Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Beating the Heat With Baroque Subtlety at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park

Tuesday night might have been the quietest yet the most dynamic concert at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park in several years. Harpsichordist and conductor Richard Egarr cautioned the crowd that they were in for a program of sometimes crazy, sometimes quirky material, and his comments were on the money, in the context of the very stylized world of 17th century British chamber music. Conducting animatedly from behind the keyboard, he led period instrument ensemble the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra through an often hushed, minutely detailed performance whose passion was in the subtleties.

Believe everything you’ve heard about soprano Rowan Pierce. The highlight of the night was a long, matter-of-fact but meticulously modulated lament from Purcell’s Fairy Queen suite, which she approached with a powerglide vibrato, completely in control yet emotionally bereft, over a poignantly waltzing, suddenly crescendoing backdrop.. She’s an old soul. There’s a lot to be said for classical singers being most empowered to channel emotion in their native tongue, and that may have had something to do with how vividly Pierce moved from a hint of goofy vaudeville in the second of three songs by the vastly underrated John Blow, to a very distant, very proto-circus rock menace, and then to the sorrowful interludes among the highlights of Purcell’s magnum opus which Egarr had cherrypicked for the second half of the program.

Christopher Gibbons, Egarr explained, had the misfortune to be the son of Orlando Gibbons, a name very familiar to any fan of British polyphony. Opening with the younger Gibbons’ Fantasy in A Minor immediately put the audience on notice that this would not be a sedate, predictable evening, the string orchestra nimbly negotiating the piece’s odd cadences and strikingly forward-looking harmonies.

The ensemble left no doubt that Matthew Locke’s Curtain Tune, from an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, was an opening-credits theme. Pierce’s seething restraint in Bess of Bedlam, the third of a trio of Purcell songs – better described as partitas – felt visceral, over Egarr’s spacious harpsichord, Adam Cockerham’s elegantly plucked theorbo and William Skeen’s looming, stark cello.

Among many other captivating moments, there was also a coy Purcell rondo ostensibly written for monkeys and an absolutely gorgeous guitar-and-harpsichord song, Lovely Selina, predating the Moody Blues and other pastorally-inclined balladeers of the rock era by two centuries.

For 114 years, from 1905 through 2019, the Naumburg Concerts in Central Park became one of the longest-running annual concert series in world history. Introducing this show, Christopher London, scion of the Naumburg philanthropic legacy, offered hope that 2021 will turn out to be the first of another 114. He didn’t assume any credit for the heroism of keeping classical music performance alive when it has never been more imperiled, but that credit is due.

Gallons of ink, virtual and otherwise, have been spilled over the greying of audiences for classical music, and the shortage of new generations to maintain it. But all that is a drop in the bucket in the face of the New Abnormal being schemed up by Facebook, and Microsoft, and the rest of the surveillance-industrial complex hell-bent on destroying the performing arts and moving all communication from the real world to a virtual one. That the Naumburg organization would seek simply to keep a universal human tradition alive is a braver move than founder Elkan Naumburg ever could have imagined. Although by all accounts, he would have been on the front lines fighting for it.

This year’s final Naumburg Bandshell concert is Aug 3 at 7:30 PM with the East Coast Chamber Orchestra and pianist Shai Wosner playing works by Mozart, Golijov and others. Show up early – an hour and a half isn’t too early – if you want a seat.

July 22, 2021 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Classical and Rock Acts Shake Off the Rust at the Naumburg Bandshell

It was weird seeing a rock band onstage at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park last night. There hasn’t been any rock there since the early teens, when some promoter put on a stupefyingly awful disco night. Then again, it wasn’t always unusual for rock acts to play there: it happened a lot back in the 90s.

Twenty years earlier, the Grateful Dead did a show there. Now that must have been weird.

There were other aspects relating to yesterday evening’s show that seemed weird. But most of them were welcome, and reason for guarded optimism at a time when we desperately need it.

The rock band onstage was singer/guitarist Aoife O’Donovan and her low-key rhythm section. She was joined by a chamber orchestra subset of the Knights for a tersely symphonic, imaginatively arranged take of what seemed to a suite inspired by early 20th century suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt. Although O’Donovan’s roots are in Americana, and she was playing acoustic, the songs had more of a classic 60s pop feel, sometimes in a Jimmy Webb or Lee Hazelwood vein. O’Donovan’s work has never been more political, or relevant than this, another welcome development.

A number that quoted from a letter to Catt from then-President Woodrow Wilson had a mutedly rich, brass-infused chart. O’Donovan then led the ensemble into syncopated, Joni Mitchell-esque territory and closed with a more enigmatic, indie rock-flavored number. O’Donovan has obviously done her homework and is encouraging everyone to rise up and fight: a rousing amen to that.

The Knights shook off the rust of over a year of inactivity with conductor Eric Jacobsen leading them through a haphazard take of his arrangement of Kayhan Kalhor‘s exhilarating, Kurdish-tinged theme Ascending Bird. The way the low strings emulated the starkness and shivery intensity of an Iranian kamancheh was a tasty touch. The (presumably) new presence of brass and woodwinds seemed forced, and extraneous to the music’s ecstatic trajectory.

The orchestra left the bumps in that road behind for a sleek and empathetic version of George Walker’s Lyric For Strings, whose canonic cadences evoked the Barber Adagio with less angst, more fondness, and somewhat more modernist tonalities.

Violinist Gil Shaham joined them for the night’s coda, playing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61 from memory. This may have been just another day at the office for him, but the technique he put to use was just plain sizzling. Which is not to say that this piece sizzles per se: it’s a carefully orchestrated celebration. Needless to say, Shaham’s quicksilver vibrato, the quartz crystal solidity of the endless volleys of high harmonics, and his unassailably confident attack in the most robust moments reaffirmed his vaunted stature.

The first movement seemed fast, at least in the beginning, the orchestra clearly relishing the opportunity to reconnect with their soloist since they’d recorded this together a couple of years ago. The second movement was unusually muted and practically a lullaby in places. The conclusion, with its rounds of triumphant, anthemic riffage, ended the night on an aptly ebullient note. There was no encore.

In a stroke of serendipity, this was the day when Andrew Cuomo apparently caved to the pressure to relinquish some of the dictatorial powers he’d seized in the March 16, 2020 coup d’etat – presumably to give a last-gasp shot of hydroxychloroquine to a political career that’s on a vent and flatlining. The details are still shaking out. It’s not unreasonable to worry that the psy-op squads at the World Economic Forum, the Gates Foundation and the Bloomberg cartel, who have been pulling Cuomo’s strings over the past sixteen months, will attempt to sneak all sorts of New Abnormal surveillance or divide-and-conquer schemes into any so-called reopening plan.

Because the concert was arranged before yesterday’s unexpected events, the organizers had been giving out free tickets online. Trouble was, the ticketing system didn’t work. An anxious message at their webpage timidly asked for proof of needle of death or meaningless PCR test, presumably to satisfy Cuomo’s office: this isn’t the kind of demand the Naumburg organization, who have always been the epitome of genteel, would typically impose on an audience.

While ticketed patrons were being let into the seats – which never came close to reaching capacity – there was clearly no surveillance going on. As far as muzzle-mania goes, oxygen-deficient people generally took the seats, those of us breathing normally situated mostly in back. Standing five feet to the left of this blog’s owner was one of the world’s great cellists: she wasn’t muzzled, nor was one of the world’s great violists, a couple of paces behind her. Sea change, or sign of imminent New Abnormal apartheid? We’ll find out next time.

This year’s series of Naumburg Bandshell concerts continues on June 29 at 7:30 PM when the Ulysses and Emerson String Quartets team up for music by Shostakovich, Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss and others. Since tickets for the performance have already been issued, rushing to the space early to score a seat – a winning strategy in years past – may not be worth the effort. You will probably be better off standing, taking a place on the benches immediately to the south, or on the lawn to the west where the sound is still reasonably audible. Bring a picnic and some wine!

June 16, 2021 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment