Known for its variety of innovative cultural events productions, this evening’s fascinating program for the River to River festival was realized by Beth Morrison. River to River promotes cultural life, particularly in downtown Manhattan, and the Beth Morrison Project put its creative initiative into this event’s planning. This evening’s program enveloped me with candle light and surrealistic backdrop video installations, as a sampler of the fantastic collaboration and exchange between the attending musicians.
Paola Prestini, one of the vibrant composers who shared the bill together with Missy Mazzoli and Nico Muhly (whose works were solemnly performed by the Trinity Choir conducted by Julian Wachner at the festival) took the time to bring me closer into the performance of her House of Solitude -A Poet’s Labyrinth. ” The work is still in progress” she explained, “and the completed version will premiere at the Krannert Center in 2013. The KBOW, which is Neil’s bow, was invented by the famed Keith McMillan, triggers sound files and effects but will eventually trigger lighting and film. We are working on that and expanding the piece now… Keith invented Zeta instruments and Neil is endorsing the KBOW.” With intoxicating motions, that seemed to make sound waves emerge beyond the bowing of his violin, the luminous Cornelius Dufallo (see also my article here ) performed Prestini’s work in conjunction with a conceptually surrealist and amorphously mood-altering video, designed by Carmen Kordas, which was shown on a back dropped screen.
Mazzoli, on keyboard, performed with the expressive violist Nadia Sirota, to videos by Jennifer Stock as well as Alice Lovejoy. The interplay of this duo had been feelingly explored before. And Mazzoli too, reflects on progress as a constant in her life; making life itself a conscious work in progress.
“Never knowing what is going to happen tomorrow, the adventure of performing, composing, educating, producing…” are her ideas of having a great time with music.
“I am constantly developing and changing my own voice, it is always influenced by new genres, by new and old composers and by visual arts. Inevitably that’s going to change my writing. For example in the moment, I am fascinated with the visual impact of Sol Levitt or the music of John Luther Adams; I am struck by how one can create a piece out of these patterns and create those collages,” says Mazzoli. That does not exclude her fascination with Beethoven’s classicism.
The best thing that happened according to Mazzoli was having had the opportunity to spend time in Amsterdam at 21, on a Fulbright grant, where she studied with Louis Andriessen, who incidentally was named Musical America’s composer of 2010. She describes that period as a powerful life experience, performing in clubs, putting on shows, and traveling with her first band hills not skyscrapers. Upon her return and receiving her Master’s degree from Yale, she held several music related positions, ranging from personal assistant of Meredith Monk to an executive position running the Philip Glass founded MATA festival, where she started as one of the performers. Everything is connected and it is about exposure and cooperation with performers who become friends and a network that leads constantly to bigger and better things.
Recording producer Judd Greenstein, a good friend of Mazzoli, also recorded her first album Cathedral City that was released with her all- female performers band Victoire last September and was ranked one of the best classical CDs of 2010 by NPR, the New York Times, as well as by New Yorker’s own Alex Ross, naming Mazzoli as “a leader of New York’s young moderns.”
Even though she describes it as accidental,that all the performers at Victoire are female, she welcomes the opportunity, in a field still somewhat dominated by male composers as well as instrumentalists, to work with women. The quintet, performing Mazzoli’s electrically amplified works, was founded in 2008. Mazzoli does not typically perform her own works much; instead she is commissioned by artists around the world. The Kronos Quartet, Eight Blackbird and the American Composers Orchestra are among many of her regulars.
Before Mazzoli, who actually owned up to a bit of stage nerves, got ready for her performance that evening at Trinity Church, the festival’s venue, we talked about the medium of opera that seems to dominate musical exploration of the moment. While the news of Nico Muhly’s grand production Opera-debut in London just made the headlines, Mazzoli is similarly looking to expand the medium of an orchestra piece or a song cycle for one of her new projects. Inspired by a theme, based on the life of North- Africa explorer Isabelle Eberhardt, which she feels requires a larger staging, multiple voices and more time expansion, she plans on producing an opera that will be a scaled down version of what is usually known to be an opera production, with all the key ingredients intact.
“People will realize that the definition of opera is flexible. You don’t need millions of dollars for a full cast of divas and the MET. My opera will consist of a 5 people orchestra, 5 soloists, projections, video production and it will manage to tell the story with multiple voices, librettos and so on…and full staging. Supported by a Jerome Foundation grant that recently others have shared in, it will be a ca.70 minutes performance at The Kitchen, a black box theater with full set design.
Beth Morrison Project is currently planning an elaborate program with the same participants to celebrate Philip Glass’ seventy-fifth birthday.
For Paola Prestini
For Nico Muhly
For Missy Mazzoli
Speaking with the skilled young pianist about her involvement in the field of new music performance, it is easy to be smitten by the classically trained Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music graduate’s contagious enthusiasm and engaged by her personal insights. During the past two years she has been catching up on a lot of new music repertoire as the pianist/keyboardist of the new music ensemble Bang on a Can All-Stars.
The innovative sextet consists of clarinet, keyboard/piano, cello, electric guitar, bass and drums. The unique interplay—the cello and grand piano are regularly amplified on stage— creates a composite sound world. Half rock band half amplified chamber group, the All Stars are renowned for their successful avant-garde initiative, engaging in new music collaborations with some of the most inspiring composers of our time.
Having collaborated with much of the new music A-list, including Steve Reich, Tan Dun, Ornette Coleman, Philip Glass and Meredith Monk, the band has been hugely successful in a variety of performance projects held at both high-end venues like Carnegie Hall and alternative, sometimes public, performance spaces.
The photos in this article were taken at the sound check of what has become one of the band’s most well-known collaboratives, the Bang on a Can Marathon, an annual, all-day extravaganza held at New York’s World Financial Center’s Wintergarden on June 19. The marathon was Initiated in 1987 by composers David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Michael Garden who wanted to create an all-inclusive “meeting of the bands,” breaking down the barriers between music genres. Co-presented by the River to River Festival and Arts at World Financial Center, in this year’s marathon, 150 performers and composers present a nonstop open house of new music.
Within the genre of new music, the All Stars are known for their eclecticism and their interaction of composition styles yet also for their distinct choice of instrumentalization as well as their performance dynamic level. In addition to performing themselves, the group and its members are also involved in producing and curating a variety of new music happenings. For Chow, the activism it entails is a lifestyle. Currently, she spends many of her evenings at New York’s Gershwin Hotel, where she runs her own new music series called Contagious Sounds.
A natural performer from a young age, Canadian-born Chow was invited to perform a demanding solo piano program at the International Gilmore Keyboard Festival at age 9. She went on to study at Vancouver Academy of Music, where her teacher, Lorraine Ambrose, recommended she continue her studies at Julliard, leading her to study under Professors Yoheved Kaplinsky and Julian Martin. Her arrival in New York was met with upheaval—more so than the minor disasters than accompany every move; Chow had come to New York just two weeks before 9/11. She was at the Juilliard library when the dramatic events of that day unfolded. Chow still remembers Julliard Director Polisi’s instructions to bring pillows to the underground theater room for safety in the event of further attacks. Of Chinese descent, she later volunteered at the World Trade Center, translating for Asian victims’ family members.
But there was another reason that, when upon entering Juilliard, Chow found herself stopped in her tracks. Kaplinsky, chairperson of the Piano Department at Julliard, realized that Chow had been tensing up at the piano and told her she needed to make big adjustments to her technique. Kaplinsky introduced her to the Taubman approach, which explores natural piano technique through an intensive retraining. “I had to learn to arrange myself with a constantly dueling conflict between thinking of what I had to think about in applying the technique and my opposing intuition,” she explains. But to her great delight, her playing improved in the process, making it all worthwhile. Her color and tone, her ability to gain an efficient control of the articulation she intended, opened up a whole new experience for her, she says. “I remember at one point, the fact that I was working with limited repertoire in order to gain the technique fully was so disheartening to me. When the yearly concerto competition in Juilliard was to be held with Bartók’s 1st piano concerto, I decided to take on the challenge. Veda [Kaplinsky] needed convincing, since a month before the competition I only had the 1st movement ready. But in a way she inspired me to push through, and when I won the competition, she was extremely proud of my accomplishment.”
Chow’s thorough exploration of the piano and her new relationship with her instrument whet her appetite for experimentation. Having been approached by the young Juilliard composer Zhou Tian to perform one of his compositions, Chow discovered a calling for the new and non-classical. “As I opened his score, it was clear to me that here was something happening that I had missed for a long time, during all my studies of music. While I loved music and loved performing, I did not exactly see myself spending the rest of my life repeating the experiences that classical music had provided me with. It was in the contemporary music, I found the excitement I was looking for.”
The constant learning of new scores, the exploration of new and unlimited experimentations within new music suited her curiosity and led her to rescind her application to Julliard and Mannes School of Music’s doctorial degree programs and enroll instead in Manhattan School of Music’s Contemporary Performance Program. Around the same time, she began performing with multiple young composer collectives from Harvard and New York Universities that she got involved with through another contact from Juilliard, her friend Alex Lipowski, percussionist of the new music Talea Ensemble.
Having found what she was searching for, Chow quickly became a powerhouse within the new music scene. Not only did she become a more versatile pianist, but she also developed a whole new set of musical abilities. “From a pianistic point of view, not only did my sight reading improve from all the creative work with the score I am doing, let alone by the enormous numbers of new scores I read all the time. One of the challenges is that you often have to rely on your own interpretations—even though the composer sometimes intermediates. That’s a very different experience than performing works of composers that have been performed over and over,” says Chow, also confirming that in the challenge lies the thrill of finding new articulation. “Experimenting is part of the experience of new music, and I have gained another set of skills in creating different sounds, influenced by other genres. It also frees your personality to be roughing up some feathers with different sound worlds providing the kind of grit I need.”
The agony of having supported side by side the six-year battle of his beloved spouse of thirty years, Célia Cooke’s, illness and then having to endure her loss to cancer on March 30th of this year, pianist/composer Jed Distler looks to some old friends for solace and to his life in music.
An outgrowth of his need to heal is his recently released CD, “Meditate with the Masters”, produced during these recent hard times for the Musical Concepts label. He sees his contribution as helpful in creating a “gentle ambiance, ideal for holistic and therapeutic treatments, or for intimate dinner gatherings and solitary afternoons at home… as well as for public situations, such as waiting rooms, airport lounges, restaurants…”
The hint of the familiar in each of the fifteen tracks that Distler titles after a renowned composer –after Schumann, after Chopin, after Distler, for example – (he includes himself nonchalantly in the list of pianistic masters with a dash of good humor) provides pianistically pleasant variations, composed in a traditional style with rhythmically soothing, unfussy piano treatments. One of my favorites is his folk-like treatment of Schumann’s ‘Von fremden Ländern und Menschen’ from Kinderszenen, infusing the beautiful Schumann theme within a new and original connective musical tissue. Some of the compositions suggest his great sensibility for jazz formulations, an area Distler is known for through his published Art Tatum and Bill Evans transcriptions for solo piano. These became renowned when pianist’s Jean –Yves Thibaudet recorded for the Decca label in 1997, “Conversations with Bill Evans,” arranged and transcribed by Distler.
Distler’s new music is often performed and recorded by star performers of the new music scene. “Three Landscapes for Peter Wyer, for toy piano,” recorded by Margaret Leng Tan on Point records was featured in three film scores, and his “Loose Changes” for two pianos was recorded by Quattro Mani on Bridge recordings. Pianist Jenny Lin and ‘ETHEL’s violinist Cornelius Duffalo (see my article ) are among the many artists he has been commissioned by.
“As a composer I am mostly inspired by a commission and deadlines. I am anchored in the pianist/composer tradition, but I don’t believe in any music snobbery, I try to be open minded. All good music is equal. Jimi Hendrix, for example will never be dated, while there are pieces of so-called “serious” music that I never want to listen to! For me music is about good communication and it is also about a lifestyle that includes a good work ethic, in order to maintain great technique, which is necessary to delivery. I read somewhere that the great jazz pianist Bill Evans said how technique was being able to do musically what you want to do, without having to worry about your hands. Better still, that other extraordinary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson once defined technique as the thing that made your ideas listenable. These thoughts help me try to entertain and communicate effectively with an audience,” says Distler.
He does not volunteer elucidation about his own compositions, feeling too close to it to comment, but rather leaves that to the musicians who perform them and who will establish his oeuvre. However, he prolifically comments on others, though, making his mark by way of his often-insightful music reviews, published chiefly in Gramophone and Classicstoday.com. Distler is committed to making a difference in the world of music, engaging his many talents as lecturer, writer, promoter, presenter and pianist for various media and concert performances.
On the piano and as artistic director of ‘Composers Collaborative’, co-founded with his late wife Célia Cooke , Distler has performed and programmed other composers’ works and continues to create and to partake in music initiatives on Public Radio and in venues like the Cornelia Street Café. Last week’s ‘Serial Underground’, a new music series performed for several years at this intimate setting, brought me in personal contact with this seasoned musician’s expressive pianism for the first time. Dubbed “the subversive nightclub series” by TIME OUT NY, Distler followed a performance of a group called “Other Life Forms,” with some intimate renderings of Thelonious Monk pieces.
Reaching out to his audiences is an innate talent of Distler and he certainly does achieve what he has set out to do in exactly the way he describes it:”Communicating comes first, expressiveness follows.”
Since it is impossible to mention all the endeavors he shared with me on a long list, I am just going to point you to one of the many interesting projects taking place at the Cornelia Street Cornelia Café, the ComposersCollaborative Inc, presentation of “Mano-a- Mano” Piano Festival on August 21, 22, and 23rd as well as a promising undertaking of Thelonious Monk’s entire piano oeuvre, the resourceful pianist plans to perform right here on February 17, 2012, the 30th anniversary of Monk’s death.
When I met with violinist/composer Cornelius Dufallo, whom many know as a member of the very original, postmodern somewhat premiere-focused group of string players called Ethel, he gave me the big news about the group straight away: Mary Rowell, one of Ethel’s founding members, will be leaving the group as of June 1st, to pursue different lifestyle choices and Jennifer Choi, of the same younger Juilliard Alumni generation as Dufallo himself, will be joining the group. So, in a way this article is bidding fare well to Ethel-violinist Mary Rowell and making a hello-shout to Jennifer Choi.
Eagerly answering an audition call for the then already-reputable Ethel-band when they had an opening, Dufallo joined the quartet six years ago. He describes the relationship with all members as excellent and really close. He remembers:”We clicked right from the beginning. Mary is going to be missed and will continue to be involved during the transition process, to make sure that Ethel will keep on going strong.”
What attracted Dufallo to Ethel’s core concept was the commitment to the imaginative programming of contemporary music, executed with great artistry as well as personal dedication.
Specializing in music composed after 1995 seems not to be an unusual undertaking anymore and especially not in the New York area and the few other Metropolitan centers around the country. Even the press, for the most part, is enthusiastic:
”New music is hardly scarce during the main part of the New York concert season, and spaces like issue Project Room, Galapagos and the Tank specialize in it year around. But spring and summer are a virtually nonstop parade of festivals celebrating the experimental,” says Alan Kozinn in his article about Ethel’s opening program of this year’s Tribeca New Music Festival at Merkin Hall (see Alan Kozinn’s review in the New York Times May 24th. 2011)
But only in recent times has such gusto, developed and persistently pursued by promoters, supported by internet advocates as well as educational and private institutions, not to mention the younger growing audiences, proven new music to be of such a high public esteem.
What seems to have made a real difference in the new appreciation compared to a former unwillingness of audiences and press and programmers alike may be the actual high quality of music making. This new batch of musicians brings to new music projects a unique versatility, a high quality of training, as well as an innovative and engaging, invigorating dedication.
Read the rest of this entry »
So far, 14 compositions by different contemporary composers have been dedicated to violinist Ittai Shapira. Belonging to the now thirty something generation of performers of the New York classical music scene – he and pianist Jeremy Denk were roommates in college- he is now renowned as a versatile performer of an enormous classical violin repertoire, incorporating past and present, traditional as well as contemporary.
One of these premieres included the violin concerto written for him by Israeli compatriot and Pulitzer Prize winner, Shulamit Ran. It was performed at Shapira’s acclaimed Carnegie Hall debut in 2003 with the Orchestra of St.Luke’s. In 2007, it was incorporated into Ran’s compilation of works performed by Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Shapira’s international performances as a fine soloist with many leading orchestras as well as chamber groups, coupled with his varied recordings, show his widespread interest in standard and unusual repertoire, explaining why so many composers dedicate works for his performance.
Another Israeli compatriot, a composer who lately enjoys great international demand, Avner Dorman, wrote a violin concerto for Shapira as well, in 2006. It was performed with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.
Dorman was, as was Shapira, trained at Juilliard after leaving Israel for New York. While Dorman studied composition with John Corigliano, Shapira studied violin with Dorothy DeLay and Robert Mann and privately coached with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman.
Since Ittai was involved in the Daniel Pearl Foundation, they decided to dedicate the piece and its premiere performances to the memory of journalist Daniel Pearl, as Dorman mentions in the liner notes to the concerto. Another concerto by composer Dave Heath found his way onto the soundtrack for the film about Daniel Pearl’s tragic death in Pakistan “The Journalist and the Jihadi”, via Shapira. Read the rest of this entry »
I am enjoying a cappuccino, that borders perfection, at pianists’ Lucille Chung’s and Alessio Bax’ tasteful, uncluttered and brand-new address on New York’s Upper-Upper West side. Lucille’s organizational skills translate into the modern, streamlined, yet comfortable chic atmosphere, echoing Alessio’s Italian classy design heritage that takes a decisively leading voice when it comes to the kitchen as well as, to my delight, handling the professional grade cappuccino maker.
This generous space that the attractive young couple calls home, when in New York, holds two grand pianos. One in their study that for now doubles as a guestroom, for practicing and teaching; the other one in the living room, for practicing simultaneously or to entertain each other and guests who typically are music lovers or musicians as well.
Playing the piano is what both regard as central to their lives. That’s why they might as well spend time doing it together. Two young, successful musicians in their own right, they share the rest of their time together, between juggling the piano faculty at Dallas’ SMU and their increasingly busy performance and recording schedules. In great demand as soloists, they have found themselves increasingly performing as a duo as well.Not that they necessarily planned it that way. Even though it always seemed like a great idea and it had happened on occasion, their duo performances have only recently gained in volume, taking up about 20 percent of their time, which was previously engaged with their professional solo performances. And, the truth is, they enjoy spending this ‘quality time’ at the piano together.
Playing as a duo creates endless opportunities of preparing and performing wide ranging and well-rehearsed programs and finally offers them variety, by taking the music on the road to different venues they like to travel to, together. How much more romantic could it get?
“It takes a lot of coordination,” says Lucille, who is in charge of all organizational details for the team. Alessio smiles happily, while claiming no interest in that domain, confirming: “We just decided this year to block out increased time for our collaborative performances. We have always played together sporadically, but never had made the effort to plan for it formerly in advance.” Read the rest of this entry »
It certainly took some of the proverbial practice, practice, practice…. to get to Carnegie Hall, on the part of the 23 years old Alexej Gorlatch, who is continuing his studies at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hannover, Germany; but it almost certainly took a lot more than that. All that practice, as well as his immensely abundant natural pianistic technique and musical talent, still does not usually lead directly from Hannover to Carnegie Hall, or does it?
There is no doubt that the international piano competition circuit has become extremely important to fostering and rewarding young artists with the opportunities of performance experiences, and launching their professional careers in the process.
Tonight’s recital was part of the first prize, awarded to Gorlatch as the winner of the Dublin International Piano Competition, in 2009. Gorlatch winning First Prize in Dublin.
Founded in 1988 and sponsored by a private benefactor, the competition joined the Alink-Argerich Foundation in 2004 and is recognized as one of the finest International piano competitions worldwide. A member of theWorld Federation of International Music Competitions, it attracts a wide consortium of international competitors during its triennial events. Chaired by Irish pianist and piano pedagogue John O’Conor, who is also the competition’s artistic director, the competition relies heavily on its distinguished international jury. Read the rest of this entry »
2 Comments »
While visiting Chicago, I heard that the personable and very handsome Andsnes, one of Europe’s finest pianistic exports, who has acquired seven Grammy Award nominations and many international awards, was in town for a concert program. He also is performing the same program tonight at Carnegie Hall.
This was the perfect opportunity for me to assess Chicago’s stylish Symphony Hall. Located at the premier address, Michigan Avenue, the entire experience of the program fit in with the city’s mixed architectural skyline, a bit of old and a bit of new. While that mix exerts a certain charm in Chicago’s architectural landscape, at first glance, the concert’s program appeared a bit lacking in coherence.
However, Andsnes’ great effortless style and elegance, which was constantly present in his playing, gave the program’s an overall seamless quality without taking away from the essential expressivity of each individual piece.
The two Beethoven Sonatas that flanked the Brahms and the Schoenberg pieces in the April 3rd. program told a lot about Andsnes’ technical prowess, as well as his great sense for architectural structure in music.
Beethoven’s Waldstein, which the program noted as a groundbreaking work, “revealing a previous unknown sound”, was performed with great sonority and alluring explorations of the composition’s core, yet fulfilled its main promise; namely to reveal. Perhaps there was even a nod to the last Beethoven Sonata No.32 in C Minor, Op.111, as a “Farewell to the Sonata form” as Thomas Mann in his Doctor Faustus coined it; and Andsnes’ dynamic range within the Brahm’s Opus 10 Ballades brought out – well, the endearing quirkiness of Brahms, with just the right amount of unassuming drama.
The most electrifying playing though was heard in Andsnes projection of all the fine nuances in Schoenberg’s Six Little Piano Pieces, Op.19. Here Andsnes expressed a sheer limitless array of color.
One of the Encores, a Kurtag flourish of a piece called Scraps of a colinda melody- faintly recollected, was rendered with a most pianistic pianissimo, a Chopin Waltz in A-flat Major op.42 and Schumann’s Romance in F-sharp Major, No.2, Op. 28 gave a romantically infused introspective farewell.
Leif Ove Andsnes
Andsnes’ celebrated status as a performer has already afforded him a sizeable EMI and Virgin discography and just last month he signed a new contract as a Sony artist. They plan to feature the forty year old Andsnes playing Beethoven’s five piano concertos with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, both performing and directing from the keyboard.
As he showed backstage visiting fans baby pictures of his now 10-month old daughter on his iPhone, he admitted smilingly: “On nights before concert performances, I get to sleep through the night in a separate room from the baby.” Thank god for connecting, yet clearly separate rooms in hotels, as well as for permitting the music to speak for itself, even without a binding contextual program.
Now in their 10th season, the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players have earned their special place in New York City music lovers’ hearts.
A stone throw from Lincoln Center’s main venues, the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church on 152 West 66th Street provides a modest but intimate setting for the chamber music series, commemorating the powerful legacy of the founder and conductor of the Jupiter Symphony Orchestra, Jens Nygaard, who had performed for audiences at Alice Tully Hall, as well as the homeless and victims of natural disasters alike.
His passion for music not only glorified already celebrated works, but he sought out lesser known and neglected works or composers whose names had been forgotten, which he presented with great appeal. This charismatic personality in teaching and music-making touched many lives before he passed away in 2001. The Emmy Award winning documentary “Life on Jupiter,” has accounts of Nygaard’s highly spirited and relevant impact, told by his friends and colleagues.
Run by private funding, the enthusiastic efforts of the Chamber Players’ manager and Nygaard’s widow, Mei Ying, as well as former first bassoonist and now music advisor, Michael Volpert, the series is dedicated to continuing Mr. Nygaard’s artistic quest for beautiful music and interesting performance. It also keeps on providing performance opportunities for some of the former orchestral musicians as well as talented guest artists.
A small but loyal and informed audience follows this quest on a very low budget. Tickets are not expensive. The performances are held on twenty Monday afternoons (2pm) and evening (7.30pm) programs.
Besides playing some of the standard gamut, the performers who come from a roster of first rate, internationally performing artists, notably explore a handpicked, highly selective repertoire.
Read the rest of this entry »
1 Comment »
Jerome L.Green Space
Having the opportunity to listen in on a live-broadcast conversation with Esa-Pekka Salonen, the internationally renowned composer/conductor and curator of the Lincoln Center’s festival “Hungarian Echoes” (taking place March 10 -27), sounded like a wonderful proposition to me. This was a presentation of WQXR’s Green Space on Tuesday, March 7.
I would have just wished that the energetic moderator, a driving force in the New Music scene, Nadia Sirota, had let the conversation really take off to higher grounds. Sirota is a successful Juilliard graduate violist and faculty member at Manhattan’s School New Music department, as well as a performer and interpreter of the new new music scene, so she certainly neither lacks the knowhow nor the charisma to engage her subject in a meaningful discourse.
The Q2 production at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space at WQXR, which accommodates a small audience to experience the process of radio broadcasting, is an ideal multi-media performance space that could be the cultural platform for New York and beyond. This could have been true in this case, had Salonen been given the chance to get in more lines.
Instead, there he was, the current leader of the British “Philharmonia”, whose vocational career has catapulted him, even though he is on the younger side, into the internationally recognized top league of enigmatic conductors, hardly being given the opportunity to share much of his insights with the audience.
He was the undisputedly most interesting guest one wanted to hear from, as he sat next to Sirota while pianist Conor Hanick performed Ligeti on the harpsichord. And there he remained sitting silently, while pianist Marino Formenti filled in for Pierre-Laurent Aimard at the piano with some Bartók pieces and while musicians of the New York Philharmonic offered a somewhat awkward potpourri of different movements of works by the three featured festival composers: Bartók, Haydn and Ligeti.
Even if the pieces represented the composers of the festival, the characteristics of Ligeti on harpsichord, or the tender piano pieces of Bartók’s “Hungarian Dances,” had little in common with the symphonic festival and they certainly did not help answer the question thrown out by Sirota to Salonen and pianist Formenti: “What makes them Hungarian? “
The only information I really took away from the conversation which gained lively momentum through the emotionally charged, but a bit chaotic, Formenti was the fact that the Hungarian thread was to be understood somewhat loosely, since Hungarian geographical territories continuously shifted according to political alliances within the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Culturally, what was really thought to be Hungarian was often rooted in Gypsy music.
However the music of Hungarian-born Bartók and Haydn, who had worked at the Esterhazy court in Hungary, and Ligeti, born into a Jewish-Hungarian family from Transylvania, remains fascinating. Their music was highly innovative for its time and therefore captivated the interest of Salonen, the true modernist spirit, to curate the festival.
As far as Salonen’s personal input about the festival, he volunteered one important fact, namely that he finds himself at a stage in his life where he now has free choices of performances. Luckily for us, he obviously likes the Bartók, the Haydn and the Ligeti. This was even clearer when I heard his Bartók rehearsal with the New York Philharmonic that same morning. He was really fantastic at it. Demanding yet devoted, he negotiated with the already excellent and capable Philharmonic players several nuances of tempi, dynamics and coloration. He stopped and started them, even stopping them mid-bar where they immediately picked up fluidly. Sometimes he did this with a little humor: “We managed to bury the trumpets…twice…”, sometimes with firmness, but always making sure of getting his way, in a compelling manner. Concert master Glenn Dicterow sat to his left with the violins, opposing the violas on the right hand side of the conductor – a relatively new seating arrangement, agreeable with Salonen and Alan Gilbert (compare with my concertmaster article).
The atmosphere stayed always friendly, but there was also a tremendously focused concentration in the orchestra, as they conformed audibly to the energetic, modern dance-like movements of the Finn. It was an exciting way to listen to Bartók’s inventive themes that actually seem so much less confrontational as we get more and more familiar with them over the years. He really – as Dicterow remarked on the way to rehearsal, is not at all that “avant-garde” anymore. As wonderful as this rehearsal was, I felt that at the Green Space performances, “Less is more” would have worked better.
I went there for Salonen’s vision and how it connected to works at his festival, as well as to get to know something about his personality. The incredibly important fact that he had worked closely with Ligeti, before his death in 2006, was only briefly mentioned, but never elaborated on. A world of influences on a potent composer and conductor could have been brought to light, by the talented performer and radio show host known to champion New Music of this high caliber, so why didn’t Sirota do it? She had the space, the time, and the man right with her.
Salonen, who had not even taken the time to change since the rehearsal must have felt similarly, after beating traffic all the way to 160 Varrick Street, even if he did come by limousine.
1 Comment »