Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The New York Choral Society Sing Masses For Troubled Masses at Carnegie Hall

They’re amazing,” the friendly retiree whispered to her brand-new concertgoing pal, a New York City firefighter in his 20s. A couple of rows closer to the Carnegie Hall stage, two women in their forties, a married couple, quietly affirmed that. And after the mighty voices of the New York Choral Society had wound up their triumphant performance of Haydn’s “Lord Nelson” Mass there last night, a teen in the third row dressed like one of the rappers in the 80s group Kid ’N Play gave them a standing ovation. The accolades on the ensemble’s press page run on and on; this concert attested that just about every demographic in this city shares those feelings.

Spontaneous applause had broken out after the first movement, possibly triggered by how meticulously and seemingly effortlessly way the sopranos in the group had followed soprano soloist Vanessa Vasquez’s exuberant flurries of glossolalia with their own, in perfect unison. If you think that’s hard to do by yourself, imagine the challenge of having to match your bandmates’ cadences with that kind of split-second precision.

This piece got its nickname after the story spread that the composer had been inspired by a British admiral’s pursuit of Napoleon. That might well be true, considering that Haydn was an Anglophile. What it also sounds like is that he wanted to write something so glorious that it would earn him a follow-up commission. Beyond being a flamboyant birthday present for a Hungarian princess, its raison d’etre as a “mass for troubled times” doesn’t really make itself apparent until after the opening festivities. This long party for churchgoing late-18th century one-percenters ran its course before getting switched out for more formidable gravitas. The rest of the soloists – tenor Zach Borichevsky, bass Sava Vemic and mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer – locked in on Haydn’s signature humor, as did the choir and orchestra, who took it out in a decisively boisterous, precise yet comfortably fluid series of volleys. 

The original program had that piece first on the bill, followed by Maurice Durufle’s Requiem, Op. 9. Flipping the script and putting the Durufle first was logical in that it’s much quieter and has none of Haydn’s fireworks. But it’s a vastly more profound piece of music, and the ensemble delivered it that way. The program notes alluded to the composer following Gabriel Faure’s Requiem, but other than a muted sense of grief, the two pieces have little in common. And this one is hardly easy to sing, with its so-ancient-they’re-new-again Gregorian chant themes and shapeshifting, uneven meters. But musical director David Hayes led the singers through an impeccably balanced rendition that offered guarded hope, something that’s been gravely in need over these past three weeks or so.

The orchestral performance was as sublime as the voices. Durufle, longtime organist of Notre Dame, peppers the work with poignant cameos: distant terror from a tritone riff or two on the organ; ghastly shivers from the low strings, uneasily starry resonance from the harp and a moment where first violist Ronald Carbone took centerstage in his section in the piece’s most harrowing if understated cadenza. Fischer got a solo as well and channeled deep, wounded soul in vivid contrast to her untethered ebullience in the Haydn.

The New York Choral Society sing the New York City premiere of James MacMillan’s St. Luke Passion at St. Bartholomew’s Church on April 8 at 8 PM with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and organist Jason Roberts.

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February 7, 2017 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bridget Kibbey and the Amphion String Quartet Battle the Elements and Come Up with a Win

A gusty, unexpectedly chilly February night in a boomy, barewalled basement-level public space hardly makes for optimum conditions for an up-and-coming string quartet to debut their new collaboration with a similarly irrepressible, cutting-edge concert harpist. But Bridget Kibbey and the Amphion String Quartet – violinists Katie Hyun and David Southorn, violist Wei-Yang Andy Lin and cellist Mihai Marica – defied the elements and made a strong impression Tuesday night, notwithstanding the gusts of wind, ganja smoke and a hi-tech coffeemaker working hard in the background during quieter moments. Kibbey took it all in stride, no surprise considering that she made her way up with shows in rock clubs and loft spaces, and the quartet were just as game. Watching them pull everything together made the prospect of seeing them in more comfortable surroundings all the more enticing.

Hyun wore knitted armwarmers for the first number, Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto in F Minor, BWV 1036. She took them off afterward – playing first-chair violin, you work up a sweat even if it’s cold. Meanwhile, Kibbey negotiated the composer’s rapidfire runs with a harpsichord’s precise, even articulation, hardly an easy task. The group followed by nimbly negotiating Debussy’s Danses Sacree et Profane with a dynamic performance from stately gamelan-inspired phrasing to more kinetic, traditionally western ballet territory.

For whatever reason, the one piece that seemed the hardest to tackle under the circumstances was its least challenging one, Haydn’s String Quartet, Op. 77, No. 1. As Hyun told the crowd, she was happy it “made the cut” for the program, maybe just under the wire, because the group had to battle their way into the graceful opening movement before coming together with an energetically friendly chemistry as the piece rose and fell, spiced with bits of humor and drollery in the same vein as early Beethoven. As Hyun explained, this made sense considering that the quartet was published just a year after Beethoven’s first, a point where there was about to be a changing of the guard…but Haydn wasn’t going to let it happen, at least not yet.

It would seem that the stoners in the house, or outside of the house would have been most entranced by the circling riffage of the Bach or the elegant maze of counterpoint in the Haydn, but instead it was the murderously acidic danse macabre of Andre Caplet’s Conte Fantastique that got them huffing and puffing. The piece follows the narrative of Edgar Allen Poe’s Mask of the Red Death, a cruelly populist parable that in the age of ebola scares seems especially relevant. Southorn took over first violin part as the group lept and bounded while Death skulked in the background and then tiptoed in over the castle walls. After the bloodbath subsided, the ensemble took it out on an aptly sepulchral note.

This concert was staged by the Concert Artists Guild, whose raison d’etre is to springboard the careers of up-and-coming artists. One especially enticing upcoming CAG-sponsored bill is at Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall on March 22 at 7:30 PM, where trumpeter Brandon Ridenour, pianist Rachel Kudo and the ensemble Useful Chamber perform works by Gershwin, Ravel, Debussy, Paganini, Bartok, Saint-Saens and Vivaldi.

February 13, 2016 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NYC Classical Sensation the Queensboro Symphony Orchestra Pitches In for Nepal

What do you do when you’ve suddenly created the fastest-growing classical music scene in New York? You stage a benefit concert for Nepalese earthquake relief. All proceeds from the exciting new Queensboro Symphony Orchestra’s May 31, 7 PM NY Concert for Nepal will go to Catholic Relief Services and Korea Times-led projects to aid the survivors. Maestro Dong-hyun Kim will lead the orchestra in performances of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 3 (featuring Peter DelGrosso) and the Nepali national anthem arranged by Paul Joseph.

When five hundred people turn out on a gloomy, overcast work night in the middle of nowhere in Queens (an exaggeration – the venue is a brief, barely ten minute walk from the Flushing stop at the end of the 7 line), you know something’s up. The buzz at the reception after the orchestra’s richly dynamic, wildly applauded concert last month was that the word is out: musicians really like playing for Kim. A thoughtful, insightful individual with an unassuming gravitas but also an infectious, dry wit, he led the orchestra with meticulous attention to both detail and emotion.

This ensemble is on the young side and doesn’t have a lot of “name” players, at least in the US, but is stocked with talent. Trumpeter Chulho Kim drew more than one spontaneous ovation from the crowd with his seemingly effortless, liquid command of the long solo and several other passages in Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto. The orchestra’s brass section shone brightly throughout a surprisingly nuanced if aptly festive take of Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music. And the conductor made a steady, Teutonic celebration out of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, employing a familiar trope, setting the floor very low so as to max out the headroom on a long upward climb.

But the piece de resistance was the world premiere of Kathryn’s Mirror by Paul Joseph. The colorful impresario – who is also the orchestra’s composer-in-residence, more or less – admitted to the crowd beforehand that he’d been given a mere three weeks to orchestrate the suite, but pulled it off with aplomb. It turned out to be a sweeping neoromantic theme and variations that would make a dynamite film score for a bittersweetly suspenseful World War II-era drama. Watch it on youtube and see for yourself: there’s cinematic John Williams angst and grandeur but also neatly intricate Carl Nielsen-style orchestration and a pensively lush central theme that Antonin Dvorak could easily have written. And the ensemble took care to emphasize the emotional tug-of-war as its aching introductory waltz shifted shape. Soloists were strong: a looming horn figure early on, poignant strings as the first part hit a crescendo, growing in colorful swirls as the mood lifted a bit. A recurrent and brilliantly crystalline clarinet theme, tense dips and epic swells propelled the concluding segments. It predicts good things for this ambitious composer and an ensemble that’s growing by leaps and bounds. The May 31 concert is at 7 PM at Mary’s Nativity Church, 46-02 Parsons Blvd. at Holly Ave. in Flushing. If you felt like it, you could take a bus from Main Street (the bus stops right outside the church), but it’s probably faster and easier just to walk from the train.

May 25, 2015 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Transcending the Gloom Outside of St. Ignatius Loyola

Wednesday night the Choir and Orchestra of St. Ignatius Loyola rescued an otherwise gloomy and dismal evening with warmth and epic grandeur at their sonically superb home base, via an animated performance of Haydn’s Symphony No. 97 and then Mozart’s Mass in C Minor. Music Director K. Scott Warren had a jaunty confidence on the podium, conducting the Haydn through its many dynamic shifts between instrumental voices, with lively, conversational counterpoint. From its precise cantabile opening, to a surprising and welcome gravitas in the second movement, the swaying dance of the third and a long series of clever, practically conspiratorial exchanges as it wound out, Warren and the ensemble spotlighted all the most entertaining moments. It’s not a heavy piece of music –  it made for a well-received contrast with the storm gusting outside.

Like his Requiem, Mozart’s Mass in C Minor is unfinished. It may or may not have been performed in his lifetime. It has far more to do with operatic flair than gothic gravitas: watching the choir pulsing through its waves and cadenzas, it was easy to imagine a group from Mozart’s day reveling in how much fun church had become with this composer writing the score! Was this a vehicle for the talented choirgirl who would become his wife? Quite possibly. And she had to be talented because the lead soprano role is brutally challenging, but Martha Guth embraced the hair-raising demands of its roller-coaster dips and swells and meticulous ornamentation and left the audience stunned.

Soprano Marguerite Krull also brought a sparkling clarity to her parts, often paired off with New York Polyphony‘s Stephen Caldicott Wilson and his far more stern, measured tenor (and impressive low range as well). Wilson’s choirmate Christopher Dylan Herbert was required to do less, but added an extra layer of heft in the final sections. Because Mozart never finished the mass, Warren had to choose from many versions fleshed out by others, over the centuries; settling on a 20th century version by Mozart’s fellow Austrian Helmut Eder was respectful of the original in limiting its scope to the parts of the score finished by the composer himself. Joy, and passion, and lustrous timbres from the top to the bottom of what the human voice is capable of delivering, abounded throughout the group’s dynamic and rousing interpretation. The next concert here is a fascinating program of original arrangements by organist David Enlow on Nov 2 at 3 PM; the Choir and Orchestra return on Nov 30 at 3 with a celebration of Advent.

October 24, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Haydn Rediscovered with Depth and Angst and Joy on the Upper West Side

Saturday night at a house concert on the Upper West Side, pianist Nancy Garniez treated a hushed, intimate crowd to an eye-opening performance of miniatures from Bartok’s Selections for Children, Vol. 2 and followed with an even more fascinating trio of Haydn pieces. Garniez, a musicologist as well as a pioneer in sonic science, is all about context. She reminded that 250 years ago, piano music wasn’t written or typically performed for public spectacle but for gatherings of friends: after all, that’s how small-ensemble or solo works came to be known as chamber music. Her method for performance is to go deep into the music to reveal its meaning, trace its narrative and bring its humor to the surface. Haydn isn’t the first composer most people would associate with humor, but Garniez dove in confidently and matter-of-factly, took her time and then romped through it, all the while carefully juxtaposing the composer’s contrasting unease and sometimes full-blown angst. The result was deep, and sometimes scary, but also great fun to experience. One suspects it was more historically true to form than most performances of this material staged in big concert halls.

Garniez – mother of the equally talented and individualistic songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Rachelle Garniez– got intuitive right away with the Bartok. The pianist emphasized how much the connection between performer and audience can impact the music. Likewise, her playing made it it clear how astute, even Montessorian an observer of children Bartok was. While some of the pieces she chose (on the spot, simply because she felt they’d fit the bill) had a carefree bounce, many went in a completely opposite direction, one tracing a little girl’s trajectory from laughter to tears, another methodically taking a taunting motif to its sociopathic extreme.

The Haydn was even more fascinating. Garniez’ interpretations were 180 degrees the opposite of the cookie-cutter approach most conservatory students are directed to follow, nonchalant but attuned to the most minute dynamics both in the storylines and the architecture of the music. She explained how Haydn was fascinated by the minute degrees of how piano notes can be changed or inflected, depending on where a finger strikes on the key – which explains the logic behind the way he let single notes stand naked, where other composers would add harmonies or ornamentation to flesh out the sound. She brought to life the ominous foreshadowing that eventually descends to a chilling sense of complete emotional destitution in the andante in the Sonata in G Minor, No. 44, and also the tongue-in-cheek teasing that finally bubbles joyously to the surface as the  Sonata in D, No. 14 bounced its way out.

Nancy Garniez has also built an iconoclastic career researching what she calls Tonal Refraction, a holistic discipline that draws on color, acoustic science and psychology and has many uses that apply as much to music therapy as to concert performance, improvisation and composition.  To top all this off, after the concert, there was ice cream, and cranberry brownies – and good conversation with a thoughtful gathering of people who had clearly come to take something away from this and ended up walking out into the night rewarded. Garniez plays the final segment in her survey of Haydn and Bartok this Sunday, May 19 at 7 PM: email for location and details. Later this summer, she’ll begin a new weekly series exploring the connection between J.S. and C.P.E. Bach and more modern composers.

May 13, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Attacca Quartet Vanquishes the Elements

“We’re going to get through this together,” Attacca Quartet cellist Andrew Yee reassured the crowd last night at Lincoln Center. The measure of a musician is how well they perform under duress: this group’s trial last night was not by fire, but just the opposite. The atrium space where they were playing was freezing, yet the quartet of Yee, violinists Amy Schroeder and Keiko Tokunaga and violist Luke Fleming muscled up, retuned their instruments between movements as the weather dictated, and turned in an unstoppably valiant performance of Haydn’s Emperor String Quartet followed by a brisk, nimble series of John Adams works.

They opened with the Haydn, which was as much about slowly revealing a depth that’s alwayas surprising as it is about teamwork, with the endless volleys of call-and-response and pass-the-baton. The first movement was assured and lively to the point of maybe being a way for the group to keep warm (Schroeder breathed deeply into her bow hand afterward). The dynamic shifts from the calm of the second to the jauntiness of the third were bright and poised; the arc from an approximation of storminess to a real storm in the fourth, a ride to savor.

Four John Adams works from his seven-part suite Alleged Dances (i.e. whose steps haven’t been invented yet) were next, and the group rose to their many demands: hazy overtones, insistent pizzicato and staccato, artful exchanges of diverging ideas all circling, sometimes hypnotically, sometimes aggressively, around a center. The ensemble closed with the second movement of Adams’ String Quartet, its briskly pulsing agitation getting a precise, knive’s edge performance, chilly early spring bite finally making way for a series of false endings that became irresistible: the audience fell for all of them, and the group had a mutual grinfest going as well.

The Attacca Quartet play from their ongoing cycle of the complete Haydn string quartets this coming Feb 7 at 7 PM at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 65th St. and Central Park West; suggested donation is $10. On March 26 at 8 they’re at the Poisson Rouge playing Adams works, with the composer in attendance.

January 25, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Lively Tribute to Bargemusic Founder Olga Bloom

“We do more shows than anybody else,” bragged violinist and Bargemusic honcho Mark Peskanov, and that was no overstatement. New York orchestras and classical ensembles typically take at least the end of the summer off, but Bargemusic goes year-round. “First it was two nights. Then we said, could we do three?” He gave a quizzical look. “Now here we are, on a Monday!”

He was there on the converted 1899 coffee barge like he is most every day, this time to celebrate the birthday of Olga Bloom, who founded Bargemusic (and lived there for quite some time in the late 70s), whose vision of a noncommercial, non-corporate creative space for classical musicians and chamber music devotees has mushroomed beyond anyone’s expectations. Vital and active in music until almost the end of her life, she would have been turning 93. “We usually don’t talk much here,” Peskanov admitted, and he’s right. With the space’s Manhattan harbor view and the quality of the music here (“It has to go through me, so you know it has to be on the highest level,” Peskanov asserted), there’s no need to gild the lily: Bargemusic remains unsurpassed as a date spot, year after year.

There was music, too. Peskanov, a pyrotechnically skilled player, began with soaring yet precise solo Bach on violin in tribute to Bloom, who would typically begin the day by doing the same, “completely one with the music,” as Peskanov remembered her in the morning when he’d hear her playing from outside. He recalled how Leopold Stokowski would chide her for playing too loud: defiantly, she refused to tone down her act. For Bloom, Peskanov said, the string quartet was the highest expression of human creativity, so this particular night made a good excuse for him to join forces with violinist Laura Goldberg, violist Ah Ling Neu and cellist Guy Fishman for a romp through quartets by two of Bloom’s favorite composers, Beethoven and Haydn. The former’s String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No. 4 began as it seemed how Bloom might have played it herself, irrepressibly jaunty on the opening allegro before contrasting powerfully, wary and wounded, with the andante scherzoso second movement. From there they worked their way up again to end on the vibrant note they began with. They picked up the pace even further with Haydn’s String Quartet in C, Op. 54, No. 2, throwing all caution to the wind and giving new meaning to the presto dynamic as it wound up joyously. Definitely not the sort of thing for people who consider string quartets to be good background music, but as an example of how passionate and exciting the genre can be, it was a thrill to be on the boat that night.

This quartet is back on the barge on May 12 at 8 PM and then on May 13 at 3 PM, doing the Beethoven and Haydn plus Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2 in D; tickets are $35 and early arrival is highly advised. It’s also worth mentioning Bargemusic’s free, weekly Saturday 3 PM concerts: promoted as “family” shows, squalling infants don’t seem to be an issue, and as Peskanov can attest, the performers are first-rate.

April 4, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cross-Pollination at the Gershwin with Inna Faliks

Virtuoso pianist Inna Faliks’ latest installment of her innovative Music/Words series last night was a throwback to the Paris salons of the late 1800s, in the aptly lowlit atmosphere of the back room at the Gershwin Hotel. As she describes it, the concept of the series is to match music with poetry that shares a mood or evokes similar emotions, rather than referring to specific ideas or events. As an attempt to link two worlds that otherwise don’t usually intersect, it’s an admirable idea. Musically, this program was extremely diverse, spanning from classical to late Romantic, with Faliks pulling one of the obscurities she’s so fond of out of the woodwork as well. Lyrically, it was surreal, impactful, and relevant. Poet Tom Thompson doesn’t waste words: he finds the logic in cruel irony, assembles scenes vividly yet economically, and makes connections – like the commonalities in the desires of a child at play and a hungry spider – that might seem farfetched at face value but make perfect sense as he describes them (spiders got a lot of time this time out). “The lake is tired of being a mirror…it closes its one historical eye before we ever get to use it,” he observed bleakly. In an understatedly moving account of his son’s experience with seizures, Thompson coldly acknowledged how in one culture, people who suffer from them get killed, while in another they’re worshipped. A New York water tower became a “wholly owned subsidiary” of the dead leaves that get under the screws that hold it together; people and insects in Central Park shared a fate brought on by their inability to escape their desires. If insightfully ominous, loaded imagery is your thing, Thompson has a couple of collections out from alicejamesbooks that you should investigate.

The music was good too. In between trios of poems, Faliks alternated with pianist Dimitri Dover, who warmed up the performance with the Haydn’s uncharacteristically pensive Sonata in C Minor., Hob. 16:20. A bit later, he played three selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, the best being the anxiously stately “Montagues and Capulets” scene followed by Mercutio’s scampering cinematics. He joined Faliks for a perfectly synchronized four-handed take of another uncharacteristic piece, Liszt’s reflective, remarkably terse Symphonic Poem #4: Orpheus, eventually ending the show with three intuitive, energetic Debussy preludes and then a rather stern take on Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2, Op. 31.

Although the program put her on the bill lower than Dover and Thompson, Faliks was still the star of this show, playing with her signature blend of lithe grace and raw power, particularly as she made her way through the nocturnal scenes of Liszt’s Harmonies du Soir, and then the composer’s transcription of Paganini’s La Campanella, which she imbued with playful charm and then maintained it all the way through the dance’s knotty, rapidfire thicket of staccato. Her obscurity du jour turned out to be 20th century Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin’s Basso Ostinato, a fascinatingly biting, expansively acidic prelude that built from a walking bassline to echoes of Alban Berg and Vincent Persichetti. Faliks’ next program in the Music/Words series, on April 22 at 7:30 PM at the Cornelia Street Cafe with Brazilian pianist Clarice Assad and poet Irina Mashinski promises to be equally intriguing.

February 11, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, poetry, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Brentano Quartet Come to Music Mondays

It’s easy to be cynical about classical ensembles parading out the same old repertoire again and again, but when a group the caliber of the Brentano Quartet shows up a local hotspot, all cynicism goes out the window no matter what’s on the bill. Our trio of the most curmudgeonly fans you could imagine were unanimously awed by the group’s performance at the church space at 93rd and Broadway where Music Mondays puts on a monthly program which rivals any other in town for both quality and adventurousness. The curmudgeons agreed that the performance of Louis Andriessen’s …miserere… was the most enticing and bracingly delicious, although there were other treats on the menu. The stately melodicism of the introduction doesn’t sound like Andriessen, because it isn’t: the composer based this particular set of variations on the famous Renaissance choral work by Allegri. Violinists Mark Steinberg and Serena Canin, violist Misha Amory and cellist Nina Lee unwound its stark, simple, astringent motifs spaciously, handled its frequently tricky rhythms with aplomb, alternating between harmonium-like ambience and lush yet acerbic permutations on an octave a la Philip Glass.

The rest of the program was more familar but performed with a blissful confidence, whichever emotion or approach the ensemble chose to take. A buttery, sleek Schubert Quartettsatz was the opener, viola and cello spinning in tandem seamlessly on the cadenzas. Their take on Haydn’s final, unfinished String Quartet, op. 103 was a revelatory contrast. So much of Haydn’s repertoire relies on familiar tropes that after awhile become practically indistinguishable, but the Quartet’s rustic approach to the andante was inviting to say the least, and they brought out an unexpectedly vivid ache in the minuet. And then they followed with the somewhat more muted angst of the unfinished chorale which would be Haydn’s final work. That the closing piece, a richly vibrant performance of the Debussy String Quartet, could possibly be anticlimactic testifies to how captivating the program had been up to this point. Working methodically from Lee’s deeply rooted cello, they gave the first movement an unrestrained joy, found the inner dance in the second and romped through it, reveled in the ambric low treble harmonies in the third andantino section and finally took it out on the same joyous note they’d established early on. The crowd, a sold-out house from the looks of it, wished openly for an encore. Word is out: what started out as a local scene here has quickly earned a citywide audience.

The next Music Mondays concert is January 9 at 7:30 PM with the renowned conductorless East Coast Chamber Orchestra; you’re advised to get there early.

December 14, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment