Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Spectrum Symphony Deliver An Exhilarating Performance of New and Familiar Favorites

The Spectrum Symphony of New York put on a tremendous performance including a world premiere as well as two dynamic, electrifying versions of a couple of perennial symphonic favorites in the West Village about ten days ago, more than hinting at the kind of brilliance they’re capable at their next performance. The natural reverb at the Church of St. Joseph on Sixth Avenue added a welcome sonic dimension as conductor David Grunberg led the ensemble tightly and conversationally through the world premiere of the string orchestra arrangement of Ljova Zhurbin‘s Mecklenburg, then the Brahms Double Concerto and an alternatingly lickety-split and ravishing interpretation of the Beethoven Symphony No. 3.

Ljova writes a lot of film music, so it was no surprise that his work would be a mood piece, a concerto of sorts for pizzicato viola, a moodily vamping contrast between dancing motives building to a lushness awash in austere, misty harmony. The cello added a vibrato-fueled ache as it circled along, Steve Reich adrift on the Gowanus.

Violinist Artur Kaganovskiy and cellist Miho Zaitsu joined forces on an acerbically intertwining take of the Brahms Double Concerto. Majestic lushness alternated with plaintive angst through sinuous climbs and tradeoffs as the two soloists dug in hard on the lustrous lament in the second movement, then pulled back as Brahms’ hynmlike raptness took centerstage. The composer’s take on a Romany dance and its variations was a delicious romp before the final Beethovenesque coda.

Grunberg and the orchestra wrapped up the program with an astonishingly good performance of the Beethoven Symphony No. 3. It was so good, it’s releasable: if the orchestra wants to record it at some point, it should be an album. It was on the brisk side, but, hey, it’s the Eroica Symphony: bring it on! And that’s exactly what they did. It was a rollercoaster ride of leaping, lively, bubbling voices, but also a measured appreciation of the angst and suspense in the troubled second movement, giving way to jaunty triumph and balletesque acrobatics in an almost breathless salute to one of the most exhilarating pieces of music ever scored. There’s a famous George Szell recording of this symphony with the Cleveland Orchestra up at grooveshark that’s pretty much unrivalled for sheer fun factor, but this orchestra’s version delivered a challenge. The Spectrum Symphony’s next concert is this coming January 14 at 7:30 PM at St. Joseph’s Church, 371 Sixth Ave.just north of W 4th St, featuring the world premiere of JunYi Chow’s Serenade along with a Massenet piece, Mozart’s Concerto for Oboe and Haydn’s Symphony No. 101, “The Clock.”

November 12, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lysander Piano Trio Revels in Beauty at Carnegie Hall

The history of classical trio music for keyboard and strings spans from flat-out jamming, to a sort of proto-concerto form with the piano as a solo instrument supported by violin and cello, to more intricately arranged composition where the individual voices intermingle and share centerstage. While Thursday night’s sold-out Carnegie Hall concert by the Lysander Piano Trio hewed mostly to the middle of that ground, it served as a vivid platform for pianist Liza Stepanova’s stuniningly nuanced sense of touch and ability to bring a composer’s emotional content to life. Even by rigorous conservatory standards, she’s something special. With an attack that ranged from a knife’s-edge, lovestruck determination throughout Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 8, to a lushly nocturnal sostenuto glimmer on Schubert’s Adagio in E Flat, Op. 148, she caressed the keys, but also let them grow fangs when the music called for it. It is not often when a pianist’s most stunning moments are her quietest: that Stepanova pulled off that feat amidst all sorts of stormy virtuosity speaks to her technical skill, but more to her ability to use that skill to channel the innermost substance of a diverse array of material from across the ages.

John Musto‘s 1998 Piano Trio gave the threesome a chance to revisit some of their performance’s earlier, Schubertian lustre and triumph, but also anticipation and suspense, through the sweepingly melancholic third movement and jaunty, cinematic concluding passages, spiced with a breathless chase scene and allusions to noir. The world premiere of Jakub Ciupinski’s The Black Mirror, an attractively neoromantic diptych, offered an opportunity to take flight out of a sumptuous song without words to a somewhat muted revelry.

All the while, Itamar Zorman’s violin and Michael Katz’s cello provided an aptly ambered, seamless backdrop, until Brahms’ Piano Trio in C Major, Op. 87, where both finally got to provide something more demanding than accompaniment, in graceful counterpoint through lush cantabile, an intimate fugue morphing into a jaunty waltz and then the Beethovenesque, concluding ode to joy. Yet the best piece on the bill actually wasn’t even on it, at least at the start of the show. It was the encore, a fiery, searingly chromatic, kinetic dance by noted Israeli composer Moshe Zorman (Itamar’s dad) based on a traditional Yemenite melody. This had the most virtuoso passages for the strings, the violin’s rapidfire volleys anchored by a tersely misterioso cello bassline. the night’s most visible demonstration of chemistry between the group members. All things being even, it would have been nice (ok, this is being a little greedy) to have had more of a taste of the kind of electricity this violinist and cellist are capable of delivering: maybe something by Ravel or Rachmaninoff?

April 3, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Powerful, Kinetic Performance From the Up-and-Coming Spectrum Symphony

Makiko Hirata charged through the raging, ominously cascading torrents of the first movement of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, conductor David Grunberg animatedly leading the Spectrum Symphony through the stormy gusts in tandem with her, through the series of menacing, twistedly marionettish passages. At the end, Hirata’s face lit up in an unselfconsciously triumphant grin as the crowd burst into spontaneous applause. It was the high point of the pianist and orchestra’s concert a couple of days ago in the West Village, yet another indication of how some big city orchestras may be in trouble, but there are many young, hungry ensembles who are clearly on their way up and the Spectrum Symphony are paradigmatic of that shift. As one member of the crowd enthused afterward, “They just get better and better with every show.”

The concluding movements of the Prokofiev are both more subtle and dynamic, not to mention less charged with angry subtext, and the pianist and orchestra focused in on the methodically rising and falling glimmer of the second movement and the richly intricate, often biting interweave between piano and orchestra on the concluding one. This performance was a prime illustration of how composers by Prokofiev’s time had transformed the concerto form from what had been basically a showcase for piano against a wash of orchestration, into a fully cohesive creation where piano and orchestra join forces in developing the architecture.

The orchestra had opened with the New York premiere of an even more explosive if considerably shorter piece, Philip Wharton‘s There Was a Star Danced, which followed the initial big bang resonance of Matthew Beaumont’s huge gong through rapifire showers of sparks from the violins and then what became wryly jaunty, rhythmic jousting. The composer, who was in the audience, explained that the piece had originally been conceived as a work for students to get them to let off some steam. So the ensemble played it again!

The program’s concluding work was an only slightly less kinetic interpretation of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1. From the perspective of having seen three different performances of this piece this year, this was the most exciting. Grunberg conducted from memory, the orchestra taking this old warhorse to war with an aptly heroic, no-holds barred intensity. The balance between Brahms’ lavishly highlighted, individual voices was clear and distinct throughout the sonic spectrum, through a rewardingly boisterous first movement, a lustrous second, and a final fourth that emphasized more of the high drama in the composer’s Beethovenesque series of false endings than its inherent humor.

March 26, 2014 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

An Auspicious Survey of the Ages by Pianist Mackenzie Melemed

It’s always a good sign when a pianist’s best-performed pieces onstage are by Chopin and Rachmaninoff. Last night at the sonically superb auditorium at Temple Emanu-El just off Central Park, Mackenzie Melemed played a diverse program spanning from baroque to modern and excelled at all of it. There are other good eighteen-year-old pianists out there; what distinguishes Melemed from his peers is how attuned he is to emotional content. That, and blazing technique.

Melemed bookended the highly ornamented animation of Bach’s Aria Variata alla Maniera Italiana, BWV 989 with opening and concluding statements that were downright elegaic. After making his way through the alternately elegant and torrentially waltzing initial movements of Beethoven’s Sonata in A Major, Op. 26, Melemed sensed the proto-Chopin in the murky third movement and brought that plaintive foreshadowing into the dirge. And he gave a saturnine, deeply felt reading to Brahms’ Four Piano Pieces, Op. 119. These are late works, in fact the last that the composer wrote for solo piano, a bittersweet over-the-shoulder narrative that finally reaches to a heroic overture, giving Melemed a chance to air out a blazing fortissimo. Obviously, there are dynamics in all but the Bach that suggest specific emotions. But Melemed clearly didn’t just have those works in his fingers (he played from memory); they were in his head.

A brisk, precise take of a Scarlatti sonata was the curtain-lifter. Melemed established a similar upward trajectory after the intermission with a matter-of-factly crescendoing and eventually wrenching, emphatic take on Liszt’s Funerailles, then four Rachmaninoff Etude-Tableaux. These little preludes are brief but extremely challenging: Melemed charged through diabolically difficult, lightning-fast chromatics, a vivid two-handed conversation or two, stygian spaciousness versus twilit glitter and seemed to be having a ball – you would too, if you had the technique to play them. He wound up the concert with similarly acrobatic romps through Avner Dorman’s recent, equally knotty, picturesque Three Etudes. Melemed speed-painted Sundrops Over Windy Water, let the spacious, jazz-tinged block chords of the Funeral March linger and concluded with Snakes and Ladders, a showstopper with its rumbling low lefthand, crazily dancing motives and machinegunning chromatics. Sensing that the need for more fireworks was in order, he encored with a magnificent, express-train coda, Chopin’s famous Winter Wind Etude, Op. 25, No. 11.

The Sunday concert series here features a lot of similar first-rate, up-and-coming talent. The next concert is January 19 at 3 PM with pianist Hannah Sun.

December 16, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Characteristically Vivid Greenwich Village Orchestra Concert

Who’s the best symphony orchestra in the world? Most orchestral players will quickly suggest the Berlin Philharmonic. And pretty much everybody agrees that the Mariinsky Orchestra makes the best albums. But talk to someone who sees a lot of concerts, even a cranky critic, and they’ll tell you without hesitating that a performance by a lesser-known orchestra can be every bit as amazing as one by a brand-name ensemble. While the Greenwich Village Orchestra‘s neighborhood has changed vastly over the past fifteen years, they haven’t. They’re oldschool, in an edgy East Village sense, premiering new works, showcasing up-and-coming soloists before the big orchestras get hip to them, and trotting out spirited versions of old standards. This Sunday’s concert was typical.

With Barbara Yahr on the podium, they began with the world premiere of the new orchestral version of Israeli composer Moshe Zorman’s Galilean Suite. It opened with an easygoing, easy-to-like overture on a biting Yemeni folk tune and ended with an acerbically modernist take on the traditional Jewish hora dance, which in this case was completely free of schmaltz, conductor and ensemble clearly having a ball with it. In between, there was a circular, Reichian theme that seemed to holler “I can write indie classical too,” and this particular one happens to be overwritten and overwrought. Half the group, or maybe the string section alone, would have sufficed. The orchestra did with it what they could, but even the energetic percussion features were simplistic and beside the point. Memo to other orchestras: do this as a diptych and crowds will love you for it.

The crowd went crazy, giving featured violinist Itamar Zorman (Moshe’s kid) two impromptu ovations for the first couple of movements of the Brahms Violin Concerto. The GVO discovered him four years before he won the 2011 Tschaikovsky Violin Competition in Russia. Much as every orchestra plays this warhorse, it’s cruelly difficult for a soloist, but with a spun-glass legato matched to a searing, rapidfire attack, Zorman made it look easy. Having seen another orchestra recently having to suffer backing another violinist who was not up to the challenge, this was all the more rewarding. And while it’s the famously aleatoric violin parts (Brahms let his violinist pal Joseph Joachim come up with the famous final cadenzas) that the crowds come out to see, this was done as classic, luminous, pilllowy, hard-to-resist, peak-era Brahms, complete with vivid cameos from oboeist Shannon Bryant and harpist Andre Tarantiles.

Also on the bill was Tschaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture. The story may be Italian, but this emotionally raw, minutely detailed performance left no doubt that it was written by a Slavic composer, its wounded wintriness evoking the chill of snowflakes drifting under the door. Maybe it was the gloomy day outside; more likely, Yahr sought to portray the sadness that lept out from the mournful, introductory brass and winds and signaled that while this might end energetically, the story was not a happy one. Again, having seen another orchestra play a perfectly satisfying, lushly Mahlerian version (isn’t it amazing how differently orchestras play this same repertoire?), this hit a lot harder, emotionally speaking. Then again, that’s the GVO in a nutshell. Their next concert is their very fun, lively annual family concert – where kids get in free, and can march behind the orchestra – plus an “instrument petting zoo,”plus reception afterward, on Sunday, Dec 8 at 3 PM featuring music of Rossini, Beethoven, Ravel and more at Washington Irving HS Auditorium, 40 Irving Place at 17th St.. just off Union Square.

November 21, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Intriguing New Releases Span the Decades

The intriguing, crisply performed new album, Airy: John McDonald Music for Violin and Piano is just out from Bridge Records with the composer at the keys along with Joanna Kurkowicz on violin. It’s a series of mainly short, wary, acerbic, sometimes atmospheric, sometimes incisive works written between 1985 and 2008. A handful of them are etudes. Minimalism is the usual but not always defining idiom here. Moments of virtual silence are pierced by anxiously leaping motives; subtle humor occasionally breaks the surface.

The duo open with a graceful, austere waltz interrupted by a fleeting. macabre piano cadenza. The second piece has calm violin contrasting with menacingly Schoenbergian piano, meant to evoke the nocturnal alienation of a Samuel Beckett poem. A Brief Pastiche of a Theme by Schoenberg is aggresively lively and rhythmic, punctuated by moments of stillness lit only by pianissimo overtones from the violin.

Four Single-Minded Miniatures range from tensely dancing, to bell-like and funereal, to a pillowy/jagged dichotomy and a bit of a fugal interlude between the two instruments. After a blip of a Mad Dance, there’s Lily Events – a Suite of Seven Little Studies, a wryly furtive, cinematic suite: they go slowly out into the water, pick the plants vigorously, wash the mud off and then retreat to a dry place. What anyone actually does with the lilies is unknown.

Kurkowicz negotiates the tricky tempos, understatedly edgy riffs and hypnotic ambience of McDonald’s Sonata for Solo Violin with a steady focus and deftly subtle variations in tone and dynamics. A Suite of Six Curt Pieces parses a Satie-esque creepiness more methodically than jarringly. which segues well into Lines After Keats. The album’s title track reverts to the occasionally turbulent juxtapositions of the opening piece.

Bridge Records, who put this one out, also has two very enjoyable, relatively new releases featuring the clarinet. The first is one of the label’s many archival rediscoveries, a reissue of the Stuyvesant Quartet‘s 1947 recording of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet with the crystalline-toned Alfred Gallodoro as soloist, in addition to two lively 1951 recordings of Mozart D major string quartets, K. 499 and 575, respectively. Active on and off from 1938 until 1965, the Stuyvesant Quartet was notable for being one of the first all-American string quartets (the old-world name is both completely honest and a bit disingenuous at the same time). The remastering – from pristine original vinyl – doesn’t lose the wonderful natural reverb of the church on the Westchester/Bronx border where the Mozart was recorded. It makes you wonder how many people might have seen a copy of the original Philharmonia record at a yard or library sale and passed up what’s probably now worth hundreds of dollars. And a somewhat more modern new release, the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra‘s recording of Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 plus his Concerto for Clarinet conducted by Martin West, with Alexander Fiterstein as soloist, merges a velvety lushness with an agile, aptly dancing quality.

November 13, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daniela Liebman Makes a Stunning Debut with the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony

The big story at the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony‘s performance at Carnegie Hall this past Sunday was pianist Daniela Liebman‘s debut. But the orchestra did their best to pre-empt that. They exploded with their introductory piece, Dvorak’s Carnival Overture, more curtain-burner than curtain-lifter. Maestro David Bernard conducted from memory, as he did with all but one of the works on the program. He’s a lot of fun to watch, a very kinetic presence, big smile stretched across his face, bouncing on the balls of his feet. The work has the same romping energy as the composer’s Slavonic Dances, but with considerably more dynamics, done plushly, with pinpoint precision and an unexpectedly delicate balance between the brass and strings for such a robust piece of music.

If the thought of an eleven-year-old tackling Shostakovich in front of a sold-out house makes you wince, you’re not alone. What’s the likelihood that a young middle-schooler, with her limited life experience, slight build and small hands, would have the stamina and technique, let alone the emotional depth, to deliver anything more than a rote version of the composer’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 102? This isn’t Shostakovich the outraged witness; this is the 20th century’s greatest musical ironist at the peak of his sardonic, puckish, satirical power. Shostakovich wrote it in 1957 as a showcase for his pianist son Maxim, obviously something of a parody of the sturm und drang of the traditional High Romantic concerto form. But the simple fact that Daniela Liebman would choose this darkly amusing piece, with its seething anti-fascist subtext, over, say, something more straightforward by Beethoven or Brahms or Mozart, says a lot. And she seemed to intuitively grasp it, playing with a deadpan intensity and just the hint of a wink, whether adding a touch of evil when the dancing first movement morphed into a coldly marionettish mockery, or with a coolly singleminded focus as the piece playfully slid into 7/8 time in the final movement. Shostakovich himself had a hard time getting his own hands around several of the rising unison passages that occur about midway through, but Liebman pulled them off with aplomb. Depth is not a quality that only older people can access, and Liebman left no doubt that she is a deep soul. She also loves the spotlight, treating the crowd to rapidfire, triumphant solo versions of Vitaly Fillipenko’s cruelly difficult, staccato Toccata as well as a Chopin etude, earning more than one standing ovation in the process.

The closing work on the bill was Tschaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture, which Bernard and the ensemble immersed in a dreamy unease that never quite relented, an apt illustration of the doomed lovers, through long crescendos to a stormy dance, an absolutely lustrous brass interlude and a series of big Beethovenesque endings. This was a world-class, majestic performance.

The orchestra also played a steady, Teutonically matter-of-fact version of the Brahms Violin Concerto. Featured violinist Jourdan Urbach got an old-fashioned standing ovation after the first movement, but to be fair, the solos from the oboe and then Alix Raspe’s harp a bit later on were every bit as compelling. The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony’s next concert is February 22, 2014 at 8 PM at All Saints Church, 230 E 60th St (between 2nd and 3rd Aves) featuring Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, Samuel Barber’s Knoxville Summer 1915 and Dvorak’s Dance Suite for Orchestra.

October 29, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Inspiring Benefit Concert By the One World Symphony

Efficiently if not particularly quietly, over the past ten years the One World Symphony has built a reputation as one of Manhattan’s first-class niche orchestras. Their season is shorter and their programming more diverse than, say, the New York Phil, but with a vintage Ormandy-era Philadelphia Orchestra sheen and heft, they are a mighty beast. Their concert last night in Chelsea, a benefit for the perennially needed Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, began with an impromptu addition to the bill, Craig Armstrong’s lushly crescendoing chase scene from the 2003 film Love Actually. It set the stage for the rest of the night. Maestro Sung Jin Hong is cut from the same cloth as Leon Botstein: a passionate advocate who leaves no stone unturned, Hong wasted no time in revealing how Brahms ripped off Beethoven (with a couple of excerpts, one involving audience participation). To add context, he also led the orchestra through his own richly swirling arrangement of the obscure Clara Schumann song Liebst du um Schonheit, sung with potently evocative restraint by mezzo-soprano Adrienne Metzinger. Hong doesn’t like to leave audiences hanging: he took care to provide background on how Brahms’ unrequited love for Robert Schumann’s wife finally inspired Brahms to channel his angst into the sturm und drang of his First Symphony.

Conducting from memory, Hong used every inch of headroom but also all the available footroom for that work: a briefly tiptoeing pizzicato interchange at the beginning of the final movement among both high and low strings was as whispery as the big swells of the first movement and the final series of codas at the end were stormy. In between, lush as the sonics were, individual and sectional voices were strong and distinct. Ed Gonzales’ rumbling timpani signaled a sudden end to uneasy nebulosity in the first movement; Marilyn Cole’s oboe solo in the second was pure liquid crystal. And the cellos dug deep into their Bach-like walking basslines as the third built steady momentum.

Hong was just as fun to watch as the orchestra. Although he doesn’t go for leaps and bounds, his approach is very physical: when he slows down, that’s a signal that the music is going to get very quiet, and the orchestra was with him every step of the way. After the performance, the music didn’t stop: the ensemble’s principal bassist, Justin Lee got to show off his swing chops in tandem with Jonathan Ward’s tasteful drumming throughout an animated performance of standards by the Robert Page Jazz Trio.

December 20, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Revisiting a Downtown Brooklyn Phenomenon

Organist Gregory Eaton’s more-or-less weekly Wednesday recitals at St. Ann’s Church in downtown Brooklyn are the stuff of legend, partly because they’re during the daytime and unless you work in the neighborhood (or can sneak away from work – it’s less than ten minutes from lower Manhattan by train), they’re not easy to get to. But if you are lucky enough to work or go to school nearby – or aren’t afraid to take time away from wherever you are to get to the church by ten after one in the afternoon – this is an event that you absolutely must see. Eaton made a name for himself playing ragtime and spirituals in addition to the usual classical and sacred repertoire on the mighty 1925 Skinner organ here: not only is he an eclectic performer, he also can’t resist sharing his vast knowledge with the audience in a way that’s interesting and accessible for even the most casual listener.

Today’s program was uncharacteristic in that it was all classical, but otherwise it was Eaton at the top of his game. The fact that it was his birthday might have had something to do with it. Since this is Holy Week, he chose a program that followed that plotline. He took care to explain the differences between two Bach settings of the hymn Valet will ich der geben, the first artfully interweaving madrigal voicings, the second letting the soul slip away with remarkable un-Bachlike restraint at the end as Good Friday arrives. After a lustrously brooding take on Brahms’ Herzlich tu mich verlangen (one of the composer’s gorgeous Eleven Choral Preludes), he closed by explaining how Franck’s Chorale #1 in E Major could be interpreted as illustrative of the whole sequence of events leading up to the Resurrection. And then played it, forcefully but also poignantly, making vivid use of the organ’s opaquely tremoloing vox humana stop. As for the organ, it’s holding up well but still needs some work to get up to full steam again. To jumpstart that project, Eaton is revisiting a well-received program of works for organ and brass (by Bonelli, Dupre, Gigout, Hurd, Phillips, Strauss and others) on May 13 at 7 PM: your $25 suggested donation goes entirely to the organ restoration fund.

April 4, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment