Sunday evening in the Gilded Age Irving Place auditorium they call home, the Greenwich Village Orchestra played an insightful, richly intuitive concert akin to the “composer portrait” series uptown at the Miller Theatre. The composer was Tschaikovsky: in a moneymaking mood, in a good mood, and also in a very bad mood. Stepping in for music director Barbara Yahr, guest conductor Pierre Vallet led the ensemble through a program that ran the kind of rollercoaster of emotion that you would expect from this composer’s music.
They opened with the Festival Coronation March, a last-minute Tsarist commission that was reportedly a rush job. It’s what you would expect, a full-on High Romantic anthem whose pomp and circumstance came across just muted enough to hint at camp without actually going there. Was Tschaikovsky being subtly sarcastic with this piece? Russian music is full of irony, and history always gives tyrants the short end of the stick…or leaves them at the end of a rope.
By contrast, the Violin Concerto, with soloist Siwoo Kim ably negotiating the lightning staccato passages that violinists of its era considered too challenging to play, was all about tough tasks and triumph: at the end, there was an unspoken but palpable sigh of relief, everyone in the ensemble with the look of “OMG, we actually got through this!” As he did with the opening number, Vallet established a very wide dynamic range early on, allowing for a high ceiling, which the group built to as seamlessly as can be done with such a technically demanding work.
But the piece de resistance was the Symphony No. 4. As the orchestra played it, it’s all about subtext. Was this, as the program notes asked, the lament of a closeted gay man trying to make the best of a bad situation in a homophobic society…or simply a self-portrait of a tortured artist? Either way, it worked. The angst was relentless when it had to be, particularly during the stalking, vamping second movement, which has become a template for horror film themes over the years. Bookending it were steady, similarly relentless themes that came across, in a far more subtle way, as being just as tormented, if in their dogged pursuit of something that seems just around the corner but never arrives: a suspense film for the ears.
The Greenwich Village Orchestra’s next concert is Sunday, May 17 at 3 PM, with Yahr returning to the podium for a dramatic conclusion to their season featuring Rossini’s William Tell Overture, a music video with music by Berlioz performed with special guest mezzo-soprano Naomi O’Connell, and then Gershwin’s An American in Paris. Suggested donation is $20/$10 stud/srs, reception to follow.
The last time Max Lifchitz performed in the Lincoln Center neighborhood, he was at the piano, delivering a characteristically diverse and eye-opening program of 20th century Mexican composers including works by Carlos Chavez, Manuel Enriquez, Manuel M. Ponce, Maria Teresa Prieto, Silvestre Revueltas, and an eclectically lively partita by Brian Banks along with a pastorale partita of his own. Much of the bill could be characterized as the Second Viennese School gone south of the border. Tuesday night, Lifchitz conducted his North/South Chamber Orchestra in a matter-of-factly transcendent program of contemporary compositions.
Katherine Hoover‘s South Zephyr was an evocatively buoyant, gently kinetic evocation of an enveloping, warmly comforting wind from the tropics, Lisa Hansen’s flute afloat on a lush bed of strings. Victor Kioulaphides‘ Summer Concerto, a string piece, was the big hit with the audience with its misterioso pulse, dynamic shifts, subtly flamenco-tinged interlude and allusions to Andalucia and the Middle East.
Alla Pavlova‘s Concertino came across as the great lost Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #5, or something from late Tschaikovsky. It didn’t have the virtuoso piano passages of Rachmaninoff, but it was packed with the kind of direct, emphatic, angst-ridden, stunningly memorable riffage that defines that composer’s work. And it featured plenty of original tropes as well, most notably the shivery string passages in the opening segment as a backdrop to Helen Lin’s icepick piano and Mioi Takeda’s steely but cantabile violin.
Soloist Edmundo Ramirez brought a graceful but plaintive, sometimes vividly aching edge and an acerbic tone to the night’s most stunning work, Anna Veismane‘s Concerto for Viola d’Amore. A tone poem, more or less, its tectonic sheets shifted slowly and methodically and grew more haunting as it went on, building a surreal, dangerously otherworldly mood with close harmonies from the strings. Lifchitz concluded with his own song suite, Forget Me Not, sung with deadpan wit by soprano Carol Wilson. Over the lilting sway of the strings, Wilson managed to keep a straight face through a long interlude about a potato, something some of the audience could do but others could not. It made for comic relief in the wake of a lot of searing emotion.
Lifchitz’s agenda with his long-running North/South Consonance concerts is to cross-pollinate on a global level and promote the work of composers from across the Americas alongside their counterparts from literally everywhere else. It’s an ambitious project, and something to keep an eye on if first-rate new works (and plenty of older rarities) by under-the-radar composers are your thing.
Who’s the best symphony orchestra in the world? Most orchestral players will quickly suggest the Berlin Philharmonic. And pretty much everybody agrees that the Mariinsky Orchestra makes the best albums. But talk to someone who sees a lot of concerts, even a cranky critic, and they’ll tell you without hesitating that a performance by a lesser-known orchestra can be every bit as amazing as one by a brand-name ensemble. While the Greenwich Village Orchestra‘s neighborhood has changed vastly over the past fifteen years, they haven’t. They’re oldschool, in an edgy East Village sense, premiering new works, showcasing up-and-coming soloists before the big orchestras get hip to them, and trotting out spirited versions of old standards. This Sunday’s concert was typical.
With Barbara Yahr on the podium, they began with the world premiere of the new orchestral version of Israeli composer Moshe Zorman’s Galilean Suite. It opened with an easygoing, easy-to-like overture on a biting Yemeni folk tune and ended with an acerbically modernist take on the traditional Jewish hora dance, which in this case was completely free of schmaltz, conductor and ensemble clearly having a ball with it. In between, there was a circular, Reichian theme that seemed to holler “I can write indie classical too,” and this particular one happens to be overwritten and overwrought. Half the group, or maybe the string section alone, would have sufficed. The orchestra did with it what they could, but even the energetic percussion features were simplistic and beside the point. Memo to other orchestras: do this as a diptych and crowds will love you for it.
The crowd went crazy, giving featured violinist Itamar Zorman (Moshe’s kid) two impromptu ovations for the first couple of movements of the Brahms Violin Concerto. The GVO discovered him four years before he won the 2011 Tschaikovsky Violin Competition in Russia. Much as every orchestra plays this warhorse, it’s cruelly difficult for a soloist, but with a spun-glass legato matched to a searing, rapidfire attack, Zorman made it look easy. Having seen another orchestra recently having to suffer backing another violinist who was not up to the challenge, this was all the more rewarding. And while it’s the famously aleatoric violin parts (Brahms let his violinist pal Joseph Joachim come up with the famous final cadenzas) that the crowds come out to see, this was done as classic, luminous, pilllowy, hard-to-resist, peak-era Brahms, complete with vivid cameos from oboeist Shannon Bryant and harpist Andre Tarantiles.
Also on the bill was Tschaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture. The story may be Italian, but this emotionally raw, minutely detailed performance left no doubt that it was written by a Slavic composer, its wounded wintriness evoking the chill of snowflakes drifting under the door. Maybe it was the gloomy day outside; more likely, Yahr sought to portray the sadness that lept out from the mournful, introductory brass and winds and signaled that while this might end energetically, the story was not a happy one. Again, having seen another orchestra play a perfectly satisfying, lushly Mahlerian version (isn’t it amazing how differently orchestras play this same repertoire?), this hit a lot harder, emotionally speaking. Then again, that’s the GVO in a nutshell. Their next concert is their very fun, lively annual family concert – where kids get in free, and can march behind the orchestra – plus an “instrument petting zoo,”plus reception afterward, on Sunday, Dec 8 at 3 PM featuring music of Rossini, Beethoven, Ravel and more at Washington Irving HS Auditorium, 40 Irving Place at 17th St.. just off Union Square.
The big story at the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony‘s performance at Carnegie Hall this past Sunday was pianist Daniela Liebman‘s debut. But the orchestra did their best to pre-empt that. They exploded with their introductory piece, Dvorak’s Carnival Overture, more curtain-burner than curtain-lifter. Maestro David Bernard conducted from memory, as he did with all but one of the works on the program. He’s a lot of fun to watch, a very kinetic presence, big smile stretched across his face, bouncing on the balls of his feet. The work has the same romping energy as the composer’s Slavonic Dances, but with considerably more dynamics, done plushly, with pinpoint precision and an unexpectedly delicate balance between the brass and strings for such a robust piece of music.
If the thought of an eleven-year-old tackling Shostakovich in front of a sold-out house makes you wince, you’re not alone. What’s the likelihood that a young middle-schooler, with her limited life experience, slight build and small hands, would have the stamina and technique, let alone the emotional depth, to deliver anything more than a rote version of the composer’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 102? This isn’t Shostakovich the outraged witness; this is the 20th century’s greatest musical ironist at the peak of his sardonic, puckish, satirical power. Shostakovich wrote it in 1957 as a showcase for his pianist son Maxim, obviously something of a parody of the sturm und drang of the traditional High Romantic concerto form. But the simple fact that Daniela Liebman would choose this darkly amusing piece, with its seething anti-fascist subtext, over, say, something more straightforward by Beethoven or Brahms or Mozart, says a lot. And she seemed to intuitively grasp it, playing with a deadpan intensity and just the hint of a wink, whether adding a touch of evil when the dancing first movement morphed into a coldly marionettish mockery, or with a coolly singleminded focus as the piece playfully slid into 7/8 time in the final movement. Shostakovich himself had a hard time getting his own hands around several of the rising unison passages that occur about midway through, but Liebman pulled them off with aplomb. Depth is not a quality that only older people can access, and Liebman left no doubt that she is a deep soul. She also loves the spotlight, treating the crowd to rapidfire, triumphant solo versions of Vitaly Fillipenko’s cruelly difficult, staccato Toccata as well as a Chopin etude, earning more than one standing ovation in the process.
The closing work on the bill was Tschaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture, which Bernard and the ensemble immersed in a dreamy unease that never quite relented, an apt illustration of the doomed lovers, through long crescendos to a stormy dance, an absolutely lustrous brass interlude and a series of big Beethovenesque endings. This was a world-class, majestic performance.
The orchestra also played a steady, Teutonically matter-of-fact version of the Brahms Violin Concerto. Featured violinist Jourdan Urbach got an old-fashioned standing ovation after the first movement, but to be fair, the solos from the oboe and then Alix Raspe’s harp a bit later on were every bit as compelling. The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony’s next concert is February 22, 2014 at 8 PM at All Saints Church, 230 E 60th St (between 2nd and 3rd Aves) featuring Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, Samuel Barber’s Knoxville Summer 1915 and Dvorak’s Dance Suite for Orchestra.
A gentle rain fell, delivering a welcome respite from the heat as maestro Alan Gilbert led the NY Philharmonic up from pianissimo to a velvety nocturne in Central Park last night. The big lawn in the middle of the park may not be the quietest place during the day, but the vast crowd was pretty much rapt as the lush beauty of the dawning movement of Respighi’s Fountains of Rome slowly unwound. Gilbert conducted it from memory: he had it in his fingers, and so did the orchestra. The magical moments were too numerous to count. As if on cue, the music diverted a couple of expected interruptions, the first when a plane crossed the sky just as the strings exploded with a bustling fury as Respighi’s suite reached morning rush hour: it isn’t often that an orchestra beats a jet engine, but this time it did. Then during a particularly incisive passage in Respighi’s Pines of Rome, which followed, a siren moving through the park added accidental harmonies which worked far more effectively, and interestingly, than one would have expected. The rest of the Fountains, from balletesque, to boomy, to practically silent, then stormy and and intense, then back again, was cinematic in the purest sense of the word, a tour of Rome a hundred years ago by a particularly insightful guide. As Gilbert led the orchestra on a blissful, silken glide out, it was transcendent, the kind of good-to-be-alive moment that can be savored in this city and this city alone.
The Pines were just as good, and made the fireworks display afterward seem redundant. From the swirling, Christmasy introduction, the richly misterioso outside-the-catacombs theme, artfully shifting motifs from the woodwinds leading the orchestra up and the final, lengthy crescendo (which begs the question, did Respighi know of Gustav Holst’s The Planets when he wrote this?), it was a triumphant conclusion to a sonic art-house double feature. The Philharmonic is playing both suites for their opening gala on September 27 at 7:30 PM: they couldn’t have chosen better. Avery Fisher Hall may need a new roof after they’re done.
What about Tschaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, which opened the bill? The audience responded somewhat restlessly, particularly toward the end of the second movement. If a piece drags, is it the fault of the orchestra? Hardly, if they play it as the composer dictated, which is exactly what they did. Gilbert set up the pyrotechnics of the finale so it could resound in the park’s lower valley by keeping the quieter parts especially low key: by the end, he was practically jumping out of his shoes in a storm of blazing minor-key riffage and so was the ensemble. But there were points where the melody lagged, and during the incessant pizzicato introduction to the third movement, didn’t leave much hope that there would be many more interesting things to come for those with the patience to wait through the 1877 equivalent of a song by Rush. The NY Phil is back in Central Park this coming Monday the 16th at 8 PM, program still TBA: as always, early arrival (six isn’t too early) is a must.
This coming Sunday, May 20 at 3 PM the Greenwich Village Orchestra plays Shostakovich’s lively and entertaining yet subtext-loaded Symphony No. 9, conducted by Yaniv Segal of the eclectic Chelsea Symphony, followed by the GVO’s own Barbara Yahr conducting Tschaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 at Washington Irving HS Auditorium at Irving Place and 16th Street. A $15 donation gets you in; there’s a reception to follow. Segal is widely sought out as a guest conductor; luckily, he had a little time to discuss what promises to be a characteristically rich program.
Lucid Culture: You’ve had a very eclectic background in the arts, having been involved with the theatre and in music since childhood. Let me ask you, is your acting background something you draw on as a conductor, and if so, how?
Yaniv Segal: Being on stage from a young age has helped me to become very comfortable as a performer in front of an audience. I very rarely get nervous, but if I do get a little antsy before a performance, as soon as I step on stage I am over it and able to focus on the music at hand.
Conducting is different from acting in many ways but a big difference is the timeframe – whereas acting requires emoting in real-time, a conductor must show what is about to happen in the near future while reacting to what is going on in the present. It is a constant mind trick to be both involved and aware of shaping the present while preparing the future and considering how the present will impact something that occurs in the music down the line.
A similarity between conducting and acting is that the end result must be apparent..and communicated. If an actor were to feel a certain passionate scene in some way – let’s say Maria’s reaction to Tony’s death at the end of West Side Story – but the reaction were internal, and not communicated to the audience, the actor might feel personally devastated, but the audience may not be moved at all. Thus the good and successful actor must not only be able to feel the emotion in the story, but also to communicate that in a way that the audience feels the same way. A conductor must resonate with the music but also must translate that into some kind of physical or spiritual communication so that the musicians all feel it and thus are able to bring the emotions and power of the music to the audience.
LC: You’re also a trained violinist. Does that inform your approach to conducting an orchestra – and especially the string section?
YS: I have a lot of experience playing in orchestras. I still play violin and viola regularly, and that has definitely influenced my conducting. Perhaps one of the biggest areas of influence is on my rehearsal technique. As an orchestral musician, I have been frustrated by conductors who are not efficient with their time on the podium during rehearsal. We want to make music together and the best way to do that is through more playing and less talking. I think that a successful conductor knows how to manage their limited rehearsal time and knows how to get the most out of an orchestra using the fewest words possible.
As to my specific string playing knowledge, it is certainly helpful for conducting. The strings are the most numerous members of an orchestra. Although I have learned a little bit about playing all the instruments in the orchestra in order to feel a connection to them, I will always feel a close relationship with string sound and technique—and that certainly informs my conducting and rehearsing.
LC: You are a founder of the Chelsea Symphony, that excellent and eclectic orchestra across town on the west side. It’s good to see cross-pollination going on between these two ensembles. As up-and-coming orchestras from neighborhoods long known for their artsiness, is there any competition between you? Or is it more collaborative – you know, in classical circles, everybody tends to know everybody else…
YS: I don’t think that there is competition between the two organizations. We have had a very positive working experience between the two organizations and in the past GVO has graciously lent some of their equipment, and there are some players who play in both orchestras. If I can make a general statement, I would say that competition is created by people and not by organizations. The two orchestras serve different communities and have different aspirations and specific goals. It makes more sense to work together to bring more music to New York’s diverse and wonderful neighborhoods than to think of ourselves as in competition.
LC: To what degree, if at all, do you have to throw a switch, transition from one work or one era to another? I’ve seen you conduct Tschaikovsky, you just conducted a massive symphonic poem for choir and orchestra, Mario Jazzetti’s The Profile, the Life, and the Faith Across the Notes at Avery Fisher Hall. Now you’re moving to the Shostakovich Symphony No. 9. Both of those pieces have a triumphant sensibility, on the surface at least: does this make the shift easier for you?
YS: Conductors these days are expected to do the impossible and to have a command of all types of repertoire, styles, time periods, etcetera. A single concert might typically juxtapose a world premiere with a classical warhorse. Basically we have to be able to switch gears on a dime. I think if anything makes shifting between pieces easier, it is the quality of the music that makes the difference. When there is music that we love to perform, it doesn’t matter when it was written.
LC: Many listeners hear considerable sarcasm along with triumph in the Shostakovich. Do you agree?
YS: For sure. It is very important to listen to this piece in the context for which it was written. At the end of World War II, the Soviets, Stalin especially, expected a triumphant Ninth Symphony from their country’s leading composer, Shostakovich, along the lines of Beethoven’s Ninth. Instead, he gave them this 30-minute chamber symphony full of wit, humor, and sarcasm. Every seeming development towards a climax dissipates before it fully materializes. The symphony has a witty scherzo and an enormous faux-serious and plaintive bassoon solo which negates the weightiness of the low brass (the fourth movement). Finally in the last movement Shostakovich gives us what seems to be a true military march and perhaps the final triumph, but that two disappears into a childlike “nyah nyah” moment.
LC: Is there something in this work – a message, an emotional resonance maybe – that you hope send listeners home with?
YS: Perhaps Shostakovich was trying to point out the folly of war, perhaps he was just sticking it to the authorities… I think the message is clear from Shostakovich. He stayed true to his artistic integrity regardless of what was expected of him from an authority he didn’t believe in. It is important for all of us, even when faced with tremendous calamities, to remember that we have our own voices.
LC: Have you ever conducted the GVO before? If so, you’re in for a treat…
YS: Yes, I have. I was their assistant conductor when I lived in New York. I got to work with them a lot in rehearsal and conducted several pieces in performance. The last time I conducted them was Saint-Saens’ The Carnival of the Animals, and Barbara Yahr played the piano part.
LC: Any other questions I should be asking?
YS: I met my wife through the GVO. She was playing flute and piccolo in the orchestra as a grad student, and I was called to sub for Barbara for a rehearsal. Joanna and I hit it off and started dating a few weeks later. I ended up becoming the assistant conductor of the orchestra, she ended up serving on the board, and we are about to celebrate our two-year anniversary!
by Serene Angelique Williams
I took my two-year-old daughter to the Greenwich Village Orchestra’s Annual Family Concert this weekend, apprehensively not knowing if she would be able to make it through her first experience seeing a symphony orchestra without some sort of embarrassing meltdown. I had nothing to worry about. It was the perfect way to break her in to the glory of live music, and Barbara Yahr, the GVO’s music director and conductor, knows just how to appeal to young minds. Everything was geared to making the concert experience enjoyable for young people in a fun, non-stifling environment. The orchestra is tight, professional and technically brilliant, and the show, which consisted mostly of Christmas music, was a lively and well-executed medley of familiar selections from Tchikovsky’s “Nutcracker” along with works by Edvard Grieg, Aaron Copland, and no less than 12 variations on Mozart’s “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” The auditorium at Washington Irving High School is gorgeous, and there was plenty of room for everyone to spread out. The kids were encouraged to participate with each piece by dancing, clapping, and even were invited to sit on stage with the musicians. I loved hearing these pieces live, and it was thrilling not to be stressed out and worried about my child misbehaving, or causing disruptions. To my surprise and overwhelming joy, she responded to everything enthusiastically, and there was not one moment when she seemed to lose interest.
After the show, there was a holiday party with many tasty goodies: plenty of wine for the adults, seltzer and cider for the kiddies. There was also an “instrument petting zoo” where the children were welcome to try out all of the instruments with very patient and encouraging instructors. I was amazed when my little one decided to try out the violin, and in less than 15 minutes, she had not only learned how to properly hold the child-size instrument, she was already beginning to play! The afternoon was well worth the $10 per family admission price, and I can’t wait to do it again. Next year I’ll be sure to bring along more friends, ones with or without kids. Everyone can enjoy this show, but it’s a particularly fine way to introduce very young people to the unadulterated joys of playing music, and the wonderfully varied world of instruments, with first-rate musicians and instructors.
Monday night at the popular upper westside Music Mondays series, one of the organizers remarked that sometimes chamber music ensembles from outside this country aren’t as well-known here as they deserve to be. The reverse is also true – and that’s too bad. This particular series devotes itself to community concerts by world-class performers, and Trio Con Brio Copenhagen definitely delivered. There’s an easy explanation for much of this group’s warm chemistry and singleminded approach to the music: violinist Soo-Jin Hong and cellist Soo-kyung Hong are sisters. Rounding out the group, Danish pianist Jens Elvekjaer played with an uncluttered fluidity, sometimes ecstatic, sometimes chillingly dark.
The three pieces on the bill were arranged generously so that each group member could shine. They opened with Haydn’s “Gypsy” Trio in G Major. It’s a ceaselessly pleasant, chipper work, one of Haydn’s literally hundreds like it: a couple of waltz themes, variations and call-and-response and a rondo at the end that gave Elvekjaer a chance to air out his chops with a brief but memorable series of powerhouse, articulated runs. Their next piece, Ravel’s Piano Trio in A Minor was transcendent, moodwise completely the opposite of the breeziness that preceded it. Elkvekjaer launched into its spacious, murkily minimalism with a visceral sense of dread, Frankenstein walking on eggshells. An apprehensive, somewhat manic flurry of strings was the first of many moments for the cellist to dig in and match the piano’s ambience goosebump for goosebump. Even the more lively second movement was only a respite from the distant, quietly resounding low-register motifs that took it down and out with a white-knuckle intensity. Has this group recorded this? They ought to.
They closed with a warmly rippling take on Tschaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A Minor, Op. 50, a showcase this time for the violin, which gets a few solo passages to build suspense or shift the mood in one way or another, and made the most of all of them. It’s classic Tschaikovsky: wounded angst peering out from behind the comfortable, nocturnal swells, a somewhat sad, courtly dance and a conclusion marked “lugubre.” This particular version wasn’t lugubrious, though – it was downright haunting, even though the composer almost completely sidesteps brooding minor-key Russian tones in favor of more comfortable central European colors. Music Mondays’ next concert is November 7 at 7:30 PM at Advent/Broadway Church, 2504 Broadway at 93rd St., featuring the reliably adventurous Miro Quartet.
Composers have been writing for their favorite performers and ensembles for centuries. Lisa Bielawa wrote much of the music on her lavish new double cd In Medias Res specifically for the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Directed by Gil Rose, they return the gesture with a sweeping, potently attuned performance that does justice to the poignancy, and intensity, and playfulness of the four integral works and suite here. For lack of a better word, this is a deep album, a milestone in the career of a composer who deserves to be ranked as one of this era’s most powerful and compelling. It couldn’t have come at a better moment. It’s a lot more than Bielawa arriving in a cloud of dust to rescue the world of “indie classical” from the simpering, infantile whimsy that’s seeped in from the indie rock demimonde, but that’s part of the deal. Or at least we can hope so.
The first piece here is Roam, dating from 2001, on a theme of exile inspired by Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. It’s a marvelously suspenseful, ambient piece worthy of Tschaikovsky or Bernard Herrmann. A tone poem with unexpected and extremely effective digressions, it works the subtlest dynamics and a chromatic tug-of-war in lieu of any kind of overt consonance, crescendos rising slowly out of slow, plaintive tectonic shifts, wary and absolutely desolate in places. Bielawa wrote her Double Violin Concerto specifically for the solists here: Carla Kihlstedt, who sings an English translation from Faust (along the lines of “let’s get the hell out of here and find some peace”) while playing, and Brooklyn Rider’s Colin Jacobsen. It’s another quiet stunner, plaintive with a vivid sense of longing, shades of Henryk Gorecki. Rapt, quiet, simple motifs diverge and converge austerely in the first movement. The second literally revolves around creepily circling violins as Kihlstedt channels Goethe in a soaring, unadorned high soprano; the third, inspired by the Lamentations of Jeremiah mixes suspenseful horizontality with a distantly Indian melody, which Jacobsen makes the most of, in the same vein of his work on Brooklyn Rider’s delicious new double cd of Philip Glass string quartets. The dance at the end becomes a danse macabre as the two violins close in on each other.
A cantata of sorts, Unfinish’d, was inspired by Shakespeare’s Richard II and his winter of discontent made summer. It packs a wallop in just short of nine minutes, austere and then blustery, and then suddenly down to a chilly expanse, Bielawa’s crystal-cutter soprano leading the way back to a breathless coda. In Medias Res, her concerto for orchestra, is a cinematic tour de force, swooping out of tune, building suspense with locomotive force, a creepily recurring waltz, starlit ambience straight out of the Gustav Holst playbook and a long, apprehensive, deeply satisfying crescendo out.
The second cd , titled Synopses, is a a series of miniatures and extended solo pieces for individual orchestra members. Some of these are actual motifs from In Medias Res; others foreshadow it, others seemingly allow for improvisation (particularly from trumpeter Terry Everson, who tackles it joyously). The most amusing piece is for drums and spoken word, done by Robert Schultz, whose accents are spot-on, but who could have used a voice like Kihlstedt’s or Bielawa’s to deliver a series of disturbingly or entertainingly allusive comments overheard on the street. All together, these pieces demand repeated listening. It was tempting to add this to our ongoing countdown of the thousand best albums of all time. We resisted. That might have been a mistake. Bielawa and an ensemble are playing several of the Synopses with choreography at New York City Center on 56th St. tomorrow, April 16th at 7:30 PM.
Where the hell was everyone? Symphony Space’s annual “wall to wall” concert marathons vary widely from the transcendent to the absurd, but the last couple of years have been solidly in the former camp, and a view of the afternoon portion of Saturday’s reaffirmed its potential for transcendence. This year’s theme tied into the Young Concert Artists mentoring system, with both graduates of the program, up-and-coming performers and mentors delivering some sensational performances. We missed the hour of Bach that began at the cruel hour of eleven in the morning: due to the demands of his day job, Bach may have become a morning person, but this generation of musicians are not. By half past noon, the shlep up to 96th St. looked like a good choice. And where were the locals? Usually, by noon, these marathons are impossible to get into. Was it the swirling winds, foreshadowing a future tornado along Broadway? It certainly wasn’t a lack of starpower. Among the performers hastily gathered for this marathon: pianists Emanuel Ax and Jeremy Denk, the Borromeo and Jasper String Quartets.
At half past noon, violinist Juliette Kang and cellist Efe Baltacigil were wrapping up a closely attentive, intense version of Kodaly’s Duo for Violin and Cello. Denk was supposed to play Bach but reverted to a piece he said he knew well, enjoyed and played recently, a Gyorgy Ligeti suite, which proved irresistibly powerful, from its uninhibited crashing and banging in the first movement, to hypnotic, circular 20th century ambience to a reversion to fiery atonal staccato. It’s a rigorously intense, richly arrranged and practically impossible work to do as fast as he did it, but Denk made it seem if he’d grown up with it.
A Schubert hour saw Emmanuel Ax deliver a confidently rippling Impromptu followed by the Trout Quintet played with inspired intensity by a succession of pianists along with violinist Benny Kim, violist Barry Shiffman, cellist Robert Martin and bassist DaXun Zhang. Then it was time for a break for the world’s best garlic knots (La Famiglia Pizza, 96th and Amsterdam, serves them with barely cooked, crushed garlic, a healing ritual for anyone who dares ingest them). And after that, was the space sold out? No. Easy come, easy go. Was it the tornado-like gusts outside? The lack of global warming temperatures? What is up with you guys? Oh, did we mention, the show was free?
The 2 PM hour concluded with Tschaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, by a talented pickup band, and then a hypnotic, lush, otherworldly hour of Chopin played by a succession of Young Concert Artists players: Wendy Chen, Sergei Edelman and others (the program didn’t gibe with the parade of musicians onstage).