Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The New York Choral Society Sing Masses For Troubled Masses at Carnegie Hall

They’re amazing,” the friendly retiree whispered to her brand-new concertgoing pal, a New York City firefighter in his 20s. A couple of rows closer to the Carnegie Hall stage, two women in their forties, a married couple, quietly affirmed that. And after the mighty voices of the New York Choral Society had wound up their triumphant performance of Haydn’s “Lord Nelson” Mass there last night, a teen in the third row dressed like one of the rappers in the 80s group Kid ’N Play gave them a standing ovation. The accolades on the ensemble’s press page run on and on; this concert attested that just about every demographic in this city shares those feelings.

Spontaneous applause had broken out after the first movement, possibly triggered by how meticulously and seemingly effortlessly way the sopranos in the group had followed soprano soloist Vanessa Vasquez’s exuberant flurries of glossolalia with their own, in perfect unison. If you think that’s hard to do by yourself, imagine the challenge of having to match your bandmates’ cadences with that kind of split-second precision.

This piece got its nickname after the story spread that the composer had been inspired by a British admiral’s pursuit of Napoleon. That might well be true, considering that Haydn was an Anglophile. What it also sounds like is that he wanted to write something so glorious that it would earn him a follow-up commission. Beyond being a flamboyant birthday present for a Hungarian princess, its raison d’etre as a “mass for troubled times” doesn’t really make itself apparent until after the opening festivities. This long party for churchgoing late-18th century one-percenters ran its course before getting switched out for more formidable gravitas. The rest of the soloists – tenor Zach Borichevsky, bass Sava Vemic and mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer – locked in on Haydn’s signature humor, as did the choir and orchestra, who took it out in a decisively boisterous, precise yet comfortably fluid series of volleys. 

The original program had that piece first on the bill, followed by Maurice Durufle’s Requiem, Op. 9. Flipping the script and putting the Durufle first was logical in that it’s much quieter and has none of Haydn’s fireworks. But it’s a vastly more profound piece of music, and the ensemble delivered it that way. The program notes alluded to the composer following Gabriel Faure’s Requiem, but other than a muted sense of grief, the two pieces have little in common. And this one is hardly easy to sing, with its so-ancient-they’re-new-again Gregorian chant themes and shapeshifting, uneven meters. But musical director David Hayes led the singers through an impeccably balanced rendition that offered guarded hope, something that’s been gravely in need over these past three weeks or so.

The orchestral performance was as sublime as the voices. Durufle, longtime organist of Notre Dame, peppers the work with poignant cameos: distant terror from a tritone riff or two on the organ; ghastly shivers from the low strings, uneasily starry resonance from the harp and a moment where first violist Ronald Carbone took centerstage in his section in the piece’s most harrowing if understated cadenza. Fischer got a solo as well and channeled deep, wounded soul in vivid contrast to her untethered ebullience in the Haydn.

The New York Choral Society sing the New York City premiere of James MacMillan’s St. Luke Passion at St. Bartholomew’s Church on April 8 at 8 PM with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and organist Jason Roberts.

February 7, 2017 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Awestruck, Transcendent, Epic Grandeur from the Spectrum Symphony

One of the most transcendent concerts of 2016 happened Friday night at St. Peter’s Church in midtown, where the Spectrum Symphony played not one but two rare concertos for organ and orchestra by Poulenc and Balint Karosi, the latter a world premiere. First of all, beyond the famous Saint-Saens Organ Symphony, there isn’t much organ repertoire that incorporates much of anything other than brass – simply because church organs are loud. And paradoxically, to mute the organ as a concerto instrument would make it redundant: you can get “quiet organ” with woodwinds. So this show was doubly auspicious, incorporating both the Poulenc Concerto for Orchestra, Strings and Timpani in G along with works by Bach, Mendelssohn and the exhilarating, rivetingly dynamic Karosi Concerto No. 2 for Organ, Percussion and Strings, with the composer himself in the console. Conductor David Grunberg, who is really on a roll programming obscure works that deserve to be vastly better known, was a calmly poised, assured presence and had the group on their toes – as they had to be.

Another problematic issue with music for pipe organ and other instruments, from both a compositional and performance prespective, is the sonic decay. Not only do you have to take your time with this kind of music, you have to be minutely attuned to echo effects so that the organ and ensemble aren’t stepping all over each other. The acoustics at this space happen to be on the dry side, which worked to the musicians’ advantage. The strings opened by giving a lively, Vivaldiesque flair to the overture from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No, 3, BWV 1068, a clever bit of programming since the eight-part Poulenc suite – performed as an integral whole – opens with a robust shout-out to Bach before going off in all sorts of clever directions.

Organist Janos Palur parsed the piece with a deliberate, carefully crafted approach well-suited to its innumerable shifts from one idiom to another, from the baroque, to vividly lingering Romanticism, to a robust, completely unexpected dance and more astringent tonalities. Poulenc’s genius in assembling the piece came through in how integrally the organist and ensemble played it: both were clearly audible and rewardingly supportive of each other when in unison, and when not, transitions between solo organ and the strings were confidently fluid and natural. As the piece unwound, it took on a Gil Evans-like sweep and lustre, the lowest pedals and bass paired with sonic cirrus clouds floating serenely above the dark river underneath.

Percussionist Charles Kiger got even more of a workout with the Karosi premiere than he did with the Poulenc. Switching seamlessly from one instrument to another, his vibraphone amplified uneasy pointillisms that a different composer might have arranged for glockenspiel. Otherwise, his terse kettledrum accents bolstered Karosi’s stygian pedal undercurrents, and his mighty, crescendoing washes on the gongs provided the night’s most spine-tingling, thundering crescendos.

Yet for all its towering, epic grandeur, the concerto turned out to be stunningly subtle. Seemingly modeled on the architecture if not the melodies of the Poulenc, Karosi quickly quoted from the same Bach riff that Poulenc used and then worked his way through a completely different and even more adventurously multistylistic tour de force. There were allusions to the haunted atmospherics of Jehan Alain, the austere glimmer of Naji Hakim, the macabre cascades of Louis Vierne, and finally and most conclusively, the otherworldly, awestruck terror of Messiaen. But ultimately, the suite is its own animal – and vaults Karosi into the front ranks of global composers. It’s almost embarrassing to admit not being familiar with his work prior to this concert. Not only is this guy good, he’s John Adams good. Let’s hope for vastly more from him in the years and decades to come. And the Spectrum Symphony return to their new home at St. Peter’s on January 27 at 7:30 PM with a Mozart birthday party celebration featuring his “Prague” Symphony No. 28,

November 6, 2016 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ultimate Halloween Song in Pretty Much the Ultimate Space

Ask any dedicated Halloween fan what they think of for a soundtrack for their favorite holiday, and a lot of them will scream, “Organ music!” Thankfully, here in New York we have Patrick Allen to supply that soundtrack a little in advance.

Allen is the tireless organist of Grace Church on Broadway just south of 11th Street. In addition to his extensive work with church services and the choir, Allen plays Bach Tuesday through Friday at twenty minutes past noon, sharp. These “organ meditations,” as he calls them, are free of charge, although you are encouraged to bring canned goods for the church’s food pantry.

Allen is a connoisseur of Bach. Not only does he perform the standard repertoire of preludes and fugues, and passacaglias, and hymns, but he also uncovers all sorts of obscure treasures like pastorales and folk dance themes in liturgical disguise. Playing expertly on the mighty 2013 Taylor and Boody organ, enhanced by the historic 1846 edifice’s magnificent natural reverb, his four-times-a-week performances are a gothic treat that every New Yorker should play hooky from work or school at least once in a lifetime to enjoy.

Beyond the general association, what do Allen’s performances have to do with Halloween? Right around this time of year, he breaks out Bach’s Toccata in D. It’s arguably the greatest piece of music ever written, it’s been a staple of horror film for almost a century, and Allen always lets his phrases linger with just a little extra grand guignol menace right about now. Stop by the church today or tomorrow if you’re in the neighborhood because you may be in for a real treat. The trick is to get here on time or you might miss it.

October 27, 2016 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam: John Scott

John Scott, one of this era’s most extraordinary and beloved talents in both classical and sacred music, died suddenly on August 12 in Manhattan after suffering a heart attack. He was 59. The iconic organist and choirmaster had just completed a six-week concert tour of Europe and Scandinavia. He leaves behind his wife Lily and her unborn child, as well as two children from a previous marriage.

Scott was the rare artist whose virtuosity was matched by an intuitive, almost supernatural ability to channel a piece of music’s emotional content. If you want to understand Mendelssohn’s relentless drive, Messiaen’s awestruck mysticism or Bach’s neuron-expanding wit, listen to a recording by John Scott. It’s impossible to imagine a better or more emotionally attuned interpretation of Mendelssohn’s organ sonatas than Scott’s 1992 double-cd collection.

A humble, soft-spoken man with a very subtle, distinctly British sense of humor, Scott was happiest when he could share his erudition and insight into the many centuries’ worth of music that he had immersed himself in since childhood. He worked tirelessly and vigorously despite what was often a herculean workload, first at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and from 2004 until his death at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan where he was organist, music director and led the world-famous choir of men and boys.

Scott’s legacy as a recording artist is vast: he both played and recorded most of the standard repertoire for organ including the major symphonic works of Vierne, Messiaen, Widor and Durufle. He toured and performed tirelessly: his Buxtehude and Messiaen concert cycles are legendary. While gifted with dazzling technique, Scott was not a flamboyant player per se: though he could fire off torrential cascades and volleys of thunderous pedal notes as nimbly as anyone alive, he made those pyrotechnics all the more effective through his meticulous attention to dynamics, and, especially when playing Bach, his imaginative and thoughtful registrations. And every now and then, he’d throw caution to the wind, drop his guard and play entertainer: one of his final recitals at St. Thomas featured a droll Jean Guillou arrangement of the march from Prokofiev’s Love For the Three Oranges (better known to a generation of Americans as the FBI Theme).

Scott’s knowledge of and passion for choral music matched his skill as an organist, beginning in his childhood years as a chorister in Yorkshire. A noted scholar and arranger of plainchant, he served as mentor and inspiration for literally hundreds of singers who passed through St. Thomas’ choir.

A memorial service will be held at 11 AM on September 12, 2015 at St. Thomas Church at Fifth Avenue and 53rd St. A memorial service in the UK will follow.

August 21, 2015 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, obituary | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yet Another Ambitiously Fun Album and a Couple of Smoke Dates from Organist Brian Charette

Brian Charette gets a lot of ink here, partly because he’s been so ubiquitous. He’s gone back to his original instrument, the piano for some gigs including a turn with erudite, infectiously charismatic chanteuse Audrey Bernstein, as well as leading his own organ jazz groups. And he keeps putting out albums, all of them infused with his signature wit and penchant for pushing the envelope out of the organ jazz ghetto. If you’re down with the B3 jazz cult, toe-tapping gin lounge grooves are great fun, but like his fellow A-list organists Barbara Dennerlein and Jared Gold, Charette keeps reinventing the genre. His latest release, Alphabet City – most of which is streaming at Posi-Tone Records – is a characteristically eclectic, fun mix. of tunes. He’s doing a two-night album release stand uptown at Smoke on July 15 and 16 with sets at 7 and 9 PM; cover is just $15, which is a real deal at this place. And if the prix-fixe menu doesn’t match your requirements, you can always hang back at the bar where the sound is just as good as it is in the rest of the room.

The album is a trio session with Will Bernard on guitar and Rudy Royston on drums. You probably wouldn’t associate Royston – another increasingly ubiquitous guy – with this kind of music, but his extrovert drive is a good match for the bandleader’s sense of humor. The album kicks off with East Village, a bubbly, bustling shuffle with a subtly carnivalesque undercurrent – which makes sense considering what’s happened to the neighborhood. The band follows that with They Left Fred Out, a catchy, jauntily syncopated soul-jazz strut with characteristic Charette wit. After that, West Village, a suave swing number, has a similarly erudite, nonchalant Bernard solo at the center – and toward the end, Charette throws a few jabs toward the snobs.

Royston proves to be the perfect sparring partner for Charette’s boisterous, googly-eyed ELP riffage in the sardonically titled Not a Purist. Sharpie Moustache, a funky shuffle with a droll Zombies quote and a gorgeous oldschool soul chorus, might be a Jimmy Smith homage – remember how he had that retro facial hair thing going on?

Bernard’s sparkly hammer-ons move front and center as the latin-tinged vamp Disco Nap gets underway. The album’s best and most riveting number is Hungarian Major, a creepy, chromatically fueled, genre-defying piece, Bernard’s bell tones glimmering against Charette’s funereal Balkan syncopation. Is this Eastern European art-rock? Romany jazz? Circus music? How about all of the above?

After the sly, satirically-infused previous two downtown New York numbers, Avenue A has a disarming wistfulness set to a calm clave groove. Damn, back when the LES was Loaisaida, it sure was a lot of fun, wasn’t it? Likewise, Detours, a catchy swing anthem, leaves no doubt that taking the long way this time around was the right move, Bernard’s catchy, looping riffage setting the stage for Royston to rumble.

Charette contrasts murky atmospherics and woozily loopy pedal lines with a deadpan, lackadaisical pop hook throughout Split Black – a psychological term for how borderline personalities go off the deep end.  A hazy southern soul-tinged waltz, White Lies brings to mind similar low-key collaborations between Jimmy Smith and Jim Hall. The album winds up with the oldschool 60s-style shuffle The Vague Reply, both Bernard and Royston getting plenty of room to raise the energy level. By now, it’s clear that Charette doesn’t give a damn – he’s going to do what he always does without any regard for limitations. Best case scenario is that he brings some new fans into the organ demimonde while managing to to drag the purists into his camp without any kicking and screaming.

July 12, 2015 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Organist Christopher Houlihan Plays an Exhilarating, Insightful Program in Chelsea

Organist Christopher Houlihan has world-class chops and the kind of passion that most people who tackle playing the king of the instruments have in abundance. Houlihan’s strength is that he’s able to communicate that passion, not just with fast fingers and feet, but by engaging the audience with plenty of insight into both craft and history. At his Chelsea concert last night at Holy Apostles Church, he recounted the tragic tale of composer Louis Vierne, who collapsed at the console at Notre Dame and landed on the very bottom pedal, serenading the audience with an ominous drone for more than a minute until someone figured out something wasn’t right and discovered his lifeless body. That incident is well known to fans of the organ repertoire; Houlihan also shared several other gloomy facts about the composer, whose symphonic cycle he played to much acclaim both in the organ demimonde and beyond it a couple of years ago. And then he followed with three movements from Vierne’s Symphony No. 4.

Houlihan explained that these would be somewhat uncharacteristic for the typically turbulent, sometimes wrathful Vierne, and they were: a mutedly balletesque take of the Menuet, a lively yet meticulous romp through the Romance and then the finale, which returned with a roar to emotional terrain more familiar to the composer.

Bookending the concert with pieces by Bach made sense, considering the darkly baroque colors of the organ. Houlihan described the popular Prelude and Fugue in E Minor, BWV 548 as a series of kaleidoscopic variations that went off on innumerable interesting tangents, then backed that up with a rippling, steady attack, making imaginative use of high woodwind voicings on the first part of the fugue. In a clever bit of programming, he also bookended a transcription of Brahms’ choral prelude No. 11 – the composer’s saturnine final work – with an early piece, the Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, an ambitious exercise in counterpoint.

Houlihan likened Henry Martin‘s Prelude and Fugue in B Flat Major to “what Gershwin would have done with a prelude and fugue,” and he was right on the money with that too. The world premiere of a commission from Michael Barone of NPR’s Pipedreams, from a series of twelve of those pieces in every key, after Bach, it turned out to be an intriguingly orchestrated series of circling phrases that eventually loosened with a ragtime-inflected flair. At the end of the program, the crowd – an especially large one – gave Houlihan a standing ovation and wouldn’t let up until he’d come back for the encore. The organ world needs more ambassadors like him.

June 19, 2015 Posted by | classical music, concert, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trying to Keep Up with Organ Individualist Brian Charette

Brian Charette is one of the world’s most interesting and distinctive voices on the organ. Classically trained, he’s made his name in jazz although his music is just as informed by classic 60s soul, funk and even reggae. He tours constantly and writes prolifically, and he’s playing the album release for his latest one, Good Tipper; tonight and also tomorrow night, Oct 9 at Smalls at 10 PM; cover is $20 and includes a drink. Joining him for the album show are Yotam Silberstein on guitar and Mark Ferber – who really has a feel for this funky groove stuff – on drums.

The album BEFORE the latest one (yeah – the guy works fast) is a Posi-Tone release, streaming at Spotify, titled Square One. Charette has a devious sense of humor and that’s apparent right from the jaunty strut of the opening track, Aaight!, which eventually squares itself more or less into a swinging shuffle. Charette and Silberstein move more frantically yet purposefully over Ferber’s blistering yet nimble pulse on their take of Joe Henderson’s If, followed by the vintage soul-infused Three for Martina, a metrically tricky ballad with organ and then guitar holding to a warmly reflective mood.

People on Trains follows a wryly lyrical narrative: the subway takes its time pulling out of the station and then scurries along, fueled by the guitar, then the process repeats itself. It isn’t long before Charette throws in a New York-centric subway joke or two (the album cover pictures him chilling down under the Manhattan Bridge). Likewise, True Love kicks off slowly before Charette pulls it out of its balmy reverie, then Silberstein takes it back with a minimalist, practically Satie-esque solo. Then they get a swaying groove going with a warmly purposeful take of the Meters’ classic Ease Back, Silberstein adding droll wah-wah licks.

Time Changes alludes to a famous Dave Brubeck album: it’s a jazz waltz with summery soul riffage. A Fantasy does much the same with trickier rhythms and spiraling solos from guitar and drums against Charette’s anthemic washes. Yei Fei is a blend of indie classical circularity and hints of airily eerie Jehan Alain church organ music: you might not think that something like this would work, but it does. Things You Don’t Mean mixes up a strutting New Orleans funk groove with a hardbop guitar attack and then an absolutely creepy quote and variations from the Alain songbook: it’s killing, Charette at his outside-the-box best. The album sprints to the finish line with Ten Bars for Eddie Harris, the most trad organ-lounge track here – but even that goes off the rails into a deliciously warped interlude. Who is the audience for this? People who like Dr. Lonnie Smith, jambands, funk and soul and sophisticated original jazz tunesmithing, which is ultimately what this is.

October 8, 2014 Posted by | concert, funk music, jazz, Music, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jeremy Filsell and Nigel Potts Reinvent Rachmaninoff

The organ at Christ & St. Stephen’s Church on the Upper West Side has an unexpectedly bright, ambered tone in the style of French organs of the mid-1800s. But the pipes here don’t have the kind of slow, echoey resonance they would in a marble cathedral. That enabled pianist/organist Jeremy Filsell and organist Nigel Potts to play their fascinating, timbrally rich arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1 at a briskly triumphant clip that they couldn’t have gotten away with in a venue where the notes take longer to echo out, reaffirming Cameron Carpenter‘s recent observations on how much the diversity of organs around the world pretty much determines what can be played on them and what can’t.

The adventurousness of this program wasn’t limited to reinventing Rachmaninoff. The night’s theme, Filsell told the crowd, was composers born in 1873 along with the iconic Russian Romantic. Filsell opened on the organ with Belgian composer Joseph Jongen’s Sonata Eroica, a dynamically-charged blend of baroque precision and lush Romantic harmony counterbalanced by an eerie, otherworldly, much more forward-looking quality. In places, it reminded of Widor’s symphonies. In its more Germanic moments, it echoed another composer on the bill, Max Reger, whose Toccata & Fugue in D Minor Potts delivered with a steady verve. Both Potts and Filsell also played their own solo transcriptions of Rachmaninoff works, Potts doing a rapturous, aptly cantabile take of the famous Vocalise, Filsell doing two glittering, cascading early songs, Melody, Op. 21, No. 9 and Dreams, Op. 38, No. 5 at the piano.

But the piece everybody came out for was the Concerto. Filsell told everyone that it’s his favorite of Rachmaninoff’s four, reaffirmed by how much joy and transcendence he brought to it. Like so much of the composer’s work, its transcendent message and undercurrent of hope against hope couldn’t be more clear. Filsell played the opening movement with a steady, lilting, often jaunty sway, then pulled back and let the second resonate with an angst-drenched rubato. Meanwhile, Potts nimbly handled the orchestral score, and that was a revelation. The steady precision and often very quiet, even minimal approach he gave it underscored the composer’s ceaselessly clever counterpoint, contrasts and conversational sensibility that could just as easily get lost in the wash of a string section. They took it out with a victorious, towering splendor. One can only think that a nineteen-year old Rachmaninoff – that’s how old he was when he debuted the initial version of this work – would have joined in a standing ovation along with the audience. While it doesn’t appear that this concert was recorded, Filsell and Potts’ arrangement of both this piece and the immortal Piano Concerto No. 2 are both up at youtube in their entirety.

May 15, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cameron Carpenter Launches an Organ Odyssey at Lincoln Center

Sunday afternoon’s concert at Lincoln Center was as much about the organ as it was about the organist. It’s likely that the current generation remembers Les Paul as a paradigm-shifting pioneer of electric guitar (and stereo) technology far better than as a brilliant jazz guitarist, so maybe someday the organ demimonde will refer to the Marshall & Ogletree International Touring Organ as the Cameron Carpenter. It’s essentially a digital mellotron. Where the mellotron plays analog samples of notes recorded by various configurations of an orchestra, this new organ plays digital samples taken from some of Carpenter’s favorite organs around the world. It’s an architecturally imposing instrument with a huge cockpit of a console, five manuals of stops played through eight large banks of twin speakers plus two banks of four trumpets each, and four more with large bass woofers. All this likely requires a couple of tractor-trailers and heavy-duty concert hall electrical power. Carpenter, with his rare blend of judicious dynamic choices and astonishing, whirlwind technique, reaffirmed that he is the obvious choice to play it (and to be involved in crafting its design and function). He was a force of nature nine years ago when he performed a dramatic weekend stand downtown at Marble Church; that he has grown even further as a musician since then is mind-boggling.

This was apparent from watching him leap from rank to rank with millisecond-precise athleticism, airing out every inch of sonic capability from the mighty beast, which he played with his back to the audience so everyone could see how much agility is required by so much of the organ repertoire. The program seemed designed to showcase that, not to mention Carpenter’s omnivorous and adventurous taste in works from throughout the centuries and the various schools of organ composition, all of which are influenced greatly by national and regional traditions of organ-building. Carpenter’s attempt to transcend all of those boundaries resulted in three massive standing ovations and calls for more than the two encores that the organist delivered. Bells and whistles – monsoon soundscapes, mighty thunderclaps and timpani, glockenspiel, celeste and other more whimsical effects – featured in the sturm und drang of the world premiere of Carpenter’s own Music for an Imaginary Film. They took centerstage even more prominently in the encores: Eric Coates’ The Dambusters, a jaunty, triumphantly Gershwinesque mini-epic, and a boisterously playful reworking of the Gordon Lightfoot folk-pop hit If You Could Read My Mind.

Carpenter’s virtuosity was most evident in Rachmaninoff’s almost sadistically difficult, waterfalling keyboard arrangement of Bach’s Violin Partita No. 3, as well as Nicolai Medtner’s Messiaenic partita Faity Tale in E Minor, rising from raptly atmospheric wonder to furious, blunderbuss volleys and cascades. Carpenter made also made the relentless staccato of another cruelly challenging piece, Jeanne Demessieux’s Etude VI, look easy. His take of Cesar Franck’s Chorale No. 1 in E Major, a familiar and unselfconsciously gorgeous piece in the standard repertoire, was rather brisk and as a result somewhat brusque. But Carpenter nailed the sense of wonder and rapture in his own transcription of Albeniz’s Evocation (from the Iberia suite), and then the climactic ninth movement from Messiaen’s La Nativite. The organist averred to being “About as interested in Lent as your average telemarketer,” but nonetheless explained how the mighty payoff in the French composer’s evocation of God finally making an earthly appearance struck a nerve that transcended any liturgical meaning.

What was missing in all this was reverb, the swirling vortex and lusciously lingering decay of the organ stops you find in the world’s great cathedrals – and no doubt this can be adjusted mechanically to accommodate divergent acoustical spaces. Part of that issue stemmed from the sonics of Alice Tully Hall, which are world-class, but the space is not a “live room” – it was designed for singers and orchestras, and it serves those needs exceptionally well. So the notes faded away here much in the same way they would have if Carpenter was playing in a rock concert space. But that’s being picky. What Carpenter left unsaid was that this organ frees him to play music from pretty much any period in history, written for widely differing instruments, pretty much anywhere that will accomodate his new organ and to take that crusade global. Here’s to that adventure.

March 11, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

John Zorn Evokes Hell and Heaven at the Organ at Columbia

John Zorn‘s improvisation on the magnificent vintage Aeolian-Skinner organ at St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University last night was one of the most sonically delicious concerts in New York in recent memory. It was also exhilarating, assaultive, witty, carefully considered and raptly contemplative, in roughly chronological order. Zorn isn’t known as an organist, but the instrument was his first love. This concert was originally scheduled for last year, but the hurricane put an end to that idea, and with all the celebrations of Zorn’s sixtieth birthday going on throughout 2013, this was likely the earliest it could be rescheduled. Fans of the irascible eclecticist composer who might be kicking themselves that they missed this concert have even rarer opportunity to see Zorn play the 1830 Appleton organ in the gallery of the musical instruments section at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this Saturday, Sept 28 at around 7:30 PM. That performance caps off a daylong celebration of Zorn’s music which begins with his new trumpet fanfare when the museum opens and features a slate of familiar Zorn bandmates from over the years playing works from throughout Zorn’s career in various parts of the museum; all these are free with museum admission.

This improvisation began with an ominous sustained motif. Then the fireworks started, Zorn literally pulling out all the stops. It seemed as if he was using his entire forearm to hold down most of the keys in the upper midrange, creating a vicious, continuous blast punctuated by explosions from the low pedals. Zorn nimbly switched between registers, blending tones with an endlessly alternating series of brass and woodwind timbres. Finally the vortex cleared, Zorn introducing a single minor chord, but then the descent into the maelstrom continued. He took a pause, then built a tone poem with even more meticulously shifting timbres, something akin to Messiaen in dub. Zorn followed with a triptych of sorts based on simple, pedaled chords embellished with an even greater delicacy before a sudden and viscerally shocking return to the fire and brimstone. Yet, when it seemed that he was going to take the concert out on a screaming, abrasive note, he took another pause, then contrasted extreme low and high frequencies and methodically built a hypnotic, meditative ambience. And suddenly it was over. The audience, stunned, took their time rising for a standing ovation: everybody wanted an encore, but Zorn had clearly said everything he wanted to. The organ at the Met isn’t as powerful as this one, but the acoustics there are rich with natural reverb, a very good omen for Saturday’s performance.

There’s also a three-night program of Zorn works at Columbia’s Miller Theatre, Sept 25-27.  The first features orchestral works, the second chamber works; the final night includes his improvisationally-based Game Pieces.

September 24, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment