Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Mirian Conti Goes On a Mission Which Was Impossible Until Recently

This past evening in the comfortable, old-world auditorium at the Consulate of Argentina in midtown, Mirian Conti played the first ever North American concert devoted exclusively to the solo piano music of Lalo Schifrin. It could have been a world premiere, although the now 85-year-old Argentine composer has undoubtedly played at least a few solo shows of his own somewhere in the world. Either way, Conti made history with this revelatory performance, especially considering that she was responsible for getting Schifrin to write most of the music.

While Schifrin is no stranger to fans of film scores, he isn’t known as a composer of solo piano works. Long story short: Conti suggested he come up with enough new material or new arrangements for a solo show, and he did. And her dynamic, kinetic, mutable approach to the music did justice to the composer’s ruggedly individualistic blend of neoromanticism, jazz, nuevo tango and vast cinematic themes.

“Other than Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, this is it,” Conti grinned, closing the bill with the world premiere of Schifrin’s solo piano arrangement of the Mission Impossible theme. Tens of thousands of bands and orchestras have played that tune, and kids have been playing probably more than one simplified piano arrangement since 1973. Perhaps ironically, Conti’s boisterous, irrepressibly hard-hitting version was the key to the entire concert. Consider: the theme opens with a hammering, syncopated blues riff, but expands to lots of unexpected chromatics, a mashup of blues, jazz, tango and hints of Debussy.

So it was no surprise that the rest of the show mirrored those influences in the prolific composer’’s work. Although a formidable lefthand attack is hardly the exclusive domain of Argentine pianists, it’s a distinctive  trope, and Conti did it justice, opening with the wryly titled Tango Del Atardecer, Schifrin new solo arrangement of the main theme form the 1977 movie Tango.

Conti made the tricky idiomatic shifts between nuevo tango, pre-tango Argentine folk and quasi-Second Viennese School tonalities in Danza De Los  Montes look easy. She told the crowd that for a classically-trained musician, the tricky rhythms, syncopation and allusive harmonies of Schifrin’s Jazz Sonata are a real challenge, but she delivered all of that in a strongly dynamic take of its second movement.

She explained that Schifrin had written Tango A Borges as a salute to the writer and his fondness for the tango guardia vieja – surprisingly, he didn’t like nuevo tango. So she made every intense, regal cascade count, up to a wry surprise ending. Her take of Schifrin’s new Suite and Ten Variations was a cleverly referential if hardly reverential capsule history of classical piano from the baroque,through Beethoven to Bartok and then maybe Piazzolla. Conti encored with a brand-new, lushly baroque-tinged lullaby: clearly, Schifrin has plenty of tunes left him him.

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November 30, 2017 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Surfing with Cellos: Quattrocelli in Their New York Debut, 4/17/08

Harsher critics would have called this a pops concert: among the selections in the group’s impressively diverse set at Trinity Church were several movie themes. Just about anything with the slightest bit of melody sounds good if played on the electric guitar, and the same could be said for the cello. But it was  German cello quartet Quattrocelli’s playful, often astonishingly imaginative arrangements that ultimately won over the crowd and earned them a standing ovation. Everybody knows the Godfather theme, but how many have heard it all the way through? Quattrocelli’s cover of that old chestnut brought out every bit of tragedy in Nino Rota’s score. Likewise, they did a full-length version of Lalo Schifrin’s Mission Impossible, its middle section revealing itself full of bracing atmospherics worthy of Messiaen. And their cover of Misirlou – yet another composition best known to most audiences as a surf song – started out remarkably authentic, one of the players doing percussion on his cello with his fingers, evoking the dumbek (a hand drum that appears in most Middle Eastern music) which was almost undoubtedly on the original Greek version. But after the bridge, one of the cellists took it straight into Agent Orange territory, wailing furiously on the song’s famous riff while the others played subtly off the melody.

Otherwise, the group proved themselves at home with a wide range of styles. These ranged from baroque (Bach’s famous Air on a G String) to classical (two short, striking Shostakovich pieces, the Balkan dance Ball at the Palace and the hauntingly gorgeous Chitarri, which as one of the group explained became a tv spy show theme), to modernist (a jazz piece by German composer Helmuth Brandt, a Hans Eisler nocturne and a Gershwin medley wherein one of the cellists mimed a trombone while the rest of the group authentically mimicked the horn’s voicings, with hilarious results). Their encore, My Way, was uncharacteristically timid, crying out for a Sid Vicious standin to take over and put some kind of original stamp on it. But it made a point: Quattrocelli sound like no other chamber quartet in the world, and they’re fearless about it. Their next US tour promises to include works by American composers, which should be interesting, to say the least.

April 17, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment