Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Powerful, Relevant Performance by the Best Orchestra in New York Not Called the Philharmonic

There was a moment at the Greenwich Village Orchestra’s concert Saturday night at the Lincoln Center complex where the bassists got to share a brief, gleefully triumphantly grin. They’d just played the second movement of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10, one of the most viscerally evil pieces of music ever written. It’s also one of the most viscerally thrilling. It doesn’t require the virtuoso technique of the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which the orchestra played with similar passion earlier this year. This was a different kind of adrenaline.

Conductor Barbara Yahr summed it up succinctly beforehand. “The first movement is conflict, and struggle…a memorial to the victims of Stalin. The second is pure evil: a portrait of Stalin. The third is like an old Russian guy with his tea and his vodka – something isn’t right, but we’ve managed to survive, and there’s hope. The fourth movement is revenge, Shostakovich going [she thumbed her nose] to Stalin, ‘Haha, I survived and you didn’t.’ But even there,” she motioned, “The music is still digging at you.”

And this was one for the books. Like the New York Philharmonic, the GVO typically record their concerts, so hopefully the rest of the world will be able to hear what the sold-out crowd here did. At the reception afterward, there was more than a buzz: it was more like a roar. Yahr had called out individual soloists for an ovation, something she never does, since she knew she’d caught lightning in a bottle.

Amid the turmoil, and bustle, and sheer horror – massed violins rising to a terrified, sustained shriek in the first movement – the composer allows for many momentary glimpses of hope, voiced starkly by soloists throughout the group. The effect is meant to be striking, and leaves zero room for error in in a cold and essentially merciless spotlight. And everybody was at the top of their game, including but not limited to oboeist Shannon Bryant, clarinetist Gary Dranch, french hornist Andrew Schulze, bassoonist Nisreen Nor, trumpeter Andrew Jeng and flutist Simon Dratfield.

They’d opened what turned out to be a very auspicious, aptly cantabile performance of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, glistening with Andrew Pak’s crystalline, powerfully poignant violin out in front of the orchestra. Then the group’s longtime timpanist, Gerard Gordon got a long-overdue turn in the spotlight with a resounding, lush romp through Michael Daugherty’s Raise the Roof. It’s a rare work that uses the timpani for extended melodic sequences – remember, those drums are tuned – as well as all sorts of dynamics, from misty washes to hailstorms and a few, tantalizingly thunderous volleys.

The night’s theme, in typical GVO fashion, was in the here and now. If the wheels of impeachment stall out, somebody’s going to have to vocalize and raise the roof and put an end to a bad idea gone viral – something the second movement of Shostakovich’s symphony expands on with withering sarcasm.

The Greenwich Village Orchestra’s next performance is their annual family concert, which is happening this year in the comfortable auditorium at the Third Street Music School Settlement at 235 E 11th St. on December 17 at 3 PM.

December 5, 2017 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stormy Surprises from the Greenwich Village Orchestra

There are plenty of joyous, exciting orchestras in town, without even mentioning the kind of electricity that the New York Philharmonic can generate. Recent concerts here by the Park Avenue Chamber SymphonyEast Coast Chamber Orchestra and Spectrum Symphony have all been high-voltage, and the Chelsea Symphony across town can always be counted on for an entertaining performance. But the Greenwich Village Orchestra seems to have a little more fun than anybody else.

Their concert this past Sunday on Irving Place didn’t start out that way. Conductor Barbara Yahr led them gracefully through Samuel Barber’s Adagio, to open on a somber note. There’s only one way to play that piece – it’s funeral music, and you either do it that way, or you do it wrong. Yahr and orchestra took care to take no chances and the music was better off for it.

They brought the volume up, slowly and methodically, with Barber’s Violin Concerto, from 1939, the year after the Adagio was written. And the first two movements made a fantastic segue because they sound like a continuation of it. Guest violinist Hye-Jin Kim met the lush sonics with a judiciously silken tone, handing off to the ensemble on more than one occasion with a perfectly measured dignity and grace, the results were so seamless. But the third movement was as electric as anyone could have hoped for and Kim dug into it with relish. When she wasn’t sprinting through rapidfire volleys of chromatics, she had a grin on her face, tapping out the rhythm on her hip, lost in the sway of the music. Kim has gone on record as dedicating herself to illuminating the emotion in what she plays, and she nailed the triumph and surprise in this one, over the lively, balletesque pulse that seemingly appears out of nowhere. Behind her, bassist Jeff Rozany and oboeist Shannon Bryant contributed lushly fluid intros that stood out in contrast.

Here are two theories about Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5, both of which could be wrong. For starters, the symphony is such a hodgepodge – if a brilliant one – that it seems that the composer was emptying the tank, fleshing out every idea that might have been kicking around his songbook. Was there a doubt that he’d survive World War II – or survive Stalin? That’s hardly implausible. Another theory relates to subtext, that what Prokofiev is saying, other than rejoicing in telling the Nazis to take a hike, is that now that we’ve sent one bunch of fascists packing, it’s high time we got our own house in order. Whatever the case, what’s inarguable about this work is that its multi-facetedness makes it very difficult to play. Yahr’s approach was to raise the bar and the volume as high as it would go, right out of the gate, setting up all kinds of suspense for when the triumph dies down and the distantly ominous foreshadowing begins. Yahr remarked beforehand that there are passages of “pure evil” in this, and she’s right – the caricatures of mechanistic Nazis and various fascist buffoons, staggering with the weight of the low brass and the timpani, are brutal. That surrealism left a vivid mark, through the stormy conclusion, which was almost too giddy to be true – yet unshakably true to the composer’s vision

The GVO’s next concert, on May 18 at 3 PM, is an especially high-voltage one, with an eclectic Spanish-tinged program that spans the emotional spectrum: Copland’s El Salón México; Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol; Ginastera’s Estancia suite, and largescale arrangements of Piazzolla tangos.

March 31, 2014 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