Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Entertaining, Energetic Mix of Rarities by Black Composers From Over the Years

Violinist Randall Goosby’s new album Roots, streaming at Spotify, is a fascinating, revealing and entertaining collection of music by black composers plus a couple of ringers whose most famous works were enriched by the influence of 19th and early 20th century black American music. Goosby and his inspired collaborators shift energetically through a wide expanse of styles, from rustic oldtime string band sounds, to thorny 20th century composition and a wealth of edgy blues.

He opens with Xavier Foley‘s Shelter Island, a new duo work where he’s joined by the bassist-composer in a leaping feast of minor-key blues and gospel riffage. It validates the argument that guys on the low end of the four strings are ideally suited to write for their fellow players further up the scale.

Next on the bill is Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s bracing triptych Blues Forms For Solo Violin. It’s a Schoenbergian series of short variations on blues phrases, with a lingering, aching close-harmonied midsection and a coda that reaches toward oldtime gospel jubilation. The composer was an interesting guy, a jazz musician who toward the end of his career paid the bills by writing far more pedestrian charts for 1960s top 40 hitmakers.

On the better-known side, Gershwin – one of the original white bluesmen – is represented by four short numbers from Porgy and Bess. Pianist Zhu Wang joins Goosby in an elegantly ornamented, more than distantly troubled new arrangement of Summertime. Likewise, the two infuse A Woman Is a Sometime Thing with a stark ragtime energy.

Their incisive, tango-like strut and bluesy ornamentation in It Ain’t Necessarily So add a playfully devious edge. And they raise Bess You Is My Woman Now to a confidently restrained triumph.

Goosby brings Wang back for William Grant Still’s three-part Suite for Violin and Piano, beginning with the African Dance, whose shifting blues riffage and deliciously hard-charging conclusion make it a mini-suite in itself. Part two, Mother and Child rises fascinatingly from a lingering somberness to an assertive, Asian-tinged pentatonic theme and then a similarly triumphant ending. The two shuffle and flurry through Garmin, the jaunty conclusion.

The duo continue with three pieces by Florence Price. Adoration is a spare, rapt love ballad. Goosby gets to revel in the sharp-fanged cadenzas and resonant gospel lulls in her Fantasie No. 1 in G minor as Wang mashes up the blues with High Romantic phantasmagoria. The Fantasie No. 2 in F# minor starts as a more starkly pensive take on the same blend – blues melody, big Romantic chords and flourishes – and grows more lively.

Goosby and Wang play Maud Powell’s arrangement of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Deep River, leaping from gospel reverence to one of the composer’s signature sizzling crescendos. In many ways, the black British composer – who was a star conductor during his late 19th century heyday – was Dvorak in reverse. Where Dvorak brought Eastern Europe to the blues, Coleridge-Taylor did the opposite, with considerably wilder results.

The choice of Dvorak’s Sonatina in G major as a conclusion subtly brings the album full circle. It’s closer to courtly late Habsburg Empire music than 19th century spirituals, but the connection is still vivid, especially in the plaintive, wistful cadences and contrasting camp-meeting liveliness of the second movement. The two musicians bring an anthemic, occasionally coyly romping sensibility to the opening allegro, linger in the occasional moment of hazy unease in the scherzo and build folksy flair in the coda.

Much as it’s a great thing that music by neglected black composers is making a huge comeback, we need to make sure that this movement doesn’t get hijacked by the fascists who devised critical race theory as a smokescreen for the New Abnormal. One suspects that Goosby would heartily endorse that dedication to the cause.

December 28, 2021 Posted by | blues music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Radical, Riveting Reinventions of Old Classics by New Talent: Xavier Foley and Kelly Lin at the Morgan Library

Anyone who might think that the Morgan Library wouldn’t necessarily be home to the most thrilling, cutting-edge music around wasn’t there earlier today for bassist Xavier Foley and pianist Kelly Lin’s exhilarating, genuinely radical performance. The two took all kinds of chances in a daring series of reinventions, in addition to a fascinating mini-suite by the bassist himself – and most of them worked.

To call the show hubristic doesn’t do justice to the pair’s achievement: in some classical circles, some still consider it hubris to play Bach on the piano instead of the harpsichord or the organ. And beyond late Beethoven, classical music that makes strenuous demands of the bass tends to be rare. Foley seems fixated on making his axe as important a solo instrument, as, say, the violin, and it’s about time somebody did.

The two opened with Foley’s reinvention of Mozart’s Violin Sonata in E Minor. Transposing the violin part to a range comparable to a cello’s enhanced the almost Russian moodiness in the opening Allegro; one doesn’t usually speak of a bassist as having exceptionally nuanced vibrato, but Foley does, and used it masterfully. Lin, playing background that doesn’t give an artist much opportunity to display much personality, made the most of it with a steady, similarly nuanced attack, seamlessly playing Mozart’s ornamentation as glittering sixteenth notes.

Foley’s vast range, utilizing every bit of the bass’s actually vast sonic capability, came into jaunty focus throughout a playful take of Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, D 821. From the sly, faux-Romany dance they opened with, through often deviously fugal counterpoint, it made a very smart pairing with the Mozart. A lot of the exchanges between instruments are very funny, the duo playing their cards close to the vest for the most part…and then Foley accidentally took an extra repeat! Lin knew in a split-second what had happened and stayed perfectly in sync as the two wound it out, with an emphatic burst of a bass chord to cap it off.

Excerpts from Foley’s own Star Sonata, which he wrote in 2016 at age 22, made for even more agile interplay between piano and bass, from sudden, minimalist syncopation, through a jazz-tinged, solo series of bass cascades and climbs that seemed completely improvised, to rapidfire, baroque-tinged bowed phrases from the wispiest highs to pitchblende lows.

The two closed with Gliere’s Intermezzo and Tarantella, a miniature that brought all the previous idioms full circle with some breathtaking phantasmagoria. The crowd went wild. This was it for this spring’s Young Concert Artists series at the Morgan, although the museum has plenty of chamber music continuing into the summer.

April 10, 2019 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Slavic Surrealism, Somber Strauss and Bittersweet Beethoven at Lincoln Center

This past evening the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center staged a program on themes of endings and goodbyes. In various configurations, eight musicians contributed to a final work in a specific genre, an elegy, and what could have been a fervent wave goodbye to a composer’s beloved home turf. Each was performed in unusually high-definition, sometimes revelatory detail. What appeared to be a sold-out crowd agreed that braving late-winter bluster for a show like this was infinitely more rewarding than snuggling with a handful of favorite records (or with youtube).

Pianist Gilbert Kalish and violinist Bella Hristova opened the night with a remarkably straightforward take of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 10. It seemed just a hair slow. That turned out to be a wise choice, considering that other musicians often romp through the whole thing since the piano part does not require typical Beethovenesque virtuosity (the duke who commissioned it also played the premiere). Likewise, Hristova held back on the vibrato until the hymnal second movement was underway: the effect turned what could have been sentimentality into genuine bittersweetness. Constant exchanges between piano lefthand and violin were coyly amusing, in contrast to the first hint of an ending in the third movement, which Kalish imbued with a distantly desperate quality, raising the ante with sudden extra vigor.

The centerpiece was an absolutely shattering performance of Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen, arguably the saddest tone poem ever written. Violinist Arnaud Sussmann, violists Mark Holloway and Richard O’Neil, cellists Dmitri Atapine and David Requiro, and bassist Xavier Foley joined Hristova to build a relentless, aching, meticulous interweave that finally came full circle, fueled by the cellos’ plaintive angst. Here as elsewhere, the septet’s attention to minutiae was such that Strauss’ cell-like permutations echoed Bach as much as they foreshadowed Philip Glass. At the end, the audience sat in stunned silence for what felt like a full thirty seconds before breaking into applause.

Dynamics bristled and sparkled throughout the night’s coda, Dvorak’s Trio in E Minor for Piano, Violin and Cello, best known as the Dumky. Joined by Sussmann and Requiro, Kalish seemed to revel in the suite’s almost gleeful phantasmagoria. The savagery in how the composer takes an initial, cloying dance theme and then twists it through a funhouse mirror had a magnetic effect on the trio, especially when Kalish decided to pick up the pace. The numerous contrasts, particularly a silken ending to the adagio second movement, were striking and unselfconsciously poignant…or just plain funny. Sussmann and Requiro approached their solo spots with a straightforwardness that matched the Beethoven. It wouldn’t be fair to call the ending diabolical, but it was close, a devilishly good time. Glistening with Slavic chromatics, if this was a goodbye, it could have been a salute to everything Dvorak loved about his home country…and also quite possibly a snide dismissal of everything he didn’t.

February 26, 2019 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saluting One of New York’s Great Music Advocacy Organizations at Lincoln Center Last Night

Every generation tends to view successive ones as being more and more effete. That preconception becomes all the harder to argue with in an age where daily life for so much of the population is becoming more and more virtual and less and less real. Why drag yourself to Manhattan at rush hour to immerse yourself in a sublime and intimate performance when you could get a virtual equivalent on Facebook Live? 

So to see a packed house for the annual Young Concert Artists gala at  Alice Tully Hall last night was a shot of serious optimism. Does the continued success of an organization whose raison d’etre is to champion and springboard the careers of young classical musicians portend a sea change, maybe? A slow tidal shift? Or does that simply reaffirm the eternal appeal of great art? All of the above, maybe?

The concert itself was great fun, a display of ferocious chops, and intuition, and joie de vivre, played to an audience reflecting the relative youth of most of the performers. The prospect of being able to see pianists Lise de la Salle amd Anne-Marie McDermott. violinists Ani Kafavian and Juliette Kang, bassist Xavier Foley. harpist Emmanuel Ceysson and the Zora String Quartet alongside veteran flutist Paula Robison and cello icon Fred Sherry – just to name a handful of the 23 former and current YCA roster members – together onstage is less likely than it might seem. Each has a busy solo, orchestral and chamber music career.

If pageantry could be genunely profound, it would be the version of Tschaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings played by YCA’s conductorless fifteen-piece all-star ensemble. With unbridled, fluttery joy balanced by more direct intonation and clear, uncluttered dynamic shifts, the group reveled in its balletesque riffs, drawing a straight line back to Mozart.

Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, backed by McDermott and the Zora String Quartet, followed a similarly straightforward trajectory from plaintiveness to a blaze of five-alarm drama in Ernest Chausson’s Chanson Perpetuelle. That vigorous sensibility took a turn in a more upbeat, triumphantly lilting direction with Ravel’s Introduction and  Allegro, played by a septet including Sherry, Kang, Robinson and  Ceysson along with violinist Paul Huang, violist Toby Appel and clarinetist Narek Arutyunian.

The program closed with a mashup of Scott Joplin, Liszt and John Philip Sousa arranged for piano eight hands, performed by de la Salle and McDermott with Gleb Ivanov and Yun-Chin Zhou. As completely over-the-top as the concept was, careening from one idiom to another with zero regard for segues, there’s no denying how much fun the four musicians were having while simply trying to maintain a semblance of tightness. Which testifies to the kind of outside-the-box thinking that might or might not be putting more and more young people in the seats. That question continues to bedevil everyone in the concert business these days – and it’s inspiring to see YCA coming up with some answers that are obviously working.

May 2, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment