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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Playful and Pensively Picturesque Themes with the Knights at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park

Last night at the Naumburg Bandshell was the second performance of the summer by irrepressible, shapeshifting orchestra the Knights. It wasn’t as deviously thematic as their first night here last month, where they paired Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata with Janacek’s String Quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata.” In a more general sense, yesterday evening’s theme was pastiches, both musical and visual.

The group opened with the world premiere of a collaboration between several of their members, Keeping On, whose genesis dates back a few years to when they were messing around with a famous Beethoven riff during practice.

Fast forward to the 2020 lockdown: conductor Colin Jacobsen pondered what John Adams might have done with it, then emailed his sketch to members of the orchestra – which disgraced Governor Andrew Cuomo had infamously put on ice – and asked for their contributions. Several sent theirs back; horn player Mike Atkinson wove them together into a contiguous whole. The famous, fateful riff eventually revealed itself midway through; otherwise, it was a characteristically entertaining little work, from its insistent, minimalist intro to a series of briskly crescendoing phrases making their way around the orchestra, Carl Nielsen style, then bells from the percussion section and hip-hop-influenced vocal harmonies from violinist Christina Courtin and flutist Alex Sopp! An insider orchestral joke that translates to general audiences, who would have thought?

Violin soloist Lara St. John then joined them for the New York premiere of Avner Dorman‘s Violin Concerto No. 2, Nigunim, based on a series of traditional Jewish melodies. The opening Adagio Religioso rose from a hazy theme in the hauntingly chromatic freygische mode to a brief, somber stateliness, then St. John immediately slashed her way through her first cadenza. The pregnant pause afterward was a striking setup for the otherworldly drift and then the undulatingly acidic dance afterward, St. John’s razorwire waltz sailing overhead.

Her fleeting, ghostly incisions flitted over a mist as the second movement got underway, the orchestra almost imperceptibly returning to the astringency and chromatic bite of the previous interlude. Their leap into a suspensefully pulsing klezmer dance was irresistibly fun; St. John led the procession back to disquieting close harmonies and strangely celestial harmonics radiating throughout the string section, up to a jaunty coda.

She and a handful of the string players then surprised the crowd by literally dancing through a lightning-fast, wryly harmonically-infused jam on a traditional klezmer dance.

After the intermission, they concluded with an insightfully picturesque take of Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony. A Bach-like somberness pervaded the anthemic, initial andante movement, underscoring how much that rugged coastline had impacted a 20-year-old urban Jewish classical rockstar. The brief, massed stilletto passages from the brass were all the more impressive considering that this was an outdoor show, although by half past eight the temperature had dropped to a perfect mid-seventies calm.

The luscious textural contrast between the midrange brass and strings fell away for a ragged run through the goofy country dance that introduced movement two: a moment of sarcasm, maybe? Whatever the case, it worked with the crowd.

The somber lushness of the adagio third movement was inescapable: it’s one thing to credit the young composer for his balance of brass, winds and strings throughout moody and occasionally portentous, martial themes, but the orchestra nailed them, one by one. The succession of Mozartean motives and punchy Germanic phrases on the way out – and deftly executed melismas from the strings – wound it up with a characteristic ebullience.

The final Naumburg Bandshell concert in Central Park this summer is on August 2 at 7:30 PM with self-conducted string ensemble the East Coast Chamber Orchestra playing works by Adolphus Hailstork, Peruvian themes arranged by Maureen Nelson and the group’s arrangement of Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, “Death and the Maiden.” Take the 72nd St. entrance; get there an hour early, at least, if you want a seat.

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July 27, 2022 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Knights Make History With Beethoven and Janacek at the Naumburg Bandshell

Last night at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park was a welcome return for one of New York’s most enduring cosmopolitan traditions. This was a particularly clever installment. It’s been done before: pairing Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata with Janacek’s String Quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata.” A Naumburg Concert favorite, chamber orchestra the Knights worked several levels of meta with new symphonic arrangements of both: the former a chart by violinist Colin Jacobsen, the latter a collaboration between his brother Eric and Knights horn player Mike Atkinson.

Orchestral scores for both works go back as far as Tschaikovsky, who did it with Beethoven. Likewise, there have been plenty of programs pairing both of the original pieces. But yesterday evening’s concert might have been the first time two orchestral versions of both have been played on the same bill. It turned out to be as colorful as expected, considering the ensemble’s penchant for surprise.

They opened with a Colin Jacobsen piece, playfully titled Kreutzings, rising from dizzyingly dissociative layers through jaunty microtonal glissandos from around the ensemble, to a coyly contrapuntal waltz. Flickers of each of the night’s main composers bubbled to the surface occasionally as the strings joined in precise, steady eighth notes while winding their way out.

Jacobsen, celebrating his birthday, served as soloist in the Beethoven. Crisp, elegant cheer interchanged with a little suspense and a bustling freshness that veered toward the raw side in the opening movement, confirming how well this material lends itself to orchestral sweep and majesty. Jacobsen quickly went for silkiness and ran with it amid anxious Vivaldiesque counterpoint. The restless thicket of low strings toward the end was a particularly juicy moment for the orchestra to sink their teeth into.

As if by design, a passing airplane introduced the andante second movement, bubbly woodwinds picking up the pace considerably before Jacobsen took over with a fine-toothed staccato. The bristling energy never dissipated, through lushness and a coyly pulsing bounce beneath the violinist’s spirals, flurries and animated pizzicato. Interestingly, the finale was on the spare and restrained side, despite the velocity: an urbane party that earned a contrastingly raucous standing ovation.

After the intermission, the ensemble tackled Anna Clyne’s Stride. Echoing the concert’s opening number, fleeting hints of Beethoven percolated amid tense close harmonies and microtones over a striding tempo flecked with rather suspenseful lulls and a long trajectory up to an anthemic, Dvorakian coda. Clyne doesn’t usually go for fullscale High Romantic: turns out she excels at it. This was a revelation.

Janacek’s first quartet follows the drama and familial mischegas of the Tolstoy tale, giving us an extra level of meta. Furtive Balkan chromatics quickly receded for an aching lushness and unexpected pageantry in the opening movement, only to reappear in a tensely gripping, Bernard Herrmann vein. Giving the anxious conversation in the third movement to the woodwinds paid magnificently poignant dividends on the way to an equally memorable stampede out. The ensemble encored with flutist Alex Sopp leading the group through a lickety-split, buoyant arrangement of a Taraf de Haidoucks Romany dance tune.

For those who missed the concert, the Knights managed to record the Beethoven and Janacek in February 2020, just under the wire before the fateful events that would crush the world a few weeks later. The next Naumburg Bandshell concert is on June 28 at 7:30 PM with the Handel and Haydn Society, led by violinist Aisslinn Nosky, playing works by Corelli, Vivaldi, Geminiani, Handel and Charles Avison.

June 15, 2022 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Classical and Rock Acts Shake Off the Rust at the Naumburg Bandshell

It was weird seeing a rock band onstage at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park last night. There hasn’t been any rock there since the early teens, when some promoter put on a stupefyingly awful disco night. Then again, it wasn’t always unusual for rock acts to play there: it happened a lot back in the 90s.

Twenty years earlier, the Grateful Dead did a show there. Now that must have been weird.

There were other aspects relating to yesterday evening’s show that seemed weird. But most of them were welcome, and reason for guarded optimism at a time when we desperately need it.

The rock band onstage was singer/guitarist Aoife O’Donovan and her low-key rhythm section. She was joined by a chamber orchestra subset of the Knights for a tersely symphonic, imaginatively arranged take of what seemed to a suite inspired by early 20th century suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt. Although O’Donovan’s roots are in Americana, and she was playing acoustic, the songs had more of a classic 60s pop feel, sometimes in a Jimmy Webb or Lee Hazelwood vein. O’Donovan’s work has never been more political, or relevant than this, another welcome development.

A number that quoted from a letter to Catt from then-President Woodrow Wilson had a mutedly rich, brass-infused chart. O’Donovan then led the ensemble into syncopated, Joni Mitchell-esque territory and closed with a more enigmatic, indie rock-flavored number. O’Donovan has obviously done her homework and is encouraging everyone to rise up and fight: a rousing amen to that.

The Knights shook off the rust of over a year of inactivity with conductor Eric Jacobsen leading them through a haphazard take of his arrangement of Kayhan Kalhor‘s exhilarating, Kurdish-tinged theme Ascending Bird. The way the low strings emulated the starkness and shivery intensity of an Iranian kamancheh was a tasty touch. The (presumably) new presence of brass and woodwinds seemed forced, and extraneous to the music’s ecstatic trajectory.

The orchestra left the bumps in that road behind for a sleek and empathetic version of George Walker’s Lyric For Strings, whose canonic cadences evoked the Barber Adagio with less angst, more fondness, and somewhat more modernist tonalities.

Violinist Gil Shaham joined them for the night’s coda, playing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61 from memory. This may have been just another day at the office for him, but the technique he put to use was just plain sizzling. Which is not to say that this piece sizzles per se: it’s a carefully orchestrated celebration. Needless to say, Shaham’s quicksilver vibrato, the quartz crystal solidity of the endless volleys of high harmonics, and his unassailably confident attack in the most robust moments reaffirmed his vaunted stature.

The first movement seemed fast, at least in the beginning, the orchestra clearly relishing the opportunity to reconnect with their soloist since they’d recorded this together a couple of years ago. The second movement was unusually muted and practically a lullaby in places. The conclusion, with its rounds of triumphant, anthemic riffage, ended the night on an aptly ebullient note. There was no encore.

In a stroke of serendipity, this was the day when Andrew Cuomo apparently caved to the pressure to relinquish some of the dictatorial powers he’d seized in the March 16, 2020 coup d’etat – presumably to give a last-gasp shot of hydroxychloroquine to a political career that’s on a vent and flatlining. The details are still shaking out. It’s not unreasonable to worry that the psy-op squads at the World Economic Forum, the Gates Foundation and the Bloomberg cartel, who have been pulling Cuomo’s strings over the past sixteen months, will attempt to sneak all sorts of New Abnormal surveillance or divide-and-conquer schemes into any so-called reopening plan.

Because the concert was arranged before yesterday’s unexpected events, the organizers had been giving out free tickets online. Trouble was, the ticketing system didn’t work. An anxious message at their webpage timidly asked for proof of needle of death or meaningless PCR test, presumably to satisfy Cuomo’s office: this isn’t the kind of demand the Naumburg organization, who have always been the epitome of genteel, would typically impose on an audience.

While ticketed patrons were being let into the seats – which never came close to reaching capacity – there was clearly no surveillance going on. As far as muzzle-mania goes, oxygen-deficient people generally took the seats, those of us breathing normally situated mostly in back. Standing five feet to the left of this blog’s owner was one of the world’s great cellists: she wasn’t muzzled, nor was one of the world’s great violists, a couple of paces behind her. Sea change, or sign of imminent New Abnormal apartheid? We’ll find out next time.

This year’s series of Naumburg Bandshell concerts continues on June 29 at 7:30 PM when the Ulysses and Emerson String Quartets team up for music by Shostakovich, Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss and others. Since tickets for the performance have already been issued, rushing to the space early to score a seat – a winning strategy in years past – may not be worth the effort. You will probably be better off standing, taking a place on the benches immediately to the south, or on the lawn to the west where the sound is still reasonably audible. Bring a picnic and some wine!

June 16, 2021 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brooklyn Rider and Kinan Azmeh Play a Transcendent Coda to a Popular Upper West Side Concert Series

Over the last few years, the mostly-monthly Music Mondays concert series has become an Upper West Side institution. The level of classical talent they’ve been able to lure up to the corner of 93rd and Broadway rivals the programming at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center. The final night of this season on May 6, with paradigm-shifting string quartet Brooklyn Rider and haunting clarinetist Kinan Azmeh, was as transcendent as any in recent memory here. And that includes two separate, equally shattering occasions where the East Coast Chamber Orchestra played their towering arrangement of Shostakovich’s harrowing anti-fascist masterpiece, the String Quartet No. 8.

As they’re likely to do , Brooklyn Rider opened the night with a New York premiere, in this case Caroline Shaw‘s Schisma. With equal parts meticulousness and unbridled joy, the quartet – violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords and cellist Michael Nicolas – stood in a semicircle as they played. Maybe that configuration gave them a jolt of extra energy as they parsed the composer’s development of a series of cell-like phrases, spiced with fleetingly jaunty cadenzas and passages with an unselfconscious, neoromantic attractiveness.

The world premiere of Jacobsen’s Starlighter, bolstered by Azmeh’s emphatic drive, was even more fun. The violinist explained to the sold-out crowd that it’s about photosynthesis, which came across as a genuinely miraculous, verdantly triumphant phenomenon. Its deft metamorphosis of riffs within a very traditional sonata architecture made a good pairing with Shaw’s work.

That the concert’s high point was not its centerpiece, a stunningly seamless perrformance of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 speaks to the power of the entire program. Brooklyn Rider’s recorded version has a legato and a stamina that’s remarkable even in the rarified world of those who can play it on that level. But seeing it live drove home just how much of a thrill, and a challenge, it is to play. The contrasts between all the interchanging leaps and bounds and the rapt atmospherics of the adagio third movement, became all the more dramatic.

The highlight of the night was the world premiere of The Fence, the Rooftop and the Distant Sea, Azmeh’s duo piece for clarinet and cello. The composert told the crowd how he’d been inspired to write it from the rooftop of a Beirut building after fleeing his native Syria with his wife. It’s about memory, how it can fade and be reinvented, how tricky those reimagining can be – and how they haunt. Azmeh would look out over the ocean and convince himself that he could see his home turf in the far distance. As most exiles would, he clearly misses it terribly. The introduction had plaintively fluttering echoes of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time;. Later passages, for both the duo and each solo instrument, followed a plaintive trajectory that dipped with a murky, almost macabre cello interlude laced with sepulchral harmonics and ended as a poignant Arabic ballad.

All five musicians closed the show with a deliroius romp through Kayhan Kalhor‘s Ascending Bird. On album, with Kalhor playing kamancheh and joined by Brooklyn Rider, it’s a bittersweet, furiously kinetic escape anthem. Here, Azmeh taking Kahor’s place, it was more stark and resonant, even as the piece’s bounding echo effects and sudden, warily intense riffage coalesced.

Music Mondays’ fall season of free concerts typically begins in late September or early October; watch this space. Brooklyn Rider’s next concert is on May 31 at the Oranjewoud Festival in the Netherlands with legendary singer Anne Sofie von Otter. Azmeh’s next show is May 19 at 2 PM at First Presbyterian Church,,201 S  21st Street at Walnut St in Philadelphia with pianist Jean Schneider.

 

May 17, 2019 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brooklyn Rider’s Seven Steps: In the Right Direction

There are several string quartets whose repertoire focuses on current composers (the Mivos Quartet, JACK Quartet and Chiara String Quartet, to name three especially good ones). There are others who play their own compositions, and even some who improvise, but it’s hard to think of another string quartet who manage to simultaneously carry the weight of being leaders in the world of new music, and have as much fun doing that, as Brooklyn Rider does. Pretty much every musician who makes it to major concert halls has virtuoso chops; what sets this ensemble apart is their irreproachable preference for material with substance and depth. And they are eclectic to the extreme, just as likely to dive into Armenian folk melodies or gypsy music as they are Philip Glass and Kayhan Kalhor (two composers for whom this group has become the go-to quartet). Their latest album Seven Steps is in many ways a distillation of their career, and yet a new starting point. Even if you may not agree with everything they’re doing, there’s no question that they’re shifting their paradigm.

The title track is a collective composition by violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords and cellist Eric Jacobsen, with echoes of just about every place this group has been. Kicking off with a minor-key chromatic riff that bounces warily from the cello, there are allusions to Eastern Europe, Iran and hushed IRCAM-era ambience. The group matter-of-factly works its way through this eclectic mini-suite, from suspensefully slow tectonic shifts, to swirls of harmonics from the violins, to terse but lush melodicism, atonal atmospherics that rise to a hypnotically echoey Kalhor-esque crescendo and then a whispery conclusion. The second composition is Christopher Tignor’s Together Into This Unknowable Night. Simultaneously an anthem and a tone poem (which might sound paradoxical, but it’s not), it alludes to the hook from Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, swooping energetically against the ambient wash of noise from the composer’s AM radio (utilized to add texture: it never becomes intrusive). Flickering, insistent Philip Glass-like motifs (and a direct quote, maybe?) lead to a long, organlike swell fueled by the majestic gleam of the cello in tandem with the viola; like the opening track, it whispers its way out. Played at low volume, it’s a gentle nocturne, but for the musicians, it’s an inescapable vortex, a fact which makes itself loud and clear if you turn it up. It’s a characteristically vital work in the growing catalog of this ensemble’s memorable commissions.

The final piece here is an eye-opening, idiosyncratic and utterly original interpretation of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C# Minor, Op. 131. While there is an improvisational feel to some of this, notably the slinky, slippery dynamics in the introductory adagio (which begins more lento, actually), the end result is simply the logical result of the group’s interpretation of this work as the summation of a life. Essentially, what they’ve done here is tie up the loose ends, formatting Beethoven’s short, punchy phrases into a more legato architecture: Mendelssohn might have been tempted to do the same thing with it. The ensemble expands the dynamic range in the faster passages, notably in the second, Allegro Molto Vivace movement, emphasis on the vivace for awhile, but then they revert to an elegant cohesiveness: if there was ever a singleminded interpretation of this work, this is it. And yet by the end, they’re playing it pretty straightforwardly, letting Beethoven’s emphatic, unassailable confidence speak for itself: for all its apprehension, especially in the middle passages, it’s testament to a composer who simply would not be deterred, not by fashion, self-doubt, his own self-destructive tendencies or even the eventual inability to hear what he wrote. In that light, Brooklyn Rider’s approach is less radical than it is emotionally intuitive. It’s one of the most delightfully challenging recordings of the year.

March 6, 2012 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lisa Bielawa’s In Medias Res Stuns and Lingers

Composers have been writing for their favorite performers and ensembles for centuries. Lisa Bielawa wrote much of the music on her lavish new double cd In Medias Res specifically for the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Directed by Gil Rose, they return the gesture with a sweeping, potently attuned performance that does justice to the poignancy, and intensity, and playfulness of the four integral works and suite here. For lack of a better word, this is a deep album, a milestone in the career of a composer who deserves to be ranked as one of this era’s most powerful and compelling. It couldn’t have come at a better moment. It’s a lot more than Bielawa arriving in a cloud of dust to rescue the world of “indie classical” from the simpering, infantile whimsy that’s seeped in from the indie rock demimonde, but that’s part of the deal. Or at least we can hope so.

The first piece here is Roam, dating from 2001, on a theme of exile inspired by Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. It’s a marvelously suspenseful, ambient piece worthy of Tschaikovsky or Bernard Herrmann. A tone poem with unexpected and extremely effective digressions, it works the subtlest dynamics and a chromatic tug-of-war in lieu of any kind of overt consonance, crescendos rising slowly out of slow, plaintive tectonic shifts, wary and absolutely desolate in places. Bielawa wrote her Double Violin Concerto specifically for the solists here: Carla Kihlstedt, who sings an English translation from Faust (along the lines of “let’s get the hell out of here and find some peace”) while playing, and Brooklyn Rider’s Colin Jacobsen. It’s another quiet stunner, plaintive with a vivid sense of longing, shades of Henryk Gorecki. Rapt, quiet, simple motifs diverge and converge austerely in the first movement. The second literally revolves around creepily circling violins as Kihlstedt channels Goethe in a soaring, unadorned high soprano; the third, inspired by the Lamentations of Jeremiah mixes suspenseful horizontality with a distantly Indian melody, which Jacobsen makes the most of, in the same vein of his work on Brooklyn Rider’s delicious new double cd of Philip Glass string quartets. The dance at the end becomes a danse macabre as the two violins close in on each other.

A cantata of sorts, Unfinish’d, was inspired by Shakespeare’s Richard II and his winter of discontent made summer. It packs a wallop in just short of nine minutes, austere and then blustery, and then suddenly down to a chilly expanse, Bielawa’s crystal-cutter soprano leading the way back to a breathless coda. In Medias Res, her concerto for orchestra, is a cinematic tour de force, swooping out of tune, building suspense with locomotive force, a creepily recurring waltz, starlit ambience straight out of the Gustav Holst playbook and a long, apprehensive, deeply satisfying crescendo out.

The second cd , titled Synopses, is a a series of miniatures and extended solo pieces for individual orchestra members. Some of these are actual motifs from In Medias Res; others foreshadow it, others seemingly allow for improvisation (particularly from trumpeter Terry Everson, who tackles it joyously). The most amusing piece is for drums and spoken word, done by Robert Schultz, whose accents are spot-on, but who could have used a voice like Kihlstedt’s or Bielawa’s to deliver a series of disturbingly or entertainingly allusive comments overheard on the street. All together, these pieces demand repeated listening. It was tempting to add this to our ongoing countdown of the thousand best albums of all time. We resisted. That might have been a mistake. Bielawa and an ensemble are playing several of the Synopses with choreography at New York City Center on 56th St. tomorrow, April 16th at 7:30 PM.

April 16, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass: A Lush, Rich Treat

To call cutting-edge string quartet Brooklyn Rider’s new album Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass a “cohesive performance” doesn’t remotely do it justice. Other than solo passages, which are relatively few, it is for all intents and purposes impossible to tell the individual players apart. More often than not, the overall sound is like a giant, animated accordion. The players – violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords and cellist Eric Jacobsen – don’t take their phrasing lightly. Each one digs in with an intensity and a group vision that borders on the telepathic. It’s absolutely impossible to think of an ensemble better suited to these attractive, often absolutely beautiful pieces (Glass himself serves as co-executive producer here, which pretty much says it all).

Like a lot of other composers, Glass has no shyness about recycling his favorite ideas and riffs – and if they’re as memorable as the ones here, why not? As is their custom, the group put them in historical context, opening with the premiere recording of Glass’ Suite from “Bent” for String Quartet, an endless series of permutations on warmly consonant broken chords: it’s like an extended rock suite for string quartet, and it’s a hit. Then they take it back in time for Glass’ String Quartet No. 3 (a homage to Yukio Mishima), which uses a similar broken-chord device, and then his String Quartet No. 1 which is more of a tone poem, an exercise in effectively hypnotic atmospherics. The second cd here includes three more string quartets. No. 4 works an endless, almost imperceptibly crescendoing series of eighth-note passages, a real workout for the musicians, but their stamina never cracks. No. 2 is more hypnotic, a dizzying series of echo effects that sometimes hover, sometimes make a fugue with the warmth of the underlying atmospherics. No. 5, which concludes this massive recording project, trades off repetitive, circular themes that sometimes evoke the group’s landmark 2008 collaboration with Kayhan Kalhor, Silent City: it closes the album on an aptly pensive note. To have this much beauty in one place is a treat in itself. To hear it played as seamlessly and spiritedly as Brooklyn Rider have done here is even more of one. They’re at Alice Tully Hall, with Kalhor, on March 9 playing and premiering some of this, a concert not to be missed if you’re a fan.

February 25, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NYU’s Repertory Orchestra: Ready for Prime Time

We were sussed to this one via an email from the extraordinary violist/composer/bandleader Ljova Zhurbin, who’s had a good year writing film and ballet scores (his eclectic Russian/gypsy/tango string group the Kontraband plays live for Aszure Barton’s Busk dance performance at the Baryshnikov Arts Ctr., 450 W. 37th St., – tickets are still available for one of the four remaining performances, 12/18 at 3 PM). Student orchestras have their ups and downs, which is understandable, but this year’s edition of the NYU Repertory Orchestra is Carnegie Hall-caliber. This performance was an unexpected treat, and it might have something to do with the fact that Zhurbin’s cellist pal Eric Jacobsen (from cutting-edge string quartet Brooklyn Rider and their sister orchestra the Knights) conducts the ensemble. It wasn’t just a matter of getting the notes and dynamics right: there were both chemistry and soul in the two pieces we managed to catch Friday night along with an obvious, high-spirited camaraderie between conductor and orchestra. They’re obviously psyched to have him out in front; he’s obviously psyched to have his finger on the pulse of this much up-and-coming talent. Some of these players will be filling the seats at Lincoln Center in a couple of years.

The Ljova composition Garmoshka (Russian for “button accordion”) was first on the bill, a characteristically wry, bittersweet waltz originally written for accordion and viola and lushly rearranged to air out a series of jaunty but wary motifs jeweled with tricky twists and turns as they alternate between various sections of the orchestra. It got warmer as it went along; it had a happy ending (it made its premiere at a wedding). The trickiest passages fell to the winds, who absolutely nailed them: Ashley Williams and SooA Kim on flutes; Matthew Brady and Andrew Policastro on oboes; Charles Furlong and Catherine Kim on clarinets and Sean Huston and Jordana Schacht-Levine on bassoons. And Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto (the first one he wrote, actually) wasn’t merely a case of the orchestra proving themselves able to follow the keyboard melody: they formed a seamless whole with Kiyomi Kimura’s ecstatic yet fluidly ripping fingerwork. As much as the program notes alluded to the fact that some listeners consider the piece overwrought, much of it is unselfsconsciously moving, particularly the final allegro vivace movement, which was given a vivid sense of longing and displacement. Pieces by Phillip Glass and Schubert were next after the intermission, but by then it was time (or so we thought) to go over the bridge to hear a bunch of noise-rock bands.

December 13, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, 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

Concert Review: Brooklyn Rider at the Angel Orensanz Center, NYC 3/15/10

Since they take their name and inspiration from the Blue Rider Group, the defiant, short-lived Munich assemblage whose membership included Kandinsky, Schoenberg and Scriabin, it only made sense that Brooklyn Rider’s concert Monday night at the Angel Orensanz Center would take place in the midst of an art exhibition. Like the composers the string quartet plays, the artists were a polyglot bunch and some of their work here proved to be equally dazzling. Kevork Mourad, who also plays saz (Turkish lute) and is a member of the Silk Road Ensemble, had several eerily vertiginous black-and-white works done in alternately bold and strikingly precise fingerpaint, evoking some of Randi Russo’s work. He also had a fascinatingly Escheresque concert hall – that’s not the half of it – echoed by the equally provocative, Escheresque Lennie Peterson illustration used as artwork for the string quartet’s new cd Dominant Curve. Also on display were what appeared to be photo transfers by Mary Frank, juxtaposing the playful with the gruesome, as well as a handful of casually striking ink-and-paper works in Farsi by Golnar Adili. All of these works are on sale, a portion of the proceeds to benefit the quartet’s next recording: they’re all up at the Brooklyn Rider site, scroll down the front page a bit and click on the vertical “Art Gallery” button in the middle.

There was also music. The new album is quite extraordinary, got a glowing review here and the songs from it that the quartet played were even more intensely and joyously delivered live. Cellist Eric Jacobsen admitted to a case of nerves playing in front of a crowd of friends: “But what is nerves but chemicals in your body getting you high?” he asked. “Thanks for getting us high.” With the bar in the back, what was on the walls and the group in front of them, it appeared that the audience was just as high.

That Debussy’s String Quartet, the closing number, wasn’t the highlight of the show speaks to the quality of the other works on the bill. That one they attacked with abandon, just a tad short of recklessly, cello intense, percussive and full-bodied, Nicholas Cords’ viola supplying a warm, almost hornlike tone during the quieter circular sections of the second movement. Their string rearrangement of John Cage’s darkly bluesy early piano work In a Landscape seemed on the album to be a series of artfully produced loops assembled by guest Justin Messina – as it turned out, it’s not. The group played every note of its hypnotically stately permutations, with Messina’s live electronics limited to a suspenseful drone. Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky’s soundscape, …al niente, benefited from an inspired cello-driven raveup in the midst of horizon-induced, hypnotic ambience, and guest Kojiro Umezaki cleverly and playfully added both live shakuhachi and subtle electronic undercurrents to his own composition (Cycles) What Falls Must Rise. The opening piece, violinist Colin Jacobsen’s Achille’s Heel (a Debussy allusion) set alternately warm, memorably melodic solo passages, notably some lightning cadenzas by violinist Johnny Gandelsman, side by side with either acidic or lush atmosphere as background. They encored with the night’s most ecstatic work, an intense, hauntingly galloping version of Ascending Bird, the Kayhan Kalhor composition from their landmark collaboration with the Iranian composer, Silent City, from 2008.

March 16, 2010 Posted by | Art, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment