Lucid Culture


A Picturesque, Darkly Kaleidoscopic Album of New Wendy Griffiths Piano Music

Wendy Griffiths is best known as the primary songwriter, lead singer and one of three keyboardists in brilliantly shapeshifting New York art-rock band Changing Modes. In addition to her eleven records with the band, she’s also a prolific classical composer who’s written ballet music, string quartets and works for piano. The latest album of Griffiths’ instrumental music is Views from the Keyboard, a collection of solo piano pieces played by Elizabeth Rodgers, streaming at youtube.

Unsurprisingly, these short pieces reflect the same outside-the-box sensibility, quirky humor and vividness of Griffiths’ rock songs. Rodgers plays with grace and fluidity throughout a series of often labyrinthine idiomatic twists which flash by in a split second. This is 21st century composition as entertainment, informed by a sensibility that’s sometimes phantasmagorical, at other times irresistibly comedic. The intensity of the music on both sides of the emotional spectrum rises as the album goes along.

Three Views From Mexico has hints of flamenco modalities, ragtime, Webern and a brisk close-harmonied stroll which could be Mompou in a rare high-energy moment. A suite of miniatures, Rogue Taxidermy includes the tiptoeing, playfully sotto-voce Consider the Hortle; the deviously phrased Tortitude; the evocatively kinetic, neoromantic Moth Frog; the delightful Meowl; Lone Wolf, a defiantly individualistic vignette; Lunar Mothfish, a slightly turbulent mini-nocturne; the determined March of the Pengupines and finally, the disquietingly warped Zebra Prawn Blues.

The Sheltering Suite comprises My Corona, a light-fingered romp which is about neither beer nor a vintage Toyota; the self-explanatory Jumping Bean; Climbing the Walls, which is more troublingly self-descriptive; Dream Song, which is essentially a synopsis of the whole album; an opaque Lamentation; and the mutedly strutting Danse Mechanique.

Christmas, 1989 appears to have been less than festive time. Griffiths’ Seven Places in America captures Los Angeles as thisclose to frantic (a recent portrait, maybe?); paints Miami as a danse macabre; and uncovers a sinister poltergeist amid San Francisco fog. In fifty-seven seconds, New York decays from steady forebearance to a somber, unresolved lull, while the picture brightens considerably for Maine’s Isle au Haut and the bluesy solidity of Chicago.

The concluding suite, Four Strong Winds begins with the icy pointillisms and clusters but also the friendlier sway of Boreas. Zephyr hops and skips between blithe and brooding; Eurus comes across as a moody, insistent Balkan dance. Rodgers closes the album with Notos, an early Ligeti-flavored coda. Much like Griffiths’ rock band, this is as charming as it is disconcerting.

Changing Modes are playing Bar Freda, 801 Seneca Ave. in Ridgewood on Nov 13 at 8 PM; cover is $10. Take the M to Seneca Ave.


November 11, 2022 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Playful, Inventive, Outside-the-Box Romany-Inspired Jazz and Reinvented Classical Themes

Violinist Gabe Terracciano‘s album Three Part Invention – streaming at Bandcamp – is a lot of fun, with very inventive arrangements and ideas springboarding off a familiar three-piece Romany jazz setup: guitar, violin and bass. Guitarist Josh Dunn has his Django Reinhardt parts down cold but also gets to indulge in some nimble classical guitar and other styles while bassist Ian Hutchison holds the center, even when he’s in rapidfire mode.

Throughout the record, there are some welcome and unexpected interludes for solo bass, particularly in Dance for Jimmy a bluesy strut with less obvious Romany jazz influence and spare, surrealistically descending solos from guitar and violin

The most obvious Django Reinhardt/Stephane Grappelli influence is in the trio’s take of Crazy Rhythm. Violin and guitar double each other in the undulating but motoring Fleche D’Or, with some breathtakingly shivery violin work from Terracciano.

The piece de resistance here is the austerely airy, lingering, tantalizingly brief arrangement of Erik Satie’s iconically haunting Gymnopedie No. 3. They rename the famous baroque tune Invention No. 4 as “Beautiful Love,” moving from a rapid stroll to fugal exchanges between guitar and violin, Terracciano taking Bach to Belleville.

A lot of people have taken Beethoven’s Pathetique to new places; this one is a mashup of the baroque with distant Celtic tinges.

Terracciano switches to viola for a stark, spacious take of Alex North’s love theme from the 1960 movie Spartacus, leaving behind waltzing nostalgia for more incisive terrain and an all-too-brief, poignantly dancing bass-guitar interlude. And Sweet Chorus comes across as an emphatic, strolling take of Sweet Sue with biting violin and expansively chordal guitar.

June 16, 2021 Posted by | classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Imaginative, Energetic Jazz and Classical Mashups From Brother Duo Nicki and Patrick Adams

On their new duo album Lynx – streaming at Sunnyside Records – brothers Nicki and Patrick Adams come across as a classical/jazz mashup. Trumpeter Patrick typically carries an unhurried, lyrical melody line while pianist Nicki drives the songs forward with an often turbulent aggression and an erudite interweave of classical riffs. Jazz musicians have been having all kinds of fun with this kind of cross-pollination for decades; this one is packed with clever, unexpected connections and purposeful playing.

They open with Joe Henderson’s Shade of Jade, contrasting lively, upbeat trumpet with gritty, driving piano that slowly and subtly introduces a couple of Bartok themes until the Bulgarian influence is front and center…and then the duo bring it back.

Likewise, they reinvent Monk’s Pannonica by mashing it up with the Khachaturian Toccata and the Gigue from Bach’s Partita in Bb Major, trumpet soaring calmly over disjointed aggression from the piano which calms, and then returns with a leap.

Nicki gives John Coltrane’s 26-2 a coyly motoring Bach undercurrent as his brother chooses his spots. The duo’s brooding reinvention of Nick Drake’s Things Behind the Sun – or wait, isn’t that Al Stewart’s Life and Life Only? – is a quiet stunner.

These two are without a doubt the only ones to tackle Wayne Shorter’s E.S.P. while blending in bits and pieces of Gershwin and the Quartet For the End of Time – that’s Patrick sneaking in the Messiaen here.

The Gershwin influence lingers elegantly in the bouncily strolling Cool Blues, an original. They follow with a lively, Art Tatum-inspired take of Herbie Hancock’s Actual Proof and close by interpolating Debussy, Bartok and Satie with ragtime flair into the ballad I Wish I Knew. If outside-the-box entertainment is your thing, whether you’re a listener or a player, give this a spin.

May 3, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fearlessly Individualistic, Counterintuitive Classical Hits From Pianist Khatia Buniatishvili

By oldschool record label standards, releasing an album of greatest hits from the classical canon guarantees yourself a pretty wide audience. The theory is that most of the crowd who will buy it doesn’t know anything beyond the standard repertoire and can’t differentiate between interpretations. From a critical perspective, this kind of album invites disaster, a minefield of crushing comparisons to every great artist who has recorded those same pieces over the past century. How does pianist Khatia Buniatishvili‘s new album Labyrinth – streaming at Spotify – stack up against the competition? Spoiler alert: this is a very individualistic record. And that’s a very good thing.

Consider the opening number, Deborah’s Theme, from the late, great Ennio Morricone’s score to the film Once Upon a Time in America. Buniatishvili plays it with such limpidness, such tenderness, such spaciousness that plenty of listeners could call it extreme.

Then she tackles Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1: so easy to play, but so brutally challenging to figure out rhythmically. Buniatishvili gives it just enough rubato to avoid falling into the trap so many other pianists have, taking the easy way out and turning it into a maudlin waltz. This is haunting, and revelatory, and augurs well for the rest of the record.

Other pianists approach Chopin’s E Minor Prelude with a nervous, scurrying attack. Buniatishvili lets it linger in a ineffable sadness before she chooses her escape route. Again, it’s an unorthodox path to take, but once again she validates her approach. The Ligeti etude Arc-en-ciel, one of the lesser-known works here gets a similar treatment, its belltone sonics exploding just when not expected to.

Not all of the rest of the record is this dark. Her piano-four-hands take of Bach’s Badinerie, from Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067 with Gvantsa Buniatishvili is a clenched-teeth romp. Yet the Air on the G String gets reinvented as a dirge: the first instinct is to laugh, but then again the choice to play it as Procol Harum actually works. She does the same with Scarlatti later on.

Buniatishvili builds baroque counterpoint in an increasingly crushing take of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise: probably not what the composer envisioned, although there’s no arguing with the logic of her dynamic contrasts. She follows a deviously ragtimey arrangement of Serge Gainsbourg’s La Javanaise with a haphazardly pummeling and then luxuriant version of Villa-Lobos’ Valsa da Dor, which also works in context.

The pairing of French baroque composer Francois Couperin’s circling, delicately ornamented Les Barricades Mystérieuses with a Bach ripoff of a famous Vivaldi theme is an even whiter shade of pale. Fans of 20th century repertoire are rewarded with richly lingering version of Part’s stark Pari Intervallo and a hauntingly enveloping performance of Philip Glass’ I’m Going to Make a Cake (from the film The Hours).

There’s also an opulent interpretation of the well-known Brahms Intermezzo, Liszt’s nocturnal Consolation (Pensée poétique) and another Bach piece, the brooding Adagio from the Concerto in D minor, BWV 974. Oh yeah – there’s another famous thing here that clocks in at 4:33. Don’t let that lead you to believe that the album’s over yet. Stodgier classical music fans will hear this and dismiss much of it as punk rock. Let them. Their loss.

October 20, 2020 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brooding, Cinematic Piano Minimalism From Elias Haddad

Pianist Elias Haddad writes dark, pensive, frequently poignant songs without words that draw equally on minimalism and film music, with flickers of the Middle East. You could call him the Lebanese Ludovico Einaudi. Philip Glass is also a major influence. For fun, check out Haddad’s performance in the Jeida Grotto at Mount Lebanon – much as the humidity is doing a number on the piano’s tuning, you can tell how magical the sonics must have been in there that night. His new album Visions is streaming at Spotify. Lucky concertgoers in Ghazir, Lebanon can see him there with Noemi Boroka on cello at the town church on Jan 20 at 7:30 PM; the show is free.

The new album is mostly solo piano, Jana Semaan adding moody, lingering cello to several cuts. The opening track, Falling Leaves blends bell-like, calmly insitent phrases over stygian cello washes: it’s akin to Yann Tiersen playing Federico Mompou.

Alone, a rather menacing solo piano anthem, reminds vividly of Glass’ film work, notably the Dracula soundtrack. It makes a diptych with the similar but more emphatic Chasing Dreams. In Deep Blue, Haddad builds hypnotically circling variations over the cello wafting in from below.

Dream 6676 would make a great new wave pop song – or the title theme for a dark arthouse film. Eternal Tranquility juxtaposes spacious, distantly elegaic piano against distantly fluttering cello that sounds like it’s being run through a sustain pedal. Haddad makes a return to Glassine territory with Free, a somber waltz, and then Illusions and its tricky, Indian-inflected syncopation.

The cello lines over Haddad’s slowly expanding, twinkling broken chords in Last Heartbeats aren’t quite imploring, but they’re pretty close. The wryly titled Teenagers in Love comes straight out of the Angelo Badalamenti school of 50s kitsch recast as noir – it sounds suspiciously satirical. The album’s title track blends Satie angst and Ray Manzarek flourishes. Haddad closes with the sweeping, Lynchian theme Welcome Home.

A casual listener might catch a bar or two of this and confuse it with new age music, or the innumerable gothboy synthesizer dudes who are all over youtube, but it’s infinitely catchier and darker. Somewhere there’s a suspense film or a refugee documentary waiting for this guy to score.

January 6, 2018 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

Dan Willis’ Satie Project II: Best Album of the Year?

Dan Willis and Velvet Gentlemen’s second Satie Project album is arguably the best jazz album of 2013. That is, if you buy the idea that there could be such a thing as a single top album among this year’s best releases, or that twisted covers of proto-minimalist late Romantic/early Modernist music should be allowed to count alongside original compositions. Willis’ new arrangements of Satie pieces might as well be originals, considering how gleefully and evilly he reimagines them.  Most of Erik Satie’s repertoire was actually much more upbeat than the macabre pieces Willis has selected for inclusion here, but it’s the macabre that has stood the test of time far better than the clever and often droll ragtime hits Satie wrote to pay the bills. Willis plays pretty much every reed instrument ever invented here, including but not limited to oboe, alto, tenor and baritone saxes, clarinet, bass clarinet, and contrabass clarinet. Ron Oswanski gets many of the choicest moments here, on B3 organ, Wurlitzer and accordion, alongside Pete McCann on guitar, Kermit Driscoll on bass and the Claudia Quintet’s John Hollenbeck on drums.

Gnossienne No. 7 gets reinvented as murderously twinkling, shuffling Isaac Hayes wah funk, Gnossienne No. 6 as jaunty swing tune driven by Entcho Todorov’s suspiciously carefree violin. Although the versions of Pieces Froide No. 1 and the first of three takes of the main theme of Vexations (Satie’s famous eighteen-hour loop) here follow a steady beat, the way the band completely veers off center while keeping steady and totally deadpan is as amusing as it is disconcerting – this music literally makes you dizzy.

Gnossienne No. 5, a pensively atmospheric oboe feature, is the closest thing to the original here. Gnossienne No. 3 gets whispery noir vocals and a slippery, icy lead line that might be a slide guitar, or Willis’ EWI (electronic wind instrument). Pieces Froide No. 7 is redone as a chamber work that also doesn’t deviate far from the source, while the second alternate take of the Vexations theme goes completely off the rails as the organ and alto sax, and then the rest of the band diverge.

Gnossienne No. 4 gets a creepy crime jazz interpretation with plaintive soprano sax over lingering, red-neon tremolo guitar arpeggios. Gnossienne No. 2 follows a similarly noir trajectory up to a lurid if more energetic ba-BUMP organ groove. Pieces Froide No. 2 brings back a stately chamber jazz ambience; the album winds up with its longest number, the Vexations theme revisited with a wicked, diabolically surreallist microtonal flair that the composer would no doubt love if he was still with us. For Satie fans, this is a must-own; for that matter, this is a feast for any fan of dark, creepy music. Forget just about any other Halloween soundtrack you might have: this is the real deal.

October 8, 2013 Posted by | classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Exceptional Stravinsky-Inspired Concert Series Upstate This Summer

[This is a little off our turf, and on the pricy side, but Bard’s annual Summerscape series this August has several very enticing programs coming up. Annandale is about an hour north of Manhattan via Metro North; the festival also offers a roundtrip shuttle bus, scroll down for info. Repost of the series’ press release below]

The Bard Music Festival in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, returns for its 24th annual season, filling the last two weekends of Bard SummerScape 2013 with a compelling and enlightening investigation of “Stravinsky and His World.” Eleven concert programs over the two mid-August weekends, complemented by pre-concert lectures, panel discussions, and expert commentary, make up Bard’s examination of Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971), arguably the most important composer of the 20th century. The eleven concerts offer an immersion in the worlds Stravinsky straddled, contextualizing him within the musically distinct milieus – all cultural melting pots – that he inhabited. Weekend 1, Becoming Stravinsky: From St. Petersburg to Paris (Aug 911), traces the composer’s path from pre-revolutionary Russia to 1920s Paris, scene of the scandalous premiere of The Rite of Spring. Weekend 2, Stravinsky Re-invented: From Paris to Los Angeles (Aug 16–18), follows Stravinsky to post-war Hollywood, investigating his subsequent shift in style from neoclassicism to serialism. Enriched by a wealth of music from Stravinsky’s contemporaries and compatriots, the festival explores Russia’s profound and far-reaching impact on 20th-century culture, while continuing Bard’s yearlong tenth-anniversary celebrations for the Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center, which commence with a month of special performances in April.

The resident American Symphony Orchestra, integral to the Bard Music Festival from the first, celebrates its half-centenary this season. Leon Botstein, co-artistic director of the festival and now in his 20th year as music director of the American Symphony, will conduct all three orchestral programs at the beautiful Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts on Bard’s glorious Hudson Valley campus. As in previous seasons, choral works will feature the Bard Festival Chorale directed by James Bagwell, and solo and chamber programs will boast an impressive roster of performers.

A wide range of Stravinsky’s own music will be performed, from popular and canonical masterworks like The Rite of Spring and the Symphony of Psalms to such comparative rarities as his one-act opera Mavra and his melodrama Perséphone. Bard will also present a rich and illuminating array of music by Stravinsky’s contemporaries, ranging from little-known Maximilian Steinberg (Stravinsky’s fellow student) to such leading lights as Claude Debussy and Erik Satie (both members of his close Parisian circle), along with fellow neoclassicists like Paul Hindemith and younger American composers like Elliott Carter. Stravinsky’s long career spanned two continents and more than two-thirds of the 20th century, bringing him into collaboration with artists from Rimsky-Korsakov and Ravel to T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden, and from Picasso, Nijinsky, and Cocteau to Louis B. Mayer. From his apprenticeship years in St. Petersburg to those spent leading the Parisian avant-garde and as an émigré in Hollywood, Stravinsky was a master of reinvention.

His stylistic development reflects this protean capacity for change. His early compositions achieved a synthesis of the melodies, sonorities, and rhythmic vitality of his homeland’s folk traditions with a modernist sensibility. Later, when it became politically expedient for him to distance himself from his Russian roots, Stravinsky developed neoclassicism, infusing pastiches of past masters with a subtly contemporary slant. And towards the end of his career, having initially repudiated Schoenberg’s twelve-tone method, he came to embrace and put his own stamp upon it. While remaining a lifelong monarchist who opposed the Bolshevik Revolution, in music Stravinsky could hardly have been a more radical revolutionary. Certainly no 20th-century composer’s legacy is greater; as his friend and fellow composer Erik Satie put it, Stravinsky was “a liberator,” who, “more than anyone else, … freed the musical thought of today.”

Bard’s eleven musical programs, built thematically and spaced over two August weekends, open with Program 1 – “The 20th Century’s Most Celebrated Composer.” The first of two all-Stravinsky events, this program offers a survey of some of the composer’s most notable achievements, from the raw originality and power of his early cantata Les Noces, which draws on Russian folk melodies, to Abraham and Isaac, an Old Testament setting in the twelve-tone method, written almost half a century later. It is typical that these widely-spaced works nonetheless share their hieratic theme, as do two other works on the program: Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments, which was written to honor the memory of Debussy and invokes the Russian Orthodox service for the dead; and his neoclassical choral masterpiece, the Symphony of Psalms. By contrast, the jazz-inflected Concerto for Two Pianos, Stravinsky’s first composition as a French citizen, hints at his more playful side.

Given Stravinsky’s exceptional originality, it is easy to forget those who helped inspire him. Program 2 – “The Russian Context” helps redress this balance, offering examples of his early works alongside the music of his compatriots. These include older composers like Glinka, often regarded as the father of Russia’s classical tradition, and Tchaikovsky, who Stravinsky venerated, and in whose illustrious steps he would follow as a ballet composer. Of his contemporaries, Stravinsky was influenced by such as Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, and Glazunov, to whose symphonic writing he felt especially indebted. Indeed, something of Scriabin’s otherworldly sonorities may be heard in Stravinsky’s Four Studies for piano, while in Glazunov’s Five Novelettes for string quartet, we find hints of Petrushka’s rhythmic propulsion.

Under Rimsky-Korsakov’s tutelage, Stravinsky initially absorbed many features of his style, echoes of which abound in the early orchestral fantasy Fireworks, composed on the wedding of Rimsky-Korsakov’s daughter to composer Maximilian Steinberg. Like Anatoly Liadov, whose own students would come to include Prokofiev, Steinberg also studied under Rimsky-Korsakov, enjoying a degree of favor and approbation to which Stravinsky enviously aspired. Yet, as Bard’s first orchestral concert – Program 3 – “1913: Breakthrough to Fame and Notoriety” – reveals, situating Stravinsky’s work within this world only highlights its modernity. Where Steinberg’s rarely-programmed Ovidian ballet Metamorphosen and Liadov’s atmospheric tone poem From the Apocalypse both channel their mentors’ gift for expansive orchestration, in Fireworks Stravinsky already goes further, imbuing this lush sound with hints of the bitonality and rhythmic drama that would characterize so much of his later work.

In so doing, he had effectively begun to synthesize the best of Russia’s classical tradition with her rich folk heritage. No doubt this is what the impresario Diaghilev recognized when, on hearing Fireworks in St. Petersburg, he commissioned Stravinsky to write The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring for his Ballets Russes in Paris. Aaron Copland later pronounced The Rite of Spring the foremost orchestral achievement of the 20th century, and even today, a full hundred years after its first performance, it retains the power to shock. At its now infamous Paris premiere, the ballet’s revolutionary sound and demonic paganism, as showcased by Nijinsky’s choreography, provoked a near riot. Far from cutting short the composer’s career, however, this succès de scandale served to boost it in a manner as modern as the music itself.

In Paris Stravinsky found himself at the forefront of the musical avant-garde, where the cross-pollination of ideas prevailed. He attended one of the first performances of Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire (of which the protagonist, like those of his own Petrushka and Pulcinella, was drawn from the Commedia dell’Arte), admiring its instrumentation and contrapuntal writing even while he deplored its aesthetic. It was Schoenberg’s groundbreaking atonal song cycle that inspired Stravinsky’s own Three Japanese Lyrics, which in turn impressed Ravel, who scored his Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé for similar forces. Ravel hoped that the three works might be programmed together, but the concert he envisaged only took place once Pierrot had been replaced by less controversial songs from Maurice Delage. Bard’s Program 4 – “Modernist Conversations” brings together all four works, with music by other luminaries of pre-World War One Paris, juxtaposing late chamber pieces by Stravinsky’s friends Debussy and Satie, both of an older generation, with early ones by his closer contemporaries Bartók and de Falla.

One of Stravinsky’s closest contemporaries was Picasso, his portraitist and collaborator on Pulcinella, and there are many parallels between their careers. Poulenc’s song cycle Le travail du peintre depicts leading visual artists and their distinctive styles, yet while Braque may be reasonably labeled a “Cubist” or Miró a “Surrealist,” Picasso, like Stravinsky, resists such easy classification; despite his pioneering of Cubism in the 1920s, it was just one of the movements he would espouse. Similarly, Stravinsky remained dominant even as he too reinvented his signature style. In Program 5 – “Sight and Sound: From Abstraction to Surrealism,Bard presents two of the works with which he left his early “Russian period” behind. Ragtime’s syncopations heralded his newfound interest in jazz, while its stripped-down sound marked his increasing fascination with a pre-Romantic timbral and textural clarity. In its fusion of parody and homage, Stravinsky’s rarely-heard one-act opera buffa Mavra is one of the works with which he helped launch the neoclassical movement in music. Rounding out the program and concluding the festival’s first weekend are chamber and ensemble selections of a surrealist bent from Satie, André Souris, and five members of Les Six, the phantasmagorical libretto to whose ballet Les mariés de la tour Eiffel (heard here in an orchestral arrangement) was by Stravinsky’s future collaborator Cocteau.

Despite drawing on the past, one hallmark of neoclassicism was a very modern detachment. The festival’s second weekend opens with Program 6 – “Against Interpretation and Expression: The Aesthetics of Mechanization,” offering works that – in marked contrast with the excesses of late Romanticism – privileged clarity and objectivity over more lyrical expression of emotion. These include Hindemith’s Kleine Kammermusik, Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, Varèse’s ensemble piece Octandre, and Stravinsky’s own Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments and Sonata for Two Pianos. While sharing something of the same aesthetic, Messiaen’s Quatre études de rythme was achieved by means of rigorous pre-compositional processes, presaging the total serialism techniques of composers like Boulez and Stockhausen.

The Parisian press was at first unanimous in dismissing Stravinsky’s neoclassical writing as “a mess of 18th-century mannerisms.” With hindsight, however, his Duo concertante has been recognized as boldly experimental, Les cinq doigts as a model of concision, and the contrapuntal mastery of the Octet for Wind Instruments as a high-water mark of the period. And, as Program 7 – “Stravinsky in Paris” reveals, there were others in the French capital who embraced the new development from the first. Similar pre-Romantic gestures with a contemporary slant may be found in the work of Stravinsky’s fellow ex-patriot Prokofiev, the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu and his French mentor Albert Roussel, and Stravinsky’s early biographer Alexandre Tansman.

A few months after the outbreak of the Second World War, Stravinsky immigrated to West Hollywood, having already established key American connections and received a number of important commissions. Among his new neighbors was Arnold Schoenberg, near whom – although they neither met nor spoke – he would live for the next eleven years. With Program 8 – “The Émigré in America,” Bard reunites these two giants of 20th-century composition in a second full orchestral concert that includes a sacred choral work by each. Given that it was Schoenberg who created serialism, the Viennese composer’s Kol Nidre is unexpectedly tonal, probably because he intended it for liturgical use on the Jewish Day of Atonement. Ironically, the Requiem Canticles, Stravinsky’s penultimate work and a partial setting of the Catholic Mass for the Dead, employs the twelve-tone system, which Stravinsky, after decades of suspicion, eventually embraced and individualized in another of his radical stylistic shifts. Together with works by a third émigré, Hanns Eisler, who was the first of Schoenberg’s disciples to adopt the serial method, Bard presents three of Stravinsky’s earlier orchestral works, too: the playful neoclassical ballet Jeu de cartes; the lean and economical Ode; and the Symphony in Three Movements, which, born of material from abandoned film projects, marked his first major composition in the States.

In his early 40s, while still in Europe, Stravinsky had what he termed a “religious experience” that precipitated his return to the Russian Orthodox Church. Having long favored ritualistic themes, now he began to compose works that were explicitly religious. Many were based on tone-rows and – perhaps reflecting the Orthodox Church’s prohibition of the use of instruments – all, without exception, featured a chorus. For inspiration Stravinsky turned once again to the past, and Program 9 –Stravinsky, Spirituality, and the Choral Tradition” offers examples of his sacred music alongside selections of choral music by such past masters as Gesualdo, Monteverdi, and Bach. Also featured are comparable examples by those of Stravinsky’s contemporaries who explored the genre, including Poulenc, Lili Boulanger, Ernst Krenek, and his countryman Sergey Rachmaninoff.

A prolific writer and speaker all his life, in the year of his emigration Stravinsky was invited to give the prestigious Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard that would later be published as Poetics of Music. Bard’s penultimate concert, Program 10 – “The Poetics of Music and After,” presents Stravinsky’s late Septet and a four-hands arrangement of his witty Circus Polka in tandem with chamber music by Walter Piston, then professor of music at Harvard; Piston’s students Ellis B. Kohs and Elliott Carter, whom Stravinsky came greatly to admire; and two composers who would give Norton Lectures at Harvard themselves. Aaron Copland, who had attended Stravinsky premieres in Paris, later delivered a famous Harvard talk entitled “Music and Imagination,” while Mexico’s Carlos Chávez gave his own Norton Lecture series that would come be published in book form as Musical Thought. (Chávez will be the featured composer for the Bard Music Festival in 2015.) As for Anton Webern, whose work Stravinsky preferred to Schoenberg’s and which he reverently likened to “dazzling diamonds,” he, too, presented his ideas about music in a series of talks that were published as The Path to the New Music.

It was in yet another Norton lecture that Leonard Bernstein pronounced Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex the most “awesome product” of his neoclassical years. An opera-oratorio for orchestra, narrator, soloists, and male chorus, its Latin libretto was translated from Jean Cocteau’s French interpretation of Sophocles’s archetypal Greek tragedy. Written several years later, Perséphone is a musical melodrama for narrator, soloists, chorus, dancers and orchestra, set to a libretto by André Gide. Both works marked Stravinsky’s attraction not only to Classicism in music, but to the themes of the ancient Classical world. Despite their pagan themes, however, there is a continuity between the dramatic grandeur of these works and the composer’s later religious ones. And although neither Oedipus Rex nor Perséphone is often performed, in their drama, wit, and consummate artistry, both do justice to Stravinsky’s formidable legacy, providing a fitting end to the festival in Bard’s final choral-orchestral tour-de-force, Program 11 – “The Classical Heritage.”

Three free panel discussions – “Who Was Stravinsky?”, “The Ballets Russes and Beyond: Stravinsky and Dance,” and “Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini: Music, Ethics, and Politics” – will be supplemented by informative pre-concert talks before each performance that illuminate the concert’s themes and are free to ticket-holders. As has become traditional, the first of these pre-concert talks will be given by Maestro Botstein himself.

Since the founding of the Bard Music Festival with “Brahms and His World” in 1990, Princeton University Press has published a companion volume of new scholarship and interpretation each season, with essays, translations, and correspondence relating to the featured composer and his world. Scholar-in-Residence Tamara Levitz, Professor of Musicology at UCLA, is editor of the upcoming 2013 volume, Igor Stravinsky and His World.

Described as “uniquely stimulating” by the Los Angeles Times, and named “one of New York’s premier summer destinations for adventurous music lovers” by the New York Times, the Bard Music Festival has impressed critics worldwide. On his blog, New York Times journalist Steve Smith confesses:

“For an unrepentant music geek like me, the Bard Music Festival is simply irresistible: a fabulous wealth of music by a major composer from the classical tradition, surrounded and contextualized with works by forebears, peers, colleagues, friends, enemies, students, followers – you name it.”

The New York Times reports that “performers engaged by Bard invariably seem energized by the prospect of extending beyond canonical routine, and by an audience that comes prepared with open ears and open minds.” As the Wall Street Journal’s Barrymore Laurence Scherer observes:

“The Bard Music Festival … no longer needs an introduction. Under the provocative guidance of the conductor-scholar Leon Botstein, it has long been one of the most intellectually stimulating of all American summer festivals and frequently is one of the most musically satisfying. Each year, through discussions by major scholars and illustrative concerts often programmed to overflowing, Bard audiences have investigated the oeuvre of a major composer in the context of the society, politics, literature, art, and music of his times.”

Getting to the Bard Festival: New York City Round-Trip Bus Transportation

A round-trip bus service is provided exclusively to ticket-holders for the performances listed below. Reservation is required, and may be made by calling the box office at 845-758-7900. The round-trip fare is $40, and the bus departs from Lincoln Center at the times indicated:

Program 1: Friday, August 9 at 8 pm (preconcert talk at 7:30 pm)    2:30 pm

Program 5: Sunday, August 11 at 5:30 pm (preconcert talk at 5 pm)               1:00 pm

Program 6: Friday, August 16 at 8 pm (preconcert talk at 7:30 pm)  2:30 pm

Program 11: Sunday, August 18 at 4:30 pm (preconcert talk at 3:30 pm)      11:30 am

Bard’s delightful Spiegeltent will be open for lunch and dinner throughout “Stravinsky and His World,” and there will be special opening and closing parties in the tent on August 9 and 18 respectively.

Program details of Bard Music Festival, “Stravinsky and His World”

WEEKEND ONE: Becoming Stravinsky: From St. Petersburg to Paris

Friday, August 9

Program One

The 20th Century’s Most Celebrated Composer

Sosnoff Theater

7:30 pm       Pre-concert Talk

8 pm             Performance

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)

   Les Noces (1914–17)

   Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920, rev. 1947)

   Symphony of Psalms (1930)

   Concerto for Two Pianos (1935)

   Abraham and Isaac (1962–63)


Tickets: $25, 35, 50, 60

Saturday, August 10

Panel One

Who Was Stravinsky?

Olin Hall

10 am–noon

Free and open to the public

Program Two

The Russian Context

Olin Hall

1 pm     Pre-concert Talk

1:30 pm              Performance

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)

   Faun and Shepherdess, Op. 2 (1906–07)

   Four Studies, for piano, Op. 7 (1908)

   Three Movements from Petrushka, for piano solo (1921)

Mikhail Glinka (1804–57)

   Trio pathétique in D minor (1832)

Alexander Glazunov (1865–1936)

   Five Novelettes, for string quartet, Op. 15 (1886)

Alexander Scriabin (1872–1915)

   Vers la flamme, Op. 72 (1914)

Sergey Rachmaninoff (1873–1943)

   Preludes, Op. 23, Nos. 8 & 9 (1901–03)

Songs and piano works by Modest Mussorgsky (1839–81), Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840–93), Nikolai Medtner (1880–1952), and Mikhail Gnesin (1883–1957)

Tickets: $35

Program Three

1913: Breakthrough to Fame and Notoriety

Sosnoff Theater

7 pm             Pre-concert Talk

8 pm             Performance: American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein, music director

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)

   Fireworks (1908)

   The Rite of Spring (1913)

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908)

   Suite from The Invisible City of Kitezh (c. 1907)

Anatoly Liadov (1855–1914)

   From the Apocalypse, Op. 66 (1910–12)

Maximilian Steinberg (1883–1946)

   Metamorphosen, Op. 10 (1913)

Tickets: $30, 50, 60, 75

Sunday, August 11

Panel Two

The Ballets Russes and Beyond: Stravinsky and Dance

Olin Hall

10 am–noon

Free and open to the public

Program Four

Modernist Conversations

Olin Hall

1 pm             Pre-concert Talk

1:30 pm       Performance

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)

   Three Japanese Lyrics (1912)

   Pribaoutki (1914)

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

En blanc et noir (1915)

Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951)

   Pierrot lunaire (1912)

Maurice Ravel (1875–1937)

   Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé (1913)

Manuel de Falla (1876–1946)

   Pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy (1920)

Maurice Delage (1879–1961)

   Quatre poèmes hindous (1912–13)

Works by Erik Satie (1866-1925); Manuel de Falla (1876-1946); and Béla Bartók (1881-1945)

Tickets: $35

Program Five

Sight and Sound: From Abstraction to Surrealism

Sosnoff Theater

5 pm             Pre-concert Talk

5:30 pm       Performance

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)

   Ragtime (1918)

   Mavra (1921–22)

Erik Satie (1866–1925)

   Parade (1916–17; arr. piano four-hands)

Francis Poulenc (1899–1963)

   Le travail du peintre, song cycle for voice and piano, Op. 161 (1956)

Georges Auric (1899–1983), Arthur Honegger (1892–1955), Darius Milhaud (1892–1974), Francis Poulenc, and Germaine Tailleferre (1892–1983)

   Les mariés de la tour Eiffel (1921)

Works by André Souris (1899–1970)

Tickets: $25, 35, 50, 60

WEEKEND TWO: Stravinsky Re-invented: From Paris to Los Angeles

Friday, August 16

Program Six

Against Interpretation and Expression: The Aesthetics of Mechanization

Sosnoff Theater

7:30 pm              Pre-concert Talk

8 pm     Performance

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)

   Concerto for Piano and Winds (1923–24)

   Sonata for Two Pianos (1943–44)

Béla Bartók (1881–1945)

   Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, Sz 110 (1937)

Edgard Varèse (1883–1965)

   Octandre (1923)

Paul Hindemith (1895–1963)

   Kleine Kammermusik, Op. 24, No. 2 (1922)

Olivier Messiaen (1908–92)

From Quatre études de rythme (1949–50)

Tickets: $25, 35, 50, 60

Saturday, August 17

Panel Three

Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini: Music, Ethics, and Politics

Olin Hall

10 am—noon

Free and open to the public

Program Seven

Stravinsky in Paris

Olin Hall

1 pm     Pre-concert Talk

1:30 pm              Performance

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)

   Les cinq doigts, for piano (1921)

   Octet for Wind Instruments (1922–23)

   Duo Concertant (1931–32)

Albert Roussel (1869–1937)

   Sérénade, for flute, harp, and string trio, Op. 30 (1925)

Bohuslav Martinu (1890–1959)

   String Quartet No. 4, H. 256 (1937)

Sergey Prokofiev (1891–1953)

   Sonata for Two Violins, Op. 56 (1932)

Alexandre Tansman (1897–1986)

   Sonatina for Flute and Piano (1925)

Tickets: $35

Program Eight

The Émigré in America

Sosnoff Theater

7 pm             Pre-concert Talk

8 pm             Performance: American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein, music director

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)

   Jeu de cartes (1936)

   Symphony in Three Movements (1942–45)

   Ode (1943)

   Requiem Canticles (1965–66)

Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951)

   Kol Nidre, Op. 39 (1938)

Works by Hanns Eisler (1898–1962)

Tickets: $30, 50, 60, 75

Sunday, August 18

Program Nine

Stravinsky, Spirituality, and the Choral Tradition

Olin Hall

10 am   Performance with commentary

Choral works by Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971); Gesualdo da Venosa (1566–1613), Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643); Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750); Sergey Rachmaninoff (1873–1943); Francis Poulenc (1899–1963), Lili Boulanger (1893-1918), and Ernst Krenek (1900-91)

Tickets: $30

Program Ten

The Poetics of Music and After

Olin Hall

1 pm     Pre-concert Talk

1:30 pm              Performance

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)

   Circus Polka, arranged for piano (1942, arr. 1944)

   Septet (1952–53)

Anton Webern (1883–1945)

   Variations for Piano, Op. 27 (1936)

Walter Piston (1894–1976)

   Suite, for oboe and piano (1931)

Aaron Copland (1900–90)

   Nonet (1960)

Elliott Carter (1908–2012)

   Woodwind Quintet (1948)

Ellis B. Kohs (1916–2000)

   Sonatina for Violin and Piano (1948)

Carlos Chávez (1899–1978)

   Fugas (1942)

Tickets: $35

Program Eleven

The Classical Heritage 

Sosnoff Theater

3:30 pm       Pre-concert Talk

4:30 pm       Performance: American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein, music director

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)

   Perséphone (1933–34, rev. 1948)

   Oedipus Rex (1926–27, rev. 1948)

Tickets: $30, 50, 60, 75

Bard SummerScape ticket information

For tickets and further information on all SummerScape events, call the Fisher Center box office at 845-758-7900 or visit

Bard SummerScape:

Bard Music Festival:

Tickets:; or by phone at 845-758-7900

April 3, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jenny Q Chai Captures a Moment in New York History

In a mighty stroke of coincidence, or the kind of luck that an artist would never wish on an audience, Jenny Q Chai sure picked the right program for her Poisson Rouge debut last night. In the low lights of the downstairs space, less than 48 hours after it reopened in the wake of the hurricane, the pianist went into Lynchian mode and stayed there for pretty much the duration of her concert. Maybe the effect was enhanced by having just come from Zirzamin around the corner – a Twin Peaks room if there ever was one – but all of downtown has been in a surreal, uneasy mood since the storm. Chai captured it perfectly, a mix of ambitious contemporary solo works along with some unexpected relief that blended in seamlessly even as it contrasted with the rest of the program. This wasn’t about pyrotechnics: it was about the mist afterward.

Chai began with Satie’s Three Gymnopedies, whose ghoulish nuances are as difficult to capture as the notes themselves are easy to play. She took the easy route with them, straightforwardly hinting at waltz time. Schoenberg’s Drei Klavierstücke, Op.11 made a perfect segue, ramping up the chilly, surreal nocturnal ambience. Another Klavierstücke, this one by Stockhausen, was next on the bill, but instead, an attractively fugal melody wafted from the piano. Did Stockhausen ever go for baroque and comedic? It wouldn’t have been outside the realm of possibility, but it became clear from a glance at the program that these were in fact genuine Scarlatti pieces. True to form, Chai did the two sonatas totally straight-up without any kind of dancing lilt. What happened to Stockhausen? Turns out that Chai had nixed the work since there was already plenty of heavy stuff on the bill.

The rest of the program was nocturnes, more or less. Marco Stroppa’s Innnige Cavatina utilized muted notes and plucking inside the piano to enhance the otherworldly lunar ambience; Chai reverted to the same atmosphere a bit later with Andre Bouchorechliev’s Orion III. Nils Vigeland’s Barcarolle, from Life Sketches, etched a more spacious and suspenseful deep-space tableau with its muxic box tonalities and muted low lefthand notes creating a sound like a Fender bass: for a minute or two, Chai was a one-woman band. She closed with the Chopin Barcarolle, which is as far from Twin Peaks as this city is. But even this lullaby got a cautious understatement, perhaps a conscious allusion to the moment’s persistent unease, perhaps not. The audience – larger than expected under the circumstances – refused to let Chai leave without an encore, so she sang them Victoria Jordanova’s Prayer, a simple and vividly anxious piece with lyrics in several languages, and then sent everyone home on a peaceful note with Child Falling Asleep, from Schumann’s Kinderszenen.

November 5, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Quiet Knockout from Bruce Levingston

Pianist Brue Levingston’s new Still Sound is a gorgeously conceptual album of nocturnes that follows a concert-like trajectory. It would be simplistic to reduce it to the mechanics of stately lefthand and glimmering upper righthand, although that’s a fairly accurate description of the most traditionally nocturnal pieces here. Intriguingly, Erik Satie is the connecting link, a brave move considering how specifique Satie is.  Levingston doesn’t take any chances with the famous Gymnopedie No. 2, but he does with Gnossiennes No. 2 and 3, and there his whispery, lento interpretation is a knockout, a welcome change from how most players shy away from anything more than letting Satie’s creepy, otherworldly angst speak for itself. Augusta Gross’ Dance of the Spirits makes a great segue: derivative yet inspired, it could be the long-lost Gnossienne #7.

The spaciousness of the Satie is aptly foreshadowed in Levington’s choices of openers, Arvo Part’s minimalist Fur Alina and the more rhythmic Variationen zur gesundung von Arinuschka. Gross, who serves as a parallel connecting element here, is first represented by the quietly macabre allusions of a brief diptych, Venturing Forth Anew. The brisk twinkles and ripples of Schubert’s Impromptu Op. 9, No. 4 make another tremendously successful segue; Levingston takes full advantage of the opportunity to hit it harder as it moves along and darkens before bringing back the opening ambience. Chopin’s distantly uneasy Chopin Nocturne in B flat, Op. 9, No. 1 leaves no doubt what Satie’s stepping-off point was. The album’s concluding tracks include William Bolcom’s New York Lights, which gets a wistful reading, Levingston’s lefthand mimicking the sonics of an upright bass feeling for steady ground around a central tone, and then a steadily gleaming take on Gross’ Reflections on Air. Out now on Sono Luminus, it’s a quietly powerful reminder of why Levingston has become the go-to pianist for many of this era’s most intriguing composers.

May 6, 2012 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment