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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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On Saturday, December 15th, 2012 at 7 pm, The Arthur Rubinstein International Music Foundation will present their Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall recital, in honor of the greatest Golden Age pianists – Arthur Rubinstein.

Pianist Roman Rabinovich is one of the two pianists chosen to perform at the event, the other being Anna Fedorova.  Each musician possesses special qualities within their craft, and together they will certainly present a memorial worthy of the great master pianist, Arthur Rubinstein.

The evening will also feature a short documentary film about Rubinstein’s historical concert in San Francisco in 1945, and an exhibition of portraits and photographs of Rubinstein, partially from his daughter Eva’s personal collection. The foundation’s music festival in Poland was started 2008 in Lodz, Rubinstein’s birthplace.

Rabinovich, who, as a winner of the 2008 Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition (not related to the aforementioned hosting organization)has performed widely in Israel, but also in Europe and the US to much critical acclaim, was given the opportunity to choose a program he is especially fond of. He enthusiastically shared with me that Prokofiev’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (three pieces), and the Ravel/Rabinovich ‘Daphnis and Chloe,’ as well as Stravinsky’s ‘Petrushka’ that will follow his programmed Haydn Sonata in A-flat major, Hob.XVI/46, have captured his mind’s eye for quite some time now. Read the rest of this entry »

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Photo: Glenn Dicterow’s life talk at the Atrium

It isn’t actually until the end of the 2013-2014 season that Glenn Dicterow, current concert master of the New York Philharmonic will answer his call from LA’s USC Thornton faculty, but New Yorkers are already paying tribute to one of the New York Philharmonic’s most iconic figures who, after a run of now 32 consecutive years, will be sorely missed.

 

It was impossible not to acknowledge Dicterow’s friendly, well-tempered and round face, and his omnipresent fatherly authority.  Always ready for a little joke, a kind comment, he seems to have been perpetually present on the first chair between the conductor’s podium and the rest of the string sections, maintaining peace for the ensemble, and keeping the communication flowing.

 

Dicterow will be the first artist to hold the newly dedicated Robert Mann Chair in Strings and Chamber Music, established by Alfred Mann to honor his brother’s achievements as founder and first violinist of the renowned Juilliard String Quartet.

 

Dicterow and his wife, violist Karen Dreyfus, with whom he and Cellist Inbal Segev perform as the Amerigo-Trio, will be joining the faculty at Thornton as well.  The two will be a welcome addition to a host of exceptional artists including Midori Goto, who holds the Jascha Heifetz Chair in Violin at USC. Photo: Amerigo Trio

 

Heifetz was one of Dicterow’s influential teachers, who Dicterow was privileged to meet as a teenager growing up in Los Angeles.  Dicterow’s father, Harold Dicterow, was principal player in the second violin section of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra for 52 years. At age 11, Glenn performed Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto under Zubin Mehta with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Dicterow spent several years as an associate- and then concertmaster at the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta, and later became concert master of the New York Philharmonic also under the direction of Zubin Mehta in 1980.  The other great influence in his life was his teacher Ivan Galamian, whom he worked with at Juilliard in Galamian’s famous studio that included Yitzchak Perlman.

Dicterow made it a rule to always dedicate some of his time to external engagements apart from appearing as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic and other orchestras, and playing chamber music. He has also been able to maintain a teaching position at the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School, and he has been able to recruit some of the New York Philharmonic’s orchestral musicians from his talented group of students.

 

On November 5th,Dicterow gave a charming talk at the public Atrium Space (61 West 62 Street).  It became quite obvious that his qualifications for the position he had held for so long did not exclusively lie with his extraordinary gift for playing the violin, but also included his personal and vivid understanding of the role of a concert master.

Glenn Dicterow and Ilona Oltuski

 

“When I received the proposal, it was at a moment in time when I could not refuse. After 34 great years, I will hopefully be leaving with my reputation fully intact,“ he beams gregariously. I suppose it was that sense of humor that brought him through the long chain of fluctuating directors, all with different characters and ego. From the flamboyant Bernstein, to Mehta “who was like a surgeon with his hands, so exact, you could not possibly misunderstand his downbeats…” to Masur, a “master of the old school,” who was perhaps personally controversially received, but changed the sound of the entire orchestra to a more German, darker sound, since he was not afraid to tone the brass players down.” Dicterow continued with times ‘served’ under the stern but “tremendously gifted Maazel” whom “you had to know how to take, but we got along great,” up to current, much younger Alan Gilbert.  Dicterow has managed to get along with them all, creating professional relationships based on great mutual respect. His main objective is to be perceptive, and to be able to communicate between the conductor and the sections, almost as a second conductor.

 

“I have to play in a way the others see what I am doing.” In an orchestra, you can’t just rely on sound, or there will be delays. You have to exist in the moment – the movement of the sections must come simultaneously and that effort depends as much on the eyes as it does the ears, perhaps even more so. I had the pleasure to interview Dicterow in 2010, at which time he explained even more about the role of the concert master, including the need to arrange bowing marks in the musical scores of the entire orchestra according to certain decisions made in rehearsals and seating arrangements. Dicterow’s responsibilities also include sitting in on various committees responsible for admissions, artistic direction, and planning.  The hardest part for him, though, was an element of performance, specifically when he was required to suddenly play challenging solo sections within large orchestral works like in the New York Philharmonic’s recent performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. These moments are the most personal: “Alan said lately sometimes to me, ‘oh Glenn, this is the last time you will be playing this and this is the last time you will be playing that, just relish the moment!’  …and I do, indeed.”

 

Dicterow will be performing as a soloist with Cellist Alisa Weilerstein, Brahms ‘ Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Director Emeritus Kurt Masur November 8th – 10th and 13th.

 

 

 

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If one listens to some of the Piano Mavens in attendance at Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky’s recent performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 at Avery Fisher Hall, it would seem that he did not show enough feeling.

Although Lugansky played the concerto alongside the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Charles Dutoit with utmost technical perfection, some critics complained. “He was too fast!” “It was too cold, too mechanic,” and “not luscious enough – and Rachmaninoff can be soo luscious!” were some comments within New York’s community of concert attendees, most of whom play piano at different levels themselves.

Critique from one’s ‘own rows’ is certainly not to be taken lightly, though I wonder why I experienced the concert so differently from many of these critics.  After the piece, the applause of the general audience seemed overwhelmingly devoted.

The concert took place on November 2nd in the aftermath of Sandy, a storm that had devastated many regions of the Tri- State area, leaving half of Manhattan without electricity and subway connections, yet many concert-goers braved the turbulent moods of nature out of respect to Dutoit’s legacy, and that of Lugansky, for whom this performance marked a New York debut; was it perhaps because of this psychologically fragile situation, New Yorkers demanded a more emotionally affecting response?

The hall was not at all filled to capacity, perhaps adding to the performance’s somewhat “cold” acoustics , dampening the piano’s ability to project lusciously, a situation on which Lugansky himself commented, at our meeting the next morning. Read the rest of this entry »

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                 On October 25th, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra gave a sold out concert at Carnegie  Hall, performing under the baton of Maestro Zubin Mehta, a program of  some of Judaism’s most spiritual works, demonstrating their undyingly  righteous, cultural eminence.

Despite a small group of Anti-Israel protesters that had accumulated across the 57th Street entrance, rallied by

Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel through various press releases, spirits were high inside the hall as the orchestra opened with the Star-Spangled Banner, followed by Hatikva.

 

The Benefit event, organized by the American Friends of the Israel  Philharmonic Orchestra will support the orchestra’s touring and  educational programming, as well as the renovation of its home at Tel  Aviv’s Heichal Ha’Tarbut, to be inaugurated in May of 2013.

 

The program of Arnold Schoenberg’s Kol Nidre and Noam Sheriff’s Mechaye Hametim (Revival of the Dead) had already gained broad recognition at the 2012 Salzburger Festspiele, especially with baritone Thomas Hampson’s leading presence, which had  been described by New York Times’ James R.Oestreich, as: “virtually  embodying an Old Testament Prophet.”Out of the two works, Kol Nidre is  the better known one, yet Sheriff’s symphonic work(NY premiere),  commissioned in  remembrance of the Holocaust and at the same time a  tribute to Jewish culture and national pride proved to be a very organic structure. It incorporated and built upon many different musical  motives.  Joining Hampson and the Collegiate Chorale were the Manhattan  Girls Chorus and Israeli tenor Carl Hieger, all of whom performed in the Hebrew and Yiddish production, with the composer present.

The  original program had been adjusted to include these pieces for the New  York event due to their great acclaim in Salzburg and partially because  the Collegiate Chorale, founded by Robert Shaw in 1941 and currently  directed by James Bagwell, was already present.

In the midst of both Judaic spiritual works, the 25 year old Yuja Wang  poured her stupendous virtuosity into Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No.1  in G minor, op.25. Trumping her first Encore, Rossini-Ginsburg Figaros Aria with an even wilder, magnificently Horowitz- inspired Carmen; she had a gasping audience in her hands.   Dressed in red, the audience was able to marvel at her whirlwind arm-and finger movements, emanating  from her lean and muscular back. As with the choreography of an Olympian swimmer her moves were small, controlled and superfast.

Though always charming, Zubin Mehta, who has guided the greatest of performers during his now more than 50 years as conductor (he is music director  for life with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra), seemed genuinely  impressed with his phenomenally skilled, season’s star debutante.

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Klara Min does not seem to get nervous easily. I learned this while sitting in on an interview / conversation with recording producer Leszek Wojcik for the release of her Chopin Mazurkasdisk, which Delos will put out next spring. Wojcik had been guiding Min since 2011, when she made her very first recording of Korean composers for the Naxos label. Both disks were recorded at the same studio at the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

 

When comparing both recordings, which indeed find themselves at juxtaposed ends of the repertoire, Wojcik shares his surprise at how“Western” the previously recorded Korean compositions actually sound. “I was expecting a big pentatonic thing, some feelings of folk tunes. Instead there was rather an affinity to the Second Viennese School, Schoenberg and Webern…yet the Mazurkas could not be more contrasting to their rather academic, complex and almost Germanic structure …. here is a complete change of temperament,” he says and adds, speaking to Min, ”You were very brave to tackle such an undertaking. The Mazurkas are such known pieces, dear to everyone’s heart and they are so often recorded, and yet they can be interpreted in so many different ways.”

 

 

Min made her own choices in her recording and seems confident about them. “I was immediately drawn to the Mazurkas,” she shares,“when I was still a child, reading through the entire volume. Only later I listened to many different recordings. The music sounds so simple, but it is the most complicated music to perform. Its rhythm has to come sort of naturally; it can’t be really studied too much”. Each mazurka is so individual, idiosyncratic, each with its own polyphony and complex harmonies, yet you can’t practice endlessly- you somehow have to preserve the freshness and spontaneity for the deliverance of its true characteristics.”

 

Photo: Wojcik and Min

 

Wojcik, who has clearly enjoyed recording Min’s playing, agrees with her and adds: ”Yes, exactly, this is the key. They are highly abstract, even though of course they have the nationalist thematic and are based on the dance’s three main forms: the mazur, oberek and the kujawiak from Poland, from different geographic regions in Poland. They’re not inspired by folk music, as often thought, really. Despite some rhythmic resemblances and perhaps the repetitiveness of motives kept by Chopin, his Mazurkas are highly stylized – salon versions- with complex compositional elements. And you are absolutely right; their simplicity demands a certain natural gusto. And balance of playing straight forward and the use of rubato. And there are so many choices to make by the performer, according to his/her personal tastes.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Yael Weiss possesses a rare commitment that compels her to recognize her responsibility as a performer in her daily existence.  “Even if I am by myself, it is absolutely essential that I always try my best to be precise in uncovering the intention of the composer, to find the meaning behind the notes,” she says. “There is thinking about music happening at every moment during practicing and of course on stage, a never ending search for the truth in the music – the reason why a particular piece was conceived as is.”

In music, the exchange of the written score between the artist and the listener happens in real time, unlike in other arts. “It’s the realization through performance in that moment, that makes the performer such an integral part of the equation – the other part being the listener,” Weiss marvels. “A score, sitting in a library is not music yet; those black specs sitting on paper are not yet realized. They are just pointers to multiple layers that indicate the ideas about a specific sound, and beyond that, to a certain message that needs to be conveyed to the listener. So it is this realization of the actual notes into sound and the interpretation of the meaning behind those notes that I do every day when I am at the keyboard.”

As in real life, there should be a give and take in a musical experience. Weiss does not hesitate to put some of the responsibility for the success of a performance on the listener, an approach that should not be taken for granted, given the passive role audiences are generally accustomed to. Weiss, however, sees the interaction of performer and listener as a true dialogue: “I believe every performer will tell you that the performer’s music making grows and benefits from being on stage in front of people. The level of concentration, openness and attentiveness on the listener’s part affects the end result tremendously. It’s a shared experience, the realization of a joint purpose, the realization of the written score.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Classes, given by the most admired masters in their field, are considered one of the most direct and effective way to inspire students – and fans alike.  As a result of Yoheved Kaplinsky’s (chair of the piano faculty at Juilliard) initiative in this regard, this week the venerable pianist Murray Perahia took up a taped mini-residency. Ara Guzelimian (provost and dean) has shaped the series to consist of a lecture/presentation and three master classes, one of them open to public attendance. Other such residencies this season will include Richard Goode (public master class October 24th) and Leon Fleischer (public master class February 24, 2013) at Juilliard’s Paul Hall.

As I was approaching the newly constructed bridge that connects Juilliard to the larger Lincoln Center complex, I reflected upon Juilliard’s many efforts to reach out beyond its select community with such diverse programs as their social outreach performances, in addition to their own pre-college and evening division classes, and publication.

These master classes are a wonderful addition to their programs. Besides the opportunity to listen to the world-renowned performer up close and personal, the dream of every aspiring pianist of course is to unlock the secrets (are there any?) of each great performer.  In these master classes, the artist can demonstrate what makes his performances so unique and successful by sharing his hands-on experiences and insightful explanations of why he endorses this implementation, and not another.

The question, for any artist, is not so much which approach may be arguably valued as the best one – there are many valid ones that are based on sheer endless variables found within the performer’s facility, technique and personality.  As many discrepancies as there are in methodical pursuit of the ultimate musical result, what matters alone is that the performance is congruently convincing.

So how does then a masterful musician and generous human being, as Perahia most certainly is, convey his wisdom? What advice can he specifically give to the well-prepared musical students who play for him?  Read the rest of this entry »

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The audience, having taken their seats in a large, traditional room in the American Society’s Upper East Side townhouse, waits in great anticipation for Vivian Fung’s Dreamscapes release. Andrew Cyr, the resourceful Grammy-nominated conductor and artistic director of Metropolis Ensemble, gestures for the pianist to commence the evening’s program by plucking the strings of  the grand piano.  Two slit-drum players from his orchestra send mystic and strangely far sounding rhythmic beats into the room from their place at the back; bird-like chirping overlaps the sounds of the drums as musicians within the audience begin playing several Vietnamese bird whistles.  As Cyr directs the percussionists to steadily approach the stage area, the different voices start to unite.

Pianist Conor Hanick prepares the piano according to Fung’s notes with popsicle sticks, hairpins and paperclips, reinventing a famed practice initially championed by pianist/composer John Cage.

Even the audience gets to participate, making music with wineglasses, enjoying the fun of incorporating an “object trouvée.” Canadian-born composer Fung stands by, intently observing the audience’s reaction to her aurally and spatially captivating music, noting that the audience, while very perceptive, also looks flabbergasted at times.  So begins the evening’s introduction into the creative world of the composer.

Following the performance, all of the soloists, the conductor, some members of the orchestra, and the two-time Grammy Award winning producer and sound engineer Tim Martyn, share their thoughts on the process of making this CD. Conor Hanick explains that Fung’s sound world is part of a unique genre, which brings a variety of original sound associations into contact with sounds inspired by Javanese and Balinese gamelan, and is produced with various means of instrumental adaption and in the piano’s case, an alteration of the piano’s timbre through the objects attached to its strings. Fung’s enthusiastic exploration of Indonesian gamelan has been a persistent stylistic element in the work of the young, Juilliard-trained composer, who was called “evocative” by the New York Times.
Fung’s latest CD was recently released by newly formed Naxos: Canadian Classics, which is the brainchild of Naxos’s Raymond Bisha.  The disc includes three works ranging from Glimpses (2006), to the piano concerto Dreamscapes (2009). Divided into different vignettes, the Dreamscapes concerto, featuring Hanick, who is another impressive Juilliard alumn, expands on themes explored in Fung’s previous work; for example, the second vignette is based on “Kotekan” – the first movement of Glimpses.  It is interesting to follow the depth and detail of Fung’s work through her different pieces, from her earliest featured composition Glimpses, to her very imaginative and organically condensed newer work. Read the rest of this entry »

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“You never know what’s waiting around the corner,” says Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes about Beethoven, as he tries to describe his personal outlook on his so-called ‘Beethoven Journey’ to the intimate audience gathering at WQRX’s Greene Space Studio.

Beethoven builds up a large structure based on very simple motives that, while very organic, holds many melodic surprises. Andsnes has discovered a sort of obsession with resonance in Beethoven’s work, which is evident in his use of extremely long trills and long pedal markings, which on the modern piano ring even longer than they did on instruments in Beethoven’s time. Andsnes wonders if perhaps these preferences were caused by Beethoven’s eventual loss of hearing.

In the interview with Jeff Spurgeon, following his performance at Green Space on last Saturday afternoon, Andsnes mentioned the handwritten score of Beethoven’s famous Sonata no. 21, op. 53 (Waldstein) – a piece Andsnes is about to perform along with Sonata no. 22, op. 54. In this score of one of Beethoven’s longest sonatas, Andsnes first recognizes Beethoven’s high-energy writing, which is expressed in the speed of the composition as well as the extensive, vehement building of contrast in this oeuvre. As one of the master’s longest works, Andsnes explains that it also contains lengthy passages featuring transformations of repeating fragments that occur throughout the text, a part of a journey filled with haunting motives and building expectations; expectations that are ultimately fulfilled in the inseparably connected finale of the Waldstein. Read the rest of this entry »

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