Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Violinist Alexi Kenney Stuns the Crowd in Chelsea

After violinist Alexi Kenney‘s solo performance last night, Concert Artists Guild president Richard Weinert enthused that it was one of the best he’d ever seen: high praise from someone who gets to see an awful lot of concerts. And by any standard, it was pretty transcendent – and no surprise that despite this being the coldest night of the year so far, there was a full house at the Robert Miller Gallery in Chelsea.

Kenney opened with Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006. On a surface level, it’s a dynamically shifting suite of variations on what might well have been pilfered folk dance themes. Playing from memory, Kenney went way below that surface for a minutely jeweled interpretation that quickly became a showcase for his quicksilver legato. We talk about having a fluid, legato approach, but this guy’s is so unwavering that if it was a sine wave, it would be flat. Which made all the more contrast when the music became more lilting and kinetic, Kenney establishing a trope he’d fall back on frequently throughout the performance, adding just a wisp more bow at the end of a phrase if he thought it needed the emphasis.

The showstopper was Kenney’s masterful take of Erwin Schulhoff’s Sonata for Solo Violin, WV 83. Part feral post-Schoenberg savagery, part richly apprehensive late Romantic angst, it bristles with sudden cadenzas and overtones and requires all sorts of extended technique. Kenney didn’t necessarily make it look easy, but he was clearly at home with it both technically and emotionally, something you don’t see that often. By contrast, the purposeful arpeggios of a fantasia by Nicola Mattheis – a precursor to Bach – made a comfortable segue into the cirrus-cloud atmospherics of Kaija Saariaho’s Nocturne.

Kenney closed the concert, making a wrenchingly heartfelt return to Bach with what seemed like the entirety of the Partita No. 2 in D Minor (the program listed just the chaconne section, but it was music to get lost in). The wounded opening theme, and its foreshadowing, were genuinely harrowing, which made the epic climb to more optimistic territory all the more impactful. The sonics of the gallery were serendipitous, to the point of becoming part of the performance: spaces with natural reverb like there is here should host more solo shows. And the music made a good counterpart to the art on display, Ran Ortner‘s uneasily photorealistic tableaux of yellow-grey waves roiling in a sunset current. They have little in common thematically with Edward Hopper’s work but have a similarly raptutous use of light and shadow. It would be fascinating to see how the artist builds it, layer upon layer of paint.

These Concert Artists Guild gigs are a great way to discover new talent: that, after all, is the purpose of the organization. The next one is Bric Arts, down the block from BAM at 647 Fulton St. in Brooklyn on February 9 at 7 PM featuring dazzlingly eclectic harpist Bridget Kibbey and the Amphion String Quartet playing music of Bach, Debussy, Haydn and Caplet; admission is free.

January 20, 2016 Posted by | Art, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gil Morgenstern Doesn’t Blink in the Lights

It’s worth remembering that the true test of a live performer is how well they hold up under duress. Maybe because of this latest spell of global warming, it was visibly hot onstage during violinist Gil Morgenstern’s latest edition of his Reflections Series concerts at WMP Concert Hall last night. To say that he didn’t break a sweat wouldn’t be close to true – instead, he and New York Philharmonic pianist Jonathan Feldman went with the heat and delivered a program that even when it wasn’t searing, was characteristically captivating. Morgenstern’s technique is such that he’s able to play anything he wants, which typically means challenging and exhilarating material. He also likes themes – this one was, as he put it, “exile and unfinished journeys,” inspired by a recent Isaac Julien exhibit in Miami, where Morgenstern also performs this ongoing series.

Morgenstern opened solo with Bruce Saylor’s Dante Suite, originally written as a theatre work, but as the violinist noted, he commissioned it to be workable as a concert piece as well. To call it a trip through hell and then out would be accurate in a general sense, although this particular tour has unexpected nuance. As Saylor (who was in attendance) wrote it, the Gates of Hell offer an understated drama, while the unconsummated adulterers Paolo and Francesca – destined to spend eternity with their backs to each other – receive a vividly plaintive, sad theme. Brunetto Latini gets to experience if not enjoy a fiery, gypsyish passage in the remarkably interesting Circle of Sodomites; the Woods of the Suicides, a powerfully evocative, brooding segment, became a showcase for Morgenstern’s judiciously vibrato-laden dynamics. The suite closed with a finale that ran from a repetitive circular theme to a crescendo packed with sizzling riffs that played against open strings.

Feldman joined in on Janacek’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, a suite about life under an enemy occupation (in this case, Austria’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in World War I) and finally the joy of overthrowing the oppressors. Feldman’s rippling precision gave Morgenstern the perfect backdrop for his apprehensive cadenzas and wounded, lyrical sustained lines. The piece ends somewhat unexpectedly on a theme of bitter remembrance rather than exuberance, and the duo brought it down, hushed, for a quietly potent impact. Morgenstern then tackled Erwin Schulhoff’s 1927 Sonata for Solo Violin, a gripping four-part suite that runs from an almost Celtic dance, through a bracingly intense overture, an off-center, Bartok-esque scherzo and finally an aptly titled Allegro Risoluto which was nothing short of hypnotic.

Morgenstern is also something of a raconteur, and as he cautioned the audience, his explanation of the intrigue behind Ernest Chausson’s Poeme, Op. 25 might take longer than the piece itself. It didn’t, but it was worth hearing Morgenstern relate how the piece related to an Ivan Turgenev short story, a couple of mistresses, a May-December marriage and a possible case of mistaken paternity: such things were common in the artistic classes in the Nineteenth Century. The piece itself seems to be an elegy for a failed or broken romance: it takes awhile to get going, but when it does it sounds suspiciously like Erik Satie stole a secondary theme for his Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear. Morgenstern and Feldman ended it with a bright melancholy, as Ravel might have done it. They closed the program with methodical renditions of a couple of late-career Smetana pieces which were pleasantly if generically consonant, in an early Romantic vein; the duo could have finished with the Chausson and taken a well-deserved breather and the show wouldn’t have suffered. Morgenstern’s Reflections Series returns to WMP Concert Hall on April 14, followed by stops in Italy in May and Boone, North Carolina in June.

February 18, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Cypress String Quartet Play Debussy, Higdon and Schulhoff with Soul and Sensitivity

Thursday night at the New School’s Tenri Institute, Cypress String Quartet violinist Cecily Ward explained that the Debussy String Quartet was the first piece the ensemble had played together. That was 1996. Fourteen years later, the group still finds bliss in it. Ward played from memory, mostly with her eyes closed. It’s about the joy of discovery: Debussy famously wrote it after seeing a Javanese gamelan for the first time at the Paris Exposition of 1889. The Cypress’ version was all about the joy of rediscovery, of finding yet new levels of nuance in an old favorite. Underneath the expertly interwoven Balinese-inspired tonalities is just a hint of a Gallic barroom dance, which they seized with fluidity and grace, both as cellist Jennifer Kloetzel propelled them with alternately hushed and dramatic dynamics as the first movement wound up, and when it came to the rounds of pizzicato in the second movement. Brooklyn Rider played a stunningly edgy version of this piece earlier this year at the Orensanz Center that brought to mind how Debussy must have felt in the hours after writing it; this performance, with its soul and depth, put it in context, a period piece that also happened to shift the stage for practically everything that followed.

The earlier part of the program was just as revelatory. Erwin Schulhoff’s 1923 suite Five Pieces for String Quartet first saw a revival right around the time this group was getting together. Other ensembles play up the occasional Roaring 20s archaisms that occur throughout its five dances, but this crew played it as satire with a deliciously snarky bite, from the faux waltz of the opening movement (it’s in straight-up 4/4 time), to the somewhat sinister boudoir theme of the second, which they gave a bolero-like sway. On the third, Kloetzel’s terse pedal point led to an angry fugue highlighted by the deadpan acerbity of violinist Tom Stone and violist Ethan Filner, whose deft camaraderie would carry the following tango movement as well. They gave the final segment – a Flight of the Bumblebee parody of sorts – an eerie tinge that bordered on the macabre: this was a swarm of killer bees headed straight for the border.

Yet the piece that resonated the most with the audience was Jennifer Higdon’s Impressions, from 2003. The composer, who was in attendance, offered beforehand how she’d drawn on Impressionist art for inspiration. She explained her fondness for its lack of rough edges, which allows for a considerably broader scope of expression than more figurative styles. The intrigue (and advantage) of pointillism, as she put it, is that “You can’t tell what it is up close.” The first movement, a colorful dance, had the characteristically meticulous, diversely evocative architecture that defines her work, and was delivered with the same bustling joy as the Debussy. The following movement, titled Quiet Art, built from the pensive and sometimes apprehensive ambience of an artist struggling to find a path to expression and wound up with gusto, a dream fulfilled and a job well done. The third movement, a homage to Debussy, expertly wove individual lead lines from each instrument. The suite ended with an absolutely riveting chase scene, resolution and then unresolution, warmly sostenuto passages contrasting with a bracing percussive attack: if this was painting, it was a cross between Pollock and Escher. The crowd demanded an encore and were treated to a tantalizingly allusive version of the Orientale from Glazunov’s Fifth String Quartet, the Fertile Crescent through a glass, darkly. The Cypress String Quartet’s second volume in their conquest of the Beethoven late quartets is just out; watch this space.

November 16, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment