Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Joyce Jones in Concert at Trinity Church, NYC 7/24/08

The reliably superb, annual summertime festival of organ concerts at Trinity Church always has a theme, and this year’s is “Organ Divas.” The artist who played today is perhaps the prototype. A legend in organ circles, Baylor University Professor Joyce Jones is something of a ham, a performer just as likely to play a supersonic Flight of the Bumblebee on the pedals as she is to keep the audience in stitches with a seemingly endless supply of puns, some of them pretty corny, delivered in a deadpan Texas accent. Self-effacing, down-home persona aside, Jones reaffirmed what an extraordinarily imaginative, sensitive and original a player she is.

Virtually every organist good enough to tour major cities has superior chops, and Jones’ are among the best. But what invariably impresses the most is how different her approach is, and how much fun she clearly has playing. Today “The Accidental Organist,” as she bills herself – a piano major in college, she hurt her hand and only turned to the organ as a way to practice to keep herself sharp until it healed – opened with Leo Sowerby’s Pageant. As the title implies, it’s a big, stately, optimistic piece that opens with the kind of pedal figure that Jones has made her trademark. She followed that with an idiosyncratic but absolutely brilliant version of the famous Bach Passaglia and Fugue in C Minor (BMV 582). Introducing the piece, she told the crowd that while a student, her playing had come to sound “like it was sprayed with Lysol disinfectant” due to overwork and perhaps overthinking. But this was anything but sterile. A lot of organists hurry through it to get to the big crescendos, but Jones took her time, making it a casual but deliberate stroll through the work’s swells and ebbs, using several different registrations to vary the tonal quality of particular sections she’d singled out. In Bach’s day, registrations were left pretty much up to the individual organist, meaning that Jones was fully within her rights to do this. And it was stunning, particularly when she balanced a fast pedal solo with screaming, upper-register chords, against which the pedal melody was only semi-audible.

She then played Marcel Dupre’s brief Fileuse, a striking contrast and showcase for speed with its somewhat hypnotic, circular upper-register motif, something akin to the Flight of the Bumblebee as the melody circles against an airy, repetitive arpeggio. Introducing the final number on the program, Liszt’s remarkably melodic, climactic Fantasie and Fugue on the hymn Ad Nos, ad Salutarem Undam, she explained how it was influenced by the composer’s student Julius Reubke (who went on to write the legendary, vengeful Sonata on the 94th Psalm) as well the Merrybeer opera The Prophet. Which makes sense: Liszt seems like someone who would be especially fond of bombast. Jones made the point that the work could be called the first real organ symphony, considering how long and segmented it is, and like the Bach she absolutely nailed it. Afterward, she rewarded the audience for their two standing ovations with a brief, percussive transcription of a Prokofiev piano toccata – a sort of organist’s revenge for all the piano and orchestral transcriptions of classic organ works – and then a classicized arrangement of The Church in the Wildwood. “If you didn’t hear this growing up, well then, you were deprived,” Jones deadpanned. No doubt she would have kept playing, and the audience would have stayed much longer, had this been possible.

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July 24, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Eric Plutz at the Organ at St. Thomas Church, NYC 10/14/07

An impressively diverse performance by Princeton University organist Eric Plutz: the nation’s most heavily endowed school appears to have spent wisely to get him. He opened with 20th century American composer Leo Sowerby’s Jubilee, a characteristically playful, somewhat disturbingly carnivalesque piece. The centenary of Sowerby’s birth, twelve years ago brought renewed interest in this extremely versatile figure, who also wrote jazz and pop songs in addition to his substantial works for the organ. This one begins rather eerie, later juxtaposing a series of somewhat exaggerated, funhouse mirror melodies playing against each other in the right and left hand. If it’s a celebration of anything, it’s a celebration of strangeness. Plutz let the piece speak for itself without unneeded embellishment.

He followed with Eugene Gigout’s Scherzo, from his well-known Ten Pieces. This is an old warhorse in the organ repertoire, and, again, Plutz showed remarkable restraint by not rushing through its comfortably energetic changes as must be tempting to do. Maintaining the concert’s upbeat, ebullient feel, he then played Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G Major, BWV 541. As everyone knows, there were several composers in the Bach family, all known by their initials: patriarch J.S., followed by son, C.P.E., eventually 1970s spoof P.D.Q. and most recently, a seemingly distant relative who might be called N.P.R. Bach. This member of the family is the Bach you hear on public radio, especially around Christmas: generous amounts of pretty melody, predictable call-and-response and not much more. This is one of those pieces, as lighthearted as Bach ever got with any of his big preludes and fugues. It swirled like a carol chanted in the round, its few minor-key moments a welcome respite from the incessant good cheer.

Plutz then completely shifted gears with Dale Wood’s arrangement of the traditional Welsh folk song Ar Hyd Y Nos (All Through the Night), a very calm, somewhat sleepy tune. He then reverted to the program’s earlier boisterousness, closing with Belgian late Romantic composer Joseph Jongen’s Sonata Eroica, which unsurprisingly owes a lot to Beethoven with its stop-and-start crescendos and false endings, beginning with the organ roaring full blast, punctuated by quieter, slower passages that eventually build back to the piece’s initial stately yet bold brushstrokes. A welcome shot of adrenaline to comfort anyone dreading the prospects of Monday morning. It’s surprising that more people, notably parishioners, don’t take advantage of the free, weekly 5:15 PM Sunday recitals in the magnificent space here.

October 16, 2007 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment