Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Dynamic, Relevant Grand Finale to This Year’s Momenta Festival

Over the past four years, the Momenta Festival has become one of New York’s most exciting annual events. Each member of the irrepressibly daring Momenta Quartet takes his or her turn programming a night. The festival usually ends on violinist Emilie-Anne Gendron’s birthday. This year’s grand finale, Friday night at the Tenri Institute, happened to be cellist Michael Haas’ birthday: he and the group celebrated by going starkly deep into a program centered around Bartok’s harrowing String Quartet No. 4. As he explained succinctly before the show, it’s a piece he’d been scheming to play ever since joining the ensemble five years ago.  As was the case last year, admission was free, and there was high-grade craft beer afterward, also courtesy of the hosts. What more could a concertgoer possibly want?

They opened with Eric Nathan’s diptych Four to One, from 2011. Interestingly, this was the only contemporary work on the bill. It set it the bar almost impossibly high for the rest of the evening, notwithstanding the iconic Bartok quartet immediately afterward. Right off the bat, it became a harried, relentless, microtonal rollercoaster ride, the group holding fast to the counterpoint amidst the storm. Violist Stephanie Griffin’s plaintive assertions were particularly striking, as was Gendron’s turn in the rather cruel spotlight over a menacing wash in the second part. Haas’ cello was also stark yet prominent: it’s not hard to see why he’d want to program this. It reminded a lot of Michael Hersch’s recent, troubling microtonal work.

The performance of the Bartok turned out to be one of the very best of many witnessed by this blog or its owner over the past couple of decades. The persistent sense of doom the quartet parsed with razorwire intensity had particular resonance in this post-2016 election era. Menacingly emphatic gestures leapt from the dark interweave of the first movement, danger drawing ever closer. The circle dance in the second was just as macabre, especially with the exchanges of voices between instruments. Haas’ plaintive cavatina, echoed incisively by violinist Alex Shiozaki, brought the longing and if-only atmosphere of the third to a peak: it was impossible not to think of Shostakovich being influenced by this when writing his String Quartet No. 7. Both the savagery and after-the-battle emotional depletion of the final movement were just as indelible a reminder of the perilous consequences of fascism. The more things change…

Augmented by the Argus Quartet – violinists Jason Issokson and Clara Kim, cellist Joann Whang and guest violist Rose Hashimoto – the Momentas wound up the program with a triumphantly anthemic take of Enescu’s Octet for Strings in C Major. The young composer wrote it at nineteen in a rather successful attempt to outdo Mendelssohn at teenage octetry. The main theme has a suspenseful Andalucian feel, which grew to echo the Ravel bolero in places: together, the group reveled in the dramatic foreshadowing, even if it grew facile in places. A more mature composer might have written it half as long, but even so, when the synopsis of the final movement finally circled back, there was no denying how much of a party this merry band had brought.

The Momenta Quartet are currently on tour: their next gig is tomorrow night, Oct 24 at 7:30 PM playing works by Agustin Fernandez, Roberto Sierra, Eric Nathan, and Philip Glass at Santa Teresa Church in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The Argus Quartet’s next New York show is on Nov 13 at 7:30 PM at Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, playing an excellent, diverse program including Janacek’s String Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters,” along with works by Haydn, Ted Hearne, Juri Seo and Christopher Theofanidis. Cover is $25/$15 stud.

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October 23, 2018 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rising Star Composer Ayumi Okada Brings Her Vivid, Picturesque, Cinematic Sounds to Upper Manhattan

Pianist/composer Ayumi Okada writes vivid, cinematic songs without words. Her music is full of stories, and humor, and unselfconscious depth. Much as her sense of melody is appealingly consonant, it would be a mistake to pigeonhole her as a neoromantic: she’s most at home in the borderlands with Debussy and Ravel. A composer-performer, she’s premiering a new piano quintet with a first-class chamber ensemble including star cellist James Waldo on March 10 at 7:30 PM at Holy Trinity Church, 20 Cumming St. in Washington Heights. The group will also play music of Dvorak, Bach, Johann Goldberg, Caroline Shaw and Doug Balliett; admission is $15/$10 stud. Take the 1 train to Dyckman St.

Okada’s debut album is Here, Where the Land Ends and the Sea Begins – streaming at Spotify  – a beguiling mix of chamber works. It opens with Okada’s String Quartet No. 1 a steady, bittersweetly theme with echoes of Dvorak and baroque-inflected counterpoint that gives way to a stormily dancing pulse which she elegantly ends up bringing full circle. There’s an arthouse film with a philosophical poignancy that needs this for when the main titles roll, a strongly voiced performance by Waldo, violinists Karen Dekker and Meredith Ezinma Ramsay and violist Rose Hashimoto.

The second work, Cape Roca has a similarly picturesque sweep, Waldo’s austere lines against resonant glimmer and then gracefully ornamented neoromanticism from pianist Alyona Aksyonova. The miniature A Walk in the Park is a showcase for Okada’s playful sense of humor, Aksyonova’s devious leaps and bounds in tandem with peek-a-boo clarinet from Yumi Ito bookending a momentary cloud passing across the sky.

Okada’s Piano Trio No. 1, with the standard orchestration of piano, violin and cello hints at chromatic Shostakovian menace in between stately Piazzolla-esque passages and hints of late Romanticism. The album concludes with a triptych, the Light Princess Suite. Aksyonova plays a majestically enigmatic, emphatically waltzing theme over Waldo’s austere washes in the first movement. The second, where the rest of the strings join in, is awash in moody high/low, still/kinetic contrasts in the same vein as Rachmaninoff’s more airy chamber works. Once again, Waldo’s starkness grounds the piano’s dancing, Debussyesque figures as the suite winds out, artfully shifting meters. It’s Okada at her most colorful and picturesque: this intrepidly dancing  creature takes a lot of detours, but she can’t be stopped.

March 8, 2017 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Introducing Ayumi Okada

One of the unfortunate repercussions of the 12-tone revolution is that narrative often ended up taking a backseat to structure. For a composer, the decision to deliberately avoid any kind of melodic consonance makes it considerably more difficult to create a portrait or relate a story other than “life is painful and chaotic.” True as that may be, it’s only part of the picture. That’s where composers like Ayumi Okada come in. Saturday, as part of the up-and-coming Listen Closely chamber music series in Inwood, Okada’s vivid, painterly neoromantic compositions and their influences got a meticulous, detailed workout via a series of group and solo performances. Cellist/impresario James Waldo paired a matter-of-fact take on the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 2 in D Minor with Okada’s naturalistic tableau In the Ancient Forest,  the woods bursting into life with playful activity, making a memorable dichotomy with the piece’s rapt, underlying ambience. Flute virtuoso David Ordovsky followed a colorful, wryly entertaining take on Debussy’s Syrinx for Solo Flute with Okada’s 2010 partita Daydreams for Solo Flute. Utilizing the entirety of the instrument’s register, Ordovsky worked the same kind of lively/still contrasts as the cello piece, moody suspense giving way to catchy, animated motives that reminded of the work of Robert Paterson.

But the most gripping pieces on the bill involved multiple instruments. Waldo described Okada as someone whose music manages to be both “tonal, but fresh and new,” and he’s right on the money. An all-too-brief single-movement String Quartet No. 1 , from 2009, blended a poignant sense of longing into stately baroque counterpoint, shifted to an animated, suspensefully bustling atmosphere and then a warmly dreamy song without words. Violinists Yijia Zhang and Jacqueline Jove joined Waldo and violist Rose Hashimoto for a precise yet lush interpretation.

The other real stunner on the bill was Okada’s Piano Trio No. 1, Waldo and Zhang teaming up with pianist Alyona Aksyonova. Uncluttered and brightly lyrical, it was the only work on the bill where the Kyoto-born Okada referenced any Asian tonalities, and even here she cached them within a thicket of western chromatics. Graceful exchanges of voices throughout a strong, cinematic theme led to marvelously stilletto, spacious piano motives, a quick upward sweep and a sudden ending. All together, this was a tantalizing introduction to a composer whose distinctive, colorful voice is making a strong contribution to new music in New York.

As a bonus, it turns out that Hashimoto has a side gig as a pastry chef. Her hand-dipped chocolate cookies are delicious.

April 22, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment