Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Scandia String Quartet at MOSA 4/18/10

Like their big sister the NY Scandia Symphony, the Scandia String Quartet dedicate themselves to popularizing Scandinavian composers who are too frequently unknown here. Violinists Mayuki Fukuhara and Elizabeth Miller, cellist Lawrence Zoernig and violist Frank Foerster are the orchestra’s power hitters. Conveniently and fortuitously, Foerster also happens to be a first-rate composer. This program at MOSA uptown Sunday evening featured several of his stark, dramatic arrangements of folk songs from throughout Scandinavia in addition to the world premiere of his composition Summer in Fort Tryon Park. Whimsical but hardly shallow, it painted a lively, multicultural weekend afternoon scene with latin, klezmer and Polish flourishes (the latter an ode the joys of morphine), a brief, torrential downpour and an ice cream truck. The central theme took the shape of a surprisingly somber canon, the audio equivalent of a Time Out NY cover collage by Diane Arbus.

Foerster and the quartet gave the folk songs a majesty that transcended their humble origins. Finland was represented by a heroic theme, a wistful waltz and a carefree dance tune, Iceland by a handful of striking, otherworldly modal numbers, a “winter dance” that moved from a disquietingly modal march to Vivaldiesque revelry, and a potently staccato interpretation of the famous Dangerous Journey on Horseback. Another contemporary composer, Zack Patten was represented, his warily atmospheric, aptly titled Kierkegaard floating uneasily on a series of ninth intervals up to a powerful crescendo sung by contralto Hanne Ladefoged Dollase, and then out much the way it came in.

All this made the big finale, Grieg’s String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 27. somewhat anticlimactic, testament to the quality of what had preceded it rather than the Quartet’s inspired performance as they played up its tensions for all they were worth. Written after the composer had left the city for the famous country fiddling town of Hardanger, it’s a tug-of-war, comfortably convivial urbanity (which eventually wins out in the end) versus the wild lure of the unknown. Zoernig described it beforehand as something of a missing link between the late Beethoven quartets and Debussy or Bartok, which vividly made sense, notably toward the end in the evil gnomish stampedes straight out of the Mountain King’s cave. This along with the heroic central theme (an Ibsen song) gave Zoernig and Foerster their chance to blaze through the darkness and they seized each moment as it came along.

The Scandia String Quartet’s next performance is May 13 at Victor Borge Hall at Scandinavia House, 58 Park Ave. featuring many of the most appealing works from this bill including the Foerster original, the Patten and Grieg along with works by Sibelius. And as they’ve been doing for the past few years, the Scandia String Quartet will present a series of outdoors concerts in Ft. Tryon Park this June on Sunday afternoons.

The MOSA series at Our Savior’s Atonement at 189th St. and Bennett Ave. continues as well; the next concert features avant garde adventures Ensemble ACJW on June 6 at 5 PM.

April 22, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Vasen – Vasen Street

Much of this is a happy Indian summer album – and with the turn the summer has taken here, we’re going to need something to keep our spirits up if this August steambath continues into September. Whatever the case, this is a mostly cheery, meticulously interwoven, smartly playful album of original Swedish string band instrumentals along with some imaginative reworkings of traditional material. Vasen‘s guitarist Roger Tallroth uses an open tuning to maximize the incidence of ringing overtones, much in the same vein as Olov Johansson’s nyckelharpa (a Nordic autoharp with a set of reverberating sympathetic strings). The trio’s lead instrumentalist is viola player Mikael Marin, whose dynamically-charged playing ranges from pensively rustic to completely ecstatic.

A trio of dance numbers open the album, the third being Botanisten, a tribute to some Bay Area pals. It’s appealingly verdant and has some psychedelic tempo shifts if that means anything to you. Garageschottis is clever and shapeshifting as it builds tension. The title track, a tribute to a bunch of Indiana fans who campaigned to name a street in their hometown after the band, starts striking and minor-key before morphing into a dance. The best single cut on the cd is Absolutely Swedish, fast with eerie textures, sounding like there’s a wild mandolin solo going on. But it’s not! It’s Tallroth on the guitar, way up at the top of the fretboard, having fun as the nyckelharpa plinks in the background and the viola feels around for its footing.

Mordar Cajsas Polska (Killer Cajsa’s’Polka) takes its name from a friend of the band, fiddler Cajsa Ekstav who attacked some windows with her beer mug to to kill a swarm of wasps who’d invaded her studio. Ostensibly the results were not pretty. This isn’t nearly as murderous as the title implies, but it sways and spins and you can dance to it, as you can most of the album. Which wraps up with another series of upbeat dance numbers and finally the pensive Yoko, written about a Japanese manager (theirs?). It turns out somewhat pensive, reflective and ultimately very interesting. Happily, it’s not exasperated. Fans of JPP, Frigg and the rest of the A-list of Nordic string bands will love this; bluegrass fans ought to give this a test drive too, it’s a lot of fun. They’ll be on US tour starting September 18 in Boulder at the Boulder Theatre.

August 18, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 6/9/09

We do the top 666 songs of alltime countdown every day here to keep the front page fresh regardless of whether or not there’s something new to report (and there is – tons of album reviews, interviews and more waiting in the wings, stay tuned). Tuesday’s song is #414:

Sielun Veljet – Turvaa

One of the most innovative bands of the early 80s, these wild, scorching Finnish rockers imbued overtone-laden PiL-style noise-rock with murky Nordic tonalities. This one screeches along on a darkly distorted, snapping bassline. The title sarcastically means “saved.” Best version out there is on their 1983 double live album, long out of print, although there are mp3s out there. The link above is a torrent of the band’s first three albums.

June 9, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Blue Moose & the Unbuttoned Zippers at Trinity Church, NYC 4/16/09

The hippy-dippy name is deceptive. Blue Moose & the Unbuttoned Zippers are not a jam band (although they probably could be) – they’ve taken it upon themselves to introduce American audiences to traditional Swedish fiddle music. Playing completely without amplification in the echoey confines of the beloved old downtown historic landmark, they impressed with their seemingly effortless command and unaffected love for the genre. Along with acoustic guitar, mandolin and violin, the band features a nyckelharpa, a cross between an autoharp and a viola, with keys and a set of resonating strings in addition to the usual four which are bowed or plucked.

 

Throughout the set, they often alternated between bouncy folk dance numbers and darker, more stately instrumentals, in addition to a vivid sea chantey and a wistful ballad, both with English lyrics, the latter delivered by the band’s two women on vocals and nyckelharpa. Several of the other pieces on the bill managed to be both rousing and hypnotic at the same time, aided by the band’s fondness for tunings that maximized the eerie overtones emanating from the strings. An original titled Burbank Street began with scatty vocalese from the two women, turning slow and dark and then light again with split-second precision. They wound up the show with a pretty, atmospheric waltz and a tongue-in-cheek original called Welcome to My Cave, its silly lyrics offset by the almost gleefully dark atmospherics of the melody. Fans of the well-known Scandinavian string bands like Frigg and JPP will enjoy this stuff; bluegrass fans should also check them out, they’re a lot of fun. If the hour had been later, there doubtlessly would have been people dancing in the aisles.  

April 16, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment