Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Awestruck, Transcendent, Epic Grandeur from the Spectrum Symphony

One of the most transcendent concerts of 2016 happened Friday night at St. Peter’s Church in midtown, where the Spectrum Symphony played not one but two rare concertos for organ and orchestra by Poulenc and Balint Karosi, the latter a world premiere. First of all, beyond the famous Saint-Saens Organ Symphony, there isn’t much organ repertoire that incorporates much of anything other than brass – simply because church organs are loud. And paradoxically, to mute the organ as a concerto instrument would make it redundant: you can get “quiet organ” with woodwinds. So this show was doubly auspicious, incorporating both the Poulenc Concerto for Orchestra, Strings and Timpani in G along with works by Bach, Mendelssohn and the exhilarating, rivetingly dynamic Karosi Concerto No. 2 for Organ, Percussion and Strings, with the composer himself in the console. Conductor David Grunberg, who is really on a roll programming obscure works that deserve to be vastly better known, was a calmly poised, assured presence and had the group on their toes – as they had to be.

Another problematic issue with music for pipe organ and other instruments, from both a compositional and performance prespective, is the sonic decay. Not only do you have to take your time with this kind of music, you have to be minutely attuned to echo effects so that the organ and ensemble aren’t stepping all over each other. The acoustics at this space happen to be on the dry side, which worked to the musicians’ advantage. The strings opened by giving a lively, Vivaldiesque flair to the overture from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No, 3, BWV 1068, a clever bit of programming since the eight-part Poulenc suite – performed as an integral whole – opens with a robust shout-out to Bach before going off in all sorts of clever directions.

Organist Janos Palur parsed the piece with a deliberate, carefully crafted approach well-suited to its innumerable shifts from one idiom to another, from the baroque, to vividly lingering Romanticism, to a robust, completely unexpected dance and more astringent tonalities. Poulenc’s genius in assembling the piece came through in how integrally the organist and ensemble played it: both were clearly audible and rewardingly supportive of each other when in unison, and when not, transitions between solo organ and the strings were confidently fluid and natural. As the piece unwound, it took on a Gil Evans-like sweep and lustre, the lowest pedals and bass paired with sonic cirrus clouds floating serenely above the dark river underneath.

Percussionist Charles Kiger got even more of a workout with the Karosi premiere than he did with the Poulenc. Switching seamlessly from one instrument to another, his vibraphone amplified uneasy pointillisms that a different composer might have arranged for glockenspiel. Otherwise, his terse kettledrum accents bolstered Karosi’s stygian pedal undercurrents, and his mighty, crescendoing washes on the gongs provided the night’s most spine-tingling, thundering crescendos.

Yet for all its towering, epic grandeur, the concerto turned out to be stunningly subtle. Seemingly modeled on the architecture if not the melodies of the Poulenc, Karosi quickly quoted from the same Bach riff that Poulenc used and then worked his way through a completely different and even more adventurously multistylistic tour de force. There were allusions to the haunted atmospherics of Jehan Alain, the austere glimmer of Naji Hakim, the macabre cascades of Louis Vierne, and finally and most conclusively, the otherworldly, awestruck terror of Messiaen. But ultimately, the suite is its own animal – and vaults Karosi into the front ranks of global composers. It’s almost embarrassing to admit not being familiar with his work prior to this concert. Not only is this guy good, he’s John Adams good. Let’s hope for vastly more from him in the years and decades to come. And the Spectrum Symphony return to their new home at St. Peter’s on January 27 at 7:30 PM with a Mozart birthday party celebration featuring his “Prague” Symphony No. 28,

November 6, 2016 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Greenwich Village Orchestra Plays One for the Ages

The buzz after the Greenwich Village Orchestra‘s concert yesterday evening was that they’d just made their definitive live album. There were mics prominently set up toward the front at Murray Hill’s sonically magnificent Church of the Incarnation: if the recording is in any kind of decent shape, they’ve got as good a representation as anything the New York Philharmonic have ever put out. Some audience members credited this sleek, insightful, literally flawless performance to the church’s sonics. Others more cynical considered that the shock of having to adjust to new digs might have jarred the ensemble into one of their firest performances of recent years, considering that their usual Irving Place home base is currently shuttered and under repairs in the wake of a fire.

Whatever the case, conductor Barbara Yahr led the group through an exquisite performance. They opened with Mozart’s Adagio and Rondo, Andres Cardenes the soloist on violin. Playing from memory, he approached the music with a purposeful drive and a subtlety of tone, very light on the vibrato and incisive rather than keening, in a Yehudi Menuhin vein. Yahr’s interpretation of the Agadio was as a pillowy nocturne, strings and winds so seamless that they seemed like one single, plush instrument. Sometimes Mozart gets carried away with his stereo effects, but not in the Rondo, and the orchestra matched that subtlety, both with dynamics and detail, Cardenes sailing overhead.

Interestingly, the program notes mentioned how Max Bruch had some doubts about how to characterize his Violin Concerto No. 1. Was it contiguous enough to be a real concerto, or is it just, say, some kind of partita or fantasy? Bruch’s virtuoso violinist pal Joseph Joachim reassured him that it was plenty cohesive enough. Which is kind of funny, because it’s sort of all over the place… in a good way. It’s a study in contrasts, amplified by both orchestra and soloist, tenderness juxtaposed against a marching theme that, after a lustrous, meticulously moody, spaciously paced second movement, takes a long upward climb toward a rather droll coda. It made a good segue with the Mozart.

Yahr explained to the crowd that she saw Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5, “The Reformation” as cycle of transformation on a very personal level, mirroring the religious paradigm shift that the composer sought to illustrate. We don’t know for certain, but some think that Mendelssohn didn’t think too highly of it since it was never published in his lifetime. What became crystal clear from the moment the orchestra launched into it is how clever, and often very funny, it is. It’s a big shout-out to Bach and has the same kind of drama as the St. Matthew Passion, with quotes from both Bach and the German Lutheran hymnal deftly interspersed amidst the increasing drama. Typical Mendelssohnian ebullience and optimism took a dip into a stately waltz and then an absolutely luscious, cantabile third movement before rise to epically anthemic proportions that had Yahr, usually a very meticulous and composed presence on the podium, caught it up its irresistible sway. Forget the album for a minute: this would have made a great DVD.

The Greenwich Village Orchestra’s next performance is on May 22 at 3 PM, with works by Gershwin, Hindemith, Mozart and Tschaikovsky’s Capriccio Italian, the fantastic trumpeter Brandon Ridenour as soloist at a venue TBA. Watch this space.

April 11, 2016 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seraphic Fire Deliver Thrills and Transcendence at Trinity Church

That the Mozart Requiem wasn’t the centerpiece of the program last night at Trinity Church speaks to the ambition of conductor Patrick Dupre Quigley and the transformative brilliance of his choir, Seraphic Fire. The sixteen-piece ensemble put on a virtuosic display of vocal prowess and daunting extended technique, not for the sake of show but for emotional impact. The sold-out crowd – comprising all ages and pretty much every demographic that exists in this multicultural city – rewarded them with a series of standing ovations.

Quigley programmed the Mozart as a coda, including new material by Gregory Spears, replacing the three next-to-last segments originally cobbled together by Franz Sussmayr in the wake of Mozart’s death. On one hand, this was as much of stretch for the audience as it was for the emsemble. Sure, singers on as elite a level as this crew are expected to shift on a dime between very diverse idioms, but there was definitely some gearshifting going on as the group – backed elegantly by chamber ensemble the Sebastians – voiced Spears’ minimalistic and frequently challenging variations on comfortably post-baroque Mozart riffs. Spears didn’t follow Mozart’s eighteenth century tonalities for long, but he did stay true to the original thematically, moving between stately waltz time, lustrous washes of sound and plaintively prayerful interludes. Since the Requiem is an incomplete work – if you include all the repetition, only about twenty percent of it is original Mozart – lots of composers have taken up the challenge of wrapping it up. Quigley encouraged the crowd to see this new version as a requiem in the broad sense of the word, a memorial service open to those who need to contribute and share

Interestingly, Quigley didn’t direct the Mozart portions of the work as a mighty, all-stops-out tour de force as choirs tend to do. Instead, he led the group on a matter-of-fact build through sorrow and wistfulness to the fullscale angst of where Mozart realizes that this is finally it.

The rest of the program was sublime. The choir opened with Knut Nystedt’s Immortal Bach, its enveloping, misty textures and endless washes of sustain showcasing the singers’ seemingly effortless command of circular breathing. Baroque composer Heinrich Schutz’s Selig, Sind die Toten, with its striking balance of celestial highs and pillowy lows, made an apt segue with Mendelssohn’s Richte Mich, Gott, considering how much its early Romantic composer drew on Schutz’s forward-thinking orchestration. The group channeled the same kind of confident ebullience and optimism that characterize Mendelssohn’s organ works.

Throughout the terse, nebulously minimalist variations on simple, baroque motives in a new arrangement of Ingram Marshall’s Hymnodic Delays – originally written for vocal quartet and loops rather than a full sixteen-piece ensemble – the group foreshadowed what they’d do with Spears’ work a little later. And soprano Molly Quinn made the most of her flickering and then soaringly riveting appearances in front of the choir, in and out of Dominick DiOrio’s I Am, a prayerfully-tinged, bittersweet launching pad for her literally spine-tingling flights to the upper registers as it wound up on an optimistic note. Seraphic Fire return to Trinity Church on April 20 at 7:30 PM with a performance of Brahms’ German Requiem.

February 18, 2016 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony Brings Their Lush, Towering Sound to Carnegie Hall This October 27

The massive, lush Park Avenue Chamber Symphony with David Bernard on the podium make their latest appearance at Carnegie Hall on Oct 27 at 2 PM at Stern Auditorium, playing Dvorak’s  Carnival Overture, the Brahms Violin Concerto with Jourdan Urbach on violin,  Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Daniela Liebman on piano and then Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet fantasy-overture. The Upper East Side’s counterpart to the ensembles across the park at Lincoln Center also regularly release recordings of their concerts, just as the NY Phil does, and many of them are very choice. It’s a great marketing concept: truth in advertising, what you hear is exactly what you get in concert. More orchestras should do this.

The latest in this orchestra’s ongoing releases pairs Beethoven’s Symphonies No. 1 and 7. The full-bodied performance of the former captures the joy of Beethoven exploring the sonic extremes that the relatively newfangled symphonic form allowed, and in his case encouraged: that his symphonies would become his most popular works comes as no surprise after hearing this. The recording of No. 7 is similarly dynamic – a consistent quality of this orchestra – pairing understatedly explosive pageantry against the tightly controlled, richly creative songcraft that dominates the final three movements.

The orchestra’s previous release is one of the most tantalizing recordings in their extensive catalog, an irresistibly high-spirited take of Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony along with Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. It’s easy to take the Mendelssohn as a romp, but there’s also an almost conspiratorial calm to counter the dancing themes that dominate the work: again, Bernard has the ensemble working rich dynamic contrasts. Another treat in the orchestra’s catalog, from a few years back, is arguably the most plush, luxuriant recent recording of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2. For anything that remotely resembles this, you have to go back to the 1970s for Yevgeny Svetlanov’s version with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. No doubt they will record the upcoming Carnegie Hall concert, for which tickets are still available as of this writing.

October 22, 2013 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Catching Up On Last Month’s Concerts

In an earlier incarnation, this space was devoted almost exclusively to live music. Then the publicists found us and the deluge of albums began. If you’ve been wondering where all the concert coverage went, that’s part of the answer. But there’s more to come – and there’s been a lot happening that hasn’t been mentioned here recently, in the scramble to wrap up this year’s crop of recordings.

This blog has been a longstanding advocate for the Sunday, 5:15 PM organ recitals at St. Thomas Church on 53rd Street at 5th Avenue, whose presence in the New York music scene become more precious since the massive old organ there is slated to be replaced at some unspecified future date. The mighty beast is actually a hybrid whose innards are in a more precarious state than they sound. But organists from around the world still make it sing, particularly the church’s director of music, John Scott, a New York treasure if there ever was one. His recordings of the complete organ works of Mendelssohn are definitive; he’s done the entire Buxtehude and Messiaen cycles for organ at this very same console. His October concert there saw him pull out the stops with nimble elegance on a towering Bach fantasia and then a quietly lustrous hymn, followed by a Charles Villiers Stamford setting of a different hymn, Maurice Durufle’s transcription of Louis Vierne’s thunderously atmospheric Meditation and then Jean Langlais’ even more blazing Te Deum from his Gregorian Paraphrases triptych completed a thrilling program. Suffice it to say that any time Scott plays, he is worth seeing. In the coming weeks he’ll be busy with church choir concerts – which are also worth seeing. His next scheduled recital here is February 10 of next year.

Another concert that delivered a titanic majesty was the New York Repertory Orchestra’s late October performance of Prokofiev’s phantasmagorically shapeshifting Divertimento followed by a lush, richly dynamic performance of Samuel Barber’s Cello Concerto with guest soloist Inbal Segev at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin on 46th St. As one random concertgoer perfectly capsulized it, this was an welcome surprise. It would have been even more enjoyable to have been able to stick around for the finale of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, but there were other things on the agenda here (and hence no fair and just way of giving the orchestra the fullscale review they deserved). They’re back here on Dec 15 with a program of Delibes, Walton and the New York premiere of Tubin’s Symphony No. 8.

Two other concerts that deserve a mention are the Hugo Wolf Quartett’s performances at Trinity Church the Thursday before the hurricane, and then a week later at the Austrian Cultural Center, where they’d been camping out since they weren’t able to fly home. At Trinity, they opened with a rousing performance of Mozart’s String Quartet in D Minor, K421. This is the second of the two Mozart quartets in minor keys; it’s focused, and as deep and dark as the composer ever got. The quartet had a ball with it, soaring through its wary exchanges with abandon and in the process almost upstaging Beethoven’s “Harp” String Quartet in Eb Major, Op. 74.

That piece is loaded with plenty of the did-you-just-hear-that cadenzas and sudden shifts between voices that the composer loved so much, well beyond the pizzicato section that inspired its nickname. A work so iconic  isn’t supposed to sound different from program to program, but this one did at the ensemble’s temporary midtown campground, and it was better. That is to say, more intimate and at the same time more energetically lush, although that interpretation might be colored by the superior sonics at the small concert hall here…and the group’s ability to roll out of bed, at least theoretically, and play. Also on the bill and delivered with meticulous nuance were Mendelssohn’s rousing early Romantic String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13 and Philippe Hersant’s 1988 String Quartet No. 2, which juxtaposed airy atmospherics with bracing twelve-tone melodicism arrayed with High Romantic rhythms and dynamic swells. A gesture of appreciation from violinists Sebastian Gürtler and Régis Bringolf, violist Gertrud Weinmeister and cellist Florian Berner to the community for having put them up at a moment of crisis, they ended up giving back far more than they could have taken.

November 17, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Dozen Questions for Rising Star Violinist Hye-Jin Kim

Up-and-coming violin virtuoso Hye-Jin Kim is a passionate devotee of the arts, with an infectious joie de vivre. Hopefully at some future date – the Sunday, November 4 concert with the Greenwich Village Orchestra has been postponed – she’ll have the opportunity to rejoin this exciting ensemble for a performance. Prior to the recent hurricane, Kim graciously took some time out of her whirlwind schedule to entertain a few serious and not-so-serious questions about the show and her blossoming career:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: You’re playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with the Greenwich Village Orchestra on November 4. Does this piece have special resonance for you, or is this just a chance to gig with a good orchestra?

Hye-Jin Kim: I have always loved Mendelssohn’s music- chamber music, vocal, orchestral, piano, and of course the violin concerto – for the delicate texture and yet highly emotional content. I have not played this piece for some time other than teaching it, so I’m very excited to be performing it with the GVO. This month has become my Mendelssohn phase as I just finished playing an all-Mendelssohn chamber music program for a residency. It’s as good as it gets.

LCC: I love his music too – it’s so indomitable, and inspiring – it always cheers me up. As far as your concert is concerned, I’m always interested in how musicians connect. Is this your debut performance with this particular orchestra? Did they find you or did you find them? Either way, I know you’re in for a good time..

HJK: I worked with the GVO once before, performing the Scottish Fantasy by Bruch with the delightful Pierre Vallet, who was guest conductor for that concert. So I guess I can say that they found me again! I enjoyed every minute playing with them and I really thought we had something special together in the concert. I’m looking forward to working with conductor Barbara Yahr this time, and discovering new things about this concerto.

LCC: How did you ge so lucky as to study with Jaime Laredo and Ida Kafavian when you were 14?

HJK:Going to the Curtis Institute of Music to work with Jaime Laredo and Ida Kavafian is one of the most fortunate things that happened in my life, another one being studying with Miriam Fried, post-Curtis. I do not know how it all happened and I don’t think I was quite aware how lucky I was at the time since I was only 14 years old. I remember playing my auditions in front of the faculty members and thinking to myself “hmm, I don’t know any of them!” The next thing I remember is getting a phone call from Mr. Graffman who was the director of Curtis at the time and he told me that I would be working with Jaime and Ida. And the rest is history.

LCC: You won the Concert Artists Guild International Competition three years ago. I see a million competitions out there, with a million winners, and I get jaded. And yet, some of these players are tremendously good. To what extent has your victory helped your career?

HJK: I have done my share of competitions in the past and did well in some. However, CAG is a bit different in that it awards a management contract to winners. It helped me connect with many musicians and presenters in the performing arts scene..

LCC: I can’t help but notice how busy your concert schedule is. How do you find the time, and the energy, and the focus, to shift between genres, and ensembles, and sometimes play the role of educator?

HJK: It definitely has been a challenge in recent years since I took a teaching position at East Carolina University not too long ago in addition to actively playing solo and chamber music. I find joy in all the things I do in this stage of my career and whether it is a concerto, recital, ensemble, or teaching, what I am doing at the moment is my favorite thing. This mindset helps me stay fresh and energized.

LCC: Every single quote I see about string players from the mainstream classical music press concerns an artist’s tone. Isn’t there a lot, lot more to it than tone – phrasing, dynamics, emotional attunement, the works? Besides, a lot of it depends on the instrument, anyway, right? Do you ever find yourself worrying about your tone?

HJK: Tone for a player is like a person’s personality or character. And with that individual, unique tone, you create phrasing, dynamics, and bring out emotions in music. So I feel that all this is very closely related. It does somewhat depend on the kind of instrument you play, but the tone you create should be from you, not the instrument.

What I search for in my playing is how to shape and use my tone to best express the music I play. To me, that challenge is especially fun.

LCC: Like most string players, you do a lot of chamber music gigs. Is there one particular repertoire, or musical era, that you find yourself gravitating toward especially? I see you like Bach which is always a good sign…

HJK: Bach is my musical home. From there I begin all my other musical journeys to different composers and repertoire. So it’s always nice to come home to Bach as often as I can.

I enjoy playing Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. I know it’s not too original, but I like digging very deep into feelings and emotions like Beethoven and Schubert did.

These days, I spend much time studying and listening to two great English composers with genuine, unique qualities, Elgar and Britten.

LCC: What violin do you play, how old is it and what is its provenance? How did you acquire it?

HJK: I play the Gioffredo Cappa circa 1687. It was crafted in Saluzzo, Italy but 320 years later it ended up in Boston and met me.

LCC: Hmmmm…ok. Now they said you were temperamental in Helsinki. Is that true?

HJK: If they said so!

LCC: That’s a media quote. I stole it from your website.

HJK: It was very cold around the time I played in Helsinki. So I think it was a good thing.

LCC: I see you’re a Phillies fan. I offer my condolences for this year – although the way they came back, after trading away half the team, was impressive. Are you psyched for next year and maybe watching Chase Utley move to third?

HJK: Thank you for your condolences. The September rush was exciting although it was short-lived. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m “psyched” for next year. With the Phillies lately it’s half excitement and half worries about the core guys’ lingering injuries. I think if Halladay comes back strong we will have a shot at having a good season. I really hope that the three young starting pitchers will pitch in the World Series for the Phillies together before the older two, Halladay and Lee, get too old. And I think next year should be the year for them.

I don’t think they will move Utley to third after all and I’m hoping they won’t. I love watching Jimmy Rollins and Utley turning double plays! But who knows…They have many holes to fill in and I’m looking forward to what this off-season holds for them.

LCC: You’re also a devotee of 19th century English Literature. If you could meet one author from that era, who would it be?

HJK: Charlotte Bronte. I visited her home in Yorkshire a couple years ago. I was humbled seeing the stark and severe setting and life circumstances she faced. You get a strong sense of that rough-edged life from her characters, and yet there is incredible beauty and sensitivity in her work. I think that underneath the severe expression she wears in portraits, and from the subjects she addressed in her writing, Charlotte Bronte must have had a tender, if not vulnerable, heart.

LCC: What I’m getting at with all these crazy questions is that a lot of audiences tend to take musicians for granted . If you’re onstage, you’re expected to deliver perfection 100% of the time – audiences sometimes forget that the musicians are everyday people, too, with the same kind of interests, for example, in books and baseball and movies as everybody else. Are those lofty expectations ever exasperating for you?

HJK: I wouldn’t say so. I believe there should be more effort from the performer’s end to communicate their thoughts about music-making and about life beyond the performing world. I try to put together concerts and recitals that reflect my literary interests and to combine those two worlds that I love. I am yet to figure out how baseball would go with music. Maybe that will just have to remain my secret passion!

LCC: Here’s an idea, I’m sure somebody did this before, but I’ll bet there hasn’t been a violinist playing the national anthem before a game in awhile. Think of all the fans who would hear you, it would be good exposure – and that song is a lot easier to play than it is to sing!

Hye-Jin Kim’s performance of the Mendelssohn with the Greenwich Village Orchestra at 3 PM on Sunday, November 4 at the Old Stuyvesant Campus, 345 E 15th St (between 1st/2nd Aves) has been postponed: watch this space for a rescheduled date.

October 19, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, interview, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Memorable Premiere and More from the Claremont Trio

The piece de resistance on the Claremont Trio’s program at this month’s Music Mondays on the Upper West was the New York premiere of a brand-new commission from Gabriela Lena Frank, a Peruvian-themed four-part suite simply titled Folk Songs for Piano Trio.Violinist Emily Bruskin, cellist Julia Bruskin and pianist Andrea Lam had debuted it in Boston only days before but were obviously reveling in its striking vividness and nimble blend of 12-tone and neoromantic harmonies. The opening movement centered around a dramatically echoing, off-center tolling bell motif played with a grinning vigor by Lam. The following movement, meant to depict children playing, relied heavily on the strings’ fluttering pizzicato, its brooding tonalities vastly more evocative of the Hunger Games. A portrait of street musicians followed, the Bruskins getting to enjoy utilizing guitar voicings and chords, building to a haunting modal vamp at the end. They concluded the piece with an evocation of ancient ruins that blended otherworldly austerity with towering majesty.

The rest of the program was fun, too, starting with the Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 1 No. 1, which is typical early Beethoven – he sneaks up on you, and on those who play his music. After the catchy cuckoo clock motif that opens the final movement seems to have run its course of variations, the composer hits you (and the pianist) with a brutally difficult series of downward cascades. But Lam took them in stride and turned them into a single, comfortably rippling brook. Mendelssohn’s Trio in C minor, Op. 66, which closed the program, opened with a much longer series of rapidfire runs, and Lam handled them with the same seemingly effortless precision. The richly gorgeous, unleashed triumph of the opening movement never recurs to such an extent, but maybe that’s just as well. The sternness and then stately warmth and glimmer of the waltzing second movement, along with the genial nocturnal ambience constructed throughout the end of the work, sent everyone out onto the glistening streets outside to revel quietly in contemplation of what they’d just witnessed.

October 17, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brilliant Unease from the Escher String Quartet

Last night the Escher String Quartet wound up this season’s characteristically eclectic Music Mondays series on the upper west side with an equally eclectic and intuitive performance. Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No 6. in F Minor, Op. 80 was first on the bill. It’s one of the most impactful, stormily poignant pieces of music he ever wrote, and his last major work. We tend to forget how young he died: it’s a cruel reminder of the other masterpieces he might have been able to create. The ensemble dug in hard, anchored by the viola of Pierre Lapointe and the cello of Dane Johansen as it churned with an outright angst that this composer seldom alluded to so directly, the first movement’s abrupt tempo change coming as a genuine surprise. They turned the courtly dance of a second movement into a bitter, tearstained anthem and let the triumph of the final movement speak for itself without taking it up much further: the depth of this piece lingered long after it was done.

Which was all the more remarkable considering that the second work on the bill was Australian composer Brett Dean’s 2002 triptych Eclipse, inspired by the cruel fate of the waves of refugees taking to the Indian Ocean in decrepit vessels around that time. The quartet gave a tightly wound luminosity to its quietly shrieking, atonally shifting sheets of sound, negotiated the tricky rhythms of a weirdly spacious pizzicato interlude and then brought a semblance of closure as it wound down with a hypnotic sostenuto on the stratospherically elegant wings of Adam Barnett-Hart and Wu Jie’s violins. As radically different as it was from the Mendelssohn, it made an emotionally apt segue. The quartet closed with Zemlinsky’s Quartet No. 1 in A Major, Op. 4. Lapointe mentioned beforehand that it harks back to Schumann, and it does, but there are also echoes of Alban Berg in its uneasy, defiant absence of resolution: High Romantic architecture incorporating remarkably modern tonalities. It made an unexpectly strong segue with the even uneasier works on the bill yet managed to send the crowd out on a note that at least intimated that things would be somewhat less arduous. It’s not every day that an ensemble tackles a program this brave and challenging, from both a musical and emotional perspective.

May 29, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ECCO Resounds Intensely on the Upper West Side

Lately we’ve been scoping out little-known neighborhood enclaves for first-class live music. Music Mondays is not one of them. Despite temperatures in the teens last night, the church at 93rd St. and Broadway quickly filled to standing-room capacity, testament to the popularity and vitality of this ongoing monthly series. Sixteen-piece string ensemble the East Coast Chamber Orchestra, a.k.a. ECCO rewarded the house full of brave souls with a genuinely transcendent, unflinchingly direct, rawly emotional performance.

The conductorless group opened with a warmly nocturnal take of Janacek’s Suite for String Orchestra. Within its comfortably glimmering cantabile and cirrus-cloud atmospherics, they focused on wistfulness and wariness, notably in the song without words that comprises its first adagio movement, and the searching overture that brought it up to end on a hopeful note. They followed with a performance of Shostakovich’s Sinfonia, Op. 110, based on his String Quartet No. 8, which literally stunned the crowd. Composed three years after his elegaic Eleventh Symphony, like so much of Shostakovich’s post-Stalin era work, it’s a requiem. From the quietly stumbling anguish of the opening solo violin figure, the ensemble left no doubt as to how harrowing this would get, as much a homage to those who managed to survive Stalin’s years of terror as to those who didn’t. Like the Eleventh Symphony, its opening funeral scene is interrupted by a series of salvos and a crushing stampede, contrasting mightily with the suspensefully macabre, carnivalesque dance that follows. This interpretation let the composer’s depiction of complete emotional depletion speak for itself, through the whispery, exhausted anguish of the concluding atmospherics, solo violin or cello rising just to the point of serving as witness to unspeakable evil. The audience – an impressively knowledgeable bunch, from all appearances – didn’t know what hit them.

The rest of the program was anticlimactic, but not by much. Mendelssohn’s Sinfonia No. 10 in B Minor essentially pairs off two themes, a mostly breezy waltz versus darker martial shades, the group emphasizing the latter. They closed with another real stunner, Ginastera’s Concerto Por Corde, Op. 33. Like the Shostakovich that preceded it, this has long, stampeding passages, except that these don’t let up – and like Shostakovich, there’s considerable angst, here finally rising to a scream as the piece wound up after several false endings. To say that this was a workout for the musicians is quite an understatement: they played as if it was the triumphant marathon (albeit a bitter one) for which they’d been feverishly training. For a group that typically limits itself to a few performances per year since all the members have busy careers as soloists and with other ensembles, they displayed a remarkable singlemindedness.

The next concert in the Music Mondays series is February 21 at 7:30 PM featuring the Enso Quartet at the multipurpose, multicommunity church at 93rd and Broadway: early arrival is very strongly advised.

January 25, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Rick Erickson at the Organ at Central Synagogue, NYC 4/13/10

There’s a free, biweekly Tuesday concert series at half past noon at Central Synagogue in midtown – the next one is on May 11. You’d think that as busy as everyone in that neighborhood seems to be, they’d welcome a chance to relax in a setting like this one. Maybe everybody’s too busy, not even paying attention to the sign right there on the sidewalk announcing the concert. In the meantime, while the series continues, you can pretty much get your own free recital here, very possibly a performance as inspired as the concert Rick Erickson played last Tuesday.

Erickson, who mans the console at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and is also responsible for the popular Bach cantata program there, delivered a robustly good-natured program of upbeat, inspiring material. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C, BWV 545 set the tone, followed by Max Reger’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, Op. 59, No. 5. It’s less convoluted, more straightforwardly Romantic than a lot of Reger’s work and it fit the bill beautifully. The Allegretto from Romantic-era American composer Horatio Parker’s E flat Organ Sonata was an attractively rustic throwback to the baroque, segueing well with Schumann’s Two Etudes in the Form of a Canon, which also could have been a hundred years older than it was. Erickson ended on a high note with a magnificently ebullient rendition of the Mendelssohn Sonata No. 4, its warmly atmospheric, contemplative third movement a vivid contrast with its ambitious introduction and blazing, Bach-inspired finale. Wish someone would play you a private concert like this one? May 11, half past noon.

April 17, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment