Author Archive


Chicago’s Skyline


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.

Comments Comments Off on Leif Ove Andsnes – A disparate program held together by stylistic elegance and sovereignty of each piece’s characteristics.

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 »

Comments 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.

Esa-Pekka Salonen

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? “

Nadia Sirota

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).

Esa-Pekka Salonen

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.

Comments 1 Comment »

Even though the pianist’s ‘Liszt – Recital Tour’ did not actually start out, as originally planned in Jerusalem, and instead started in Madrid, playing in Jerusalem for the first time was of great  moment to Kissin’s heart. As he put it, “Im Eshkachech Yerushalayim Tishkach Yimini …”  Douay-Rheims Bible
(If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten)

I could not even begin to imagine the impact of this literal transcription.

Kissin performs concerts in Tel Aviv on a regular basis, but this concert,  held on February 16th, (instead of as planned  on January 8th) was the first of its kind, his first Solo recital here and had a locally invested objective: to help raise funds for the Jerusalem Music Center.

The initiative for the concert, as Kissin told me, was based on his wish to perform in Jerusalem itself and, looking for this welcomed opportunity, he approached his friend, Lady Annabelle Weidenfeld.

As a member of the Center’s Advisory Board, Lady Weidenfeld, in conjunction with the Jerusalem Foundation and renowned pianist Murray Perahia, the organization’s president since 2009, obliged enthusiastically and the concert was planned as part of Kissin’s 2011 world tour.

The concert, to honor Liszt’s 200th bicentennial was held at the International Convention Center ’Binyanei hauma’  in Jerusalem to accommodate as many people as possible. This was part of a Liszt recital tour which put Jerusalem on the classical music map along with the usual venerable venues including Carnegie Hall, the latter on March 9th, 2011.

Situated within the picturesque neighborhood of ‘Mishkenot She’ananim’, near Jerusalem’s Old City, JMC was founded in 1973, inspired by the vision of legendary violinist and mentor to many great artists, Isaac Stern and Teddy Kollek, then eminent mayor of Jerusalem.

As an advanced training center for Israel’s young musical talents, JMC’s mission – as executive director Hed Sella in an interview with Sarah Carnvek explains, is not geared to discover the next prodigy, but is rather invested in helping talented young people to become all-round musicians.

Says Sella:”From the JMC point of view, we try to be apolitical and invite only those with the best musical quality. We are involved in several projects that see Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs playing together. We believe in coexistence.” Read the rest of this entry »

Comments 1 Comment »

Composer Vivian Fung

“I find the most inspiration while travelling” says composer Vivian Fung, whose first commission for the New York Chamber Society was performed under the baton of Gerard Schwarz, in 1995. She was 19 years old at the time. Her interests in music are influenced by her wide ranging travels and exude cross cultural pollination.

Fluent in Cantonese as well as English, Fung unites both worlds of her Asian heritage and the Western influences of her schooling and surroundings, comfortably within her personality. “My background is Chinese but I grew up in Edmonton, Canada, and my training is Western throughout,” Fung explains to me over lunch on the Upper West Side, at ‘Nick&Tony’ near Lincoln Center. Exclaiming to be a big “foodie,” the delicately built young composer examines the menu, settling for an exotic sounding version of a hamburger. She is decisive and matter of fact, yet agreeable and comfortable with defying categorizations. When it comes to music her take is especially definite:”There is no line for me, marking classical music from non-classical.”

After earning her doctorate in composition from Juilliard in 2002, the energetic young musician started teaching music theory as part of the faculty of Julliard’s Literature and Materials of Music department.

An inspirational trip to Bali in the summer of 2004 brought about some exploration of South East Asian Gamelan music and led her to curate the innovative ‘World Music Series,’ at Juilliard. This venture allowed her to channel some of the exciting and foreign artistic influences into her ‘other life’ in academia and to introduce the students to different cultural elements, broadening their musical horizons.

Inspiration - Bali

 “I would invite top notch artists, talk about their culture and background and just introduce the students to different influences.” she remembers, contagiously excited. She explains how this came about: “I had just come back from Bali, and had studied with one of the foremost Balinese Gamelan groups named Cudamani, which happened to go on tour in the US that spring of 2005, and so I invited them to give a lecture-recital at Juilliard.”

It is easy to see how Fung’s innovative project won her enthusiastic followers throughout the Juilliard student body. Personal interaction is existentially important for Fung:”Since composing for me is a very collaborative process, with the performing musician(s)and I am interested  in a true involvement, it is important that there is a passionate approach towards my work, about my music. It helps, of course, to have a personal relationship as well. When the performer is enthusiastic, learns the piece by heart and gives the performance full attention and effort, the result is something greater than the piece itself. ”  

Naturally, the personal factor always comes into play; and especially so with most of the promising collaborative circles of new “music scenes,” with the often overlapping interaction of performers, composers, conductors and educators. Based mostly in America’s Metropolitan areas, these groups of musicians also seem to provide more and more often their own audience base. Remarkably though, a perpetual artistic individualism prevails through even the most collaborative efforts. It seems as there has never been a more exciting conglomerate of mixed stylistic, highly original and creative voices around.

Fung exclaims: “My work as a composer is so personal; I am always open for influences that inform my choices. Of course the Asian undercurrent is always going to be there, this is always going to be part of who I am. But ultimately it’s all about one’s personal journey. Of course I am aware who my colleagues and friends are, and we do have a community. I love also interacting with the audience, talking about my piece and experiencing a connection. It is important to me, that the audience is diversified. I do not believe in elitism. I am very involved in the Chicago Fulcrum Point New Music Project, a chamber ensemble found in 1998 by acclaimed musician, conductor and music educator Stephen Burns. They will present the world premiere of my “Yunnan Folk Songs” on March 22nd, 2011, as part of their concert “Speaking in Tongues. In the Chicago area, Fung was also composer –in- residence for the Music in the loft series in 2005/6.

Gamelan Performance

True to Fung’s academic interest, the “Yunnan Folk Songs” is a project, based on vast research by Professor Zhang Xingrong of the Yunnan Art Institute, China. Since the early 80’s he has established an immense ethno-musicological collection of folksongs preserving cultural edifices of 25 minority nationalities in Southwest China, recording and transmitting their distinct languages and musical outputs.

Says Fung: “I can go in-between a lot of things, can be an observer of different traditions, without having to stick to any particular way. How you relate to the world and other people comes from an imagination from within. The same goes for musical composition. My musical reference to certain cultural influences is always characterized or filtered by my inspiration of certain aspects of it.”

With the Yunnan Folk song- cycle for example, Fung felt an immediate urge to explore the strong emotional impact of the raw and earthy voices, expressing an uninhibited emotional quality delivered by means of intense contrapuntal textures.

This seventeen-minute cycle of seven songs for mezzo-soprano, baritone and chamber ensemble is a still in process artisticinvestigation that she would like to explore even further and maybe develop, at some point, into an operatic work.

To find enough time for her increasing emergence as a composer, Fung made the decision to leave Julliard’s teaching position in 2009. “A leap of faith,” as she admits.

“I really enjoyed teaching as well, but I just could not be able to branch out, in the way I wanted to, having such limited time,” says the married Fung who is also considering time issues, concerning the debate of starting a family.

For the time being, she relishes the highly personal involvement with the artists she creates her works for: “My relationship with performers is becoming more and more important to how I shape a new commission, as well as the potential longevity of my work.”

Vivian Fung

Fung tells about her friendship with pianist   Jenny Lin , a well recognized young performer, who is known for her fine musical skills in both classical repertoire as well as a new music pianist: “In 2005, Jenny approached me to write a new work for her on prepared piano, which became Glimpses, premiered by her at the ISCM Miami Festival in 2006.

This work has been performed numerous times, by Jenny and has since been picked up by such pianists as Margaret Leng Tan, Vicky Chow, and Bryan Wagorn, who will perform it at the Americas Society, New York, April 26th. 2011, celebrating the composer as the rising star of Canadian music that she is. Part of this celebration will also be the Canadian Afiara String Quartet , currently the graduate resident string quartet at The Juilliard School in New York, where they serve as teaching assistants to the Juilliard String Quartet. 

“I think that it was thanks to the care, Jenny and I applied working on finding the right notation and nuances that helped get the work “out there,” says Fung. “Already then, Jenny recognized the potential in Glimpse’s first movement, “Kotekan” to be built up into a larger, more complex work. This idea led to my piano concerto “Dreamscapes” for Jenny that was commissioned by Andrew Cyr for the Metropolis Ensemble and was premiered at LePoisson Rouge in November of 2009. So…if you listen to the Piano Concerto, there is a quotation of “Kotekan” about 4 minutes into the concerto and that material is greatly expanded upon.”

Violinist Kristin Lee attended Fung’s class at Juilliard, and was fascinated from the get go. A mutual collaboration with the violinist, whom Fung describes as gutsy, virtuosic and lyrical at the same time, started when Fung got invited to one of her performances.

“I invited Andrew [Cyr] to join me and we both were blown away by her performance. Andrew invited Kristin to join the Metropolis Ensemble, where she also became the concertmaster for the performance of my Piano Concerto in 2009. She loved it, enough so, that she sent me an email after a rehearsal and asked me to write a violin concerto for her…The relationship I have fostered with Kristin resulted also in her accompanying me to Bali, this past summer of 2010, while I was touring with Gamelan Dharmaswana, in residence here at the New York Indonesian Consulate…the trip made our musical friendship grow deeper…The cadenza was a collaborative effort, it will be a tour de force,” says Fung, as she invites me to preview the performance of mentioned cadenza, at its inaugural benefit performance at Riverpark, with the Metropolis Ensemble on March 8th, 2011. The world premiere of the violin concerto in its entirety is planned for sometime in the fall of 2011.

“I am also an active community member, fostering additional relationships with rising composers and performers through workshops and outreach programs. In my role of the New York Foundation for the Arts  music fellow for 2010-11 I have been involved as a mentor in their Immigrant Artist Mentorship program, where I share my artistic experiences and resources, helping a  young composer in her early career to achieve her goals.”

And she has indeed already plenty of valid resources and experiences to share.

Fung’s very next important date is the Canadian premiere of her String Quartet No 2. , taking place in Edmonton, her Canadian hometown.

Presented by the Edmonton Chamber Society and featuring the Shanghai String Quartet on March 5th. 2011, the work was a commission by the Shanghai String Quartet  in 2009 in celebration of their 25th Season. Another piece for String Quartet, Pizzicato, composed already in 2001 and recorded with the Ying Quartet and released by Telarc in 2008, will be featured by the Escher Quartet  as part of Chamber Society of Lincoln Center’s Opening Night, FireworksConcert at Alice Tully Hall, on September 26th, 2011.

Expect nothing less than Fireworks! 

For more Information about the composer Vivian Fung, see her website:

Comments 1 Comment »

  It is easy enough to identify striking talent, even at a young age. For musically-talented performers, this often seems to set a process in motion that can lead to an unstoppable, out of control ride. Parental support and teachers’ ambitions frequently play into rising expectations and young performers are often left to fight for themselves, dealing with the stress of having to perform well at all times. Intensive training must conform to some of the highest and most competitive standards, but these are not often in sync with a teenage state of mind and can easily leave the budding artist feeling overwhelmed by an inescapable, spiraling wheel of critique and approval. 

I wonder if this is how it sometimes appeared to the young, French-Canadian born Marika Bournaki, whom I met with her boyfriend, David Aladashvili, in November of 2008, at New York’s Juilliard School cafeteria. Marika generously shared with me her thoughts on the different stages and experiences of becoming the serious artist she set out to be. This has grown into a tender friendship over the past three years, where I have followed Marika, with a distinct appreciation of the interesting young woman and maturing artist she is becoming.

Marika’s promising pianistic talent had always created a lot of attention around her, making her what she describes as “the Golden child” of her piano teacher in Montreal. This renown gave her confidence and pride in her ability to perform, as well as lots of opportunities to do just that. Laughingly she described this as turning her into a bit of a “drama queen.” 

Because she had experienced pain at the instrument, she sought out, even at 12, the help of Israeli born pianist and professor for music at the Juilliard School, Yoheved Kaplinsky. Veda, as she is affectionately called by her students, studied with Ilona Vincze-Kraus at the Israel Academy of Music and then under Irwin Freundlich at Juilliard, earning her Bachelor, Master and Doctoral degrees.  She had also studied with Brooklyn-based pianist and teacher Dorothy Taubman, whose claim to fame lay in discovering an analytical approach that facilitates the physically complex elements  in a natural piano technique; thus  helping many pianists to overcome painful injuries or limitations and gain greater freedom and precise articulation within their playing. Since 1997 Kaplinsky had been appointed head of the Juilliard Piano College Division and Artistic Director of its Pre-College Division. 

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments Comments Off on Pianist Marika Bournaki: on a Schumanesque quest–finding herself in the process

 “Guess who this trunk used to belong to?” asks Glenn Dicterow, concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, as he leads me through the backstage rooms and hallways of Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall; his home away from home, only a New York block away.

We are standing in front of a huge antique – or at least old fashioned –weathered-looking black trunk, impressively marked with travel stickers indicating its many different destinations.

“…..long history with the New York Phil…” he coaxes me into guessing the celebrity, whose travel companion the trunk had been before it was given to Dicterow, to hold the concertmaster’s possessions on his trips with the orchestra.

“Yes, you guessed right.” He turns back to me, “It’s finished with a red velvet interior and belonged to no other than – Leonard Bernstein.”

Since he joined the New York Philharmonic as concertmaster in 1980, Dicterow has played first fiddle under the preeminent Maestros who have served as the New York Philharmonic music directors’ guest conductors from around the world, and leading soloists.

Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel and now Alan Gilbert…. Here is a true collective of all singular personalities, with different temperaments and musical expectations. It can’t be an easy task to appease all of these charismatic leaders and keep one’s own integrity, leave alone one’s own sanity.

 Yet, thanks to his remarkably generous spirit, it seems that Dicterow has managed to do just that, highly successfully.

On the faculty of the Juilliard School and as acting chairman of the innovative Manhattan School of Music ‘Orchestral Performance Program’, Dicterow also follows his other vocation: Music Education.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments Comments Off on First Fiddle: Glenn Dicterow, Concertmaster of NYC’s Ultimate Band, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra

Being in a state of ecstasy, according to the American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, means being joyful or also enraptured.This accurately describes the vibrant atmosphere at Merkin Concert Hall’s “Ecstatic Music Festival” that opened on Martin Luther King’s Day, Marathon on January 17th.

Many of the participating artists of the festival who will give individual concert performances at Merkin Hall throughout March 28th were mixing with the audience during the 7-8 hours continuum of performances. And integration was a keyword, igniting sparks of enthusiasm and instilling excitement. The crowds spilled over into the lobby and out into the street, in front of the Kaufmann Center’s Upper Westside performance hub.  

As announced by the New Yorker, the festival “…provides a window into {the} movement in music {established during} the past decade, where a critical mass of young New York based composer/performers {has} been blurring the boundaries between classical and popular styles.”

But being there actually felt much more emotionally charged than the above description even comes close to.

The festival’s curator, Judd Greenstein, created a very personal feel, by choosing from what seems like a conglomerate collaboration of his own entourage.

As managing director of the (also included at the festival) NOW Ensemble, a chamber music quintet with unique instrumentation (flute, clarinet, electric guitar, double bass, and piano) and as a composer in his own right, Greenstein has also successfully figured out new music marketing possibilities and, in the process, created a revelation.

He also co-directs New Amsterdam Records, a record label and artist’s service organization based in New York City.  According to his own mission statement, he is committed to making: “music without filters, made by musicians who bring the breadth of their listening experience and the love they have for many different kinds of music into their own playing, writing and producing. It is music without walls, without an agenda, and without a central organizing principle…opening doors for artists to enter, creating new spaces for them to fill, and touching new outer edges where musics meet.”

At the festival, pianist/composer Timo Andres performed his “Everything is an Onion” from his 2010 composition: “It takes a long time to become a good composer”, as well as Charles Ive’s “The Alcotts” from Piano Sonata No.2, at the Marathon.

He is one of several performers who studied composition at Yale University. Like many of the festival participants, he is active in a broad spectrum of activities which make for a lifestyle of music. He, like many of his colleagues, likes to share his thoughts, articulated on his blog, as well as in person. We shared a coffee and a conversation in between performances.

“Like for any musician, my musical impulse is a result of many different influences. I attribute it as much to the open-mindedness of some of my mentors who guided me, as to things I discovered on my own. I grew up with my paternal grandfather listening to – then – cutting edge music of Bartok and Shostakovich and I never have to worry about the mechanics of the piano, thanks to my wonderful teacher Eleanor Hancock, who taught me during eleven years the principals of a natural piano technique, based on the research of Dorothy Taubman.“ He later also studied with Frederic Chiu and has performed avidly, specializing in contemporary music series, such as the wordless Music Series that was initiated by (le)Poisson Rouge music director Ronen Givony, as well as giving solo recitals with the momentum-gaining Metropolis Ensemble, which prompted Boston Globe critic Richard Dyer to assert:  ”New music cannot be intimidating when played with this degree of skill and zest.”

Timo Andres at a Metropolis House Concert


Andres’ debut album, “Shy and Mighty” released in May 2010 by Nonesuch, features ten interrelated pieces performed by Andres and co-pianist David Kaplan, another Yale graduate, who also attended the ‘Ecstatic’ marathon performance. Alex Ross in the New Yorker described the composition: Shy and Mighty “…achieves an unhurried grandeur that has rarely been felt in American music since John Adams came on the scene…more mighty than shy, {Andres} sounds like himself”. Sections of Shy and Mighty will also be performed by Andres with pianist Bred Mehldau at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall in March.

Andres is fully aware that his generation has re-enacted a long history of composers who were also performers from Mozart onwards. These artists were not only creative as musicians but also creative in managing their own careers and bringing their music to new audiences.

When he tells me he is “self-published”, he points out his knowledge of typographical work and how it helps to design a readable score. His engagement with Bookbinding and page layout has made his individual score production process, an A-Z reality. His composing and performing are two sides of the same coin.

Timo Andres


“I could not ever give up one for the other – they inform each other; it’s a continuum”, he says. And for influential impact on his compositions he explains, “A lot of music I listen to is all electronic or integrates electronics. My music is very influenced by these musical techniques, with structures and forms looking back to Minimalism and based on repetition. Looping patterns to build musical structure always fascinated me, from the first day I heard Steve Reich’s music.”

Describing the festival and his relation to Greenberg as its curator he says: “The festival represents some of the best trends in the experimental music tradition. In a sense it is a laboratory for trying out new things in a collaborative environment, where people are open to be surprised and the only boundaries are one’s own taste. The festival represents Judd’s taste, whose compositions and general intelligence I already admired as a freshman, when he was a graduate-student. All my friends have records on his label today which certainly brought some definition to the New York musical scene.”

What the festival seems to offer in particular is a home based scene for its involved artists, creating somewhat of a new music milieu.

There is a remarkable overlap of festival- participating artists who, at the same time, are some of today’s most passionate and significant entrepreneurs of current music-business ventures.

Vicky Chow, is the classically trained pianist for the New York based eclectic contemporary sextet Bang on a Can All –Stars. In 1987 three young composers, fresh out of Yale, made their first concert into an inspiring 12 hour -marathon of new music, testing the market for their programs. In 2000 they founded the “people’s commissioning fund” that encouraged audience members to participate in the commissioning for new works. Chow also produces and curates a new music series at the Gershwin Hotel in New York City, and Bang on a Can runs a summer ‘educational’ festival for young composers, located in the Berkshires.

Neurotic and Lonely,” a title from composer/performer Gabriel Kahane’s acclaimed “Craigslist Lieder” album recorded in 2006, brilliantly plays on this generation’s neuroses. Cynically insightful, the modern day bard presents his charming and diverse artistry, time and again putting classical Schumann or Schubert -Lieder presentations in direct rapport with contemporary ones, to great effect. In Kahane’s compositions, traditional music rings new – promoting a timeless feel for both –the old and new genres. Son of acclaimed pianist Jeffrey Kahane, the “piano chops” may fall naturally not far from the tree, as David Kaplan points out to me.

Gabriel Kahane


That he is a child of his own time, Gabriel shows with his curatorial creativity, promoting a particular sensitive strand of music making DNA. For a commission, as part of the MATA festival held in November of 2010 at Brooklyn’s “Issue Project Room”, Kahane curated and presented contemporary compositions, including his own, as well as Schubert’s “Dichterliebe”, in German Diction at the piano.

“I am certain that we can all agree that the phrases “genre-bending” and “genre-defying” are not long for this world….The plan is very simple: create a static frame – in this case the pianist who sings – and then offer a varied repertoire..” says this protagonist of music who simply seeks musical inclusiveness, showing what new and old have in common. “I defy you not to hear Pop music in {Schumann’s} “Ich grolle nicht”, says Kahane.

And perhaps our focus should indeed not be on differentiations within the performance culture and stylistic distinction but should instead embrace the festival’s “constructive narrative” as Greenstein, Andres and Kahane – amongst others- are ecstatically pitching for.

Kahane concludes: “ …the listener will come to the conclusion that distinctions of genre can be done away with, leaving us with Duke Ellington’s oft –quoted nugget: “There are only two kind of music: good music, and the other kind”.

Gabriel Kahane


Kahane, himself a Brown graduate, had commissioned a piece by Andres for the MATA project.  He and the young Yale-trained composer do share a lot of common interests, says Andres. They will perform together at the Merkin festival’s March 5thconcert, exploring the composer Charles Ives and dissecting various musical influences on Ives’ music and their own compositions.

This concert will include a wide trip throughout music history, starting with Bach- arrangements by Kurtag as well as some songs of Ives, performed by Kahane.

“I am arranging “Conneticut gospels” – for piano and Hammond organ with the influence of Ives in mind, so to speak from one Connecticut composer to another”, says Andres acknowledging, not without a certain kind of pride, that Ives, like him, went to Yale and was recognized as the first genuine “American” composer.

Ecstatic Music Festival at Merkin Concert Hall until March 28th


For a complete schedule and more on all the other participants of the ecstatic music festival go to:

Comments Comments Off on An Ecstatic Entourage – and a talk with Timo Andres at the Ecstatic Music Festival Marathon Initiation

Like many of music history’s traditional classical music composers, Lowell Liebermann doesn’t only compose, but he also performs. Not limiting himself to playing his own compositions, he also dedicates some of his time to the works of other composers.

To my mind, this informs Liebermann’s attitude towards composing, and shows his deep connection to classical music in general. “I understand what pianists go through, so I am very sympathetic, and the exchange with the performer [of my composition] becomes much easier and more meaningful. Due to the emphasis on specialization in America, we have unfortunately created the phenomena of composers who are not active performers themselves. I think that this often results in losing touch with the physical joy and the direct connection to the active process of performing,” says Liebermann. “Most performers of my premieres have adhered to extremely high performance standards, but I don’t really write for a specific performer, otherwise it won’t fit anyone else.”

Ida Kavafian, renowned violinist and violist and member of the piano quartet Opus One, who also serves as Artistic Director of the Angel Fire Festival in New Mexico, says about Liebermann: “Mr. Liebermann is not only an extraordinary composer, but also an outstanding pianist. It has been wonderful playing his music in groups with him, and in our piano quartet, Opus One. This summer, we premiered his Quartet for Piano and Strings Op.114 (2010), at Angel Fire; my festival had commissioned him to write a work of his choice as part of his composer-in-residence participation…”

In 2007, John Bloomfield dedicated a lecture at the annual Golandsky Summer Institute at Princeton University to Lowell Lieberman’s composition for piano solo, “Three Impromptus” Op. 68 (2000). Written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Yaddo artist colony in Saratoga Springs, the piece had been premiered by Stephen Hough at New York’s Alice Tully Hall on May 4th, 2000. The Grand Prize winner of the Van Cliburn First International Composers’ Invitational Competition, it was published by the Theodore Presser Company.

Says John Bloomfield: “With the beginning of the 20th century, composers looked for ways to expand the range of sonorities instruments were capable of producing. While George Crumb, for instance, sometimes has the pianist strum or pluck strings inside the piano, Liebermann keeps us on the keys, but uses the complete range of the piano, from the keyboard’s lowest note to the highest. In these extreme registers, the point is to create dramatic sounds and textures… By intentionally blurring sound through pedaling, he creates an ambiguity between areas of clarity and areas of harmonic blurring, all contributing to the overall texture of the piece.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments Comments Off on Composer Lowell Liebermann: Creating A Better, Alternative World

A recent facebook message sent to a well known live composer by a fan, a young musician to thank him for accepting his “friend request”,got me thinking how great it is, that our generation of fans and instrumentalists have the opportunity to connect not only with their peers but with the great and admired performers and contemporary composers.

The masters are available via email and even are sharing some facts of their lives, making them human yes, but not less venerable for their work.

I wonder how it would play out, if it became possible to connect to our old revered masters the same way. What would Chopin have answered to a friendship request? He was probably too private to even register on facebook.
Schumann however, would have been posting lots of: ‘Robert is….’ ’status comments’and blogs too, i assume. Lots of them.

It certainly would have meant a lot to Clara Schumann to be able to record from home.Maybe she would have used Skype and Youtube to promote Robert’s music.Her own compositions may have come out with a little help from fan groups and I-tunes would have most certainly posted her recordings on I-like.

I wonder if Beethoven would be opposed to perform at a nightclub,like the (le)Poisson Rouge, the popular Downtown Manhattan Bar that integrates Classical Programs alternatively to its Rock and New World Music Scene-i suspect he would not be at all.

Looking at the speed of communication and promotional tools out there, one has to wonder how these greats made it into our lives at all,considering that mail, music and performers as well as social relationships, were based on visits by horse and wagon, instead of blackberries and the varying electronic devices of our day.

Maybe it took a while longer to reach everyone, but their stardom lasted from generation to generation, their music has been taught with passion by teachers and performers for centuries.Maybethat was the case, because their message was powerful enough to overcome space and time.Maybe it was partly due the fact, that the way they collected their ‘friends’ over decades, happened by building a relationship through effort and understanding, not by clicking “accept”a thousand times.
Posted by ilona

Comments 7 Comments »