Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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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

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: The Loki Ensemble at Music Mondays, NYC 4/26/10

It could have been billed as Schoenberg and His Descendents, a beautifully uneasy, otherworldly upper westside evening of art-songs and some austerely compelling instrumentals that more than did justice to the composer’s legacy. The Loki Ensemble’s mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer has developed not only a great affinity but also a strikingly resonant aptitude for Schoenberg’s paradigm-shifting Book of Hanging Gardens, Op. 18, an otherworldly suite based on a series of heartbroken, imagistic poems by Stefan George. The group played four of those songs: on number two and eleven , pianists Jacob Greenberg and then Wes Matthews wrenched every brooding, moody atonality from the score as Fischer brought a remarkably visceral unease, longing and intensity to the vocals. In the stylized world of classical legit voice, individuality is not an easy quality to channel, but Fischer put her own steely, forcefully indelible stamp on everything she touched. To liven things up further, the group added their own instrumental improvisations, notably tenor saxophonist Noah Kaplan (of marvelously creepy art-song practitioners Dollshot), whose precise yet breathy, baritone-like timbres matched the murk perfectly. Greenberg hinted at an McCoy Tyner bluesiness in his solo on song fourteen, number fifteen dramatically juxtaposing Fischer’s pyrotechnics against Matthews’ plaintive minimalism.

A very recent work for piano trio and vocals (based on an Octavio Paz text), Reinaldo Moya’s La Rima, with the JACK Quartet’s Christopher Otto on violin and Kevin McFarland on cello made a solid segue, strings swooping over a pensive piano rumble, building to a contrast between terse, incisive piano methodically punching against sostenuto atmospherics. A world premiere, William Cooper’s An Den Wassern Zu Babel was an intense and poignant interpretation of Psalm 137 (you may know it from Bach or the Melodians’ By the Rivers of Babylon). Cooper explained how affecting he found the end of the passage, which concludes with “Blessed are those who bash the bones of their children against the rocks,” and while the music, with considerable echoes of Bartok, never reached that level of violence, there was considerable anger and even more frustration. Over the course of seven movements, pianist Liza Stepanova worked the variations of a simple ascending progression lyrically and dynamically, through a sad, angry march, a hypnotically chilling, late Rachmaninovian-style passage and then the methodical, wounded sway of the final movement which ended sudden and cold.

The final piece, Nathan Shields’ Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Rocking set text by Hart Crane and Walt Whitman to severe, sometimes acidic, evocatively wavelike piano played by Ed Neeman, Fischer speaking the final stanzas with a dramatic flair. The counterpoint between vocals and piano was both striking and hypnotic, the unease of the strings adding to the menace (the theme ponders the role of the ocean as both nurturer and destroyer), but as assured and engaged as the performers were, ultimately this was Horse Latitudes: awkward instant, and the first horse of many was jettisoned. What a treat it would be to hear this without the poetry – or with vocalese instead!

The popular, reliably adventurous Music Mondays at Advent Lutheran Church at 93rd and Broadway continues on May 31 with the Brentano Quartet.

April 28, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment