Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Let the Brooklyn Philharmonic Take Over New York City Parks Concerts in 2011!

[Repost from the Brooklyn Philharmonic. Since the NY Philharmonic won’t be doing its series of summer orchestral concerts in public parks this year, the Brooklyn Phil is offering to step in and fill the breach. And why not? By the way – let’s not rush to judgment concerning the reasons behind this summer’s cancellations: word on the street is that the decision to pull the plug did not originate with the orchestra]

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
City Hall
New York, NY 10007

June 14, 2011

Dear Mr. Mayor:

Since our cousin, the New York Philharmonic, has other activities that don’t allow them to continue the tradition of free concerts in the parks this summer, we’d be happy to step in and play for free for the people of New York City in their place. We’d very much like to help New Yorkers properly celebrate this summer’s warm evenings.

Having served New York City in both music performance and education for over 150 years, the Brooklyn Phil can certainly manage some rousing Sousa in Central Park and deliver terrific Prokofiev to Prospect Park. Even more, we’d love to get the people of New York City involved in picking what they’d like to hear – so we could easily set up an informal poll on our website (bphil.org) to let the listeners choose their favorites.

Of course, our players (like the New York Philharmonic’s) are union musicians, so we’ll need to work out a way to pay them fairly. But other than covering the actual cost of the performances, we’re not looking to make any profit. Perhaps Target or the MetLife Foundation would be willing to sponsor these concerts for us as they had been planning to do for the New York Philharmonic? Or maybe someone else would help out? We’re eager to discuss possibilities with you.

We love the idea of New Yorkers sitting on blankets, enjoying food and wine while listening to great music under the stars, and we’d be thrilled to give our City the gift of music this summer. I think we could do this if we put our heads together quickly.

Yours truly,

Alan Pierson
Artistic Director
Brooklyn Philharmonic

June 19, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The New York Philharmonic’s CONTACT Live 11/19/10

We’re liveblogging from New York’s Symphony Space tonight. Latest updates at the bottom of the page.

In a minute or two, what looks like a roughly fifteen-piece ensemble of the New York Philharmonic conducted by Alan Gilbert will open this fall’s first concert of their new music series CONTACT that began so auspiciously last year. First piece on the bill is a world premiere by the NY Phil’s composer-in-residence, Magnus Lindberg titled Souvenir (In Memoriam Gerard Grisey). They’ll follow that with Grisey’s final work, the suite Quatre Chants Pour Franchir le Seuil, featuring soprano Barbara Hannigan. 

Lindberg studied with Grisey, so there’s a personal connection here dating from 1981 until Grisey’s death unexpectedly in 1998.

For those of you on twitter, you can tweet to @nyphilcontact. 

This concert being recorded and will air on Q2 on 11/24 and 11/27 at 8 PM EST and then on 11/30 at 4 PM EST.

Grisey was one of the titans of serial music – airy, atmospheric, horizontal stuff that makes frequent (in this guy’s case, constant) use of microtones. John Schaefer’s emceeing a brief pre-concert conversation with Gilbert and Lindberg. The term “otherworldly” arose early, and that ought to be one way of describing what’s going to happen. Off we go…

Drama right off the bat – a muted crash on the gong, and another – it’s a funeral march, wandering and weaving. The occasional low register accents from the piano anchor the cello and now the bassoon – it’s more melodic, and Romantically tinged, and just plain interesting than one might assume a Grisey homage might be…dark, stately drama, a flourish of the vibraphone, a stormy rise up the scale, the hint of a fanfare – Gilbert is like a kid in a candy store up there but judicious about it…

Piano and cello bustle…staccato violin, and was that just a Sacre de Printemps quote?! Wary woodwind trills…a pause…a somewhat cinematic string-led crescendo…what an interesting person Grisey must have been…

The winds take over, a brass flourish, drums cap the swell, vibes take it down and more mysterious…reminds of a Bill Evans score, and a good one. Drive it home, low brass! Nope. First movement ends quietly and unresolved – as if there would be a resolution…

Second movement – a mournful horn call, the ensemble rises warily – it’s austerity versus bubbles with the harp and the vibes…big swell, vibes kick in with a bang at the top, down a bit – is anybody else hearing Stravinsky here? Moonlight piano breezes, cold ones – colder, beautifully twinkling…a bass drum pulse grows beneath rising uneasy atmospherics, a shift and a downshift…and now the funeral procession has come together. Maybe it’s just running up here in the cold with just a suit jacket on, but this really captures an atmosphere. And the strings rustle, everybody knows what time it is, nobody wants to go to the grave, everybody just wants to start drinking…but that won’t happen. This is magnificent.

The low brass weigh in lugubriously, the strings and those vibes again, they’re all nerves, searching for a frivolous note to hold reality at bay…but the tritone won’t let them. Nice. Still and sad out.

Fluttering and dark and chillly intro to the third movement. And more percussive drama – why did this have to happen? Shostakovian swell, a mini-rondo with the vibes and the strings and a gentle little Gallic dance – remember the Debussy string quartet? – a little like that…descending into the depths with whacks of the woodblock, down we go…such an autumnal ambience…and a big practically joyous swell as if to say “thanks for the memories.” Unexpected. The crowd are on their feet…check back with us in about fifteen minutes for the Grisey.

A very nice couple in the back here were distracted by all this typing during the performance. They had every right to be hostile, but they were diplomatic. Same thing happened while liveblogging here last time. The most obvious solution would be to do this oldschool style: record it and listen back, or take some notes and then work up a review from there afterward. Grisey’s music isn’t exactly thunderous. But since we’re halfway through – and we promised you the whole show – we’ll finish it this time.

Grisey’s songs are titled The Death of the Angel, The Death of Civilization, The Death of the Voice and The Death of Humanity. Upbeat and cheery – not. The ensemble for this is slightly smaller – no piano, but twin harps. More pre-performance chatter with John Schaefer – Lindberg credits Grisey as the most philosophical composer of his era. “You have to submerge yourself in this piece,” explains Gilbert, equating it to the drama in watching drops of water. Stephen Jay Gould’s description of evolution as “punctuated equilibrium,” catastrophism rather than a slow, steady rate of change as an analogy – stillness punctuated by drama (hmmm…that’s Wagner, isn’t it?).

Pianissimo white noise into muffled , terse, atonal descending progressions; Barbara Hannigan interjects a couple moments of staccato operatic angst…hearing this live for the first time, it’s surprisingly tight, much more of an ensemble piece than the way others have interpreted it…translation from the French: “Like an angel, I owe it to myself to die.” Offcenter vibraphone tones provide a ghostly gamelan tinge…and speaking of a gamelan, there goes the big bass gong…airy stillness over distantly boomy percussion…would “Ballardian soundscape” be completely over-the-top?

All these low yodel-like melismas into dramatic octave-plus jumps for Hannigan are incredibly tough and she’s absolutely nailing them…and a low rumble out. The Black Angel’s Death Song?

No, that might be La Mort de la Civilisation, though: brooding quiet chromatics and a narration taken from Egyptian mummy cases: “destroyed…almost completely destroyed…” etc. Profound stillness beneath plaintive vocals, marvelously done. They get this music. Big vocal leaps against slightly sharp tones (i.e. sharp versus flat)…it could have ended pretty much anywhere, which is where it did.

Now the voice succumbs…oh no it doesn’t. Scary scrapy violin, the rumble of the gong and bass clarinet and is that a contrabassoon – more of a study in contrasts than anything up to this point. When there’s so much stillness, the temptation is to seize on the dramatic moments, few and far between as they are here – but they’re building this, and it’s not looking optimistic…

So let’s kill off all of humanity now. Ominous low swells into a fluttery helicoptering of a snare drum, or two, mechanically acoustic Alan Parsons ambience…this is based on the Epic of Gilgamesh – footsteps, and a rise, and Hannigan sends a shudder down everybody’s spine with a couple of hair-raising out-of-the-blue wails…angst against the dying of the light…what a chilling set of compositions to go out with! Grisey died shortly after completing these, maybe he sensed his time was short…pianississimo, a last glimmer of life in the distance…pregnant pause…decaying overtonal overture…airy and bell-like, a soft-focus apocalypse…they march it with surprising lack of rage as it winds out…

The reaction is slow – now the trance is over, the stunned crowd reacts. Time for a drink now!!

November 19, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The NY Phil Shows Their Mettle

Last night’s concert was a tough gig. The New York Philharmonic have played tougher ones, but this was no walk in the park (pardon the awful pun). And guest conductor Andrey Boreyko pushed them about as far as he could, on a Central Park evening where the air still hung heavy and muggy, helicopters sputtering overhead and, early on, the PA backfiring a little. During the sixth segment of a suite from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet (the section where the two lovers finally get together), the strings led a long flurry of sixteenth notes and it was only there that any trace of fatigue could be heard. That they got through it with as much aplomb as they did – and then had enough in reserve to triumphantly pull off the roaring swells of the ominous concluding march – speaks for itself. The Russian conductor’s careful attention to minutiae is matched by a robust (some might say relentless) rhythmic drive. The Phil responded just as robustly, resulting in a mutually confident performance that often reached joyous proportions.

This wasn’t your typical outdoor bill of moldy oldies with a thousand forks stuck in them, either. The ensemble opened with fairly obscure Russian Romantic composer Anatoly Lyadov’s Baba-Yaga, a witch’s tale. With a bit of a battle theme, an elven dance, suspenseful lull and something of a trick ending, it could be the Skirmish of Marston Moor (did Roy Wood know of it when he wrote that piece? It’s not inconceivable).

Branford Marsalis joined them for Glazunov’s Concerto in E Flat for Alto Saxophone and String Orchestra, Op. 109. The textural contrast between his austere, oboe-like clarity against the lush, rich atmospherics of the strings was nothing short of exquisite, through the majestic ambience of the opening section, a couple of perfectly precise solo passages and the comfortable little dance that winds it up. He got the opportunity to vary that tone, shifting matter-of-factly through bluesier tinges on twentieth century Czech composer Ervin Schulhoff’s Hot Sonate. A smaller-ensemble arrangement, the suite ran from genial, Kurt Weill-inflected bounce to more complex permutations that could have easily been contemporary big band jazz (imagine an orchestrated Dred Scott piece).

The big hit of the night, unsurprisingly, was the Prokofiev. The ballet could be summed up as unease within opulence, a tone that resonated powerfully from the opening fortissimo fireball and the bitter, doomed martial theme that follows it, through its stately but apprehensive portrayal of Juliet as dancing girl, a richly dynamic take on the masked ball theme, the cantabile sweep of the two lovers parting, Friar Lawrence’s bittersweetly crescendoing scene, and the irony-charged intensity at the end. There were fireworks afterward, none of which could compare with what had just happened onstage – and which provided a welcome opportunity to beat the crowd exiting the park, and the storm that had threatened all evening but never arrived.

July 15, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sue Mingus Talks About the Mingus Big Band’s New CD, Live at Jazz Standard

The Mingus Big Band’s new album Live at Jazz Standard came out a little earlier this year, an exuberant and often exhilarating mix of classics by the pantheonic composer and bassist. The virtuosic repertory unit who play Mondays nights at the club leap from noir tension, to dizzying bop, to genially melodic playfulness with a focus, intensity and camaraderie that does justice to the composer (full review here coming soon). Sue Mingus – Charles Mingus’ widow, executive producer of the album, and tireless advocate and director of the Mingus repertory bands – gave us some characteristically reflective responses to our questions about the album:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: How happy are you with the new cd?

Sue Mingus: It’s great musicians playing great music. We’re pleased.

LCC: Can I ask why the decision was made to record on New Year’s Eve rather than just some random date? Didn’t the prospect of your typical noisy, increasingly drunken New Year’s Eve crowd scare you off? Admittedly, a Mingus audience tends to be somewhat more urbane than your average New Year’s Eve crowd, but didn’t that concern cross your mind?

SM: No, not at all. We like our audiences any night of the week. We chose to play New Year’s Eve since it’s one of the big nights of the year at a club where we have a residency, the Jazz Standard. Also because we were recorded by NPR that night and broadcast nationally. I should add that the main reason for doing this cd was that we were celebrating, fifty years later, three of the seminal jazz albums. 1959 was a banner year for jazz: Coltrane, Brubeck, Mingus and a number of others put out some of their most important albums. Entering 2009, we were celebrating, fifty years later, Mingus Ah Um, Mingus Blues and Roots, and Mingus Dynasty. We chose material from those three albums.

LCC: You served as executive producer on this album, so you also selected the songs?

SM: Yes, since it was those albums we were celebrating.

LCC: What is your specific role in relation to the various Mingus repertory bands: this group, the Mingus Big Band and also the Mingus Orchestra and the original unit, Mingus Odyssey?

SM: I started them and I hired them!

LCC: Do you also audition the musicians?

SM: We don’t really need to audition – word gets around! A week ago, last Monday we had a wonderful trumpeter, Avishai Cohen and also Greg Tardy on tenor sax sitting in. New musicians are coming into the band all the time. We have a large pool, over 150 musicians who have learned this music: I have a big spectrum I can draw from each week. I hire the musicians each week and commission the arrangements. A lot of the arrangements are made by the members of the band, for example, last week the band played Meditations for Moses, arranged by bass player Boris Kozlov.

LCC: In addition to the many extraordinary musicians who play Mingus regularly with this unit, there are a couple of ringers on this album, notably Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums – who really takes the energy to the next level – and Randy Brecker on trumpet. How did they come to be part of this recording?

SM: Randy played with us from the start – he was in the original Mingus Dynasty frequently. He’s been playing this music since Charles died and well before: he and Michael Brecker were on the last album with Charles, who as you know, by that time couldn’t play since he was in a wheelchair. Randy’s been a Mingus player for a long time; Jeff plays with us frequently. It wasn’t like outsiders who didn’t know the music.

LCC: It’s been awhile since the Mingus Big Band did an album. When was the last one?

SM: 2007. Live in Tokyo.

LCC: Can we talk a little about the individual tracks? What do you prefer, the Elvis Costello version of Hora Decubitus or the version here, with vocals by Ku-umba Frank Lacy?

SM: I like them both obviously. We love Frank Lacy, he’s a marvelous jazz singer, but we also love Elvis Costello’s version – as you know, he wrote the lyrics.

LCC: Do you have a favorite among the songs on the new album?

SM: It’s hard to choose favorites with Mingus! You want something uptempo? You want something with a classical form, a latin piece, bebop, a beautiful ballad, an extended work? It’s all part of the whole.

LCC: Since the Jazz Standard has one of your bands at the club every Monday, have you thought of doing what the New York Philharmonic Orchestra does, recording pretty much everything and making it available for sale on itunes?

SM (laughs): All it takes is money! We’ve done a dozen albums with the Mingus Big Band, so much of the repertoire has been recorded. But as you know it’s a vast amount of music, and it’s very expensive, to hire the musicians, a studio, the engineers and so forth. It’s a worthy idea, if you know any volunteers for the cause, send them over!

LCC: How do you feel about the fact that a lot of people, maybe the majority of people who hear this album will only hear it in mp3 format rather than at its sonic best on the cd?

SM: I don’t know. People’s listening habits over the years have changed so incredibly much. What do you think?

LCC: I think that the ipod is the new transistor radio. Back in the day there were people who listened to the radio that way and were perfectly satisfied, just as I think that some people are satisfied with the sound of a mp3.

SM: People are used to mp3s now, some people prefer it…

LCC: True. One last question, this is not an easy one, not something we could ever know for sure: what do you think Charles Mingus would have gone on to do, had he lived? When we lost him, in 1979, for example, hip-hop was just around the corner. Do you think he would have embraced that?

SM: It might have been not as challenging as he would have liked. An album he listened to the most the last six months of his life was Cumbia and Jazz Fusion. There’s one whole side that’s cumbia jazz. The other side is the piece Todo Modo, which is “third stream,” as Gunther Schuller called it, classical-jazz fusion. Had he lived, I think that’s the direction he would have pursued. But with Mingus, you never know.

LCC: Any Mingus news that we don’t know about yet that we can report here?

SM: We are having our third Mingus high school competition that will take place in January, our newest project where high school students from around the country come out and compete, February 18-20 at Manhattan School of Music. It’s nice to hear kids playing Mingus with such enthusiasm, and so attentively. This summer, there’s a free concert at Washington Square Park with the Mingus Orchestra on July 27 – and then the band tours!

June 16, 2010 Posted by | interview, jazz, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The New York Philharmonic’s Contact! At Symphony Space, NYC 4/16/10

We’ve just wrapped up liveblogging this, explaining why everything here is in the present tense. The program has been a trio of world premieres, Alan Gilbert conducting ensembles of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra doing their frequent Contact! program of avant-garde pieces from acclaimed contemporary composers, WNYC’s John Schaefer (this guy gets around, huh?)  introducing each piece briefly in a discussion with its composer. Pre-concert sounds fluttering around the stage sounded menacingly enticing…

Sean Shepherd – These Particular Circumstances in seven uninterrupted episodes:

It’s a small ensemble – about fifteen performers. A fugue between fluttery strings and bells gives way to a couple of little horror movie crescendos (does this guy have a film music background? It would seem so). Suspenseful tradeoffs between individual voices, less for the sake of texture than to maintain suspense, it would seem. A series of animated, creepy crescendos – now this is fun! Straight out of Bernard Herrmann… Now a twisted little march – reminds of the one in Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony but less savage….lots of ensemble interplay, strings handing off to brass etc., ominous and full of tritones, it’s a Sam Fuller movie….the sections of the suite segue into each other seamlessly. Now it’s variations on a twisted little fanfare, down to moody strings with those bells delivering the dread – this crew is quietly and methodically having a blast with this! A bit of boogie-woogie piano opening a chase scene picked up by the strings…

Time to build the suspense some more, pensive, gentle little codas growing in intensity. Where’s Bogey when we need him? A matter-of-factly clanging, metallic bell-driven conclusion gets a standing ovation from what looks to be a sold out house (missed all of the John Schaefer/Sean Shepherd onstage interview while unplugging and making room for unexpected seatholders – supposedly the balcony was going to be the bloggers’ peanut gallery).

Magnus Lindberg (the Phil’s Composer-in-Residence) supposedly is responsible for this bill – he lets his taste be his guide (good taste!). He reminds that recent writing for smaller ensembles really took off in the 60s (he didn’t say this, but it’s harder to sell something new and strange to a full orchestra than it is to simply cobble together an ensemble half the size).   

Nico Muhly – Detailed Instructions, for orchestra:

Muhly is a ham, gets a lot of laughs out of the crowd talking beforehand – but he doesn’t give anything away. For this piece, violas substitute for violins in this particular ensemble. Interesting interlocking rhythm between strings and brass, into a circular, looping staccato passage for the winds over gentle string/brass swells…the winds work their way into the swells, every section stepping on the last beat of the previous note. Muhly said there wouldn’t be any detail in this and he wasn’t lying. It’s clever and well thought-out and holds the listener with its rhythmic devices rather than any particularly compelling melodic ideas….now they’ve got a nice atmospheric passage going on with flute accents (wait, this wasn’t supposed to be ornamented at all, ha!).

Second movement starts out pensive and sostenuto…Gilbert really has his hands full with the tricky rhythm but he’s got them legatissimo here…makes it look easy. It’s not. In the movie, if this was a movie, this would be the scene before the funeral, lulling but with the flute keeping everybody awake….sans flute it goes warmly lower, a tone poem, harp and low horn voices at the top/bottom of the spectrum.

Third movement is a gypsy dance, basically, keyboard bouncing around, flute carrying the melody…a suspenseful trombone/cello dialogue….Muhly likes to run a riff over and over again against a tonal wash….flute and harp now running the loop – and a cold ending. The crowd likes it but isn’t blown away – but then the piece wasn’t written to blow anybody away.

The machine says 58 minutes worth of juice left, so we should be able to stay live for the whole thing…

Matthias Pintscher – Songs from Solomon’s Garden featuring baritone and NY Phil Artist-in-Residence Thomas Hampson:

Larger ensemble than for the previous two (more strings). This seems as if it might be intended as a Song of Solomon type thing, Hampson singing in Hebrew, not one of his usual languages (it’s tempting to say “ca m’est hebreu”)…voice out in front of sparse percussive accents and little fluttery runs up the scale from the high strings….stark astringent washes with the occasional burbling accent and the first of probably several big crescendos…the vocal part seems forced, it doesn’t move around much or ask the singer to add much of anything in the way of character or individuality. The instrumental passages, by contrast are getting creepier and creepier, little jumps against the ambience…oooh a morbid swell, the temperature just dipped thirty degrees in here…and the occasional little macabre piano accent. With the addition of the vocal part, is this supposed to be some sort of study in contrasts?

A lull, a burst of drums, Santa has fallen all the way down into the fireplace. Now he’s up and dusted himself and creeping around again…and now he’s singing….and not singing…pianissimo upper-register atmospherics swirling and whooshing…no disrespect to Hampson, he’s doing what he does well but the vocals in this one were superfluous – first adventurous ensemble to do this as the eerie soundtrack piece that it is gets a prize!

 Q2 will broadcast the performance on April 22 at 7 PM and also on April 22 at 4 PM – the care they’ve taken to make sure they get a good recording (virtually all of the instruments have been close-miked) is pretty extraordinary.

April 16, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The New York Philharmonic’s Contact! Demystified

The New York Philharmonic’s debut performance of Contact!, their new series dedicated to cutting-edge music by contemporary composers got off to an auspicious start at Symphony Space last December. They’re doing another program at Symphony Space featuring pieces by Nico Muhly, Matthias Pintscher and Sean Shepherd this Friday, April 16 at 8, which we’ll be liveblogging (wave to us up in the balcony but please don’t disturb your neighbor). The program repeats at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 7 PM on the 17th. John Mangum, the orchestra’s Artistic Administrator, didn’t let a computer crash stop him from helping us shed some light on what promises to be an equally auspicious performance:

Q: The first question is the most crucial one: are tickets still available for the April 16 show at Symphony Space and the one on the 17th at the Metropolitan Museum of Art?

A: Yes.

Q: The New York Philharmonic are not strangers to championing contemporary composers. Other than the fact that Contact! so far has featured pieces for smaller ensembles, what differentiates this series from other programs featuring the avant-garde?

A: The Contact! series for the current season, 2009/10, features exclusively commissioned works – each program is comprised entirely of world premieres. In future seasons, we’re looking at expanding the series’ mandate to make room for some of the classics from the last two decades. For example, in November 2010, we’ll have a program pairing a world premiere by Magnus Lindberg with the “Quatre chants pour franchir le seiul” (“Four Songs for Crossing the Threshhold”), the last work of Magnus’ teacher, the pivotal French composer Gerard Grisey, which he completed in 1994.

Q: Is there a common link between the composers that led to their selection for this program? Or a common thread, musical or thematic, that links the compositions?

A: They’re all crucial voices from among the younger generations of composers living and working in the New York area – both Matthias Pintscher and Nico Muhly are here in the City, and Sean Shepherd, who recently graduated from Juilliard, is working at Cornell with Steven Stucky and Roberto Sierra. The striking thing is how different each composer’s approach is, and that really comes to the fore when their works are placed on the same program. It makes a strong statement about the variety and vitality of music today.

Q: What criteria and whose decisions determine who gets a commission from the NY Phil as Muhly, Shepherd and Pintscher have here? Is there a line around the block, or is is the secret star chamber that decides immune to persuasion?

A: We try to be really aware of who is out there. Members of the Orchestra, Magnus Lindberg (our Composer-in-Residence), Alan Gilbert (our Music Director), and I all play a part. We meet, talk, look at scores – both those we’ve requested and those that have just come in unsolicited – and make the decision based on what turns us on. It’s exciting to be part of creating new art, and we want to share that excitement with our audiences.

Q: The debut of Contact! had minimalism, an intricate rondo, horizontal music, orchestrated Mongolian throat-singing chants and a jungly thicket of Brazilian percussion. What do audiences have to look forward to in this program?

A: Matthias’ piece is a wonderfully refined, tremendously thoughtful setting of sacred Hebrew texts for our Artist-in-Residence Thomas Hampson. There are strikingly beautiful sonorities, and really sophisticated use of the instrumental ensemble. Sean’s work is very energetic, full of all sorts of references to itself and other pieces. It’s a piece in seven sections, with a real arc, a real shape to it, and the use of the ensemble is, like Matthias’ work, again very sophisticated, though the result is different. Nico’s piece also has that same sense of energy and structure – there seems to be something about New York that brings this energy, this life out in composers.

Q: The ensemble was divided into unusual permutations last time around – for example, one of the pieces featured four string quartets with a bass at each end of the stage. Can the audience expect any such thing like on this bill?

A: The ensembles for these three pieces are similar, so there won’t be that kind of contrast like we had last time, with Lei Liang’s piece for four string quartets and two double basses. The contrast in this program comes from the different styles of the three composers, and it is striking.

Q: This is the first time Contact! has featured vocal music – will there be vocal music at upcoming performances?

A:Yes. On the November program next season, the Grisey work is for high soprano and ensemble.

Q: Why do this at Symphony Space and the Met? Why not just stay home at Avery Fisher Hall?

A: We really wanted to take this project out into the city, and after considering several different venues, these two proved ideal for a variety of practical and artistic reasons. At Symphony Space, the programming is a good fit with the work Laura Kaminsky, their artistic director, is doing there. It’s also right in the heart of the Upper West Side, close to Columbia as well. At the Met Museum, I like the statement it makes – we’re putting contemporary music on stage there, streaming new art into the flow and tradition of millennia of artistic achievement. That you literally go from ancient Egypt to New York, 2010 – I think that’s pretty cool.

April 14, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, interview, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Simone Dinnerstein with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall, NYC 7/8/09

The pretext of the evening’s performance was “From the Danube to the Rhine,” the two feeder rivers of northern Europe and some of the composers associated with them. Simone Dinnerstein’s warmly lyrical recording of the Goldberg Variations topped the classical charts a couple of years ago: this time out, she matched rapidfire precision to a fluidly expressive style , joining the orchestra on Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto in A. Essentially, it works two themes, a nocturne and a stomp, variations on some glimmering upper-register work and a fiery cascade down to the lowest registers, respectively. Dinnerstein pulled out every piece of shimmering moonlight in the former and a gatling-gun staccato on the latter. Musicologists disagree on how many movements the piece has: the conventional wisdom is six; thematically, there seem to be half as many, the highlight being a deliciously anthemic, crushingly chordal Rachmaninovian run up the scale in what would be the second. She didn’t make it look easy, because it wasn’t, and her unaffected intensity earned her a well-deserved standing ovation. Not bad for her second-ever Lincoln Center performance.

After the intermission, conductor Bramwell Tovey led the orchestra on an inspired romp through Brahms’ Hungarian Dances #4 and #10. In 19th century western Europe, popular composers’ gypsy themes tended to be of the ersatz variety, akin to most of what fueled the 1950s’ mambo craze here. With this suite, Brahms sought authenticity, and the first of the pair show off some stark chromatics and trills, set aloft on the wings of the strings. The second could have been a pretty folk dance from pretty much anywhere.

The orchestra had warmed up with Johan Strauss’ Overture to Der Zigeunerbaron, a perfect illustration of faux-gypsy if there ever was. To the credit of conductor and orchestra, they did their best to endow it with the dynamics and passion of a work far more substantial, but even that failed to elevate it above the level of schlock. In a perhaps intentional stroke of irony, they closed the program with Richard Strauss’ Rosenkavalier Suite. The opera itself is completely buffo, a drag drama that plays off all kinds of buffoonery created by multiple disguises. Yet the incidental music, first assembled as an integral suite decades after the opera’s 1909 debut, is impressive, from the strikingly modernist atonalities that begin the soaring, passionate overture, to several spot-on parodies of Johan Strauss waltzes that recur throughout. There’s also a recurring “uh-oh” motif, usually before Baron Ochs, the opera’s lumbering bull in a china shop, gets to wring some cheap laughs from his lines. As much as everyone onstage was obviously having a good time with the silliness, it was the lush, cinematic string-driven exaltation that carried everyone away. It was a worthy sendoff for retiring bassist Shelly Saxon, bowing out after 38 distinguished years with the ensemble.

The NY Philharmonic has some tantalizing outdoor concerts coming up in the next week before departing for Vail for a series of shows (see our live music calendar for dates and programs); Simone Dinnerstein plays selections from her highly anticipated cd of Beethoven works for piano and cello with cellist Zuill Bailey at le Poisson Rouge on August 27.

July 9, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment