Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Jenny Q Chai Captures a Moment in New York History

In a mighty stroke of coincidence, or the kind of luck that an artist would never wish on an audience, Jenny Q Chai sure picked the right program for her Poisson Rouge debut last night. In the low lights of the downstairs space, less than 48 hours after it reopened in the wake of the hurricane, the pianist went into Lynchian mode and stayed there for pretty much the duration of her concert. Maybe the effect was enhanced by having just come from Zirzamin around the corner – a Twin Peaks room if there ever was one – but all of downtown has been in a surreal, uneasy mood since the storm. Chai captured it perfectly, a mix of ambitious contemporary solo works along with some unexpected relief that blended in seamlessly even as it contrasted with the rest of the program. This wasn’t about pyrotechnics: it was about the mist afterward.

Chai began with Satie’s Three Gymnopedies, whose ghoulish nuances are as difficult to capture as the notes themselves are easy to play. She took the easy route with them, straightforwardly hinting at waltz time. Schoenberg’s Drei Klavierstücke, Op.11 made a perfect segue, ramping up the chilly, surreal nocturnal ambience. Another Klavierstücke, this one by Stockhausen, was next on the bill, but instead, an attractively fugal melody wafted from the piano. Did Stockhausen ever go for baroque and comedic? It wouldn’t have been outside the realm of possibility, but it became clear from a glance at the program that these were in fact genuine Scarlatti pieces. True to form, Chai did the two sonatas totally straight-up without any kind of dancing lilt. What happened to Stockhausen? Turns out that Chai had nixed the work since there was already plenty of heavy stuff on the bill.

The rest of the program was nocturnes, more or less. Marco Stroppa’s Innnige Cavatina utilized muted notes and plucking inside the piano to enhance the otherworldly lunar ambience; Chai reverted to the same atmosphere a bit later with Andre Bouchorechliev’s Orion III. Nils Vigeland’s Barcarolle, from Life Sketches, etched a more spacious and suspenseful deep-space tableau with its muxic box tonalities and muted low lefthand notes creating a sound like a Fender bass: for a minute or two, Chai was a one-woman band. She closed with the Chopin Barcarolle, which is as far from Twin Peaks as this city is. But even this lullaby got a cautious understatement, perhaps a conscious allusion to the moment’s persistent unease, perhaps not. The audience – larger than expected under the circumstances – refused to let Chai leave without an encore, so she sang them Victoria Jordanova’s Prayer, a simple and vividly anxious piece with lyrics in several languages, and then sent everyone home on a peaceful note with Child Falling Asleep, from Schumann’s Kinderszenen.

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November 5, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jenny Q Chai’s Smart, Intuitive Carnegie Hall Debut

Pianist Jenny Q Chai’s Carnegie Hall debut last night was expertly programmed and packed with joie de vivre: she played as if she had a secret and couldn’t wait to share it with everybody. Her approach to a mix of premieres, 20th and 21st century compositions and an old High Romantic concert favorite matched fearsome technique to a confidently matter-of-fact emotional intelligence. When the material called for space, she let it linger, most notably (and amusingly) in one of the world premieres, Inhyun Kim’s Parallel Lines, a playfully rigorous study in parallelistic close harmonies punctuated by a Day in the Life-style sustained pause. The joke going around the hall was that Chai could have rubatoed it if she’d wanted to. And when she had to reach back for all the power and precision she could muster, whether for the cruelly difficult machine-gun staccato passages of Marco Stroppa’s Innige Cavatina (a US premiere), or the torrid, torrential rivulets of Debussy’s Etude No. 6, she awed the crowd with what seemed to be an effortless articulacy.

Yet despite the pyrotechnics, it was Chai’s sensitivity to color, timbre and emotion that resonated the most. She nailgunned the stratospherically high notes in Ashley Fu-tsun Wang’s Current (another world premiere), but let the murky, contrasting depths speak for themselves. It was arguably the high point of the night, icily misty tonalities in a rather Rachmaninovian architecture, alternating between spacious minimalism and jaunty flair. And when Chai reached the final variation on the opening theme, she let it go out on a quietly brooding note which packed quite a wallop.

Messiaen’s Canteyodjaya was a mixed bag: Chai handled its herky-jerky, explosive clusters with aplomb and then seemed to revel in its low, stalking basslines, one of the piece’s high points: it could have been a hit single, so to speak, if Messiaen had only edited it down to the juicy passages. And even a wardrobe malfunction didn’t distract Chai from from expertly negotiating the juxtaposition between jarring dissonance and comfortable resonance in a couple of Kurtag miniatures, Quiet Talk with the Devil and Les Adieux, both selections from his Jaketok suite. After all this harshness, Schumann’s Kreisleriana was dessert, and Chai played it as as bittersweet reminscence rather than nostalgia: her phrasing throughout it, whether the rivulets of the main theme, the stately requiem of sorts, or the closing waltz, was judiciously terse, a fitting elegy for Schumann’s old friend from literature. The crowd roared for an encore and got two: the first, an unfamiliar, fluid miniature that would have made a good theme for the PBS special Springtime in Alaska (or the equivalent), the second a John Cage vocal number that she tapped out on the piano lid as she sang.

April 20, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment