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 Borromeo String Quartet Do Some Foreshadowing on the Upper West

A Boston institution (and once a New York one during their two-year Lincoln Center residency a while back), the Borromeo String Quartet played Webern, Bartok and Beethoven with a warm familiarity and a soulfulness last night at the upper west side’s Music Mondays series. They know this material, and they get it.

Anton Webern’s Langsam Satz was the opening piece and was delivered with late-summer lustre, heavy on the vibrato. It’s basically an increasingly complex series of permutations on a simple, memorable four-note riff, making its way around the ensemble as it gently shifted shape. The Tschaikovskian second movement featured strikingly boisterous pizzicato phrasing from violist Mai Motobuchi, after which the group brought it back down to a warm cantabile mood.

Bartok’s Sixth String Quartet made a sharp contrast, and received a marvelously subtle treatment. This one doesn’t have the outright wrath of much of the composer’s work but it’s full of satire and a pervasive unease that quickly makes itself utterly inescapable. If Sartre’s Huis Clos had a soundtrack, this could be it. Cellist Yeesun Kim plowed deeply into the resonant introduction and brought the rest of the ensemble along as they alternated ominous atmospherics and slightly furtive embellishments. Violinists Nicholas Kitchen and Kristopher Tong built a distant whirlwind on the second movement; the third, a twisted dance, had alarms going off, signaling the approach of what appears to be a satirical version of the kind of pretty nocturne exemplified by the Webern. A series of perfectly precise violin overtones signaled in the completely counterintuitive, calm ending: seventy years later, Bartok is still a car-length or two ahead of most composers.

They closed with Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 92. For the composer, it was something of a landmark, signaling the development of a wholly original sound, in the process shifting the paradigm away from the predictable call-and-response of Haydn that he’d emulated up to that point. It’s a clinic in tension between apprehensive, fiery, Vivaldiesque crescendos and smoothly swaying teutonic phrasing, darkly shadowed by its lower tonalities, and the quartet let those contrasts speak for themselves. In a way, it was the perfect piece to follow the first two because it synthesizes the emotional content explored by each: Bartok’s disquiet and Webern’s optimistic solidity. And like them, it ended warmly, in the style of a Bach cantata: a somewhat triumphant song without words that tacked an unexpectedly happy ending on after all foreshadowing to the contrary. With its brisk dynamic changes and fluid runs that border on the torrential, it’s not easy to play, but the Borromeos made it seem that way. The next Music Mondays concert at the dual-congregation church at 93rd and Broadway is December 13 featuring the Sospiro Winds plus violinist Miranda Cuckson and pianist Aaron Wunsch, playing music of Gyorgi Ligeti.

November 9, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment