Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Lara Downes Takes Aim at the Glass Ceiling With a Lavishly Diverse New Album of Works by Women Composers

The title of pianist Lara Downes‘ lavish, wildly diverse new album Holes in the Sky – streaming at her music page – is not a reference to eco-disaster in the wake of a vanishing ozone layer. It’s a celebration of elite women composers and artists which takes the idea of smashing the glass ceiling to the next level. Some of the album’s grand total of 22 tracks, all by women composers, are complete reinventions. Others among the wide swath of styles here, from classical, to jazz, to Americana and the avant garde, are more genre-specific, Downes shifting effortlessly and intuitively between them.

She’s playing the album release show this Sept 13 at 7 PM at National Sawdust with an all-star cast including but not limited to harpist Bridget Kibbey, eclectic chanteuse Magos Herrera and pianist Simone Dinnerstein. Advance tix are $35 – which includes a copy of the new cd – or $25 without one. Even better, the show is early enough, and the venue is close enough to the Bedford Ave. L train that you’ll be able to make it home afterward without having to deal with the nightly L-pocalypse.

Notwithstanding that classical musicians are typically expected to be able to make stylistic leaps in a single bound, Downes’ project is dauntingly ambitious. But she drives her point home, hard: women composers have always been on equal footing with men, artistically, even while the music world has been a boys club for so long.

Most of the music here tends to be on the slow, pensive side. Downes opens the album solo with the spare, ragtime-inflected gravitas of Florence Price’s Memory Mist. Judy Collins sings the pastoral ballad Albatross with an austere reflection over Downes’ sparkly evocation of guitar fingerpicking. There’s more art-song with Margaret Bonds’ Dream Variation (with an understatedly resonant vocal by Rhiannon Giddens); and Eve Beglarian and Jane Bowles’ Farther from The Heart, sung with similar restraint by Hila Plitmann.

Works by contemporary composers are an important part of this project. The neoromantic is represented vividly by Clarice Assad’s A Tide of Living Water; Paula Kimper‘s Venus Refraction; the late Trinidadian pianist Hazel Scott’s Idyll; Marika Takeuchi’s bittersweet waltz, Bloom; and Libby Larsen‘s Blue Piece, a duet with violinist Rachel Barton Pinel

The American avant garde works here include Meredith Monk’s circling Ellis Island; Paola Prestini‘s spacious, animated Morning on the Limpopo: Matlou Women; Elena Ruehr‘s astringently dynamic Music Pink and Blue; and Jennifer Higdon‘s Notes of Gratitude, with its call-and-response between muted prepared piano and glistening, resonant motives; Arguably the most gorgeous of all of them is the  Armenian-influenced, Satie-esque Aghavni (Doves) by Mary Kouyoumdjian.

Downes proves to be equally at home in the jazz songbook, particularly with a broodingly reflective, instrumental arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s Favorite Color. There’s also the Billie Holiday hit Don’t Explain, with Leyla McCalla on vocals; Ann Ronell’s saturnine Willow Weep for Me; Georgia Stitt’s What Lips My Lips Have Kissed; Abbey Lincoln and Melba Liston’s Rainbow; and Lil Hardin Armstrong’s Just for a Thrill, sung with dusky intensity by Alicia Hall Moran.

Downes also plays a couple of original arrangements of folk lullabies. Herrera sings the Argentine Arrorro Mi Niña,; Downes closes the album with a hauntingly fluttering take of the old Americana song All the Pretty Little Horses, featuring cellist Ifetayo Ali-Landing and all-girl choir Musicality. Even for diehard fans of new music, this is an eye-opening survey of important women composers from across the decades.

September 11, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Anne-Marie McDermott Plays Haydn, Wuorinen and Assad at Town Hall, NYC 5/31/09

Pianist Anne-Marie McDermott gets plenty of accolades for chops and versatility and this study in extreme contrasts validated pretty much anything good that’s been said about her. After the intermission at her recital Sunday evening at Town Hall, she told the audience that despite the different of two centuries and several generations of musical evolution, she found a great deal of similarity between Haydn and Wuorinen because their compositions are literally all over the place, an insight that is less obvious than it seems. She opened with Haydn’s Piano Sonata in G Major, Hob XVI: 40, warm and predictably playful and then taking off with a presto section that McDermott milked for all the laughs she could get: it’s quite silly, and the crowd was warmly appreciative. Another sonata, the C Minor, Hob XVI: 20 was even more of an exercise in judicious dynamics and phrasing, McDermott turning what could have been mere wistfulness into real poignancy throughout its andante section.

Then she switched gears (or teleported to another dimension, you could easily say) with the world premiere of Charles Wuorinen’s Fourth Piano Sonata – if anyone in the house recorded it, please let us know! With what seemed a total absence of time signature and a call for complete reckless abandon (and even percussion on the body of the piano itself), it revealed itself as an angry, almost relentlessly railing piece that when it finally calmed down went straight to despair and then back to rage again. The herky-jerky first movement was deliberately dissonant and ugly, a feel only slightly obscured with vaguely Asian tinges on the second movement, going absolutely morose and nocturnal with the third, andante passage before reverting to insistent crashing and banging with Sabre Dance echoes that despite all McDernmott’s energy was anticlimactic compared to the powerful evocation of clinical depression of what had just preceded it.

After another dynamically superb take on another Haydn sonata (E flat Minor, HoB XVI: 52), she closed with the New York premiere of Clarice Assad’s When Art Showed Up. Art, whoever he may be, is a lot of fun but also a sort of crazymaker. The opening theme was warmly romantic without a single hint of the festivities to come, all kinds of vivid appositions across the registers and a coda straight out of Cuba, 1935. The crowd wouldn’t let McDermott go without an encore, so she indulged them with a showy, Flight of the Bumblebee-esque segment of another Haydn sonata.

June 2, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment