Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Classical, Country and Other Stuff Live in NYC 1/20/08

Professor, the thesis of this paper is to prove what a fantastic variety of music there is to see for free in New York on the worst possible night, arguably the coldest night of the year, and a Sunday, the last day most people think of going out. The night began at St. Thomas Church where their main organist John Scott was playing a recital. Regular readers of this page might think we have some kind of crush on this casually witty British gentleman. Tonight he started with a piece from French romantic composer Henri Mulet’s magnum opus Esquisses Byzantines. Scottt kept its ostentation at a minimum, as if it was a piece for strings, and this worked wonders. Next on the program were a couple of Messiaen works from the Livre du Saint-Sacrement. The first was Messiaen at his occasionally but spectacularly dark, ambient best: Scott had played Messiaen’s The Birth of Our Lord here last month, and the work he played tonight was a welcome encore to the exhaustively haunting suite he played in December. The next piece, however, was not. Messiaen was famously enamored with the sounds of nature, in particular birdsong, and this piece, A Child Is Born to Us celebrates the birth of Christ. Messiaen’s liturgical works are not known for corresponding with textual passages, but this one actually did, effectively evoking the wonder of onlookers in the manger until the birds started chirping. At that point, one can only wonder why the church fathers wherever Messiaen was working at the time didn’t seal off his window or cut off his access to breadcrumbs.

Scott then pulled out the stops with Max Reger’s famous Morningstar Chorale. Reger’s name ought to have been Rigor. At this best, he wrote roaring organ chorales echoing Bach but more freely. Otherwise, the German romanticist is best known for his knotty, impeccably crafted pieces which can only be described as Teutonic: as scorching as Reger could be, craft often supersedes emotion in many of his compositions. Happily, that was not the case with this piece, an unusually warm, happy excursion bookended by Reger’s usual sturm und drang, and Scott brought out all the warmth he could on what would in this age of global warming be considered an unusually cold night.

Which leaves the obvious question: how to interest the kids in what performers like Scott are doing? So much of classical music is vastly more powerful, more passionate and more fun than most rock music. So how to spread the word? Repost this somewhere, where the trendoids will be mystified?

Next stop was Banjo Jim’s where Amy Allison – who wrote our pick for best song of 2007 – was playing a duo show with Rich Hinman from the Madison Square Gardeners on acoustic lead guitar. To say that he’s a quick study is an understatement: casually and deliberately, the guy wailed. Regular readers here will recall how much Allison likes playing without a net, throwing caution to the wind, bringing up new backing talent every time she plays, as if to see what happens. Tonight she played to a rapt crowd, dazzling with new songs including the wry Mardi Gras Moon and the absolutely riveting Dreamworld, wishing the best to everyone freezing on the street. Allison is such a hilarious live performer that half the time she’s cracking herself up, sometimes barely able to contain a laugh in the middle of a song, bringing the crowd along with her. With her mint citrus voice – cool and calming but with a serious bite – she treated the audience to the warm, hopeful new song Calla Lily as well as classics from her country period like Garden State Mall, as well as newer material like the potent girl-power anthem Have You No Pride, from her latest album Everything and Nothing Too. Allison is totally punk rock too: she played the whole set bleeding on her guitar, blood streaming from her index finger (she’d cut herself peeling potatoes, and the bandaid she was using wasn’t enough).

Next stop was Otto’s, where sometime Willie Nile sideman Steve Conte and his band were wrapping up a set of predictable Detroit-style riff-rock, vintage 1978. The place was completely packed: it was impossible to get into the little back room until after he’d finished playing. It would be interesting to see him do this stuff in more spacious confines – or somewhere on Woodward, where they could find some action and where the old-school crowd would have their bullshit detectors set to stun. Richard Lloyd, the legendary Television (and most recently, Rocket from the Tombs) lead guitarist followed, leading a trio featuring his longtime drummer Billy Ficca, who proved the most interesting member of this particular unit. In the past several months, Lloyd has proven himself absolutely undiminished – as a sideman – and tonight’s show reaffirmed that.

January 21, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: John Scott Plays Messiaen at St. Thomas Church, NYC 12/20/07

This review isn’t meant to be flippant: John Scott is a great artist, and he put on a masterful performance. Yet, it’s a wonder that at some point the church fathers didn’t convene and pose the obvious question: could it be possible that Messiaen was rooting for the other team? Note that the piece Scott played tonight is titled La Nativite du Seigneur (The Birth of the Lord, as opposed to The Birth of Christ). Could it be another Lord, one somewhat darker, that Messiaen was alluding to? This macabre, nine-part suite sounds nothing remotely like the typical Christmastime fare heard in churches across this city, and Scott was brave to play it. It would make a great soundtrack to a horror film. But not a Chucky movie – it would work best with something from Messiaen’s era, directed by Fritz Lang and starring Peter Lorre, perhaps. Satanists burn churches when what they should really be doing is sitting in the front row, rapt, as The Birth of the Lord roars from the pipes of the organ.

To add yet another element of the macabre, sirens wailed down Fifth Avenue during the two opening segments. As robustly constructed and insulated from outside noise as the edifice is, it was impossible not to hear them. If anyone had the presence of mind to record the performance, it could be astounding, a sort of accidental, highbrow counterpart to Simon and Garfunkel’s version of Silent Night, inevitably rooted in the here and now.

Scott is one of the world’s premier organists, an artist with an almost telepathic intuition for what he plays. La Natitive du Seigneur is not particularly melodic and quite difficult, yet there is substantial wit in this work and Scott treated the standing-room-only crowd to all of it. Olivier Messiaen was a strange bird, obsessed with the sounds of the avian world, and the greater part of his oeuvre is naturalistic to the point of being fussy and contrived. His organ works, especially the immortal L’Apparition de l’Eglise Eternelle (The Dawn of the Eternal Church) are anything but. Scott zeroed in on several themes that recur throughout the suite, including a fast upper-register flourish that he tossed off with unabashed glee, and brought out every bit of drama in an ominous, low-register pedal figure followed by a tritone (the so-called “devil’s chord”). The piece has two false endings, and Scott’s crescendos up to them were inexorably good. The final part of the suite ends almost as a mocking parody of the conclusion to Bach’s famous Toccata in D, this time a series of three rather than five chords, the last being a sustained major sixth that rattled the walls, ending the piece on a disquetingly unresolved note and earning Scott two standing ovations.

December 23, 2007 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment