Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Spectrum Symphony Bring an Exciting, Eclectic Program to the West Village

Orchestras are like restaurants in that new ones usually take awhile before they work out all the quirks. The Spectrum Symphony, on the other hand, have a lush, experienced gravitas, and sound as if they’ve been around a long time, even as they’ve taken a promising role in advocating for new music. Their previous concert in the comfortable, surround-sound sonics of St. Joseph’s Church on 6th Avenue in the West Village was a characteristic mix of ideas and emotions from across the ages, delivered with meticulous detail under the baton of conductor David Grunberg. The group’s next concert is this Wednesday, March 25 at 7:30 PM, with an auspicious program featuring Anthony Iannaccone’s From Time to Time, Fantasias on Two Appalachian Folksongs; Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, with soloist Victoria Mushkatkol and Sibelius’ Symphony No. 3 at St. Joseph’s Church, 371 6th Ave. south of Waverly. Cover is $20.

The ensemble’s previous concert here featured a dreamy diptych of Elgar’s Sospiri paired with Massenet’s popular Méditation (from the opera Thaïs), Susan Heerema’s terse, masterfully nuanced violin imbuing it with both lullaby calm and a distant restlessness over pillowy strings. By contrast, the world premiere of Jun Yi Chow’s Serenade mashed up a lively neoromantic drive, a big, acidic fanfare and an austerely otherworldly, circular string conclusion, in the process channeling a hundred years of orchestral music.

Soloist Gerard Reuter’s alternatingly dancing and richly resonant oboe fueled Mozart’s Oboe Concerto, K.314 over a lush backdrop equally infused with stateliness and joyously precise teamwork. The concert concluded with a Haydn masterwork, Symphony No. 101, “The Clock,” which earned its nickname from the playfully metronomic rhythm of its second movement. Obviously, there’s a lot more to it than that. The orchestra brought out all the earnestly driving, singalong bustle in the opening movement and its waltzing reprise in the third, a balletesque, goodnatured precision in the famous second movement, and eventually a conclusion rich with color and attention to dynamic shifts. This week’s concert promises as much or even more, considering the program.

March 21, 2015 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Greenwich Village Orchestra Shines New Light on an Old Warhorse

Concert as breeding ground for discovery: plenty of fans of classical music would agree that the Beethoven Violin Concerto is one of the best-loved pieces in the repertoire, while a cynic might say that it’s one of the most-played. And they’d both be right. Either way, there’s no arguing that it’s awash in warm nocturnal lustre and attractive harmony. Orchestras tend to focus on that good cheer and play it buoyantly, setting up the many sizzling solo moments for the violin. Yesterday evening conductor Barbara Yahr and the Greenwich Village Orchestra went deep into it, found a lullaby and then a love ballad and played them with a tenderness that was as evocative as it was unexpected. And violin soloist Itamar Zorman matched that approach: only when the final, quirky scherzo built to a jaunty dance did he really dig in and cut loose on the slithery cascades at its peak, and the contrast was spine-tingling.

What became crystal clear from this performance is that Beethoven had a crush on somebody when he wrote this! Whoever she was, she was gorgeous. Yahr led the group through the first movement with a gentle persistence that became even more muted and gauzy on the second, caressing the melody. As an interpretation of a work that gets played so often in concert and on classical radio, something that listeners might multitask through or drift off to sleep with after a Mets game, it was a genuine revelation.

Elgar’s Enigma Variations weren’t a revelation, but they were a lot of fun. This suite is proto film music, or, as Yahr told the crowd, “a Facebook page.” Its portraits and caricatures – some of them rather mean-spirited – flit by in a split second, so Yahr had the orchestra play some of the juicy bits beforehand as signposts to keep an eye out for. So when the annoying neighbor on his bike, or the guy and his clumsy dog playing catch with a stick at the river’s edge, made their appearance, everybody was ready. And those moments of drollery contrasted with the rather somber self-cameos (musical selfies?), and the ode to the composer’s advocate at the London publishing house who gave him grunt work to pay the bills, which the ensemble played as a rapt hymn.

And before the performance, arriving patrons were treated to some tasty fanfares from the brass section, tucked back on the stairs over the front door! This orchestra is an East Village institution, a throwback to the neighborhood’s historically artsy roots, and continues to represent that vanishing tradition. The GVO’s next concert is Nov 16 at 3 PM with Griffes’ The White Peacock, the Schumann Cello Concerto featuring soloist Brook Speltz and Sibelius’ lush, windswept Symphony No. 1, at Irving HS Auditorium on Irving Place and 17th St., suggested donation is $20/$10 for students and seniors and there’s a reception afterward.

October 6, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Herve Duteil Pulls Out All the Stops Uptown

On one hand, musicians are always highfiving each other in public. But when an artist as imaginative and original as Kent Tritle introduces a fellow organist as having those exact same qualities, that endorsement carries a lot of weight. Yesterday evening at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, concert organist Herve Duteil stepped into the console and delivered a program that was as impressively eclectic as it was thrilling. He began with his own arrangement of the opening theme from Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra. Other organists should track this down: it’s every bit the showstopper it should be. Duteil built a suspenseful wash of murky pedal tones before hitting the big explosive riff, which reverberated throughout the cathedral from the dramatic trumpet stops located in the ceiling. And just for fun, he played the timpani’s bump-BUMP, bump-BUMP on the pedals.

That the rest of the program wasn’t anticlimactic speaks to the quality of the musicianship and diversity of the program that Duteil brought along. He gave Elgar’s Nimrod, from the Enigma Variations an aptly saturnine restraint, after which soprano saxophonist Daniel Glaude joined him for a vivid rendition of contemporary composer Paul Halley’s The Lake. As it rose from plaintive, desolate atmospherics to more lively, wavelike imagery, the two paced it expertly to maximize the cathedral’s cavernous echo sonics: it was as if there was a whole saxophone section playing a rondo along with the organ. On Gabriel’s Oboe, by Morricone, oboeist David Diggs joined Duteil for a rapt, hymnlike version of this well-known (and decidedly un-Morricone-esque) theme from the soundtrack to the film The Mission.

Duteil played the rest of the program by himself. Again, he paced sections of the Bach transcription of Vivaldi’s Concerto in D Minor (from L’Estro Armonico) to match the echo in the space, notably the fugue and then the Largo e Spiccato movement, which became more of a matter-of-fact, guardedly optimistic march. He followed with the rapidfire echoes of the Joseph Jongen Toccata, whose barrage of tradeoffs between hands Duteil said in the program notes would acoustically generate a “pat on the back.” This was an understatement: it’s not every day when a rousing, cascading finale like this one can be so reassuring at the same time. Before its concluding chord had echoed into silence, the large crowd – Duteil’s passionate wizardry has earned him a considerable Manhattan following – exploded in applause and wanted more, but it was time for the church to revert to being a house of worship once again. By the way, fans of organ music should know that Tritle himself will be playing one of these Sunday evening recitals on March 18 at 5:15 PM.

March 5, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The GVO Gets Picturesque

The Greenwich Village Orchestra’s most recent concert this past Sunday featured fresh, energetic, revealing takes on a couple of familiar favorites, bookending an unexpected interlude. Led by guest conductor Pierre Vallet, the ensemble opened with Englebert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel Overture: lush, dreamy beauty shifting to brighter and more energetic, with pinpoint French horn flourishes and a bouncy precision. Elgar’s Sea Pictures, Op. 37, the lesser-known follow-up to the Enigma Variations, were next, sung by mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano, who showed off a full soprano’s range as the suite went on, a series of cinematic, coastal and nautical settings of British Romantic poems including texts by Elgar’s wife along with Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. From sweeping, craggy, windy bluster to more simple, catchy songcraft and then up with more drama – particularly the final song in the cycle, The Swimmer, considered by some to portend Robert Browning’s suicide at 39 – the orchestra gave Johnson Cano a lush backdrop for her vivid, turbulent evocation.

From seats close to the orchestra, Pictures at an Exhibition turned out to be as close to an opportunity to get inside Maurice Ravel’s mind as is physically possible. There’s literally not a bad seat at the GVO home base on 16th Street, an unexpected bonus considering that the building is now a public high school. On one hand, it was impossible not to revel in how much fun Ravel had orchestrating Moussorgsky’s creepy suite. On the other, Ravel did it justice: ultimately, this is a requiem for Moussorgsky’s painter friend Victor Hartmann. And the GVO did them both justice, particularly in the darker passages, not to mention the brief refrains that punctuate the “pictures.” Conductor Barbara Yahr likened them to an inner journey, the composer remembering his dead pal, rather than simply a chronicle of the stroll from one end of the gallery to the other. “These aren’t filler,” she reminded the crowd before the piece began, and she wasn’t kidding: by the time she took them down into the Catacombs, what began as a fanfare had become a dirge. Themes familiar to every moviegoer became profound: the Gnome bellicose yet poignant; the Old Castle brooding with a nostalgic tone, the children dancing in the Tuileries quaint and somewhat courtly. The orchestra’s attention to the astringent faux-Orientalisms in the portrait of the two Jews, Samuel Goldenberg and Shmuely, alone made the trip worthwhile. And after the off-center menace of the Catacombs, the most macabre part of the suite, the orchestra maintained that atmosphere intensely even as the classical heavy metal of Baba Yaga’s Hut kicked in. If the Catacombs is Moussorgsky facing the fact that his friend’s not coming back, as Yahr mentioned, then maybe this is the rage afterward. The coda, The Great Gate of Kiev contemplates a mechanical marvel which was actually never built, a cruel irony for this towering, majestic ending to end all endings and its epic Beethoven allusions. Through two standing ovations, the mostly sold-out house seemed as out of breath as the musicians were.

November 23, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nine Questions for Maestro Barbara Yahr of the Greenwich Village Orchestra

The Greenwich Village Orchestra, as their name implies, draws on some of the finest classical talent from a neighborhood that’s been synonymous with artsy downtown New York for decades. They play a diverse and characteristically thematic program this Sunday, November 20 at 3 PM: Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel Overture; Elgar’s Sea Pictures, and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition at Washington Irving HS Auditorium, 16th and Irving Place. There’s a reception to follow: all this for a suggested donation of $15. The orchestra’s dynamic musical director, Barbara Yahr, took some time to answer a few lingering questions about this elite ensemble:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: The GVO seems to be one of New York’s hidden treasures. You get major grants, you’ve played innumerable world premieres and New York premieres by important current-day composers. You are held in high esteem especially by musicians – it seems that practically everyone at your concerts is one! I’ve been going to your concerts for over a decade at the auditorium at 16th and Irving Place.

Barbara Yahr: I’m so glad to hear that!

LCC: Has this become a comfortable home for you?

BY: This is a wonderful home for us…with fantastic acoustics!

LCC: Does this have anything to do with the fact that audiences can literally get on top of the orchestra and experience the rush you get from being so close to the beast? I remember being a kid at Carnegie Hall and sneaking down from the peanut gallery to the orchestra during intermission. Here, it doesn’t cost $100 to get a good seat for the entire show….

BY: Low ticket price is only one of the great things about the GVO experience – but it does make a difference. We love the fact that the audience is so close – at family concerts, we like to bring kids up on stage! The next one is December 11 at 3 PM.

LCC: You remember the uproar when Alan Gilbert increased the number of rehearsals per concert for the New York Phil? How many rehearsals does the GVO typically have per performance?

BY: We usually have six – not that many when you realize that most fulltime, professional orchestras only have four and occasionally five.

LCC: In what way if any does your orchestra’s somewhat less hectic workload impact the quality of your performances, by comparison to, say, the Philharmonic or the New York City Opera?

BY: We get to live with the music for several weeks, which is a delightful luxury. We can get into the inner workings of a piece of music, really take it apart and put it back together.

LCC: You like themes. I’m assuming that you’re the one responsible for coming up with with the November 20 program, right? And would you say that this particular one is more thematic musically, or narrative-wise?

BY: This program is only thematic in extra-musical terms. All of the pieces make use of imagery. This way of writing music, as opposed to an abstract symphony with no clear extra-musical idea, does affect the composers, but these are three – four if you count Ravel, who orchestrated the Mussorgsky – very different composers.

LCC: There’s obviously a lot of camaraderie in this ensemble. To what degree if any is this a democratic institution, for example, if an inspired member of the winds says, “We ought to do this a certain way,” for example. How do you as conductor handle that?

BY: I love it when a player has an opinion – and if I like it, or find it interesting or exciting, of course we go with it! If it’s something I don’t feel works musically, then we have a discussion. An orchestra cannot be a pure democracy but it’s not a dictatorship. It requires leadership, but in the end, the best performances are collaborative.

LCC: Dynamic contrasts and the desire to portray one thing or another via the music seem to be especially important to this orchestra. Among these pieces, are there parts that you’ve singled out specifically for the orchestra to focus on? For example, in the Mussorgsky, how creepy are you going to make The Gnome? Or are you going to see how quiet and mysterious you can get with The Catacombs?

BY: I think the Gnome is pretty darn creepy, and yes, this piece is full of contrasts…but the heart of the work is found in understanding the backstory, the friendship between Mussorgsky and the painter of the Pictures, Victor Hartmann. For me, we are there, with the composer, at the exhibition of his friends’ works, walking from picture to picture. At the end, after he has visits the Catacombs, he confronts and accepts the death of his friend and is perhaps celebrating his friend with the finale, the Great Gate. This is a personal interpretation but it is, for me, a meaningful narrative for the piece, and helps us to understand the work as more than just a series of attractive pieces depicting a set of paintings.

LCC: Are you recording this? Any plans to release any of this material in the future?

BY: We always record our concerts— stay tuned!

November 16, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, interview, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: John Scott Plays the Organs at St. Thomas Church, NYC 9/30/07

A flawless, frequently exhilarating performance of some aptly chosen, difficult pieces. John Scott, the church’s main organist and music director, is a major figure in classical music, receiving considerable well-deserved acclaim for his herculean performance of the complete works of Buxtehude here last year (a feat he had previously accomplished in his native England). This evening’s program revisited the Buxtehude marathon, opening with seven pieces illustrating how diverse the great Dane could be. For those unfamiliar with his work, Dietrich Buxtehude (circa 1637-1707) was the greatest composer of his era, a titanic, pioneering, paradigm-shifting figure who still casts a long shadow over anyone writing organ music. It was Buxtehude that J.S. Bach idolized, went AWOL from the Marienkirche to hitchhike north, meet, and study with for several months while his parishioners wondered what had become of him. Scott’s familiarity with the Buxtehude canon paid dividends tonight, particularly with the registrations (the stops which control the organ’s ranks of pipes, divided up into reeds, horns, brass and so on). In Buxtehude’s era, specific registrations were rarely specified by the composer, and then only as a suggestion, leaving organists to essentially work out their own orchestration. Scott did a masterful job of this, playing on the church’s back organ, a fairly recent addition which was designed specifically with the North German repertoire in mind.

Scott opened auspiciously with the stately A Minor Prelude (designated as BuxWV 153 to differentiate it from his other A minor preludes and such), following with the well-known Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott (Come, Holy Ghost, Great God), the hymn Puer Natus in Bethlehem (A Boy is Born in Bethlehem), and then picked up the pace with the D Minor Passacaglia (BuxWV 161). Then he played the Canzonetta in G (BuxWV 171), an uncharacteristically lighthearted folk dance played on the flutes.

The final Buxtehude piece was one of his finest, the towering G Minor Prelude (BuxWV 149), its ominous, opening minor-key melody played low on the pedals as stormy broken chords swirl overhead until a brief break in the clouds. This is Buxtehude in all his rage and glory, and Scott’s impeccably tasteful choice of registrations gave him the headroom he needed when it was time to build to its long crescendo.

He then switched to the magnificent Skinner organ at the front of the church for the great Canadian composer Herbert Howells’ eerie, knotty Rhapsody in C Sharp Minor, Op. 17, No. 3. It’s a relentlessly disquieting composition, sometimes almost contradictory, part airy ambience and part barely restrained rage, more than a bit evocative of Louis Vierne. It’s also very hard to play. Scott brought out every bit of its disturbing contrast. He followed with William Mathias’ Chorale, a strange, fairly quiet, ambient reflection. Like a lot of English organists are prone to do, he closed with an Elgar piece, the allegro maestoso section from the Sonata in G, and this easily could have been left off the program: a lot of Elgar is bombastic, shallow and melodically deficient, and while this wasn’t painful to hear it wasn’t anything remarkable either. Yet on balance this was a typically brilliant concert for Scott and a rewarding payoff for the parishioners who’d had the foresight to stick around after the Sunday afternoon service. Those wishing to witness something equally rewarding should plan to arrive early at Scott’s upcoming December 20, 6:15 PM concert here, where he will be playing Olivier Messiaen’s breathtaking La Nativite du Siegneur (The Birth of Christ), which in the Messiaen oeuvre ranks second only to the immortal L’Apparition de l’Eglise Eternelle (The Foundation of the Eternal Church).

October 1, 2007 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment