Lucid Culture


The North/South Chamber Orchestra Plays Transcendent Contemporary Works

The last time Max Lifchitz performed in the Lincoln Center neighborhood, he was at the piano, delivering a characteristically diverse and eye-opening program of 20th century Mexican composers including works by Carlos Chavez, Manuel Enriquez, Manuel M. Ponce, Maria Teresa Prieto, Silvestre Revueltas, and an eclectically lively partita by Brian Banks along with a pastorale partita of his own. Much of the bill could be characterized as the Second Viennese School gone south of the border. Tuesday night, Lifchitz conducted his North/South Chamber Orchestra in a matter-of-factly transcendent program of contemporary compositions.

Katherine Hoover‘s South Zephyr was an evocatively buoyant, gently kinetic evocation of an enveloping, warmly comforting wind from the tropics, Lisa Hansen’s flute afloat on a lush bed of strings. Victor Kioulaphides‘ Summer Concerto, a string piece, was the big hit with the audience with its misterioso pulse, dynamic shifts, subtly flamenco-tinged interlude and allusions to Andalucia and the Middle East.

Alla Pavlova‘s Concertino came across as the great lost Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #5, or something from late Tschaikovsky. It didn’t have the virtuoso piano passages of Rachmaninoff, but it was packed with the kind of direct, emphatic, angst-ridden, stunningly memorable riffage that defines that composer’s work. And it featured plenty of original tropes as well, most notably the shivery string passages in the opening segment as a backdrop to Helen Lin’s icepick piano and Mioi Takeda’s steely but cantabile violin.

Soloist Edmundo Ramirez brought a graceful but plaintive, sometimes vividly aching edge and an acerbic tone to the night’s most stunning work, Anna Veismane‘s Concerto for Viola d’Amore. A tone poem, more or less, its tectonic sheets shifted slowly and methodically and grew more haunting as it went on, building a surreal, dangerously otherworldly mood with close harmonies from the strings. Lifchitz concluded with his own song suite, Forget Me Not, sung with deadpan wit by soprano Carol Wilson. Over the lilting sway of the strings, Wilson managed to keep a straight face through a long interlude about a potato, something some of the audience could do but others could not. It made for comic relief in the wake of a lot of searing emotion.

Lifchitz’s agenda with his long-running North/South Consonance concerts is to cross-pollinate on a global level and promote the work of composers from across the Americas alongside their counterparts from literally everywhere else. It’s an ambitious project, and something to keep an eye on if first-rate new works (and plenty of older rarities) by under-the-radar composers are your thing.

June 22, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pensive Rustic Cinematics from Sagapool

Sagapool hail from Montreal. They play tunefully esoteric, mostly minor-key instrumentals that would make a good soundtrack to a David Cronenberg film somewhere in the woods north of Quebec City. Their new album features Luizio Altobelli’s accordion, Guillaume Bourque’s clarinet, Alexis Dumais’ piano, Zoe Dumais’ violin, Dany Nicolas’ acoustic guitar and Marton Maderspach’s lithe, subtle drums as the main instruments, although they also use banjo, bass, alto sax, mandolin, electric piano, sandpaper and “whispering.” Gypsy music is an obvious influence, and there’s a little of that here, but they also touch on classical, jazz and various folk styles. Some of their stuff reminds of eclectic San Francisco group Pickpocket Ensemble. Although not a theme and variations per se, the album works best taken as a single integral work, as if actually intended to be a movie soundtrack. The tunes are catchy and will linger in your head long after the sun goes down for good.

The opening cut is set in a Montreal park, a slightly aching accordion melody that builds to a motorway anthem as the drums rumble along, muffled against swooshing ambience. They follow that with Coeur D’Aiguille (Eye of the Needle), a wistful clarinet waltz with glockenspiel and ambient accordion. Le Vent Des Iles (Island Breeze) is another waltz, this one more pensive and featuring the piano. It rises to a sailing clarinet solo and then a romp through a majestic swirl of arpeggios in the style of 70s art-rock bands like Genesis. From its staccato piano intro to its tense violin/accordion melody, Le Fil Boreal (Edge of the Northern Lights) sounds like it’s about to explode into a big anthem but never quite gets there. La Tristesse De L’Ampleur (Sad Expanse) is a rather plaintive folk/jazz guitar tune that shifts between tricky and funky, and another moody waltz, clarinet soaring brightly upward.

The two tracks here where the grey-sky atmosphere lifts are Marcel, a jaunty, carefree dixieland-flavored number, and the amusing closing cut, Mon Cousin Joue Du Synthe (My Cousin Plays Synth), a dark minor-key theme bookending some unexpectedly silly, campy 80s new wave tropes. There’s also a brooding neoromantic piano waltz with Erik Satie echoes; another violin tune that shifts between waltz time and trickier rhythms; and the vividly crescendoing De Cordes et De Bois (Strings and Wood), which matter-of-factly builds until it lifts off and becomes an action movie theme – and then reprises an earlier melody. Who is the audience for this? Montreal bartenders on the day shift; northern New England shopkeepers who aspire to be classier than Walmart; people whose days begin late and end early or wish that was the case.

March 8, 2012 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Intriguing Solo Piano Albums from Chris Donnelly and Bruce Levingston

It’s always risky to impute motives to art. What an audience might perceive as tragedy might actually be a portrayal of triumph…or vice versa. Misunderstandings like that are seldom so drastic or cut-and-dried. Is it possible that pianist Chris Donnelly’s new solo composition Metamorphosis ultimately portrays death by schlock, or by capitalism? Maybe. Whatever the case, it’s a pleasantly unpredictable, graceful ride. What’s known is that it’s based on Metamorphose, the classic M.C. Escher woodcut. What’s most impressive about the music is that it’s consistently interesting, since about 80% of the Escher work is the artist’s signature fish and birds morphing into each other, two-to-three-dimensional-and-back-again, trippy but utterly monotonous. Which is deliberate: with Metamorphose, Escher was attempting nothing less than a history of life on earth. Finally, as his endless succession of evolutionary leaps and dives approaches the edge of the canvas, a flock of predatory birds becomes a housing tract, followed by a city and at its edge, across a bridge, a solitary tower. Which is part of a chess game – and a checkmate scenario. The chessboard itself quickly fades into the protozoa that first appeared at the woodcut’s opposite edge. It’s not the most optimistic view of the future of humankind.

Donnelly starts out with an aptly simple, recurrent hook but quickly builds to a warm Neoromanticism occasionally spiced with a bluesy allusion or two and a little syncopation to deviate from the steady, four-on-the-floor rhythm and precise, attractively rippling melody that frequently evokes Robert Schumann. Most of the ten movements segue into each other, with only four full stops. As it goes on, Donnelly introduces a fugue and finally some staggered rhythm and atonalities, and a two-chord vamp that hints at the blues (and the Beatles). As the city begins to loom beneath the flock of birds, there’s a bit of jazz, which is worth the wait, giving Donnelly a welcome chance to let his righthand sail off with some long, expansively fluid upper-register passages.

But to be true to Escher, this bliss doesn’t last. It would be a plot spoiler to give away exactly how Donnelly gets back to the protozoa, but that’s where it all ends. Hint: a familiar theme or two are involved.

And speaking of Schumann, guess what came over the transom the other day: Heart Shadow, a brand-new recording of Schumann’s Kreisleriana along with excellent new works by Lisa Bielawa and Charles Wuorinen, recorded by pianist Bruce Levingston. Kreisleriana is part of the standard repertoire: its wry, playful, understated ironies and warm melodicism will be instantly familiar to anyone who grew up with classical radio. For those unfamilar with the piece, it’s a seven-part suite inspired by a E.T.A. Hoffmann satire about an eccentric intellectual and his cat, both of whom simultaneously decide to write an autobiography. Of course, the man doesn’t know what the cat is up to: as you would expect, his furry friend is the hero of all this. This is not a high-octane performance, but an emotionally intuitive, dynamically charged one: in its quieter moments, Levingston caresses the keys, letting the composer’s subtle humor speak for itself.

The piece that really stands out here is Bielawa’s Elegy-Portrait, a tribute to singer Alexandra Montano,who shared a friendship as well as time onstage with both Bielawa and Levingston. It’s a portrait of someone who seems to have been both puckish and profound. As it unwinds, Levingston works poignant upper register accents while his left hand plumbs the depths, followed by a long, otherworldly glimmering, minimalist passage with exchanges of dynamics that grow hypnotic and insistent and eventually, inevitably fade down to just a heartbeat. And then all of a sudden it’s over. The Wuorinen work – the album’s title track- makes an apt segue, with a similarly spacious, methodical pacing, wary tonalities and utter lack of resolution. Levingston plays it with quiet confidence. For both performer and audience, the album offers the opportunity to creatively and memorably revisit some old friends.

September 10, 2011 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment