Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Ljova & the Kontraband: Playful Fun and Riveting Intensity at Symphony Space

In an email the day before his show last night at Symphony Spaace, composer/violist Ljova Zhurbin described his ensemble the Kontraband as being “wry, fierce and ready.” Which is a considerable understatement, given that their set  included several eclectic, evocative film pieces; a lullaby; western Ukrainian klezmer songs; a couple of jazzy gypsy numbers; a brand-new rock anthem; and a ukulele-style arrangement of a Mahler symphonic theme for solo viola. Zhurbin happens to be one of the world’s foremost violists; there isn’t a symphony orchestra or string quartet that wouldn’t be happy to have him. But he’d rather write film scores and lead this dazzlingly cosmopolitan string band, this time out featuring accordion virtuoso Patrick Farrell, bassist Mike Savino and drummer/percussionist John Hadfield energetically and expertly filling in for the band’s Mathias Kunzli.

They opened with Blaine Game, a hypercaffeinated, trickily rhythmic, shapeshifting romp written in a Blaine, Washington coffeeshop in between jazz workshops that Zhurbin had been invited to teach there. They followed with Plume, a pensively swaying, lushly crescendoing atmospheric piece written for a documentary film about a World Cup competition for homeless European soccer players a few years ago. Then they launched into Love Potion, Expired, a boisteriously leaping, amusingly picturesque gypsy dance written, Zhurbin explained, when he was “moonlighting” in the gypsy band Romashka and had designs on the band’s frontwoman. Unlike the song’s storyline, this one ended well: the two ended up marrying, and with that, he brought his wife Inna Barmash to the stage for a series of intense, often harrowing klezmer numbers. Barmash is gifted with a diamond-cutter soprano; how subtly yet powerfully she weilds it is viscerally breathtaking to witness. They began with a sad waltz done as a duo between the couple, a vengeful dirge titled Koyl (Yiddish for “bullet” – you can guess the rest) and a couple of bitingly expressionistic, minor-key settings of poetry from across the ages. The most gripping of those was an early medieval German poem (retranslated wonderfully from Russian by Barmash) which commented caustically on a decline of civility and civilization that, as Zhurbin alluded, potently echoes our own era.

Not everything they played was that intense. Zhurbin brought out a couple of songs inspired by his two sons. Benjy, the oldest, got a playful, deviously joyous, bouncing number – if this portrait is accurate, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. His brother Yossi got a steady, more serioso song in the form of a lullaby, but with an amusing ending.

After the absolutely ridiculous Mahler theme and a darkly majestic, brand-new art-rock anthem, they wrapped up the set with the title track to the Kontraband’s absolutely brilliant 2008 album, Mnemosyne. It’s an increasingly angst-driven exploration of self-imposed exile: Barmash delivered goosebumps with her spun-silver wail as she took it all the way to the top of the final crescendo over Farrell’s rapidfire rivulets, Savino’s steady, incisive pulse and Zhurbin’s richly plaintive melodicism.. Zhurbin’s next New York show is with bassist Petros Klampanis’ excellent gypsy-flavored jazz group at Drom on Oct 11 at 7:30; the Kontraband will be at the Brooklyn Museum on  January 5 at 5 PM.

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October 5, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, folk music, gypsy music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

NYU’s Repertory Orchestra: Ready for Prime Time

We were sussed to this one via an email from the extraordinary violist/composer/bandleader Ljova Zhurbin, who’s had a good year writing film and ballet scores (his eclectic Russian/gypsy/tango string group the Kontraband plays live for Aszure Barton’s Busk dance performance at the Baryshnikov Arts Ctr., 450 W. 37th St., – tickets are still available for one of the four remaining performances, 12/18 at 3 PM). Student orchestras have their ups and downs, which is understandable, but this year’s edition of the NYU Repertory Orchestra is Carnegie Hall-caliber. This performance was an unexpected treat, and it might have something to do with the fact that Zhurbin’s cellist pal Eric Jacobsen (from cutting-edge string quartet Brooklyn Rider and their sister orchestra the Knights) conducts the ensemble. It wasn’t just a matter of getting the notes and dynamics right: there were both chemistry and soul in the two pieces we managed to catch Friday night along with an obvious, high-spirited camaraderie between conductor and orchestra. They’re obviously psyched to have him out in front; he’s obviously psyched to have his finger on the pulse of this much up-and-coming talent. Some of these players will be filling the seats at Lincoln Center in a couple of years.

The Ljova composition Garmoshka (Russian for “button accordion”) was first on the bill, a characteristically wry, bittersweet waltz originally written for accordion and viola and lushly rearranged to air out a series of jaunty but wary motifs jeweled with tricky twists and turns as they alternate between various sections of the orchestra. It got warmer as it went along; it had a happy ending (it made its premiere at a wedding). The trickiest passages fell to the winds, who absolutely nailed them: Ashley Williams and SooA Kim on flutes; Matthew Brady and Andrew Policastro on oboes; Charles Furlong and Catherine Kim on clarinets and Sean Huston and Jordana Schacht-Levine on bassoons. And Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto (the first one he wrote, actually) wasn’t merely a case of the orchestra proving themselves able to follow the keyboard melody: they formed a seamless whole with Kiyomi Kimura’s ecstatic yet fluidly ripping fingerwork. As much as the program notes alluded to the fact that some listeners consider the piece overwrought, much of it is unselfsconsciously moving, particularly the final allegro vivace movement, which was given a vivid sense of longing and displacement. Pieces by Phillip Glass and Schubert were next after the intermission, but by then it was time (or so we thought) to go over the bridge to hear a bunch of noise-rock bands.

December 13, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment