Archive for the “Concert review” 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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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.

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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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Music/Words
presents
Inna Faliks (piano)
Clarice Assad (piano and vocals)
Samantha Malk (soprano)
and Irina Mashinski (poet)
Cornelia Street Cafe, NYC
April 22nd, 2012

Written by Kyle Lynch

Last Sunday evening, pianist Inna Faliks closed the fourth season of her Music/Words series at the West Village institution, Cornelia Street Café, in New York City. It was an intimate affair in the Café’s cozy basement theatre, and Inna was joined by soprano Samatha Malk, Brazilian pianist and singer Clarice Assad, and poet Irina Mashinski. The potpourri of solo piano, songs, and poetry readings hearkens back to old European salons of the turn of the century. Yet the evening was thoroughly enjoyable and modern.

Irina Mashinski set the mood of the first half of the concert with the opening poem “The Room” preceding piano works by Ludwig van Beethoven and Arnold Schoenberg. In the poem, a lady carefully furnishes and arranges a room—only to prepare for “an explosion.” Beethoven’s Fantasia in G minor, op. 77 presents a loose set of variations that continually drifts abroad to far reaching keys, different tempos and moods. If Beethoven was preparing later generations of composers to push the limits of tonality, then Schoenberg set the explosion of tonality with the early atonal work, Three Pieces for Piano, op. 11, when he “emancipated the dissonance” the year before in 1908. Read the rest of this entry »

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Cutting Edge Concerts
presents
Great Noise Ensemble
Conducted by Armando Bayolo
Guest soloist, Cornelius Dufallo
Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space, NY
April 16, 2012

DC’s Great Noise Ensemble made a vibrant and yet intimate New York debut at Symphony Space. The contemporary music ensemble, performing in the smaller room known as Leonard Nimoy Thalia, and the ensemble not having its full lineup on this occasion, presented a night of works for varied paired-down ensemble setups. Each of these selections was presented by composer Victoria Bond, who acted as emcee and conducted interviews with each composer of the program’s works that was present (Save for the absent Marc Mellits, who conductor/composer Armando Bayolo spoke for–Bayolo also interviewed Bond for her piece).

The most memorable moments during the evening were the world premiere of Cornelius Dufallo’s short violin (with pickup and loops) concerto Paranoid Symmetry. Written for Great Noise and inspired by a real story involving someone in his family, the piece is Neil’s meditation on one’s sanity and examines human conditions that range between paranoid delusion, psychosis and love. The 15-minute piece displays great dynamics in both virtuosity and versatility, going from the 1st movement’s post-modern layered drone, to a classical arpeggio during the cadenza, to blues-oriented phrases during the coda.

Marc Mellits’ Five Machines, originally written for the Bang On a Can All-Stars, was in equally capable hands on this occasion. Mellits’ work, with some superb percussion and wild time signatures, reminded me that there was a reason that progressive rock had to happen at some point in history.
I even had gooseflesh from the duet between the cello and bass violin.

The Way of Ideas, composed by Baltimore’s Alexandra Gardner, was an ornate piece reminiscent of her own Electric Blue Pantsuit, sans the electric loops and featuring more players, and is reflective of the process from a composer’s point of view.

Victoria Bond’s Coqui was another throwback to classics for me for its violin yelps reminiscent of Prokofiev’s 1st Violin Concerto, except here they represent the voice of the Puerto Rican tree frogs.

Another favorite piece was Carlos Carrillo’s De la brevedad de la vida (The Brevity of Life), a chilling meditation kicked off perfectly with a wavering clarinet.

The dry, intimate sound of the Thalia seemed to serve these pieces and their settings fittingly. Great Noise made a great New York debut, and I hope to hear their brand of noise many more times in these parts.

Great Noise Ensemble.com

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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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Ekmeles at the Italian Academy

Last month at Columbia University’s Italian Academy, I was formidably impressed by an evening of madrigals old and new performed by the vocal ensemble Ekmeles. One of the revelations of the evening began with an idea ofensemble director Jeff Gavett. He thought that the madrigals of Carlo Gesualdo might benefit from Nichola Vicentino’s 31-tone equal tempered scale, most famously employed in the tuning of an instrument of his design, the archicembalo.

While, as Gavett admitted in the concert’s program notes, there is not direct evidence that they were ever performed this way in the presence of Gesualdo, there is some documentary evidence that Vicentino’s writings and an archicembalo were available to the composer. But here, the proof was in the singing. Gesualdo’s music sounds glorious in 31-TET. Indeed some of its idiosyncratic cross-relations and chordal voicings glisten: equally, wonderfully, strange, but somehow refocused.

Ekmeles contains several youngish singers with winsome voices: Gavett, soprano Mary Mackenzie, and countertenor Eric Brenner are notable standouts. Their interpretative maturity and skill in preparing the challenging works on the program bely the freshness of Ekmeles’ sound. The group also brought in a “ringer of ringers” for the second act. New music superstar soprano Lucy Shelton joined Ekmeles for a spirited rendition of Elliott Carter’s late Ashbery setting Mad Regales.

The program also featured several deconstructions of the madrigal aesthetic. Peter Ablinger’s Studien der Natur, in which sounds of nature and commerce alike are recreated using only voices, was a rather charming one-upping of Josquin’s El Grillo. Johannes Schöllhorn and Carl Bettendorf took the madrigal into postmodern, often craggy, territory. Martin Iddon’s hamadryads required the group to play water-filled glasses and employ headsets to grok its very expanded Pythagorean tuning that is notated down to 100ths of a cent! Incredibly challenging to perform. But then, Ekmeles revels to be challenged.

 

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This Thursday, composer Randy Gibson’s work will be in full force on the Music at First series. The concert features the world premiere of Gibson’s Circular Trance Surrounding the Second Pillar with The Highest Seventh Primal Cirrus, The Utmost Fundamental, and The Ekmeles Ending from Apparitions of The Four Pillars (fit that title on a postcard!), a concert length work in just intonation for sine wave drones and seven voices. Also on the bill is a set from Canadian harpsichordist Katelyn Clark.

Performance details

Date: Friday, November 18th 2011
Time: 7:30pm
City: Brooklyn, NY
Venue: First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn
Address: 124 Henry Street
Admission: $10

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