Lucid Culture


Pianist Judit Gabos Plays a Brilliantly Enlightening, Eclectic Portrait of Bela Bartok

Romanian-born Judit Gabos was Gyorgy Ligeti’s go-to pianist, so it’s no surprise that she would negoatiate a series of pieces from the composer’s rhythmically challenging Musicaricercata as precisely and effortlessly nimbly as she did in a “composer portrait” of Bela Bartok at the Hungarian Consulate last night. And as much as her performance of works by Bartok and Liszt were nothing less than a revelation, the icing on the cake was how she took the audience on a journey that connected the dots between the late Romantic period and postminimalism. Piano music doesn’t often get performed with as much insight and emotionally attuned prowess as Gabos gave to this program

She opened with Liszt’s Sursumcorda, explaining that Bartok often played it in concert early in his career. It’s awash in resonant lustre that eventually gives way to…well, it’s Liszt, you know what’s coming, it’s just a matter of time before the pyrotechnics appear. So an aptly triumphant, blazing take of Bartok’s Allegro Barbaro made for a good segue. Then Bartok the individualist appeared. Gabos reveled in the creepily cartoonish hide-and-seek of the dyptich Out of Doors, raising the question of whether or how much Raymond Scott or Bernard Herrmann might have stolen from its poltergeist cinematics.

Gabos then spanned the emotional spectrum, illustrating both Bartok’s meticulousness as a musicologist as well as his irrepressible penchant for using folk themes as a launching pad for his signature, thorny blend of chromatics and rustically bracing close harmonies. She began with his suite of Three Folk Songs from Csik County, then his expansive Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, Op. 20 and closed with a rousing take of his Romanian Folk Dance. On one hand, the Ligeti pieces afterward couldn’t help but be anticlimactic even as they offered a look at where one composer springboarded off of Bartok. But Gabos’ decision to close with a change of pace, a rather stately, consonantly anthemic segment brought the program full circle: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

This recital was staged by the Balassi Institute, who program all sorts of excellent Hungarian cultural events around the globe. The next one in New York is a concert by adventurous large jazz ensemble the Modern Art Orchestra downstairs at Symphony Space on November 11, with sets at 6:15 and 7:30 PM; advance tix are $16.


October 13, 2015 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Darkly Riveting Concert and an Upcoming Parkside Show by Diana Wayburn’s Dances of the World Ensemble

You might think from the name of the group that pianist/flutist Diana Wayburn‘s Dances of the World Chamber Ensemble play ballet music. That might be possible, but while their music is kinetic and intensely rhythmic, it has an edge and an individuality that transcend the boundaries of African music, classical, jazz, rock and film music while combining elements of all those styles. While Wayburn’s music often reminds of Mulatu Astatke’s Ethiopiques, or Astor Piazzolla’s shapeshifting, tango-based compositions, her sound is unique. There is no band in the world who sound anything like this group. If darkly glimmering, intense, energetic sounds are your thing, they’re playing the Parkside tonight, Nov 2 at 7 PM. Which might seem a strange place to see a chamber ensemble, but this group is just as at home in a rock venue as on a classical stage or in a jazz club.

Wayburn’s recordings – up at her Soundcloud page – encompass influences from West Africa to Spain, Argentina and beyond. The group’s concert at St. Marks Church this past September was much darker, more intense and seemingly jam-oriented than any of those tracks suggest: this is first and foremost a high-voltage, dynamic live band. Their opening number at that show began as a leapfrogging dance, Wayburn opening with a jaunty flute solo before handing off to trumpeter Marco Coco and violist Adam Matthes’ lingering lines. As the piece took on a moodily hypnotic Ethiopiques groove, trombonist Spencer Hale and then guitarist Ken Silverman took it deeper and deeper into the shadows, the guitar finally leading them up with a spiraling 70s art-rock feel before the band took it back down again. They let it wind out on an unsettled, unresolved note.

Switching to piano, Wayburn brought to mind Joy Division’s The Eternal, but with a towering, art-rock grandeur lit up with eerie chromatics and passing tones as the brooding second tune got underway. Coco added a tinge of the Middle East, Silverman some more traditional jazz phrasing and then Wayburn played bitingly rippling, incisive neoromantic lines all the way through to a triumphant downward cascade out. She and the band would revisit a similarly epic intensity with a brisk tango of sorts later in the show.

They played a more spacious, spare, bouncy number in between, with methodical solos from flute, trumpet and trombone over an insistent pulse reminiscent of American Indian music. They followed that with a gorgeously cinematic number fueled by Silverman’s insistence and Wayburn’s glistening minor-key piano, the most distinctively Ethiopian-flavored tune in the set. Andy O’Neill’s tumbling drums fueled the one-chord jam they closed with, Coco taking his time, choosing his spots and finally getting pretty wild before the group took it down into an ominously moody interlude fueled by Hale’s mournful trombone, then rising as the guitar and trumpet lept and jabbed over the murk underneath. Obviously, the lows resonated more mightily and maybe more menacingly in the church’s boomy sonics than might be the case in another room, but the intensity of this band – and Wayburn’s catchy, deceptively simple phrasing and intricate thematic variations – will be a factor no matter where they play. Catch them now before Wayburn gets a big Hollywood film score deal and all of a sudden the only place you’ll be able to find them is in much larger, pricier venues.

November 2, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, folk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alexandra Joan Sings Through Her Fingers at Bargemusic

“Just about every piece of music that we can play is a song,” pianist Alexandra Joan nonchalantly told the audience at her luminous performance Thursday night at Bargemusic. That pretty much explains everything you need to know about her. Matter-of-factly and meticulously, she built a dynamically rich program with lyrical, cantabile, highly individualistic interpretations of a diverse program. from Bach to early Modernism, most of the works taken from her new album Dances and Songs.

She explained to the crowd that while not everything on the album is a dance per se, the material on it shares a kinetic character. She began the evening with a suite of Chopin mazurkas that aren’t on the album, but they turned out to make an apt opening salvo, Joan giving the audience a sort of guided tour via ample but judicious amounts of rubato, as if to say, “Watch this, here comes a really good one!”

Her take of Bach’s English Suite in G Minor, BWV 808 was especially gripping, not only because it’s an interesting piece of music, but because of how she accented the work’s rigorous and challenging ornamentation, awash in grace notes and trills. That made Bach’s tight rhythm all the more of a suspenseful contrast – and the plaintiveness of the second movement all the more affecting. Likewise, the high point of the night was Liszt’s solo piano arrangement from Schubert’s Der Doppelganger, vividly giving voice to a guy who can’t figure out if he’s himself or someone else and is completely lost as a result.

The program lightened from there, but just a little, with an edgy, acerbic run through Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, drawing a straight line back to the Schubert suite that inspired them even if the tonalities were from a completely different idiom (and radical enough in Ravel’s day to get him slammed by the critics). Joan ended the night on a celebratory note with the “champagne bubbles” of a couple of lighthearted if cruelly challenging Liszt pieces, the Valse Impromptu and then his whirling arrangement of the Spinning Chorus from Wagner’s Flying Dutchman. Which in turn made her careful, plaintive Debussy encore all the more astringently gripping. Joan is also an impresario, so the idea of going from Bach to Romantic to Modern and linking it all together is less unlikely (and less ostentatious) for her than it would be for a lot of other pianists. She’s appearing next with the fantastic Grneta Ensemble performing Gerald Cohen’s Sea of Reeds at le Poisson Rouge on Nov 11 at 6 PM; advance tix are $15 and very highly recommended.

October 25, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Terry Riley at Federal Hall: Avant Garde Icon at the Top of His Game

Staging Friday night’s Terry Riley concert in the round at Federal Hall on Wall Street was a brilliant idea, making full use of the space’s majestically enveloping natural reverb. An eclectic program featuring choral, guitar, chamber and piano works drew equally on the minimalism that Riley is best known for along with elements of the baroque, jazz, blues and plenty of lively improvisation. As a portrait of where the composer is right now and where he’s been, it made a strong case for the argument that Riley might be the most influential composer associated with the avant garde, ever.

A string quartet including violinists Cornelius Dufallo and Jenny Choi, cellist Jeffrey Zeigler and the peripatetic Ljova Zhurbin on viola joined with the Young People’s Chorus of New York City for the lush swells and ebbs of Riley’s new work Another Secret eQuation, making their way methodically from jaunty, lighthearted swoops to a close harmony-fueled lushness that was considerably more pensive. Riley’s son Gyan followed with a solo classical guitar piece, shifting from fragmented baroque motives to a bit of a fugue, then teaming with electric violinist Tracy Silverman for a canon of sorts that cleverly cached microtones in the violin melody.

Riley’s own work at the piano, predictably, drew the most applause of the night. Riding the pedal, he slowly and measuredly built elegant permutations on simple, three or four-note phrases that morphed, sometimes completely unexpectedly, from Philip Glass-like circularity to passages steeped in the blues, gospel, a couple of graceful swing jazz interludes and some glimmering neoromantic balladry. His son and then Silverman joined him, trading bars and riffs with a steely grin. Riley’s music is so exacting and so economical that it’s a tight fit: only a similar precision will do, but the junior players onstage were up to the old lion’s challenge.

John Zorn joined the festivities for the evening’s most adrenalizing and thematically varied number, adding his signature noir resonance on alto sax before pushing the music toward hard bop as Riley anchored it with a stately lefthand. The pianist wound up the night with what appeared to be a mostly improvised piece, imbuing it with an apt wee hours feel, moving nonchalantly from a contemplative bluesiness to something of a jazz ballad where for the second time he threw in a brief quote from In C, his legendary 1964 composition that inspired seemingly every keyboard-driven European art-rock band from the 70s. Stylistic puddlejumping has seldom seemed so effortless or natural; then again, Riley has been doing this for a long time.

June 21, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Breathtakingly Poignant, Emotionally Impactful Recital by Pianist Yoonie Han

Pianist Yoonie Han has a passion for the Romantic repertoire, and chops that make her ideally suited to play it. At her midtown Manhattan recital last night, she employed what seemed to be an effortlessly silken legato, evincing the most minute timbral and tonal shifts from the keys with a touch that she varied stunningly from muted and wounded, to an icepick incisiveness, depending on the demands of the music. The program featured material from her forthcoming Steinway album Love and Longing, a showcase for her meticulously lyrical, vividly cantabile approach.

Han’s fondness for Spanish culture and music informed her richly dynamic take of a solo piano arrangement of Granados’ El Amor y La Muerte, from his opera Goyescas. Its narrative is a love triangle that ends with a duel, the guy who got the short end of it dying in his lover’s arms. Han lit its red-light sections luridly in contrast to the tender lullaby theme she wound it down with: the effect was unselfconsciously breathtaking. She gave a similar, rubato-tinged restraint to the Melodie from Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice, then evoked the plaintiveness of a couple of famous Chopin and Rachmaninoff preludes via a bitterly glimmering take of the Schubert song Gute Nacht from the Franz Liszt solo piano arrangement of the Winterreise suite. Her approach was much the same with an arrangement of Liebestod, from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, as well as her encore, where she shifted to a somewhat more ebullient side of Schubert.

A new commissioned work, Theodore Wiprud‘s El Jaleo mingled otherworldly, starlit upper-register ripples with an insistent, flamenco-inflected lefthand drive echoing the night’s opening number. Han’s most adventurous – and arguably contentious – moments came during the Busoni arrangement of a Bach violin chaconne written following the death of the composer’s first wife. Han’s fluid rhythmic constancy dovetailed with the rest of the material…but then she decided to take it forward in time a few hundred years with rubato and dynamics that perhaps Busoni but probably not Bach would have envisioned. Thrilling? Absolutely, and the crowd loved it. An exercise in artistic license? That’s Han’s prerogative, she’s earned it. Better than the original? Debatable. Ironically, all the rapture, and suspense, and poignancy and longing that she brought out so memorably from the other material might also have shown itself a little more with this had she held back a little and let the broodingly elegant exchanges of voices speak for themselves. But that’s nitpicking.

May 21, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pioneering Pianist Nancy Garniez Explains Her Commonsensical, Paradigm-Shifting Discoveries in Tonal Refraction

Nancy Garniez’s latest achievement is a groundbreaking discovery in the field of sonics as they relate to memory and performance, which she calls Tonal Refraction. The iconoclastic, individualistic pianist has built an unselfconsciously brilliant career spanning both the worlds of classical and the avant garde. She’s commissioned new works from notable composers like Ursula Mamlok and several others. She continues to coach both professionals and casual players. Her blog is infused with a crushingly sardonic wit, and her commentary on the state of classical music is spot-on. She also happens to be mom to Rachelle Garniez, the multi-instrumentalist chanteuse and Jack White collaborator who might just be the most consistently brilliant songwriter working in any genre today. But ultimately, Tonal Refraction may be Nancy Garniez’s most lasting legacy. In anticipation of presenting her findings at the International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition in Seoul, Korea this summer, she graciously took some time away from her teaching and research to answer a few questions.

Nancy Garniez: If I have learned anything from Tonal Refraction it is that the race to produce quantities of notes with minimal attentiveness, risks distancing players from any sense of real satisfaction in their music making, whether amateur or professional. I am now teaching players of all instruments, all levels, how to adjust their attention to include the elements that trigger the strongest, most reliable responses: I call it Music Inside and Out.

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: My rudimentary understanding of Tonal Refraction, as you describe it, is that in this new system pitches are associated with color rather than musical notation in order to better enable performers to hear what they’re playing or are about to play. What’s wrong with standard notation? Is color really more memorable than, say, that leger line above B that says “middle C?” Could it simply be that some people respond to color better than notation – or vice versa?

NG: It is perhaps better to think of Tonal Refraction as a process rather than as an alternative to standard notation. The process begins with the individual matching her feeling about a specific pitch to a color, tuning it, as it were, in this visual medium. Sometimes it is a favorite note, sometimes a problematic tone in a specific composition. Usually -but not always – the people involved have no previous association of color with sound. So it is important that the color is generated by the maker of the Refraction, not given as part of a method. In this sense it is a reverse notation since the color corresponds to a level of emotional response based entirely on experience of actual sound rather than being an equivalent to standard notation.

LCC: How about people like me who come from the world of improvised music where the cues are typically audio rather than visual?

NG: I have not worked with people like you, probably because the audio/visual coordination in your case – and Rachelle’s! – is so entirely different from that of a person who is reading music.

LCC: Throughout history, there have been umpteen methods for notating sound, although I’m not aware of color being one of them. One method that comes to mind is the shape-note system popular in the US in the late 1700s and early 1800s. What do you think of that?

NG: These are all evidence of the complexity of rendering the auditory in some other means to facilitate memory or execution…there will always be experimentation along these lines.

LCC: Why Tonal Refraction and not Tonal Reflection? Or is that just a matter of semantics?

NG: The word “refraction” is taken from Proust, who uses it to describe what happens to sensory memory when it is altered by layers of subconscious emotion, association, etcetera. I find it extraordinary that, upon Googling Tonal Refraction, I discovered “refraction” on page 38 of a theory treatise, Tonality and Transformation, by Steven Rings, University of Chicago. He uses the word in ways quite parallel to mine, though not with the literary association, rather with the prismatic image of the coloring of tone by experience. His work is based on the same thinker who inspired and informed my entire life as a teacher, Viktor Zuckerkandl, a psychologist, philologist, musician, who was at the Institute for Advanced Studies back in the 50’s, and whose book Sound and Symbol goes into these intricacies thoroughly, brilliantly, and hopefully, from the standpoint of how to make a meaningful life teaching music.

Incidentally, he met Robert Hutchins on a trans-Atlantic sailing and taught music at St. John’s College in Annapolis – thus he was passionate about music and the human race, not the conservatory subspecies. The second volume of his work is called Man, the Musician.

LCC: One thing that struck me immediately about Tonal Refraction is that it emphasizes the individual. After all, we all perceive sensory input differently, whether that’s audio or visual or tactile or any other kind of stimulus. How specifically is Tonal Refraction tailored to individuals?

NG: Here you are right on the money. The idea of my putting forth my own Tonal Refraction of a composition is not to stimulate your disinclination to go along with it, but rather to come up with your own images in both sound and sight.

LCC: What specifically does Tonal Refraction empower a musician to do that can’t be achieved through simple practice, or exercises, or ear training?

NG: I am amazed at the changes this technique has wrought in my listening, my playing, my teaching. The use of a code of related colors suggests interest in overtones as well as discrete pitches. And I haven’t even mentioned the grid: Tonal Refraction uses two potent elements: First, color for pitch relatedness: I can tell right away by the individual’s selection of colors whether or not she hears tones in relation one to another. Sometimes the power of color to show this is overwhelmingly clear in a way that has nothing to do with music theory or ear training. In one stunning instance, pointing out to a professional pianist how arbitrary his colors were for the C major scale began a conversation about how he hated overtones (they are, after all, inconsistent and therefore quite dangerous on the piano). Having never been taught to be aware of them he blanked them out with audible humming while playing. He no longer does so.

Second, the grid for tonal space decisions – that’s the vertical axis – plotted over a visualization of a time constant, which is the horizontal axis. As an example of tonal space, you might take the opening notes of Fur Elise: Beethoven alternates E and D# several times, starting with the E. These tones are so close together as almost to sound like a single tone with a wide pitch band. I would probably visualize that by changing color within one horizontal bar. But on page 2 the alternation begins with D# and the tones (D# / E) are clearly marked as separately articulated pairs, thus increasing the distance between them, as I understand that marking. I would indicate that by showing them adjacent horizontal bars. In other words, whereas they would be played on the same piano keys in both cases, the auditory distance would not be equivalent and I could emphasize that in my visualization.

;LCC: What is the physiological basis for Tonal Refraction?

NG: I am sure there is one and have perhaps found people to investigate this further. It is a matter of response in time. Musicians experience time in minuscule increments; during countless milliseconds we make more decisions than we can possibly track. Some of these decisions are based on emotional reactions to sounds themselves, as opposed to the composition as an entity. We know about this because of such responses as unbearable muscle tension, the humming I described above, focal dystonia — all of which I have “treated” using Tonal Refraction.

One of my former students, a neuroscientist, has connected me with a colleague, Daniella Schiller, who is working on the neuro-physiological fear response: animals, including humans, respond to fear physically before they are aware of the cause of their fear–it is so immediate a sensory event. Dr. Schiller, having tried Tonal Refraction, agrees that there are profound similarities between these types of event except that music unleashes a veritable torrent of response.

When I first began working with Tonal Refraction a student showed it to a colleague at Albert Einstein College of Medicine who referred me to the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function at Beth Abraham Health Services in the Bronx, a facility for treatment of long-term neurologic disease. Dr. Concetta Tomaino, the Music Therapist with whom Oliver Sacks worked for decades, set me to work with several patients. I undertook this experiment as a volunteer and, after three sessions, achieved results “unlike anything we have seen in music therapy.” in Dr. Tomaino’s words.

Preferring the artistic life I did not continue in that setting.

LCC: Was there a particular problem or issue that sent you off on the road to Tonal Refraction? What initiated this journey of discovery and where did it lead you?

NG: I fell in love with the sound of the piano at age 3 or 4; it was a neighbor’s piano across the hall from our apartment. I had never seen a piano or heard anyone play one. It invaded my imagination; I loved the sound. We moved away, the choir director made my father buy a piano, and I began lessons at 7. It was a huge disappointment – no magic! So I played incessantly but never practiced. Until Mozart. That book of sonatas contained sounds that matched my feeling for the instrument — not all the sounds, just some, here and there. Of course, the discrepancy was baffling and I could not articulate it. For complicated reasons I was unable to pursue the standard training and career of a pianist, though it is the only thing I ever really wanted to master. Then, at age 57 a new invention of physical therapy gave me, for the first time in my adult life, unfettered use of my left arm, so I programmed a solo recital to include the Mozart that had so puzzled me at age 12. In the middle of the night I awoke sure that now I could SHOW people what it was about that music that had stayed with me so clearly. And thus it happened–out of the experience of childhood. It is one of the reasons I take teaching children so seriously.

LCC: Can I play devil’s advocate again and ask if Tonal Refraction has the potential to do much good, why hasn’t it already been adopted in the music education community? Or has it? Are there other people doing what you’re doing, or on the same track at least?

NG: Parental pressure for short-term achievement is calling the shots with increasing authority these days. Competition is all. The commitment to it is deeply entrenched.

LCC: Can I play devil’s advocate again and ask why, when we have Youtube and Soundcloud and a gazillion other places where we can learn stuff by ear, and if we get lost we can rewind, do we even need written notation? After all, an awful lot of people who play music, some of them very well, can’t read it…

NG: I refer back to my story of discovering those particular sounds in Mozart. I had no clue who he was or what it was but I knew I was not alone in the world. Had the music not been printed for me to stumble across all by myself on my piano none of the above could have happened, though I deplore the reliance of the classical music community on visual analysis rather than on auditory vitality – the recording industory has also been subservient to that order of priorities.

LCC: As you know, in Hindu mythology, certain pitches as well as certain colors are associated with the various chakras in the human body. I’m not aware of what if any mathematical correlation there might be between sonic and spectral frequencies in that system. Is there one in yours? In other words, does the correspondence between pitches have a mathematically corresponding color shift?

NG: These are issues that Zuckerkandl treats very beautifully. My work relies on the variability of acoustical events and the perception of them. In this respect it is not attractive to most theorists seeking mathematical formulas, though I feel the work is inherently mathematical. My brother, a mathematician, saw that right away, though he knows nothing about music.

LCC: I should say “congratulations” for being selected to present your findings at the upcoming International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition in Seoul this coming August. What specifics are you going to unveil there?

NG: Thanks!! No one is more surprised than I at the proposal having been selected. The proposal seems to address many of your questions quite directly: “The study aimed to determine whether individuals could be made aware of their involuntary experience of tone relatedness, demonstrated by Viktor Zuckerkandl (Sound and Symbol) to be integral to the musical life of persons with or without training; and, if so, whether it would make any difference.

Seventy-two individuals, including professional musicians, amateurs, listeners, and children, were seen for three weekly sessions of 1 ¼ hours. Session I: Each was asked to identify a tone that had particular meaning for them, then to choose out of hundreds of colored pencils a color to match that tone. Proceeding then to relate that tone/color either to a scale, or directly to the tones in a specific composition of their own choosing, the individual drew the tones on a grid, as if depicting vibrations. With the horizontal axis of the grid corresponding to time measured objectively, the vertical axis registered degrees of rise and fall as perceived by the inner ear, i.e., subjectively, often deviating significantly from standard notation. Continuing to depict the composition the individual worked in silence, relating to the score without relating physically to an instrument or actual sound. Session II: A continuation of the work. By Session III 67% of individuals already registered a clear response, generally manifested in improved reading; and better, more confident coordination in instrumental or compositional performance. Of this group 13% presented acute physical or psychiatric symptoms; with the exception of only one individual in this sub-group, the results were dramatically restorative.

For 30% of participants the process seemed to have no evident relevance while, for 3%, the first two sessions evoked such psychological pain as to preclude completing the study. Representative samples of work from all three groups will be shown. This research has direct implications about relating visual to auditory experience. Whereas failing to account for the difference between fully resonating sound and the discrete symbols of standard notation risks alienating the reader from innate musical sense, a system that translates auditory experience into visual terms may restore the connection.”

LCC: Being familiar with your blog, I’ve noticed that you have a prophetic streak. You’ve been a champion of live performance and live recording versus studio recordings, and you’ve also gone to bat for community-based performances and ensembles, both ideas which have validated themselves in recent years. To what degree, do you think, or would you venture to say, is Tonal Refraction an “I told you so” moment?

NG: It’s good of you to say that and thanks for reading the blog. After a while I got used to being a bit ahead of the pack, having noticed already in the 50’s that recordings and television were going to pose problems in terms of attentiveness and sound quality, which influenced my approach to programming. My teaching has always been experimental, including some far-out work in ensemble and in piano at Mannes Preparatory Division until the influx of Eastern Europeans in the 80’s wiped away all trace of what was creatively American in approaches to music education. I had to stop even pretending to accomplish anything against the Sovietization of classical music. Alas. But I still have acive contact with some extraordinary young musical minds. Most of my support has come from your generation and younger with the exception of a few highly perceptive artist teachers here and there.

LCC: Thanks for the enlightening chat! I’d like to remind those of you in New York that Nancy Garniez also puts on a very enlightening piano salon in a welcoming, intimate Upper West Side space: the current focus of these early evening house concerts is Beethoven sonatas and the fine points of the composer’s rhythms. Details may be found here.

March 31, 2014 Posted by | classical music, interview, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Haskell Small Plays a Shattering, Haunting Program on the Upper West

[republished from Lucid Culture’s sister blog New York Music Daily]

More musicians should do what Haskell Small does: he plays what he likes, and brings it to life, sometimes quietly, sometimes somewhat more boisterously, putting his heart and soul into it. He gravitates toward music that’s on the quiet and rapturous side: his performance of Federico Mompou’s Musica Callada here last year was absolutely riveting. Friday night on the Upper West Side, Small revisited that theme, bookending an absolutely shattering performance of his own suite The Rothko Room with music of Satie and Alan Hovhaness.

Kicking off the evening with Satie’s first suite for piano, Four Ogives, set the stage perfectly. The title refers to church windows; with a delivery that managed to simultaneously embody stateliness, a warm gospel tone and an understated tension, Small left no doubt that by 1886, when Satie wrote this, he’d already found plenty to be vexated about. The evening’s piece de resistance was Small’s original work, an uninterrupted theme and variations based onboth  the life of Mark Rothko as well as an immersion in the Rothko paintings in the Phillips Collection’s Rothko Room in Washington, DC. Centered around a mournful bell-like theme that immediately brought to mind Mompou, Small worked dynamics that ranged from minute to occasionally jarring, through an unexpected boogie-woogie flavored passage and another, longer, bitingly animatedly interlude that strongly evoked Small’s early mentor Vincent Persichetti. The depiction of a late-career resurgence for Rothko brought back a hopeful, once again gospel-tinted ambience, but that quickly dissolved into an increasingly spacious, imploring and then utterly defeated series of motives. Small quoted Rothko beforehand as declaring that the only emotions worth depicting are doom and suffering, then made good on that statement.

The pianist picked up the pace after that with a series of ruggedly pastoral solo works by Hovhaness, illustrative of that composer’s fixation with mountains (he saw them as transitional from material to the spiritual, halfway between earth and sky). The Lullaby from the piano sonata Mt. Katahdin (a peak in Maine which barely qualifies as a mountain) took shape as a steady, morose dirge, contrasting with the tricky tempo and cruelly challenging staccato octaves of the Macedonian Mountain Dance, a Balkan boogie of sorts. Small made a different kind of challenge, the contrast between low-register, resonant malletwork inside the piano and the steady righthand melody, seem easy.

“Now for some rock n roll!“ Small grinned, winding up the program on a defiantly celebratory note with the Hymn to Mt. Chocorua., from Hovhaness’ 1982 sonata portraying the New Hampshire hill where the Indian warrior it’s named for reputedly lept to his death rather than surrendering to the bounty hunters who’d chased him to the summit. With its blend of traditional Armenian kef music and savage, Lisztian block chords, it was quite a change from the mystical, somber mood Small had brought to life so vividly earlier, an atmosphere he returned to with the encore, a tender, lushly spacious version of Arvo Part’s minimalist classic Fur Elina. Small’s spring tour featuring these works continues on April 11 at the Rothko Chapel in Houston.

March 31, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Auspicious Survey of the Ages by Pianist Mackenzie Melemed

It’s always a good sign when a pianist’s best-performed pieces onstage are by Chopin and Rachmaninoff. Last night at the sonically superb auditorium at Temple Emanu-El just off Central Park, Mackenzie Melemed played a diverse program spanning from baroque to modern and excelled at all of it. There are other good eighteen-year-old pianists out there; what distinguishes Melemed from his peers is how attuned he is to emotional content. That, and blazing technique.

Melemed bookended the highly ornamented animation of Bach’s Aria Variata alla Maniera Italiana, BWV 989 with opening and concluding statements that were downright elegaic. After making his way through the alternately elegant and torrentially waltzing initial movements of Beethoven’s Sonata in A Major, Op. 26, Melemed sensed the proto-Chopin in the murky third movement and brought that plaintive foreshadowing into the dirge. And he gave a saturnine, deeply felt reading to Brahms’ Four Piano Pieces, Op. 119. These are late works, in fact the last that the composer wrote for solo piano, a bittersweet over-the-shoulder narrative that finally reaches to a heroic overture, giving Melemed a chance to air out a blazing fortissimo. Obviously, there are dynamics in all but the Bach that suggest specific emotions. But Melemed clearly didn’t just have those works in his fingers (he played from memory); they were in his head.

A brisk, precise take of a Scarlatti sonata was the curtain-lifter. Melemed established a similar upward trajectory after the intermission with a matter-of-factly crescendoing and eventually wrenching, emphatic take on Liszt’s Funerailles, then four Rachmaninoff Etude-Tableaux. These little preludes are brief but extremely challenging: Melemed charged through diabolically difficult, lightning-fast chromatics, a vivid two-handed conversation or two, stygian spaciousness versus twilit glitter and seemed to be having a ball – you would too, if you had the technique to play them. He wound up the concert with similarly acrobatic romps through Avner Dorman’s recent, equally knotty, picturesque Three Etudes. Melemed speed-painted Sundrops Over Windy Water, let the spacious, jazz-tinged block chords of the Funeral March linger and concluded with Snakes and Ladders, a showstopper with its rumbling low lefthand, crazily dancing motives and machinegunning chromatics. Sensing that the need for more fireworks was in order, he encored with a magnificent, express-train coda, Chopin’s famous Winter Wind Etude, Op. 25, No. 11.

The Sunday concert series here features a lot of similar first-rate, up-and-coming talent. The next concert is January 19 at 3 PM with pianist Hannah Sun.

December 16, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Three Intriguing New Releases Span the Decades

The intriguing, crisply performed new album, Airy: John McDonald Music for Violin and Piano is just out from Bridge Records with the composer at the keys along with Joanna Kurkowicz on violin. It’s a series of mainly short, wary, acerbic, sometimes atmospheric, sometimes incisive works written between 1985 and 2008. A handful of them are etudes. Minimalism is the usual but not always defining idiom here. Moments of virtual silence are pierced by anxiously leaping motives; subtle humor occasionally breaks the surface.

The duo open with a graceful, austere waltz interrupted by a fleeting. macabre piano cadenza. The second piece has calm violin contrasting with menacingly Schoenbergian piano, meant to evoke the nocturnal alienation of a Samuel Beckett poem. A Brief Pastiche of a Theme by Schoenberg is aggresively lively and rhythmic, punctuated by moments of stillness lit only by pianissimo overtones from the violin.

Four Single-Minded Miniatures range from tensely dancing, to bell-like and funereal, to a pillowy/jagged dichotomy and a bit of a fugal interlude between the two instruments. After a blip of a Mad Dance, there’s Lily Events – a Suite of Seven Little Studies, a wryly furtive, cinematic suite: they go slowly out into the water, pick the plants vigorously, wash the mud off and then retreat to a dry place. What anyone actually does with the lilies is unknown.

Kurkowicz negotiates the tricky tempos, understatedly edgy riffs and hypnotic ambience of McDonald’s Sonata for Solo Violin with a steady focus and deftly subtle variations in tone and dynamics. A Suite of Six Curt Pieces parses a Satie-esque creepiness more methodically than jarringly. which segues well into Lines After Keats. The album’s title track reverts to the occasionally turbulent juxtapositions of the opening piece.

Bridge Records, who put this one out, also has two very enjoyable, relatively new releases featuring the clarinet. The first is one of the label’s many archival rediscoveries, a reissue of the Stuyvesant Quartet‘s 1947 recording of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet with the crystalline-toned Alfred Gallodoro as soloist, in addition to two lively 1951 recordings of Mozart D major string quartets, K. 499 and 575, respectively. Active on and off from 1938 until 1965, the Stuyvesant Quartet was notable for being one of the first all-American string quartets (the old-world name is both completely honest and a bit disingenuous at the same time). The remastering – from pristine original vinyl – doesn’t lose the wonderful natural reverb of the church on the Westchester/Bronx border where the Mozart was recorded. It makes you wonder how many people might have seen a copy of the original Philharmonia record at a yard or library sale and passed up what’s probably now worth hundreds of dollars. And a somewhat more modern new release, the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra‘s recording of Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 plus his Concerto for Clarinet conducted by Martin West, with Alexander Fiterstein as soloist, merges a velvety lushness with an agile, aptly dancing quality.

November 13, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment