Lucid Culture


A Starkly Relevant New Album and a Governors Island Show by the Very Serious Sirius Quartet

The album cover illustration for the Sirius Quartet‘s latest release, New World – streaming at Spotify – has the Statue of Liberty front and center, against a backdrop that could be a sunset with stormclouds overhead…or smoke from a conflagration. She’s wearing a veil. The record’s centerpiece, New World, Nov. 9, 2016 won the Grand Prize in the the New York Philharmonic’s New World Initiative composition competition a couple of years ago. The message could not be more clear. It’s no wonder why the group are so troubled by the events since then: both of their violinists are immigrants.

They’re playing a free concert featuring their own materal plus original arrangements of Radiohead and the Beatles this Sept 7 at the park in the middle of Governors Island, with sets at 1 and 3 PM. You can catch the ferry from either the old Staten Island Ferry terminal at the Battery – to the east of the new one – or from the Brooklyn landing where Bergen Street meets the river.

Violinist Fung Chern Hwei’s Beside the Point opens the album. In between a wistful, trip hop-flavored theme, the group chop their way through a staccato thicket capped off by a big cadenza where the violin finally breaks free, in a depiction of the struggle against discrimination.

Currents, a tone poem by cellist Jeremy Harman has stark, resonant echoes of Irish music and the blues: it could be a shout out to two communities who’ve had to battle bigotry here. The epic title track sarcastically juxtaposes contrasting references to Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Shostakovich’s harrowing String Quartet No. 8: look how far we haven’t come, violinist/composer Gregor Huebner seems to say.

Still, another Huebner composition, is based on Strange Fruit, the grisly chronicle of a lynching and a big Billie Holiday hit. Ron Lawrence’s viola chops at the air along with the cello over an uneasily crescendoing violin haze, the group coalescing somberly up to a horrified, insistent coda. Their version of Eleanor Rigby has a bittersweet, baroque introductory paraphrase and some bluesy soloing, finally hitting the original melody over a propulsive, funky beat. As covers of the song go, it’s one of the few actually listenable ones.

The album’s second epic, More Than We Are rises slowly through allusions to Indian music to a persistently wary, chromatic pulse fueled by Harman’s bassline: you could call parts of it Messiaenic cello metal. To a New Day is even more somber, flickering pizzicato passages alternating with a brooding sway grounded by a hypnotically precise, stabbing rhythm.

The Chinese-inflected 30th Night has a dramatic vocal interlude amid quavering cadenzas as well as phrasing that mimics the warpy tones of a pipa. The album’s second cover, Radiohead’s Knives Out is louder and more jagged than Sybarite5‘s lush take on the Thom Yorke catalog. The group return to the neo-baroque with the album’s rather sentimental closing cut, simply titled Cavatina. Contemporary classical protest music doesn’t get more interesting or hauntingly diverse than this.


September 3, 2019 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cordis’ Edgy NYC Debut Goes Over As Expected

It’s hard to believe it wasn’t until this past Thursday that pioneering cimbalom-led new music ensemble Cordis would finally make their New York City debut. Unsurprisingly, the crowd at le Poisson Rouge – young, edgy, and distinctly downtown – loved them. For those unfamiliar with the cimbalom, it’s sort of a larger santoor or qanun, i.e. a zither played with mallets. Frontman Richard Grimes took care to explain that it’s the national instrument of Hungary; he took considerably more relish in explaining that his is customized, with two humbucking guitar pickups that he runs through a vintage 1960s Vox tube amp. Sonically, sometimes it sounds like a piano, especially when he uses a sustain pedal; otherwise, it has the quick “ping” of a tack piano or qanun but with more resonance. It’s a subtle, rustically austere tone that mingled within keyboardist Brian O’Neill’s elegant piano arpeggios and organ swells alongside the plaintive tones of Jeremy Harman’s cello and a million percussion textures, from marimba to woodblocks to a full rock drumkit played with meticulous precision but also plenty of fire by Andrew Beall.

Much as their methodical, slow-to-midtempo material tends to embrace a warmly engaging minimalism, it can also be surprisingly anthemic, especially when the percussion is going full swing, perfectly exemplified by the suite Fifteen Minutes in Four Parts. They built the nonchalantly shapeshifting, intricately arranged piece from what was essentially a four-chord rock anthem anchored by a creepy Wurlitzer organ patch, through numerous dynamic and tempo shifts, to end on a wintry, nocturnal note: by then O’Neill had switched back to piano. They opened with a piece for cello, piano and drums that worked a dreamy/intense dichotomy before Grimes joined them for a rippling, dramatically rising and falling number lit up by some high-voltage, viola-like sustained lines from the cellist, who’d switched to a five-string model with a high “A” and an electric guitar headstock. This, along with a couple of other originals, brought to mind the Wharton Tiers Ensemble in particularly dreamy yet rumbling mode. Another subtly crescendoing original blended angst-fueled anthemicism in the same vein as the Jayhawks with an insistence much like a New York-based, minimalistic avant supergroup, Build.

Since there’s essentially no repertoire for this particular lineup other than the group’s own original material, they sometimes come up with new arrangements of works from an eclectic range of composers. They reinvented sections of Philip Glass’ Metamorphosis Suite, contrasting rippling piano arpeggios with stately sheets of sustain and a little later gave it a hypnotic, gamelanesque quality fueled by waves echoing from Beall’s marimba. Then they gave Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms – originally written for brass and voice – a Mingus-like bustle. At the end of the set, O’Neill picked up a bright red Gibson SG guitar and capped off the final piece with a vibrato-laden majesty: a snazzy stadium rock touch to send everybody home on a literally high note.

April 9, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment