Archive for the “Classical Music” Category

Le Poisson Rouge is a striking place.

This venue was the location of this past Sunday’s concert featuring Iktus Percussion (Cory Bracken, Chris Graham, Nicholas Woodbury, and Steve Sehman), pianist Taka Kigawa, and toy pianist Phyllis Chen. According to Iktus member Cory Bracken, one of the missions of the evening (focused entirely around composer John Cage) was to take some of his pieces that are almost exclusively performed in academic settings, and begin to inject them into the public concert repertoire. What the audience encountered, therefore, was a healthy mix of both often and not-so-often performed pieces by John Cage.

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[Ed. note: Composer and Peabody Institute faculty member Judah Adashi  has this appreciation of Ralph Jackson, retiring after 10 years at the helm of music-rights organisation BMI.]

L to R: Ralph Jackson, Judah Adashi, bassoonist Peter Kolkay, and Concert Artists Guild President Richard Weinert

I met Ralph Jackson in June 2001, when I received a BMI Student Composer Award. As the head of BMI Classical (and later President of the BMI Foundation), Ralph knew this to be a momentous event in a young composer’s life, not least because he himself had been a two-time recipient of the prize. One of the memorable charms of that initial encounter, as the winning composers gathered for dinner on the eve of the awards ceremony, was listening to Ralph recount his experience as a starry-eyed winner 25 years earlier. After dinner, Ralph welcomed all of us into the BMI fold.

To my surprise, this was only the beginning. My interaction with Ralph goes far beyond work registrations and royalty checks, though he has patiently fielded even the most mundane questions about these and other practical matters (always with the caveat, “remember, I am not a lawyer”). Ralph is continually on the lookout for opportunities that would be a good fit for particular composers on the BMI roster. It was Ralph who connected me with the Arc Duo, an ensemble that went on to commission, perform and record my music. And after several invitations from Ralph to apply for the BMI Foundation’s Carlos Surinach Fund Commission, I was proud to accept the 2006 award from him.

The fact that countless BMI composers could have written the preceding paragraphs captures the essence of Ralph’s generosity: he is personally invested in each one of us. From time to time, in conversations with my parents, they ask whether I might do well to hire an agent. I tell them it isn’t something I need or want to do; and besides, for all intents and purposes, I have one: Ralph Jackson. Apart from my family, it is difficult to imagine anyone taking as deep and genuine an interest in my music as he has over the past eleven years. When I look at the framed BMI certificates in my studio, I am buoyed by the thought of someone who has consistently believed in and supported what I do.

June 29, 2012 was Ralph’s last day at BMI, after 32 years of devoted service. He has decided to retire, to pursue his gifts as a visual artist, explore new paths, and spend time with his husband David and their beloved dog, Ringo. BMI has named Deirdre Chadwick to succeed Ralph as head of classical music, and I feel that I can speak for my peers in saying that we are immensely excited to work with her. But Ralph will always occupy a singular place in my musical life, and in the lives of so many of my fellow composers. To borrow Kyle Gann’s characterization of John Cage, Ralph has been “a walking, one-man healthy climate for new music.” He is the quintessential musical citizen, a joyous spirit who has made the world of contemporary music a better place.

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Jennifer Dautermann of WOMEX (the World Music Expo) and project manager of Classical:NEXT, has succeeded in building a new platform for classical music professionals at Munich’s well equipped, easy to maneuver, cultural center Gasteig.


The long overdue launch of classical music’s first dedicated forum took place over May 30 to June 2, hosting live and video showcases, conference sessions and presentations by leading professionals of the press as well as music institutions, the likes of Carnegie Hall and the Bavarian State Opera.


The forum also included easily accessible trade-fair booths showcasing the recording industry, dominated by the Omni-presence of the large Naxos team.

Part of the excitement was the presence of the eminent, Hong-Kong based Naxos founder and self-made man Klaus Heymann, who chose this forum to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Naxos’s position as the largest distributor of classical music. This in itself may have contributed in part to the eager participation of many of the labels distributed by Naxos at Classical:NEXT. Regardless, Naxos has proven time and again that it is equipped with an innovative entrepreneurial approach and a foresight that has succeeded with great projects like the Naxos library. They have managed to connect culture and commerce and impressively demonstrate their development from a low-budget start-up into a world-wide classical powerhouse.

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Princeton Symphony Orchestra

Richardson Auditorium, Princeton, NJ

May 13, 2012

PRINCETON – The Princeton Symphony’s final concert of its classical season included two repertory staples – Brahms’s Fourth Symphony and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major – as well as a revised version of Sarah Kirkland Snider’s sole work to date for orchestra, Disquiet. Although Snider is a rising star in the world of contemporary music, she has thus far made her name as a formidable composer of vocal works, notably the song cycle Penelope, as well as theatre music and chamber compositions for groups such as yMusic and NOW Ensemble.

She first conceived some of the material for Disquiet back in 2000, and the original version of the piece was premiered at Yale while she was a graduate student there in 2004. The revised version given by the Princeton Symphony, conducted by Rossen Milanov, is a single movement tone poem around a quarter of an hour long. Rather than depicting “disquiet” primarily via its pitch or rhythmic language, creating abundant dissonances or angularity, Snider takes another approach: uneasiness is primarily delineated by the work’s formal design. Thus, one may at first be surprised to hear the its often lush harmonies and strong melodic thrust. But as Disquiet unfolds, a labyrinth of disparate gestures and contrasting sections, often supplied in quick succession, imparts the title’s requisite restive sensibility.

Milanov brought out the piece’s wide dynamic shifts, exhorting brash tutti and hushed sustained chords from the orchestra. The piece’s quick sectional shifts allowed several performers brief turns in the spotlight: concertmaster Basia Danilow, clarinetist William Ansel, and flutist Jayn Rosenfeld noteworthy among them.

One hopes that, with this performance under her belt, Snider will get the opportunity to create more works for  orchestra. Given  Disquiet’s colorfully cinematic use of motives, one also wonders whether she might try her hand at film-scoring.

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On Tuesday evening in New York City, Edmonton is taking Carnegie Hall by storm.

The “Spring for Music” series, a yearly Carnegie event, is an opportunity for symphony orchestras around North America to come and present their work in New York City- an opportunity that would not necessarily be possible for some of these orchestras if “Spring for Music” did not exist. This Tuesday will see the Carnegie debut of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, an up-and-coming star in the symphonic world.

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra is celebrating its 60-year anniversary this year. An integral and beloved part of the Edmonton community, the orchestra is travelling to Carnegie to present a program made up mostly of works they have commissioned over the years, with the exception of Martinu’s first symphony.  There is something thrilling about the three Canadian composers being featured on the program. Their voices are unique, in a way that only 21st-Century composers could be. Their inspirations and tastes range from Beethoven, to Brahms, to Stravinsky, to Adams; and they were not shy to have open conversations with me about their work.


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Vassily Primakov and Natalia Lavrova Photo:Alex Fedorov

Pianists Vassily Primakov and Natalia Lavrova are very much their own acts. But they became close partners when they debuted their Arensky CD and, in the process, founded their own record label, LP Classics, Inc. Since then, they’ve performed as a duo, as they will on May 6 at Get Classical’s inaugural concert series event at New York’s Rose Bar.But their friendship began much earlier, back in 1999, when the two pianists were freshmen at Julliard.


They instantly connected over their shared Russian heritage, but on top of that, their personalities just clicked. “Of course, we have had our share of fights, regular stuff that happens when two egos are involved…and we have our own lives,” volunteers Lavrova, during our animated interview over dinner with Primakov. “But we love each other.”

Photo: Alex Fedorov


Married to photographer Alex Fedorov, Lavrova often brings her husband on board withher projects.Fedorov is responsible for all of the photographic work featured on the Arensky CD, which Lavrova and Primakov recorded to great reviews. James Harrington of the American Record Guide wrote that the two “capture the essence of each suite, and through their considerable talents, share with us some of the most enjoyable almost unknown music I have heard in quite a while.”


Artistic collaboration was a natural extension of Lavrova and Primakov’s friendship, says Primakov. “We do think alike; there is a spiritual connection and a feeling for the music that just got more serious over the last two years, when we decided to get involved with recording the Arensky’s suites,” he says, reminiscent of their past years spent under teacher Jerome Lowenthal at Juilliard’s chamber music program (where they spend more time partying then practicing, they admit). “We were both excited, when we heard this music and started to perform it in concert to great reviews and decided we needed to record this interesting, yet virtually unknown program,” says Primakov. “We had two options—either pitch it to an established label or try to do it on our own. As we were thinking about this music, we both realized we wanted to have more control of the process, and it became a project that started so many things for the both of us. It also brought us even closer.”


While Primakov has already catalogued a number of recordings with Bridge Records, the Arensky CD was a first for Lavrova, who spends most of her time, when not performing, managing her own music school program. As the director of Music School of New York City, she teaches pianists of all levels and ages, applying her passion for music education that she inherited from her own teacher, Zalina Gurevich, who, many years ago, recognized their shared enthusiasm for teaching and kids in a young Lavrova. “She allowed me to sit in her lessons and gradually take over teaching some of her kids,” says Lavrova. “At first she would monitor the lessons and then give me feedback. It made all the difference in my learning how to become a good teacher.”


A very important factor in Lavrova’s teacher selections is a teacher’s performance experience. “That inspires students in a way nothing else can,” she says. One of her favorite teachers at her school, no wonder then, is Primakov, even though, between his busy performance and recording schedules, he can only take on a limited number of students.


But despite both of the artists’ busy daily routines, they are committed to and infatuated with their newest project, LP Classics. From the initial excitement over finding the pianos and dealing with tuners and sound engineers, they are both planning on fully integrating the record label into their careers. “We had turned to our friend Sarah Faust of Faust-Harrison Pianos to obtain two matching pianos for the recording.

Photo: Alex Fedorov

She had a new Yamaha CFX in her vast studio, which we loved, and then put us in touch with Bonnie Barrett, the director of Yamaha Artist Services, to find another. We tried it, and it sounded great, and this developed our future relationship with Yamaha.” Primakov and Lavrova are now Yamaha artists. Their Arensky CD was the first ever recording on two Yamaha CFX model pianos, and their CD release performance was live-streamed from the Yamaha showroom. Right now, the two are working on a lot of four-hand, one-instrument repertoire—an easier and more economical setup—exploring less-played pieces such as the Czerny Sonatas and works by Milhaud and John Corigliano, which they plan to perform at Get Classical at the Rose Bar.


In the future, Primakov says, they want to open up their record label to young artists looking to produce resume-building and career-launching first CDs. They also want to unbury historical, undiscovered past recordings of great, established performers, introducing old, forgotten gems to the public, as they did with Vera Gornostaeva Vol. 1 Chopin, a historical recording found through archived tapes in a Moscow library. “We obtained the rights and re-mastered the tapes of this amazing recording,” explains Primakov. “Another hidden secret we are now releasing is our teacher Jerry Lowenthal’s playing, which we both grew up on, and there are so many more to come.”


Very important to their mission is their ability to rely on efficient and passionate

Photo: Alex Fedorov

music professionals involved in the recording process. “You are so exposed as a performer, you have to be able to trust the people you work with to make you look your best,” says Primakov. “We have built a wonderful little family that includes Charlie Post, who became sound engineer, editor and producer in one, and technician Terry Flynn, who can achieve the most amazing results in the short in-betweens of the recording process. As soon as he hears just a slight irregularity in tone voicing, he informs the sound engineer and matches up everything in the matter of minutes while we step out for a glass of water.”


Also important to Primakov and Lavrova’s goals is the opportunity to constantly engage with new audiences, which they will have the opportunity to do this May 6, when the two perform excerpts of their four-hand program as well as some solo repertoire at Get Classical’s music series launch at the trendy Gramercy Park Hotel’s Rose Bar in New York. Primakov and Lavrova will be two of four pianists presenting a program geared to new and old classical fans, including readers, by bringing 19th-century salon-type performances to the 21st-century lounge. Hosted by the Gramercy Park Hotel and myself, your devoted blogger, Get Classical at the Rose Bar hopes to bring classical music to audiences that might prefer listening in the comfort of an armchair, aperitif in hand, to the formality of the concert hall. The series will give listeners the chance to meet artists in the intimacy of the cool Rose Bar and hear them talk about their music and lives as concert artists. And it is exactly this exchange that performers like Primakov and Lavrova, as well as David Aladashvili and Marika Bournaki, the two performers featured alongside them in the evening’s program, are looking forward to—to play and relate to both staying fans and interested spectators in a personal way. “We always want to test drive our program with new audiences. It’s one of the most exciting things one can do as a performer,” Primakov says.

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New York, New York  – Get Classical will be launching their first program on May 6th, 6 pm at the Rose Bar at the Gramercy Park Hotel at 2 Lexington Avenue. 


An alternative experience as a welcomed addition to its traditional presentation, Get Classical invites many new fans to the classical genre, launching its first event on May 6th. at the tastefully styled,  eclectic Rose Bar.

Get Classical’s vision of an intimate presentation of classical concerts and commentary amid the Gramercy Park Hotel’s stylish Rose Bar brings the grandeur of the 19th-century salon to the 21st-century lounge.

Presenting a new alternative to listening to classical music in its formal concert hall venue, Get Classical integrates classical into the mainstream, and sophisticated, music night life.

In the hope of bringing newcomers and aficionados alike to this generation’s vital, ever-expanding classical music scene, Get Classical aims to benefit a genre that is always looking to reinvent itself but seldom reaches out of its own comfort zone.

These salon-type concerts, where people can sit back with an aperitif, are planned as a monthly Sunday series and will include CD-release and signing events, presenting seasoned as well as up-and-coming young artists to New Yorker audiences.

Inspired by interviews, interactions and friendships with great musicians, Ilona Oltuski founded the music blog GetClassical and her website  in 2009. Featuring intimate portraits of classical performers and their stories, written by a blogger who, herself a lay musician, gets it, GetClassical prides itself on peering into the inner world of the artist and some of the developing trends within the business of music.

Get Classical at the Rose Bar hopes to bring its sensitivity towards cultural shifts into the actual performance realm, picking up on the notion of new efforts to promote a classical scene in new environments. An extension of both the cool generation’s craving for style and the happening night life scene at Rose Bar can potentially emulate a highly attractive version of the ideal, traditional classical forum.

The May 6th.  program features avid performers, classical pianists Marika Bournaki, Vassily Primakov, Natalia Lavrova and David Aladashvili, who will also engage in a conversation with music journalist Ilona Oltuski, Get Classical’s Founder and host of the series’ launch at the Rose Bar. Get Classical’s intimate and “salon like” program will hopefully revitalize this very important part of our city’s culture.” Entrance is free, with a one-drink minimum. Attendees must book at to be included on the guest list by April 14th.Many thanks go to the Gramercy Park Hotel and the Rose Bar, for their personal support and for their willingness to take part in Get Classical’s launch.

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Steve Reich and Music for 18 Musicians comes to Disney Hall on Jan. 17

For the LA Weekly, I compiled a list of what appear to be the best classical music events next year in Los Angeles. (Of course, the 2012-13 seasons haven’t been announced yet, so there will likely be events in the fall that I’ll be crazy about, and REDCAT had not published its Winter/Spring concert schedule by the time I turned my copy into my editors)

Just about all my picks involve 20th/21st century music (there’s lots of pre-20th century music at Ojai, and although Mahler may not seem 20th-century to many classical music mavens, over half of his output was composed after 1901).  Here they are, in order of Most-To-Least Amount of Regret One Will Have For Not Attending The Event:

1) Steve Reich played by the Bang on a Can All-Stars and red fish blue fish, Jan. 17

2) The LA Philharmonic’s Mahler Project, but in particular the rarely performed 8th Symphony

3) The Ojai Festival–lots of new music, but especially the West Coast premiere of John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit on June 7

4) Jacaranda’s March 17-18 concerts, featuring the LA premiere of Christopher Rouse’s astounding String Quartet no. 3, played by the group which commissioned it, the Calder Quartet

5) Violinist Shalini Vijayan will perform Cage’s One6 and One10 with musical sculptures by Mineko Grimmer (which Cage approved as appropriate companion works to his music), as the opening concert of Cage 2012

My story, along with lots of links and videos, can be read here.

Some observations and amplifications I couldn’t squeeze into a 500-word story:

  • REDCAT is doing a 2-night Cage Festival, including performances of 103 and Fifty-Eight on the first evening. But from what I can see right now, that and Southwest Chamber Music’s Cage 2012 are the only big birthday celebrations going on for Cage in his native city. Green Umbrella will present Cage’s Concerto for Prepared Piano, performed by Gloria Cheng and conducted by John Adams; the other works scheduled for that program include Stockhausen’s Tierkreis (the “Carnival of Venice” for new music groups) and a new work from Oscar Bettison which is more likely to be in Cage’s spirit than Stockhausen’s goofy Zodiac pieces.
  • The all-Andriessen Green Umbrella concert looks very promising–2 multimedia works, (the lurid Anais Nin and Life) plus the US premiere of La Giro. It’s worth attending just to see the riveting Cristina Zavalloni, who’s become one of Andriessen’s chosen interpreters
  • I feel sorry for all the other composers on the above Jacaranda program (Richard Rodney Bennett, William Schuman, and Leon Kirchner)–memory of their music will be completely obliterated by Rouse’s compositional juggernaut, his Third Quartet. There’s a video of the Calder Quartet ripping it up (the West Coast premiere) here. The Calder will also play Rouse’s Second Quartet, but the ending to that work has always struck me as contrived
  • Jacaranda has 2 other exciting programs coming up: the American premiere of Terry Riley’s Olson III, a work from the time of In C, and a January concert of chamber music by Dutilleux, Takemitsu, Ung, and Saariaho. It was a real coin toss for me to choose between Olson III or Rouse Third Quartet, but I ultimately went with Rouse because the Calder knows the work cold, and a successful performance is certain (unlike Olson III)
  • In addition to Inuksuit, JLA’s Red Arc/Blue Veil and the two-piano-plus-tape version of Dark Waves will be heard at Ojai. Marc-Andre Hamelin, a pianist I would not associate with JLA’s music, will be performing in the latter 2 pieces–I look forward to hearing what he does with the piece. I imagine he’ll get authoritative guidance from Steve Schick, his partner in Red Arc, and from JLA himself. Amusingly, John Adams’ Shaker Loops will be on the same program as Dark Waves. I wonder how many inattentive audience members will think they’re works by the same composer? Much more up Hamelin’s alley: Ives’ Concord Sonata and Berg’s Four Songs, op. 2, and following his performance of Dark Waves with Leif Oves Andsnes, the pianists will play Stravinsky’s 4-hand arrangement of Rite of Spring (done on 2 pianos, because the hand crossings and elbow bumpings are ridiculous)

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Please welcome Jonathan Lakeland, a conductor and pianist making his first contribution to Sequenza 21, a review of pianist Ang Li’s Weill Hall program. Plenty of 19th century rep, but two premieres as well. 

The collaboration between performer and composer is one of the great joys of music. Pianist Ang Li’s recent Carnegie Hall recital (12/18 at Weill Hall) was, if nothing else, a celebration of this beautiful relationship. Ms. Li programmed music that celebrated the 200th birth-year of Franz Liszt, while also performing new works by two terrific young composers: Jérôme Blais and Jared Miller.


Ms. Li began her program with Liszt’s piano transcription of “Liebestod”, the final aria from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, which opens with three hypnotizing ambiguous chords. The performance was riveting. One could hear the entire orchestra in the reduction, illustrating not only the brilliance of Ms. Li’s musical ability, but also the genius of the birthday boy himself.


Following this was Liszt’s “Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este” from Annés de Pèlerinage, a piece was inspired by the Gospel of John (4:14), “but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” As Liszt’s writing transitions from depicting the beauty of the divine water towards depicting the greatness of eternal life, Ms. Li was able to achieve a rounded and sonorous bass, an area of the piano that some other pianists abuse and manhandle.


After a brief pause came a set of three Schubert songs transcribed for the piano by Liszt: “Wohin”; “Der Müller und der Bach”; and “Gretchen am Spinnrade”. One of the questions a performer must answer when preparing these famous transcriptions is whether the melody should be played as if it is being sung, or if it should be played as if it is on an instrument, or imitating a series of instruments. The cardinal mistake a pianist can make is to have made no decision, for this rejects the compositional foundation of these pieces. Ms. Li clearly decided to “be a singer.” The result was a lyrical and present melody reflecting the character of a Chopin nocturne, while also respecting the programmatic writing of Schubert’s songs.


The first half ended with Liszt’s Ballade no. 2 in b minor. In keeping with the recital’s programmatic theme, Ms. Li mentions in her program notes that this piece is supposed to depict, the myth of Hero and Leander. One could surmise it to say it was a myth that was Wagnerian and tragic in character. In her performance of this piece, I felt Ms. Li emphasized depiction too much, and tried to force-feed me the images behind each musical moment. She did not let subtlety play a role here, and I felt that her choices got in the way of Liszt’s writing. This surprised me, but she quickly redeemed herself.


Following intermission was a second half full of youth and vitality. Mr. Blais, whose piece, “Es ist genug!” received its U.S. premiere at the recital this evening, explained to the audience that he is an atheist, and was asked to write a piece for a concert of contemporary piano music celebrating Christmas. Clearly, he was faced with a slight problem. How does an atheist compose something referencing the sacred? He decided that as a musician, the closest he could get was to write a piece worshipping Johann Sebastian Bach.

Mr. Blais’ composition combined fragments of Bach’s keyboard works separated by moments of improvisation. He combined this structure with the use of the sostenuto pedal to highlight the overtone series, and its embedded harmonic influence. The result was a vacuum of ringing overtones broken by momentary bursts of counterpoint, and slightly incomplete but familiar cadences. Ms. Li committed to the vision of the composer, and delivered a tasteful and confident performance.


Between Mr. Blais’ and Ms. Miller’s works was a set of three Debussy preludes: Brouillards, Minstrels, and Feux d’artifice. Ms. Li’s musical vision seemed slightly skewed. Perhaps it was hearing this set between two extraordinarily organic performances, but they seemed to lack the evening’s prevalent interpretive power.

The world premiere of, “Souvenirs d’Europe”, by Jared Miller, was next to be heard, and Ms. Li had him speak before her performance as well. Mr. Miller is pursuing his Master’s degree in composition at Juilliard. He told the audience that he had been commissioned for this work immediately upon returning from backpacking through Europe. Naturally he was inspired by Liszt’s, Annés de Pèlerinage, as this set of pieces was written as Liszt’s reflection of his travels through Europe. Miller’s piece is in three movements: Fontaines, Origines, and İLa Rambla!. As Mr. Miller writes, “Fontaines evokes the Cascade Donjon Waterfall in Nice, France.” What was immediately noticeable was his intimate knowledge of the piano’s versatility. The result is an admirable accomplishment of programmatic writing- we can hear the water sloshing, and gravity’s tempo as it pulls the water along its course.


“Origines” is “inspired by the significance of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris,” says Miller. He evokes, “the sounds of ancient chorales, chants, bells, and [the] organ echoing through time and space.” Ms. Li channeled these images and instruments very well. Miller’s piano writing mimicked each instrument quite well.


İLa Rambla!, “evokes Barcelona’s main tourist drag”…”one hears pulsating Latin music escape a nightclub, smells tapas being cooked at a cerveceria, and tastes the most potent sangria in the world.” Mr. Miller’s communication of folk life and song rivals that of the masters Bartok, Britten, and Dvorak. His music is both hypnotic and efficient, leaving every musical detail with an interconnected meaning. At only twenty-two years old, his music brims with potential. Not even waiting until the piece had fully ended, the audience sounded their cheers, applause, and bravos for Miller and Li.


Ms. Li ended the program with Granados’ Allegro de Concierto. This exciting piece was a perfect choice to follow Miller’s rousing İLa Rambla!. Ms. Li played it with brilliant enthusiasm.


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Video shot and edited by Jonathan Jindra. Music by George Heathco.

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