New York Philharmonic Premieres HK Gruber’s Piano Concerto

Hi All. This fell off the blog for some reason. I am re-hosting it today. 

 

New York Philharmonic Premieres H.K. Gruber

New York Philharmonic

Photos: Chris Lee

 

Avery Fisher Hall, New York

January 7, 2017

By Christian Carey

Five Things to Love About the NY Phil’s January 7th Concert

  1. Kurt Weill’s Kleine Dreigroschenmusik (Little Threepenny Music) for Wind Ensemble: A truly charming work that also demonstrates the composer’s affinity for early jazz orchestration, Little Threepenny Music showed off the wind section of the Philharmonic at their very best, and it was wonderful to hear banjo in the mix. Mack the Knife alone is worth many three-pennies!
  2. Emmanuel Ax playing H.K. Gruber: As Ax himself admits (see video embed below), his training is classical, not jazz-oriented. That said, he acquitted himself well in the premiere of H.K. Gruber’s Piano Concerto, spinning swinging fistfuls of notes into the air at a nearly relentless pace with his characteristic musicality.
  3. H.K. Gruber’s Piano Concerto: It is audaciously orchestrated, cast for a large orchestra with tons of contrapuntal imitation thickening the texture — yet somehow the piano comes through in brilliant fashion. There are elements of Weill’s early jazz, notably “shimmy music” from his opera Tales from the Vienna Woods. But the piece contains an even more pronounced strain of modern jazz: one could imagine the late Eric Dolphy fitting right in, taking a seat among the winds.
  4. Thoughtful programming: H.K. Gruber has performed works by Kurt Weill as a chansonnier. Schubert’s early Second Symphony hasn’t been performed since Kurt Masur was Music Director of the NY Phil (I saw that performance too; more about it momentarily).
  5. Alan Gilbert conducting Franz Schubert: When I heard Masur’s performance of Schubert’s Second Symphony in 1994, I was convinced that the teenage composer had the capacity to be a proto-Brahms with high Romantic spirits. Gilbert’s interpretation of the piece stands in stark contrast. It is much quicker, putting the strings through fleet-footed paces and distilling Schubert’s admiration for Mozart into each of the work’s movements. I wouldn’t want to be without either rendition, and am grateful to have heard them both. That said, January 7th’s masterful performance is just going to make me miss Alan Gilbert at the helm of the NY Phil even more.

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Kronos at Carnegie Hall

KRONOS QUARTET
Photo: Steve J. Sherman

 

Kronos Quartet

Carnegie Hall – Zankel Hall

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Christian Carey

 

Six Things to Like About Kronos at Carnegie Hall

 

  1. Fifty for the Future Commissioning Project — Kronos used Saturday February 11th’s concert to showcase some of the early entries in their “Fifty for the Future” project. Not only is Kronos recording all of the pieces for young quartets to hear; their website also includes free to download PDFs of scores and parts. Thus, they are creating a new repertory for quartets eager to learn about contemporary music.
  2. Garth Knox — Some of the pieces, such as renowned violist Garth Knox’s “Dimensions” from Satellites, take on a didactic function. Knox features all manner of bowing techniques, including the surprisingly potent hissing sound of “air bowing.” It is a piece that is a catalog of special effects, but they are organically incorporated and the music is a brisk tour: it doesn’t overstay its welcome and stretch one’s appreciation of its charms.
  3. Malian percussionist Fode Lassana Diabate’s Sundata’s Time: The master balafonist joined Kronos onstage for the first completed “Fifty For the Future” composition: Sundata’s Time. Each movement spotlighted a different instrument, along with a few extra cadenzas for balafon thrown in. These were most welcome. Diabate plays with an extraordinary grace and fluidity that not only was stirring in its own right, but brought out a different character entirely in Kronos’s playing. It was a most simpatico collaboration.
  4. Kala Ramnath’s Amrit contains major scale ragas that craft a poignantly stirring work combining Eastern and Western gestures in a bold attempt to bring the two hemispheres’s musical traditions together.
  5. Rhiannon Giddens’s At the Purchaser’s Option brought blues and roots music to the fore, genres that Kronos has played eloquently since their inception. Perhaps the most attractive piece on the program in terms of musical surface, its message went deeper, serving as a sober reminder of slave trade in 19th Century America. Giddens has a new Nonesuch CD out this coming Friday, titled Freedom Highway.
  6. If Giddens’s piece was the most attractive on a surface level, Steve Reich’s Triple Quartet remained the weightiest in ambition and most thoroughly constructed of the programmed works. Written for Kronos, it features two virtual quartets on tape that accompany the live musicians (Kay and I are lobbying for more live performances of all three quartets, as that would really be something!). Overlapping ostinatos and stabbing melodic gestures provide a serious demeanor that resembles another piece played by Kronos with tape (of human voices): Different Trains. The rhythmic contours and syncopations provide ample amounts of challenges, but Kronos played seamlessly with the avatar-filled tape part. While “Fifty for the Future” is an important mission for Kronos, it is also heartening to hear some of their older repertoire being revived. The encore for the concert: an arrangement of “Strange Fruit,” the jazz protest song made famous by Billie Holiday.

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Gidon Kremer at McCarter

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Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica

McCarter Theatre Center

Friday, February 3, 2017

By Christian Carey

 

PRINCETON – I’ve wanted to hear violinist Gidon Kremer perform Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s iconic work Fratres live since I was a teenager. Back then, Kremer’s rendition of the work on an ECM Records New Series CD was transfixing and game changing: it became an almost totemic art object for me as a composition student. On February 3rd, I got my wish at McCarter Theatre in Princeton. Unlike the recording, here Kremer pushed the proceedings forward, taking a quicker tempo and engaging in more taut phrasing than he did on the CD. The work is still transfixing, but it was moving to hear its story retold in a new way.

 

Kremer and Kremerata Baltica, the chamber orchestra of Eastern European musicians that he leads, have a new ECM CD out, this one of the Chamber Symphonies of Mieczysław Weinberg, late works that sit astride Mahlerian late Romanticism and modernism that is a close cousin to the works of Shostakovich. Clarinetist Mate Bekavac, who also appears on the recording, was a sterling-toned soloist, unwinding breathless phrases and coordinating and blending seamlessly with the strings.

 

The second half of the concert had an interested concept that provided a bit of dramatic flair. Kremer began it with Tchaikovsky’s Serenade Melancolique, leaving the stage on the last note, which led directly into Kremerata Baltica’s rendition of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. This was resolutely played, but the absence of brass and winds led to some strangely attenuated passages (Andrei Pushkarev, a percussionist, performed formidable gymnastics to reach all of the score’s instruments). At the piece’s conclusion, Kremer returned to the stage, playing Valentin Silvestrov’s solo Serenade nearly attacca.

 

There were yet more surprises to come. Two encores, Stankovich’s Lullaby and Alfred Schnittke’s Polka gave the audience distinct flavors of music-making – one poignant and one buoyant – to send them home.

 

This is Kremer’s seventieth birthday year. To celebrate, he has not only released the Weinberg disc on ECM, but has also recorded Rachmaninov’s Piano Trios and the Philip Glass’s Violin Concerto (available on vinyl!) for DG.

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Beat Furrer at Miller Theatre

Beat Furrer
Beat Furrer

Composer Portrait – Beat Furrer

Miller Theatre

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Either/Or Ensemble; Richard Carrick, conductor

By Christian Carey

 

NEW YORK – Miller Theatre has long had plans for a Composer Portrait evening of Beat Furrer’s music. In 2001, the event was disrupted by 9/11, which made it impossible to bring in the musicians slated to perform. After a long hiatus, the American ensemble Either/Or, conducted by Richard Carrick, was invited to undertake the first Miller portrait event in 2017, finally featuring Furrer’s compositions. The concert was masterfully performed and artistically satisfying. Alas, this time out, it was Furrer who could not attend. The Swiss-born, Austrian-based composer had taken ill and his doctors advised him against flying. One felt sorry that Furrer had missed a chance to hear his work at Columbia not once, but twice. What’s more, audience members were denied a planned onstage conversation with the composer about his work. Thankfully, Miller has continued to employ Paul Griffiths, one of the foremost writers on contemporary music, as their program note writer. Griffiths supplied a great deal of biographical background and information about the pieces, giving listeners a fine entryway into Furrer’s compositional aesthetic.

 

Carrick conducted the largest work on the program, the nonet linea dell-orizzonte (2012), which includes winds, brass, strings, piano, percussion, and electric guitar. Propulsive rhythmic activity underscored frequent glissandos. Rollicking gestures from Taka Kigawa’s piano, string harmonics, and guitar distortion, courtesy of Dann Lippel, created a hazy sound world, which gradually receded into syncopated brass, from trumpeter Gareth Flowers and trombonist Chris McIntyre, and percussion outbursts offset by rests, from Russell Greenberg and Dennis Sullivan.

 

Ira-Arca (2012), a duo for the unusual combination of bass flute and double-bass, was given a characterful performance by flutist Margaret Lancaster and bassist Ken Filiano. The piece frequently had the two mimic each other’s gestures, creating a nimble duet leavened with copious effects: exhalations, key clicks, flute and bass harmonics, slaps, and all manner of pizzicatos.

 

The quintet Spur (1998), for piano and string quartet, is one of Furrer’s most popular works. Kigawa played its repeated note gestures with fleet-fingered dexterity, while the quartet – violinists Jennifer Choi and Pala Garcia, violist Erin Wright and cellist Erin Popham – haloed the octaves, sevenths, and ninths of the piano part with pizzicato and altissimo lines, their sense of ensemble nicely complementing the keyboard ostinatos. In several places, the overall ascent of this central line breaks down into more diverse textures and gradual processes, but it is the piece’s inexorable drive and propulsive character that make it a strong entry in the composer’s catalog.

 

The second half of the concert was devoted entirely to the US premiere of one of Furrer’s most recent pieces – the clarinet quintet intorno al bianco (2016). It was in this piece that the composer most clearly demonstrated his affinity for spectral harmonies. Extended passages built out of overtones shimmering brightly. Clarinettist Vasko Dukovski blended seamlessly with the aforementioned string players, at times seeming to find the breath support to buoy impossibly long lines and performing with an enviably dulcet tone. The climax of intorno al bianco chimes chords with stratospheric highs before receding into a sumptuous denouement. It showed a different facet of Furrer’s music entirely. One felt that both his gestural and overtone-based pieces reveal potential avenues of further inquiry. While Miller tends to give composers a single portrait concert, another of Furrer’s music, this time with him in attendance to talk about it, would be most welcome.

Juilliard SQ premieres Davidovsky’s 6th Quartet

Photo: Simon Powls
Photo: Simon Powls

Last night I heard the latest incarnation of the Juilliard String Quartet in recital at Alice Tully Hall. The program included performances of Mendelssohn’s first String Quartet and the juggernaut that is Beethoven’s Op. 130 with the Grosse Fuge finale, both pieces performed with suavity rather than abundant risk-taking. The highlight was the quartet’s New York premiere of Mario Davidovsky’s Sixth String Quartet, “Fragments.” 

Davidovsky’s description of the quartet is accurate in that it includes fragments of motivic material that are juxtaposed in a variety of ways. However, it is anything but fragmentary in terms of the consistent feeling of a long line’s presence and persistent through thought. The Quartet demonstrates the composer’s early experiences as a string player and knowledge of contemporary techniques, with all manner of harmonics, dampening, tapping, slapping, and regular pizzicatos set against the famous Bartók pizzicato. Davidovsky’s 6th is a beautiful piece that deserves a place alongside Carter’s 5th Quartet and Shapey’s 9th as a stirring example of a composers’ late style in the current era.

Happy 80th Birthday Philip Glass

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Photo: Steve Pyke

Philip Glass turned eighty years old today. A celebration was held at Carnegie Hall tonight, a concert by the Bruckner Symphony Linz, led longtime Glass collaborator conductor Dennis Russell Davies in the premiere of the composer’s Eleventh Symphony and Three Yoruba Songs (with vocalist Angélique Kidjo).

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In Nashville tonight, I’m not hearing any live Glass alas, but I am enjoying a brand new recording by Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson. Philip Glass – Piano Works, his debut for Deutsche Grammophon, features interpretations of the Études and excerpts from Glassworks. The Siggi String Quartet joins the pianist on some of the music, reworked to incorporate strings. Both here and in the solo selections, Ólafsson brings to bear a supple sense of phrasing and wide-ranging gestural palette. His playing stands starkly at odds with the seemingly irrepressible notion that ostinatos serve as motoric cogs in a supposedly limited minimalist vocabulary. He finds 1,000 flavors of repetition. Anyone who wants an point of entry to or refresher course on Glass’s music need listen no further than here to find bold, dramatic interpretations of his work.

New York Polyphony at St. Mary’s

New York Polyphony Photo: Chris Owyoung
New York Polyphony
Photo: Chris Owyoung

New York Polyphony sings works by Ivan Moody and Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina

Miller Theatre’s Early Music series at Church of St. Mary the Virgin

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Sequenza 21

by Christian Carey

NEW YORK – As part of Miller Theatre’s Early Music series, the male vocal quartet New York Polyphony (Geoffrey Williams, countertenor; Steven Caldicott Wilson, tenor; Christopher Dylan Herbert, baritone; and Craig Phillips, bass-baritone) celebrated their ensemble’s tenth anniversary with a concert at Church of St. Mary the Virgin on Saturday, January 21st. Speaking from the stage, the group acknowledged their long relationship with both Miller Theatre and St.Mary’s; they have appeared on a number of concerts curated by Miller and began their association when they were singers in the choir at the church. The concert began with Sicut cervus, a seamlessly beautiful motet by the evening’s star composer, Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina.

For the occasion, New York Polyphony commissioned a new work that received its world premiere. Ivan Moody’s Vespers Sequence demonstrates his abiding interest in incorporating music and liturgical practices from the Orthodox church into his composition language. In addition to settings in English from Protestant and Catholic liturgies (St. Mary’s is an Anglo-Catholic Episcopal church), the piece featured chant and texts from the Russian, Serbian, and Greek traditions. In his program notes, Moody even provided a connection to Jewish liturgical practices in one of the psalms he chose to set. However, and fittingly for the location, special attention was paid to Marian texts: the piece culminates in a lustrous rendition of Rejoice, Virgin Mother of God, the Byzantine rite version of “Ave Maria.” Moody juxtaposes chant with chords featuring stacked seconds and fifths, which provide the proceedings with a shimmering quality. Another distinctive part of his language is the use of canon and other imitative passages to overlay melodic material into polytonal or polymodal pile-ups, again allowing dissonance to season the chant-inspired atmosphere. It is an often haunting and always elegantly written piece.

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Like Sicut cervus, all of the selections on the second half of the concert were by Palestrina; all were also programmed on New York Polyphony’s latest BIS CD, Roma Aeterna. This segment featured the core quartet alongside three additional singers: Timothy Keeler, countertenor; Andrew Fuchs, tenor; and Jonathon Woody, bass-baritone. Clearly there was an affinity among the entire group’s membership; the additional trio’s tone quality and flowing legato fit right in with the New York Polyphony “sound.” Tu es Petrus, a six-part motet, was rendered in exuberant fashion. It was followed by the concert, and the compact disc’s, centerpiece, one of the most famous and beloved pieces of the Sixteenth century: Missa Papae Marcelli by Palestrina. Roma Aeterna is the first recording of this piece of which I am aware to feature countertenors, rather than trebles or sopranos, on the top lines of the mass. Herein lies a choice that changes the entire sound world of the piece. Williams is a countertenor of the alto, rather than male soprano, variety. And while there is little consensus on absolute pitch in the Renaissance, this leads to a transposition of the mass that is lower than the norm. Thus, where one was previously accustomed to bright sonorities and bustling rhythmic activity, New York Polyphony instead accentuated sonorousness, lyricism, and a supple gentleness. They provide an entirely different, and often appealing, version of this masterwork.

The audience’s applause demanded an encore, and the quartet complied, but with a somewhat out-of-season selection: the Christmas folksong “I Wonder as I Wander,” arranged by Williams. While it was well performed, it ended the evening in somewhat curious fashion. I wouldn’t have minded another Palestrina motet or a reprise of Moody’s “O Gladsome Light” in its place.