Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Simone Dinnerstein and ACME Play Bach at the Miller Theatre, NYC 1/30/10

A fearlessly iconoclastic, mostly successful attempt to reinterpret the cutting edge of three hundred years ago via the cutting edge of now. Pianist Simone Dinnerstein’s formidable chops are matched by a laserlike emotional intelligence – for her, playing Bach seems to be a treasure hunt. Last night at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, Dinnerstein drew a gemlike, detailed map of the intimacies and intricacies within a selection of segments from the Well-Tempered Clavier and the Art of the Fugue as well as the D Minor and F Minor Concertos (BMV 1052 and 1056), accompanied by the estimable American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME).

Among the joys of playing Bach is the challenge of bringing to life the incredible range of emotion in the compositions without jumping the rails, without falling back on the tricks of the Romantic trade, i.e. dynamics that weren’t typically utilized in the classical music of Bach’s era. Dinnerstein has famously topped the classical music charts with her warmly legato interpretations of Bach – this time out, she put more of an individual stamp on the music than she usually does, adding an impressive forcefulness to that legato and taking some judicious liberties with the time signature. Most of that was limited to intros and outros, but there were moments where Dinnerstein would add or pull back for a microsecond when a particularly poignant phrase or emotionally charged chord would resonate more strongly. It worked like a charm, notably in the Well-Tempered Clavier pieces: the plaintive midsection of the Prelude and Fugue No. 3 in C Sharp (BWV 872) and the glimmering, shadowy whisper-and-response of Prelude and Fugue No. 9 in E (BWV 878). That even such subtle dynamics would be so impactful speaks equally to the quality of the performer and the material. Hubristic? Maybe, but not compared to, say, Yngwie Malmsteen.

New music titans ACME didn’t run up against any resistance that wouldn’t disappear with more rehearsal and familiarity with the material (although it’s impossible to get through Juilliard without being on relatively comfortable terms with Bach). The quartet of Caleb Burhans and Yuki Numata on violins, Nadia Sirota on viola and ensemble leader Clarice Jensen on cello squared off as something of a string section backing Dinnerstein’s tersely and exquisitely voiced rock band on the D Minor Concerto. As the night went on, they loosened up – within an Art of the Fugue segment, the procession of textures from Kelli Kathman’s flute, to Alicia Lee’s bass clarinet, to Eric Huebner’s harmonium and then back to Dinnerstein were a rigorous yet joyously athletic game of hot potato. And the vibraphone, played with smart understatement by Chris Thompson, made a worthy out-of-the-box addition to the textural feast. At the end, on the F Minor Concerto, the string quartet cut loose with Dinnerstein from the first few bars, discovering a vivid tango melody, then in the third movement employing a playful and tremendously effective recurrent pianissimo accent at the end of a series of sprightly phrases to add considerable depth.


January 31, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Sospiro Winds at Music Mondays, NYC 10/19/09

The Sospiro Winds have quietly and methodically insinuated themselves as a particularly adventurous fixture in the New York music scene. It was particularly auspicious to see a good crowd assembled, on a Monday night no less, for the quintet’s program of exciting, obscure woodwind ensemble pieces (memo to other concert promoters: new music is commercially viable, especially if it’s this good!). The group opened with Viennese Romantic composer Alexander von Zemlinsky’s Humoreske, a little post-baroque style introduction (actually an etude, as one of the group explained) that set a convivial tone for the rest of the evening. In stark contrast, the great Hungarian modernist Gyorgy Kurtag‘s Quintetto Per Fiati was a stark and frequently disturbing, cinematic partita in eight sections that ran from an ominously minimalist intro through a series of boisterous and surprise-laden grapples with demons and syncopation. There’s a horror movie out there somewhere that needs this piece. Another partita, by the German post-Romantic Theodor Blumer moved from “fresh and fiery” to an insistently crescendoing conclusion.

The second half of the show was also replete with surprises. Contemporary American composer Derek Bermel’s Wanderings for Woodwind Quintet cleverly cached away a rousing klezmer dance within its first section, Gift of Life, turning plaintively percussive with Two Songs from Nandom, a particularly imaginative arrangement of an organ piece built on echo devices. Hector Villa-Lobos, a favorite of the group, was represented by the characteristically colorful, flamenco-inflected Quintette en forme de Choros. They closed with an Elliott Carter number that, even without a program (serves us right for getting to the venue at the eleventh hour) was obviously him, perversely atonal yet still managing to be cloying. Flutist Kelli Kathman gets top billing in the group, likely due to her Bang on a Can cred (she’s a member of SIGNAL); joining her with a swaying, passionate but precise attack was oboeist James Austin Smith. Clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois made her most difficult, sonically expansive passages look easy, as did the group’s newest member, French horn player Alana Vegter while Adrian Morejon gave a clinic in power and precision on bassoon, tackling all sorts of challenging staccato passages with fire and aplomb.

Music Mondays is an ambitious monthly series at the comfortably rustic old church at the northeast corner of 93rd and Broadway, currently home to two congregations, Advent Lutheran Church and Broadway United Church of Christ; watch this space for upcoming events.

October 21, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Sospiro Winds at Trinity Church, NYC 2/5/09

Billing themselves as “an exciting new force on the chamber music scene,” the Sospiro Winds worked their way through a demanding program that would make a believer out of pretty much any cynic who might consider such a claim to be a complete oxymoron. The quartet, including oboeist James Austin Smith, Kelli Kathman on flute, Romie de Guise-Langlois on clarinet and Adrian Morejon on bassoon, played with a rigorous virtuosity matched with a boisterous irreverence. This was a totally 20th century bill. “The 20th century was for wind players what the rest of history was for string or piano players,” Smith related – true for western orchestral music, although if you were a Berber, a gypsy or a Jew in a prior era and you played a wind instrument you were BMOC. They opened with a rearrangement of an interestingly baroque-tinged Stravinsky pastorale originally written simply for soprano and piano. Then the fireworks began, with the four movements of Jean Francaix’ Divertissement for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon (Kathman sat this one out). Showing considerable verve, the trio onstage moved dexterously from the circular melody that opens the suite, through a bouncy dance featuring the oboe, a stately, matter-of-fact elegy and then an energetically fluttery, almost ragtime-tinged scherzo with a neat trick ending. This and the other Francaix piece on the bill, a rather celebratory wind quartet, worked ambitious, 20th century tonalities within a very classical architectural style with call-and-response and other familiar devices.


The quartet then reassembled for Jacques Ibert’s Two Movements, pairing a playful, cavorting excursion with an even more humorous second part, almost a mockery of Romanticisn. Kathman and Morejon’s take on Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Braslieras #3 for Flute and Bassoon were an interesting if ultimately predictable blend of pre-baroque devices and bright, colorful tropicalia.  The real showstopper was Eugene Bozza’s Three Pieces of Night Music. The opening nocturne was more of a requiem for the day that just ended, moving ominously along on dark, low arpeggios from the bassoon. The second part, a party scene, evoked Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, de Guise-Langlois remarked, and she was right. The piece closed with a strikingly restless dream sequence, more troubled sleep than any kind of peaceful end to a turbulent day. Watch this space for upcoming New York performances: the group’s next show is April 18 in Greenwood, Virginia (280 Ortman Road, near Charlottesville, 434-361-2660) as part of the Casa Maria Concert Series. In the meantime, since Trinity archives their concerts, you can watch the complete performance here.

February 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment