(This is an expansion of an earlier post for a concert ultimately postponed due to snowstorm Jonas in January)
Augustus Arnone performs a double bill of Milton Babbitt’s solo piano works including the complete Time Series, at Spectrum, Sunday March 6, at 12-5 pm (12 and 3:30)
This year marks the centenary of the legendary composer Milton Babbitt (1916-2011). To my ears, his extensive body of piano works especially channels his singular charm as a raconteur. Over the decades a number of pianists have championed some of his major piano works, for instance Robert Helps and Robert Miller performing and recording his Partitions (1957) and Post-Partitions (1966) in early days and much more recently Marilyn Nonken did as much with Allegro Penseroso (1999). Babbitt’s Reflections for piano and synthesized tape (1975) has been performed by the likes of Anthony de Mare, Martin Goldray, Aleck Karis, and Robert Taub, the latter two of whom also recorded it. Robert Taub and Martin Goldray recorded and released full-length CDs. Alan Feinberg too presented stellar renditions of Minute Waltz (1977), Partitions (1957), It Takes Twelve to Tango (1984), Playing for Time (1979), and About Time (1982) on a 1988 CRI CD.
Yet only one pianist has earned the distinction of presenting the entire oeuvre of Babbitt’s solo piano works in concert. And that is Augustus Arnone, who performed the entire set, spread over two concerts, in 2008. In honor of the Babbitt centenary, Arnone is performing the entire set again (this time spread over three concerts) at Spectrum on Ludlow in NYC. Due to a postponement caused by storm Jonas in January, Arnone is performing the second and third concerts in one afternoon this weekend!
The largest work on the program is Canonical Form (1983) which I’ve heard several Babbitt aficionados recently describe as their “favorite” and “most beautiful” Babbitt composition. The most recent work is The Old Order Changeth (1998). Arnone’s performance also presents a rare opportunity to hear the entire ‘The Time Series’ (Playing For Time (1977), About Time (1982), Overtime (1987)), the last part of which has never been released on a commercial recording. This much constitutes concert II, the first half of this Sunday’s double bill, which starts at 12 noon.
In the final concert (concert III) which starts at 3:30, Arnone presents a variety of works spanning nearly all of Babbitt’s professional career, from the mid 1940s through the remainder of the 20th century and beyond. Tutte Le Corde (1994) represents Babbitt’s most streamlined and ingratiating late style, which is a nice inclusion for the final recital of the series. On this recital we’ll also be treated to some of Babbitt’s wittiest and pithiest: Minute Waltz (1977) and It Takes Twelve to Tango (1984), which are perhaps the only Babbitt works to clearly project rhythms associated with a familiar genre. It Takes Twelve to Tango leaves us unsure whether to imagine a single 12-legged Argentinian dancing spider or a communal square dance gone dodecahedral! Either way, brilliant sparks fly from these eccentric collisions of tradition and avant garde.
Babbitt’s Three Compositions for Piano (1947), the earliest work in the series, is to my ears the closest Babbitt ever came to neo-classicism, its first movement being a clean perpetuum mobile and its second movement a veiled tribute to Schoenberg’s expressive piano textures. While Duet (1956) is the closest Babbitt ever came to a lullaby, his Semi-Simple Variations, of the same year, is perhaps his jazziest jaunt on the ivories, an adventure amusingly exploited in the Bad Plus and Mark Morris Dancers’ adaptation.
Of course the series wouldn’t be complete without Babbitt’s most uncompromising trailblazing Partitions (1957) and Post-partitions (1966). Nowhere is his engenius originality more startlingly on display than in these works. In Partitions in particular, the activation and deactivation of various high, low, and middle registers of the piano guides the listener through an uncanny but navigable maze of contrapuntal intricacy.
Between the two concerts, at 2:30, will be an interview-discussion between me and Indiana University composer-theorist Andrew Mead, a former student of Babbitt’s at Princeton and author of the acclaimed book An Introduction to the Music of Milton Babbitt (1994, Princeton University Press) and many articles. This will also be an opportunity for questions from the audience. Whether you’ve been merely curious about Milton Babbitt’s music and legacy, or are already a long-time follower, this is an opportunity to spend part of the afternoon in the good company of Babbitt’s music and its admirers.
Augustus Arnone: The Complete Piano Works Of Milton Babbitt, Concerts II & III
Sunday March 6, concert II at 12 pm; pre-concert discussion at 2:30; concert III at 3:30.
$20, $15 (Students/Seniors) for each concert or $30/20 for both concerts.
Pianist Jenny Q. Chaiis a versatile artist. Her repertoire includes works by contemporary Europeans such as Phillipe Manoury and Marco Stroppa (her dissertation topic), and she recently recorded an excellent portrait CD on Naxos of music by Nils Vigeland. She also performs standard repertoire, such as Robert Schumann and Claude Debussy.
On January 10, in a program entitled Where is Chopin? (subtitled “Steampunk Piano 2”), Chai creates a juxtaposition of Carnaval by Schumann with brand new pieces that feature artificial intelligence, performing the music of Jaroslaw Kapuscinski, a Stanford University-based composer who uses the AI program Antescofo. It supplies a live visual component that responds to the particular nuances and inflections of a given performance. Doubtless Chai will give the program plenty to think about.
Last month, I heard the second installment of Anthony De Mare’s Liasons: Re-Imagining Sondheim from the Piano project at Sheen Center. De Mare has commissioned dozens of composers to fashion arrangements of Sondheim songs. The results are as fascinating as they are eclectic.
On Thursday at Symphony Space, De Mare completes his live presentations of the commissions with a third concert. Among the featured composers are Steve Reich, David Rakowski, Paul Moravec, and Duncan Sheik. The concluding arrangement is by De Mare himself: “Sunday in the Park – Passages.” Sondheim will be on hand and the ECM recording, a 3-CD set, will receive its official release.
There are some tickets left to the performance (buy here).
Light & Sound Concerts presents The Unusual Universe of Rob Schwimmer, two programs featuring theremin, continuum and piano virtuoso Rob Schwimmer on Friday, March 15 at 8:00 PM and Sunday. March 17 at 3: 00 PM at The Old Stone House, Washington Park, 336 Third Street (bet. 4th & 5th Avenues) in Brooklyn, New York. The park entrance faces 4th Avenue. This is presented as part of Light and Sound’s Spring 2013 series.
Rob Schwimmer is an internationally known composer, pianist, theremin and continuum player. As a founding member of the highly acclaimed Polygraph Lounge he performs regularly with his duo partner, multi-instrumentalist Mark Stewart, of Bang On A Can All Stars. Schwimmer is one of the top theremin virtuosos in the world. As an original member of The NY Theremin Society he has appeared as soloist with The Orchestra of St. Luke’s at the prestigious Caramoor Festival and with The Little Orchestra of New York at Lincoln Center. Much more about him at http://www.robschwimmer.com/.
Light & Sound, curated by its founder/director, violinist Julianne Klopotic, is a full spectrum performance series. Unique in its approach, the 2013 season includes performances informed by New/Experimental Music, Classical, Jazz/Rock and World Music. Other Light & Sound Spring 2013 Old Stone House Series presentations are The Klopotic-Pierce-Zoernig Trio performing Schubert Piano Trios on April 5 and 6, David Hykes & The Harmonic Choir on April 19 and 21 and Glass Music Master Miguel Frasconi on May 17 and 19. More about the series at http://www.lightandsound-concerts.org.
The Old Stone House, a Historic House Trust of New York City site, commemorates the Vechte-Cortelyou House’s unique place in Brooklyn and American history. Through exhibits, programs and events, they preserve the House’s rich past while contributing to Brooklyn’s contemporary cultural community. Visit them at http://theoldstonehouse.org/.
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Ear To Mind
Pianist Jenny Q. Chai in Recital
Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, NYC
April 19th, 2012
Jenny Q. Chai walked out onstage for the first half of her Carnegie Hall debut in a red and black dress and performed for the first half of that first half a mix of Debussy‘s and György Ligeti‘s piano etudes (Debussy: #’s 3 & 6; Ligeti: #’s 2 & 1, Book I). Despite the huge generation gap between these two, the intertwined listing of Debussy and Ligeti had the two composers’ styles offsetting one another in such a way that an unassuming listener would have thought this was one cycle of pieces from the same composer. Read the rest of this entry »
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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 GetClassical.org readers, by bringing 19th-century salon-type performances to the 21st-century lounge. Hosted by the Gramercy Park Hotel and myself, your devoted GetClassical.org 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.
[We previewed this concert a couple weeks ago, and were hoping to file a quick review following the performance. Due to unforseen circumstances it’s a few days later than we’d like, but reviewer Eric Johnson came through in the end:]
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Xiayin Wang offered two world premieres on her May 18 recital at Alice Tully Hall. Ms. Wang’s career is on the rise, with a number of orchestral appearances, solo recitals, and her new CD release of music by Scriabin on Naxos. The New York Sun recently praised her for a “robust, confident performance,” attributes she displayed here as well. In addition to Haydn, Chopin, Ravel, Scriabin and Liszt, we heard Richard Danielpour’s Second Book of Preludes and Sean Hickey’s Cursive.
Danielpour says that “the Preludes are evocative memories of real life,” but no explicit narrative was provided for any of the seven movements. The opening “Persepolis” hinted strongly at neoclassical Stravinsky, followed by an angst-filled second movement, an “Elegy” resembling Barber, and a spastic rag. I was particularly fond of the straightforward appeal of “Elegy”; not only in the music but Wang’s performance. Simplicity can often create the most eloquent music, and that was surely the case here.
Sadly, I’m not sure anyone but Ms. Wang and Mr. Danielpour really know what the fifth prelude sounds like. Shortly after the beginning of the piece, a particularly rude audience member answered a phone call in the concert hall. She then proceeded to walk out very slowly, talking in a stage whisper all the while. It’s fair to say that the pianist was the only one not glaring at her!
Sean Hickey has firmly grounded his career in jazz and chamber music, as well as composing for film and theatre. Hickey’s notes for Cursive speak of a desire to write seamlessly, a “mostly unbroken line,” but to these ears it was anything but seamless. The piece was filled with seemingly unrelated ideas — more like sketches than cursive calligraphy. Yet Ms. Wang gave a compelling performance, tying the loose threads together. Wang’s enthusiasm and daring shone clearly in her commitment to these two living composers’ pieces.
The standard repertoire was engaging too, every selection displayed wonderfully. Indeed, the most exciting portion of the program was the final movement of Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit. Ms. Wang practically lifted herself off the bench as she pounded out Ravel’s exotic, even sultry depiction of Scarbo’s moonlit flight. A complimetary highlight was Chopin’s Ballade No. 2 in F Major – a thing of rare beauty, played most delicately. ~~ Eric Johnson