Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Towering, Exhilarating World Premiere and a Rare Symphonic Gem at This Fall’s First Queensboro Symphony Orchestra Concert

If there was any proof that ordinary New Yorkers, especially those who might not be found at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall that often, are hungry for new orchestral music, Sunday night’s concert on an otherwise ordinary residential block in Flushing was living proof. The Queensboro Symphony Orchestra‘s previous concert, a benefit for Nepal earthquake relief, drew a crowd of at least five hundred people. This particular evening, the orchestra picked up where they left off with a robust, brass-fueled take of Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila Overture. But the two pieces de resistance were both by contemporary composers.

A rarely performed version of James Cohn’s Symphony No. 4 was the first. Conductor Dong-hyun Kim led the ensemble seamlessly through its diverse and erudite blend of idioms, its broodingly nebulous first movement and angst-driven, blustering finale, an evocation of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call this Cohn’s 1812 Overture, although it ends on a somber and distinctly unresolved note. Allusive, wounded, grey-sky cinematics gave way to anxiously tricky metrics and a burst of sudden certainty when all of a sudden the inevitable conclusion presented itself. Cohn is perhaps better known in Europe than he is here (the Slovak Radio Symphony recently recorded three of his symphonies). His music would enrich a much greater audience.

The concert hit a towering, exhilarating, majestic peak with the world premiere of the symphonic version of Paul Joseph‘s King of the Mask. Originally a piano suite for ballet, the composer takes his inspiration and the work’s title from the series of paintings by visual artist Roman Valdes. Perhaps due to Valdex’ background in puppetmaking, there’s a carnivalesque quality to his work, drawing on 60s psychedelia as much as impressionism, Joseph’s music reflecting the latter a lot more than the former. This magnum opus turned out to be both Joseph’s Pictures at an Exhibition and his Scheherezade, a major work in the neoromantic repertoire that will be performed widely once conductors discover it. It’s a twenty-part series of variations on several cinematic themes. Among them: a heroic overture worthy of Tschaikovsky or Cesar Franck, both crushing and poignant; a balmy, summery pastorale; bitterly moody, Ravel-esque rainscapes; monster-on-the-prowl menace; neblous cloudscapes that grew stormy and ominous; and a lushly swirling climactic theme that will probably get plenty of movie soundtrack action in the years to come. Joseph’s orchestration filled the hall from the murkiest registers of the basses to the very top end of the violins and winds. The composer accompanied the orchestra on electric keyboard, essentially performing the role of a glockenspiel.

And the spectacle didn’t stop with the music; surprises from dancers and a cameo for singers lept from the far corners of the hall when least expected, to max out the mystery. Joseph, who is the orchestra’s composer in residence, implored the crowd to be still until the suite was over – this ensemble being a rapidly emerging borough institution, this audience knows Joseph’s work and likes it. They finally rewarded the performance with an explosive series of standing ovations. Watch this space for upcoming performances by this enterprising and exciting new orchestra.

October 2, 2015 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NYC Classical Sensation the Queensboro Symphony Orchestra Pitches In for Nepal

What do you do when you’ve suddenly created the fastest-growing classical music scene in New York? You stage a benefit concert for Nepalese earthquake relief. All proceeds from the exciting new Queensboro Symphony Orchestra’s May 31, 7 PM NY Concert for Nepal will go to Catholic Relief Services and Korea Times-led projects to aid the survivors. Maestro Dong-hyun Kim will lead the orchestra in performances of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 3 (featuring Peter DelGrosso) and the Nepali national anthem arranged by Paul Joseph.

When five hundred people turn out on a gloomy, overcast work night in the middle of nowhere in Queens (an exaggeration – the venue is a brief, barely ten minute walk from the Flushing stop at the end of the 7 line), you know something’s up. The buzz at the reception after the orchestra’s richly dynamic, wildly applauded concert last month was that the word is out: musicians really like playing for Kim. A thoughtful, insightful individual with an unassuming gravitas but also an infectious, dry wit, he led the orchestra with meticulous attention to both detail and emotion.

This ensemble is on the young side and doesn’t have a lot of “name” players, at least in the US, but is stocked with talent. Trumpeter Chulho Kim drew more than one spontaneous ovation from the crowd with his seemingly effortless, liquid command of the long solo and several other passages in Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto. The orchestra’s brass section shone brightly throughout a surprisingly nuanced if aptly festive take of Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music. And the conductor made a steady, Teutonic celebration out of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, employing a familiar trope, setting the floor very low so as to max out the headroom on a long upward climb.

But the piece de resistance was the world premiere of Kathryn’s Mirror by Paul Joseph. The colorful impresario – who is also the orchestra’s composer-in-residence, more or less – admitted to the crowd beforehand that he’d been given a mere three weeks to orchestrate the suite, but pulled it off with aplomb. It turned out to be a sweeping neoromantic theme and variations that would make a dynamite film score for a bittersweetly suspenseful World War II-era drama. Watch it on youtube and see for yourself: there’s cinematic John Williams angst and grandeur but also neatly intricate Carl Nielsen-style orchestration and a pensively lush central theme that Antonin Dvorak could easily have written. And the ensemble took care to emphasize the emotional tug-of-war as its aching introductory waltz shifted shape. Soloists were strong: a looming horn figure early on, poignant strings as the first part hit a crescendo, growing in colorful swirls as the mood lifted a bit. A recurrent and brilliantly crystalline clarinet theme, tense dips and epic swells propelled the concluding segments. It predicts good things for this ambitious composer and an ensemble that’s growing by leaps and bounds. The May 31 concert is at 7 PM at Mary’s Nativity Church, 46-02 Parsons Blvd. at Holly Ave. in Flushing. If you felt like it, you could take a bus from Main Street (the bus stops right outside the church), but it’s probably faster and easier just to walk from the train.

May 25, 2015 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Nova Philharmonic Channels the Power and Fun of Beethoven

Isn’t it fun when an orchestra goes deep into the music and absolutely, completely gets it? Yesterday evening at the edge of the Lincoln Center complex, conductor Dong-Hyun Kim led the Nova Philharmonic through a richly robust performance that absolutely nailed every bit of liveliness, and joy, and intensity in two iconic Beethoven works, the Symphony No. 1 and the Violin Concerto, Op. 61.

Other orchestras can be seduced by the comfortably familiar, Haydnesque pillowiness of that symphony, but not this one. Although it had its pillowy moments, notably in the second movement’s underlying nocturne, Kim’s interpretation was meticulously rhythmic, taking it almost but not quite to the point of a stampede as the final movement kicked in. Throughout the orchestra, individual contributions were strong: vivid low-versus-high tradeoffs, bright accents from the high strings and brass, lithely swooping motifs in the final movement and perfectly synched exchanges between the high and low strings in the second.

Because there’s so much angst in Beethoven, sometimes we forget how funny his music can be. This ensemble didn’t. Guest violinist Daniel Phillips (of the Orion String Quartet) found the corny inner core of the famous little country waltz theme that percolates throughout the final movement of the Violin Concerto and with just the hint of a wink or something like that, handed it off to the orchestra – who made it clear that they knew this was a buffoon’s theme, following its permutations all the way to a deadpan slapstick swing. It made for cruelly amusing portraiture without being over the top, something other orchestras should dare to embrace.

The ride getting to that point was often flat-out exhilarating. For one, the piece has symphonic length and bulk, clocking in at a tad under 45 minutes, even with Kim driving the orchestra through its more upbeat passages with the same kind of brisk purposefulness of the Symphony. Phillips played its cruelly difficult voicings (dating from a time before Beethoven knew how to tailor an arrangement to a violinist’s fingers) from memory with a radiant, overtone-tinged old-hardwood resonance and jaunty elan. He’s fun to watch: when he’d pulled off one particularly grueling rapidfire round of chromatic triplets in the suspenseful second movemenet, he raised his bow from the fingerboard with a defiant flourish as if to say, “Take that, you sadist.” A little earlier, when the orchestra got the chance to switch roles with the violin and echo a tensely trilling pedal motif as Phillips spiraled down from the stratosphere, they had the inflections down to a split-second. Beethoven’s music is full of moments where soloists and ensemble players can revel in them equally: this was a perfectly executed example. The audience – including three of New York’s finest violinists – rewarded them with a roaring ovation. Much as the big orchestras tend to get all the press, it’s hard to imagine a more exciting, and insightful, and true-to-form performance of these two pieces than this. Watch this space for upcoming Nova Philharmonic concerts.

February 20, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Nova Philharmonic and Paul Joseph Take Third-Stream to the Next Level

Isn’t it amazing how there are so many incredible classical and jazz performances in New York, just a stone’s throw off the beaten path? Last night at Good Shepherd-Faith Church in the Lincoln Center complex was a perfect example, where the Nova Philharmonic teamed up with violinist/composer Gregor Huebner and the Paul Joseph Quartet for a characteristically genre-smashing good time. First on the agenda was Huebner’s own absolutely haunting Ground Zero (from his New York Suite), a tone poem that gave him the opportunity to play while casually circling the audience, conductor Dong-Hyun Kim leading the string orchestra onstage through its chilling, gently keening and then subsiding microtones. The work eventually reached a chilling crescendo with Huebner’s horror-stricken staccato attack against a brooding, dissociative backdrop. As an evocation of the anguish of 9/11, it’s powerfully evocative, more of a look back from a distance than Robert Sirota’s manic-then-bereaved Triptych or Julia Wolfe’s terror-fueled, recently released Big Beautiful Dark & Scary.

The ensemble shifted to warmer, more consonantly enveloping territory with Joel Mandelbaum’s The Past Is Now, a trio of May Sarton poems set to music and delivered with highwire intensity by soprano Kathryn Wieckhorst: in the church’s echoey acoustics, her sheer crystalline power equated to the force of a choir over the lushness of the strings. Mandelbaum’s attention to the rather elegaic lyrical content was both poignant and witty, notably in a furtive, metaphorically-charged passage marking the trail of some nocturnal varmints who’d vanished by daybreak, leaving only their pawprints in the snow. Huebner then rejoined the group for his Concerto con Violin Latino, a bracing, rhythmically-charged suite juxtaposing guajira, bembe and tango themes that began with an anxious, Piazzola-esque sweep and majesty and then romped through the tropics before reverting to a staccato intensity that revisited the angst of the opening piece.

Throughout the performance, Kim’s meticulousness was matched by the ensemble, perhaps most noticeably on the concluding suite, Mozart’s Eine Kliene Nachtmusik. How does one rescue this old standby from the world of credit card commercials and NPR lead-ins? This group’s answer was to dig in and amp it up. And they had to, because this particular performance was billed as a duel of sorts with pianist Paul Joseph and his Quartet – Susan Mitchell on violin, Edgar Mills on bass and Mike Corn on drums – who played their own jazz versions of each of Mozart’s four movements: first the orchestra would play one, then Joseph and crew would come up with a response. Much as it might have been tempting to make hard bop out of it, Joseph did the right thing with a jaunty, ragtime-inflected approach worthy of Dave Brubeck. They swung the opening allegro with gusto, turning the Romanza into bossa nova and the minuet into a jazz waltz. To call what they did eye-opening is an understatement: the strength and irresistible catchiness of Mozart’s melody became even more apparent as they turned a Venetian courtly dance into a blithely bouncy jazz-pop anthem that would be perfectly at home in the Egberto Gismonti songbook. Whenever the glittery attractiveness of the piano threatened to saturate the mix with sugar, Mitchell was there in a split-second with stark, assertive cadenzas and a razor-sharp, slithery legato to add edge and bite. They turned the concluding rondo into a samba, making it as much of a round rhythmically as musically, Mills and Mitchell trading off the tune while Joseph and Corn paired off on an increasingly animated series of percussive jousts that the orchestra finally lept into, completely unexpectedly, and wound out in a joyous crescendo. The audience exploded with a standing ovation. Watch this space for upcoming New York area dates for the Nova Philharmonic and the Paul Joseph Quartet.

March 31, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments