Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Pianist Alexandra Joan Brings Her Imagination and Intuition to a Solo Show at Bargemusic

On one hand, it’s risky to call a classical pianist an individualist. In some circles, that might imply that the artist takes liberties which could range from debatable, to suspect, to completely unwanted. On the other hand, pianist Alexandra Joan has such fearsome technique that she’s able to interpret whatever emotion she can evince from the material in front of her. And when that’s unexpected, as it often is, it’s a revelation. Classical musicians are expected from their earliest days at conservatory to be all things to all people and all music, and Joan’s performances in the recent past have reflected those demands. With that in mind, there’s no question that she likes the Romantics, yet she’s also a great advocate for new music and especially the protean and colorful Mohammed Fairouz. And she likes a challenge, which is exactly what she’ll tackle this Friday, December 11 at 8 PM at Bargemusic where she’ll contend with a program including works by Bach, Arvo Part, Elliott Carter, Kaija Saariaho and Schumann’s famously difficult Etudes Symphoniques. Cover is $35/$30 srs/$15 stud., and early arrival is advised; Joan is popular.

Her most recent solo album is titled Dances and Songs. Interestingly, the most striking piece on it isn’t the physically taxing Liszt works, or the richly enigmatic Ravel Valses Nobles et Sentimentales; it’s Bach’s English Suite No. 3 in G Minor. She plays it as if she was playing a harpsichord, giving full weight to the ornamentation and grace notes, proportionate to the rest of the score rather than lettting them just flit off the page. It’s a neat trick, and one that requires vastly more lightness of touch and completely different technique than if she was playing an actual harpsichord. And then, she finds the one part of the suite where she can make the greatest contrast with what, up to then, has been just short of lickety-split, and the effect is explosive. At that point, she hits a dirge tempo, so slow that it seems that the rhythm has fallen conpletely out. Essentially, she looked for the one place where she could wring every ounce of contrast (and raw, unvarnished angst) out of it, and pulled it off.

The album opens with a precise, emphatic take of Valse-Caprice No. 6 from Liszt’s Soirees de Vienne; she’ll return to waltzing Liszt at the end of the program to bring the album full circle. As the Ravel picks up steam from a stately tempo, Joan lets the distant gleam shine through, seemingly allowing the cascades to tumble from her hands rather than evoking a climb in one direction or another. It seems effortless even though it’s not.

After the intensity of the Bach, Liszt’s take of the Spinning Chorus from Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman offers a dynamically shifting emotional respite. However, Joan’s muted approach at the end sets up another far more moody performance, Lizst’s arrangement of Schubert’s Der Doppelganger. Such segues are typical in her repertoire: she can’t resist making a connection where she can find one. The album isn’t up at any of the usual streaming spots, although Joan’s performances are well represented on youtube and at Instantencore.

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December 7, 2015 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

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

The Personal As Political: Ulrich Hartung Uncovers the Hidden Meaning in Schubert’s Winterreise

If you’re in a quirky mood, or want to jumpstart your brain, you can always resequence album tracks. And if you’re tired, or just lazy, you can always hit “shuffle play.” But would you consider reversing the order of the movements of, say, a Beethoven symphony, in concert? As a joke, maybe.

But what if rearranging the order of an iconic suite brought a hidden meaning to light? That’s what baritone Ulrich Hartung did with Schubert’s Winterreise suite Friday night at the Liederkranz Society, revealing it as not only a classic of proto-existentialist tunesmithing but also as a thinly veiled political broadside. Over the years there’s been a tempest in a teaspoon over how the suite should be performed: in the order that Schubert followed (the traditional way), or in the original sequence of Wilhelm Muller poems that the composer set to music? Hartung chose the latter and let the songs validate his claim, in the process raising the suite’s already haunting intensity several notches. What became inarguably clear only a few songs into it was that Schubert’s music follows precisely the same trajectory as the lyrics.

We often forget the brutal repression that so many classical composers toiled under. In the extensive program notes for the concert, an excerpt from his doctoral dissertation, Hartung reminded that both Schubert and Muller were subject to routine censorship under the pre-1848 dictatorship. Was it possible that Schubert shuffled the deck a little to get it past the censors? It would seem so. Schubert hasn’t been remembered as a freedom fighter: one simple move by Hartung, and the numerous others in his camp, changes that view considerably.

The suite has come down to us tagged as a Herrmann Hesse-like depiction of alienation and lovelorn angst, and that’s how it reads on the surface. “Fremd bin ich einzegogen, Fremd zieh ich wieder aus [I arrived a stranger, I left a stranger]”, Hartung sang with elegant restraint but also haggard bravado to open the suite. By the end. he’d reached the point where Muller’s protagonist is out on the ice with the hurdy-gurdy man, pondering if he should beseech the guy – who’s probably drunk and homeless – to play these songs. Awash in moody nocturnal ambience, Hartung maintained a steely, resolute calm that he only rose from occasionally during the performance, singing and then playing crystalline, resonantly measured lines on alto sax at the end. The cruel surrealism was shattering.

The foreshadowing on the way there made that conclusion all the more powerful. Especially during the opening songs, a subtly sarcastic, anthemic sensibility rose to the surface, pianist Juan Pablo Horcasitas playing Stefan Kozinski’s arrangement with a gracefully deadpan matter-of-factness, joined by Eric Lemmon on viola, Lenae Harris on cello, Lis Rubard on horns and Shelly Bauer on reeds. A handful of suspiciously jaunty waltzes are interspersed among Schubert’s lustrously terse balladry, Hartung and Horcasitas teaming to raise their sardonic edge, letting the subtext and symbolism speak for themselves. Antiwar and antifascist imagery appeared everywhere, Hartung’s precise, cantabile diction especially helpful for those in the audience with limited command of German. In so doing, he gave every reason for reading the traveler’s exhaustion and emotional depletion as an exile in his own land railing against the occupation. The brief, next-to-last song in Muller’s sequence is Mut (Courage): on the surface, it reflects on abandonment, but on a political level it’s a call to arms. So many composers from throughout the ages have had to battle with repressive regimes: it’s time to acknowledge Schubert for his contribution.

April 11, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lysander Piano Trio Revels in Beauty at Carnegie Hall

The history of classical trio music for keyboard and strings spans from flat-out jamming, to a sort of proto-concerto form with the piano as a solo instrument supported by violin and cello, to more intricately arranged composition where the individual voices intermingle and share centerstage. While Thursday night’s sold-out Carnegie Hall concert by the Lysander Piano Trio hewed mostly to the middle of that ground, it served as a vivid platform for pianist Liza Stepanova’s stuniningly nuanced sense of touch and ability to bring a composer’s emotional content to life. Even by rigorous conservatory standards, she’s something special. With an attack that ranged from a knife’s-edge, lovestruck determination throughout Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 8, to a lushly nocturnal sostenuto glimmer on Schubert’s Adagio in E Flat, Op. 148, she caressed the keys, but also let them grow fangs when the music called for it. It is not often when a pianist’s most stunning moments are her quietest: that Stepanova pulled off that feat amidst all sorts of stormy virtuosity speaks to her technical skill, but more to her ability to use that skill to channel the innermost substance of a diverse array of material from across the ages.

John Musto‘s 1998 Piano Trio gave the threesome a chance to revisit some of their performance’s earlier, Schubertian lustre and triumph, but also anticipation and suspense, through the sweepingly melancholic third movement and jaunty, cinematic concluding passages, spiced with a breathless chase scene and allusions to noir. The world premiere of Jakub Ciupinski’s The Black Mirror, an attractively neoromantic diptych, offered an opportunity to take flight out of a sumptuous song without words to a somewhat muted revelry.

All the while, Itamar Zorman’s violin and Michael Katz’s cello provided an aptly ambered, seamless backdrop, until Brahms’ Piano Trio in C Major, Op. 87, where both finally got to provide something more demanding than accompaniment, in graceful counterpoint through lush cantabile, an intimate fugue morphing into a jaunty waltz and then the Beethovenesque, concluding ode to joy. Yet the best piece on the bill actually wasn’t even on it, at least at the start of the show. It was the encore, a fiery, searingly chromatic, kinetic dance by noted Israeli composer Moshe Zorman (Itamar’s dad) based on a traditional Yemenite melody. This had the most virtuoso passages for the strings, the violin’s rapidfire volleys anchored by a tersely misterioso cello bassline. the night’s most visible demonstration of chemistry between the group members. All things being even, it would have been nice (ok, this is being a little greedy) to have had more of a taste of the kind of electricity this violinist and cellist are capable of delivering: maybe something by Ravel or Rachmaninoff?

April 3, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony Brings Their Lush, Towering Sound to Carnegie Hall This October 27

The massive, lush Park Avenue Chamber Symphony with David Bernard on the podium make their latest appearance at Carnegie Hall on Oct 27 at 2 PM at Stern Auditorium, playing Dvorak’s  Carnival Overture, the Brahms Violin Concerto with Jourdan Urbach on violin,  Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Daniela Liebman on piano and then Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet fantasy-overture. The Upper East Side’s counterpart to the ensembles across the park at Lincoln Center also regularly release recordings of their concerts, just as the NY Phil does, and many of them are very choice. It’s a great marketing concept: truth in advertising, what you hear is exactly what you get in concert. More orchestras should do this.

The latest in this orchestra’s ongoing releases pairs Beethoven’s Symphonies No. 1 and 7. The full-bodied performance of the former captures the joy of Beethoven exploring the sonic extremes that the relatively newfangled symphonic form allowed, and in his case encouraged: that his symphonies would become his most popular works comes as no surprise after hearing this. The recording of No. 7 is similarly dynamic – a consistent quality of this orchestra – pairing understatedly explosive pageantry against the tightly controlled, richly creative songcraft that dominates the final three movements.

The orchestra’s previous release is one of the most tantalizing recordings in their extensive catalog, an irresistibly high-spirited take of Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony along with Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. It’s easy to take the Mendelssohn as a romp, but there’s also an almost conspiratorial calm to counter the dancing themes that dominate the work: again, Bernard has the ensemble working rich dynamic contrasts. Another treat in the orchestra’s catalog, from a few years back, is arguably the most plush, luxuriant recent recording of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2. For anything that remotely resembles this, you have to go back to the 1970s for Yevgeny Svetlanov’s version with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. No doubt they will record the upcoming Carnegie Hall concert, for which tickets are still available as of this writing.

October 22, 2013 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Powerful, Purposeful New York Concert by Pianist George-Emmanuel Lazaridis

Monday night at Merkin Concert Hall, Greek pianist George-Emmanuel Lazaridis played a powerful, determinedly intuitive performance of Schubert and Liszt plus his own works, which were the most interesting and dynamic of all the pieces on the bill. Lazaridis showed off world-class technique but also world-class touch: the murmurs carried just as much weight as the crushing cadenzas.

He opened with Schubert’s “Wanderer” Sonata, which as he played it didn’t wander at all: this was an epic with a clear trajectory and denouement, through the cruelly difficult, machinegunning counterpoint of the big block chords on the opening allegro movement, a vividly cantabile take of the adagio and then a dazzling climb to the big, Beethovenesque payoff at the end. Lazaridis’ unwaveringly decisive central tempo and matter-of-factness gave him a strong central anchor for Schubert’s colorful digressions and ornamentation.

He closed the program with Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor, S. 178, which is sort of Liszt for people who don’t like Liszt. He began and eventually ended with an almost rubato approach to the composers’s lingering, minimalistically rapt themes, saving plenty of firepower for the characteristically Lisztian, wide-angle pyrotechnics. But the highlight of the bill was a trio of segments from Lazaridis’ own Trojan Cycle. The concert’s emcee explained beforehand that the suite is not meant to be a blow-by-blow portrayal of the Iliad but an exploration of its characters’ emotional currents, particularly their overwhelming sense of doom. This came immediately to the surface on the enigmatically brooding Achilles Mourning, where the warrior sees his own end and everyone else’s around him coming up over the horizon. Artfully blending twelve-tone acidity and moodily narrative neoromanticism, it set the stage for Andromache, which in many ways was a history of the piano beginning with Schumann, through Alban Berg and Schoenberg and then back in time again, a hauntingly surreal portrait lit up with all sorts of unexpected rhythmic and dynamic shifts. The final piece was the Battlefield Toccata, which segued aptly with the Liszt: it was the most cinematic, and explosive, of all Lazaridis’ original works on this bill and a tantalizing encouragement for the packed house to go looking for the rest of the suite. This concert was presented by the Hellenic-American Cultural Foundation; if the rest of their programming is like this, it’s worth seeking out.

October 2, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Karine Poghosyan Illuminates Inner Journeys at St. Vartan’s

Last June, pianist Karine Poghosyan played an insightful, fascinating, emotionally gripping program of rarely-played works by her Armenian compatriot Aram Khachaturian at what’s become her more-or-less New York home base, the sonically superb St. Vartan’s Cathedral in Murray Hill. Poghosyan has such technical skill that the question of how she would tackle any program is reduced to that one word: how? She’s a passionate advocate of Khachaturian’s music, and shone just as much light this time out on a bill focusing on inner journeys and struggles from composers considerably better known here.

She played from memory, opening with a liquid, legato version of Liszt’s solo piano arrangement of Schubert’s Ave Maria. In her hands, it became a love song, a glimmering lullaby of sorts as she caressed its gently lingering tonalities. For the second piece, Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in D Major, she was joined by the sensationally precise, inspired ten-piece string ensemble the St. Vartan Chamber Orchestra (Annette Homann, Sabina Torosjan, Gabriel Giles, Muneyoshi Takahashi and Roan Ma on violins; Kristina Giles and Catherine Wynder on violas; Seulki Lee and Edward Kim on cellos and Bradley Lovelace on bass) for a kinetic, equally attuned performance. This interpretation of Bach didn’t necessarily swing but, wow, they made it dance. And early on it was a danse macabre, bristling with minor-key chromatics through the opening allegro and what became a matter-of-factly wrenching adagio that followed. And yet the ensemble seemed to be having a great time with it. Poghosyan isn’t the kind of pianist who keeps her cards close to her vest: throughout the triptych, there were what seemed dozens of “yessssss” moments flickering across her face and between the group members, which all paid off with the concluding allegro movement and its indomitable sense of triumph. That she’d put this piece at the center of the program speaks for how thoughtfully put together it was.

Poghosyan went back to contemplative mode for Liszt’s Spolizio, from his Years of Pilgrimage suite, following its winding but methodical trajectory from rapt to heroic, and back and forth: the push-pull of the dynamics became a cinematic song without words. She closed with Liszt’s “Dante Sonata,” and maybe surprisingly, maybe not so surprisingly, she eschewed the temptation to follow its demonic chromatics and crushingly difficult block chords into grand guignol. Instead, this journey through hell and heaven was a travelogue, Poghosyan sometimes seeming to prefer illuminating its more obscure spirals and vistas rather than the obvious themes. And this approach worked like a charm because it gave her what amounted to unlimited headroom when she finally dug in and roared through the coda. It’s rare to hear Liszt played with such sensitivity. These concerts at St. Vartans are not frequent, but when the church has them, they’re excellent. There’s an intriguing program on November 20 at 7:30 PM with violinist Nune Melikian and pianist Raisa Kargamonova playing works by Babadjanian, Khachaturian, Markov and Kreisler; there’s also an as-yet unnamed “superstar” organist playing the high-powered digital organ here on March 26 of next year at the same time.

September 26, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony Stares Down a Hurricane and Wins

Sometimes facing a threat brings out the best in musicians. Knowing that they’d have to wrap up their concert before the subway shut down at seven in anticipation of the “Frankenstorm,” did the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony hurry their show yesterday on the Upper East Side? No: whatever tension they must have been feeling, they transcended. Which is what music is all about, right?

For those who’d grown up with the pieces on the program, it was like reconnecting with old friends after a long time away and noticing that they’ve obviously been working out and are in great shape. Between those two – Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto – was a merry prankster who for all his clowning around turned out to be as deep if not deeper than the old friends. That was Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel.

Anyone who might have been introduced to the Schubert wafting from the radio over the kitchen table on, say, WQXR at dinner time was treated to a welcome rediscovery. And pity those hearing this for the first time here – they’re spoiled for life. Both movements were cinematic and bursting with energy: what a career Schubert would have had in the movies if he’d been born a century later! Conductor David Bernard drew a genuinely suspenseful anticipation from the low strings in the introduction, and likewise from the brass as the second movement made its way out of a lustrous gleam.

But the revelation on the bill was the Strauss. The composer was quoted as saying that he wanted to offend audiences with this, and it’s easy to see how that could have happened: in its own precise, Teutonic way, it’s a musical satire, a raised middle finger at some of the very same conventions that Strauss would cave to later in Ein Heldenleben and elsewhere. But that’s another story: this was the young Strauss being as much of a proto punk rocker as he could have been under the circumstances. The orchestra drew obvious relish from all the mockery: the snidely swaggering elisions in mock-heroic passages and the spritely little cadenzas that always draw laughs whenever this is staged. And they made it clear that this was an angry little sprite, all the way through the bombastic march leading up to the scene where he’s on the gallows and even that can’t kill him. In its own sarcastic way, it was as much about joie de vivre as the opening piece.

After that, it was almost impossible to take the heroic first movement of the Beethoven seriously, especially because the orchestra shifted gears and embraced it with a remarkable gravitas. But pianist Terry Eder had something of the sprite in her, which came to the forefront as the second movement opened, slipping into an elegant glide with just a tinge of rubato matched expertly by the conductor and the rest of the ensemble. Bernard is not the kind of maestro who plays his cards close to the vest, and at this point he had a triumphant “yessssss” grin on his face as he did throughout much of the show. The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony’s next concert is on February 9 of next year at 8 PM, repeating on February 10 at 3 PM with an all-Beethoven program bookending the Concerto for Piano No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 with Symphonies No. 1 and No. 7.

October 29, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Transcendent Song Cycles by Phil Kline at BAM

Thursday night at BAM’s Next Wave Festival was one of those magical evenings that sends you spilling out into the street afterward, every synapse invigorated, glad to be alive. It was the world premiere of Phil Kline’s lush new arrangement of his iconic Zippo Songs, plus an intoxicatingly enveloping new cycle, Out Cold, played and sung luminously by ACME with crooner Theo Bleckmann at the absolute top of his evocative game. The new Fisher Space black-box theatre was either sold out or close to it. The final performance is tonight, and it isn’t sold out as of this writing (early affernoon). If transcendence is what you’re looking for, get over to BAM by 7 or so. The show starts at 7:30; the space is not on Lafayette Avenue but on that short street that runs perpendicular to it up to the Atlantic Avenue mall.

The program began with three Rumsfeld Songs, three quotes from “the comic evil spirit, if there ever was one,” to quote Kline’s program notes. The dark levity started with the famous pseudo-ontological one about “known knowns” and “known unknowns,” set to a deadpan, mechanically circular tune that gave Bleckmann a platform for just a tinge of Teutonic grandiosity, making for cruelly delicious satire. The second song was a march, the third more restrained, leaving the Iraq war villain’s long-winded, disingenuous disavowal of mass murder to linger. They made a good setup for the Zippo Songs, Kline’s musical setting of aphorisms and poems inscribed on cigarette lighters by American combatants during the Vietnam War.

These songs hadn’t been staged in New York in eight years. The sparseness of the originals played up the cruel irony, bitterness and sheer horror of the soldiers’ words; the new arrangements turned out to be far more rich and sweeping than expected, yet without subsuming any of the lyrical content. The genius of Kline’s craft is simplicity: like his great influence Charles Ives, he pushes the envelope, but he knows a catchy motif when he hears it. Hide a hook in a haystack, turn Kline loose, and he will find it. Which is why the new charts worked as well as they did; ironically, the richer the orchestration, the more memorable the melodies became. Pianist Timothy Andres and vibraphonist Chris Thompson got the choicest intervals, as Kline’s tensely straightforward, gleaming phrases reached the top of their arcs, over pillowy, sustained, shifting sheets held aloft by violinists Caleb Burhans, Ben Russell and Keats Dieffenbach, yMusic violist Nadia Sirota, cellist Clarice Jensen, oboeist Michelle Farah, bassist Logan Coale and flutist Alex Sopp. As with the original versions, the music does not disavow the darkness of the lyrics, instead providing a distantly apprehensive backdrop.

The airiest of these, appropriately enough, was the first one, voicing the soldiers whose goal it was to stay high all the time. The most haunting was the warily pulsing fourth in the series: “If I had a farm in Vietnam and a home in hell, I’d sell my farm and go home,” Bleckmann intoned. The most pensive, atmospheric segment was the most disillusioned: “We are the unwilling, led by the unqualified, doing the unnecessary for the ungrateful.” Emma Griffin’s stage direction had Bleckmann nonchalantly changing costumes and assuming roles to go with them: somehow he was able to hold a perfectly unmodulated, resonant legato through a quick series of pushups and situps that would have had most people panting.

The trippy bossa beat of that song foreshadowed what was to come with Out Cold. Taking his cue from Schubert’s Kafka-esque Winterreise suite as well as the ethereal 1950s “suicide song” collaboration between Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle, Kline brought the broodingly hypnotic lushness up several notches and so did the ensemble and singer. Beginning with a low, raspy wash of strings and throat-singing and ending on a wistful, aptly elegaic note, these were torch songs for a new generation, blending the best of several previous decades’ worth. The bossa nova pulse returned memorably a couple of times, fueled by suspenseful woodblock, vibes and piano; the suite reached a high-point, volumewise with its most rocking number, Million Dollar Bill, noir Orbison chamber pop taken to understated heights of angst, tinkly David Lynch piano contrasting with the blue velvet wash underneath.

Bleckmann shuffled between tables in a darkened bar – One for My Baby in 3D – drinking from random half-empty glassses in A Final Toast, its insistent low strings reminding of Julia Wolfe in a particular intense mood. Where’s the Rest of Me, a creepily dreamy waltz, was followed by the slightly vaudevillian The Season Is Over, which grew dark fast and made a potent segue with To the Night, its noir lustre punctuated by uneasy close harmonies from the ensemble. In its own elegant way, the suite is as evocative a portrayal of loneliness and alienation as Joy Division. Kline has been writing eclectic, relevant music since the 80s; once again, he’s embraced a new genre and made it indelibly his own.

October 27, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment