Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Thrills and Dynamism from the Transatlantic Ensemble at Steinway Hall

From this perspective, crowds at concerts have been even more sparse than usual since the election. Monday night at the new Steinway Hall just around the corner from the Town Hall, a surprisingly robust turnout for an early weeknight got to witness a thrilling, dynamic performance by the Transatlantic Ensemble: clarinetist Mariam Adam and pianist Evelyn Ulex, joined by a couple of similarly electrifying special guests, Lara St. John on violin and JP Jofre on bandoneon.

The group’s raison d’etre is to expand the range of serious concert music beyond the usual parade of dead white guys. Lots of ensembles are doing this, but few more excitingly than this semi-rotating cast. Adam got to treat the crowd with her joyous, technically challenging leaps and bounds as the group bookended the program with a couple of Paquito D’Rivera pieces, Benny@100 – a tribute to famed jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman – and a pulsing Venezuelan-flavored waltz.

In between, Ulex explored a similar dynamism and nuance. She’s one of the pianists Steinway selected to record for their digital player piano, the Spirio, which not only plays the notes but with a very close approximation of an individual player’s touch and phrasing. With the Spirio, you have your choice of your favorite music along with a variety of interpretations. If there’s no room in your apartment or your budget for such a big piece of equipment, the Steinway label has just put out the Transatlantic Ensemble’s new album Havana Moon – streaming at Spotify – whose release the group was celebrating.

The premise of the album, Adam revealed, was to celebrate the work of some of the group’s favorite composers from their global circle. The night’s biggest thrill ride was a tango by Miguel del Aguila, whom Adam described as “impetuous,” and she wasn’t kidding. Ulex attacked the tune with both graceful precision and unleashed passion as Adam provided cleverly dancing counterpoint, and St. John added her own high-voltage flurries and spirals. The group hit a similar peak later on when joined by Jofre for a rousing performance of his composition Primavera, which came across as more of a wild midsummer festival on the Argentinian pampa.

Del Aguila’s Silence, as Adam averred, was hardly silent: a requiem, it gave her the evening’s lone opportunity to cut loose in an anguished torrent of notes, and she made the most of it. The duo also elegantly parsed the subtleties of D’Rivera’s neoromantically-tinged Habanera, a wistful Roaring 20s Parisian waltz by Villa-Lobos and a surprisingly astringent, modernist lullaby by Jofre.

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November 19, 2016 Posted by | classical music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Transatlantic Ensemble Gives Their New Album a Mighty Launch

Monday night the Transatlantic Ensemble Imani Winds clarinetist Mariam Adam and German pianist Evelyn Ulex – teamed up with nuevo tango bandoneon virtuoso J.P. Jofre for one of those semi-private concerts that are all the rage now (it wasn’t closed to the public, but you either had to know someone or get on the guest list). As you would expect from musicians of this quality, much of it was transcendent. Jofre and Adam shared a fondness for bittersweet ambered tonalities, and there were plenty of those, each of the artists at the top of their game. This was the album release show for the ensemble’s new one and if this performance was any indication, it must be superb.

The concert opened auspiciously with a series of pieces for clarinet and piano, beginning with Adam’s french hornist bandmate Jeff Scott’s Toccata. Ulex drove it into increasingly stormy, dancing, Piazzolla-influenced territory with a distantly bluesy undercurrent, Adam shifting in a split second from a crystalline pensiveness to bright, lively upper-register cascades. The first of three Paquito D’Rivera numbers, Invitation al Danzon, was exactly as Adam termed it, “a wonderful, hipswinging kind of piece,” juxtaposing increasingly brooding cantabile balladry with jaunty clarinet flourishes.

Ulex then delivered a comfortably expansive, satisfyingly nocturnal Schumann diptych, Fantasietucke, Op. 73. By contrast, her take of Rodion Shchedrin’s Basso Ostinato – a real workout written for a piano competition, replete with wryly rapidfire etude-like interludes – was a battle, one that gave her innumerable opportunities to emerge triumphant with her fingers still intact.

Jofre joined the duo for the night’s most gripping moments, first with a rather epic, hauntingly memorable, angst-fueled mini-suite full of noir bustle, electric dynamic shifts, a long, suspensefully carnivalesque bandoneon solo and finally a sense of closure with a surprisingly still, calm ending, something completely unexpected in the wake of all the fireworks. The trio then romped through Jofre’s Primavera, an insistently rhythmic, appropriately vernal song without words. Adam and Ulex closed with two selections from D’Rivera’s Cape Cod Files (a commission from a festival there), an anxiously elegaic Piazzolla elegy and then a lighthearted but surprisingly sophisticated, modernist Benny Goodman homage full of tongue-in-cheek swing and boogie-woogie japes.

January 16, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Auspicious Start to This Year’s Imani Winds Festival

This year’s third annual Imani Winds Festival of cutting-edge chamber music kicked off auspiciously last night on the upper west side with the pioneering wind quintet performing a sometimes haunting, sometimes exhilarating mix of relatively new (and brand new) compositions. Imani Winds flutist Valerie Coleman’s Tzigane made a deliciously high-octane opening number: an imaginative blend of gypsy jazz and indie classical with intricately shifting voices, it was a showcase for the entirety of the ensemble, notably clarinetist Mariam Adam’s otherworldly, microtonal trills and Coleman’s slinkily legato snakecharmer lines.

Phil Taylor’s Prelude and Scherzo was next. Brooding, apprehensive, atmospheric cinematics built matter-of-factly to an anguished flute cadenza, then backed away and the process repeated itself; the Scherzo cleverly took the wary introductory theme and disguised it with a jaunty bounce which the group built to an unexpectedly triumphant ending.

The piece de resistance was a new Mohammed Fairouz suite, Jebnal Lebnan (meaning “Mount Lebanon,” the historical name for the mountainous country), which the Imani Winds recently recorded. The composer explained beforehand that its withering opening segment, Bashir’s March, was inspired by his visit to the site of a former refugee camp there, “the most horrific thing” he’d ever seen. Monica Ellis’ bassoon drove it with a chilling nonchalance, the rest of the ensemble fleshing out a coldly sarcastic, Shostakovian martial theme that Jeff Scott’s french horn took to its cruelly logical, mechanically bustling extreme. After a solo interlude where Coleman got to subtly  imitate an Arabic ney flute, the group hit a high note (if you’re willing to buy the premise of a dirge being a high note) with the second movement, Lamentation: Ariel’s Song. Ominous atmospheric washes led to an elegantly plaintive bassoon solo and a methodical crescendo that built from elegaic to fullscale horror, its fatalistic pulse suddenly disappearing, leaving the atmospherics to linger ominously before ending on a more lively but equally wary note. This angst subsided somewhat but still remained through the rest of the work: the tango-like Dance and Little Song, with their bracing close harmonies and Scheherezade allusions, and Mar Charbel’s Dabkeh, a cleverly interwoven rondo of sorts featuring Coleman on pennywhistle that ended energetically with a confluence of klezmer, gypsy and Arabic tonalities, an apt evocation of a land that’s been a melting pot (and a boiling point) for centuries.

Derek Bermel’s Gift of Life made a terrific segue. Inspired by a visit to Jerusalem, it built suspensefully with a Middle Eastern melody anchored by brooding bassoon, its atmospherics finally falling apart in a bustling cacaphony. Another short work by Bermel, Two Songs from Nandom, drawing on Ugandan xylophone music, made a sprightly contrast as its rhythmic central theme shifted further and further away from the center. The group closed with Scott’s artfully voiced, passionately animated arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango and encored with a grin from the edge of the stage with what sounded like a brief, matter-of-factly improvised theme from a late Dvorak work. The Imani Winds Festival continues through August 7, with a whirlwind of master classes and performances featuring a deluge of up-and-coming talent; the full schedule is here.

July 30, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment