Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Brooklyn Rider and Kinan Azmeh Play a Transcendent Coda to a Popular Upper West Side Concert Series

Over the last few years, the mostly-monthly Music Mondays concert series has become an Upper West Side institution. The level of classical talent they’ve been able to lure up to the corner of 93rd and Broadway rivals the programming at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center. The final night of this season on May 6, with paradigm-shifting string quartet Brooklyn Rider and haunting clarinetist Kinan Azmeh, was as transcendent as any in recent memory here. And that includes two separate, equally shattering occasions where the East Coast Chamber Orchestra played their towering arrangement of Shostakovich’s harrowing anti-fascist masterpiece, the String Quartet No. 8.

As they’re likely to do , Brooklyn Rider opened the night with a New York premiere, in this case Caroline Shaw‘s Schisma. With equal parts meticulousness and unbridled joy, the quartet – violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords and cellist Michael Nicolas – stood in a semicircle as they played. Maybe that configuration gave them a jolt of extra energy as they parsed the composer’s development of a series of cell-like phrases, spiced with fleetingly jaunty cadenzas and passages with an unselfconscious, neoromantic attractivness.

The world premiere of Jacobsen’s Starlighter, bolstered by Azmeh’s emphatic drive, was even more fun. The violinist explained to the sold-out crowd that it’s about photosynthesis, which came across as a genuinely miraculous, verdantly triumphant phenomenon. Its deft metamorphosis of riffs within a very traditional sonata architecture made a good pairing with Shaw’s work.

That the concert’s high point was not its centerpiece, a stunningly seamless perrformance of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 speaks to the power of the entire program. Brooklyn Rider’s recorded version has a legato and a stamina that’s remarkable even in the rarified world of those who can play it on that level. But seeing it live drove home just how much of a thrill, and a challenge, it is to play. The contrasts between all the interchanging leaps and bounds and the rapt atmospherics of the adagio third movement, became all the more dramatic.

The highlight of the night was the world premiere of The Fence, the Rooftop and the Distant Sea, Azmeh’s duo piece for clarinet and cello. The composert told the crowd how he’d been inspired to write it from the rooftop of a Beirut building after fleeing his native Syria with his wife. It’s about memory, how it can fade and be reinvented, how tricky those reimagining can be – and how they haunt. Azmeh would look out over the ocean and convince himself that he could see his home turf in the far distance. As most exiles would, he clearly misses it terribly. The introduction had plaintively fluttering echoes of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time;. Later passages, for both the duo and each solo instrument, followed a plaintive trajectory that dipped with a murky, almost macabre cello interlude laced with sepulchral harmonics and ended as a poignant Arabic ballad.

All five musicians closed the show with a deliroius romp through Kayhan Kalhor‘s Ascending Bird. On album, with Kalhor playing kamancheh and joined by Brooklyn Rider, it’s a bittersweet, furiously kinetic escape anthem. Here, Azmeh taking Kahor’s place, it was more stark and resonant, even as the piece’s bounding echo effects and sudden, warily intense riffage coalesced.

Music Mondays’ fall season of free concerts typically begins in late September or early October; watch this space. Brooklyn Rider’s next concert is on May 31 at the Oranjewoud Festival in the Netherlands with legendary singer Anne Sofie von Otter. Azmeh’s next show is May 19 at 2 PM at First Presbyterian Church,,201 S  21st Street at Walnut St in Philadelphia with pianist Jean Schneider.

 

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May 17, 2019 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Daedalus Quartet Open This Season’s Music Mondays on a High Note

Is this a golden age for string quartets? The program for this season’s opening night at Music Mondays quoted the New Yorker as saying that. Whatever the case, it’s definitely true at this upper westside free chamber music hotspot. The monthly series at Advent Church at 93rd and Broadway has pretty much reached critical mass, both in terms of audience and programming. On the bill this season: the Claremont Trio next month; the Calder Quartet in December; the Horszowski Trio in January, all the way through to New York’s premier gamelan orchestra, Gamelan Dharma Swara collaborating with NOW Ensemble.

This past Monday’s piece de resistance was George Perle’s 1988 Quartet No. 8, “Windows of Order,” played by the Daedalus Quartet. Cellist Thomas Kraines explained that the composer, while a “total 12-tone guy,” wrote the piece on a theme of order out of chaos. It would be reductionistic to describe it as modernist tonalities arranged in a classical architecture, but that’s part of it. The vibrantly dancing, distinct quality of the melody line gets subsumed in a harshness that absolutely refuses to resolve with any kind of traditional western consonance as it alternates among a series of movements that are interspersed among each other rather than following sequentially. And the ensemble had a ball with them, through the bracing rises and falls early on, violinists Min-Young Kim and Matilda Kaul and violist Jessica Thompson joining Kraines in livening the languid midsection with a raw, timbrally edgy bite and then romping through the cruel hints of a big Beethovesque finale.

They finally got to deliver a long one of those as they triumphantly wound up Dvorak’s Quartet No. 14 in A-flat Major, Op. 105. Their approach was to dig into its warm, courtly opening dance and give it some needed oomph, which hit the spot and worked well to set up the rich anthemics of the classic four-chord progression that drives the third movement: it’s a wonder no rock band has stolen it yet. Likewise, their performance of Mendelsssohn’s Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 12 underscored both its ebullient power as well as its shift into darkness: after the lush, pillowy first movement, the piece follows a trajectory away from comfort that’s never regained. In this group’s hands, even the pageantry of the waltz that follows the opening had a restless tinge. All of this made an auspicious kickoff to what promises to be a tremendously entertaining season. The Claremont Trio is next up here, on October 15 at 7:30 PM, reception to follow.

September 30, 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

The Brentano Quartet Come to Music Mondays

It’s easy to be cynical about classical ensembles parading out the same old repertoire again and again, but when a group the caliber of the Brentano Quartet shows up a local hotspot, all cynicism goes out the window no matter what’s on the bill. Our trio of the most curmudgeonly fans you could imagine were unanimously awed by the group’s performance at the church space at 93rd and Broadway where Music Mondays puts on a monthly program which rivals any other in town for both quality and adventurousness. The curmudgeons agreed that the performance of Louis Andriessen’s …miserere… was the most enticing and bracingly delicious, although there were other treats on the menu. The stately melodicism of the introduction doesn’t sound like Andriessen, because it isn’t: the composer based this particular set of variations on the famous Renaissance choral work by Allegri. Violinists Mark Steinberg and Serena Canin, violist Misha Amory and cellist Nina Lee unwound its stark, simple, astringent motifs spaciously, handled its frequently tricky rhythms with aplomb, alternating between harmonium-like ambience and lush yet acerbic permutations on an octave a la Philip Glass.

The rest of the program was more familar but performed with a blissful confidence, whichever emotion or approach the ensemble chose to take. A buttery, sleek Schubert Quartettsatz was the opener, viola and cello spinning in tandem seamlessly on the cadenzas. Their take on Haydn’s final, unfinished String Quartet, op. 103 was a revelatory contrast. So much of Haydn’s repertoire relies on familiar tropes that after awhile become practically indistinguishable, but the Quartet’s rustic approach to the andante was inviting to say the least, and they brought out an unexpectedly vivid ache in the minuet. And then they followed with the somewhat more muted angst of the unfinished chorale which would be Haydn’s final work. That the closing piece, a richly vibrant performance of the Debussy String Quartet, could possibly be anticlimactic testifies to how captivating the program had been up to this point. Working methodically from Lee’s deeply rooted cello, they gave the first movement an unrestrained joy, found the inner dance in the second and romped through it, reveled in the ambric low treble harmonies in the third andantino section and finally took it out on the same joyous note they’d established early on. The crowd, a sold-out house from the looks of it, wished openly for an encore. Word is out: what started out as a local scene here has quickly earned a citywide audience.

The next Music Mondays concert is January 9 at 7:30 PM with the renowned conductorless East Coast Chamber Orchestra; you’re advised to get there early.

December 14, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Hit for Music Mondays

The most recent Music Mondays concert on the upper west side reaffirmed that the cat is out of the bag: the eclectic monthly series isn’t under the radar anymore. In January, the East Coast Chamber Orchestra drew a standing-room crowd; last Monday, the Jasper String Quartet’s performance was pretty much filled to capacity. Reason to make it to the church on time, next time. The Jaspers’ previous New York appearance was playing Georgyi Ligeti at le Poisson Rouge; this time out they wrapped Beethoven and Brahms around two stark, intense segments from Aaron Jay Kernis’ 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning String Quartet No. 2. And despite a fascinating rendition of Beethoven’s String Quartet in D, Op. 18, No. 3 and the unselfconsciously warm familiarity of Brahms’ String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 51, No. 2, it was the Kernis that stunned the crowd. The quartet have a long relationship with the composer, and that affinity translated potently.

Kernis’ liner notes offered the surprising news that his piece was inspired, if not quite directly, by J.S. Bach suites. But the only resemblance to Bach was in the architecture, and in places, in the rhythm. Kernis’ acidic, astringent, troubled tonalities, anchored by Rachel Henderson Freivogel’s cello, began atmospherically in the second movement, titled Sarabande Double, and then alternated austere stillness with frenzied, anguished crescendos. Unsurprising, considering that it’s a requiem for one of Kernis’ most avid supporters. At the end, the quartet took it down as quietly as they could and let a long pause linger; the audience waited for more, but the elegy was over.

The rest of the program wasn’t nearly as dark, but it was interesting, and when there were places to have fun, the quartet latched onto those moments. In hindsight, Beethoven’s third published string quartet is actually the first one he wrote, and if it doesn’t foreshadow the tormented glimmer of the late quartets, it’s still cutting-edge for 1800: no mere Haydn ripoff, this one! Violinist J Freivogel’s whirling glissandos over strongly assertive cello and the viola of Sam Quintal lit up the opening Allegro, contrasted by a very serious Andante, a bustling, vivid Allegro and then an offhandedly playful romp through the conversational concluding Presto, violinist Sae Chonabayashi joining in the precise, deadpan interplay. After the white-knuckle, harrowing Kernis piece, was the closing Brahms quartet anticlimactic? Not if the group wanted to send the audience home on a happy note. Henderson Freivogel, who made the most of her many opportunities to shine, grabbed onto the nifty pizzicato of the opening Allegro non troppo; the whole ensemble followed in the same vein with the bright Vivaldiesque Andante moderato, the cozily predictable rondo in the Quasi Minuetto and the ebullient, triumphant finale. To 21st century ears, it’s a frustrating piece: it’s so attractive, yet so predictable, except for the occasional cadenza or suspenseful motif that the composer threw in as if to see if everyone was paying attention. In this case, they were.

Music Mondays’ next concert at the two-congregation church at 93rd St. and Broadway, is April 18 at 7:30 PM with fascinatingly eclectic all-female German recorder quartet QNG (Quartet New Generation), who typically bring a small U-Haul truck’s worth of recorders of various sizes along with a repertoire that spans the centuries.

April 3, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment