd at the Greenwich Village Orchestra‘s Sunday performance, there are some circles where classical music is absolutely thriving.

And it’s safe to assume that these crowds wouldn’t be so engaged and supportive if the GVO didn’t deliver such spirited performances. Obviously, ensembles like this one benefit from a lighter workload, a greater number of rehearsals and fewer of the hassles that bedevil higher-profile orchestras, including but not limited to recycling the same old warhorses night after night while juggling an incessantly erratic barrage of newer works that often clash ridiculously with the older repertoire.

It’s a familiar formula: get the crowd’s attention with something lively, bring it down with something quieter and more substantial and then up again for a big rousing finale. And for the GVO it worked like a charm this time out. With a meticulous attention to dynamic shifts and contrasts, guest conductor Pierre Vallet brought the curtain up with a trio of pieces from Berlioz’s “concert opera” The Damnation of Faust. The first selection, Menuet des Follets, got a jolly, balletesque sway balanced by pillowy strings; the second, Ballet des Sylphes, had a nocturnal if not particularly nymphlike sweep; the third, the Rakoczy March (based on the Hungarian national song) broght the boisterously dancing energy back up.

Vallet then switched gears with a richly uneasy triptych from Ravel’s Sheherezade, a potently intense counterpart to the blitheness of the Berlioz. This particular suite, in contrast to the famous one by Rimsky-Korsakov, doesn’t bother to so much as hint at the Middle East: instead, it’s a moody, atmospheric series of art-songs. Soprano Sasha Cooke blended seamlessly into the washes of strings with a judicious wariness that was far from arioso and all the more effective for it. The opening piece, Asie, wasn’t the least bit Asian, the orchestra and singer hanging back on its swells and dips, letting the brooding, underlying stillness linger: after all, at this point Sheherezade doesn’t yet know that the finicky sultan isn’t going to kill her. The second, La Flute Enchantée, set Simon Dratfield’s bubbly yet cautiously measured flute against similarly measured rises and falls from the ensemble. The third, L’indifferent, achieved the same persistent suspense.

The concert ended joyously with Brahms’ Symphony No. 4. What was most enjoyable about Vallet’s interpretation from this particular vantage point was how historically informed it was, putting the music in context. That luxuriantly driving first movement quickly got a chance to reveal itself as a fugue, albeit one all dressed up for a night out! The second was done as proto Southwestern gothic, the orchestra playing up its Spanish tinge for all it was worth before moving on to bright string/brass contrasts.The sheer fun of the third movement, complete with cinematic chase scene midway through, provoked spontaneous applause from the crowd. The symphony and concert concluded on an appropriately impactful, rhythmic coda that was just short of puglistic, with its triumphant, Beethovenesque series of false endings awash in equal amounts lustre and neo-Baroque counterpoint. The Greenwich Village Orchestra’s next concert, on March 30 at 3 PM, has an even more auspicious program, maestro Barbara Yahr leading the group with guest violinist Hye-Jin Kim through Samuel Barber’s Adagio and Violin Concerto plus Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5. The concerts take place at the sonically excellent Washington Irving Auditorium, Irving Place at 17th Street; tickets are a $15 suggested donation, with a reception to follow.

February 11, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Chelsea Symphony’s Valentine’s Day Concert 2010

On the scale of holidays to avoid and stay home, Valentine’s Day ranks somewhere below New Year’s Eve but ahead of the Fourth of July. And the V-day concerts around town are a joke: which Holiday Inns in New Jersey do all these no-name performers retreat to after bringing their “Easy Listening for Lovers” shows to the West Village for a little extra pay? Happily, we have the Chelsea Symphony as an antidote to all that. Sunday’s program was a characteristically adventurous, stylistically puddle-jumping treat juxtaposing a world premiere with standards and a welcome rediscovery.

This particular show was front-loaded. Arrangers have been doing orchestral versions of cabaret songs for a century – on the other hand, the debut of Seth Bedford’s Three Songs for Chansonnier and Orchestra proved as notable for its shrewd, witty arrangement, making full use of the ensemble’s voices and textures, as for its tuneful lyricism. Part Brecht/Weill, part Al Jolson, the triptych sandwiched a playful overture between a somewhat noir tribute to dissolution and a ragtimish murder ballad sung from the point of view of the victim. In front of the orchestra, Brent Weldon Reno’s potent baritone resonated with wry, rakish defiance.

Tschaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, a suite for cello and orchestra, was retro for its era, harkening back to Mozart. On the podium, Yaniv Segal led the ensemble smoothly through its casually contrapuntal post-baroque permutations, Izabela Bechowska subtly alternating between cool restraint and plaintiveness. This performance’s choice of obscurity was French Romantic composer Augusta Holmes’ aptly titled La Nuit et l’Amour. Essentially, it’s a song without words, shrouding a minuet beneath a lush arrangement where the strings hint and finally bubble over with unrestrained joy. Conductor Mark Seto explained to the audience beforehand how Holmes was a contemporary of Bizet and far more popular at the time, although her lavish, Gallocentric suites for orchestra and choir “have not aged well,” as he put it. This one has: credit the orchestra with finding it.

Ironically, the Bizet they followed it with has aged less well. To most Americans, there are themes from Carmen that will only be known as schoolyard rhymes. Yet the orchestra played them with a meticulousness that a busier ensemble (the NY Phil, pre-Alan Gilbert, for example) wouldn’t even bother attempting. For a listener attuned to minutiae and the arrangement’s numerous, offhand gems – a quick rondo between bassoon, oboe and flute; a stark cello motif once appropriated by the rock band Botanica, and some genuine suspense in the faux-flamenco fluttering of the horns leading into the terse yet breakneck coda at the end – the performance was impressive, to say the least, maybe more than the work deserved.

Just so you know, the Chelsea Symphony’s popularity has grown to the point where you have to get to the venue a few minutes early now if you want a good seat. Good for them.

February 16, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment