Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Catching Up on Recent Shows by Some Brilliant Usual Suspects

It wouldn’t be fair to let the month go by without a tip of the hat to some of the groups who’ve received ink here before, and continue to play concerts that range from the rapt to the exhilarating. Self-conducted string ensemble the East Coast Chamber Orchestra (a..k.a. ECCO) seem to have a special place for edgy, emotionally resonant music. Their previous appearance at the wildly popular Upper Westside Music Mondays series featured  Shostakovich’s Sinfonia, Op. 110 (based on the String Quartet No. 8, a requiem for victims of the Holocaust, World War II and fascism in general), along with Ginastera’s Concerto Por Corde, which rose from delicate atmospherics to a scream. Their most recent concert here opened with a matter-of-fact take on Mozart’s Divertimento for Strings in F Major, K. 138. From there they aired out the strikingly forward-looking, modern tonalities in a couple of Purcell fantasias, following with a stormy, slithery, darkly dancing, minutely detailed take of Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. They took it out on a high note with a menacingly dancing, sweepingly intense, enveloping version of Bartok’s Divertimento for String Orchestra, its many voices alternating murmurs within an incessent, brooding tension.

Austria’s Minetti Quartett made a couple of Manhattan stops last month, including one downtown at Trinity Church. While the obvious piece de resistance was a steady but nuanced performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 9 in C major, Op. 59, No. 3, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A Major with Andreas Klein at the piano was an unexpected treat. The second movement, reputedly a requiem for Bach, doesn’t make much of a segue with the rest of the piece, but in this group’s hands it got a spacious, vividly intense workout and was arguably the higlight of the concert. It’s always refreshing to see an ensemble go as deeply into a piece of music and pull out as much raw emotion as this group did here.

Wadada Leo Smith has gotten plenty of press here, most recently for his magnum 4-cd Civil Rights era -themed opus Ten Freedom Summers (rated best album of the year for 2012) and for the opening night of his three-night stand at Roulette last week. Having seen all three nights, it’s an understatement to say that this series of concerts was a major moment in New York music history. Smith took considerable pride from the visceral reaction on the part of several key players of the movement to the live debut of these works earlier this year in California, where the Mississippi-born trumpeter and composer now resides. A finalist in this year’s competition for the Pulitzer Prize in music, it’s probably safe to say after seeing this that he has an inside track. Of the other finalists, Aaron Jay Kernis has won before, and there isn’t much precedent for multiple winners, and Caroline Shaw, talented as she may be as a violinist, composer and singer, is still in her twenties. And Smith has almost a half a century on her.

Much as Smith can be playful and great fun in an improvisatory context, his compositions are rigorously thought out. He told the crowd this past Thursday night that “a lot of White-Out” went into the suspensefully sweeping, dynamically rich, spectrally influenced string quartet premiered with a knife’s-edge sensitivity by Shalini Vijayan and Mona Tian on violins, Andrew Macintosh on viola and Ashley Walters on cello. While his suite portrays considerable struggle, the triumphant moments took centerstage on the second and third night of the stand, from the eclectic, spacious. blues and gospel-charged vistas of America, Parts 1, 2 and 3 to the stalking, shatteringly explosive Martin Luther King tableau that wound it up, with alternately soaring and elegaic tributes to the Freedom Riders, Medgar Evers and the crusaders who walked for miles to their voting stations during the early Missisippi voter registration drives. “Freedom isn’t when you’ve strugged and reached here,” he pointed, chest-high. “Freedom is here,” he pointed to his heart, “Knowing that you have the power to act.” The triumph was bittersweet, and as Smith made clear, this struggle is still ongoing after all these years.

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May 6, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Hit for Music Mondays

The most recent Music Mondays concert on the upper west side reaffirmed that the cat is out of the bag: the eclectic monthly series isn’t under the radar anymore. In January, the East Coast Chamber Orchestra drew a standing-room crowd; last Monday, the Jasper String Quartet’s performance was pretty much filled to capacity. Reason to make it to the church on time, next time. The Jaspers’ previous New York appearance was playing Georgyi Ligeti at le Poisson Rouge; this time out they wrapped Beethoven and Brahms around two stark, intense segments from Aaron Jay Kernis’ 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning String Quartet No. 2. And despite a fascinating rendition of Beethoven’s String Quartet in D, Op. 18, No. 3 and the unselfconsciously warm familiarity of Brahms’ String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 51, No. 2, it was the Kernis that stunned the crowd. The quartet have a long relationship with the composer, and that affinity translated potently.

Kernis’ liner notes offered the surprising news that his piece was inspired, if not quite directly, by J.S. Bach suites. But the only resemblance to Bach was in the architecture, and in places, in the rhythm. Kernis’ acidic, astringent, troubled tonalities, anchored by Rachel Henderson Freivogel’s cello, began atmospherically in the second movement, titled Sarabande Double, and then alternated austere stillness with frenzied, anguished crescendos. Unsurprising, considering that it’s a requiem for one of Kernis’ most avid supporters. At the end, the quartet took it down as quietly as they could and let a long pause linger; the audience waited for more, but the elegy was over.

The rest of the program wasn’t nearly as dark, but it was interesting, and when there were places to have fun, the quartet latched onto those moments. In hindsight, Beethoven’s third published string quartet is actually the first one he wrote, and if it doesn’t foreshadow the tormented glimmer of the late quartets, it’s still cutting-edge for 1800: no mere Haydn ripoff, this one! Violinist J Freivogel’s whirling glissandos over strongly assertive cello and the viola of Sam Quintal lit up the opening Allegro, contrasted by a very serious Andante, a bustling, vivid Allegro and then an offhandedly playful romp through the conversational concluding Presto, violinist Sae Chonabayashi joining in the precise, deadpan interplay. After the white-knuckle, harrowing Kernis piece, was the closing Brahms quartet anticlimactic? Not if the group wanted to send the audience home on a happy note. Henderson Freivogel, who made the most of her many opportunities to shine, grabbed onto the nifty pizzicato of the opening Allegro non troppo; the whole ensemble followed in the same vein with the bright Vivaldiesque Andante moderato, the cozily predictable rondo in the Quasi Minuetto and the ebullient, triumphant finale. To 21st century ears, it’s a frustrating piece: it’s so attractive, yet so predictable, except for the occasional cadenza or suspenseful motif that the composer threw in as if to see if everyone was paying attention. In this case, they were.

Music Mondays’ next concert at the two-congregation church at 93rd St. and Broadway, is April 18 at 7:30 PM with fascinatingly eclectic all-female German recorder quartet QNG (Quartet New Generation), who typically bring a small U-Haul truck’s worth of recorders of various sizes along with a repertoire that spans the centuries.

April 3, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ECCO Resounds Intensely on the Upper West Side

Lately we’ve been scoping out little-known neighborhood enclaves for first-class live music. Music Mondays is not one of them. Despite temperatures in the teens last night, the church at 93rd St. and Broadway quickly filled to standing-room capacity, testament to the popularity and vitality of this ongoing monthly series. Sixteen-piece string ensemble the East Coast Chamber Orchestra, a.k.a. ECCO rewarded the house full of brave souls with a genuinely transcendent, unflinchingly direct, rawly emotional performance.

The conductorless group opened with a warmly nocturnal take of Janacek’s Suite for String Orchestra. Within its comfortably glimmering cantabile and cirrus-cloud atmospherics, they focused on wistfulness and wariness, notably in the song without words that comprises its first adagio movement, and the searching overture that brought it up to end on a hopeful note. They followed with a performance of Shostakovich’s Sinfonia, Op. 110, based on his String Quartet No. 8, which literally stunned the crowd. Composed three years after his elegaic Eleventh Symphony, like so much of Shostakovich’s post-Stalin era work, it’s a requiem. From the quietly stumbling anguish of the opening solo violin figure, the ensemble left no doubt as to how harrowing this would get, as much a homage to those who managed to survive Stalin’s years of terror as to those who didn’t. Like the Eleventh Symphony, its opening funeral scene is interrupted by a series of salvos and a crushing stampede, contrasting mightily with the suspensefully macabre, carnivalesque dance that follows. This interpretation let the composer’s depiction of complete emotional depletion speak for itself, through the whispery, exhausted anguish of the concluding atmospherics, solo violin or cello rising just to the point of serving as witness to unspeakable evil. The audience – an impressively knowledgeable bunch, from all appearances – didn’t know what hit them.

The rest of the program was anticlimactic, but not by much. Mendelssohn’s Sinfonia No. 10 in B Minor essentially pairs off two themes, a mostly breezy waltz versus darker martial shades, the group emphasizing the latter. They closed with another real stunner, Ginastera’s Concerto Por Corde, Op. 33. Like the Shostakovich that preceded it, this has long, stampeding passages, except that these don’t let up – and like Shostakovich, there’s considerable angst, here finally rising to a scream as the piece wound up after several false endings. To say that this was a workout for the musicians is quite an understatement: they played as if it was the triumphant marathon (albeit a bitter one) for which they’d been feverishly training. For a group that typically limits itself to a few performances per year since all the members have busy careers as soloists and with other ensembles, they displayed a remarkable singlemindedness.

The next concert in the Music Mondays series is February 21 at 7:30 PM featuring the Enso Quartet at the multipurpose, multicommunity church at 93rd and Broadway: early arrival is very strongly advised.

January 25, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment