Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Ana Milosavljevic Plays a Compelling, Intense Program at Lincoln Center

Last night at Lincoln Center, Serbian-American violinist Ana Milosavljevic treated what looked like a sold-out room to a performance that was as intense as it was subtle. Playing both solo and duet pieces, she showed off a meticulously expert command of the instrument’s intricacies, which made the drama of her occasional cadenzas or rapidfire solo flights all the more effective. She’d chosen a terrific program of recent works by composers from home or close to it, opening with Katarina Miljkovic’s 2008 piece White City, a portrait of a rather horizontal Belgrade. Playing along to a soundtrack of found sounds from the streets there along with loops of motifs she’d just played, she made it an early morning tableau. A playful, kaleidoscopic video played behind her: facades of buildings and public spaces were warped into a wraparound shape to appear as faces, one amusingly crossing its eyes again and again (was that city hall, maybe?). Milosavljevic’s astringent overtones mingled deftly with the atmospherics as the still, ambient tone poem unwound, a display of subtle dynamics and timbre shifts punctuated by terse phrases that moved hypnotically and dubwise through the sonic frame.

Like the first piece, it became hard to tell what was live or looped on the next one, Aleksandra Vrebalov’s The Spell II, and maybe that was the point. Based on an Eastern Serbian melody made famous by the female vocal group Moba, it was music to get lost in, playful swoops and acerbic staccato phrases in a sort of call-and-response with the playback of motifs that had appeared earlier, a seemingly endless series of minimalist permutations that managed to be both incisive and hypnotic. The showstopper was Milosavljevic’s own song without words, the title track to her new Innova cd Reflections, a duet with pianist Kathleen Supové. Milosavljevic explained beforehand that it’s an evocation of “sadness and hope all at once.” Together, the violinist and pianist gave its stunningly memorable, brooding Satie-esque changes an understatedly raw lyricism, depicting an incessant cycle of pain and disappointment while trying not to lose sight of something slightly brighter. It was absolutely devastating, finally rising to an approximation of a crescendo the third time through the verse but ending enigmatically. If there’s any justice in the world, someday it will be as well known as the Chopin preludes, whose intensity and emotional wallop it matches.

Milosavljevic returned to electroacoustic mode with the program’s final work, Svjetlana Bukvich-Nichols’ Before and After the Tekke, a slightly more vigorous piece that once again paired fluidly airy, steely motifs against a backing track including pulsing bass, breathing, running water and eventually a compellingly anthemic crescendo played by a small ensemble or approximation thereof. Watching Milosavljevic pair off against all of this was interesting; watching her alongside all of this live would have been vastly more so. Although it can be a disaster onstage, running water can also be great fun to work with!

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November 11, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Knights Segue Through the Ages

As the Knights’ previous album Live from New York affirmed, the orchestra transcend any kind of “indie classical” label – they’re as much at home with Shostakovich as they are with Jimi Hendrix. Their first studio recording, New Worlds, artfully takes a characteristically diverse and ambitious selection of works from the Romantic era through the present day and casts them as a suite: the tracks basically segue into each other. As dissimilar as these compositions are, that the idea works at all is an achievement: that it works so well is a triumph worth celebrating. Conductor Eric Jacobsen (who’s also the cellist in another first-rate new music ensemble, the celebrated string quartet Brooklyn Rider) leads this adventurous crew with flair and gusto yet with an almost obsessive focus on minutiae: dynamics are everything here, and they are everywhere. For example, the apprehension of the trumpet motif rising out of Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question, the opening track here – and its single, fleeting, cinematic cadenza that rises up and disappears like a ghost. Or the second movement of Latin Grammy winner Gabriela Lena Frank’s Leyendas – An Andean Walkabout. It’s a game of hide-and-seek, pizzicato string accents amid stillness like woodland sprites. And then a spritely dance, with distant echoes of The Rites of Spring. It’s supposed to be evocative of native Andean instruments, but the Knights give them personalities.

And they breathe new life into an old chestnut. Dvorak’s Silent Woods swings and sways, with cellist Jan Vogler the soloist. These woods are very robustly alive – it’s a romp all the way through the trick ending. So the segue into Osvaldo Golijov’s Last Round, a memorably bristling, staccato string homage to Piazzolla, works like a charm. Credit Golijov, as well for the counterintuitivity of the funereal second movement, whose counterpoint could almost pass for Brahms.

And that’s when the album ends, for us at least. The ensemble have a special fondness for Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, as they were playing it throughout the Obama campaign’s ascendancy up to the historic 2008 election. We’ll leave it to fans of that piece to contemplate where the Knights’ version stands alongside other recordings. The Knights’ next New York performance is on August 3 at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park – take the 72nd St. entrance on the east side, circle round the south side of Summerstage, go down the steps and it’ll be on your right.

July 8, 2010 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment