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Ieva Jokubaviciute Explores the Color and Disparity of New Nordic Music on Her New Album Northscapes

Musicologists have a history of obsession with the relationship between terrain and musical traditions. Conventional wisdom is that Nordic composers tend to focus on the dark side, considering the length of winter and winter nights there. And yet, in the summer, that same turf becomes the land of the midnight sun. On her new album Northscapes – streaming at Bandcamp – Lithuanian pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute plays a mix of 21st century works by a terrific cast of well-known and more obscure composers from that part of the world, seeking to capture the influences of landscape, and a lowlit or unlit milieu, rather than reaffirming any preconception of Nordic traditions. The record turns out to be much more colorful than you might think.

Case in point: the two works by Norwegian composer Lasse Thoresen, which bookend the album. The former, Pristine Light, begins with energetically rolling ripples that give way to steady minimalism punctuated by sparkling figures. Subtly, Jokubaviciute balances rhythm and glittering forward drive as the composer reverses the effect of the two devices

Both pieces are taken from Thoresen’s Four Invocations suite. In the finale, Rising Air, Jokubaviciute has fun contrasting a spacious, reflecting-pool minimalism with a spritely hailstorm of upper-register riffage bristling with thorny accidentals.

In keeping with her signature, vast expanses, Icelander Anna Thorvaldsdottir‘s Scape blends disquieting flickers at either end of the keyboard with long, sustained notes, sometimes enhanced by an ebow guitar effect, at other times by prepared strings. A thimble is also involved.

A trio of pieces from Danish composer Bent Sorensen‘s 12 Nocturnes are next, drawing on the character Mignon from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister. Jokubaviciute takes her time developing the distantly Romantic allusions of Mignon and the Sun Goes Down, cuts loose considerably more in the miniature Night River and lets the altered love ballad Midnight with Mignon linger enigmatically.

She follows a dichotomy similar to the one in the Thorvaldsdottir piece, if more elaborately cascading and intertwined, in Kaija Saariaho‘s 2007 Prelude. Jokubaviciute also explores contrasts in the lone late 20th century piece here, Lithuanian composer Raminta Šerkšnytė’s Fantasia, shifting between registers, a rather stern longing, playful leaps and bounds, challenging pointillisms and a coy expectancy. It’s the most entertaining piece here.

Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks‘ Music for a Summer Evening is a picturesquely energetic, shifting, seemingly Satie-influenced sunset prelude. Describing the music, he writes, “Towards the end, a kind of folksong is heard: ‘We have survived the time of tyranny and have kept our identity.’” May we all live to do that and more on summer evenings next year.

September 4, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Boston Symphony Orchestra Release a Rivetingly Detailed, Harrowing Shostakovich Album

It might be unfair to artists playing original material to say that Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra‘s new live recording of three Shostakovich symphonies and an immortal smaller-scale theme – streaming at Spotify – is the frontrunner for best album of the year. Even so, the conductor and orchestra go unusually deep into these profoundly troubled, relevant works: they couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate era to be releasing their Shostakovich symphonic cycle. It’s riveting and timely music, subtly and sensitively performed. Nelsons and the ensemble work a vast dynamic range from a whisper to short of a scream. Unorthodox as this program is, it makes sense in context, the phantasmagoria of the composer’s ambitious first symphony coming into full, savage bloom in two late symphonies and also the Rudolf Barshai string orchestra arrangement of Shostakovich’s harrowing, antifascist String Quartet No. 8.

Let’s start with that piece, the last one on the album, since it’s the most apropos to our time. Shostakovich wrote the string quartet thinking it could be his final work since Krushchev was strong-arming him to join the Communist Party, or else. It’s as timely now as it was when the composer frantically wove his initials into it, in musical notation, over and over again. In 1960, those creepy chromatics meant a knock on the door from the KGB, its drifting desolation a requiem for the victims of Stalin’s regime, its chase scenes being the gestapo coming for a composer who’d finally crossed too far over the line. This remarkably subdued, solemn, utterly chilling interpretation makes an apt soundtrack for the health department marching into an elementary school, lethal needles in hand. Or a New York City hospital ward filled with comatose Medicare patients being sedated to death in order to create the illusion of a pandemic. Or the Australian police ruthlessly tracking some poor guy who’d escaped from solitary confinement after testing positive for a bioweapon-induced illness that went extinct months ago.

Symphony No. 1, which opens the recording, has withstood the test of time well and gets a triumphantly carnivalesque treatment here. There’s a balletesque lilt to the first movement… and that bassoon strut makes an eerie predecessor for a much more macabre theme in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 6.

The lithe, cynical bustle of movement two is irresistible, the orchestra’s vaunted strings adding a gossamer, deep-space twinkle and not the slightest hint of the whirlwind coda that will soon follow. Nelsons’attention to the pulsing echo effects in the forebodingly crescendoing third movement is a characteristically insightful touch, as are the plaintive soloists, foreshadowing the horror-stricken calm of the composer’s Symphonies No. 10 and 11. He holds back the fireworks in the fourth movement until the hordes are at the great gate of Kiev, with the xylophone-like piano a stunning contrast. What a picturesque exhibition.

Shostakovich liked to recycle some of his most twisted themes, and he does that a lot in his final Symphony, No. 15, from 1971. It’s arguably his most death-obsessed work. The flutey intro, followed by an even more cynical bassoon melody and faux pageantry that quotes liberally from the William Tell Overture could be read as death dancing outside the window, whether that’s the gestapo or just the ravages of time – although it’s hard to imagine this composer failing to add his usual sociopolitical context. When the brass come stomping in, the orchestra’s pinpoint precision leaves no doubt what’s going on. In case you wonder what that whiplash percussive effect is, it’s a real whip.

Seamlessly switching gears, Nelsons holds the lingering, vast stillness of the second movement in check: somber passages from solo cello, winds and horn are muted in the face of seemingly inevitable doom, a throwback to Symphony No. 11. The brief third movement is all portents and marionettish evil, underscored by the orchestra’s sheer matter-of-factness. In the final movement, Nelsons puts the spotlight on the parade of wistful figures flickering as the curtain behind draws closer. So the point where someone – or a whole society – meets a sudden, tragic end midway through really packs a punch. At the end, the gulag and the executioner – or just a haunted witness to a hideous period in Russian history – dissolve into shadow puppets.

Symphony No, 14, from 1969, is a lavish, death-obsessed song cycle of sorts much in the same vein as the Babi Yar Symphony, No. 13. Soprano Kristine Opolais and bass Alexander Tsymbalyuk take turns in alternately brooding and acidically surreal interpretations of poetry by Garcia Lorca, Apollinaire and Wilhelm Kuchelbecker – hardly doctrinaire Soviet-approved artists.

The utter solemnity of Garcia Lorca’s De Profundis cedes to the grand guignol ballet of his macabre Malaguena. The duet of Apollinaire’s Lorelei is every bit a depiction of a twisted, beckoning Aryan witch as the poet could have imagined.

Similarly, the contrast between Opolais’ angst and the still backdrop in his portrait of a suicide’s grave is downright chilling, as is the carnivalesque antiwar message in On Watch. Those qualities pervade the rest of the symphony, through a whisperingly grim prison-cell tableau, martial belligerence and incessant grim imagery: exactly what the entire world has been forced to grapple with since the spring of 2020.

Except that these are only cautionary tales.

August 31, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fond Farewells and New Revelations at This Year’s Concluding Naumburg Bandshell Concert

Tuesday night in Central Park, a collective “awwwwww” swept through the crowd when the Naumburg organization’s Christopher London announced that the East Coast Chamber Orchestra‘s concert with pianist Shai Wosner would be the final one of the summer at the bandshell. What a blessing it has been to have these performances at a time when orchestral music has never been more imperiled. And what a great year it’s been! At this time last year, who would have imagined that we would be in a position to be so celebratory now?

It was a night to revisit familiar Mozartean comfort in newfound intimacy, but also to be entranced by far more recent material. The evening’s piece de resistance was Hanna Benn‘s Where Springs Not Fail, based on a morbid Gerard Manley Hopkins poem. Dov Scheindlin, one of the three violists in the orchestral string collective, introduced it as “impressionistic and haunting,” which turned out to be an understatement. With an elegance that would define the night, the group parsed its slow, somber, insistent pastoralia with collegial attention to dynamics, anchored with visceral intensity in the lows.

Bassist Anthony Manzo introduced a mournfully tolling theme, the ensemble rising toward fullscale angst but not quite going there. Eventually a sense of closure, however mournful, appeared. The fade down at the end was obliterated by a passing helicopter. Technology destroying the soul: a metaphor for 2021 from above, literally.

The orchestra found even more angst in Osvaldo Golijov’s 1996 composition Last Round, equal parts boxing parable and salute to the composer’s iconic countryman and foundational influence Astor Piazzolla. As a portrait of the combative godfather of nuevo tango bedridden after a stroke and battling but slowly and ineluctably losing it, it’s set up as a couple of string quartets with the bass in the center as referee.

Sparks flew as agitation rose, then a poignant quote from Piazzolla’s Libertango appeared and was spun through a series of permutations. The sudden glissando at the moment of death was crushing; the group’s rise from a hush to a picturesque series of reflections was a vivid an elegy as anyone could have wanted.

The big hits with the crowd were Mozart favorites, which Wosner played from memory with exceptional attunement to underlying emotion. His approach to both the Piano Concerto No. 114 in E flat and No. 12 in A was unhurried, and spacious, and insightful to the nth degree: he’s really gone under the hood with this material.

He opened the night’s first concerto with a liquid, comfortably nocturnal legato, then left no doubt that the second movement was a love song. The conclusion was irresistibly fun, a puckish game of hide-and-seek, and the strings responded in kind.

The closing concerto was just as fresh and convivial, Wosner taking his time with the lustrous contentment of the opening movement, then backing away even further for a muted tenderness and then a sudden sense of trouble around the corner, a cautionary tale stashed away inside a glittery wine-hour piece for the entitled classes of Vienna, 1782-style. Both of these pieces are as standard as standard repertoire gets – and how rare it is that an ensemble can bring out as much inner detail as Wosner and the orchestra did here.

The pianist encored with a poignant, affectionately paced version of Schubert’s Hungarian Melody, D817. This is it for 2021 for the Naumburg Concerts, but a series for 2022 is in the works.

August 5, 2021 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Sizzling, Cutting-Edge, Wildly Funky String Jazz Collaboration in Long Island City

It’s impossible to think of a more capsulizing moment for music in New York in 2021 than the concert in a Long Island City parking lot last Sunday. Overhead, the skies blackened, but on the ground, string quartet the Lotus Chamber Music Collective and jazz quartet Momentum joined in a wild, ecstatic collaboration that spoke to the indomitability of New York musicians creating the newest sounds around.

Lotus’ charismatic cellist, Sasha Ono, didn’t bother trying to hide how amped she was to finally be able to play her first concert since last year’s lockdown. The electricity shared by all eight players – perched on the back of a trailer and the bed of a battered 1963 Ford pickup – was pure unleashed cabin fever. This crew had obviously been playing and refining their chops during the time live music was criminalized here. And a big crowd had come out for the fireworks, defying the thunderclouds overhead.

The quartet – which also included violinists Tiffany Weiss and Emily Frederick alongside violist Gizem Yucel – opened with a mixture of lushness and groove, Ono and Momentum bassist Isaac Levien doubling up on the fat low end riffage throughout most of JJ’s Dance, by drummer Elé Howell. It was a slinky, shapeshifting number that gave the band a long launching pad to rise through a blend of Afrobeat, trip-hop and psychedelic funk that drew a straight line back to Roy Ayers. From the back of the truck bed, guitarist Quintin Zoto drove it to a searing peak with a long, feral but erudite solo, capped off with some savage tremolo-picking.

Cultural Appropriation, by Julia Chen had a coy calypso bounce fueled by Howell’s loose-limbed clave, with a similarly slinky Levien bass solo, vibraphonist Grady Tesch rippling through what the clouds overhead were foreshadowing.

Ono told the crowd that she’d been inspired to come up with her arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s La Paloma Azul as a reflection on the South American refugee crisis, the strings introducing its lustrous initial theme followed by the rest of the ensemble’s lilting, bittersweet, Mexican folk-tinged rhythms.

The most ambitiously symphonic interlude of the afternoon was when the two groups mashed up Swing, Low Sweet Chariot with themes from Florence Price’s Five Folksongs in Counterpoint for String Quartet (her Symphony No. 1 was the most-played orchestral work by any American composer in the 1930s). Ono and Tesch had come up with that idea after doing a webcast focusing on Price, whose gospel and jazz-influenced music is getting a long-overdue revival. The highlight was Yucel’s stark viola solo amid the polyrhythms and the constant dynamic shifts.

The eight musicians closed the first set with a determined, lavishly funky take of Shunzo Ohno‘s Musashi, debuting string parts which the jazz legend had written for this performance. It was akin to a particularly energetic segment on the Crusaders’ live album with B.B. King, switching out King’s string-busting bent notes for a torrentially icy guitar attack channeled through Zoto’s chorus pedal. Welcome to the future of serious concert music in New York, 2021: if this is any indication, it’s going to be a hot summer.

The more-or-less weekly outdoor series in the parking lot out behind Culture Lab, 5-25 46th Ave in Long Island City continues at 5 PM tonight, July 24 with careening, microtonally-tinged electric blues band Jane Lee Hooker. The space is just down the block from LIC Bar, further toward the water; take the 7 to Vernon Blvd.

July 24, 2021 Posted by | concert, funk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beating the Heat With Baroque Subtlety at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park

Tuesday night might have been the quietest yet the most dynamic concert at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park in several years. Harpsichordist and conductor Richard Egarr cautioned the crowd that they were in for a program of sometimes crazy, sometimes quirky material, and his comments were on the money, in the context of the very stylized world of 17th century British chamber music. Conducting animatedly from behind the keyboard, he led period instrument ensemble the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra through an often hushed, minutely detailed performance whose passion was in the subtleties.

Believe everything you’ve heard about soprano Rowan Pierce. The highlight of the night was a long, matter-of-fact but meticulously modulated lament from Purcell’s Fairy Queen suite, which she approached with a powerglide vibrato, completely in control yet emotionally bereft, over a poignantly waltzing, suddenly crescendoing backdrop.. She’s an old soul. There’s a lot to be said for classical singers being most empowered to channel emotion in their native tongue, and that may have had something to do with how vividly Pierce moved from a hint of goofy vaudeville in the second of three songs by the vastly underrated John Blow, to a very distant, very proto-circus rock menace, and then to the sorrowful interludes among the highlights of Purcell’s magnum opus which Egarr had cherrypicked for the second half of the program.

Christopher Gibbons, Egarr explained, had the misfortune to be the son of Orlando Gibbons, a name very familiar to any fan of British polyphony. Opening with the younger Gibbons’ Fantasy in A Minor immediately put the audience on notice that this would not be a sedate, predictable evening, the string orchestra nimbly negotiating the piece’s odd cadences and strikingly forward-looking harmonies.

The ensemble left no doubt that Matthew Locke’s Curtain Tune, from an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, was an opening-credits theme. Pierce’s seething restraint in Bess of Bedlam, the third of a trio of Purcell songs – better described as partitas – felt visceral, over Egarr’s spacious harpsichord, Adam Cockerham’s elegantly plucked theorbo and William Skeen’s looming, stark cello.

Among many other captivating moments, there was also a coy Purcell rondo ostensibly written for monkeys and an absolutely gorgeous guitar-and-harpsichord song, Lovely Selina, predating the Moody Blues and other pastorally-inclined balladeers of the rock era by two centuries.

For 114 years, from 1905 through 2019, the Naumburg Concerts in Central Park became one of the longest-running annual concert series in world history. Introducing this show, Christopher London, scion of the Naumburg philanthropic legacy, offered hope that 2021 will turn out to be the first of another 114. He didn’t assume any credit for the heroism of keeping classical music performance alive when it has never been more imperiled, but that credit is due.

Gallons of ink, virtual and otherwise, have been spilled over the greying of audiences for classical music, and the shortage of new generations to maintain it. But all that is a drop in the bucket in the face of the New Abnormal being schemed up by Facebook, and Microsoft, and the rest of the surveillance-industrial complex hell-bent on destroying the performing arts and moving all communication from the real world to a virtual one. That the Naumburg organization would seek simply to keep a universal human tradition alive is a braver move than founder Elkan Naumburg ever could have imagined. Although by all accounts, he would have been on the front lines fighting for it.

This year’s final Naumburg Bandshell concert is Aug 3 at 7:30 PM with the East Coast Chamber Orchestra and pianist Shai Wosner playing works by Mozart, Golijov and others. Show up early – an hour and a half isn’t too early – if you want a seat.

July 22, 2021 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Intriguing Outdoor Concert of New Classical Works on the Water Next Week

A rare auspicious development that surfaced during the past sixteen months’ lockdown was that New York musicians became more resourceful than ever. Deprived of venues and concert stages, people improvised in more ways than usual, creating new spaces for audiences and players with a much greater inclusiveness than the old, profit-driven club model. One holdover from the days when indoor concerts were forbidden – not so long ago! – is a very intriguing outdoor show this July 21 at 7 PM where 21st century classical ensemble Contemporaneous play a program of new works by Alex Weiser, Zachary James Ritter, Yasmin Williams and toy pianist Lucy Yao, plus a world premiere by Yaz Lancaster at Pier 64 at 24th St. and the Hudson. The show is free with a rsvp.

For an idea of at least part of the bill, dial up Weiser’s 2019 album And All the Days Were Purple at Bandcamp. It’s a series of often very moving settings of poems from across the Jewish diaspora which the composer found during his archival research at the YIVO Institute, where until the lockdown he ran the public programming.

The first track is My Joy, a minimalist, slowly vamping setting of a regretful text by Anna Margolin, pianist Lee Dionne following a subtle upward trajectory in contrast with the hazy strings of violinist Maya Bennardo, violist Hannah Levinson and cellist Hannah Collins beneath soprano Eliza Bagg’s understatedly plaintive, soaring vocal.

The strings rise to swirls and subside, punctuated by dramatic shocks in the second track, a brief tone poem of sorts simply titled titled with an asterisk. It segues into a haunting setting of Edward Hirsch’s poem I Was Never Able to Pray, Bagg’s airy, austere delivery in contrast with a somber bell motif.

Longing, a very thinly disguised early 20th century erotic poem by Rachel Korn, follows a series of elegant, upwardly stairstepping figures. There’s a similar subtext in Poetry, a text by Abraham Sutzkever where Bagg channels a deep, soul-infused sound over a slowly drifting piano backdrop.

She takes an airier approach to Margolin’s Lines for Winter over Dionne’s insistent, reflecting-pool piano and the swells of the strings. A second asterisked instrumental interlude follows as a segue, awash in extended-technique strings, swooping and dipping microtonally and shedding high harmonics.

The album’s big, understatedly angst-fueled ballad is We Went Through the Day, which Bagg sings in the original Yiddish. The big concluding epic is Three Epitaphs, with text reflecting on the brevity of life by Williams Carlos Williams, Seikilos and Emily Dickinson. Percussionist Mike Compitello joins in the pointillism of the first part, Bagg’s long, resonant tones sailing overhead. A reflecting pool of echoes and then a wistfully drifting outro conclude this soberingly immersive collection.

July 16, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, opera, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Overlook Champion Exhilarating, Riveting Works by Black Composers

Tuesday evening at the Hispanic Society of America, violinist Ravenna Lipchik of the Overlook flashed a knowing grin to her violist bandmate Angela Pickett, seconds before the string quartet launched into the third movement of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Fantasie-Stücke. With a passionate, syncopated pulse, a breathtaking melody burst out from the strings of the four women gathered in the front of the basement-level gallery space. This wasn’t exactly a witchy tarantella, or a slashing Balkan dance, but it had elements of both, blended into a breathtaking High Romantic triumph that quickly became the most exhilarating interlude anyone in New York has played for an audience this year.

Wow.

Admittedly, by normal standards, the number of concerts in this city this year has been the lowest on record since probably the 1700s. Still, this was a reminder of everything that was stolen from us during the lockdown – and what we need to get back, and this new string quartet are at the front of the pack leading the way.

The Overlook dedicate themselves to resurrecting material by undeservedly obscure black composers, and championing this era’s crop. Coleridge-Taylor’s five-part suite – recently recorded by another paradigm-shifting group, the Catalyst Quartet – was the legacy piece. Until recently, this once famous composer, conductor and contemporary of Dvorak and Brahms was largely forgotten outside of the organ demimonde. Judging from the rest of his work that’s recently been revived, he’s long overdue.

Coleridge-Taylor’s chamber music is more Slavic than Dvorak and has the same kind of playfulness and intricacy as Razumovsky Quartet-era Beethoven, combined with sometimes stark, sometimes stirring elements of African-American blues and gospel music. This piece had all of that, a gorgeously bittersweet theme and variations along with a devious return to that blazing dance before a somewhat more mutedly heroic coda.

The ensemble – which also includes cellist Laura Metcalf and violinist Monica Davis – bookended the piece with two more recent but equally fascinating works. Guest Tanya Birl-Torres introduced Leila Adu‘s If the Stars Align with a brief meditation suggesting we connect to a comfortable space in between the earth that grounds us, and the world above which gives us life.

Adu is better known as a singer of ornate, soaring art-rock, in a Kate Bush vein, so this was a revelation The music was deceptively simple, built around a series of subtly, increasingly complex gestures that grew into a more complex web, following a steady counterpoint, a series of handoffs and catch-and-follow. There was also a bustling, vividly urban interlude complete with sirens and busy crowds, as well as a flurrying intensity with echoes of Kurdish folk music.

Birl-Torres also served as narrator during the hazy, enigmatic introduction to the concluding work, Shelley Washington’s Middleground. The quartet dug into the piece’s insistent minimalism, akin to a similarly rhythmic but somewhat gentler Julia Wolfe, expanding a steady interweave, its close harmonies and short, emphatic gestures echoing the night’s first piece.

The Overlook’s next scheduled performance is Sept 12 at 4 PM with music by Eleanor Alberga, Florence Price, and Chevalier de Saint-Georges at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, 65 Jumel Terrace about a block south of 162nd St. in Washington Heights, The concert is free; take the A/C to 163rd St.

July 12, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Shimmering, Potently Relevant New Album From Fearless Composer Susie Ibarra

Percussionist and composer Susie Ibarra‘s rapturous, starkly orchestrated new album Walking on Water touches on the two most deadly ecological crises of our time: the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and global warming. Inspired by a breathtaking series of paintings by Mako Fujimura dedicated to the victims of the March 11, 2011 tsunami and subsequent nuclear explosions, Ibarra also addresses a familiar theme in her work, the perils of climate change. With the Japanese government threatening to dump millions of gallons of lethal radioactive water from the still-unstable Fukushima site into the Pacific, Ibarra could not have picked a more appropriate time to release this record of what she terms as “spirituals” at Bandcamp.

Ibarra’s DreamTime Ensemble here includes Jennifer Choi on violin, Yves Dharambaj on cello, Claudia Acuna on vocals, Jake Landau on guitar and keys, with Yuka C. Honda adding electronic elements. The music is much more dynamic than you would expect from such troubling central themes and includes many field recordings of water, from melting ice in the Himalayas to water tanks in Washington State.

The first track is Elegy in Azurite, a shimmery, circling theme, part terse, lush classical atmosphere aloft with Acuna’s vocalese, and part pointillistic Filipino kulintang music. Landau’s spiky acoustic guitar pierces the mist in the bouncy Light East of Sendai. His organ falls away, leaving Ibarra’s cymbals and gongs to mingle with melting ice sonics in Waterfalling.

Assertive, flamenco-tinged guitar chords anchor resonant, shivering phrases from violin and cello over Ibarra’s rustles in Coastal Birds The next track is High Wave, a mashup of found sounds of water amid nebulous acoustic and electronic ambience. Acuna sails soulfully above a syncopated organ groove and Ibarra’s slinky drums in the aptly titled Natural Lightness.

Night Rain sounds like exactly that, a field recording with birds chattering away as they take cover. Violin and cello rise warily over Landau’s lush arpeggios in Divine Forgiveness, followed by a fluttery tone poem, Celestial Migration. Floating Azurite makes a good segue, somber atmosphere contrasting with the mandolin-like delicacy of Landau’s guitars.

The bossa-tinged swing of New York With Grace comes as a real surprise, Landau’s spiny textures and the strings adding a surreal, disquieted edge. The album’s big epic is aptly titled Listening at Himalayan Waterfalls, a found-sound pastiche which Ibarra captured with underwater microphones. The group close with Floating Along Banares, a summery field recording of a boat trip mashed up with distantly Indian-flavored melodies. The implication seems to be that this kind of natural camaraderie is just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended) of what we stand to lose if we don’t stop burning things to power the world. The apocalypse never sounded so dreamy. Count this as one of the best and most captivating albums of 2021.

July 7, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Far Cry Storm Back into Action at the Naumburg Bandshell

From 1905 through 2019, the Naumburg concerts in Central Park became one of the longest-running annual series in the history of music. It has been as much of a godsend to witness the return of these performances this year as it was tragic to lose them in 2020. Last night at the Naumburg Bandshell, huddled under their umbrellas in relentless rain that finally grew to monsoon proportions, a crowd of about a hundred undeterred concertgoers thunderously welcomed back a familiar presence on the stage here, seventeen-piece string ensemble A Far Cry.

They were just as happy to see the audience. This was the group’s first concert since February of last year. Violinist Jae Cosmos Lee mentioned that they’d played their share of webcasts and broadcasts, as just about every other ensemble that managed to stay together during the sixteen-month lockdown here in the northeast ended up doing. Still, he confided that his most sobering realization during that time was how crucial the relationship between performers and audience is. “Without you, all this would be…” he searched for a word, “Nothing!” This wasn’t just Sergeant Pepper trying to take all the girls home. This was sincere.

That energy was more electric than the sky overhead: Lee enthused that this was the group’s most exciting moment onstage, at least since a show in Slidell, Louisiana where it was “raining sideways” and one of the violinists burst into a solo version of Orange Blossom Special while her bandmates waited for the sky to clear.

Throughout this particular downpour, the music was transcendent in the purest sense of the word. They opened with Grieg’s Holberg Suite, bristling with dynamics, from the stiletto staccato of the first movement, black velvet resonance from bass and cellos in the anxious second part, and a lithe pulse throughout the baroque-tinged dances they wound it up with.

Joseph Bologne, a.k.a. Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a slightly older and very colorful contemporary of Mozart, is all the rage now, represented on this bill by a kinetically stately take of his 1778 Sinfonia Concertante Op. 13, No. 1, which has actually never been recorded. Maybe A Far Cry can jump on that bandwagon too.

The two pieces de resistance among many were a couple of Jessie Montgomery works. She’s one of us, Lower East Side born and bred, and the group did her justice with a plucky, emphatically circling, meticulously playful take of her 2012 work Strum for String Orchestra. And they luxuriated in the wealth of subtly cached microtones and slowly glissandoing swells in Source Code for String Orchestra, from a year later.

Silouan’s Song, a 1991 Arvo Part composition, made an apt segue with its somber, spaciously paced minimalism. The group closed with the High Romantic joy and angst and ultimate triumph of Teresa Carreno’s 1895 Serenade for Strings: a love song, a passionately wary waltz that offered a fond nod to Chopin, moments of pensive calm ceding to a heroic coda that simply would not be denied. Meanwhile, the cadences of the storm overhead seemed to be keeping pace with the music to the extent that the crowd started laughing whenever there would be a pause, or a crescendo capped off with a thunderclap or an explosion of rain.

This year’s Naumburg Bandshell concerts continue on July 20 at 7:30 PM with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra playing works by Purcell, John Blow and others. The recently renovated bandshell is a little closer to the west side; take the 72nd St. entrance and get there early – an hour and a half early isn’t too early – if you want a seat.

July 7, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yet Another Stunning Vaughan Williams Concert Album From the London Symphony Orchestra

The album at the top of the list of best releases of 2021 so far this year is the London Symphony Orchestra‘s shattering recording of Vaughan Williams’ Symphonies No. 4 and 6. Both are live: the former from on election night, 2019, the latter performed on March 15, 2020 and as of today the final symphony orchestra recording ever made in the UK. It’s harrowing music, harrowingly performed. Conductor Antonio Pappano and the ensemble were obviously not aware of the specifics of the horrors that would follow, but the sense of trouble lurking in the wings is viscerally chilling.

Perhaps to move away from that crushingly gloomy zeitgeist, the orchestra have just put out a gorgeously lustrous concert recording of the composer’s Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis – streaming at Spotify – also with Pappano at the helm on that fateful March night. The album is on the short side since this is the only piece on it, but it’s achingly beautiful.

A mystical, distant string atmosphere punctuated by suspenseful staccato bass rises to a lush and increasingly ravishing nocturnal theme, an epic song without words. From this ultraviolet, Holst-like atmosphere, Pappano leads the orchestra down to one of Vaughan Williams’ signature lavish, sweeping, pastoral tableaux, aloft on shivery strings.

Ever so subtly, the composer merges the two themes before Pappano raises the suspense with an emphatic but elegant series of pulses that again shift shape, the orchestra ending on a note that manages to be both warm yet enigmatic: nobody sees it coming. Then again, the future is unwritten: nobody knew that better than Vaughan Williams. Let’s hope his optimism here is an omen.

July 4, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment