Upon entering Ursula Oppens’ modestly furnished, yet comfortable Upper West Side apartment with a view of the pedigreed patina of the historistic cupola belonging to Columbia University’s campus building, one is immediately taken by the vibrant aura that surrounds the eminent musician.
The personable pianist speaks softly, yet animatedly, in a welcoming way; her reputation is linked to an astonishingly vast array of distinguished contemporary composers, some of whose prominent works were dedicated to Oppens. Unsurprisingly, Oppens has in turn become one of their most incisive promoters.
photo credit: Ilona Oltuski – GetClassical
Oppens was recently celebrated by her long standing fans on the occasion of her 70th Birthday with a concert at Symphony Space. The show was a collaborative project by several of her students: Winston Choi, Ran Dank, Soyean Kate Lee, and Anthony Molinaro, honoring her work and legacy. Oppens’ pianistic career has been particularly impacted by her collaboration with the legendary American composer Elliot Carter, who remains a tremendous source of inspiration for her.
“One summer I came to Marlboro, nervous, young and easily impressionable. I had not had formal music lessons during college, but there I was. Carter was visiting that summer, and they spontaneously decided to play some of his music. There was little time to prepare and I ended up volunteering. I had heard his music before in Aspen, and also had heard him speak about it. I remember when I started reading through the score for the first time, and practice for its performance, I had played a wrong note, intuitively sensing its wrongness. There was a very strong sense of understanding the text and its coherence, and I discovered a very important relationship,” explains Oppens.
The performance of his Sonata for flute, oboe, cello, and harpsichord that she had prepared for went well. When Oppens experienced a similar situation with Carter’s double concerto at Tanglewood, it was clear to her that this was meant to be an ongoing relationship: “the rest is history,” says Oppens, as she describes working with the sophisticated composer. Carter’s masterpiece Night Fantasies was co-commissioned and funded by Oppens. photo: Ursula Oppens with Elliot Carter, A.Addey
“He always was extremely kind, but insisted firmly on all the expressive indications of the phrasing and on what stands out,” she explains, “I always felt a bit tongue-tied in his presence, admiring his enormous command of languages and memory but most of all his gregarious personality: To me he represented the ideal of the educated creator, and I love teaching his music to my students, giving on his legacy.” Oppens’ success with her students at CUNY’s Graduate Center and the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College , where she holds teaching positions as Distinguished Professor of Music, brings her great personal joy, as well as the satisfaction of continuing the modernist tradition, some of which had started out in her own hands.
“I am very lucky that there are a number of wonderful pieces that have been written for me,” she says, while she shows me an old membership card to the ‘International Society for Contemporary Music’ that had belonged to her father, Kurt Oppens. “The society is still functioning today, and I guess part of my interest in contemporary music is simply inherited from both my parents.” Oppens’ parents were both part of the music world “and great modernist enthusiasts,” she says. She herself, a Radcliffe graduate, spent a lot of her time at the society. Radcliffe did not have its own music performance or composition department at the time, and it was at the society where she forged relationships with other musicians, some of whom she still considers close friends. Only after attending Juilliard, and studying under reputed pedagogue Rosina Lhévinne, did Oppens actively seek out a pianist’s career, which included some partaking in the competition-cycle; she became a first prize winner at the Busoni competition, and a recipient of the Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1976.
Over many years, Oppens gained an unparalleled reputation for her access and attention to music that was challenging, by composers like Milton Babbitt, Pierre Boulez, and Charles Wuorinen. She has gained four Grammy nominations for her recordings of both romantic and contemporary repertoire. The widely praised album Winging It: Piano Music of John Corigliano, released in 2011 on Cedille Records, put her up for her latest nomination to date for “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” in 2012/13.
photo: courtesy of Hemsing Associates
“When you are with musician-friends, you want to make music together,” which is something she appreciates in her ongoing partnership with the distinguished pianist and Juilliard professor Jerome Lowenthal: “we play four-hands repertoire all the time together, and never run out of things to talk about.” One of the results of their intimate pianistic exchange is captured on their recent two-piano CD on Cedille Records, devoted to Visions d’Amen of Olivier Messiaen, and Debussy’s En blanc et noir.
Previously Oppens had been married to the late composer and avantgarde jazz- saxophonist Julius Hemphill, whom she had met on a 1983 New York States Council of the Arts tour.
In a musician’s life, befriending other musicians often forges the path to a career. Some of the first composers Oppens met at the International Society, and approached for works she could perform, were Peter Lieberson and Tobias Picker. Not long thereafter, a grant from YCA, which supported the young pianist, allowed Oppens to receive a new commission by the Washington Performance Art Society in the form of a work written for her by Frederic Rzewski, who now resides in Brussels (only a phone call away, says Oppens): “I did not expect an hour long piece, and did not know what the public’s reaction would be- for all I knew, they could have booed,” but The People United Will Never Be Defeated became one of the cornerstone works she became renowned for in her long lasting, and still active career.
“I was always willing to take chances, and was curious about works I had not heard before,” says Oppens, who spent many of her formative summers backstage at the Aspen Music Festival. This credo remains at the essence of who she is, a free spirit. Oppens also appreciates performing on occasions that demonstrate her humanistic and democratic worldview. A riveting experience for her was partaking at the 37th.anniversary of Portugal’s Carnation Revolution in Lisbon , on April of 2011, commemorating the overthrow of the authoritarian Estado Novo regime. She performed the Portugese national anthem as part of her performance of Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Defeat, at the highly emotionally charged celebration of national liberation.
In 1971, Oppens co-founded Speculum Musicae, a new music chamber group, with some of her closest friends and associates including cellist Fred Sherry, percussionist Richard Fritz, and oboist Joel Marangella. “Rolf Schulte and Virgil Black were also members,” says Oppens, “it was such an exciting time. Like now, many groups were formed by students who did not need to gain approval by the conservative institutions. There was a lot of support available and new venues to perform opened up.”
“One of the main aspects of our particular group was Elliot Carter. He held us together, and is one of the reasons we are still working together closely,” she says. “We all loved his music; his passion connected us, and his kindness towards us kept our friendships intact, even long after we went our own ways.”
The New York Times praised her recent performance at a Carter tribute concert in 2013, which captured the “fevered anxiety and poetic reverie” of Carter’s Night Fantasies, written for her, with an “unfailing sense of drama and almost cinematic color.”
While Carter holds a special place in Oppens’ heart and performance career, from about 1975 onwards, she furiously championed an array of different composers. Their collective conglomerate reads like an encyclopedic list of the contemporary idiom and includes composers as varied as John Adams, Julius Hemphill, Frederic Rzewski, Conlon Nancarrow, John Corigliano, John Harbison, William Bolcom, Anthony Braxton, Tania Léon, Tobias Picker, and Charles Wuorinen.
She has also excelled in performances of works by European modernist masters like Luciano Berio, Gyorgy Ligeti, and Witold Lutoslawski. But as she says modestly: “I can only learn so and so much new music, before every concert, every recording, I am just thinking of the next note.” Next to her recordings and recitals of many of the works of her contemporaries, she equally loves the traditional, classical repertoire, which she also practices every day.
“I feel the necessity to play and practice both, tonal and atonal music. You have to stay open-minded, going to the notation as if you have never heard it before, which is also very important for performing older music. But it is new music that has made me love the translation from the notation to the sound.” She offers the following piece of advice to students: “You cannot un-hear a piece of music you have listened to on a recording, that’s why I suggest listening to more than one, to see a range of possibilities of interpretations. It’s very much about the human factor and the surprise of the outcome, the ambiguity of transition.”
One of Oppens’ interesting projects, which she began a while back, is the collaboration with pianist Bruce Brubaker in a compilation of Meredith Monk’s works for solo piano and piano-duo, titled: Piano Songs; the CD will be released on the ECM label in May of 2014. This will coincide with Meredith Monk’s composing residency at Carnegie Hall, during the 2014/15 season.
”Bruce and I knew each other from Juilliard, and he performed a lot of some of the same composers’ work, I had too, but we had never performed together until we were brought together by Meredith’s music, performing in a celebratory concert of the composer at Zankel Hall, in 2005. A lot of the energy to make this recording happen came from Bruce; we kept adding on pieces until we had a complete disc. We gave a concert in Boston and then recorded at the exquisite Jordan Hall, at the New England Conservatory, where Bruce is the chair of the piano department,” she explains.
“Some of the pieces started out as scores for voices, or voices and other instruments, and transporting these into another world gives us all the wonderful opportunity of hearing the music afresh,” says Brubaker in the disc’s liner notes. “The pieces are based on works from 1971 to 2006.”
“Meredith Monk’s music is extremely interesting,” adds Oppens, “because it seems to come from simple parts, but becomes very intricate – I would kind of compare it to Mozart, in that you think the recapitulation of his sonatas are just like the exposition, except for the key signature; but then you notice all the subtle differences; it has a perfect balance, but it keeps on changing, going forward,” she says. Brubaker also comments on the “intriguing balance” in Monk’s piano music, “between simplicity and a kind of music you’ve never really heard before.” On writing for two pianos, the composer notes: “I delved into different relationships and the possibilities between them…In some pieces, I emphasized the individuality of each piano, writing for one player as the ‘singer,’ the other as the ‘accompaniment;’ in other pieces, I wanted the two pianos to make one large sound.”
In November of 2014, Brubaker and Oppens will perform a program drawn from Monk’s Piano Songs at LePoisson Rouge.
“During the last few years, I have been doing more recordings than expected,” says Oppens, “it may have to do with my age: You feel like you need to recapitulate pieces that you learned over a long period, and there is definetly something to be said about wanting to summarize things.”
Upcoming projects for the 2014/ 2015 season will include a Bernard Rands disc in the fall, a William Bolcom recording for Naxos, and a re-recording project of The People Reunited , complete with an improvised cadenza by Oppens.
Ilona Oltuski – GetClassical
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Since (Le) Poisson Rouge, (LPR) opened in 2008; the venue has established itself as a sure ticket to an unconventional concert experience. LPR’s motto, “serving art and alcohol,” gives some idea of its free-spirited approach.
Now, with the launch of its own ensemble, LPR has further expanded the venue’s ventures into unchartered, artistic territory. David Handler, LPR’s co-founder and the ensemble’s artistic director, initiated the establishment of the ensemble as a natural outgrowth of LPR’s curatorial identity. He collaborated with Ronen Givony, co-director of Le Poisson Rouge’s mission and creator of the multi-genre “Wordless Music“line up.
“LPR was always about creating community, cultivating camaraderie among musicians, and encouraging freedom of expression through atypical programs,” says Handler, a composer and violinist/violist, as he describes the core vision for LPR that he and co-founder Justin Kantor, a cellist, had during their student years at the Manhattan School of Music. Handler and Kantor, with Givony’s assistance, were effectively shaping the experimental curating scenery then in demand by a host of diverse audiences. LPR succeeded in providing what audiences were missing by tapping into a broad cultural craving for accessible presentations, a platform on which Ensemble LPR can build with high expectations.
“It’s a very exciting moment for us,” shares Handler. “We feel privileged and take very seriously the trust of our listeners in our ability to create an innovative merger of programming,” he maintains, “And with the ensemble, we continue to manifest and express ourselves artistically by making our own choices as a group. For us that means playing anything from Baroque to today’s music, rigorously, at the highest level, and with peerless guest artists – collaborating with classical and non-classical artists who have something interesting to express.”
The ensemble will follow the principal concept of LPR’s expanding artistic alliances without compromising high-performance standards or intriguing repertoire. The secret ingredients of this model have attracted new audiences and high-caliber artists within the classical and non-classical music scene alike, shifting people’s notion of what belongs on the concert stage and how that stage should project onto its audience.
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Photo credit: J. Henry Fair
As part of this year’s Golandsky Institute’s Summer Symposium and International Piano Festival at Princeton, violinist/violist Miranda Cuckson appeared on stage with pianist Yegor shevtsov at the lecture of eminent composer, princeton’s own Steven Mackey, and the evening’s concert performance.
Although the method is in its origins is designed to cater to pianists, the Symposium has recently succeeded in its efforts to expand the use of the principles of the Taubman Approach,to other instruments. Thanks to the active engagement of faculty member, British violinist Sophie Till, in cooperation with the Institute’s co-founder and artistic director Edna Golandsky, the approach has been innovatively implemented for violinists.
While the festival focuses predominantly on traditional classical performance and repertoire, Edna Golandsky presents a strong Jazz section, featuring this year’s performers from the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, under the artistic direction of Danilo Perez, as well as some new music from contemporary composers; Golandsky, an open-minded musician, stands behind the inclusiveness of her programming choices. The main emphasis is on excellence in performance, no matter the musical genre. Miranda Cuckson’s participation combines all of these qualities, in a particularly remarkable way. Her ability to perform the traditional repertoire on violin is quite convincing, and with great splendor, Cuckson manages to connect to the audience effortlessly with her virtuosic presentation of the Sonata for Violin and Piano written by Steven Mackey in 1996. Read the rest of this entry »
“I am not a cheerleader,” Auerbach says in our meeting, the day after The Blind premiered on July 9th as part of Lincoln Center Festival. (until July 14th)“I am not trying to please anybody, which, by the way should not be the goal of any artistic endeavor. Yet, art should give you something you have not yet experienced in the same way and you want to be changed by that experience.” Despite Auerbach’s artistic intentions, critical voices have emerged which attack the political correctness of the core metaphor of The Blind, giving rise to a debate about a symbol largely removed from the context of the work. I ask her, “Why the blindfold? Why the potentially sensational effect?” She explains: “I am not about shocking; The Blind is not a gimmick, but aims to fulfill to Maeterlinck’s (the playwright) call for a symbolist breaking of barriers, and attempts to provide a deep psychological understanding. It also pertains to a religious, meditative state of being, which entails a certain unearthing experience of disorientation, facilitated by the absence of the visual element. The Blind brings the audience away from the material state, exploring mental communication with the music’s ritualistic elements, and hopefully lets the audience come away with an individual learning experience that will stay with them, potentially changing who they are.” Directed by John La Bouchardière, the New York production of the work, which Auerbach for lack of a more precise description refers to as “a cappella opera,” has omitted the traditional stage setting used in the 2011 Berlin Konzerthaus and Moscow Stanislavsky Theatre productions of her score and libretto.
This new, innovative production takes The Blind a step further, eliminating the darkened stage of former productions in favor of the extremely isolating effect of blindfolding the audience; this theatrical method addresses our extreme reliance on visual effects, and aims to challenge the audience’s capacity for hearing, listening, smelling, and feeling temperature, thus evoking a heightened sensory and emotional experience. “Part of Maeterlinck’s conception is a distinct religious connotation, and includes elements of randomness, which, in this production led also to the separate placing of women and men,” says Auerbach, and adding that the experience of the piece also differs slightly for each participant, depending where they are seated. “Every staging demands different elements; in this particular one, timing and positioning was essential to the flow and the individual impression of each audience member.” The physical experience of The Blind’s staging is truly unique, and remarkably executed. Read the rest of this entry »
To fulfill her mission: “Making contemporary music more approachable for everyone,” Turkish Pianist/Composer Seda Röder, has tapped into internationally seismic changes of accessible entrepreneurship in the arts.
Röder brings her boundless energy and entrepreneurial instincts to all of her endeavors in her native Istanbul, Europe, and the US, giving lectures, recitals, and performance collaborations while building an interactive platform for contemporary musicians from Turkey. Her website: “Listening to Istanbul” shares its title of her 2010 CD, which pioneers piano compositions of Röder and six other contemporary composers from Istanbul, commissioned and performed by Röder herself.
Röder’s album cover quotes: “I am listening to Istanbul, intent, with my eyes closed.” This is how Orhan Veli, the great Turkish poet of the 20th century, began his most celebrated poem about Istanbul…Seda Röder listens to Istanbul once more, intently, with open ears and eyes for an emerging new era. What she hears in 2010 while the city bears the title of the ‘Cultural Capital of Europe,’ are captivating and exciting sounds of a new generation of Turkish composers. Filled with energy and innovative creative force, their music represents the vivid and quickly changing atmosphere that the melting pot of Turkey radiates into the world.”
As she shares with me, Röder considers her commitment to creating a democratic and enlightened society in Turkey, between Orient and Occident, being subtle rather than overtly political. Even though she writes a column for the Turkish Art and Music journal, “Neo Filarmonie,” engaging in themes related to national and international art politics, the content that she writes is mostly about new music programs, deficits of new music in festivals, and the support of contemporary composers today. While Röder’s website, which features biographies, CDs, an international concert schedule, and general information about composers active at the Bosporus, is supported from money arriving from Istanbul (ISGYO – Istanbul Real Estate Investment Trust), the Harvard Associate in her explores her expertise as lecturer, in her podcast series, Blackbox, on iTunes..
Röder’s original ambition was to engage within the whole world of music, whether she accomplished this by graduating from the Salzburg Mozarteum’s performance exams with distinction, intensively working with Brahms specialist Gerhad Oppitz at the Musik Hochschule in Munich, exploring the principles of performance practice of orchestral music, or working with period instruments.
Bridging cultures has become second nature for the proponent of a new music scene in Istanbul, where she often performs and engages in music-related events. Just this past March, Röder was involved with a performance undertaken by the Austrian Culture Forum at the Austrian Consulate General in Yenikö.
In 2007 she arrived in Harvard via Salzburg, and researched piano music from Alban Berg and Arnold Schoenberg, leaving as an Associate before finding herself again back in Salzburg. Culture and music history in Austria are clearly formative for Röder’s style, as is evident by the repertoire she chose to record for her debut album; her first album’s content descends from Mozart to Berg, three composers who were all active in Vienna. Last year, Röder performed often in the US on both the East and West coast, but this year’s performances are more concentrated in Salzburg, and Röder will be back in Istanbul to celebrate the Austrian Cultural Forum’s 50th anniversary in May.
When it comes to familiarizing audiences with the differing language of 20th-21st century composition, Röder is thoroughly inventive. By presenting atypical work by different composers, including herself, Lei Lang, Beat Furrer, Morton Feldman, Helmut Lachenmann, and John Cage, she surprises her audiences with the realization that behind the “typically” shocking and outrageously avant-garde styles of these artists, there can also lay tame, even classical elements. For example, John Cage, who is famed for his jarring experimental compositions, can also produce romantic outputs like his “In a landscape,” which recalls a strong heritage of Debussy’s images. Röder’s programmatic choices bring into focus the idea that these composers made personal decisions to take their music in the direction that they became known for, and that vivid realization can change an audience’s perspective drastically.
Röder is an all-round musician who believes in the power of bringing together different art forms such as video, dance, and music. Her musical work draws upon a sonic vocabulary that consists of sounds produced with the help of electronic, as well as acoustic devices including e-bows, mallets, and metal coins used on the keys, strings, and body of the piano. I heard her showcase performance at Munich’s “Classical: Next” in the summer of 2012, which left me with the impression that she is a fine pianist, no matter what repertoire she chooses to perform. Additionally, directly after performing, she could be found talking personably about her performance, and her entire upcoming concert schedule.
In her recent co-production with SEAD, “Same room, same time – John & Merce,” Röder pays tribute to the sonic imagery of Cage. The piece is entitled “False Memory,” and it refers to the psychological phenomenon déjà vu, recalling an event that seems to be part of a larger-than-life memory, but may have never necessarily occurred in reality.
Röder was called a “master of contemporary piano art” by classical master Alfred Brendel, who was especially impressed by her dialogues with silence. Röder’s “Beethoven Now!” program saw her creating electro-acoustic cadenzas for Beethoven’s piano concertos in improvisation, and was a transcendent example of her iconic exploration of old and new.
Röder’s work Black and White, which will have its premiere at the Tirol Festival “Klangspuren” in September 2013, exemplifies her focus on the piano. As a composer, Röder searches for new definitions within piano repertoire both connected to Austria as a land of great piano tradition, and contextualized within the piano music of today’s composers. “The Austrian Sound of the Piano” is the sub-title of her Black and White Statements, an extravaganza in search of a new piano sound that focuses in on her world of the piano, and reminisces of twelve Austrian composers. These composers find themselves vis a vis an instrument of which language seems tragically to have said everything there is to say. The urgency and drama in Black and White is palpable, smothering the air with a threat; it is almost as if the piano must learn a new way to speak, or risk eternal silence. The program understands itself as an answer to previously unasked questions, a collective reduction of the piano’s essential qualities that aims to explore its essence anew.
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Brooklyn has become a meeting of the minds between music and entrepreneurship. One of the big new players is Paola Prestini, who was recently highlighted in The New Yorker. The young “composer-impresario,” whose current project is orchestrating Oceanic Verses for its European premiere at the Barbican with the BBC Symphony Orchestra this May, was recently named artistic director of Brooklyn’s forthcoming venue, Original Music Workshop.
The organization’s name is less original than its space, which consists of the old shell of a late 19th century brick sawdust factory, with what will be a completely redesigned 2200 square -foot interior; the unique Williamsburg space, still only in its conceptual state, is already being hailed as a creative stronghold where music will be produced, performed, and recorded.Catering to a vibrant artistic community, but also a large-scale potential audience, the space will double as social and creative hangout, connecting its clientele with grassroots musical innovation. While traditional venues seem to have lost much of the social connection that we associate with the arts, OMW targets a programmatic difference: It represents an approach aimed at unification of the arts, an idea established in the Gesamtkunstwerk of the early 20th century.
OMW aims to fill a void within the artistic community by establishing a resurrected tradition of social gathering in the music world. Decades ago, cross-pollination of the social and artistic aspects of performance was a driving force behind the establishment of the creative centers of Vienna, Paris, and New York City, and now this practice has found a growing, actively engaged community in Brooklyn. OMW is feeding the entrepreneurial gap between the arts and the social scene that has become apparent to many of us involved in the music world.
OMW’s combination of rehearsal space, a multi-media equipped concert-hall, and a welcoming reception space (including an independently run restaurant) will bring together performers and audiences in an atmosphere that promotes social interaction, yet conforms to the highest standards of sound quality and aesthetic. The space will encompass a vibrant scene that will enhance the experiences of new audiences as they are exposed to avant-garde music collaborations, and will allow audiences to experience classical music in a new context as well. OMW has already become an artistic community project, and perhaps even more significantly, it has become an entrepreneurial centerpiece that has brought together visionaries from all corners of the New York music community, including WQXR. Photo by Jill Steinberg: Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung at Greene Space Music performance and recording are irrevocably connected in the music market.
Recognizing that concept, OMW plans to provide a high tech, state of the art recording studio, as well as a high acoustic quality music hall with live streaming-capability. Among OMW’s partners is Grammy award winning recording engineer Adam Abeshouse, and international tax lawyer Kevin Dolan, the project’s initial investor, who says he has been toying with a vision of the “art-factory” for a long time. Dolan is an amateur composer and organist himself, and, clearly taken with the energy provided by the young musicians around him, he felt that the time was finally ripe to engage in this communal, non-for-profit undertaking, that will shape a fresh environment for a growing and articulate new music scene. “Music is so important, emotionally, and there is so much talent, right here! This generation is living the music. But there is no infrastructure there, which can accommodate them, let them pursue their dreams and essence,” Dolan says empathically, after the last OMW-initiated performance at the Green Space of WQXR. He is well aware of the enormous potential he is offering through this ambitious project. Read the rest of this entry »
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Strutting their stuff, before and during the duel Photos: Matthias Bothor
The 19th century virtuoso was familiar with the idea of proving one’s prowess at the keyboard with gusto, by competing against another virtuoso. Thalberg/ Liszt are perhaps the most famous example of having such a duel, facing each other down -keyboard to keyboard.
German pianists Andreas Kern and Paul Cibis pick up their own Piano Battle, delivering both an amazing entertainment-factor to their audiences, in accordance with some powerful competitive talent demonstrating hair-splitting virtuosity.
Now they are ready to not play it safe here; Kern and Cibis will bring their novel concert-concept for the first time to the United States. Following an invitation from the Goethe-Haus, they will perform Piano Battle in Washington, at the Embassy of Austria, on January 18th.
While neither of the two accomplished, classically trained pianists are huge fans of the traditional competition arena, Kern’s search for the pursuit of different ways to present piano music on stage started long before Piano Battle. He had always looked for an intensified congregational effect between the audience and what was happening on stage. He enjoyed integrating verbal, explanatory sections into his early recitals, sensing that the audience felt more at ease when they learned something which connected them further with the performance and the performer, rather than through formal printed programs. “Even the way those programs are usually constructed requires some familiarity with the musical material – or at least with the names dropped within the biographies of the artists– which creates a rather condescending effect, “mentions Kern, when the three of us met in New York. Read the rest of this entry »
As the Director of the 92nd Street Y’s Tisch Center for the Arts, overseeing the 92Y’s concert series and Unterberg Poetry Center endowed by the Tisch Family, Hanna Arie-Gaifman indulges her deep love and knowledge of literature and music. “I came to the 92Y in 2000,“ shares Gaifman, sitting at her small desk, loaded with papers, messages, and catalogues, in her office on the 4th floor of the Y. The building she works in inhabits a Lexington Avenue city block between 92nd and 93rd street, and represents a staple of its surrounding community, as well as a buzzing cultural center. “It is an amazing combination of everything I love, in its presentation of excellence in literature and music. It has a long history and tradition of being true to itself, carrying on its own integrity with an honest search for changing responsibilities within its community and reaching out beyond its margins, to society at large.”
Having studied piano at the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem, Gaifman certainly could have considered a career in music performance herself, but did not, feeling that her skills could allow her to make a bigger difference in other areas of the music field. It is precisely her talent for bringing concepts and cultures together that has shone through the many different roles she held as music presenter, long before making her impact at the 92Y.
As dean of the Mozart Academy in Prague, director of artistic management and international relations of the Czech Philharmonic, and director of Prague’s annual Musica Judaica Festival from 1993 -2000, Gaifman showed her skill for international cooperation and management, as well as her keen talent for enriching cultural life in post-communist Czechoslovakia. Read the rest of this entry »
It takes real enthusiasm and a vision to bring about the change politicians speak about. In real life, it is only the most invigorated doers, like YCA’s Susan Wadsworth, who are able to implement new strategies and changes that have an enduring significance for the future.
It all started on the ground floor loft space of a restaurant on Waverly Place in New York’s Greenwich Village. The owner, a young Armenian architect, liked the idea of Susan curating concerts at his venue. So, on his off-days he cleared away the tables and added aYoung Concert Artists sign to his own sign board, and simply raised it up in front of Harout‘s, to promote the budding concert series.
“Steinway charged me 100 dollars for cartage each way and gave me a great gift… a beautiful concert grand piano that could stay at the venue during the whole season,” says Susan Wadsworth, an energetic powerhouse of small stature and hefty goals.
A trained classical pianist herself, she had studied with pianists-pedagogues Mieczyslaw Munz, Jean Casadeus and Nadia Boulanger, and was always surrounded by musician friends, some of whom she had met during her years at the Mannes College of Music, studying with Frank Sheridan.
But while she admired some of her friends’ amazing talent and felt deeply connected to music and its world, she rejected the pursuit of a career as concert pianist for herself. The decisive moment came, she explained, “When I was asked to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, A-major with the Mannes orchestra. I quickly realized that I really did not want to perform,” she confesses, with relief in her voice. Read the rest of this entry »
This month at the Poisson Rouge, pianist Bruce Brubaker and violist Nadia Sirota performed music by Philip Glass and Nico Muhly. Both musicians are extremely versatile, and talented within their instruments’ traditional classical genre. Additionally, both are strong proponents of some of the most intriguing music of today: the kind of music that is based on the classical concept of composition and music notation, but is less dependent on note-perfect execution for a positive outcome. Both musicians are great communicators. “The freedom that goes along with this music,” marvels Brubaker, “where the process is such an integral part of its formulation is also inspiring and encourages different acceptance of it. It has its pulse on the now — a moment in time that’s very powerful, in a kind of formulation of Zeitgeist.” He continues: “Part of what gives Nico a perhaps unprecedented wide musical reach, gives him a unique standing in the music world.” Possessing reach and versatility, Muhly’s arrangements for the Pop scene and movie soundtracks have brought his scores from Pop Icons like Bjork and Grizzly Bear, to the Metropolitan Opera, Alice Tully Hall, and beyond.
Brubaker just recorded Drones with Nico in Iceland on the Bedroom-Community label: a 2010 commission by the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival. The album includes Drones & piano, Drones & viola, and Drones & violin, performed by Brubaker, Sirota, and Pekka Kuusisto along with Nico Muhly and mixed by Valgeir Sigurðsson & Paul Evans, who is also the producer. In his liner notes to Drones, Muhly describes “developing harmonic ideas over a static structure,” indicating that, “the idea is something not unlike singing along with one’s vacuum cleaner.”
Sirota, a long time collaborator and close personal friend of Muhly’s, says: “Drones evolved around a series of pieces for Viola and electronics, me droning my phone number over and over which became the Etude No.2, the first of his drone pieces. Many drone pieces were packed together in pre-recorded sound that is deeply textured and shows, (this is according to Brubaker now) very clearly the great impact Valgeir had on Nico’s work. It exploded with texture and became really three-dimensional.”
Photo:copyright Stern Weber Studio / Bruce Brubaker and Nadia Sirota at lePoisson Rouge
Brubaker explains: “Nico made an original electronic backtrack, but what you hear on the recording is quite different. It sounded even more layered. But that’s the exciting process of working with a living composer like Nico – the recording is not anymore the definitive version, neither is the performance. Music becomes much more alive, in the moment. Perhaps best compared with the times of composers like Mozart, Bach, Monteverdi…who wrote a piece for orchestra, but different instruments performed it over time, so the piece became a different piece each time.” Read the rest of this entry »
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