Archive for the “Concert review” Category

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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Judith Berkson performing “Vor an Sicht” (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Reddin)

Vital Vox: A Vocal Festival (Vital Vox 2011)
Roulette
Brooklyn, NY
Sat, Nov 5 & Sun, Nov 6, 2011

I guess there was no better way to kick off the Vital Vox Festival than with a primal scream. Gelsey Bell and her partner for this performance, composer/performer Paul Pinto, actually gave us several of them separate and together at the start of the song cycle Scaling, and they seemed to be the sound that signified both the power of vocal performance and the experimental nature of the festival as well.
In general, the festival is a huge emphasis on artists that recognize the human voice as an instrument, an instrument that has just as much range and capability as any great violin, piano or guitar, and works wonderfully as a duet with other instruments or other voices. These artists are all equally gifted as vocalists as they are composers or musicians of other instruments, and they all put on compelling performances. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rehearsing Tom Cipullo’s The Husbands

Opera Shorts
Presented by Remarkable Theater Brigade
Weill Recital Hall, NYC
Fri, Nov 4, 2011

Seeing the Remarkable Theater Brigade’s production Opera Shorts, it is clear that on a small stage like the one at Weill Recital Hall, it is very much a theatrical production that cannot escape that trapping, but the pieces that resulted from the 9 composers (Two of the shorts were composed by musical director Christian McLeer) were mostly comical in nature, thus making it a cheerful night for patrons and a kick in the pants for the opera world. Read the rest of this entry »

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Fred Ho's Fanfare. Photo: Hilary Scott.

Fred Ho, Fanfare for the Creeping Meatball: This brief yet buoyant brass fanfare got played at the beginning of every FCM concert. But its jazz noir ambience, jocular rhythms, and even its campy “B-movie scream” (which, on Sunday night, caused unsuspecting Tanglewood fellows assembling onstage to leap out of their seats!) never wore out their welcome. New music gatherings tend to take on a somber demeanor and earnest programming needs to be leavened with a bit of humor. Ho’s piece fit the bill perfectly.

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Milton Babbitt, It Takes Twelve to Tango and No Longer Very Clear: During the Festival of Contemporary Music, Tanglewood celebrated recently deceased composer Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) with several performances in his honor. Alas, we arrived too late in the week to get to hear Fred Sherry’s rendition of the late cello composition More Melismata. But judging by Babbitt memorials earlier in 2011 at which Sherry has shared the work, we would have gladly heard it again.

It Takes Twelve to Tango (1984) was Babbitt’s contribution to Yvar Mikhashof’s tango collection. Pianist Ursula Oppens included it on her FCM solo recital on August 7th. The piece is more explicitly referential of a regular dance rhythm than is Babbitt’s usual wont; even more so than the veiled references to swing era jazz that sporadically occur throughout his catalog. Still, the piece provides plenty of twists and turns that upend the usual tango form in favor of bustling counterpoint and playful misdirection. And yes, true to the punning title’s promise, Babbitt doesn’t dispense with dodecaphony, allowing his rigorous approach to commingle with a bit of witty humor in this occasional work.

At the morning concert on Sunday, August 7th, Soprano Adrienne Pardee and a small ensemble led by conductor Stefan Asbury performed Babbitt’s No Longer Very Clear (1994), a setting of a poem by John Ashbery. This piece isn’t heard as much as some of Babbitt’s other vocal pieces: a pity, as it a thoughtful and nuanced treatment of an intriguing poem, with shimmering instrumental textures and a delicately spun vocal line. Pardee, a TCM fellow, demonstrated a lovely tone, impressive control, and rapt attention to the score’s myriad details: wide-ranging dynamics, tricky rhythms, varied articulations, and abundant chromaticism.  Both she and the instrumentalists did so well that Asbury, remarking that it was, after all, a short piece, asked them to repeat it; which they did, making the work’s charms even more abundantly clear.

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David Fulmer plays his Violin Concerto at FCM. Photo: Hilary Scott

David Fulmer, Violin Concerto: Written in 2010, Fulmer’s chamber concerto revels in complexity. Those who have heard his performances of the music of Brian Ferneyhough or that of his teacher Milton Babbitt, which sizzle with hyper-virtuosic playing, can readily understand such predilections. Fulmer’s performance as soloist on the Sunday morning FCM concert (on 8/7) was imbued with similar intensity.

Compositionally, it’s an abundantly promising work: but it isn’t perfect. Occasionally, one feels that a bit of crowd control might be brought to bear on the thickly scored busyness of the orchestration, to better clarify the angular counterpoint that propels the proceedings. Also, the inclusion of three keyboard instruments for one player – piano, harpsichord, and celesta – (without terribly extended parts for either of the latter two) seems an impractical choice that may limit the number of ensembles who will mount the piece. That said, Fulmer’s compositional language and performance demeanor exemplify an edginess and gutsiness notably in short supply among many of his contemporaries in the emerging composer realm.

Marie Tachouet plays the solo part in Felder's Inner Sky. Photo: Hilary Scott

David Felder, Inner Sky: Tanglewood is blessed with excellent student performers. And while there were a number of fellows who distinguished themselves on the festival, the standout for me was flutist Marie Tachouet. A member of the New Fromm Players, Tanglewood’s SEAL Team Six equivalent for contemporary music, Tachouet played on several FCM concerts. But she took her solo turn on its finale, an orchestra concert held in the evening on Sunday, August 7th.

The flutist was featured in David Felder’s Inner Sky. Composed in 1994 and substantially revised in ’99, this piece requires the soloist to perform on four flutes: piccolo, concert, alto, and bass flute. The trajectory of the piece is charted by the move from high to low flutes, which is registrally mimicked by a supporting quadraphonic electronics part that features both distressed flute samples and synthetic sounds. An “analog” surround effect is also created by an even distribution of strings and percussion across the stage.

Inner Sky is an immersive listening experience. It’s also a highly sophisticated colloquy between soloist, ensemble, and electronics; one that achieves a carefully choreographed balance of elements, both acoustic and musical: a balance that is all too rarely found in works for orchestra plus electronics. It certainly helped to have Tachouet’s sensitive performance and Robert Treviño’s fine direction of the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra.

Later this year, Inner Sky sees release in both stereophonic and surround-sound formats. I’m looking forward to checking it out again (hopefully in both versions!).

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Those who’ve read File Under ? for a while may know that, two years ago, my wife and I went on our honeymoon to Tanglewood. We celebrated our first anniversary at the 2010 FCM (composers take note: if your prospective partner doesn’t mind taking in a contemporary music marathon as part of your honeymoon, he/she is a keeper!) Due to work obligations, Kay and I weren’t able to attend the first three days of the 2011 Festival of Contemporary Music. Those who’d like to read excellent coverage of the beginning of the festival should head on over to New Music Box for Matthew Guerrieri’s review. But we did make it up to Lenox, MA for the final two days of the festival. And our short weekend was action packed; we heard five concerts and saw a play (a rather uneven performance of Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare and Company).

Kay at Shakespeare and Company.

Pierre Jalbert, Music of Air and Fire: The Boston Symphony often does a contemporary work on one of its concerts during the week of FCM as a nod to the festival. This year, it was Pierre Jalbert’s Music of Air and Fire (2007), which the orchestra, lead by BSO assistant conductor Sean Newhouse, performed at the Shed on August 6.

Jalbert was a Tanglewood fellow back in the 1990s. A professor at Rice University, he’s now in demand as a composer, both of works for large orchestra and for smaller forces, as this month’s NMB profile attests.

This six minute overture was premiered by the California Symphony; it is Jalbert’s first piece on a BSO program. Music of Fire and Air is a lively and well-paced curtain-raiser, with deft writing for percussion and vivid neo-tonal harmonies from strings and winds. Apart from a small excerpt available for streaming on Jalbert’s website, it is as yet unrecorded. Given the bang-up job the BSO did with the piece, dare we hope they’ll commit it to disc sometime soon?

Karchin leads TMC Fellows. Photo Hilary Scott

Louis Karchin, Chamber Symphony: Karchin’s Chamber Symphony (2009) was the closer of FCM’s 10 AM concert on August 7 (one of three given in Ozawa Hall on the festival’s final day). Cast in three movements, its  features limpid, flowing francophilic lines, daubed with tart counterpoint, as well brilliantly colorful verticals and bold Straussian horn calls. Despite leading an ensemble comprised primarily of student performers (albeit very talented student performers), Karchin’s conducting elicited a bright and assured rendition that rivaled its premiere by pros that I heard back in 2010. FCM should invite Karchin to return, both to hear his own works performed and to work with the students on contemporary repertoire.

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