Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Riveting, Revealing, Defamiliarizing Kickoff to One of New York’s Best Choir’s 2016 Season

This October 28 at 7 PM one of the most esteemed choral ensembles in this country, the Choir of St. Ignatius Loyola celebrate their parish’s 150th anniverary with a program of rare works from the Jesuit tradition by 17th century composers Domenico Zipoli and his contemporaries: Jan Josef Ignac Brentner, Bartolomé Massa and Martin Schmid. The roughly fifty-voice group, conducted by the fearlessly ambitious K. Scott Warren, is bolstered by soprano Sarah Griffiths, mezzo-soprano Kristin Gornstein and tenor Douglas Purcell along with a period instrument chamber ensemble. This might be your only opportunity to hear material that’s never before been performed in North America, and if this ensemble doesn’t do it, might never be performed again here.

There was a buzz at the reception after the choir’s first performance of the 2016 season. They’d just stunned a sold-out crowd with an exhaustive, era-spanning and genre-hopping performance that ranged from the pre-baroque to the present day. The theme was the ancient Greek elements: earth, air, fire and water. For the record, there was no Earth, Wind and Fire song on the bill – maybe next time they can transfix the crowd with a fifty-voice take of Boogie Wonderland. The controversy this time out concerned the merits of interspersing the four Vvialdi-inspired movements of Frank Ferko‘s The Seasons – a richly dynamic, rapturously ambitious string quartet with choir – along with selections from Gustav Holst’s Choral Hymns From the Big Veeda suite, amid the other works on the bill, rather than playing each suite all the way through without interruption.

Warren opted for defamiliarizing everyone, making a strikingly seamless shift between the 21st century American avant garde, late Romanticism drawing heavily on Indian influences, rapt minimalism, knotty earlier 20th century works and the occasional friendly, familiar departure into lustrous Renaissance polyphony. The younger contingent in the crowd heartily endorsed Warren’s ambition; an older crowd voiced a mixed response. Whatever your taste, if you think that keeping up was hard on the audience, imagine being among the choir gathered onstage. Singers are routinely expected to deliver material in unfamiliar genres and languages without a hitch, but this was a real workout for everyone concerned.

What concertgoers might forget is that this world-class choir – although frequently augmented with the prowess of internationally known professionals – it remains at its heart a local church ensemble, albeit a magnet for Manhattan’s best voices. If that isn’t testament to the resilence of New York under the luxury condo blitzkrieg, nothing is. They made the shifts between genres look easy. On the minimalist side, two pieces from Julia Adolphe‘s immersively coloristic Sea Drean Elegies were arguably the most rapturous points of the concert. On the other hand, that could easily have been said about the crescendoing eclecticism of Stephen Paulus’ Songs from the Japanese, or the concert’s ambitious concluding number, composer John Kennedy’s Someday. As for the Ferko, arguably the most memorable of all the works on the bill, its bristling, trickily rhythmic second movement almost seemed to make more sense when, amid several detours, its hypnotically swaying Summer gave way to the kind of ambered, prayerful lustre his work is known for, in the final two movements. You can experience the same kind of rapture on the Upper East Side on the 28th.

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October 1, 2016 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cantori New York Debut a Haunting, Relevant Program of Choral Works

Saturday night at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in the West Village, Cantori New York sang an often harrowing, riveting program of powerful, socially relevant US and New York premieres. Director Mark Shapiro conducted the ensemble with a spring-loaded intensity and a beaming sense of accomplishment, mirrored by the group smiling back at him. This ensemble is obviously having the time of their lives pushing the envelope.

In the same vein as Pablo Casals stumbling on the Bach Cello Suites in a junk shop, Shapiro had discovered the distinctive and often mesmerizing work of Italian composer Bruno Bettinelli while browsing randomly in a music store. Bettinelli’s work is virtually unknown in this country and almost as obscure elsewhere. When Shapiro contacted the composer’s onetime publisher in anticipation of conducting the American premiere of Bettinelli’s Three New Madrigals, they had no idea who he was: “Good luck with that,,” was the response, more or less.

Which is astonishing. Shapiro and Bettinelli would eventually become friends, and shortly before he died, the composer sent the conductor copies of his entire body of work. The triptych being debuted raised the question of how many other intricately and imaginatively arranged works might be kicking around in Shapiro’s vaults. The performance began with Parole in Cerchio (Words in the Round), a retelling of a simple six-word Petrarch poem, in this case beginning and ending with love. Raptly hymnal, replete with  of echo effects and reshaped syllables, its tricky counterpart balanced by a wave motion of sorts, it was a showcase for the group’s rhythmic cohesion.

By contrast, Lo Struzzo (The Ostrich), a jovial and ultimately triumphant piece, had a sea chantey-type exuberance that stopped short of buffoonery, with some unanticipatedly eerie chromatics that the group marched up and down the scale about midway through. Shapiro described the final work, Convien Al Secol Nostro (Being Part of Our Century) as a lament for a troubled era, a vividly distant medieval mirror for our own. Building tension with striking contrasts between bass voices and high sopranos, it was awash in uneasy close harmonies and a maze of counterrythms. And no easy answers.

Another US premiere, Latvian composer Maija Einfelde‘s At the Edge of the Earth traced the Prometheus saga in twelve dynamic segments. Looking about as comfortable with the Latvian text as any group of Americans could be, the ensemble made their way methodically through minimalistically pulsing, tightly wound harmonies, jarring melodic adjacencies and a very subtle and intricate game of telephone where notes would be handed off from voice to voice. They took all this through an unexpectedly lilting folk song, a dirgey Slavic work song of sorts and finally a decidedly unresolved ending. The abyss, for this particular Prometheus, is a deep and frigid place.

The program reached a peak with the New York premire of Frank Ferko‘s La Remontee Des Cendres (Rising from the Ashes), utilizing chillingly graphic, tormented, anguished segments from Tahar Ben Jalloun‘s First Gulf War-era epic poem. Told from the point of view of several Iraqi war survivors and victims, it has a shattering eloquence. An eight-piece brass-and-string ensemble anchored by Frank Cassara’s almost subsonic, distantly thunderous bass drum and Kris Saebo’s ominous downtuned bass carried Ferko’s terse, cruelly fatalistic foreshadowing in between the choir’s somber passages. A muted sense of horror was everywhere, in the same vein as Shostakovich’s most harrowing works (String Quartet No. 8 comes to mind). Countertenor Siman Chung and soprano Halley Gilbert added knifes-edge intensity on the high end, up to a couple of horror-stricken, explosive crescendos, a hint at something approximating a peaceful ending, a jaggedly leaping march and eventually a decay into defeated atmospherics whose effect lingered long past a series of standing ovations. Like the Bettinelli piece, it’s a shock that this hasn’t been performed here before.

Cantori New York’s next concert is at 8 PM on May 14 at St. Luke in the Fields featuring Dame Ethel Smith’s rarely performed 1930 cult favorite cantata The Prison. And on March 16,at 7 PM under the direction of conductor K. Scott Warren, the Choir of St. Ignatius Loyola join with soprano Tami Petty for Ferko’s intense Stabat Mater for unaccompanied mixed chorus and soprano solo; plus harpist Victoria Drake joins the choir for the New York premiere of William Culverhouse’s Requiem, at St. Ignatius Church, Park Ave. and 84th St.; cover is $25.

March 15, 2016 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment