Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Uneasily Stunning Program of Works for Oboe and Piano at the Morgan Library

The repertoire for oboe and piano isn’t as vast as for, say, violin and piano, but there are plenty of gems out there.The duo performance by Olivier Stankiewicz and Jonathan Ware on Tuesday in the magnificent sonics at the Morgan Library was a feast of amusing trick endings, vivid color, stunning clarity and a program that offered a series of salutes, some more subtle than others, to the Ravel Bolero.

References to that work, both oblique and obvious, traced a path straight from Antal Dorati’s Duo Concertante for Oboe and Piano, from 1983, back to Pierre Sancan’s 1957 Sonatine for Oboe and Piano, and finally a late Poulenc work, the 1962 Sonata for Oboe and Piano. Beyond flamenco allusions, eerie Satie-like close harmonies and belltones permeated all three pieces. Ware’s attack on the piano had an emphatic, purposeful drive to match his icepick precision, while Stankiewicz’s oboe rose from striking, perfectly precise spirals and volleys to a stark, burred, woody tone in the closing number: it was almost as if Stankiewicz was playing Poulenc on a duduk, or a Turkish zurla.

A persistent sense of suspense pervaded Sancan’s piece, alternately jaunty and funereal, a Hitchcock film overture of sorts. Dorati’s work was a showcase for Ware’s vigorous clarity and Stankiewicz’s seemingly effortless command of rapidfire trills, matched by long, airy, plaintive phrasing. The Poulenc gave the duo even more of a launching pad for bright contrasts between a neoromantic nocturnal calm and heroic swells with more than a hint of sarcasm…and wry quotes from Ravel and La Vie En Rose. The second movement, with its frequently droll conversational repartee, was particularly entertaining.

They’d opened with Saint-Saens’ Sonata in D Major, a predictably pleasant way to spotlight Stankiewicz;’s lyricism: the piano is a supporting instrument in that one. This concert was staged by Young Concert Artists as part of their ongoing noontime series at the Morgan. Impressively, the house was close to sold out, and while there were plenty of retirees, the audience demographics were unexpectedly diverse:. Clearly, word is out about the series, whether among those in the gig economy or neighborhood folks who may have snuck away from school or the dayjob. The next concert here is Feb 21 at noon with pianist Remi Geniet playing works by Bach, Beethoven and Stravinsky; cover is $20.

And YCA’s next concert after that, at Merkin Concert Hall at 8 PM on Feb 28, is especially enticing for those of us who love low-register sonics. Bassist Xavier Foley plays solo works by Bach, Sperger and Franck plus his own compositions; you can get in for as little as $10.

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February 9, 2018 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Carnival of the Animals Holds a Multi-Generational Family Concert Crowd Rapt at the Miller Theatre

The best kind of so-called “family concerts” are like the Simpsons: they’re fun on face value, for the kids, but also have multiple levels of meaning for the adults. Such was the case yesterday afternoon at the sold-out multimedia performance of Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals at the Miller Theatre. The kids – as diverse a mix as can be found in this multicultural city – loved the surrealistic, more-or-less lifesize puppets designed by Lake Simons and paraded around the stage with suspenseful, vaudevillian flair by Kristen Kammermeyer, Brendan McMahon, Justin Perkins and Rachael Shane. The adults, as well as what seemed to be a large percentage of the children, responded raptly to an exquisitely detailed, unselfconsciously playful performance by a ten-piece chamber orchestra, the strings of the Mivos Quartet augmented by an all-star cast on piano, percussion and winds.

While Simons took her inspiration for this show from late 1800s’ toy theatres, which rivalled the most elaborate dollhouses of the era, her creations had a lo-fi charm: mops, brooms, dusters and other wood-and-fabric assemblages brought to life the menagerie in the composer’s well-loved score. The ensemble followed the stage direction seamlessly, and that was a lot more cleverly orchestrated than a simple procession. Lively interplay between the puppeteers extended down into the audience at one point, drawing all sorts of laughs.

The music pulsed along vividly: regal lions, sputtering chickens, buffoonish donkeys, birds of all kinds and even pianists tortured by a cruel parody of boring etudes all got a minute or two centerstage. What was most striking about this concert – from the perspective of an adult who was able to brush up on the music beforehand with a well-worn vinyl record – was how downright creepy it is. Pianist Ning Yu’s otherworldly glimmer reminded how often the suite’s portrait of fish underwater has been used in horror films…and how Philip Glass nicked it for his Dracula soundtrack. And the depiction of fossil bones – which, in a neat choice of dynamics, the ensemble slowed from a gallop to a slinky sway – is a rewrite of the composer’s famous Danse Macabre. Happily, that aspect of the music seemed to go over the kids’ heads.

Toy pianist Laura Barger and percussionist Russell Greenberg opened the concert with a sprightly dance by William Byrd, a familiar Tschaikovsky theme and a carol, all of which were performed intricately and conversationally, although this long intro left the kids restless. There was also narration, utilizing Odgen Nash doggerel originally recorded in 1949 by an ensemble led by Andre Kostelanetz, and that drew some chuckles from the oldsters but didn’t connect with the younger contingent either. Speaking of which, everyone from about age four on up was captivated by the spectacle, which wrapped up briskly in just under an hour. Predictably, the toddlers were not: it’s hard enough to get an eighteen-month-old in and out of the grocery store, let alone through an hour of sitting still in the midst of an audience who’ve bought their tickets expecting not to be annoyed. Maybe it’s wishful thinking to expect the most entitled contingent of the Upper Westside crowd here to respect the theatre’s no-toddlers policy.

December 20, 2015 Posted by | children's music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Ambitious Take on Some Familiar Challenges by the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony

It’s often overlooked how changes in one field of music often mirror those in another. The rise of the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony into a reliably bonafide vehicle for first-class classical performance mirrors how the demise of the big record labels has relegated the realm of rock and other amplified original music to independent artists. Other volunteer New York orchestral ensembles – the well-loved Greenwich Village Orchestra, the innovative Chelsea Symphony and the fearlessly individualistic new Queensboro Symphony Orchestra – deliver quality programming, but in the past several months especially, none of them have surpassed their Park Avenue colleagues. Nor, it seems, has the New York Philharmonic.

Conductor David Bernard never made a connection he didn’t want to share with the world, an especially ambitious goal at the Park Avenue group’s concert this past Saturday night. First on the bill was a spine-tingling take of Borodin’s Polyvestian Dances. As a curtain-lifter, it was a whale of a challenge, but the maestro’s clenched-teeth, “we’re going to pull this off come hell or high water” presence pulled every available ounce of energy and impassioned playing out of the musicians onstage. A few years back, this group’s weak spot was the high strings, which would lag sometimes or fall out of sync. No more. Wow! What a thrill it was to hear the shivery, staccato cascades of this rampaging Russian dance suite fly with equal parts abandon and minute focus from stage right.

The intensity continued courtesy of guest pianist Jeffrey Biegel, who stunned the crowd with a fiercely and similarly impassioned, marathon run through the fortissimo torrents and machinegunning virtuoso volleys of Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 22. While the dynamically rich, goosebump-inducing High Romantic swells and dips through triumph and angst and finally more triumph in the end were centered in the piano, the orchestra is also highly engaged rather than a backdrop, and the lushness and frequent solo passages from throughout the group were robust and assured.

Concluding the program was a particularly ambitious multimedia performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade, with violinist Bela Horvath in the solo spotlight with his silken, often downright plaintive resonance. There were also projections, and narrator Peninnah Schram in the role of “storyteller.” Many times an orchestra will provide a program listing the various points in a piece that illustrate one thing or another; Schram, with her precise, rhythmic cadences, kept perfect pace with the music as she related the story, a triumph of feminist pacifism over a power-and-grief-crazed tyrant.

Here’s where things got crazy, and not because the orchestra and Schram weren’t locked in, because they were. When the narration was audible, the effect was a refreshing change from, say, flipping through the program like you might do with a paperback edition of Shakespeare at Shakespeare in the Park to follow along with the plotline. Trouble is, it wasn’t always, and this was neither the fault of the orchestra – which Bernard kept on a steady, dynamic pace through the work’s famously austere, ambered quasi-orientalisms – nor Schram either. The problem was that the speakers she was running through were placed too close to the stage, and facing the crowd rather than, say, facing each further back, along the sidelines where sonic competition with the mighty group onstage wouldn’t have been an issue. And this wouldn’t even have been a factor had the orchestra been playing Jazz at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall, both venues where they’ve performed before with richly good results.

The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony’s next concert is December 6 at 3 PM at Rose Theatre at Jazz at Lincoln Center, focusing on a theme of innovation and paradigm shifts, pairing Gershwin’s Concerto in F with pianist Ted Rosenthal alongside Bartok’s challenging, high-voltage Concerto for Orchestra.

October 29, 2015 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Lustrously Balanced, Cohesive Opening to the Greenwich Village Orchestra’s New Season

It was good to see a pretty packed house for the Greenwich Village Orchestra ‘s first concert of the 2013-14 season earlier this evening in the big, newly renovated auditorium cattycorner from Irving Plaza on lower Irving Place. They’ve been a downtown favorite since the 90s, serving up Carnegie Hall-class programming at considerably reduced prices (a $15 donation, which would get you a nosebleed seat, at best, on 57th Street, was all that was being asked, including a reception to follow). First on the bill was Beethoven’s Leonore Overture, one of those famous pieces that you know even if you think you don’t (classical radio stations often program it at about 45 minutes past the hour since it will take you pretty much all the way to the top). Early on, it was clear that this would be about pillowy nocturnal sonics contrasting with deftly pulsing insistence. There was a calm methodology but also an unselfconscious joy in conductor Barbara Yahr’s presence on the podium – and a twinkle in her eye when Beethoven’s signature humor made itself known, whether there and gone in a second, or in the when-is-this-going-to-end series of surprises as it wound out.

A slightly lesser-known work was next on the bill, the orchestra’s Raman Ramakrishan the featured soloist in Saint-Saens’ Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor. Yahr and the ensemble gave it a seamless, matter-of-factly assured rendition. The work follows a familiar trajectory from apprehension to triumph with many stops in between, the orchestra reaching into its nuances, playing up the composer’s highly balanced approach. Lustrous winds and brass countered balmy strings, with Ramakrishnan taking more the role of a complementary player than front-and-center soloist. Which fit the piece perfectly: aside from some bracing Romany-tinged acrobatics for the cello, this particular role is more about melody and purpose than ostentation, embraced warmly by the whole group.

The piece de resistance was Franck’s Symphony in D Minor, a deftly and intricately orchestrated and altogether underappreciated work. From the unfettered angst fluttering from the cellos as it opened, this turned out to be a richly epic, minutely jeweled, darkly sweeping interpretation, a storm to get completely lost in. Franck’s main axe was the organ – his works for that instrument are some of the 19th century’s most memorable – and there are places in this symphony which hint that it might have been composed on that instrument, with particularly choice, tersely delivered moments from Phil Rashkin’s english horn, Margery Fitts’ harp, Phil Fedora’s bassoon and Shannon Bryant’s oboe. What’s most artful about this piece is that the composer juxtaposes two radically different main themes, one troubled, the other a series of rather cloying, sentimental, pastoral varations that gradually and almost imperceptibly become more enigmatic and ultimately triumphant – rags to riches, musically speaking. And considering the era this piece comes from, there would seem to be a temptation to go for schmaltz with them. But that wasn’t the case: again, calmly and matter-of-factly, Yahr brought them in at the end with an emphatic sense of victory. Depth had won out against what for a moment seemed would be difficult odds.

Yahr leads the orchestra again on November 17 at 3 PM with guest violinist Itamar Zorman playing Moshe Zorman’s Galilean Suite plus Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture and the Brahms Violin Concerto at Washington Irving HS Auditorium, Irving Place at 17th St., $15 sugg don, reception to follow.

October 6, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Geoffrey Burleson: Effortless Virtuosity

To what degree is a player responsible for individual interpretation of a piece of music? When playing a piece of composed music, should the question be whether or not a performer should add any individual interpretation at all beyond the dynamics suggested by the composer? Geoffrey Burleson’s virtuosic performance of French Baroque and Romantic piano works at Trinity Church on Thursday tackled those questions.

His careful, precise, rippling approach of Rameau’s Gavotte avec Six Doubles set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. It’s court music: a stately dance and variations. As Burleson did it, it’s almost a march. That he found that inner core and worked it as hard, yet as effortlessly as he did, was an auspicious beginning. Saint-Saens’ Suite, Op. 90 was next. Burleson played it from memory with the same seamless precision. The question is, do you take chances with this? Or, are there any chances that can be taken with this, short of turning it into salsa, or hip-hop, or punk rock, in the process alienating many of those who know and love this music? Saint-Saens wove a series of variations on familiar themes together into this characteristically bright, warmly melodic partita: a prelude and fugue, a minuet, a gavotte and a gigue, and Burleson made them completely at home with a comfortable, fluid approach. Interestingly, he followed with Saint-Saens’ Allegro Appasionatto, Op 70 which is anything but, until its slow starlit crescendo kicks in.

The revelation in the program was Roy Harris’ Sonata, Op. 1, gospel-inflected fervor followed by fierily rumbling melody, equal parts blues and Romanticism and then a murky, martial fugue that hinted at the macabre but never quite went there. Whatever the dynamics for that piece were, it was a showstopper. He went back to carefully precise, rippling mode for Ravel’s Ondine and Scarbo from the Gaspard de Nuit suite, letting the nocturnal atmospherics ring out simply and unaffectedly without adding any fireworks or mist. That he could do this all from memory, all of it comfortably in his fingers, speaks volumes. His next performance is at the Nicholas Roerich Museum, 319 W 107th St. on February 19 at 5 PM with violinist Janet Packer, playing music of Debussy, Pierne, Kryzsztof Meyer and Vittorio Rieti, a chance to hear an entirely different side of a gifted performer.

January 21, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/20/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #893:

Saint-Saens – Symphony #3: Daniel Barenboim/Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Orchestra de Paris

The reason why there aren’t more classical albums on this list is that so many of them from before the cd era will jarringly and mystifyingly juxtapose a classic work with a shorter piece that’s completely unrelated, often vastly inferior, i.e. Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun back-to-back with Kachaturian’s Sabre Dance. This 1976 recording with Gaston Litaize at the organ is a delightful and frequently exhilarating exception. This is the first full-scale orchestral piece to incorporate the organ and it is a doozy: piano for four hands is also featured prominently in places beneath the swells of the strings. Like many of the great French Romantic composers, Camille Saint-Saens’ day job was as a church organist: a clever, witty musician and improviser, his textures give this rousing, optimistic piece an even more epic grandeur. Note that it’s the Orchestra de Paris playing the shorter pieces here: Samson & Delilah, le Deluge and an inspired version of the iconic, absolutely chilling Danse Macabre. The 1957 recording by the great composer Marcel Dupre on organ along with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is also extraordinary. Vinyl fans should keep in mind that both of these albums are easier to find than you would think: used classical lps are typically very inexpensive (we found the Barenboim version for three bucks, new).

August 20, 2010 Posted by | classical music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment