Susan Graham, with Malcolm Martineau. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "Aggression and malevolence don’t come naturally to Ms. Graham, so Joseph Horovitz’s Lady Macbeth, a wan mash-up of the character’s monologues, had little impact. She sounded more acute, and most herself, in Poulenc’s cycle Fiançailles Pour Rire, which had little to do with the rest of the program’s theme. Her combination of sophistication and sincerity, flexibility and secure core, is perfect for this repertory; she is able to capture Poulenc’s hair-trigger transitions from fullness to floating. In the sublime Fleurs her singing was simply gorgeous, with Mr. Martineau providing a pulse both steady and supple. The encores were Ms. Graham’s definitive rendition of Reynaldo Hahn’s À Chloris and a Sondheim bossa nova pastiche, The Boy From .... But the encore spirit had begun earlier, with a final set of songs announced from the stage. These were Graham favorites that she could probably do in her sleep: the charming aria J’ai deux amants from Messager’s Amour Masqué, standards by Cole Porter and Vernon Duke, and Ben Moore’s Sexy Lady, written for Ms. Graham" [Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times, 2/2/12].
Emancipator, with violinist Ilya Goldberg. Highline Ballroom, New York, NY. You don’t usually hear much banjo during a club set of electronic dance music. And a producer-composer performing with his laptop usually isn’t flanked by a classical violinist playing sweet, long-lined melodies. But when Emancipator appeared . . . he shared the stage with the violinist Ilya Goldberg, as well as with laptops and other electronics. And two songs into his set, there was a banjo plinking away in an Appalachian-flavored tune, Old Devil, from Emancipator’s 2010 album, Safe in the Steep Cliffs (1320 Records). Emancipator (aka Doug Appling), who is from Portland, OR wields the tools of hip-hop and electronica for music that turns inward. He has studied classical music, and in the home studio where he produces his tracks he plays many instruments himself (including banjo). While many attempts to merge classical melodicism with dance music sound awkward and gimmicky -- slumming with last year’s beat or just trying to make something the kids will buy -- Emancipator has found a balance. He knows when to luxuriate in a melody and when to move along. No part of his fusion is forced. From his laptops and sampler onstage, Emancipator could deploy big, raw drumbeats; dizzying doubletime stutters; and chopped-up vocal tracks. He knows the dance club staples, and his live set was pushier at times than his albums. It included a hip-hop remix (Notorious B.I.G.’s verse from Lloyd Banks’s Victory 2004) and a stretch of bouncy, twitchy house music full of electro arpeggios. But those were the least distinctive sections. Most of Emancipator’s music favored minor chords and medium tempos: simmering thoughtfully and steadily, not coercing. Big beats often heaved into the foreground but also tapered away, leaving room for more delicate sounds: a sliding bass fiddle line, a glimmering harp. Mr. Goldberg’s playing was often woven into other melodic elements -- from piano, guitar, flute, trumpet -- so it became a plaintive through-line, not an endless solo. Emancipator had worked out transitions through dissimilar material; the set was segued, not merely sequenced. And before any segment grew too pretty or precious, Emancipator would introduce just enough grit -- a rude Moog bass line, a new percussion layer -- to steer the music away from chill-out easy listening or new-age monotony. The music kept the audience bobbing, not shouting; that was motion enough" [Jon Pareles, The New York Times, 2/3/12].
Ezequiel Vinao's Sonetos de Amor. David Rubenstein Atrium, Lincoln Center, New York, NY. "Sonetos de Amor (Love Sonnets), a five-song Neruda cycle by the Argentine composer Ezequiel Viñao, deftly fused the styles of performers associated with jazz, Latin American and Middle Eastern music, as well as evocative computer animations and spontaneously created illustrations by the artist Kevork Mourad. The virile throb of Astor Piazzolla’s nuevo tango was omnipresent in the pianist Emilio Solla’s stately pulse, Pablo Aslan’s robust bass lines and the filigree whorls of Juan Pablo Jofre Romarion’s bandoneón. Sofía Rei, singing in Spanish, invested Neruda’s verses with a palpable ardor, her throaty intensity buffeted by gentle counterpoint from the clarinetist Kinan Azmeh. Shane Shanahan provided subtle, earthy rhythms on hand drums. Each song included an extensive, seemingly spontaneous prelude created by one of the instrumentalists, according to Mr. Viñao’s instructions. As these were played, Mr. Mourad daubed and smeared airy, fleshy figures, projected on an overhead screen. Mr. Viñao, working with a laptop computer offstage, subtly altered the performers’ sounds, including the amplified scratch of Mr. Mourad’s pen. Despite early problems with amplification, an assured performance showed the rich, beguiling work in its best light" [Steve Smith, The New York Times, 2/3/12].
Prism Quartet and Music From China. Weill Recital Hall, New York, NY. "Anyone unfamiliar with the Prism Quartet, a Philadelphia saxophone ensemble, and Music From China, a New York group formed to preserve and promote traditional Chinese music, might assume that they had precious little in common. But these industrious ensembles, both founded in 1984, share a mission to expand their repertories and an insatiable hunger for new music. Considering the proliferation of Chinese-born composers in Western concert music, perhaps it was inevitable that their paths would cross. Prism and Music From China toured together in 2009 and documented their shared repertory with Antiphony, a noteworthy album on the Innova label. On Friday evening they reunited at Weill Recital Hall to present new pieces by Lei Liang, Fang Man, Huang Ruo and Bright Sheng, who were all present to introduce their works. Mr. Liang’s Messages of White, he said, evokes sensations he associated with snow -- solitude, silence and playfulness -- through a descending chromatic scale revealed, concealed and altered in various ways. From an opening of crystalline stillness expressed in brittle scrapes, skitters and pops, pealing crotales (antique cymbals) and copious silence, Mr. Liang offered painterly evocations of motion and mood. An eerie tranquillity dominated by Hu Jianbing on sheng (a mouth organ) ceded to buoyant rhythms that airily flitted across vibraphone and pipa (a lute), saxophones and yangqin (a hammered dulcimer), before the work concluded in chilly repose. Ms. Fang said her Dream of a Hundred Flowers was inspired by an elaborate dream that involved a Beijing opera melody: whether remembered or imagined she could not say. An expert molder of near-chaotic energies, she assigned her melody to the erhu (a two-stringed fiddle), played expressively by Wang Guowei. His song was swiftly engulfed in vivid whorls of colorful turbulence and dreamy illogic; at various points the Prism players supplied livid hisses, split-tone growls and a near-cartoonish big-band bounce. Mr. Huang’s Three Tenses, from 2005, was meant to express a notion of past, present and future coexisting at once; accordingly, perhaps, he has reworked the piece again and again, fashioning versions for string quartet, brass quintet and more. Here Mr. Huang brought out new shadings in the engaging, eventful work, allying the pipa with the tenor and baritone saxophones to striking effect. Mr. Sheng, in introducing The Singing Gobi Desert, played down its programmatic title, calling the piece a capriccio or fantasia. Still, like the glassy 'singing' sands in the desert of the title, disparate timbres intermingled gently and smoothly in strong melodic themes, which sang out with potency and unambiguous sweetness" [Steve Smith, The New York Times, 2/5/12].
East Coast Chamber Orchestra. Tishman Auditorium, New School of Music, New York, NY. "The treat . . . was a rare opportunity to hear Schoenberg’s Suite for String Orchestra 'Im Alten Stile' ('In the Old Style'). Composed in 1934, soon after Schoenberg’s move to Los Angeles from Germany in the wake of Hitler’s rise to power, this graceful, even breezy suite is remarkable for being written in the key of G: its composer had not published a tonal work since starting his experiments with atonality and 12-tone technique in 1908. Its five-movement form, with a constantly shifting spirit, echoes that of a traditional suite: Overture, Adagio, Minuet, Gavotte and Gigue. While the harmonies grow funky, and the counterpoint becomes complex, even in its bustling moments it is -- particularly given this orchestra’s warm sound -- an unanxious, relieved work. At times its lean heat can sound a little like -- gasp! -- Sibelius. It’s not every day that a composer can surprise his audience by being, or at least seeming, conservative. At the time, some hypothesized that Hollywood sunshine had brightened Schoenberg’s infamous austerity. 'We may now expect atonal fugues by Shirley Temple,' the critic Olin Downes commented drily in The New York Times in 1935. But with nearly 80 years between the suite and us, its recasting of Baroque idioms in terms that are faithful yet fresh is poignant, an attempt to find sense in the Western tradition at a time when the world seemed to be collapsing. It received an incisive, vibrant performance from the East Coast orchestra, a cheerful freelance ensemble with representatives from several major symphonies. The final Gigue had a liveliness that was almost threatening. . . . The second half of the program paired Britten’s Prelude and Fugue for 18 Strings with Shostakovich’s solemn, savage Sinfonia (Op. 110), a transcription of his String Quartet No. 8. It was an ambitious, emotionally daunting program played with commitment and depth" [Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times, 2/7/12].
yMusic. Ecstactic Music Festival. New York, NY.
After the End of Music History. Princeton University, Princeton, NJ. Through February 12. "The . . . title of the . . . conference, conceived by the music historian Simon Morrison as a tribute to [Richard] Taruskin, . . . took its cue from The Ox[ford History of Music]’s final sentence, 'Our story ends, as it must, in the middle of things.' The conference sounded out themes pointing to what the news commentator Paul Harvey used to call “the rest of the story,” circling back to the Ox’s opening: 'Our story begins, as it must, in the middle of things.' The conference was held in conjunction with the first performance of a theatrical version of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin with incidental music by Prokofiev, which was suppressed shortly before its scheduled 1937 premiere. So several Taruskinian concerns emerged naturally: in addition to various matters Russian, the way music functions (or doesn’t) within society and under political oppression. Mr. Taruskin -- a close colleague, I should note, whose writing I have edited for more than 25 years, at Opus magazine and The Times -- is a bear of a man with a warm heart that he shields beneath a gruff exterior. He does not suffer fools, period, and has been known to raise a ruckus at a scholarly gathering. The classic instance came in 1998, at a meeting of the American Musicological Society in Boston, where he faced off with apologists for Solomon Volkov’s discredited book Testimony, which purported to be memoirs of Shostakovich as told to Mr. Volkov. So there seemed a real possibility of a fracas or two here, if only in Mr. Taruskin’s honor. But in the three days of sessions I attended, Thursday through Saturday, it never happened. Twice it seemed there was tension enough that a mere spark could have caused a conflagration. The first occasion came on [the] morning of [February 10], with a paper delivered by Karol Berger, a Stanford music historian; the second, late [the next] afternoon, with a keynote address by Susan McClary, a music historian and theorist at Case Western Reserve University. In the wake of attacks on the notion of a classical music canon by proponents of what a decade or two ago was called 'new musicology,' Mr. Berger offered an impassioned defense: not of a canon closed to the future (he cited as canonical works by three recent masters, Witold Lutoslawski, Gyorgy Ligeti, and Gyorgy Kurtag) but of a canon closed to its surroundings. He fears that great music 'is drowning in a flood of ever-new products of an industry paralyzed by an inability to discriminate among them,' he said. Elsewhere he spoke of 'mountains of trash.' The danger for academia, he suggested, is that as musicology departments expand to include various forms of popular music or exotica, their traditional concerns will be crowded out. Such talk would make any new musicologist’s blood boil, and several were present, including Ms. McClary. But Mr. Berger had used up his allotted time, and the moderator, while acknowledging that a bomb had been dropped, closed the floor to questions.Oddly, Mr. Berger’s presentation was followed by Beatles Heroes: Digitally Recanonizing the Fab Four by Christopher Doll, a Rutgers music theorist and composer, and A Brief History of Pop-Classical Fusion in New York Concert Life by Alex Ross, the New Yorker critic. Ms. McClary, in effect, offered a rebuttal the next day, exulting in the inroads made by 'the barbarians at the gates': women, gay people, Africans, Asians. Here the floor was opened to questions, but it seemed that after three full days of sessions, everyone was just too tired and hungry to prolong this one. Alas, not even Mr. Taruskin was in a particularly combative mood. He offered a mild challenge or a contribution after almost every presentation but mostly seemed content to bask in the adulation of his colleagues. And they offered it freely, none more than Ms. McClary. After observing that the Oxford History 'may well stand as the last great attempt to make sense of the whole shebang,' she serenaded Mr. Taruskin with 'My Funny Valentine,' sort of: 'My fearsome valentine,/big scary valentine,/you make me quake in my boots.' In conversation Mr. Taruskin, who has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, since 1987, spoke vaguely of the prospect of retirement, which he seems to relish as a chance to do what he called 'some real writing.' Come again?" [James R. Oestreich, The New York Times, 2/15/12].
American Songbook: Tune-Yards. Lincoln Center, Allen Room, New York, NY. "[T]he room’s picture-window backdrop of bustling traffic on Central Park South could have been choreographed to the polyrhythms of her music. In Tune-Yards’s songs technology facilitates the primal. [Merrill] Garbus uses looping devices to stack up layers of her own percussion, tenor ukulele and voice == a matter of thorough planning and precise execution. She made the full process visible onstage, tapping or plunking or singing each part’s interlocking sounds and silences, only to reveal the magnificently syncopated results later in the song. Nate Brenner on bass, and Matt Nelson and Noah Bernstein-Hanley on saxophones, added still more counterpoint, until the songs cross-referenced funk, yodeling, early Philip Glass, playground chants and the hooting, yodeling vocal polyphony of rainforest pygmies, among other things. Above the mathematical calculations and processes were the earthy melodies of Ms. Garbus’s lead vocals: whispers, bluesy curves, girlish clarity, leathery rasps. Her first song, performed a cappella, was largely wordless: held notes and fierce exhalations, a bluesy lament of a melody, a circling ululation and just a handful of words about 'hard times.' . . . Before the concert ended, she announced that she would continue it outdoors in Columbus Circle, to 'occupy' it. She had come prepared. Her crew had half a dozen large yellow-and-black flags and many spools of yellow-and-black tape, printed with 'Occupy' instead of 'Caution.' While a man (not a band member) played a baritone bugle, the gathering marched with flags around the Columbus monument and encircled it with the tape. . . . She led the crowd in a sustained chord. And by the time the police arrived, she was gone" [Jon Pareles, The New York Times, 2/10/12].
Death of Whitney Houston (b. 8/9/63, Newark, NJ) at 48. Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, CA. "Houston was found in her room at 3:55 p.m., and paramedics spent close to 20 minutes trying to revive her, the authorities said. There was no immediate word on the cause of her death, but the authorities said there were no signs of foul play. . . . She was the daughter of Cissy Houston, a gospel and pop singer who had backed up Aretha Franklin, and the cousin of Dionne Warwick (Ms. Franklin is Ms. Houston’s godmother). Ms. Houston’s range spanned three octaves. . . . But by the mid-1990s . . . she became what she described, in a 2009 interview with Oprah Winfrey, as a 'heavy' user of marijuana and cocaine. . . . But her marriage to the singer Bobby Brown . . . grew miserable. . . . Ms. Houston married Mr. Brown in 1992, and in 1993 they had a daughter, Bobbi Kristina, who survives her. Ms. Houston’s 2009 interview with Ms. Winfrey portrayed it as a passionate and then turbulent marriage, marred by drug use and by his professional jealousy, psychological abuse and physical confrontations. They divorced in 2007. . . . Lt. Mark Rosen, a spokesman for the Beverly Hills Police Department, said that emergency workers responded to a 911 call from security at the Beverly Hilton hotel on Wilshire Boulevard at 3:43 p.m., saying that Ms. Houston was unconscious in her fourth-floor suite. . . . Lieutenant Rosen said that detectives had arrived to conduct what he said was a full-scale investigation into the death. He said that Ms. Houston’s body was still in the hotel room as of 8 p.m. and would not be removed until the investigation was completed. 'There were no obvious signs of foul play,' he said. 'It’s still fresh an investigation to know whether -- the reality is she was too far too young to die and any time you have the death of someone this age it is the subject of an investigation'" [Jon Pareles and Adam Nagourney, The New York Times, 2/11/12].
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "[Michael] Tippett’s Divertimento on 'Sellinger’s Round' (1954) . . . is built around a popular 16th-century dance tune, best known today in Byrd’s setting. Its heart is its second movement, A Lament, Tippett’s contribution to Variations on an Elizabethan Theme, a 1952 project for which several British composers wrote movements to celebrate the impending coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Here Tippett weaves the dance around strains of When I Am Laid in Earth, from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, set here as a lustrous violin solo. It may seem odd to celebrate a coronation by quoting an aria in which a brokenhearted queen immolates herself. But Tippett’s piece took on a new life as part of this divertimento, in which quotations from works by Gibbons, Arne, Field and Sullivan mingle with the dance theme. Orpheus’s warm, vivid reading showed off the work’s scope: it is a long way, after all, from the moving Lament to the burbling finale, with its undercurrent of an aria from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Yeomen of the Guard. Tippett’s neolassicism -- not to mention the prominent trumpet writing in the Presto third movement -- set the stage for Shostakovich’s vigorous, virtually acid-free Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Minor. In a program note the orchestra’s resident composer, Gabriel Kahane, argued that it is wrong to think of this work as a double concerto for piano and trumpet, since the piano has much more time in the spotlight. Orpheus appeared to disagree. Its trumpet soloist, Louis Hanzlik, stood throughout the work, and his crisp, focused playing -- particularly in the muted, gently chromatic solo in the Lento movement -- made a strong case for equal billing, as did the measured interplay among trumpet, piano and orchestra in the finale. Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s reading of the solo line balanced tautness and clarity with suppleness and nuance. Mr. Thibaudet did not ignore the score’s tart side entirely, but he tempered it with a buoyant, singing tone that proved appealing in this early score, from 1933. The orchestra opened the second half with an attractive rarity, Honegger’s Pastorale d’Été" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 2/13/12].
Goat Hall Productions presents Valentine's Day Pick-Your-Own Aria Concert Party, with music of Mark Alburger (The Wind God: I Loved Him, on a text by Harriet March Page), John Bilotta (Trifles), JJ Hollingsworth (Pomp and Circumstances), and Mona Lyn Reese (Three Fat Women of Antibes). Julia Morgan Chamber Arts House, Berkeley, CA.
Bang On A Can All-Star pianist Vicky Chow performs John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes in honor of the composer's 100th birthday. Killian Hall, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
Ensemble ACJW in Igor Stravinsky's Histoire du Soldat and music of composers collective Sleeping Giant. Weill Recital Hall, New York, NY. "The heart of the program was a finely turned account of Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale (Histoire du Soldat). . . . [T]he group and Carnegie Hall commissioned members of the Sleeping Giant composers’ collective to write a companion piece, Histories. Sleeping Giant includes six Brooklyn composers, four of whom -- Andrew Norman, Christopher Cerrone, Jacob Cooper and Robert Honstein -- contributed to Histories. (The other two are Ted Hearne and Timothy Andres.) Using the same septet instrumental scoring as Stravinsky, the four composers cast their movements as responses to this chamber piece, occasionally quoting from it directly, or at least alluding to it. In some ways these are remixes, in current musical parlance. They take elements of the original -- a percussion flourish here, a violin or trumpet phrase there -- embroider them ambitiously with new material and build new structures around them. The set has its own overall architecture as well, thanks largely to Mr. Norman’s four aphoristic contributions -- In, Between, Through, and Out -- which begin and end Histories and connect the other movements. These are wild, cacophonous pieces, but from within each a single, lyrical line shines through the welter of sound. In Agitated, Stumbling Like an Endless Run-On Sentence, Mr. Cooper used the percussion writing toward the end of The Soldier’s Tale as the starting point for a robust fantasy, at times transferring the high-energy bursts in Stravinsky’s music to the brasses and woodwinds and strings. Mr. Cerrone sent the woodwinds and brasses up the aisles, where they mostly produced toneless, breathy sounds to accompany the vibraphone and strings in Recovering, an eerie magnification of a fragment from the only moment of repose in the Stravinsky, the Pastorale. And Mr. Honstein built a few Stravinskian gestures into Marionette, an abstract assortment of explosive figures in constantly changing combinations of timbre. The spirit and focus that the ensemble brought to these pieces also informed its approach to The Soldier’s Tale, though the familiarity of the Stravinsky allowed them a flexibility that was not yet apparent in the new pieces. Stravinsky’s acidic harmonies and sassy rhythms came through vividly, and Keats Dieffenbach brought the right touch of rustic brashness to the prominent solo violin line. The actor Gabriel Ebert, a superb narrator, used accents, gestures, vocal timbre and a couple of hats to create the characters in this contest between a soldier and the devil" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 12/2/19].
Goat Hall Productions presents The Kurt Weill Project: Songs from "The Threepenny Opera." Cafe Royale, San Francisco, CA. Repeated 2/20, Stagewerx, San Francisco.
Death of Charles Anthony (b. Calogero Antonio Caruso, 7/25/29, New Orleans, LA), at 82. Tampa, FL. "[He was] a stalwart tenor who in 57 seasons at the Metropolitan Opera appeared with the company more often than any other solo artist. The number seems almost impossible, but Mr. Anthony sang with the Met in 2,928 performances. He played 111 roles in 69 operas, including three parts in Puccini’s Turandot alone: Pang, Pong and the Emperor, with which he made his farewell on Jan. 28, 2010. He retired comfortably ahead of the next two marathoners on the company’s list: its music director, James Levine (2,442 appearances), and George Cehanovsky, a Met baritone from 1926 to 1966 (2,394). 'It must be God’s plan,' Mr. Anthony told Time magazine in 2004 when asked about his extraordinary longevity, adding that 'abject terror' had kept him focused. 'A singer onstage in the moments before he opens his mouth is the loneliest person in the world,' he said. 'You never know what’s going to come out.' Mr. Anthony made his Met debut on March 6, 1954, singing the Simpleton in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. It is a small part, but, as the critic Ross Parmenter wrote in his review in The New York Times, Mr. Anthony 'did it so well that probably few who saw the performance will forget him.' Mr. Parmenter reported that Mr. Anthony received three solo bows, adding: 'Mr. Anthony had better be careful. If he does other bit parts so vividly, he’ll be stamped as a character singer for life.' That prediction turned out to be both true and not. While much of Mr. Anthony’s Met career was spent giving finely detailed performances of the comprimario, or supporting, parts, which are the meat of opera, in his early years he excelled in more central roles, including David in Wagner’s Meistersinger, Count Almaviva in Rossini’s Barber of Seville, Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Ernesto in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. 'He was a beacon of really intelligent bel canto singing,' Mr. Levine told The Times in 2010. Yet Mr. Anthony’s greatest impact was in smaller parts. He sang certain leading roles, like Rodolfo in Puccini’s Bohème and Nemorino in Donizetti’s Elixir of Love, just once each at the Met. By comparison he logged 159 performances as the Innkeeper in Strauss’s Rosenkavalier -- high B-flat and all -- and 141 as Ruiz in Verdi’s Trovatore. These are little more than cameos, but with Mr. Anthony’s bright voice and superb sense of musical style, they blossomed into fully realized portraits. . . . He studied music at Loyola University in New Orleans, by which time his name had been anglicized to Charles Anthony Caruso. In 1952, when Mr. Caruso reached the semifinals of the Met’s auditions for promising young singers, the company’s domineering general manager, Rudolf Bing, told him he had to choose another name (Caruso, it goes without saying, was taken). He complied, winning the competition as Charles Anthony. The change infuriated his Sicilian grandfather, but it was as Charles Anthony that he became a kind of Zelig of the Met, present for some of the company’s greatest nights. He was the Judge in 1955 when Marian Anderson made her historic debut as the first black singer at the Met, appearing in Verdi’s Ballo in Maschera. . . . On Feb. 17, 1992, during a performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto, in which he sang the role of the courtier Borsa, Mr. Anthony was honored onstage for breaking the record for the number of appearances then held by George Cehanovsky. Mr. Anthony was celebrated again on March 6, 2004, the 50th anniversary of his Met debut. That night he sang Spoletta in Puccini’s Tosca, one of his 135 performances in the role" [Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times, 2/15/12].
Michael Gordon's Potassium, Cinnamon, and Exalted; Derek Bermel's A Child's War, and Paquito D’Rivera's Tembandumba and Un Minuto. Le Poisson Rouge, New York, NY. "Gordon’s Potassium, played by the dynamic JACK Quartet, [is] a gritty, audacious piece in which the musicians play major and minor chords that slide up and down the strings, with the sounds put through a distortion unit, or fuzz box. Exalted, performed next, was an emotional piece, Mr. Gordon explained, written after the death of his father. The text is the first four words of Kaddish, the mourning prayer from the Jewish liturgy. The chorus, conducted by Stephanie Mowery, gave a gripping performance of this piercing music, a fabric of modal scales, chanted phrases and wailing strings (the JACK Quartet). . . . Gordon’s playful Cinnamon, conducted by Philip Brunelle and accompanied by the pianist Jon Holden, is a charming, clever miniature, with patter phrases and singsong melodic lines . . . [The Young People's C]horus [of New York performed A Child’s War, Mr. Bermel’s setting of three poems his father, Albert Bermel, wrote, recounting his experiences as a boy in London during World War II. The music mostly moves in pungent block chords that let the words come through clearly, sung here with robust sound and crisp diction. Mr. Bermel’s new piece was a rap, YPChant, done with sass . . . . A contingent of girls from the chorus sang Mr. D’Rivera’s Tembandumba, a coy, flirtatious, rhythmically bopping Spanish-text piece that has become a favorite with the singers . . . . The concert ended with . . . the premiere of Mr. D’Rivera’s Un Minuto. In the Spanish text for this breathless work the choristers complain that they have just a minute to sing the thing" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 2/17/12].
Music of Invention - Celebrating the Original Instruments of Tom Nunn. Community Music Center, CA. Since 1976 Tom Nunn has invented over 200 instruments. The sounds from these unique creations have been utilized on dozens of recordings, soundtracks and in performance. For this special evening Tom will play many of these musical inventions including: The Crustacean (1977), Sonoglyph, T-Rodimba, The Skatchbox, Bridge Rod Mothic, The Crab. and his most recent instrument: The Lukie Tubes (2011). The performances will feature Tom in duos, trios and groups with guests: Aurora Josephson, Voice; Allan Crossman, Piano; Doug Carrollcello: Bart Hopkins, inventions; Gary and Michael Knowlton, guitars; David Michalak, lap steel and skatchbox; Ron Heglin, voice; Paul Winstanley, bass; Karen Stackpole, gongs, and percussion; Rent Romus, alto sax; Ed Herrmann, inventions; John Ingle, soprano sax. Coinsiding with the event, Edgetone Records will release the single, Skatchbox Blues, a tribute to Tom and his inventions.
Here and Now: Olga Vinokur and David Kalhous. Bargemusic, New York, NY. "Morton Feldman wrote vast works of whisper-soft chords and eerie harmonies that unfold with glacial, regal slowness. Encouraged by John Cage, Feldman -- who had a day job working in his family’s coat-manufacturing business until he was 44 -- created music that used neither tonal nor serial techniques. Feldman’s Piano Four Hands (1958) is a shorter example of his aesthetic, in which he isolates individual gestures and notes. As the pianist David Kalhous explained before a performance with Olga Vinokur at Bargemusic on Friday evening, Feldman 'gives you an opportunity to dwell on sounds and the silences between sounds.' There were echoes of Feldman in David Lang’s Gravity (2005), with its slow-moving patterns of descending notes, played here with a judicious balance of solemnity and airiness. The program opened with a very different sound world, the rambunctious peasant rhythms of Ligeti’s Sonatina for Piano Four Hands and Three Wedding Dances (both 1950). Early works that show the influence of Bartok and Stravinsky, they were played with panache here. The Ligeti was paired with pieces by Gyorgy Kurtag. These two Hungarian composers were close friends and shared early teachers and mentors, but their careers turned out very differently. Ligeti moved to the West and became famous, while Mr. Kurtag (who made his Carnegie Hall debut at 82 in 2009 and now lives in Bordeaux) spent much of his career in Hungary. The pianists offered several of Kurtag’s Bach transcriptions and selections from his Jatetok (Games), a collection of witty and expressive miniatures for two- and four-hand piano that he began writing in 1973, initially as pedagogical pieces. There were also vivid miniatures by the eclectic German composer Wolfgang Rihm, whose vast catalog includes thorny ensemble works. He was represented here by colorful interpretations of his Short Waltzes Nos. 1 though 8 for piano four hands (1979), charming homages to the 19th century that reveal Mr. Rihm’s lighthearted side. David Winkler evoked the Romantic era with the big chords and rhapsodic musings of his appealing Venti, which received its premiere here. The title (Italian for Twenty) refers to the number of fingers required to play it. The program also included excerpts from George Crumb’s Celestial Mechanics (Makrokosmos IV), which requires the pianists to pluck the instrument’s strings to produce a range of otherworldly effects. The evening ended on a more traditional note, with John Corigliano’s lively Gazebo Dances, written in 1972 and later scored for orchestra" [Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times, 2/21/12].
Tune-In Music Festival: Philip Glass, including his Music in 12 Parts, plus Terry Riley's In C and Steve Reich's Drumming. Park Avenue Armory, New York, NY. "As with many other composers Philip Glass's style has -- so far at least -- developed over three periods. The first, that of a young composer learning the ropes, is almost entirely unknown. Examples of his early works occasionally come to light. Most recently a quartet from the late 1950's turned up on a recording made at the Juilliard School that was auctioned on eBay, but it ended up in Mr. Glass’s hands, and he has no interest in making available his compositions from before the mid-’60s. ost people know Mr. Glass’s third period: the current model, whose unmistakable musical fingerprints can be heard in every bar of his nine symphonies, two dozen operas, countless chamber and solo pieces, and nearly 50 scores for films like Koyaanisqatsi (1982), The Thin Blue Line (1988), Kundun (1997), The Truman Show (1998) and The Hours (2002). This Mr. Glass, a neo-Romantic with Minimalist instincts, writes by the ream. Though his works vary in their use of chromaticism and occasionally borrow from world music, they almost invariably include certain Glassian hallmarks. Arpeggiation (usually either slow, dark string figures or rapidly ascending woodwind swirls) and stretches of straightforward major and minor block chords are central pillars. Punchy rhythmic figures, often with an off-the-beat emphasis, give the music its drive. But for many longtime followers of Mr. Glass’s work, it is the music of his second period, from about 1966 to 1975, that seems most original and revolutionary. During those years Mr. Glass and other like-minded composers and performers, both in downtown Manhattan and on the West Coast, began stripping away the harmonic complexities of Western art music. They focused instead on rhythm and other propulsive processes and created the style that came to be known (to most of the composers’ chagrin) as Minimalism. As part of the Park Avenue Armory’s Tune-In Music Festival, a five-evening celebration of Mr. Glass’s 75th birthday, the Philip Glass Ensemble will devote next Saturday evening to the crowning work of this period, Music in 12 Parts. Along with Terry Riley’s In C (1964) and Steve Reich’s Drumming (1971), it captures the energy and spirit of early Minimalism and is one of the canon’s defining essays. Though it has always been a staple of the Philip Glass Ensemble, which has recorded it three times, most recently in 2007 for Mr. Glass’s Orange Mountain Music label, the score’s four-hour duration makes it tough to program and to play. It is usually performed with a short dinner break, as will be the case on Saturday. It was last performed in New York in 2001, as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. The composition of Music in 12 Parts as we know it today -- a mammoth score in 12 movements, each from 15 to 20 minutes long -- was partly an accident. When Mr. Glass wrote what is now Part 1, in May 1971, he meant the work’s title to indicate that the piece, for keyboards, winds and voice, was built of 12 lines of counterpoint. But when an early listener asked him what the other 11 parts would be like, Mr. Glass saw the possibilities in a grander project. He spent the next three years writing new movements and adding them to the ensemble’s repertory, completing the set in April 1974 and presenting it complete in a Town Hall concert that June. It seems unlikely that Mr. Glass envisioned where this work would take him. The final movements, vibrantly chromatic, inhabit an entirely different universe from the early ones, and they explore material that did not appear to be of concern to Mr. Glass in 1971. Yet when you listen to the work in a single sitting, you hear a palpable and logical sense of development from Part 1 to Part 12. In a way Music in 12 Parts is a summation of all the experiments with repetition, rhythm, harmony and form that had occupied Mr. Glass for nearly a decade, and at heart it is a treatise on additive process, the particular Minimalist engine that propelled Mr. Glass’s music at the time. Put simply, additive process involves repeating a short musical figure as often as the score commands, periodically adding to, subtracting from or altering the melody, which gradually morphs into a more involved, complex line. Music in 12 Parts begins with deceptive simplicity: the harmonic backdrop to Part 1 is essentially a drone, as vocal, keyboard and wind figures establish a five-beat pulse that creates a slightly off-kilter feeling. Textures thicken, and the pace picks up by the end of the movement, but the drone remains until a sudden modulation and a brisker tempo kick the work into Part 2, a study of contrapuntally overlaid (and eventually shape-shifting) arpeggios. As the piece unfolds Mr. Glass examines, in the fine detail that repetition allows, various intervals (he is especially partial to fourths), chord progressions and rhythmic techniques. He revisits and elaborates on motifs from early works like Music in Similar Motion (1969) and Music With Changing Parts (1970). And in the increasingly ornate second half of the set, he introduces comparatively sudden, dramatic change in place of slow evolution: an approach that he developed further in Koyaanisqatsi and other scores of the early 1980's, and that has become his standard operating procedure. Mr. Glass saved his biggest surprise -- an inside joke, of sorts -- for the finale. His harmonies had become more chromatic through Parts 10, 11 and 12, and the vocal melody that is the central focus of Part 12 grows progressively winding and angular. If you listen closely, you realize why: Mr. Glass has spun out a straightforward 12-tone row, the very symbol of the complex modern language that he and his colleagues had rebelled against when they began creating their deliberately reductive, unabashedly new style a decade before. But here the tone row is bent to Mr. Glass’s purposes and offered as the closing theme of his Minimalist magnum opus. When he finished Music in 12 Parts, Mr. Glass was determined to move on to something new. 'From 1966 to 1968 I tore down the walls and began again,' Mr. Glass said in May 1974. 'Now I’ve built up a whole set of other walls. I’ve erected a new system of music, and nothing would please me more than to abandon it.' His comment seemed impish at the time, but he kept to his word. Large stretches of his next big project, Another Look at Harmony, became the basis of Einstein on the Beach (1975), an audacious, nonnarrative theatrical collaboration with Robert Wilson. Einstein, which is scored for an expanded version of Mr. Glass’s ensemble, built on the chromaticism and dramatic change evident at the end of Music in 12 Parts, and it whetted his taste for the theater. In his next opera, the fully orchestrated, vocally sumptuous Satyagraha (1980), Mr. Glass moved decisively toward his current style. He seems unlikely to abandon this one. But you never know: in composer years 75 is pretty young these days" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 2/17/12].
Britten Sinfonia in its American debut. Alice Tully Hall, New York, NY. "This acclaimed British ensemble presented an imaginative program conceived and conducted by the composer Thomas Adès, whose skills as a pianist were also on display. It was worth the wait. Founded in 1992, the Britten Sinfonia does not have a regular conductor. Instead it selects collaborators for particular projects that put a premium on experimentation. This appearance was part of the orchestra’s Concentric Paths tour, the title being that of Mr. Adès’s exhilarating 2005 violin concerto, featured in the tour. This 20-minute work in three movements explores circular patterns in which spiraling, sometimes frenzied violin riffs coalesce into long spans of breathless, propulsive orchestral wildness. The solo was played with bracing intensity and brilliance by the Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto. Though an audaciously modern composer, Mr. Adès is a devout student of music’s past. Often his way of honoring the masters is to arrange and adapt their works. The first half of this program was an homage to François Couperin, the French Baroque composer, harpsichordist and organist. It began with Mr. Adès’s performance on piano of a Couperin harpsichord piece, Les Baricades Mistérieuses (The Mysterious Barricades), all undulant contrapuntal lines and flowing filigree. Mr. Adès played with milky impressionist textures while bringing out crucial voices and harmonic shifts. Then he conducted five players from the orchestra in his unconventional arrangement of the piece, complete with bass clarinet. Mr. Adès teases out clashing dissonances and jerky rhythmic interplay from the original. The point of making such an arrangement is to 'show what I hear in the music,' Mr. Adès told the audience in introducing his Three Studies From Couperin for orchestra. Every note of the selected Couperin keyboard pieces is present in these treatments. But as the music is tweaked through instrumentation, articulation, dynamics and coloring, lines are tossed back and forth among unlikely instruments, harmonies linger and bleed together, and the music seems both old and new. The first half ended with Mr. Adès conducting a refreshingly articulate and colorful performance of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, a suite of four pieces that lightly evoke the style, dance forms and idiom of Couperin in plush music that is pure Ravel. The second half focused on Stravinsky, beginning with the dynamic Mr. Kuusisto, an outspoken advocate of contemporary music, and Mr. Adès at the piano in excerpts from Stravinsky’s opera Le Rossignol (The Nightingale), arranged for violin and piano in 1932 by Samuel Dushkin. The performance of Mr. Adès’s formidable concerto, which ended the program, drew a deserved ovation. Mr. Kuusisto played an encore with the orchestra, a ruminative humoresque by Sibelius. But this violinist’s versatility really stood out during Stravinsky’s two neoclassical suites for small orchestra, performed earlier. In two of the movements Mr. Kuusisto played the piano part in the orchestra, which included a couple of passages of tricky leaping chords" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 2/23/12].
Andras Schiff and Muzsikas in The Routes and Roots of Bartok. Zankel Hall, New York, NY. "Except in the final piece and an encore, when they collaborated on a pair of Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances, Mr. Schiff and Muzsikas shared the stage but performed separately, in a sort of folk-classical dialogue. That was understandable: though Muzsikas adjusted its intonation to match Mr. Schiff’s in those dances, the group prefers a rough-hewn approach to tuning that gives it a more authentically rustic sound. The program . . . celebrated Bartok’s legacy, both as a pioneering ethnomusicologist who traveled through Hungary transcribing folk songs and dances and as a composer who incorporated that music into his own works. Muzsikas afforded a glimpse of what Bartok heard on his tours of the countryside; Mr. Schiff showed how he transformed it. As curious sideline, Muzsikas’s contributions sometimes illuminated links to other folk styles. The group opened, for example, with a fast csardas, a dance piece that had some of the rhythmic characteristics of a hornpipe. Other fiddle tunes had rhythmic and melodic elements in common with Scottish reels. Less surprising, the emphatic cadential figures that enliven Brahms’s Hungarian Dances made occasional appearances. The group’s repertory included dances from several regions of Hungary, and a few remnants of Hungary’s Jewish population (a Hasidic wedding song and an improvisation on Ani Ma’amim, a familiar Sabbath tune), which was decimated during World War II. Maria Petras, a singer with a reedy, vibrato-free timbre and plenty of power, sang two Moldavian pieces: a ballad and a Kyrie based on Gregorian chant but with decidedly folkish melodic twists. Mr. Schiff’s contributions included Bartok’s Hungarian Peasant Songs and Romanian Folk Dances, as well as the Allegro Barbaro and a movement from the suite Out of Doors, all played with his customary vigor and attention to detail. In a few cases Muzsikas interposed performance of the original tunes between Bartok’s settings, with illuminating results. It would be wrong to say that Bartok tamed the folk pieces, but an exchange occurred: the piano settings clarify the melodies and give them a modernist harmonic cloak, but the earthy wildness that a village string band would give them was sacrificed in the transaction" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 2/23/12].
Alan Gilbert conducts the New York Philharmonic in Steven Stucky's Son et Lumière (1988). Avery Fisher Hall, New York, NY. [T}hough only nine minutes long, [the work] draws expansively on an orchestra’s resources, particularly its brasses and percussion (though the strings and woodwinds come into their own late in the piece). Minimalist ostinatos propel the piece, but Mr. Stucky has so much going on, in so many layers and usually at contrasting tempos, that his use of repetition seems a secondary concern. The Philharmonic gave this vibrant, changeable piece an exhilarating reading . . . . The orchestra has played a couple of Mr. Stucky’s works in recent years, and a new work figures in next season’s programming. But his Second Concerto for Orchestra, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 and is even more colorful than Son et Lumière, is still waiting to be heard in New York" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 2/24/12].
Erin Morley and Vlad Iftinca in Samuel Barber's Four Songs. Weill Recital Hall, New York, NY.
Premiere of Missy Mazzoli's Song From the Uproar. The Kitchen, New York, NY. "In the story of Isabelle Eberhardt, a 19th-century Swiss adventuress who blazed a headstrong trail before perishing prematurely in Algeria at 27, there surely is a saga worthy of operatic treatment. Eberhardt learned Arabic, converted to Islam, dressed as a man to travel freely, survived an assassination attempt and died in a flash flood after saving her Algerian soldier husband from the same fate. But in Song From the Uproar -- The Lives and Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt, which had its full-length premiere . . . the composer Missy Mazzoli adopted a suitably idiosyncratic approach. Recounting key moments from Eberhardt’s life in a 75-minute sequence of dreamy vignettes linked by electronic segues that crackled like ancient shortwave, Ms. Mazzoli and her collaborators fashioned an earnest, enveloping meditation that invited individual interpretation. Strengths evident in a 2009 workshop performance -- Ms. Mazzoli’s shimmering, surging post-Minimalist flow; Stephen Taylor’s haunting manipulation of archival film; alert playing by the Now Ensemble; and the mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer as a riveting protagonist -- remained, enhanced by Alixandra Englund’s handsome period costumes and fresh scenes of druggy torpor and religious fervor. A five-member chorus added jazzy close harmonies and handled the director Gia Forakis’s dancelike blocking efficiently. . . . [I]n the emotional efficacy and irresistible magnetism of Ms. Fischer’s performance and in the electric surge of Ms. Mazzoli’s score you felt the joy, risk and limitless potential of free spirits unbound" [Steve Smith, The New York Times, 2/26/12].
Death of Maurice André (b. 5/21/33, Alès, France), at 78. "Mr. André, who began his professional life as a coal miner, was esteemed as a trumpeter for his warm, robust tone; lightning technique; and clarion high notes, whose stratospheric reaches could prompt waves of applause from audiences. What potential for showmanship his gifts entailed was mitigated, most critics agreed, by his sensitive musicianship, which let him spin out lyrical, shapely lines much as a singer would. By all accounts, Mr. André was to the trumpet what Jean-Pierre Rampal was to the flute or Pablo Casals to the cello: a player whose instrument, long considered a mainstay of the orchestral ark, became, in his hands, the fleet, dazzling tool of a concerto soloist. 'Trumpet players play in orchestras; that’s what we do,' the conductor Gerard Schwarz, who is a former co-principal trumpeter of the New York Philharmonic, said in a telephone interview on Friday. 'Maurice was the only one to actually have a real major career as a soloist and have a real following from audiences all over the world.' From the 1960s until his retirement less than 10 years ago, Mr. André was ubiquitous as a soloist with major orchestras, in recital and on hundreds of recordings. He specialized in Baroque repertory, notably the work of Bach, Handel and Telemann. As his interpretations showed, however, he felt relatively unfettered by the more staid -- if more faithful -- historical performance practices that were gaining popularity in the second half of the 20th century. 'He was certainly not a purist,' Mr. Schwarz recalled. 'If he felt that it would be more exciting to take the last few notes of any concerto up an octave, he would do that. He really cared deeply about the audience, and he really wanted to make them enjoy themselves.' The repertory for solo trumpet is scant. To compensate, Mr. André performed transcriptions of many Baroque pieces for solo violin, voice and especially oboe. He occasionally commissioned new works from composers like André Jolivet, Henri Tomasi and Jean Langlais. He was also an enthusiastic ambassador for the piccolo trumpet, the trumpet’s smaller, higher brother, heard most famously in Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto. Mr. André, who performed on the instrument often, was far from piccolo himself, and in his hamlike hands the instrument seemed practically to vanish. . . . His father was a coal miner and amateur trumpeter, and at 14 Maurice entered the mines, where he worked for the next four years. The tons of coal he hauled, he later said, gave him the stamina that made his pyrotechnic playing possible. He began learning the cornet as a boy and later switched to the trumpet. After private lessons with a local teacher, he was encouraged to study at the Conservatoire de Paris. His family could not afford to send him, but it was discovered that members of military bands received free tuition. He joined the Eighth Regiment band, stationed at Mont-Valérien, outside Paris, and enrolled in the conservatory. After graduating in 1953, the young Mr. André held posts in several French orchestras before embarking on a solo career. In retirement, Mr. André lived in the Basque country of southwest France. Survivors include his wife, Liliane; a son, Nicolas, a trumpeter; and a daughter Béatrice, an oboist. Among his recordings are a series released by the Musical Heritage Society in the 1960s and afterward, including Six Trumpet Concertos, featuring works by Vivaldi, Tartini and Albinoni; the Shostakovich concerto for piano, trumpet and string orchestra, with the pianist Annie d’Arco; and Music for Trumpet and Organ, with Marie-Claire Alain. Besides possessing physical strength born of the coal mines, Mr. André had strength of another kind. This, too, he made clear, helped sustain him in performance, where he might be obliged to slice through anything from a full symphony orchestra to a thundering pipe organ. 'It takes a strong personality to make an impact with the trumpet,' he told The New York Times in 1983. 'You’re like a matador in a bull ring. I see flutists and oboists go on the stage gingerly. If you do that with the trumpet you’re finished. You have to go on as a winner'" [Margalit Fox, The New York Times, 3/3/12].
Composers, Inc. Piedmont Piano Company, Oakland, CA.