Archive for the “Concert review” Category

[Ed. note: Kurt Rohde, Professor of Composition at the University of California at Davis, sent us this report on the recent Music and The Art of Migration Festival there. The weeklong series of events combined a number of approaches to the concept and practice of migration across the arts, with an emphasis on music.]

Sometimes it feels like new music has a way of finding places to collect, gather and pool. Not surprisingly, a number of important US cities (LA, NY, Chicago, etc.) have traditionally been the gravitational centers around which everything else orbits. In our current culture of immediacy and unimpeded online access, the reach of new music being produced in smaller communities is increasing at an astounding rate…or maybe it’s just that we are hearing about it more than ever before. Regardless, there is no question that that vibrant, inventive new music can now be found in more towns across the country. Enter the town of Davis.

Located in the Sacramento River Valley between the cities of Sacramento and San Francisco, Davis is a bucolic college community. It is the home to the University of California at Davis. UCD is home to the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 2002. During the week of January 30th to February 3rd, a “flash flood” of new music took place. The UC Davis Department of Music hosted Worlds of Discovery & Loss: The Art of Migration and Music Festival, with support from the Mondavi Center and the Davis Humanities Institute. UCD faculty and composers Sam Nichols and Laurie San Martin organized the five-day festival with a depth of vision. By bringing together visiting ensembles like the Calder Quartet and Rootstock with UCD resident groups Empyrean Ensemble and the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, Nichols and San Martin exquisitely executed a festival that explored the role of migration in music and how it intersects with visual art, cultural studies, and storytelling. In effect, the festival became a migratory “stop” for everyone involved, a way station in between points where ideas were exchanged and shared before moving onward.

I joined San Martin and Nichols as their assistant during the festival: It was a fantastic way to experience firsthand all the events. At the core of the festival was the presence of composer-in-residence Lei Liang and seven Festival Composition Fellows (Kari Besharse, David Coll, Elliot Cless, Annie Hsieh, Nicholas Omiccioli, Ryan Suleiman, Tina Tallon). Around this center were a series of concerts, public talks, and private colloquia. Since there were so many incredible events scheduled throughout the week, I thought it might be most useful to share what I though were the highlights.

Perhaps the most obvious example of how the festival showcased art’s intersection with the migration of people and culture came in the form of a panel discussion moderated by UCD sociologist David Kyle. Guest panelists Anthony Sheppard (musicologist and professor of music at Williams College), Maria Elena González (Cuban-American sculptor), Philip Kan Gotanda (playwright and filmmaker at UC Berkeley), Peter Kulchyski (Native Studies at University of Manitoba), and Chan Park (Korean P’ansori expert and professor of Korean language, literature, and performance studies at Ohio State University), took part in a lively discussion detailing how various cultural collisions impacted the full range of their work. What I took away from this conversation was the intriguing notion that nomadic culture, diaspora, and willful immigration all contribute to the formation of an identity in their work that was inseparable from their identity as people. There was a blurring of the conventional binary definitions (THIS vs. THAT, or GOOD vs. BAD) surrounding concepts about nomadic life, or the urge to immigrate, or the pull of being part of a diaspora. It felt reassuring to know that in our hyper-digital age, artists are ever more sensitive in identifying the thread that runs through their lives, connecting them and their work with their ancestors, predecessors, to those that will come after them. It was complicated. It was heartening. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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

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

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

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

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Just before intermission of the opening concert of the Beyond Cage Festival on October 22, I pulled out my iPhone to see if the Giants were beating the Cardinals for the National League Pennant, and was disoriented to see that it was 9:49pm. It seemed like there must have been a massive network malfunction, because the extraordinary performance of Atlas Ecpliticalis with Winter Music that I and the rest of the audience had fervently applauded could not possibly have gone on for an hour and forty-five minutes. The duration had felt assuredly like a leisurely performance of an early Romantic symphony, say the Beethoven Pastorale, something that was stimulating and enveloping but that never demanded a hint of endurance from the ear or mind.

But it was so, Petr Kotik had just led the Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble, with Joe Kubera and Ursula Oppens simultaneously playing Winter Music, in almost two hours of some of the most resolutely avant-garde music, and the listening experience was such that the sensation of time was lost completely inside the performance. The extraordinary became the unbelievable.

Kotik had already presented this piece twenty years ago, in a historic concert that became a memorial to the recently deceased composer. And he and the ensemble have recorded it twice, on a recently reissued Wergo album and a great and unfortunately out of print Asphodel release, and these are not only the two finest recordings of Atlas but also two of the finest recordings of Cage’s music available. But the concert exceeded these, reflecting the understanding of such a profound work of art that can only come through time spent examining and thinking about it.

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(A few introductory words: I teach theory and composition at The University of Minnesota, Morris. I’m originally from Pinhook, IN – pop. 19 – and hold degrees from Morehead [KY] State University and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. I blog on matters musical, political and random at Walk In Brain. I’ve been composing for nearly three decades, and occasionally some of it gets heard. I want to thank Steve for giving me the space. There’s some good stuff happening out here in the hinterlands, and if you’re doing something interesting within, oh, 3 – 6 hours of Morris, MN let me know about it. – Wes Flinn)

Ensemble 61

When I took the job at UMM, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find fellow composers and new music. (We are pretty far out here, after all.) I need not have worried. Last night I drove over to Central Square (a converted high school) in Glenwood to hear “Water Music,” a performance by Ensemble 61, a new-music group out of the Twin Cities led by composer Kirsten Broberg and percussionist Erik Barsness.

There’s something wonderfully “only in America” about contemporary music in a small-town high school auditorium. I immediately thought of Charles Ives who, though not represented in the composers last night, would no doubt have approved. The show opened with what is now standard new-music repertoire – George Crumb‘s Vox Balaenae. Linda Chatterton deftly tackled the flute/vocal opening, and cellist Joel Salvo (a colleague at UMM) nailed the seagull effects. Pianist Matthew McCright handled the extended inside-the-instrument challenges effectively, and apart from some minor synchronization issues Crumb’s work was given a solid reading.

Soprano Carrie Henneman Shaw performed two songs for unaccompanied singer by Jarrad Powell – “the rain of the white valley” and “i am rain.” The songs, chosen for their connection to the larger theme of the evening, were quite haunting. Unaccompanied voice is always a risk, and Henneman Shaw rose to the challenge. The hall’s acoustics weren’t much help to her, unfortunately. I was seated toward the front, and even as close as I was the enunciation was problematic. Given that I could hear how clearly she was pronouncing the words, I can only chalk it up to the hall.

The first half closed with Magnus Lindberg‘s Steamboat Bill, Jr. for clarinet and cello, a post-modern tour-de-force inspired by the Buster Keaton movie of the same name and performed with considerable verve by clarinetist Paul Schimming and cellist Salvo.

The second half opened with former Minnesotan Jesse Langen playing Morgan Krauss‘s I Water, I Night for solo guitar. As with the solo voice works, it was beautifully done and possibly swallowed up in the back of the hall. Langen pointed out beforehand that the dynamic never exceeded mezzo forte; I do hope the back was able to hear how well he performed the work.

The final piece was co-founder Kirsten Broberg‘s The Waters of Time, a setting of six sonnets – in the original Spanish – by Pablo Neruda. The instrumentation was Pierrot-plus-percussion, so in addition to the above players the ensemble featured violinist Emilia Mettenbrink and Barsness on percussion. I did not know Broberg’s music beforehand, but now I want to know more of it. This was a sensitive, beautiful work that took advantage of the capabilities of the ensemble. I would like to single out Henneman Shaw and Schimming in particular for their contributions.

I have been out here on the prairie for exactly six weeks today. If I get the chance to hear new music once every six months, I’m thrilled. Broberg mentioned the group was taking this concert on a tour of Minnesota (they have just a couple more stops, including one in Fergus Falls in mid-October). It’s exciting to be in a state where even more isolated areas like here have a thriving music scene. Between all the concerts at UMM and groups that come out of the Twin Cities and Fargo, I don’t think I’ll ever want for the good stuff.

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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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Last year I decided to try my hand at liveblogging the Bang on a Can Marathon concert and had so much fun doing it, I figured I’d come back and do it again. Held in the World Financial Center, the marathon will begin at noon and last till midnight and is FREE, so y’all have plenty of time to get here, find a spot to sit, and enjoy the huge lineup of performers and composers the Marathon is bringing forth today (the day’s schedule can be found here).  If you attend, I’ll be sitting in the front row corner in the press section – feel free to come up and say howdy!

Since this puppy will probably be a bit lengthy when all is said and done, I’ll put the updates below the break.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Musicians on the outskirts of Libbey Park performing Inuksuit (note the percussionist playing water gong in the upper left hand corner)

They say a picture is worth a 1000 words, so consider this photo album a 26,000 word review until I file my story. Inuksuit was one of the most extraordinary pieces of music I’ve heard since–well, John Luther Adams’ orchestra and tape work, Dark Waves. (On Sunday, we’ll hear JLA’s two-piano version of Dark Waves.)

Do read Paul Muller’s account of this concert and Thursday evening’s concert.

To give you some idea of what the performance was like, here are some crude videos I made on my not-designed-for-filming camera. The mike on the camera did a reasonable job of capturing the changes in sound as you moved from one spot to another, as I did throughout the performance.

If you’re reading this before or around 11 a.m. PST June 9, hop on over to the live stream from Ojai to watch/hear Marc Andre Hamelin, Christianne Stotijn, and Martin Frost perform Alban Berg, as well as an orchestral work by Eivind Buene. Watch it here.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y900SzB2UMM&feature=channel&list=UL[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgnWNqAoy9Q&feature=bf_next&list=ULy900SzB2UMM[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qz6YH7z33So&feature=bf_next&list=ULPgnWNqAoy9Q[/youtube]

 

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The 66th annual Ojai Festival was kicked off with the West Coast premiere of Inuksuit, the 2009 composition by John Luther Adams. Staged outdoors and directed by Steven Schick, some 46 percussionists and 3 piccolo players performed the 60 minute piece amid a large crowd in Libbey Park. The audience was encouraged to walk among the many scattered percussion sets, making the experience more like visiting a sound installation than attending a concert. Inuksuit is named after the distinctive stone markers of the Arctic Inuit peoples and the printed score has the outline of one such sculpture.

The piece begins quietly, the players imitating the sound of a soft breeze using cardboard megaphones, others rubbing rocks together and some with rattles – all moving outward from a central point through the crowd. At first the audience was not sure what to make of this – cell phones were answered and conversations continued – but eventually everyone quieted down as wind tubes were swung overhead simulating the eerie whistling of the wind through rocks or cliffs.

Distant horn calls from around the perimeter of the crowd followed, sounding a bit like moose calls. Drum beats, like the random thudding of rain drops, began to sound all through the assembly increasing in frequency and tempo much like an approaching storm. Cymbals followed and by now the crowd was fully engaged and circulating among the players. The drumming increased in intensity, along with loud cymbal crashes and rolls, as if standing on the banks of a roaring river.

The entire first half of the piece was essentially one long crescendo that could be reasonably heard as a convincing percussion sketch of a walk in the Alaskan wilderness. But just at the halfway point and at the peak of intensity, Adams introduces a series of sirens and bells into the mix – a distinctly urban sound. This departure from a strictly pastoral viewpoint is a masterstroke – it connects the urban listener with the environment most familiar to them. The sirens gradually abated and the second half of the piece declined in volume and intensity as the loud drumming slowly subsided.

At about 50 minutes into the piece, players holding triangles appeared around the edges and began moving inward through the crowd to the center. Their airy sounds created an ethereal quality, like the sprinkling of a light rain shower after a storm. The crowd followed, converging on three oak trees where piccolo players had been placed, standing above everyone on the lower branches. What followed was impressive: the piccolos issued a series of soft, bird-like calls that were answered by a few rapid bars of xylophone from several of the percussion stations. There was a sort of magical quality to this after all the drama of the heavy drumming. As the time between the piccolo calls and answers gradually lengthened, the sounds of children playing and cars making their way along the Ojai Avenue gradually became an integral part of the piece. In its final minutes Inuksuit manages to blur the distinction between performance and ambient life, achieving a sort of Cagean ideal by intersecting the musical arts with the outside environment– an impressive accomplishment.

The evening program was staged at the Libbey Bowl, an outdoor performance shell that was significantly upgraded in 2011 with improved , lighting, stage area and seating. Thankfully the upgrades included a decent sound system that proved its worth in Red Arc/Blue Veil, a 2001 composition by John Luther Adams scored for piano, percussion and processed sounds. This was ably performed by pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin and the aforementioned Steven Schick on percussion. Red Arc/Blue Veil features processed sounds that rumble and swell in and out of the foreground while the piano and percussion counter with rapid arpeggios. All of this creates an engaging texture and pleasant harmonic structure that reaches toward a sort of mystical quality, often succeeding. Credit here to the sound engineer who kept the balance between the recordings and the players to an agreeable level – the acoustic instruments could have been easily swallowed up. The outdoor ambiance of the Libbey Bowl did intrude, however, at the very end of the piece as it gradually dies away – some street noise broke the spell prematurely. Still, a credible outdoor performance for a piece better heard in the concert hall.

Following Red Arc/Blue Veil was the formidable Six Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva (Op. 143a) by Dimitri Shostakovich. This was written in 1973, well after the trials and tribulations that Shostakovich had suffered under Stalin, but it reflects the anger and frustration of a life lived in difficult political circumstances. The work was performed by mezzo Christianne Stotijn and pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. The Six Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva are, by turns, solemn, melancholy, defiant, sad or resigned and these emotions were powerfully expressed by Ms. Stotijn who sang marvelously. Credit again to the sound system for bringing each nuance out to the lawn seating.

The concert closed with Piano Sonata No. 2, “Concord” by Charles Ives. This was performed with a fine touch and expressive feeling by Marc-Andre Hamelin. The ‘Concord Sonata’ is written in four sections, dedicated to Emerson, Hawthorne, the Alcott family and Thoreau, New Englanders who together shaped Ives’ thinking. This piece was written 100 years ago, and admittedly Ives revised it all during his lifetime, but it seems completely contemporary to our time and place. It is elegant, playful and nostalgic music, but it is right at home in the 21st century. The appreciative audience gave Hamelin a standing ovation for his carefully controlled, yet intense reading of this challenging work.

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Princeton Symphony Orchestra

Richardson Auditorium, Princeton, NJ

May 13, 2012

ChamberMusicianToday.com

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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Dialogue between the Traditional and the Modern
Chinese Hua Xia Chamber Ensemble
Tsung Yeh, conductor
Zhang Weiliang, Artistic Director and xiao soloist
Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, NY
May 7th. 2012

The biggest thing I can say about the Hua Xia Chamber Ensemble‘s program at Alice Tully is this: For the first 5 minutes or so when they came out and played the first piece Lang Tao Sha, which was a traditional piece, I couldn’t write a thing. It was an incredible rush that made me more fully appreciate not only the music of China, but music at its best, for its organic healing abilities, and for sounds that force you to take the time to consider them.

This concert, titled Dialogue between the Traditional and the Modern was very much what it describes, very prominent-sounding folk music that served as Eastern statements from the Chinese ensemble that were alternated with their take on the music of living American composers, Victoria Bond and John Mallia, whose works were being premiered on this occasion. The notation of the Chinese instruments being different from our system, it made me wonder how they were going to pull it off. I believe they did.
Chinese-American composer Wenhui Xie also had a traditional sounding piece titled Less, but More that had its World Premiere at this concert.

Mallia’s piece titled Nodes was a very Schoenbergian cacophony of a work whose atonal identity revealed itself even through the Chinese instrumentation, but the debut of an updated version of Victoria Bond’s Bridges was a marvelous treat not only for its brightness and upbeat presence on its own terms, but also because even the Chinese are quite capable of playing orchestral Gershwin Jazz, as evidenced in the final section of the piece! I very badly wanted to isolate the erhu from the rest of the ensemble just to hear how bluesy this instrument suddenly sounded.

It should be noted that Chai Shuai, who played both the erhu and erxian in this concert, played marvelously and passionately. I remember when I saw Hilary Hahn once playing a piece, I used to remark that I saw smoke coming from the fiddle in a way of describing the intensity of her performance, but Ms. Shuai’s erhu was indeed producing smoke. You can make of that what you will.

The meeting of Chinese and Western instruments was something that provided great insight into two different camps of hard-working musicians. There was such pungency and intensity of both the Western cello and Chinese instruments such as the zheng and the pipa, and all of these at times provided a clearer folk-sense that Western classical music doesn’t always capture fathfully.

Although it had only been happening in the second half, Tsung Yeh, the ensemble’s conductor, gave the audience some wonderful and thoughtful introductions to the works and had the composers present walk up to the stage for bows.

Zhang Weiliang, who is both the Artistic director of the ensemble and a soloist of the xiao (vertical-end-blown flute), came out and performed Wild Geese in The Sandbank as if it was a field recording of the species. It was a very natural performance that won Mr. Weiliang gracious appeal.

Another memorable moment was the ensemble’s reading of the Peking Opera piece Deep Night, which featured both erhu and Beijing erhu, which had a much higher-end sound, and the two together created this incredibly tasty ethnic harmony in what was an exciting traditional piece that received the biggest reception of the night.

To have seen this beloved event where we were given the opportunity to hear the most exciting music from China played on the instruments of their country was something to be extremely proud of, and I have to say that seeing an erhu being played alongside a Western violin is something akin to seeing two living kindred spirits meeting for the first time and bonding for life.

Tsung Yeh’s listing on ArtsEverywhere.com

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