Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Chronicle of March 2012

March 1

Tune-In Music Festival celebrates Philip Glass's 75th birthday (which was in January) with music of Bill Frisell. New York, NY. Programs through March 4. "In classical music, a landmark birthday for a composer of note is nearly always celebrated with a concert (more likely, concerts) stuffed full of significant works. Philip Glass, true to his status as an idiosyncratic maverick, adopted a different approach in helping to program the second annual festival" [Steve Smith, The New York Times, 2/28/12].

Peter Serkin and the New York Philharmonic, conducted by David Zinman, in Igor Stravinsky’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra. Avery Fisher Hall, New York, NY. "Stravinsky’s links to Beethoven are tenuous; his influences were elsewhere. The opening of the Capriccio is couched in decidedly Beethovenian gestures, but that connection is brief. Stravinsky quickly slips into his neolassical style, actually more neobaroque here, to create a concerto grosso in which orchestral soloists regularly wrest the spotlight from the piano line. As Stravinsky goes, this is unusually cheerful music, and both Mr. Serkin and the Philharmonic played it with the warmth and suppleness you expect in Beethoven but hear too rarely in performances of Stravinsky" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 3/2/12].

March 2

Other Minds 17: Harold Budd and Gloria Coates. San Francisco, CA.

Tune-In Music Festival: Philip Glass and Patti Smith. New York, NY.

Lorin Maazel conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in Jean Sibelius's Symphony No. 1, 5, and 7. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "Maazel is often at his most persuasive in Sibelius, perhaps because the distensions of tempo and phrase that he so enjoys seem integral to the composer’s aesthetic . . . . The performances were not the relatively cool and analytical kind that have worked so well for Osmo Vanska and other Nordic types, but often red-hot, with blazing brasses and roiling strings" [James R. Oestreich, The New York Times, 3/5/12].

March 3

Tune-In Music Festival: Philip Glass's Music in 12 Parts. New York, NY. "Glass, who turned 75 . . . hardly refrained from showcasing his own works during the festival, which included a mesmerizing traversal of his still-imposing 1974 watershed, Music in 12 Parts" [Steve Smith, The New York Times, 2/28/12].

March 4

Tune-In Music Festival, in music by and inspired by Philip Glass. Park Avenue Armory, New York, NY. "Glass ceded the stage to other performers and composers again, but there was an important subtext embedded in his disparate assemblage. If artists and pieces that transcend genre boundaries have become the norm, we partly have the trailblazing example of Mr. Glass -- who early on absorbed crucial elements from Indian music, and later collaborated with pop troubadours and master musicians from around the globe -- to thank for it. Vijay Iyer, a prodigiously gifted Indian-American jazz pianist and composer, did just that when he introduced Tirtha, his trio with the Indian musicians Prasanna, who plays electric guitar in the South Indian Carnatic style, and Nitin Mitta, a tabla player trained in northern classical styles. The trio, Mr. Iyer said from the stage, arguably could not exist without Mr. Glass’s achievements. A delicate balance among Prasanna’s fluid slurs and wobbles, Mr. Iyer’s wheeling patterns in strict [?] intonation and Mr. Mitta’s intricate, bubbly rhythms infused three supple, elegant pieces. Earlier the composer and pianist Nico Muhly, who has worked extensively with Mr. Glass, played five brief, appealing original pieces with the violist Nadia Sirota. If reedy organ samples and insistent, repetitive rhythms suggested an inheritance from Mr. Glass, concision and a holistic integration of digital media indicated Mr. Muhly’s divergent path. And Tania León, playing piano alongside Samuel Torres, a percussionist, fused the barbarous perplexity of early Stravinsky with Gershwin-esque swagger and the salsa master Eddie Palmieri’s reckless brio in an original piece dedicated to Mr. Glass. Including Zack Glass, a singer-songwriter (and Mr. Glass’s son) versed in reggae and Brazilian styles, made sense, given that Philip Glass has collaborated with worldly tunesmiths like Paul Simon and Suzanne Vega. But the overlong closing set felt desultory and earthbound, despite personable contributions from Rubén González, an Argentine singer, and Ashley MacIssac, a flamboyant Canadian fiddler. The opposite effect emerged during . . . [the] evening [concert], when James Bagwell conducted the Collegiate Chorale, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and the organist Michael Riesman in Mr. Glass’s Another Look at Harmony -- Part IV. Composed in 1975, this 50-minute work was Mr. Glass’s rapprochement with harmony after the rigors that had led to Music in 12 Parts. For Mr. Glass the next step was Einstein on the Beach. But majestic climaxes near the work’s end, like blazons of sunlight breaking through clouds, clearly portend works popular now, like Satyagraha and Koyaanisqatsi. Some of the younger singers looked physically depleted well before the concert’s end. But they rose to the challenge and rallied with the audience to sing Happy Birthday to Mr. Glass afterward" [Steve Smith, The New York Times, 2/28/12].

March 5

Kaija Saariaho’s Voix, Espace. Zankel Hall, New York, NY. "In an onstage interview at her Making Music concert at Zankel Hall on Monday evening, the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho explained her approach to From the Grammar of Dreams, a 2007 setting of Sylvia Plath texts, by making a fascinating distinction between wakefulness and dreaming. When you are awake, she told Jeremy Geffen, the moderator, you speak in sentences that move sequentially through time. But when you dream, your speech can be four-dimensional. . . . It may be hard to prove that assertion. But it tells you a lot about why Ms. Saariaho, who holds the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall this season, writes such arresting, otherworldly music, and why the five works for voice and electronics that she presented were so thoroughly entrancing. The program, Voix, Espace, is a collaboration between the composer, the French vocal ensemble Solistes XXI and Jean-Baptiste Barrière, a French video artist who has produced visual imagery for many of Ms. Saariaho’s works in recent years. As multimedia collaborations go, it was unusually well balanced. Ms. Saariaho makes varied use of electronics, sometimes simply altering vocal timbres or cloaking them in dense reverberation, elsewhere adding layers of bell-like percussion, whispers or recorded voices. Her approach is never heavy-handed or overwhelming: the live voices and the electronics seem interwoven, almost organic. So does her text setting, which closely follows the spirit, if not every gesture, of the poetry at hand, just as Mr. Barrière’s video mirrors the timbres, shapes and imagery of Ms. Saariaho’s music. In Lonh (From Afar, 1996), a solo soprano work given a virtuosic reading by Raphaële Kennedy, 12th-century poetry by Jaufré Rudel is rendered in a melismatic style that oscillates between neo-medievalism and modernist abstraction. Mr. Barrière’s visual backdrop mixes morphing cloudscapes with antique woodcuts. From the Grammar of Dreams (1988), originally a duet for soprano and mezzo-soprano, was heard in a solo soprano version, in an evocative performance by Maryseult Wieczorek. It draws on two Plath works: a poem, Paralytic, and a section from the novel The Bell Jar. The texts are often set against each other, one sung live, the other as a ghostly electronic counterpart, as if the singer were in a distressed dream world, expressing contrasting ideas simultaneously. . . . Though the solo works were especially transfixing, the program’s ensemble pieces -- Écho! (2007) and Tag des Jahrs (The Time of the Year, 2001), for eight voices, and Nuits, adieux (Nights, Farewells, 1991, revised in 2007), for four -- were richly contrapuntal and couched in shifting colors" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 3/6/12].

March 6

Julia Holter and Sarah Cahill. Le Poisson Rouge, New York, NY. "Sarah Cahill [is] a sterling Bay Area pianist and an intrepid illuminator of the classical avant-garde. Ms. Cahill opened with a program titled The Mystical Tone, concentrating on composers whose lives and work reflected interests in astrology, Theosophy and similar arcana. From a puckish processional by Satie, Ms. Cahill brought a gentle intensity to enigmatic aphorisms by Scriabin and subtly ostentatious pieces by Dane Rudhyar. Three preludes by a young Ruth Crawford unfurled with the eloquent roil of late Brahms and early Schoenberg; for Henry Cowell’s Banshee, Ms. Cahill leaned into the instrument’s casing, rubbing and scraping eerie wails on its strings. . . . No wonder: Tragedy, Ms. Holter’s dazzling 2011 album of gauzy, Euripides-inspired bedroom-pop songs and intricately detailed soundscapes, landed on many critics’ lists last year. Ekstasis, an equally ambitious successor due on Thursday from the adventurous New York label RVNG Intl., has already earned a stamp of approval from the taste-making Web site Pitchfork. On those records Ms. Holter’s grounding in avant-garde classical composition melds seamlessly with her knack for spinning memorable pop hooks. Her voice adapts to different situations from track to track: floating in isolation or layered in counterpoint within halos of hiss and static, among twinkling harpsichord, electric piano and found-sound ambience. Here her primary task was stripping dense studio confections to a performable core; this she did in collaboration with a cellist, Christopher Votek, and a percussionist, Corey Fogel. Marienbad, the hyper-ornate ode that opens Ms. Holter’s new LP, started tentatively; as if stepping into a canoe on a lake, she wobbled slightly as she sought her footing. Thereafter Ms. Holter and her companions sailed smoothly through six more songs from Ekstasis, as well as two from Tragedy and one, the sublimely simple Goddess Eyes, shared by both records. Singing in an assertive yet girlish coo with a fluidity that attested to lessons in Indian devotional music, Ms. Holter effectively pared down songs that converse knowingly with Virginia Woolf and Frank O’Hara, preserving their lyrical integrity and structural whimsy" [Steve Smith, The New York Times, 3/7/12].

March 9

Talea Ensemble. Tenri Cultural Institute, New York, NY. "Talea . . . showed how perplexity could charm and delight. Talea, formed in 2007 by the percussionist Alex Lipowski and the pianist Anthony Cheung, has a sterling reputation for championing composers whose works extend the modernist tradition. Complexity is the group’s bread and butter; supreme technique and personable conviction make everything it does matter. Here the ensemble focused on pieces written especially for it; presumably, the composers involved knew what a bountiful opportunity for tinkering their assignments entailed. To say that they took full advantage is an understatement. I can’t recall being as baffled by any recent work as I was by Víctor Adán’s Tractus, which opened the program. That is not a complaint. Everything about the piece -- its elegant circular score; its fidgety, alien sound world; the ritual sobriety with which it unfolded -- was transfixing. The violinist Erik Carlson and the violist Elizabeth Weisser scrubbed hisses and squeals on their instruments’ bridges and top nuts. Tara Helen O’Connor and Rane Moore puffed through primitive ocarinas and twittered almost inaudibly on nano-tonal mouth organs: blocky clusters of dog whistles, invented by Mr. Adán. Mr. Lipowski applied a bow to nearly everything in reach, making a flexatone wail and a block of plastic foam squeal. Ashley Fure’s Therefore I Was, a clamorous procession of extreme sounds played by Mr. Lipowski (whose bow now made a cardboard box moan), the cellist Andrea Lee and the pianist Steven Beck, could have been nearly as mystifying if no less satisfying. But in a program note Ms. Fure wrote that the work was inspired by her grandmother’s struggle with the effects of Parkinson’s disease. Heard in that light, the work’s agonized gestures, halting pace and tense silences denoted courage and ineffable dignity. Capriccio, by Hans Thomalla, played off the familiar accessibility of its title; Ms. Moore, on clarinet, and a string trio played melodic lines that wobbled and collided, taking on a patina of noisy detritus before dissipating into nothingness. In Incident and Scatter, Eric Chasalow fashioned giddy interaction between a live sextet and recorded electronics, playfully derailing anticipated resolutions throughout. . . . Talea ended the evening with Bateau Ivre, in which a Rimbaud-inspired John Zorn swathes his customary fractiousness in luminous gauzes pinched from Pierre Boulez’s linen closet" [Steve Smith, 3/11/12].

March 10

St. Louis Symphony, conducted by David Robertson. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "[S]ince David Robertson took over its podium in 2005, inventive programming has prevailed over showiness. The music Mr. Robertson and his orchestra offered . . . was inherently colorful, and there were scattered moments of sharply etched virtuosity. But over all Mr. Robertson presided over calmly reasoned, artful readings that were more about subtlety than display. The program was also, in a way, an exploration of Impressionism, seen from its periphery. Debussy was heading toward the style in Printemps . . . . The work has a tangled history. Debussy wrote it as a student in 1887, but his original score was probably destroyed in a fire. He made a new version, for piano four-hands in 1904, and collaborated with Henri Büsser on a new orchestration in 1912, six years before Debussy’s death. Does that make it an early work or a late one? As Mr. Robertson’s account suggested, it is a bit of both. The work’s essential impulses and lush harmonies hint at the road Debussy would travel, and its changeable orchestral hues draw on the quarter-century of experience he gained after he wrote the piece. Mr. Robertson made the most of that changeability, drawing a lovely Gallic shimmer from the strings and muted brasses in the opening movement and a more vivid, outgoing sound, particularly from the brasses and woodwinds, in the less captivating finale. Ms. Saariaho, who holds the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall this season . . . uses elements of Impressionism within a more expansive and up-to-date style. In Quatre Instants (2002), with texts by the Lebanese poet Amin Malouf, she uses an unsettled, chromatic vocal line, gracefully curling woodwind figures and string lines that begin icily and become rich and warm to portray the frustrations and fleeting satisfactions of love. Karita Mattila, the soprano for whom Ms. Saariaho wrote the work, wove her burnished, flexible tone around the texts and was particularly compelling in the cycle’s two central songs . . . . Robertson devoted the second half of the program to an unusually gentle, dreamlike account of Stravinsky’s complete Firebird ballet score. His tempos were relaxed and often surprisingly (in a good way) fluid, an approach that made the tactile brashness of the Infernal Dance and the grandeur of the finale stand out all the more vividly. . . . [T]he ensemble produced a beautifully polished, enveloping sound that captured the work’s mythological magic" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 3/11/12].

March 11

New York Youth Symphony and cellist Jay Campbell premiere's Chris Rogerson's "kind of mini- concerto" That Blue Repair, plus Bela Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "The 10-minute work begins with glistening high strings eventually countered by a gloomy undercurrent. The brooding and glimmering alternate, subsiding into a low rumble as the soloist starts a lyrical line upward. The orchestra surges sympathetically underneath him. There are inspired, well-devised touches throughout. As Mr. Campbell went higher and higher up the fingerboard, his line was suddenly taken over by the winds at the same pitch. Mr. Rogerson has a gift for transitions, for moving us from moment to moment, section to section, while maintaining the coherence of the whole. The soloist re-enters, more impassioned this time, with a burst of faster, spikier passagework, before receding again, accompanied by beautiful bell-like riffs in the harp. . . . [T]he ending is lovely: gossamer, calligraphic runs up and down the cello, barely audible over uneasy chords that resolve into the same high, quiet shimmer with which the work began. . . . In Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra . . . there is a similar sense of a work building, breaking and re-erecting itself. The orchestra played with strength: in the second movement, the shivery, muted melodies vanished and reappeared out of nothing, and the third movement’s dark parody of the first notes of Pachelbel’s Canon had both weight and shadowy nostalgia . . . [T]he orchestra members were coolly controlled and responsive in the Bartok, with an especially shining and assured performance from the brasses" [Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times, 3/12/12].

March 12

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the soprano Karita Mattila perform Kaija Saariaho’s Quatre Instants. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY.

March 14

Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson perform Erwin Schulhoff's Duo for Violin and Cello. 92nd Street Y, New York, NY. "Schulhoff, born in Prague in 1894, was one of many artists whose works were branded as degenerate by the Nazis. Schulhoff, of German-Jewish descent, also faced persecution because of his left-wing political beliefs. He died in 1942 in the Wülzburg concentration camp in Bavaria. . . . Schulhoff’s music, like that of many of his colleagues, fell into obscurity after the war. But these composers, many of whom were sent to the Terezin camp in Czechoslovakia, have been championed in recent years . . . . Schulhoff, whose teachers included Reger and Debussy, lived in Germany after military service during World War I and became involved with the avant-garde Dadaist movement. He also became interested in jazz, which he played as a pianist. His Duo, composed in 1925 and dedicated to Janacek, reflects Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello and blends folk and contemporary elements. The appealing work features a range of sonorities and effects like dramatic pizzicatos, all vividly illuminated in a spirited interpretation by Ms. Robinson and Mr. Laredo. Vivacious Hungarian fiddle playing enlivens the Zingaresca movement" [Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times, 3/18/12].

March 15

Los Angeles Philharmonic in Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, CA. Repeated March 17, with Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1, and March 18 with Respighi’s Adagio con Variazioni. "[Through] the hammering ending of the Shostakovich symphony, the hall showed an ability to yield bright, reverberant sonorities in wide-ranging dynamics and an equal ability to blend and contain them. The most impressive sounds in some ways were the quietest. Midway through the Largo, Shostakovich breaks out of a clamor with quiet tremolos in the violins that sounded subdued and distant, yet so vital that they seemed to emanate from the walls. This was sustained through beautifully played solos on oboe (by Ariana Ghez), clarinet (Michele Zukovsky) and flute (David Buck). The violins finally grew even quieter, as the merest thread of sound behind the celesta (Joanne Pearce Martin). The stunning effect spoke well for the ability of the veteran maestro Mr. Jarvi and the players to trust one another, and for the ability of the hall to deliver the faintest of sounds" [James R. Oestreich, The New York Times, 3/16/12].

March 22

Premiere of Erling Wold's Certitude and Joy. Bindlestiff Theatre, San Francisco, CA. "Chapter 22 of Genesis tells how God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, a command Abraham was fully prepared to obey. In 2005, a young schizophrenic woman from Oakland named Lashaun Harris - acting on explicit instructions from the same deity -- threw her three small sons off the Embarcadero into the icy waters of the San Francisco Bay. Splicing together those two harrowing tales is the achievement of Certitude and Joy, the bold and brilliant new chamber opera by composer-librettist Erling Wold . . . . With fluid, almost hallucinatory dramaturgy and music of haunting, sinuous beauty, Certitude amounts to a modern-day passion play -- a theatrical genre that, as Wold regularly reminds us, also involves a parent sacrificing his child. The surrealism of religious faith has been a recurrent theme for Wold, along with madness, since his breakthrough 1995 opera, A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil. But Certitude, his most powerful and assured creation to date, brings those issues into full flower.
The libretto, steeped in the words of both Old and New Testaments, is fearless in drawing parallels among the stories of Lashaun, Abraham and Jesus. Lashaun takes her children into San Francisco on BART, looking, just as Abraham had, for the place that God would show her. She concludes her sacrifice with a terrifying burst of exultation: 'It is finished!' But Certitude is after something more ambitious than simply linking religion and schizophrenia. As the title (drawn from a phrase of Pascal's) suggests, the piece also conjures up the seductive, ineffable bliss of secure faith, the comfort that comes when a higher power guides you -- even if the paths it marks out for you are arduous. Wold's accomplishment is that he acknowledges both the delusional quality of that conviction and its enormous allure. His score, rendered in a two-piano reduction by the Zofo Duet (Keisuke Nakagoshi and Eva-Maria Zimmermann), is an intoxicating collection of chugging motoric rhythms, chiming harmonies and lyrical vocal lines. Both Wold's writing and the production, staged by director Jim Cave with choreography by Kerry Mehling, offer a writhing world of shifting boundaries that perfectly matches Lashaun's labile state. Six performers move on and off Mikiko Uesugi's set, a spare rendering of a pier, in constantly varied configurations. The vocal components blend song and speech, sometimes individually and sometimes in parallel. There is no consistent correlation between performers and characters -- each time someone uses a first-person pronoun, only context lets you know whether the singer or speaker is Wold, Lashaun, Abraham, Jesus or God. Laura Bohn and Jo Vincent Parks undertook the lion's share of the singing, both of them sounding eloquent and fervent. Talya Patrick embodied Lashaun at her most unhinged, splendidly conveying the glassy-eyed confidence of the insane. Mehling was a snaky dancer's presence, and Bob Ernst and Travis Santell Rowland completed the ensemble. Wold also made a few brief appearances onstage, which only served to upend the prevailing geometry . . . . Certitude comes to a magnificent climax near the end, when Bohn -- in a long and gorgeous monologue of Wagnerian intensity -- lovingly offers up her precious children to their heavenly father. You know it's coming, but the power of the scene is unbearably wrenching even so" [Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/24/12].

March 23

Yefim Bronfman performs Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 8. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "The Prokofiev sonata, in Mr. Bronfman’s hands, was confirmed as a masterpiece of subtle ingenuity, the prim, almost Classical regularity of its stride in the opening movement no disguise for a welter of emotions bared at length. A wistfully dreamy Andante Sognando set the stage for the finale’s controlled fury, culminating in a tone of ambiguous triumph" [Steve Smith, The New York Times, 3/25/12].

March 24

Alan Pierson leads the Brooklyn Philharmonic and Youth Chorus in Brooklyn Village. Roulette, New York, NY. "Conceived by Mr. Pierson and the librettist Royce Vavrek, directed by Ted Sperling and produced with Beth Morrison Projects, the concert incorporated dialogue, choreography, projected images and audience participation, all of it prompted by the notion of Brooklyn as a living community. . . . The winsome melodies and sophisticated harmonies of Sarah Kirkland Snider’s Here, performed by an unaccompanied Brooklyn Youth Chorus, led to the moody Prelude from Copland’s Symphony No. 1. Matthew Mehlan’s Canvas, a quirky melting pot of avant-garde gestures, doo-wop and Broadway belting sunnily voiced by Lauren Worsham prefaced a breezy excerpt from Sufjan Stevens’s BQE. Opening the program’s second half, chorus members stationed throughout the space led audience members in Idumea, a shape-note hymn by Charles Wesley. That work provided the melodic germ and temperament for David T. Little’s Am I Born, an elaborate, multimovement cantata . . . . Most closely associated with small ensembles, Mr. Little demonstrated a thrilling authority in writing for larger forces, mixing orchestral movements of cinematic sweep and urgency with rich a cappella choral passages and instances of chamberlike intricacy. The soloist, the soprano Mellissa Hughes, combined classical poise with torch-song emotionalism, confirming her status as one of New York’s freshest, most compelling interpreters. The young choristers rose to the occasion" [Steve Smith, The New York Times, 3/26/12].

March 30

San Francisco Symphony at 100: PBS Broadcast of 2011 Opening Night Gala, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, including Aaron Copland's "Billy the Kid" Ballet Suite, Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, and John Adams's A Short Ride in a Fast Machine. KQED, San Francisco, CA. Repeated April 1-2.