Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The NY Phil’s Contact Series Hits a Couple of Bullseyes

It’s heartwarming to see an organization as estimable as the New York Philharmonic taking notice of young composers whose work they can deliver as only such a formidable ensemble can. One would think that every major orchestra would have the same agenda, but sadly that’s not the case. For every nineteen-year-old Shostakovich whose first symphony was premiered shortly after it was written, there are dozens of Iveses slaving away at the insurance company by day and directing the church choir on the weekend. So it’s good to have the NY Phil’s Contact series, focusing on chamber orchestra-scale works written mostly by emerging composers. Last night’s program at Symphony Space featured two rather stunning world premieres, a resonant suite of songs from a lion of the 20th century avant garde and a New York premiere, bravely played but less successful.

The stunner on the bill was the world premiere of Andy Akiho’s Oscillate, for string ensemble, percussion and piano, nimbly conducted by Jayce Ogren. Akiho is a percussionist whose unlikely main axe, at least in the classical music world, is the steel pan. There was nothing remotely calypsonian about this work: excellent and eclectic as Akiho’s debut album from last year was, this is the best thing he’s written. Inspired by Nicola Tesla (the title is an anagram of “Tesla coil”), it’s meant to illustrate an inventor or creator’s toil over a span of many sleepless nights, a battle to remain inspired as fatigue becomes more and more of a problem. Beginning with sirening strings against a restlessly mechanical pulse, shades of Julia Wolfe with hints of Bernard Herrmann, it took on an increasingly noirish, dissociative atmosphere, livened by a familiar Messiaen quote. A series of increasingly hallucinatory chase scenes driven by insistent staccato cellos finally gave way to uneasy ambience at the end: the triumph in question here seemed simply to be to get through a waking nightmare.

Another world premiere, Jude Vaclavik’s Shock Waves, for brass and percussion took rousing advantage of the vast expanses of sonics at the composer’s disposal, mutes being employed from time to time on virtually all of the wind instruments throughout the piece. Tuba player Alan Baer drew a round of chuckles as he nonchalantly stuck a huge mute the size of a couple of french horns into his instrument’s gaping bell. Inspired by the mechanics of sonic booms, the piece is built around a series of doppler-like swells that mutate, pulse,  blast and intermingle with a Stravinskian elan. Like Akiho’s work, the suspense was relentless: it was impossible to know what was coming, and what would be next.

Coloratura soprano Elizabeth Futral sang four Jacob Druckman songs from the 1990s: two ethereal but bracing settings of Emily Dickinson poems and two utilizing Apollinaire lyrics with considerably more unease. In both cases, her melismatic lower register was especially strong and vividly plaintive. The composer’s son Daniel Druckman played percussion as he had on the premiere of this particular chamber arrangement fifteen years ago.

The one piece on the bill that didn’t work was Andrew Norman’s Try, a portrait of a composer concocting and then nixing motifs one by one before he finally comes up with something he likes. While it wasn’t without wit, the ideas flew by in such a breathless, whizbang fashion that it was impossible to focus on any one of them until they were already gone. And the minimalist piano ending felt forced, and interminable. This work screamed out for shredding more of those ideas and maybe taking what’s left at halfspeed.

December 24, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Classical Recording Foundation Keep Their Eyes on the Prize

Tuesday night at Carnegie Hall was the Classical Recording Foundation’s annual awards night, and to their credit, they keep blazing a trail. Keeping an eye on the arists that producer/engineer/violinist Adam Abeshouse’s nonprofit is championing is one way to stay in touch with some of the best things simmering just under the radar in the world of classical music these days. Auspicious things are happening with the foundation as well: if all goes according to plan, they’ll have new digs in Williamsburg for both recording and live shows, complete with bar and restaurant, by 2014.

The concert celebrated centuries-old traditions as it saluted new ones. The star of this particular evening was harpist Bridget Kibbey. While the classical concert harp probably isn’t the first instrument that you would think of as being badass, Kibbey makes it that way. Praised for her DIY esthetic, she lends her unorthodox virtuosity and powerful attack to a nonstop series of new commissions: much as the Imani Winds are doing for wind ensembles, she’s singlehandedly springboarding a new repertoire for her instrument. This time out she began with latin jazz, which is a good fit for her rhythmic, hard-hitting style since the one contemporary instrumentalist that she sometimes evokes is Colombian jazz harpist Edmar Castaneda. While she didn’t go deep into the funk like he can, Weill Hall doesn’t really have the acoustics to accommodate that. But the moody intensity of a Paquito D’Rivera diptych, a shapeshifting partita by David Bruce and the rapidfire circularity of a Kinan Azmeh piece were more than sufficient to wow the crowd.

The old guard was first represented by harpsichordist Gerald Ranck, who deserves a special shout since he’s the man in charge of music at the perennially eclectic New York Society for Ethical Culture. He’s also an intense and intuitive player: at one point during his all-Bach program (from an upcoming recording of the entire Well-Tempered Klavier, on harpsichord, piano and organ), he hit one particular low chordal sequence in the G Minor Fugue, BWV 885 so hard that the assistant turning pages beside him broke into a grin: no doubt he was doing the same inside. Likewise, his take on the Prelude and Fugue in C Minor, BWE 847 was hair-raising, one of the most lusciously invigorating performances of Bach in recent memory.

Representing for the 19th century were Philadelphia Orchestra violinist Barbara Govatos and pianist Marcantonio Barone, who delivered a passionate, dynamically rich, suspensefully spacious version of the first movement from Beethoven’s Sonata in A, Op. 47 from their new Beethoven sonata cycle cd. To close the night, soprano Elizabeth Futral sang a brief series of Philip Lasser songs backed warmly and tersely by pianist Margo Garrett. Lasser’s signature update on the French High Romantic in this case served primarily as a showcase for Futral’s stunning range while keeping the theatrics in check on the piano side. And when the lyrics – a series of French texts from across the ages – took a sudden turn into darkness and angst, Lasser illuminated the words (a Louise de Vilmorin poem) with a sudden, Debussy-esque, wary lustre.

November 22, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment