Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Minguet Quartet Play Beethoven and More with Vigor and Sensitivity at Lincoln Center

Thursday night, there was fundamental logic for the Minguet Quartet’s concert at Lincoln Center’s atrium space. The string quartet take their name from Pablo Minguet, an 18th century Spanish philosopher dedicated to making the arts accessible to everyone. That’s the agenda at Lincoln Center’s “playground,” as Jordana Leigh, who’d booked this show in conjunction with the ongoing Great Performers series, calls it. Its raison d’etre is transparent: give the public a marathon slate of first-class programming from literally all over the map, and create a brand new supporter base in the process. Considering that these shows routinely sell out, it seems to be working.

The quartet opened with Beethoven’s String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131. They gathered steam slowly with the stately nocturnal intro to the first movement ; its cleverly shifting voicings brought to mind Vivaldi at quarterspeed. The group – violinists Ulrich Isfort and Annette Reisinger, violist Aroa Sorin and cellist Matthias Diener – dug in harder, but with a striking consistency, as the composer’s rhythm shifted and the exchanges grew more suited to a dancefloor at some European baron’s estate.

But this is a Rubik’s Cube of a piece: there’s symmetry, but it’s always changing. A hypnotically pulsing calm set in as the violins rose further up the scale, until Diener got to puncture it, gently. Beethoven doesn’t let an initial country dance theme cut loose, but he does with a second, which the group attacked with relish. There was puckish joy in fleeting pizzicato moments, but also sotto-voce suspense as the music dipped. And a cruel instant where Beethoven suddenly has the whole quartet shift to high harmonics for a couple of bars didn’t phase them in the least.

Sharp martial motives stood out alongside twilit lustre and dancing rivulets; the innumerable false endings were absolutely conspiratorial. Whoever might think the string quartet repertoire might be stodgy hasn’t heard this group play this piece.

The group closed with a stripped-down arrangement of Mahler’s song Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (I Am Lost to the World), a morosely defiant artist’s kiss-off to a cruel world.

There will also be several hours’ worth of free events to celebrate Lincoln Center’s fiftieth anniversary taking place all over campus today, May 4 starting at around quarter to eleven in the morning: a thunderous all-female troupe playing Brazilian samba reggae, and a couple of Haitian ensembles, kick off the festivities on the plaza

Advertisements

May 4, 2019 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Auspicious Glimpse of This Year’s Greenwich Village Orchestra Season

The buzz at the reception after Sunday’s Greenwich Village Orchestra concert was electric. On one hand, that’s to be expected after a show full of thrills like this one was. But people were still raving about the season’s first program, one veteran concertgoer venturing so far as to call that particular performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 the best she’d ever seen. “I keep telling people, you can spend a hundred and fifty bucks for the New York Philharmonic…or you can drop twenty bucks here, and it’s every bit as good,” said another. Much as Alan Gilbert has done very good things with the Philharmonic, one thing he hasn’t – to be fair, this probably isn’t part of his job description – is to lower ticket prices. The cheapest advertised seats to a recent performance of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances – a suite that’s a lot of fun but hardly the composer’s best work – were forty bucks. Suggested donation to the GVO is $20, $10 for seniors and kids. And afterward you can schmooze, grab a glass of wine or a snack if you’re so inclined and bask in the magic of what  you’ve just witnessed.

And the GVO draws a crowd that’s more committed and critical than most, an artsy bunch, many of them musicians themselves. They’re considerably younger, more diverse and more representative of the population of this city as a whole, compared to your typical blue-haired Lincoln Center audience. This time out there were plenty of families and kids along with the expected slate of retired folks and just average everyday people. If you’d put everyone who’d been at this performance n the same train, you’d never guess that they were all coming from the same concert. What did they see that made them so excited?

Music Director Barbara Yahr led them through Verdi’s Forza del Destino Overture to get things started. It’s not heavy or particularly profound music, but it is a way to get a quick read on how ready an orchestra and conductor are to shift on a dime, from lush and sweeping, to lively and balletesque, or to wistful and pensive, and this performance quickly reminded how friendly and intuitive the long relationship between this orchestra and conductor continues to be.

Baritone Jesse Blumberg joined them for Mahler’s Songs of the Wayfarer, which posed different challenges, again an easy barometer for how well an ensemble can rise to meet them. The song cycle is typical Mahler in that it uses the entirety of the sonic spectrum, meaning that everyone in the group has to be on their toes, and they were. Especially Blumberg. There’s a point in this lovelorn suite where the singer really has to reach back and belt over the orchestra as the angst rises, and Yahr made it clear that she wasn’t going to sacrifice any passion in the dynamics of her interpretation, but Blumberg made clear that his destino was to go to the well for all the extra forza required. As a bonus – something that often happens at GVO concerts – the more somber, subtle Mahler song that followed, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (I am lost to the world), was a surprise, not originally on the program.

The piece de resistance was the best performance of Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration that this blog has ever witnessed – and there have been several. Some will disagree with this opinion, but it’s the composer’s greatest work. In the hands of this orchestra, it became the most dynamic and explosive tone poem ever written, complete with a member of the violin section providing an informative reading of the poetry that inspired it. It was here that the thematic sense of this concert – the GVO loves theme shows – became most vivid, an uneasy and bittersweet late-life reflection heavy on dubious choices and missed opportunities. The confidently pulsing orchestration early on was steady and suspenseful, voicing the waves of regret as the narrative went on, all the more potently affecting in contrast to the silky calm as the strings took the piece out with a pillowy touch. The Greenwich Village Orchestra has been a downtown fixture for decades and has a devoted following, but this season looks like the best in years. The orchestra’s next performance, December 13 at 3 PM, is their annual interactive family concert, featuring the children of the Actionplay chorus along with works by Bizet, Beethoven and Richard Strauss.

November 26, 2015 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Towering, Epic Majesty from the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony

The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony’s name is a bit of a mismoner: yesterday they were a mighty, mammoth ensemble, concluding their season with a program aptly titled Majestic Finale, pairing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 with Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in midtown Manhattan. David Bernard conducted from memory, without a score: he has these pieces in his fingers, leading the orchestra with a vigorous meticulousness, bolstered by a confidence that there were no limits on where this music might go, from a whisper to a scream. Employing the entirety of the sonic spectrum, the orchestra responded with a frequently exhilarating performance.

Why, two hundred years after the fact, is Beethoven still so relevant? Ultimately, it boils down to transcendence. This was somebody who couldn’t stop writing for fear that he’d completely lose his muse, even if he could no longer perceive one. He hadn’t yet completely lost his hearing when he composed his Fourth Symphony, but by then it had become an issue. An indomitable response in the face of despair, the symphony is arguably every bit the match for his Fifth. Up close to the orchestra (close being the operative word here, a reliably welcome fringe benefit at this group’s concerts), it was impossible to ignore how difficult its thrills are to deliver. And the orchestra pulled them off, one by one. Bernard set up the fireworks up by keeping the mournful initial stillness of the first movement rapt and mysterious, to where Beethoven says something to the extent of “well, that’s enough mourning, now we’re off!” and then the fun began.

Lo-fi stereo effects were deftly balanced between lustrous woodwinds and tensely anticipatory strings, pregnant pauses executed flawlessly, the strings galloping through a thicket of glissandos with an abandon that stopped just thisshort of recklessness. By contrast, the adagio second movement took on a resonant cantabile that again set up somewhat less dramatic fireworks in the third movement’s intricately shapeshifting rhythms and then the final allegro, which was vividly Beethoven as opposed to Beethoven-esque. This orchestra gets this music.

Where to go after that showstopper? Nowhere but down. Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 is best understood in its original context as a lavishly arranged song suite. Where the Beethoven is all about ensemble playing, this is about individual voices set against a massive backdrop, both of which were briskly and efficiently delivered. Orchestra and conductor deserve credit for seizing those moments as they arrived, one by one, but conventional wisdom and cutting-edge orchestration be damned: aside from the clever permutations on the klezmer dance in the third movement and the outraged cinematics that explode with the introduction of the fourth, this is an insubstantial and vastly overrated piece of music. It would make a fitting soundtrack to an epic film that only gets interesting after everybody’s left the theatre. The program notes cited a contemporary critic’s appraisal that the audience at its debut responded enthusiastically through the end of the second movement’s cartoonish funeral march and then lost interest: yesterday the reaction was just the opposite. Which makes sense in the presence of modern ears. In the wake of a series of shamelessly pilfered folk themes – most obviously Bruder Martin, the minor-key, Teutonic version of Frere Jacques – and veering nonsensically from the comedic to the serious or quasi-serious, the outrage and heartbreak of the conclusion arrived without an iota of the clever foreshadowing that was so captivating in the Beethoven. The effect was stunning – Bernard and the ensemble took it up as far as the roof would allow – but it begged the question of whether or not it was worth the wait. By itself, it would have made a deliciously high-voltage coda after the Beethoven and would have made the orchestra’s workout somewhat less arduous.

The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony kicks off its next season auspiciously on October 27 at 8 PM and then the next day at 3 PM with Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel and Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with Terry Eder at the piano.

May 7, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The NY Philharmonic’s 9/11 Memorial Concert: A Class Act

A genuinely classy move: for their September 10, 7:30 PM performance of Mahler’s Symphony #2, the NY Philharmonic is offering priority ticket access to the families of 9/11 victims, first responders and survivors. Members of this community may request a pair of free tickets in advance by e-mailing concertfornewyork@nyphil.org by September 1, so hurry if you qualify and you like Mahler. If there are any remaining tickets, they’ll be distributed for free, first-come, first-serve, one pair per person at 4 PM on the plaza at Lincoln Center the day of the show.

There will also be seating on the plaza for those who prefer to watch a live projection outdoors. The concert will be conducted by Alan Gilbert and telecast in the U.S. on PBS’s Great Performances at 9 PM on Sept 11 (check local listings), and webcast at nyphil.org at 9 PM EDT on Sept 11 as well. A live concert DVD will follow in October.

August 29, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment