Performing Arts: Music
DENGUE FEVER AND TINARIWEN
May 7, 2017
Brooklyn Bowl is an awful place to be if you are alone, clinging like a barnacle to a brick wall in a sea of couples obnoxiously enjoying themselves. Similarly, the critic has no power in places/events such as these, especially if one has no familiarity with what s/he is writing on. These are both, however, privileges. One (read: myself) is not distracted by the self-importance generated by press ticket booths and seat reservations or companions to use as a reservoir for insecurity-numbing commentary. One (read: I) must hang on every performed moment as it unfolds – a fortunately easy task when faced with the World Music Institute’s pairing of Tinariwen and opening act Dengue Fever.
Cambodian singer Chhom Nimol is at once out of place and seamlessly woven into Dengue Fever’s psychedelic surf-rock afro-jazz fusion tapestry of reverberating guitar, silent movie organ, fuzzy bass, self-harmonizing saxophone, crystalline drums, and pulsing auxiliary percussion. Her glittery voice, maintaining traditional eastern techniques, has a brightness, both sustained and agile, that blends with the sax in her higher register. Her microtonal ornamentation is warmly welcomed in the basic harmonic progressions that rely on pentatonic openness. The band gives (almost) everything away immediately, such that we take Nimol’s vocal gift for granted until she duets with guitarist Zac Holtzman – a strikingly humorous juxtaposition, this mortal pleading to a goddess while also playing a double-necked guitar incredibly well.
Songs share similar constructions. Guitar and sax double on riffs that Nimol sings over in refrain form. Grooves are built piece by piece, subtly modified throughout the song as each bandmate takes a solo. Deviation from the formula is limited, save a hypnotic a cappella solo by Nimol.
Dengue Fever’s melting pot of styles gives way to a comparatively traditional image of men in long shirts, turbans, and veils all holding electric guitars except for a drummer and a dancer (who ends up playing guitar as well). Explicitly Tuaregian in image and language, Tinariwen plays an infectious blend of North African music melded with folk-rock blues. Their songs also follow a consistency in structure: an antiphonal exchange between rotating soloists and group cycling many times without much variation until the final go-around unceremoniously ends.
The sense of group and fluidity within is important. Band members slip away, return, and trade instruments, tuned out loud. The melodies, sometimes memorable, sometimes a collection of pitches that carry words, have a sense of rite or campfire that testify to the band’s nomadic origins.
The sound, stripped down by a large margin compared to Dengue Fever, does not negate sophistication, but makes it all the more visible. Tinariwen has a propensity for polyrhythm within their earthy pulses. Voices ride on top, also incorporating indigenous techniques. The multiplicity of guitars is not redundant, but allows interlocking patterns of complementary strumming in different registers through which bluesy solo lines are cleanly plucked. We know the sonic essence of a Tinariwen song in its first few seconds. The music is, therefore, a different sort of experience: not an unfolding journey, but a moment, echoed.
Both bands display particular physicalities. Nimol is the primary mover in a band of slow sways. She raises her hands in precious mudras, eventually mirrored drunkedly by the audience. Tinariwen remains largely still and solemn, save one singer/guitarist who spends most of his time gleefully oscillating horizontally with fluid hands, a bobbing head, and a beaming smile. He is the conduit between the band and the listeners, letting us who might not speak the language know physically that everything is ok. The consistency of his movement purely visualizes the rhythmic idiosyncrasies in a kind of performed listening, which leaves concertgoers imbued with funk-induced reverence.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews
February 15, 2017
Secondary Dominance has a sense of eternity. Pre-show activities continue under the curtain speech from the directors of the Prototype Festival, and at HERE Arts Center, we sit very close to the cast of musicians, actors, and dancers who look through and beyond us. It has a will to exist, emanating like a subconscious mind, always at work. The difference is, while the subconscious maintains elusiveness, Sarah Small’s multimedia concert presents this continuity with explosive presence, working with figures from her own dreams to explore the relationships between creator, creations, and their audience.
Composer and lyricist Small embodies Jessica Brainstorm, a ringmaster who integrates herself fully in what she sets in motion. Her perch is a small keyboard adorned with flowers, centered among her creation: a small ensemble of musicians, four dancers, an older couple, and a mysterious figure, crouched in an alcove for over half the work. Her role is clearly defined, but it does not stop her from executing her own softer version of Vanessa Walters’ choreography set on four technically crisp ballet dancers. She manipulates those in the space, opening and closing eyes and adjusting postures. Avoiding the distance creators often keep from their work, Small as Brainstorm throws tantrums in a strobe light, transforms her screams into chipmunk harmony, and viciously chomps on a stick of celery.
The music is an eclectic blend of Balkan, Indian, and 90’s industrial rock. Set to it are severe dances by bodies extrapolated from 80’s workout videos – high ponytails, pink leotards, and legwarmers. The choreography satisfyingly comes across as exercise over dance, even using a barre for a number. Like Brainstorm, when not in the forefront, they futz with the space. Subverting their glamorous neutral, they contort their faces like short-circuiting fembots. Unified in appearance, the program delineates them with individual names, seeking uniqueness in uniformity.
Stuck between these antics are a very unremarkable man and woman, who sit, stand, and roam, blank-faced. They are either unaware or wholly accustomed to their intense surroundings. They sit and watch, pleasantly engaged while a projection on the wall shows the exact same thing, once removed. They are forced into physical situations, yet their lack of agency contains something powerful enough to provoke Brainstorm to recreate their experience on her own scale.
In doing so, Brainstorm awakes the crouched figure – director Wade McCollum (conceptually uncredited), powdered white – a mammoth and immaculately masculine frame with feminine softness in physicality and gaze. The Stranger is a gentle giant who tenderly perceives the space around him. At the same time he seems problematic – light functions weirdly around him. Patterns projected on him are left behind on walls in his silhouette.
An anachronistically chipper cha-cha finds the entire cast in unison, begging the question of how these entities relate. A pecking order seems to exist between the very mortal couple, demigod ballerinas, and deified Brainstorm and Stranger, however, Brainstorm seems to be after something in her mortal subjects. The displays she puts before them have the intent of shocking, but, to her dismay, they continually look pleased. She additionally uses The Stranger to recreate the couple’s natural dispositions in a desperate need for intimacy. Brainstorm, despite her status, is powerless solely on her own terms.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews
January 5, 2017
One of the year's most eclectic and energizing music events is Globalfest on Sunday, Jan. 8 at Webster Hall. Below is a statement from the organizers describing the acts, but it's important to note, that the Hall is pulsing with people and music. It's an exhilarating experience.
This year’s festival shows these dynamics in action. globalFEST artists demonstrate how Cuban music inspired an entire continent to rumba last century (L’Orchestre Afrisa International), and how contemporary Latin scenes are rejuvenating their African roots (Betsayda Machado). It reveals the deeply global facets of very regional American styles (DC’s Rare Essence’s funky-as-hell go-go; Ranky Tanky’s take on the Gullah Sea Island traditions that have inspired pop figures like Beyoncé). It points to the renewed cultural dialogue between Cuba and the United States, as doors re-open (Septeto Santiaguero) and how club music can be a catalyst for cutting social critique (Batida).
Complex traditions can speak fluidly to one another (as South Asian classical forms and jazz improvisation do in saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition). They can also enhance and renew one another in the music of experimentalists forging their own paths (the shaman-rooted glam rock of Korea’s SsingSsing, African nu-soul singer Jojo Abot --recently touring with Ms. Lauryn Hill -- and the captivating digital-looping Estonian folk violinist and singer Maarja Nuut feat. Hendrik Kaljujärv).
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis
November 16, 2016
It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the passing of pianist, vocalist, composer, and 2013 NEA Jazz Master Mose Allison. Adept in both the blues and jazz, Allison defied categorization and was a major influence on musicians regardless of genre for more than 50 years. His songs were covered by jazz artists as well as by rock musicians such as the Who, the Clash, Leon Russell, Bonnie Raitt, and Van Morrison.
Allison was born on November 11, 1927, on his grandfather's farm near the village of Tippo in the Mississippi Delta. He started playing piano at the age of five, learned trumpet in school, and at a young age began composing his own songs. In 1946, he joined the United States Army and became a member of the 179th Army Ground Forces Band, playing both piano and trumpet. After leaving the service, Allison earned his BA degree in English and philosophy at Louisiana State University in 1952, at the same time playing gigs in the area.
In 1956, Allison relocated to New York where jazz saxophonist Al Cohn became an important mentor. He recorded an album with Cohn and Bob Brookmeyer, and several with Cohn and saxophonist Zoot Sims. His association with drummer Frank Isola led to touring and recording with Stan Getz. In 1957, Allison landed his own record contract with Prestige Records, recording the critically acclaimed Back Country Suite, a collection of pieces evoking the Mississippi Delta.
Often working in a trio format, Allison became a proficient songwriter, fusing blues and jazz music with witty and profound lyrics. His approach to writing lyrics influenced such noted songwriters as Tom Waits, Pete Townsend, Ray Davies, and Elvis Costello. Likewise, Allison's vocal delivery was always smooth with hints of Nat “King” Cole influence, while his piano swung strongly yet still was rooted in the Delta blues.
In a Jazz Moment audio clip, Allison explained his definition of jazz, “I feel like there are elements of my playing that are strictly New Orleans shuffle and along the way I also feel like I'm still doing some Kansas City swing and some bebop. I feel like these elements are all part of what I'm doing…. My definition of jazz is music that is felt, thought, and performed simultaneously. And that's what I'm looking for every night.”
For more information on Allison including a full bio, video tribute, and Jazz Moments – short audio pieces on his life and career – visit arts.gov.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY
May 29, 2016
Schola Cantorum on Hudson forms its twenty-first season with the timely,
tenured, and continually renewing theme of immigration, presenting a program
similarly comprised of choral repertoire, new, old, and revisited. “Mending the Sky”
situates that which gets fixed as something transcendent of the borders we navigate
The concert, nestled in the sanctuary of St. John’s in the Village, opened with
the new – a premiere by young composer Jake Runestad, entitled “One Flock.” Poet
Todd Boss runs with the borderless idea via bird migration as metaphor, keeping
matters elevated. Consecutive falling melismas, possible to have been sung at once
are instead spatially situated to spin from different sections, percolating the sound.
The use of space extends from the musical to the physical as soloists drift among the
pews, singing solos at various proximities to their audience, the resulting
counterpoint contrasts the more dominant harmonic language of slowly
Termed “choral drama,” as opposed to the purely sonically dramatic tradition
of oratorio, there is acting and blocking – singers reacting to their own sounds as
pedestrians, looking overhead and running in fear of the unknown. All the singers
end up in the audience, such that director Dr. Deborah Simpkin King faces us as she
conducts the chorus, flocking slowly out the sanctuary. Instrumentalists, meant to
be disregarded as pit orchestra, stay attached to their instruments, nonetheless
visually absurd as they remain aloof to the singers’ frenzy that consumes the entire
space. As such, choral drama as a form has yet to fully be performatively codified,
lest it further deepen the false dichotomy of the terms “singer” and “musician.”
Counterbalancing a program cushioned by pieces more compact and
hummable was Ronald Perera’s “The Golden Door,” another choral drama divided
into movements following a group of immigrants. Beginning with an aggressive
bureaucratic questionnaire of migratory suitability, we go from boarding dock to
ship, where regal chords dissipate into sharp dissonances against an Eastern
European undercurrent. The text, also by Perera, is thankfully un-poetic,
highlighting instead pedestrian descriptions of the experience. It takes over,
however, as descriptions of tender kissed and hugs between strangers are not
believably accompanied by the truly ineffable sound of such a sensation. Ending
with a long listing of immigrant names and occupations, we arrive ashore with an
unfortunately dynamically stuck culmination to a piece explicitly about journey.
Many dances go on too long in order to fill a mammoth piece of music.
Analogously in choral drama, otherwise inventive music trudges on to fill text that is
more script than libretto such that it would not cohere as an independent entity,
additionally leaving the composition as a whole to do more telling than showing. On
top of downloadable slideshows of pictures and text, albeit an inventive attempt at
audience engagement, it seems as though choral drama has an unintentional
penchant for inhibiting listener imaginations for the sake of digestibility.
Nevertheless, Schola is fully committed in performance to developing the form’s
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews
April 20, 2016
Right away the room takes us back to middle school science class. Tall shelves frame each side of a chalkboard and are decorated with beakers and bins, even a dinosaur skeleton. Two women settle into the space – Erika Switzer as the pianist and Hai-Ting Chinn as the lead performer or, perhaps more accurately, the professor.
Chinn spent the last three years developing Science Fair, directed by Lisa Rothe. Described as “an opera with experiments,” the dynamic between the two is far from organic. Instead, the performance reads as a science lecture that happens to be delivered in song. Intermittent theatrical moments are a bit clichéd as an overall “Schoolhouse Rock!” feel overwhelms.
American mezzo-soprano Chinn starts off strong, highlighting her impressive voice. Soon the scientific content of the lyrics take precedent, however, and the original score and operatic elements of the performance fade into the background. Throughout, we witness the classic baking soda volcano, learn about the wave-particle duality of matter, delve into atomic orbitals, and get a refresher course on DNA molecules—which involves the actual extraction of DNA from strawberries.
At one point there’s a literal nod to the artistic as Chinn sings, “But we’re in the business of art, so we’ll make a metaphor.” And at times this metaphorical approach succeeds, particularly when tackling the concept of the universe’s history. We’re told one strike of a piano key equates 17 million years and watch as the numbers projected on a screen slowly decrease, approaching the creation of the earth and human life. As other experiments continue on alongside the countdown, it visually and metaphorically emphasizes the extent of time passed. The final note of the piano is the most poignant, representing the entirety of human history.
It cannot be denied that as an educational tool, Science Fair holds great value. It delivers a surprising breadth of knowledge in only seventy-five minutes time thanks to Chinn’s ongoing research and the fact that the libretto was created in tandem with science educators. In fact, Chinn welcomes scientific peer review in an effort to present as educationally accurate material as possible.
The world premiere of Science Fair is a HERE Resident Artist Production.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Jenny Thompson
April 3, 2016
Charlie Parker continues to inspire and to stir controversy to this day. Would he have enjoyed an opera that suggests the twilight between his life and death, a time when his spirit could wander free of his body as it lay in a morgue waiting for identification? Swiss born composer/arranger Daniel Schnyder has a gem of an idea with his opera Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD, and a provocative one. Probably many an artist could relate to the pressure to create the composition most dear to them in their final hours. As he tries to write, the lead playing Parker, Lawrence Brownlee, sings, “So how do I capture these black dots, blue notes flying out of my horn? How do I freeze these notes on paper?” Bridgette A. Wimberly’s libretto is so strong that a play version of this opera should be explored.
The ladies who gave him life, his mother as sung by the marvelous Angela Brown, and his wives, Emily Pogorelc, Elena Perroni, Chrystal E. Williams, and his Baroness Tamara Mumford visit him on a stage shrunk by suspended photos as he scrambles to compose. As the opera comes to a close, Brownlee finds peace realizing that playing his saxophone was his life’s work, and he sings lines from Paul Lawrence Dumbar’s “I know why the caged bird sings.”
Commissioned by Opera Philadelphia, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD fascinates with its bold premise. After its successful premiere in Philadelphia last June, the elite of the opera and jazz world arrived at The Apollo Theatre in Harlem, where Parker (1920-1955) the beloved jazz innovator played, for its New York Premiere on April 1, 2016.
Schnyder has created a niche composing works embracing classical and jazz techniques. As an arranger/composer, he has produced albums for many renowned jazz artists, and world music virtuosos. Having caught a thrilling concert this January at Bargemusic that featured Schnyder’s works: Parkour Musical for bass trombone and soprano saxophone, Mensch Blue Suit, Around the World, World Within Music Trio, I had to catch his opera.
From the first sustained notes sung by Brownlee, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD sounded more starched and calculated. The invigorating invention of both Schnyder and Parker appears in structural contrasts - the extreme highs and lows sought in emotions and pitch, and the style fusion of the singers’ arias with the jazz-laced composition performed by fifteen members of the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Corrado Rovaris. His lovers all jump to a stratosphere where a few pitches meet their eulogistic needs, suggesting, perhaps, that his lovers were inter-changeable in Parker's mind.
This opera will be broadcast in November, 2016 in November, 2016 on NYC’s classical music station 105.9 WQXR and distributed nationally by the WFMT Radio Network.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers
JAZZ LEGENDS FOR DISABILITY PRIDE
January 2, 2016
Jazz Legends for Disability Pride is a fund raiser Jazz concert in partnership with 2016 NYC Winter Jazzfest. This very friendly, industry driven even features Jazz greats Wynton Marsalis, Benny Golson, Christian McBride, Jimmy Cobb, Harold Mabern, George Coleman, Buster Williams, Louis Hayes, Bill Charlap, Monty Alexander and many others will be featured. Last year's gala produced the first annual Disability Pride Parade in New York City held on July 12, 2015. All proceeds from this concert will benefit the 2016 Disability Pride Parade to be held in NYC on July 10, 2016. All the performers are donating their talents in support of a very important and worthy cause.
Disability Pride NYC is a not for profit started by Jazz pianist/organist Mike LeDonne whose 11 year old daughter, Mary, is disabled. Our goal is to instill a sense of pride in the community and change the public perception of people with disabilities. One of the ways we will accomplish this goal is by establishing an annual Disability Pride parade in New York City. We aim to support people with disabilities in whatever way we can.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - Celia Ipiotis
NATIONAL JAZZ MUSEUM
June 10, 2015
THE NATIONAL JAZZ MUSEUM IN HARLEM
The National Jazz Museum in Harlem, a Smithsonian Affiliate, features the renowned vocalist Dianne Reeves and the Joe Lovano Classic Quartet. The National Jazz Museum in Harlem Jazz and Community Leadership Award will be presented in honor of the late, acclaimed filmmaker Albert Maysles. The Legends of Jazz Award will be presented to master bassist, Reggie Workman, the legendary filmmaker Albert Maysles, in Memoriam and The Maysles Institute.
The mission of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, a Smithsonian Affiliate, is to preserve, promote and present jazz by inspiring knowledge, appreciation, and the celebration of jazz locally, nationally, and internationally. The Museum offers more than 80 free public programs each year.
The Museum is about stimulating hearts and minds through jazz and reaching out to diverse audiences to enjoy this most quintessential American music. The Visitors Center is the hub for the young and old, novice and scholar, artist and patron, enthusiast and curious listener to come to live performances, exhibitions, and educational workshops. The Museum's long range goal is to create a permanent Smithsonian affiliated national jazz museum in Harlem. The artist leadership of the Museum consists of Loren Schoenberg (Artistic Director), Christian McBride (Associate Artistic Director) and Jonathan Batiste (Artistic Director at Large).
Enjoy a reception followed by the Awards Ceremony and stellar music.
If you are a fan of jazz, then you must be thrilled to know that an organization exists to insure jazz is inherited, appreciated and developed by a new generation of students and artists.
Dianne Reeves - vocals
Peter Martin - piano/keys
Reginald Veal - basses
Billy Kilson - drums
Joe Lovano Classic Quartet
Joe Lovano - saxophone
Lawrence Fields - piano
George Marz - bass
Reservations: call (212) 772-4448 Lewis Nash - drums
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis
APOLLO SPRING GALA 2015
June 8, 2015
APOLLO THEATER SPRING GALA 2015
That great haven of emerging and legendary talent is about the have a party to support it's programs and educational initiatives. Apollo's star-studded benefit concert will feature diverse performances by celebrated artists who have all previously graced the Theater’s stage, and that reflect the its commitment to providing a platform for all musical genres. Performers include pop-funk and dance musician/producer, Nile Rodgers who will headline the event along with his pioneering disco-funk group CHIC; Grammy-winning R&B singer/songwriter, Ne-Yo; Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash; R&B singer, Luke James; celebrated South African a capella trio The Soil; and up and coming rock singer, Kimberly Nichole.
Each year at the Spring Gala, the Apollo recognizes a corporation for its outstanding philanthropy and community leadership. This year’s recipient of the Corporate Award is The Madison Square Garden Company. Executive Chairman James Dolan will accept the award on behalf of the organization.
The Theater will also honor the Ford Foundation with the Percy C. Sutton Civic Leadership Award in honor of its many years of leadership and service to the Apollo. Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, will accept the award on behalf of the Foundation.
The Apollo Spring Gala includes the gala concert and awards ceremony with Music Director Ray Chew (Dancing With The Stars). The evening will also include a post-performance party with a lounge created by celebrity event planner and Apollo board member Bronson van Wyck.
2015 Apollo Spring Gala Co-Chairs include: Anna Chapman & Ronald O. Perelman, Sonia & Paul Jones, Robert K. Kraft, Carolyn & Mark Mason, Laura & Richard D. Parsons, Karen & Charles Phillips and Deborah Roberts & Al Roker. Gala Vice Chairs include: Kristin Dolan, Daisey Holmes, The George Lucas Family Foundation, Josh Sapan, Brian Sweeney, and Christine Taylor
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis
THE ORCHESTRA OF ST. LUKE'S
April 27, 2015
For a 40th anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s begins in modest tableau, filling the center of the Perlman stage with few players. Visually distancing, their sound reaches and holds as Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments flutters forth. The softer homophony following draws us duly forward into multiple ambushes of gruff harmonies in disjunct spacings. Conductor Pablo Heras-Casado keeps calm command over disparate, though gradually converging, sections like a counselor quelling a playground feud. The chorale proves dominant, smoothing out the work as though it were a wrinkled garment.
Shostakovich crumples everything back up again in his second cello concerto. Alisa Weilerstein is completely out of place in her sparkling pink gown after its opening lament. Her shoulders hunch, and her hair frizzes over her impassioned visage as she saws out her part. The orchestra slithers in, each section offering single lines that steer clear of Weilerstein’s shifting registers. Cordiality soon breaks as sections trample over themselves. There are no formal thematic presentations, but antagonistic layerings of interruptions that find aggregate coherence.
The third movement interlocks these interjections more systematically, cycled through a percussion-heavy groove and a non-sequiturial romantic cadence melted down by clunkers from the harps. To a tambourine’s hi-hat funk, Weilerstein bounces from her bench, horsehairs dangling from her bow. Hardly shtick, she allows herself to perform Shostakovich's emotional gymnastics with full-bodied connection to her fingers’ unfailing accuracy.
Heras-Casado follows suit in his conducting, shedding the centered restraint exercised on the twentieth-century works for a frenzied gesturing of Beethoven’s Fifth. His interpretation is devilishly fast, unceremoniously overpassing the iconic opening, integrating it more into the exposition. Solo horns no longer call out, but proclaim. Already brisk figures become textural blurs, revealing more global rhythmic schematics. Beyond a somewhat flimsy transition between third and fourth movements that perhaps tried too hard to surprise, the speed is inhabited with a fullness that avoids feeling fast-forward.
The ways Stravinsky and Shostakovich construct blocks of texture parallel the “German frugality” epitomized by the Fifth Symphony, in which complete themes jump between instrument families and develop in rapid modal shifts. On the surface, Beethoven’s fervor against these stark Russians seems arbitrary; compositionally it is a perfect pair.
EYE ON THEARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews
THE TEMPEST SONGBOOK
March 29, 2015
Neal Goren, artistic director and founder of the critically-applauded Gotham Chamber Opera has a way with dancers. More than any other opera director, he seeks the talents of dancers inviting them to choreograph, direct and perform in his productions. It’s this open-minded approach to chamber operas that attracted so many devoted supporters to the opening night performance and reception at the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium in the Metropolitan Museum. A peripatetic troupe, the company performs in “found” spaces throughout the city. This makes it possible for Goren to tailor a piece to the proportions of his staging area and cast.
This time around, The Gotham Chamber Opera tackled a stripped down version of The Tempest Songbook. Luca Veggetti directed and choreographed an amalgam of music from Kaija Saariaho’s “The Tempest Songbook” and songs from John Dryden’s 1712 production of “The Tempest” – purportedly composed by Purcell. Effectively conducted by Mr. Goren, two singers and four Martha Graham Company dancers, — Abdiel Jacobsen, PeiJu Chien-Pott, Lloyd Mayor and Ying Xin animate the music. Despite an uneven start, soprano Jennifer Zetlan grounded her clear voice, adding warmth to the complex passages while engaging with the dancers. A dominant presence, bass-baritone Thomas Richards demonstrated his thorough control of the music through a rich, expressivity voice. Both singers moved comfortably throughout Vegetti’s naturalistic choreography.
By inter-locking music, poetry, music, movement and visual elements, The Tempest Songbook speaks almost equally through all these forms. Two large discs are suspended from the ceiling, one in front of the other. In what resembles a lunar-eclipse, an orange corona circles the darkened disc in back while images of the performers slip in and out of the dominant disc. The dancers execute grounded steps that rely on sustained holds, weightless drops and mysterious gestures. Eloquently performing abstract choreography, the four dancers rarely connect to one another—rather, they connect to the earth in grounded falls and recoveries. Dressed in casual pants and shirts, hair loose, they form a Greek chorus exciting the mortals’ journey.
December 10, 2014
Each pianist gathered at BAM’s Howard Gillman Opera House to perform Philip Glass’s complete Etudes possesses idiomatic physicality, invigorating sound with visual expressions of musical exchanges from body to body through object. Nico Muhly’s shoulders climb on each chord, while Bruce Levingston floats out of his seat to keep up with crescendos and thickening textures. Glass keeps perfectly still, save the thick joints of his spindly fingers. An incidental rhythm of applause, music, and silence cycles among ten players, two etudes apiece. Ten benches line upstage, accommodating differences in proportion, small and large. Practicality aside, the image connotes the infinite spectrum of interpretative freedom at play.
Etudes were written by masters as technical puzzles for students’ solving. Chopin brought the form from the practice room to the stage; Glass brings them inward. Written as self-improvement strategies, he began missing notes, fumbling through quick harmonic shifts, and silencing one hand entirely until finding his bearings. He took repeats as second chances, repairing his errors. Glass’s playing reads as self-discourse through presentational curiosity, abandoning his early metronomic precision for resonant flurries that convey the same introspective spirit. One might ask what the following virtuosos had to learn from the studies of a pianist seemingly below their level. They disallow the showcasing of technical mastery, requiring instead patient consideration. They do not push boundaries of piano technique so much as examine them, thereby examining their performer.
Many used this as a way to insert themselves into Glass’s spacious organizations of time and consonance. Tania León found a regal sensuality in the ever-altering major and minor colors of the No. 13’s tonic chord and No. 14’s chromatic waltz. Muhly was well suited to the longing sewn into No.’s 5 and 6 and brought out their romantic tendencies, transforming percussive bell tones into lush melodies and the classic minor third ostinato into rich voice-leading.
Others kept their interpretations more inline with the composer’s performative habits. Timo Andres maintained sleek restraint on No. 9 with crisp articulations of the pointillist right hand. No. 10, an extended vamp on a B-flat dominant seventh chord, was bumped up in tempo halfway through, intensifying the desire for a resolution to F that never came, showing us that the harmony, contextually, is the farthest thing from dominant function. Jenny Lin kept stoic distance from the sweet melodies in No. 8, finding more juice in the octave trills and scales wedging each section apart.
Etude 20 defied all that came before it. Played by Maki Namekawa, Glass’s usual block construction is substituted by circular flow concealing beginnings and ends. A subject navigates through intervals that start close and catapult apart, sparse voicings that multiply, and a range that pools in the middle, spills out and over, and stabilizes at the very bottom. It is an etude for listener; Glass is not one to pigeonhole. Fixating on Western tropes through ethnic idioms, his formal balance is driven by human impulses. An amalgam of touches merges into a beating heart.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY ---Celia Ipiotis
September 29, 2014
Caetano Veloso and his group Band Cê performed a two-hour set at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. A mixture of songs from the past and present Veloso cajoled a packed house often into an array of pandemonium and cheers.
Drawing from his new album Abracaco, the word written across a band members drum in the center of the stage, the songs carried a weight of his older work but had a new breath of energy due in part to his younger, electric band. Pedro Sa, on guitar, particularly blew the audience away with his quick and pin pricked sturmming.
The enthusiastic audience sang along to favorites like “Baby,” from the 60’s and would scream and wave their hands in the air as Veloso unbuttoned his shirt or shook his butt during musical interludes. Part of the group that popularized the Brazilian musical movement Tropicalismo, the Brazilian born Veloso's talents stretch from music to theater, politics, and poetry.
At 72 years old, Veloso carries the stage with his songs and the strum of his guitar like he’s an experienced performer with a young fresh outlook.He crosses the stage after every few songs while the fans fling their hands about almost in a slow version of the wave.
All of the songs were sung in Portuguese except for the last, “9 out of 10.” Even though I don’t speak a lick of Portugese, the lyrics were sung in such a poetic way, the words cross language boundaries and enter a space of artful music. You don’t have to understand the words to enjoy the music and recognize a beautiful experience.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Bailey Moon
September 28, 2014
BAM's 2014 Next Wave Festival features 13 mainstage events this year in honor of Nonesuch Records 50th Anniversary. The September 24th performance of Rokia Traoré at the Howard Gilman Opera House marked one such event as the Malian singer and multi-instrumentalist presented her most recent Nonesuch recording, Beautiful Africa, in its entirety. In addition, the celebratory and musical evening included highlights from her 2009 record, Tchamantché, and two earlier works performed with the Kronos Quartet.
Traoré’s voice exudes a balance of subtly and power at once - whether singing in her native Bambara, French, or even a little English. A four-piece band and two backup singers join her, opening with the whispery and dark “Dounia.” Traoré’s versatility is quickly put on display however, with the following “Yandé” introducing a funk rock feel, much grittier.
The first song presented from Beautiful Africa is "Lalla," intertwining both the n'goni (traditional lute) and guitar as dominant rhythms – a welcome theme that maintains a distinct West African flare. This new album is personal with conscious nods to Traoré’s conflict-riddled homeland of Mali. The latter is most apparent in the title track, which appears later in the program; it is perhaps the most rock and also a poetic homage to her “beautiful, wounded Africa.” Meanwhile, songs like “Mélancolie” take on universal and more private emotions of sadness, loneliness. A highlight came in the later performance of “Tuit Tuit," marking one of the most upbeat songs of the set, its melody, contagious.
Mid-program, "Zen" demands a more colloquial atmosphere. The lyrics, a mix of French and Bambara, are audibly mesmerizing as she abandons her guitar to simply sing and dance. It's at this moment the poised, proscenium audience within the classic Opera House succumbs to the energy and community Traoré has created. All begin freely clapping, dancing, and cheering along.
Prior to performing the gentle ballad, “N’téri,” Traoré addresses the audience. “This song is about tolerance,” she shares, “it’s about our ability to understand that we are small…that we are nothing.” This call for perspective is a thoughtful backdrop for the song’s soulful framework which builds to some of her most intensely, belted vocals.
Closing the evening are two works, “Manian” and “Bowmboi,” created in collaboration with the Kronos Quartet who also joined as special guests. The string-heavy shift is to be expected, but the pairing of Bambara lyrics with the hints of classicism is refreshing, a further contrast in the already varied program.
Notable about Traoré's music is its unexpected trajectory, often transforming to reach another place entirely with a different energy and new rhythms discovered. Traoré remains of her homeland's tradition while welcoming the likes of European and American rock. Much like her music - wonderfully open and diverse - it’s no wonder she is ever evolving in her style and sound.
Originally Traoré was to be joined by the father-son pair of musicians, Toumani Diabaté and Sidiki Diabaté. Though unforeseen circumstances made them unavailable, Traoré's solo set proved captivating.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - Jenny Thompson
September 12, 2014
A music explorer, jazz pianist and composer Brad Mehldau is an experience. To begin with, his body becomes an extension of the piano. Lean and calm, he approaches the piano and plays. No talking, he pauses slightly between pieces, and modestly acknowledging the audience’s recognition—that is, unless you make any noise. I have seen him stop playing until attaining complete silence -- in of all places, a jazz club! Fortunately, the audience in the Harvey Theater at BAM was probably one of the quietest I’ve ever experience in a theater. That’s because most everyone was a super-Mehldau fan. Part of the Nonesuch series at BAM, Mehldau demonstrates this generation’s fluid relationship to all forms of jazz.
Technically commanding, Mehldau employs a classical technique—wrists down, figures curved up making certain each note sounds clear as a bell. Favoring the upper register, Mehldau played a series of pieces that curled in and around chord patterns, repeating intricate scales and single finger tremolos that would cramp anyone else’s hands.
Despite his jazz background, Mehldau’s music stretches into the more experimental range; in fact, he echoed some of the riffs popularized by Philip Glass and Steve Reich (performing the same night at the Bam Opera House). Mehldau improvised around tunes like “Interstate Love Song” by Stone Temple Pilots; a soulful Medley—Zingaro (Jobim), into the stride-light St. Anne’s Reel based on traditional bluegrass fiddle tune and Sufjan Stevens’ “Holland.” Cascading notes are encased in a refined structure that occasionally split into a driving swing in the left had, counterbalanced by a feathery, running right hand.
After a solid 80 minutes of non-stop playing, only once did he pause to wiggle his fingers. Mehldau accepted a standing ovation and played three more encores. His final pieces were lighter in nature, coming closer to the classical jazz and pop realms Mehldau enjoys calling on Harold Arlen’s charming “Get Happy” and Bobby Timmons’ playful “Dish Here.” Adored by the audience, Mehldau holds true to his vision of music as an extension of a larger classical tradition shared by classical and jazz, pop and experimental music sources. An original, Mehldau holds multiple musical threads inside his fingers.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis
I WAS HERE I WAS
June 23, 2014
Humor and awe mate at the Temple of Dendur in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s presentation of Kate Soper and Nigel Maister’s “I Was Here I Was I.”
The contemporary music/theater chamber opera cleverly traces the passage of time, from the Temple’s existence in Egypt to it’s present home at the Met. Built in 15 B.C. on the Nile, the Temple of Dendur arrived gilded in dramatic fanfare at the Met in 1978.
Performed by the innovative ensemble Alarm Will Sound, the audience assembled on three sides of the temple that includes two oblong pools of water (elegant moat) in front of the temple.
Imaginative staging included human beings as well as instruments representing characters from the drama. Spilling out of the temple’s mythology, two violinists/vocalists assumed the parts of the Egyptian twins honored in the Temple. The story fades in and out of the unflappable British Egyptologist Amelia Edwards (Ms. Soper) a goofy, camera strapped current day tourist (Matt Marks) and the engineer working on the Aswan Dam in 1963 before the removal of the Temple of Dendur.
Everything is about balance. Spoken text flows around clear, bell-like singing and new music expresses atonality inside the framework of lyrical, atmospheric sounds that merge seamlessly with jazzy notes laced around medieval chants, bells, fingers circling the tops of wine glasses, soaring flutes and string instruments.
Eyes shift across the space tracking the characters and their associated instrumentalist, from one location to another, and in the process, making the viewers see the Temple in new ways.
Performed next to the slanted wall of windows, “I Was Here I Was I” travels through time just as the sun passes across the same sky over the Temple in 5 B.C.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis
STACY KENT / THE CHANGING LIGHT
June 12, 2014
Jazz vocalist, Stacy Kent moved into Birdland for a regrettably short time, two days, to promote a newly released CD and entertain her legion of fans. In front of a packed house, the pixie-haired Kent draws people into her intimate voice stylings.
Despite a limited vocal range, Kent enlarges her repertoire by locating deeply musical, self-contained phrasings. Clear voiced, Kent enunciates her words perfectly (no small feat) and actually sounds best when her voice mingles with the piano.
Kent's tone and excellent Portuguese perfectly suit the music of Jobim, and happily, bossa nova classics are featured on her new CD “The Changing Lights” as well as in her sets at Birdland.
Kent’s musical and personal partner, sax player Jim Tomlinson, is joined on the bandstand by Art Hirahara on piano, Tom Hubbard on bass, and Josh Morris on drums effectively framing Kent’s distinctive voice.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis
THE RAVEN GOTHAM CHAMBER OPERA
June 1, 2014
Millions know Edgar Allen's Poe famous poem “The Raven” written in 1845, but few have heard of the Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa who set Poe’s dreamy, mysterious words to music. Fortunately, Neal Goren, artistic director of the Gotham Chamber Opera gathered his creative forces and collaborated with Hosokawa in the creation of a 12 instrument chamber opera for the mezzo-soprano Fredrika Brillembourg fluently conducted by Mr. Goren.
Ms. Brillembourg and her spiritual counterpart, the remarkable Italian ballerina Alessandra Ferri, realize the melodic poem through the dramatically spoken and sung passages. Directed and choreographed by Luca Veggetti (known for his works with NYC ballet companies), Ms. Ferri functions as a soulful reflection of Poe’s romantically sad narrative. The two women are in constant motion throughout the piece. Ferri weightlessly crawls on the floor raising one leg heavenward, and then rolling over to Ms. Brillembourg, balances on her back and slowly slides down Ms. Brillembourg’s body. While the cinematic music, full of deep rumbles and spare, atonal bridges percolates, the notes seep behind the text projected above the performers.
Generally, it’s difficult to synthesize movement, music and text, but in this case, the inherent melody of the poem with it’s refrain, “Quoth the raven nevermore,” the score and intuitively synched performances lift The Raven to a fully integrated music theater production.
The Raven, performed along with the bright "Conte Frantastique: Le Masque de la Mort Rouge" by Andre Caplet at the Gerald Lynch Theater is part of the NY Philharmonic Biennial.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis
TRUST IN THE YOU OF NOW
May 21, 2014
Trust in the You of Now (Part I of III) may be a “chamber opera,” but each element is complete with equal responsibility in getting the point across. The point, however, is thankfully hard to define. From the proverbial title to the work’s commentary on follies of post-modern life through a story that takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth observed from afar by time-traveling astronauts, the differentiated and evenhanded use of music, dance, and theatre creates more of an environment than a linear tale. Information comes up disjointedly, integrating us more fully, for the state of alienation is exactly how each character exists – therefore shall we.
Robert Boston’s score is less operatic than it is cinematic – he creates atmospheres that allow us to take a fanciful story without scrutiny. Rather than arias and choruses, he devises musical events in which the imagery lives. Each movement has one consistent drive – from spacious piano clusters to syncopated, harmonically dense marches. In a sardonic move, the astronauts (Joe and José) recount the history of, presumably, our extinct generation of earthlings to the groove of a jazzy drum and bass undercurrent.
Three sopranos play a liminal role, sharing pit with orchestra. They serve as the voices of Earth’s current inhabitants – sentient robots and frogs – but what they sing comes out as an inscrutable language of nonsense syllables, enabling the voices to be both communicative and purely sonic. Not tied to one character, they occasionally latch on to the English dialogue between the astronauts. They are ethereally omniscient narrators – the one trustworthy source of what is happening, conveniently unintelligible.
The motivic investigation of traditional opera lies in Giada Ferrone’s choreography. The drones and the frogs each have a distinct movement vocabulary, and characters within each community are highlighted through particular dynamics. A robot quartet sternly steps in a grid. They are precise but soft, splitting into a double duet of contrapuntal strolls which is violently broken by Drone Master Ricky Wenthen who, maintaining their angularity, does so with an amped-up jagged intensity normally reserved for Saturday morning cartoons.
The frogs are fluid, floppy, and buoyant. Their spatial patterns are vague; their energy bursts in all directions. Seeing the two vocabularies harmonized is formally balancing while serving a plot of attempted frog/robot coexistence. Mid-battle, frogs spin rigid drones in the air like gears, but between protagonists Willy-Willy and Fictor, that contentious pairing of movement turns tender and consonant.
Librettist Kimberly Pau straps us in Astronaut Joe’s perspective. He and José are present only in voice-over, making the effect quite literal. We understand choreography and music through their recreational interpretive role-playing, which, for all we know, could be inaccurate altogether. Their play is a side-effect of their isolation – a way to pass endless time that subconsciously reflects their friendship. Through it, we come to know Fictor and Willy-Willy, visually females, as cross-species same-sex lovers. Ambiguous visual and sonic inputs are nailed down by subjective commentaries. The male gaze has rarely been presented with such compassion.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews
May 5, 2014
collected stories: spirit is one of a six-part series curated by David Lang at Carnegie Hall. For this particular concert, Lang is pairing two widely different musical styles, Tuvan throat singing and Passio by Arvo Pårt. The common element of these is indicated by the title – both musical styles explore the spiritual, albeit in widely disparate ways.
The first half of the concert features the group Huun-Huur-Tu, four native Tuvan men playing instruments and singing khoomei (Tuvan throat singing). It’s a remarkable style of singing that is truly wondrous to experience. In throat singing, a single performer sings multiple notes, often singing melody and accompaniment simultaneously. Some performers can sing up to four notes at once. The songs performed by Huun-Huur-Tu are traditional songs from their little Siberian country. Many of them celebrate the land they grew up in and their relationship with the nature around them. The music itself evokes a rough and beautiful landscape, with a pulsing energy throughout. There is a rawness and simplicity to the style that is enrapturing.
In contrast, the second half of the evening, Passio by Arvo Pårt, is a study in structure. A musical recital of the Passion of Christ from the book of John, the piece is sung in Latin, and features two soloists, a featured ensemble, a choir and musical accompaniment of organ, oboe, bassoon, and violin. It’s a sparse piece, with the passion coming from the vocals only. Pårt’s music is haunting and evocative, making it one of the primary choices for choreographers everywhere. The performance of this piece, however, leaves much to be desired.
Pauses between musical phrases seemed too long, making the music feel unconnected and slow. While the singers were top notch, they weren’t helped by the general acoustics of the space. Zankel Hall is a great concert space, but Pårt’s work really wants to be in a cathedral or other cavernous space. The resonance of the music helps the music flow, something sorely lacking in this performance. And coming on the heels of Huun-Huur-Tu’s primal vibrancy, it felt stiff and formal.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY --- Kelly Johnston
April 29, 2014
Curated by David Lang, Carnegie Hall’s 2013-2014 Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair, the Collected Stories series at Zankel Hall brings in an array of composers and musical acts, each evening providing a strange juxtaposition of genre and form. This was no different on Thursday April 28 – which featured rapper Aesop Rock with indie pop’s Kimya Dawson, the drones of Iarla Ó Lionáird, Brad Lubman conducting Ensemble Signal in a piece by Julia Wolfe, and a trio of longtime collaborators in composer and pianist Nico Muhly, violist Nadia Sirota, and folk musician Sam Amidon.
Aesop Rock and Dawson (who record together as The Uncluded) opened the show with their heart-on-sleeve, cutesy hybrid of indie folk and “alternative” hip-hop. In accordance with Lang’s maniacal programming, they proved no introduction to Iarla Ó Lionáird’s somber, Sean-nós singing style – an impassioned performance of the traditional Celtic piece “Cruel Sister”. The song follows the story of two sisters who fall in love with the same man, which leads to one sister drowning the other in a lake. The next two composers on the bill would provide their own takes on this morbid tale.
Unfortunately, Julia Wolfe’s offering proved a brooding work but for all its attempts to conjure menace only ever felt incidental, in that it felt more of a film score than a concert piece. For all the Ensemble’s precision, Wolfe’s Cruel Sister never really manages to draw one in, but feels like a grim façade to something else that could have provided substance.
Lang however saved best for last, with Sirota, and Amidon accompanying Muhly in his genre-bending, captivating “The Only Tune”. In this hectic, furious piece, Muhly split time between the piano and serving as the group’s Brian Eno, as he manipulated loops and noise throughout. Amidon should be destined for great things – a powerful, sincere singer who also is something of a ‘stylist’ and mimic in his delivery, deftly alternating different tones and personas.
The program on the night was dubbed Love/Loss – works that “that musically examine the emotional impact and intensity of intoxicating love, envy, betrayal, and devastating loss.” Despite its hits and misses, the stirring contributions by Ó Lionáird and Muhly (with friends) made it all worth the while.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Geoffrey Lokke
WEBERR'S DER FREIiSCHUTZ
March 24, 2014
With the recent folding of the New York City and San Diego Operas, the art form that invites all others feels like an endangered species. The aptly-named Utopia Opera, in its third season, responds to this atmosphere through a self-imposed low budget, audience-voted programming, suggested donations, and fearlessly sending out music to a time that brands it unnecessary.
Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz, regarded as the first German Romantic opera, is inherently light, telling of a young huntsman turning to devilry to defy chance and win a wife in a contest of marksmanship. The score is lively even when dramatic. Max initially loses to a peasant, sparking percussive laughs on the taunting harmony of a major second. After, he sulks alone in a tavern; the brass “oom-pah-pah” peters out on tip-toes, heightening the embarrassment motivating him to question God’s existence on a trembling diminished seventh chord.
Max is a dopey drama-queen, but tenor Cris Frisco finds integrity in the character. His tone is sandy, posture brooding, and he assumes a childlike demeanor throughout his supernatural quest. Bryce Smith’s Caspar is straight out of a lumberjack commune’s local Judas Priest cover band, in the best way possible. His acting makes the English translation of the dialogue bearable, and his arias’ deep melismas have a gracefully deadly punch.
Erin Carr’s voice overwhelms the soprano’s physicality with its wattage, imbuing Agathe’s innocent piousness with intoxicating richness and impassioned clarity. Saturday night involved an Ännchen switcheroo. Lauren Kelleher made up for her meek volume and dry low register employing keen comedic timing, flirting with flowers as if they were men in her Act II aria. In Act III,
Denise Crawfort has a timbre like bubbles encasing glitter, and used it gallantly to cover for Kelleher as Agathe's bridesmaid in Act III. Her sharp movements and vibrant face were indelible.
Amidst all this, director William Remmers held the show hostage. From bookending awkward stand-up bits to his hilariously conspicuous stomp and caw when Max shoots an eagle dead, to asking the audience for a spare French horn after a player fell ill, you knew immediately he attempts no more than what is, guaranteeing a satisfying night for one reason or another.
Pizzazz aside, Remmers is a captivating conductor. Your eye will often be drawn to the nimble cueing of his lanky, towering form. He lip-syncs along; it is clear he is enthralled by what he does. With a modest orchestra we appreciate Weber’s counterpoint at the expense of exposed flaws, but in Lang Recital Hall, Remmers conducts as if before a full symphony, expecting (and often getting) a sound just as enlivened.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews
TCHAIKOVSKY: NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART
March 8, 2014
The live musical performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Nocturne” and its mournful melody immediately command attention and set the tone for the dramatic and emotional journey that is Tchaikovsky: None But the Lonely Heart.
Most intriguing is how the evening length concert uses the renowned Russian composer as theatric subject matter, integrating a glimpse at his personal life alongside the art forms he most greatly influenced – namely music, followed by classical ballet. It is an immersive, means of experiencing Tchaikovsky’s legacy.
Adding an element of history and biography to the work, playwright Eve Wolf transforms Tchaikovsky’s own letters, diaries, and memoirs into the dramatic script which unfolds in a series of poetic monologues. Actor Simon Fortin plays Tchaikovsky, accompanied by actress Ariel Bock as Nadezhda von Meck – the woman who became his pen pal and patroness for 16-years. The story of their unconventional friendship provides insight to Tchaikovsky’s personal struggles – the fear of his homosexuality being known, doubts about his work, the adverse affects of his mother’s early death, and torment over his marriage to a woman. “All that’s left is to pretend,” he declares, confiding in von Meck. Meanwhile, her admiration knows no bounds, “Your music makes my life easier and more endurable,” she reminds him.
Under the direction of Donald T. Sanders, the integration of Tchaikovsky’s iconic compositions is seamless; the live music is undoubtedly the pinnacle of the performance. Wolf also performs as the pianist, accompanied by violinist Rachel Lee Priday and cellist Adrian Daurov - who gives a particularly impressive performance. The composer’s well-known “Piano Trio in A minor” becomes a central to the engaging evening, and as the trio performs we learn of Tchaikovsky’s own disbelief at composing for such an “awful” orchestration.
Intermittently, tenor Blake Friedman joins the musicians with his powerful vocals. Another intermittent element comes in the form of dance performance by American Ballet Theatre’s Daniel Mantei. Mantei also serves as the choreographer of the arabesque-ridden solo sections he performs, highlighting his evident technique. Though his beautiful long lines are occasionally hindered by limited space, the dance succeeds in providing dreamy interludes as intended.
The thirteen year old Ensemble for the Romantic Century is dedicated to creating interactive chamber music concerts - certainly achieved in Tchaikovsky: None But the Lonely Heart. Created in partnership with Shakespeare & Company in 2103, the work was presented at BAM's intimate Fishman Space.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - Jenny Thompson
GENE'S TOP 10 in Jazz
January 1, 2014
GENE SEYMOUR’S TOP-TEN JAZZ DISCS FOR 2013
Of the assorted cans of worms pried open among jazz heads on the Internet in recent years, my favorite comes from Branford Marsalis who has been calling out his peers (and, by implication, critics like me) for embracing virtuosity and harmonic invention at the expense of melodic content, which in turn was pushing more and more listeners away. “Harmonic music,” Marsalis said back in 2011, “tends to be very insular. It tends to be [like] you're in the private club with a secret handshake.”
From that same interview: “When laypeople listen to records, there're certain things they're going to get to. First of all, how it sounds to them. If the value of the song is based on intense analysis of music, you're doomed. Because people that buy records don't know shit about music. When they put on ‘Kind of Blue’ and say they like it, I always ask people: What did you like about it? They describe it in physical terms, in visceral terms, but never in musical terms.”
The argument over whether jazz is hermetically sealing itself by being absorbed with invention-for-its-own-sake is as almost as old as jazz itself. Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray, for all their worship of literary modernism, snarled over most of the boundary-busting jazz music that came after the swing era. (People of varied generations and races are always shocked to find that Ellison disliked Charlie Parker almost as much as Philip Larkin.) Even Miles Davis at some point in the early1960s admitted that he didn’t buy jazz records of his era because “they make me too sad, man.”
I don’t get sad with what I hear lately. Once in a while, I even like being sad, and so do what Marsalis calls, “laypeople.” But there were times in the last several months when I was getting impatient with the new discs I was listening to. I was, like, OK, I’m impressed. But I’m not aroused. So you can make chord changes sit up, roll over and swim across a pond. But my question is the same one Lester Young asked long ago, “Can you sing a song?” I’ll throw another one out there: Can you handle a groove?
Maybe that’s why, even in a better-than-average year for product, I was drawn to those albums that gave me a bit more of what Marsalis describes as “physical” or “visceral” pleasure. I admit that in Larkin’s famous tautology, I still lean a little more towards intelligence-without-beat over beat-without-intelligence. But most of what I choose to venerate this year came close to achieving a balance between the two. The needle’s still stuck at the low end as far as jazz music’s presence in the marketplace is concerned. But maybe some of these will help nudge it a little higher and attract more people who search the clouds, or Cloud, for sounds that both please and challenge. Baby steps, I suppose; dance steps, I hope.
1.) Ahmad Jamal, “Saturday Morning” (Jazzbook) – You’re Ahmad Jamal and life right now couldn’t be more satisfying. You’ve outlasted almost all the pianists you’ve influenced since the 1950s who, fairly or not, received more critical approbation than you. You’ve also outlasted most of those critics who either demeaned or second-guessed your popularity and, in any case, never gave you the degree of respect you’ve received from audiences and fellow musicians. In the meantime, you’ve been putting out immaculately crafted recorded product for at least the last three decades. And at 83 years old, you’re playing with even greater vitality, invention and polish, submitting (for our approval) one of the crown jewels of your long career: A sweet-swinging session recorded at the Studio La Buissonne with the attentive support of bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Herlin Riley. As always, your trio keeps time like a handcrafted wristwatch. What broadens the package is the sparkling variety of tempo and mode. You seem even more engaged by the material, even with such familiar should-have-been-classics-long-ago as “The Line.” And though yours is the last such unit that would need extra percussion, the contributions of Manolo Badrena are seamlessly wired into your rhythm machine. You’re Ahmad Jamal and we’re just about as satisfied with your life right now as you are. (Thank you, Jimmy Cannon and may your own termite artistry soon be rediscovered.)
2.) Steve Coleman & Five Elements, “Functional Arrhythmias” (Pi) –And speaking of rhythm machines…First, though, a confession: Over the three or four decades alto saxophonist/composer Steve Coleman’s M-Base movement has been around, I could never cozy up to it; especially when it seemed intent on fashioning a kind of cerebral funk, as I prefer my funk to be pure and uncut. GIVE IT UP, PEOPLE, FOR BOOTSY’S RUBBER BAAAAAANNNND!!!! But I digress…If Coleman’s aesthetic principles have led to this ultra-sophisticated and fearsomely versatile aggregation of bassist Anthony Tidd, drummer Sean Rickman, guitarist Miles Okazaki and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, then I need to rethink, if not revoke, my earlier skepticism. As the titles of both the disc and its contents (e.g. “Sinews”, “Cerebrum Crossover”, “Cardiovascular”) imply, the intent here is to strike a polyrhythmic, harmonically complex connection with human physiology. It’s a smart idea (inspired, as Coleman says, by the example of drummer Milford Graves). But the intelligence behind the concept isn’t as conspicuous as its vigorous application. The band members are locked into each other’s frequencies and their interaction glides, strides, twists and meshes in the same manner as an abstract painting or modern dance piece. Coleman and Finlayson’s front-line conversations have a riveting yin-yang quality that places them at or near the high-end spectrum of such similar sax-horn confabs as Bird and Diz, Trane and Miles and Coleman’s namesake (if not relative) Ornette and Don Cherry. This disc has all the brains, and then some, of Coleman’s body-of-work. But it’s also got an unexpected surplus of -- well, you know – heart.
3.) Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, “Brooklyn Babylon” (New Amsterdam) – Having spent twenty thrilling years inhabiting the Beautiful Borough as it made the awkward, irrepressible leap from hipster incubator to Promised Land, I can testify that one of the many things that fascinate even the most casual Brooklyn bystander is the ongoing tension between its gilded skyscraping aspirations and its wait-till-next-year past lives. This 17-part suite for an 18-piece orchestra conflates Brooklyn’s past, present and (potential) future into what amounts to a steampunk fantasy novel of the mind. Argue’s epic tells the story of a master carpenter named Lev who, in a dystopian future (or alternate present), is commissioned to build a carousel atop a tower whose immensity could obliterate whatever‘s left of Brooklyn’s old-soul romance. The music aims as high as that mythical tower and you can feel yourself ascending on its surging waves of energy. But the suite doesn’t just go up; it spreads out to encompass different cultures from Eastern Europe to Latin America to the Middle East, keeping a fingertip or two on all-American swing and/or rock. You could follow Argue’s story or project one of your own upon its volatile contours. As with the only science fiction that matters, “Brooklyn Babylon” is lavishly hypothetical, strangely familiar and recognizably human in the grandest and grubbiest terms.
4.) Etienne Charles, “Creole Soul” (Culture Shock) – Jazz’s grow-or-die imperative has found its most gratifying adherents among 30-and-under musicians willing to use what they’ve learned of the music’s basics as springboards to more adventurous or exotic compounds. Charles, who just turned 30 this year, is a Trinidad-born trumpeter who received much of his education at Florida State and Juilliard and was inspired by the examples set at both institutions respectively by Marcus Roberts and Wynton Marsalis in re-energizing the music’s mainstream traditions. He retains some of Marsalis’ sound in his horn. But it’s the multicultural, polyrhythmic setting of this zesty, spicy gumbo that makes Charles’ music sound like exactly no one else’s. With a formidable array of young instrumentalists and percussionists as backup, Charles immerses himself in the varied strains of Caribbean pop – reggae, mambo, conga, even Gulf Coast R&B – to put together an mélange of electro-boogie, calypso and funk. Traditionalists can growl, snap and dismiss it all as “slick” pop. But the music they cherish has a far better chance for long-term survival with a sensibility willing to invite Monk (“Green Chimneys”), Marley (“Turn Your Lights Down Low”) and Bo Diddley (“You Don’t Love Me”) to the same house party and give each of them the respect and elbowroom they deserve. And, by the way, he also serves up melodies that stick to your head like Post-It notes reminding you what music is for.
5.) David Weiss, “Endangered Species: The Music of Wayne Shorter” (Motema) –Weiss, who also holds down a trumpeter’s chair here, leads a 12-piece murderer’s row of first-rank instrumentalists that includes trombonist Steve Davis, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, saxophonists Ravi Coltrane and Tim Green, drummer E.J. Strickland and the incomparable pianist Geri Allen in celebrating the legacy and (though recorded live a year earlier at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola) 80th birthday of the Greatest Living Jazz Composer. They do not come to merely pay homage. That would be too much like church and the guy they’re honoring is far from finished. (See below.) Weiss instead leads his cadre on a reconnaissance mission probing the less-heralded (as in least-covered) pieces of the Shorter oeuvre as a means of illuminating its orchestral possibilities. The recital opens your eyes from the jump with “Nellie Bly,” which the always-surprising Mr. Weird wrote very early in his career when he was sitting in Maynard Ferguson’s reed section and now comes across as one of the more ornately conceived barn-burners ever lit. Even the most familiar of these selections, the inscrutably haunting ballad “Fall,” is given a rich, harmonically-layered treatment that inspires glistening fire-and-ice variations from Allen, Coltrane and, especially, Pelt. As widely acknowledged as Shorter’s writing brilliance has been over generations, it takes a classic setting such as this to reaffirm both the sturdiness and suppleness of Shorter’s melodies e.g., they endure and you can do almost anything you want with them.
6.) Matthew Shipp, “Piano Sutras” (Thirsty Ear) – If progressive jazz pianists carried the same renegade credibility in pop culture as heavy-metal rock guitarists, Matthew Shipp would be a biker’s tattoo by now. Twenty-something years is a long time to be an Angry Young Man. But the customary rules don’t apply to Shipp, who at age 52 can still wield a thorny club with swaggering panache, both on- and off-stage. His jazz-outlaw persona packs dual reserves of intensity and insolence; the latter, especially, gets him noticed in jazz circles when it’s directed at such elder statesmen as Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett – the latter of whom could, ironically enough, match Shipp on whatever Mr. Cranky meter that’s available. For whatever it’s worth, I think Shipp’s uncompromising, mostly unsung insurgency gives him better reason to complain than Jarrett. He even released a “Greatest Hits” compilation earlier this year on that made an impassioned what-the-eff-more-do-I-have-to-do case for his artistry. Still, this solo recital, meditative, prickly and ingenious, is an even more persuasive brief on Shipp’s behalf. It literally stomps, like the step-master of an unruly fraternity, to its own beat, piling dense tone clusters and weaving thick harmonic passages into eccentric, arresting patterns. On such pieces as “Cosmic Shuffle” and “Uncreated Light,” Shipp indulges his combative impulses before giving way to lyrical rumination. Though he may seem at times to be an unrepentant churl, Shipp’s “Sutras” remind listeners that, whatever hard things he may have to say, or play, at a given moment, he’s not inclined to stay mad – or stay anything else – for very long. (I bet he’s still happy, though, that I ranked this disc ahead of the next one.)
7.) Wayne Shorter Quintet, “Without a Net” (Blue Note) –As I said (maybe) earlier this year, the more I’ve listen to it, the deeper its mysteries grow; almost to the point of making me wonder whether there’s anything more to this group’s colloquies than mysteries for their own sake. Then, I try to tell myself what Shorter, in his way, is telling everybody else: that questions and answers are often the same thing. And I’ll go, yes, but…This incessant give-and-take between my ears is why “Without a Net,” for all its insistence on keeping secrets, stays on this list, no matter what. Give me another month or two and it’ll likely be back in the top five, but for the moment….
8.) The Claudia Quintet, “September” (Cuneiform) – Because I am an easy mark for crafty historical gimmicks, I was piped aboard this vessel by a number called “September 29th, 1936: ‘Me Warn You’,” in which the voice of FDR, sarcastically chiding his Republican fat-cat opposition for their empty promises of out-dealing the New Deal, is carved up, sampled, mixed, mimicked and harmonized with throughout by this eclectic chamber ensemble led by percussionist John Hollenbeck and featuring Chris Speed on reeds, Matt Moran on vibes, Red Wierenga on accordion and either Drew Gress or Chris Tordini on bass. Once you get past the wonder of hearing instrumental correlatives to Roosevelt’s memorable pipes and recognize the sly contemporary references being made by this juxtaposition, you start to wonder if the joke is being carried a little too far – until, about seven minutes in, when the group, collectively and individually, starts laying down its own cheeky variations on the president’s joke. This open-ended interplay typifies the rest of the album – a series of sound mosaics and tone poems devoted to the month that Hollenbeck prefers to use as time for reflection and contemplation. There’s a witty birthday salute to the unavoidable Mr. Shorter (“September 9th Wayne Phases”), a deep-dyed autumnal ballad (“September 25th Somber Blanket”) and, inevitably, a 9/11 piece (“September 12th Coping Song”) that closes the disc on with introspection that never becomes maudlin. It’s taken me longer than it probably should to have climbed aboard Claudia’s bandwagon and I’m still not sure why this particular one did the trick. But I plan to check back with them.
9.) Chucho Valdes, “Border Free” (Jazz Village) – I hope he wont take this the wrong way, but it must be said up-front: This man is a beast, a monster, an unstoppable force-of-nature – and, to be sure, a supreme virtuoso. But his is the kind of virtuosity that, rather than swooping down from thin air, blows the doors open to his listeners, making them run en masse towards him and scream for more. (Just listen to the first five minutes of “Congadanza” and you’ll know exactly what I mean. The last four are pretty “wow”, too.) Valdes is also a paragon among 70-something artists who seem to be gaining in raw power and messianic force with age. He and his Afro-Cuban Jazz Messengers aren’t just wearing down the all-but-fragmented barriers between hard bop and Latin jazz; they’re also expanding rhythmic horizons towards Native American (“Afro-Comanche”) and Andalusian (“Abdel”) sources of inspiration. He also takes time out to honor both his pianist father (“Bebo”) and his late mother (“Pilar”) in ways that make his Cuban homeland vivid and stirring. OK, so he gets a little carried away at times with the occasional Rachmaninoff reference and melodramatic flourish. So long as you can still keep up with the stories, what do they matter?
10.) Gerry Gibbs, Kenny Barron, Ron Carter, “Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio” (Whaling City Sound) – If I had Barron, a grandmaster of jazz piano, and Carter, the greatest bassist alive, at my disposal, I bet even I could complete a dream trio with a frying pan, a crockpot and a pair of wooden spoons. But Gibbs, who’s been following in his vibraphonist father Terry’s footsteps by leading his own big band, brings his own aggressive sound, far-reaching chops and orchestrator’s instincts to this session, giving these two demigods a wide-open frame for their immense resources to roam like wolves. The result is a surprising rarity: a piano trio album delivering music with the heft and momentum of a larger ensemble, thanks mostly to the prodigious balance of power and flexibility coming through Gibbs’ trap set. Along with the usual stops (“Epistrophy,” “Impressions,”), the trio shines new light on works by McCoy Tyner (“When I Dream”) and Herbie Hancock (“The Eye of the Hurricane,” “Tell Me a Bedtime Story”). The biggest revelations, however, come from the pop book: that old mid-1960s warhorse, “The Shadow of Your Smile,” Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” and, most especially “Promises, Promises,” whose sleek mounting and seamless arrangement here showcase Carter and Barron’s mastery of tempo and changes while delivering what may be the most effective jazz take yet on a Burt Bacharach tune.
Maria Schneider & Dawn Upshaw, “Winter Morning Walks” (ArtistShare)
Marc Cary, “For the Love of Abbey” (Motema)
Charles Lloyd & Jason Moran, “Hagar’s Song” (ECM)
Joe Lovano UsFive, “Cross Culture” (Blue Note)
Geri Allen, “Grand River Crossings” (Motema)
Bill Frisell, “Big Sur” (Okeh)
Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow, “Trios” (ECM)
Wadada Leo Smith & Tumo, “Occupy the World” (Tum)
Ben Allison, “The Stars Look Very Different Today” (Sonic Camera)
Rudresh Mahanthappa, “Gamak” (ACT)
Fred Hersch & Julian Lage, “Free Flying” (Palmetto)
Art Pepper, “Unreleased Art, Vol. VIII: Live at the Winery, September 6, 1976” (Widow’s Taste)
Matt Mitchell, “Fiction” (Pi)
BEST NEW ARTIST: Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense, “Moment & the Message” (Pi)
BEST VOCALIST: Gregory Porter, “Liquid Spirit” (Blue Note) HONORABLE MENTION: Youn Sun Nah, “Lento” (ACT)
BEST LATIN ALBUM: “Creole Soul” HONORABLE MENTION: “Border-Free”
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Gene Seymour
SALZBURG MARIONETTE THEATRE: The Ring Cycle, Abridged
December 18, 2013
What better tribute to Richard Wagner, Severity and Maximalism Himself, than a heavily abridged Ring Cycle mimed by string puppets? Salzburg Marionette Theatre figured as much with their production of Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Graice Rainey Rogers Auditorium at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Notably, this isn’t the first time Wagner’s four opera Ring Cycle has received a puppet treatment – a young Peter Sellars staged one at Harvard back in 1979. Still, ‘puppet Wagner’ is enough to peak most Wagnerites’ interests – will it somehow be revelatory? Or is it just another empty, postmodern abduction of a classic (like those Pride and Prejudice and Coprophagia novels)? In the case of Salzburg Marionette Theatre’s Der Ring, it’s neither. It is, however, a cute, kids-friendly introduction to both the composer and the medium.
A co-production with Salzburg State Theatre that originally appeared in March 2012, director Carl Philip von Maldeghem makes savage cuts to the music – enough to fit the typically sixteen-hour story into just two. The company presented a simplified, fast-paced rendition of Wagner’s myths, with English exposition and commentary breaking up selections from Sir Georg Solti’s classic Decca recordings of the work.
The two actors that voiced for the marionettes (Christiani Wetter and Tim Oberließen) also provided the narration. What detracted most from the production were these actors’ lame, almost-topical jokes throughout (let’s liken the building of Valhalla to the housing crisis). The puppets were better. In fact, the marionettes were quite lovable, and largely moved well – and even when they didn’t, that charmed, too (as with Brünnhilde waking from her slumber to find her head could only face the wrong way).
The Siegfried puppet was a dumb jock in sweats, Loge a red-sequined showbiz-type, Freya a ditzy goddess with fake breasts. It was Wagner as light entertainment – less of an abduction than a quaint pastiche. It could be the very thing to get a child to like opera from a young age. Yet, no matter how loving the creative team’s intentions, this production in the end feels like a reference to art, rather than anything substantial in its own right.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY--Geoff Lokke
TRIBUTE TO SCOTT WALKER
December 3, 2013
The tribute concert to Scott Walker at Le Poisson Rouge was a largely unrehearsed mess, staggered with several charming performances of songs from the cult singer’s six decades of music.
A 1960s crooner who turned to experimental composition, musicians have long championed Scott Walker – longtime admirers include Brian Eno, David Bowie, and Julian Cope. Songs from Montague Terrace, the latest tribute album to Walker, in turn inspired this concert, which served as something of a release party for the record.
Outside of Adam Green’s version of “Duchess”, the ‘house band’ on the night never clicked – dashing off unimpressive rockabilly covers of Walker’s elegant 60s pop. The band’s failings even forced Nicole Atkins to cut short her take on “Make It Easy on Yourself” after just twenty seconds. Thankfully, a few of the other musicians managed to do the songs some justice.
Gillian Rivers, the violinist who ably reduced Wally Stott and Walker’s arrangements for her amplified trio, probably saved the night. At times frustrated and drowned out by the house band, the polished strings managed to shine when they were the centerpiece, as with Ex Cops’ “Copenhagen”, Little Annie’s “If You Go Away”, and Bright Light Bright Light’s “Two Weeks Since You’ve Gone”. Rivers, who has arranged for Sonic Boom of Spaceman 3, even rehabilitated “Someone Who Cared”, a song on Stretch, an album from Walker’s mid-70s creative nadir.
Walker’s later work – post-1978’s Nite Flights – was represented by only three songs. Invisible Familiars and Cibo Matto’s clever take on “Shutout” was one of the show’s highlights, a spacey, lounge rendition of the motorik original. Ella Joyce Buckley’s “Farmer In the City” was ambitious but missed the mark, while the cover of “See You Don’t Bump His Head” (from Walker’s 2012 album Bish Bosch) was an inventive clamor of bass drum, shrieking, and soprano sax.
Given Walker does not perform in public, the concert was still an opportunity to hear live these rarely performed gems. However, fans in New York can only hope for the kind of thoughtful, well-organized retrospectives that have been staged in London and Los Angeles over the past few years.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – - Geoffrey Lokke
ORCHESTRA OF ST. LUKE'S
November 26, 2013
Guest conductor Iván Fischer (music director of the Budapest Festival Orchestra) led the Orchestra of St. Luke’s at Carnegie Hall in a program of Hungarian and German work.
The program featured Leó Weiner’s rarely heard Serenade for Small Orchestra (1906). Although its central theme charmed at first, it soon felt overused. The Serenade generally feels well crafted, but colorless, and probably deserving of its role as the program’s forgotten curio. There are reasons why some graves don’t get flowers.
The Weiner piece sat in contrast to Béla Bartók’s illuminating and inventive Hungarian Sketches (1931). While both Hungarian composers found inspiration in folk music, Bartók’s ability to synthesize this with his earlier Romantic tendencies to fashion his own unique, expressive language is what sets the composers far apart. The orchestra was incisive throughout – Fischer managing stirring silences amid the clever melodies and rhythms.
American pianist Jonathan Biss joined Fischer and the orchestra for Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor (1841; 1845). For all the lovely moments where piano and orchestra entwined, there were lulls in each movement that detracted from its overall grace.
As the program seemed to be ordered in ascending quality, from inessential to masterwork, Mozart’s 1788 “Jupiter” Symphony ended the night. Fischer conducted from memory through this affirmation of our worth as a species – a work that is, if not proof of a God, proof we can make something just as good.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Geoffrey Lokke
THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA
November 20, 2013
At this latest night of opera at the downtown nightclub Le Poisson Rouge (having hosted previous engagements by the Met and Gotham Chamber Opera), the venue and Opera at Rutgers celebrated Benjamin Britten’s centenary with a performance of the composer’s 1946 opera The Rape of Lucretia.
Having used a Maupassant story as the basis for his first chamber opera Albert Herring, Britten returned to French source material for his second, in adapting André Obey’s play Le viol de Lucrèce. Alongside librettist Ronald Duncan, Britten documents the rape of the noblewoman Lucretia by Tarquinius, a Roman prince.
What sets this piece apart from other Britten operas is how direct it is, both in terms of music, with its small, eight-piece ensemble, and in exploration of its themes. Loss of innocence is one of Britten’s foremost preoccupations – a loss typically brought on by acts of violence. Where elsewhere the composer tends to obfuscate the nature of these acts – Britten may be accused of finding ambiguity in of itself interesting – he avoids this vagueness in The Rape of Lucretia. Instead of spending time obscuring Tarquinius’ culpability, Britten hones in on the psychology of the act and its fallout.
Rutgers’ performance is the second college production of this opera in New York City this year, with Mannes Opera having mounted the piece at Hunter College’s Kaye Playhouse last April. This production was more low-key – due to LPR’s small nightclub stage, the set just consisted of a table and a couple of Roman columns. These constraints may have also led to conductor Franklin Porath using an electric keyboard throughout the piece. This was a shame, as the piano is one of the more expressive instruments in the chamber opera, and the keyboard detracted from the experience. Otherwise, the ensemble played well, if muted – some of the pathos of Britten’s writing, especially for the strings, missed the mark.
Britten has the opera’s narration handled by two roles, the Male and Female Choruses. Here, it was the Female Chorus, played by Nadine Robinson, who outshone her colleagues both in all aspects of performance. Although her role is less physically demanding than many of others – she moved and expressed herself with sensitivity and control.
In the end, it was a good college performance of a chamber opera that deserves our attention. Britten wrote small-scale works in order to get opera ‘out of the opera house,’ and it is good to see more modest companies take advantage of this manageable yet meticulous piece.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Geoffrey Lokke
NYC CITY CENTER GALA
November 16, 2013
New York City Center celebrated their annual Gala with a special performance of A
Bed and A Chair, a new production starring the music of Stephen Sondheim. With
a stellar cast including Bernadette Peters, Jeremy Jordan, Norm Lewis and Cyrille
Aimeé singing, and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra under the direction of Wynton
Marsalis, the evening explores a " New York love affair, centered on the intensity of
Two couples contend with the difficulties, idiosyncrasies, and frustrations of
contemporary romantic life in the big city. Under the direction of John Doyle, the music
of Mr. Sondheim is as relevant and timely as ever. Arrangements by Mr. Marsalis
and the Jazz Orchestra, make the songs sparkle with soul and feeling. From "Another
Hundred People," to " Live Alone and Like It," to "Someone is Waiting," each song
allows the actors to inhabit different emotions, embracing the humor, resonance and
ardor of the wonderful lyrics.
As conceived by Mr. Doyle, Jack Viertel, and Peter Gethers, the heartache and drama
of the the cast of four is represented by four "shadows" who dance what isn't sung.
Meg Gillentine, Tyler Hanes, Grasan Kingsberry and the exquisite Elizabeth Parkinson
danced with energy and heart, bringing to life the choreography by Parker Esse. Using
only a bed and a chair (lyrics from "Broadway Baby") and simple accessories, such as
sweaters and bags, they reveal the place every New Yorker comes home to at the end
of a day.
An especially creative set of songs was a mash up of " The Ladies Who Lunch/Agony/
Can That Boy Foxtrot!/ Uptown/ Downtown and In Praise of Women, and the audience
loved it. There are few stars the caliber of Ms. Peters today, and she was a treat for
sure, but Mr. Sondheim's music and lyrics are a marvelous vehicle for each actor and
dancer to express the idea of the transient nature of relationships and the importance a
place to come home to. City Center Encores! is a wonderful opportunity to revisit and
enjoy a fresh perspective on American Broadway musical theater.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis
November 14, 2013
A spontaneous, absorbing game of chance, composer Joe Diebes’ BOTCH succeeds as
both performance art and an evening of inventive experimental music.
The audience is positioned in a circle around four performers (vocal artists
Christina Campanella, Michael Chinworth, John Rose, and Saori Tsukada) engaged
in a series of evolving chance operations devised by Diebes (who operates a
soundboard throughout, occasionally tossing handmade, novelty-sized dice in the
Via monitors positioned around the room, the artists share a scrolling text, which
reads like a scrambling of Internet rants and news articles. They proceed to
direct and manipulate each other’s amplified voices, often while taking direction
These commands (by hand signals) affect a fellow performer’s voice,
changing the other’s pitch, speed, or to adopt a different voice entirely, read the
scrolling words backwards, “record” a fragment of speech, start and close a loop of
read-aloud text, repeat this loop, etc.
The overall effect is, as Diebes calls it, “a broken-word opera” – the artists hacking
up, stretching, and compressing language while prerecorded field music, noise,
and other electronics buzz underneath. Perhaps the most beautiful moment of the
piece is halfway through when the synthesizers come in and the performers talk-
sing together for a period.
But even in the starker moments of soliloquy, BOTCH
fascinates, as language is torn and phased into something else entirely, thrillingly
just outside of comprehension. While some audience members simply closed their
eyes and listened, others were more captivated by the process itself – trying to make
sense of the ‘game’ being played in view.
Even those moments when it all feels a touch over-serious – - about when the
performers start aiming the microphones at each other like guns –- you could spot a
redeeming half-smile on Diebes over in the dark.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Geoffrey Lokke
DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN
November 13, 2013
With the Met Opera abstaining from Wagner this season, the company’s German offerings
come by way of Richard Strauss (although a freshly translated Die Fledermaus and
a Levine-conducted Wozzeck come later). The first of these, Die Frau ohne Schatten
(The Woman Without a Shadow), Strauss’ 1919 opera, had its season premiere on
Tuesday night. It made for beautiful listening, although the production and the text
itself proved to be frustrating.
The opera follows an empress (the daughter of a spirit god, played by Anne
Schwanewilms), who lacks a shadow, which supposedly symbolizes her inability
to have children. She then enters into a pact with a dyer’s wife (soprano Christine
Goerke) to obtain the other woman’s shadow. As their fates entwine, Strauss and his
librettist sought to explore maternal psychology and associated societal pressures.
The libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal is a problematic thing – while the Dyer’s
wife’s disenchantment with marriage and the prospect of motherhood is often
empathic, intelligent writing, the Empress’ ‘spirit goddess’ plight is expressed
through fussy, psychoanalytic symbolism that cannot be enjoyed. But why is the
falcon spirit crying so? Et cetera.
The most striking element of the production (originally staged in 2001) is the
hall of mirrors that serves as both the Empress’ home and the spirit world. And
though with each shift in lighting the designer (Herbert Wernicke) usually achieves
stunning results, it is still an empty, cavernous space – one that would require
fine acting and movement to make hours spent on this stage anything close to
Yet, none of the singers acted well – they were either static or overacting (Ms.
Goerke ludicrously played her storming out of the home in the huffiest of huffs,
replete with a proud tossing of her shawl around her shoulder). Bad acting can often
feel par for the course at the opera, but it is still our duty to cringe at it.
At times, J. Knighten Smit’s stage direction was baffling as it disregarded elements of
the libretto – as in the third act, where the Nurse (Ildikó Komlósi) and the Empress
go on discussing whether they should get out of their boat, long after Smit had them
abandon it. In fact, the boat was generally in fine comedic form – getting stuck twice
during its grand exit, eventually being just yanked off the stage.
It is still gorgeous music, and was generally well sung, with Goerke’s turn as the
Dyer’s wife easily the standout. Regular guest conductor Vladimir Jurowski captured
the high melodrama as well as the quieter, chamberesque moments of the score,
particularly with the effecting violin solo towards the piece’s end.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Geoffrey Lokke
THE CYCLES OF LIFE: A MUSICAL EXPLORATION OF THE BALKANS
November 7, 2013
Chromatically tied to Byzantine folk and liturgical music, Balkan music from Turkey, Greece, Serbia, Bosnia, Armenia and Israel share customs and musical scales. Even though Balkan music resembles Gregorian chants
not all Balkan music is mournful, but the minor chords lean towards smoky, haunting melodies scented with loss.
Conceived by Jordi Savall, The White Light Festival’s “The Cycle of Life: A Musical Exploration of the Balkans” at Alice Tully Hall opens on casually seated performers resembling a congregation of villagers making music for a celebration.
Everyone was distinctive in their own way, but Lior Elmaleh’s voice
communicates an eerie timeless quality, and a timbre that makes it audible from one village hilltop to another—in other words, throughout Avery Fisher Hall.
Clear voiced, and utterly charming, Irini Derebei delivered the dancey Cypriot songs with the wit and panache they deserve. All the instruments are traditional and include Qanun (a plucked trapezoidal zither), Oud (round backed, pear shaped string instrument), Duduk (Armenian oboe), Santur (Iranian hammered dulcimer) Morisca (medieval stringed musical guitar with a long thin neck) and various percussion instruments.
The song cycle skipped through the seasons and ended on (RE) Conciliation harmonized in the Christian, Muslim and Hebrew traditions. Mr. Savall proved that although separated by borders, Balkan music issues from the same family tree.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis
WADADA LEO SMITH’S “TEN FREEDOM SUMMERS” ATLAS THEATER
October 29, 2013
WASHINGTON, D.C.: OCT. 25-26
A musical pageant that takes as its central theme the African American struggle
for freedom and justice is expected to summon lightning and thunder from the
skies with swelling, stirring themes that cascade over its listeners’ hearts. But
“Ten Freedom Summers,” Wadada Leo Smith’s 19-piece-and-counting suite
that was short-listed for last year’s Pulitzer Prize in music, does not rouse
so much as ruminate over its commemorations.
As abstract, mercurial and
layered as its composer’s trumpeting, “Ten Freedom Summers” seizes, then
sustains attention by shifting its motifs, changing its tonal colors, expanding and
then contracting its exchange of musical ideas, often with jolting intensity. To
Smith, it seems less important (and certainly less original) to arouse immediate
emotional responses to such myriad occasions as Emmett Till’s 1955 lynching,
the Mississippi “Freedom Summer” of 1964, JFK’s New Frontier and the 1857
cuffing administered by the Supreme Court to Dred Scott’s dream of citizenship.
It is more important for his listeners to instead feel their way through the
suite’s thematic digressions towards finding new and transformative ways for
remembering our shared history.
What may be even more innovative about “Ten Freedom Summers” is its on-
stage multi-media presentation. At the Atlas Theater in Washington D.C.s
burgeoning northeast H Street neighborhood, Smith conducted two ensembles:
His Golden Quartet of pianist Anthony Davis, bassist John Lindberg and
drummer Anthony Brown and the Pacific Red Coral sextet of cellist Ashley
Walters, violinists Shalini Vijayan and Mona Tian, violist Andrew McIntosh,
harpist Alison Bjorkedal and percussionist Lynn Vartan. As Smith moved back
and forth between each group, cueing them through every transition, a giant
screen was likewise cueing the audience’s reactions by alternately flashing
images of whatever or whomever each piece was celebrating (Malcolm X, LBJ,
Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks) blended with abstract visual representations
of the music and its performance. Those wondering whether live jazz music has
anywhere to go in the 21st
mountings could and should recognize this hydra-headed staging as a potential
“New Normal” for progressive AND traditional jazz performances.
And because it IS a jazz work within a compositional framework, the performance
(which spread roughly two-thirds of the original piece over two days in three
two-hour performances) allowed some room for improvisation, especially from
Golden Quartet members Davis, himself a Pulitzer finalist for composing the
century beyond the familiar big-band or small-combo
1985 opera, “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” and Lindberg, whose free-
form inventions at times seemed to transform the upright bass into something like
a bluegrass guitar.
Mostly, when Davis and Smith lay out on their instruments, it
was mostly to announce, embellish or enhance the frame around, or a mood-shift
within, a particular theme. Smith's horn, in its plaintive, frequently coarse-edged
tone has often been compared with that of Miles Davis, especially in the
latter’s underrated late-1970s fusion period. (To these ears, it sounds as though
Wadada extracts more possibilities from his riffs than Miles did back then. Feel
free to politely disagree.)
Befitting its discursive, open-ended approach, “Ten Freedom Summers”, which
Smith started working on more than thirty years ago, continues to add more
pieces even with its exalted stature. The Atlas Theater marathon premiered two
new sections, both commemorating 50th
events: the August, 1963 March on Washington and the bombing a month later
of a Birmingham Baptist church that killed four young African-American girls.
The latter movement, “That Sunday Morning: Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair,
Carole Roberts and Cynthia Wesley: We Carry You in Our Hearts,” stood out
among its older counterparts with an assertive, even angry theme before easing
into a more meditative, probing series of discordant, yet measured interactions
between the quartet and the string section. It was a timely, altogether appropriate
application of added grace to an ambitious, difficult, but enthralling enterprise
that, as with the struggle it chronicles, presses onward.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Gene Seymour
October 26, 2013
Commencing its 12th season, Gotham Chamber Opera presented its recreation of the composer-organized Baden-
Baden Festival performance of July 17, 1927. The historic one-evening performance featured the premieres of four
one-act operas, and on October 23, 2013 the program - now dubbed "Baden-Baden 1927" - returned to the stage with
some clever modern twists.
Artistic Director/conductor Neal Goren has been developing the idea of this quadruple-opera revival for almost as
long as the Gotham Chamber Opera’s existence. With the assistance of Director Paul Curran, the ambitious recreation
at last became a reality. Opening the production was composer Darius Milhaud's "L'enlèvement d'Europe" (The
Abduction of Europa). The buzz of the audience calmed to a hush as performers in all-black cocktail attire quietly
entered the stage, champagne flutes in hand. Their gaze and implied social banter over a bright painting of an
arm clenched with a fist, surrounded by gentle outlines of flowers, requests our attention.
The eight-minute opera
proceeds with a red-gowned woman stealing the spotlight, soon approached by a man in a white suite with a splay
of the painting's design across it: meet Europa and the disguised God Zeus in a modern day swanky art gallery.
Complete with an ensemble traveling across the stage in stylized steps, the music builds with the heated passion of
the two, and a suitor scorned is left lying on the floor.
It is set designer and German painter Georg Baselitz's works that become the intersection of the creative undertones
within "Baden-Baden 1927." A central question is posed to the audience right away, "What is art and where is it
going?" As Baselitz's paintings ask this through various reexaminations of the same subject, we are reminded that all
four composers were asking the same question upon creating their operas back in 1927 Germany. In 2013 New York
City, each opera is made to live within a contemporary perspective, which is seamlessly integrated under Curran's
Composer Ernst Toch's "Die Prinzessin auf der Erbse" (The Princess and the Pea) is particularly memorable in its
rendition as a taping of a "Keeping up with the Kardashians" episode. The fairy tale's premise plays well with the
notion of reality television: what is presented to us as reality not always is. A camera crew follows around soprano
Helen Donath, as she coyly sings for the cameras while expressing her concern about marrying off her son. Once a
young woman enters, the royal family's quest to determine the legitimacy of her princesses-ness ensues, with a pea,
some flirtation, and a tantrum atop a multi-mattressed bed included. A live feed is visible on various screens onstage
throughout, and the added "off-camera" moments of hair touch-ups and un-staged interactions offer a comedic touch.
Next is Paul Hindemith’s "Hin und zurück" (There and Back), a twelve-minute opera chronicling a husband’s
discovery of his wife’s affair, which promptly erupts in her murder and his suicide. After a wise man notes the
trivialness of it all in the grand scheme of things, the action promptly unravels backwards, ending in the peaceful
breakfast scene with which it began. Most clever is how this opera begins as a black-and-white film, triggered with
the projection of an old-time movie countdown, and begins with carefully shaded costumes, pale skin, and gray hair.
Upon the reverse, everything - their costumes, hair, and prop - shift to in-color.
Closing the evening was the "Mahagonny Songspiel" by composer Kurt Weill, noted as the best-known opera of the
four. The product of a stylistic exercise, it’s a collection of six songs that nod to a story-line without allowing for any
real dialogue or character development. The performers venture from the city streets to an art gallery with treadmills
on display. Each song entertains, highlighting a collective desire for whisky, one woman's search for "the next pretty
boy," and hope to live off of five dollars a day. It's a humorous look at the expensive and disappointing life in a
made-up place called Mahagonny whose inhabitants compare to hell itself.
Impressive in this four-opera pursuit is the fully produced nature of each with elaborate sets (Baselitz and
Court Watson), costumes (Watson), lighting (Paul Hackenmueller), and projections (Driscoll Otto). Short
interludes between each are filled with informal comments by cast members and good old-fashioned audience
"Baden-Baden 1927" proved to be a truly well-rounded evening full of vibrant music and drama,
achieving a balance of honoring the past while acknowledging the present.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - Jennifer Thompson
August 19, 2013
National Endowment for the Arts Statement
on the Death of NEA Jazz Master Cedar Walton
It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the passing of 2010 NEA Jazz Master Cedar Walton. Walton was one of the great hard bop pianists as well as a composer of jazz standards "Bolivia," "Clockwise," and "Firm Roots." Over the course of his celebrated career he performed with groups led by NEA Jazz Masters as Art Farmer and Benny Golson’s Jazztet and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, as well as with NEA Jazz Masters Ron Carter, Curtis Fuller, and Bobby Hutcherson. Walton continued to play an active role on the world stage including performances in Paris with his trio at the end of July.
In a 2009 interview with the NEA, Walton described how he developed his approach to composition: “I happened to be in Max Roach's apartment up on Central Park West, for what reason I can't remember, but his saxophonist was there, and I just happened to be doodling at the piano. And first I think I named it ‘Central Park West,’ because it came so quick like it was coming from somewhere through me on the keys. So it became my sort of patented method of coming up with pieces and digging them out of the piano, so to speak. I don't think of them and then scratch them down; often I am just sitting at the piano looking for something that sounds original to me, and I have to like it. Those are the prerequisites of me coming up with a composition. And I want it to be challenging to the players who might be involved in playing it."
The NEA joins the jazz community in mourning this loss while celebrating Walton's lasting contributions to the jazz canon and jazz performance.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY
APOLLO THEATER SPRING GALA 2013
June 11, 2013
Extended family -- that's what the Apollo Theater telegraphs. An institution that embraces stars and neighborhood stalwarts, the Apollo gussied up for a fine gala honoring the great Chaka Khan. As guests streamed into the theater, attractive servers held trays of pop bottle size Moët-- while others passed out clear packets of fresh cheese sticks, and jalapeño biscuits.
All of this set the mood of glamour encased in down-home comfort.
This year’s inductee into the Apollo Legends Hall of Fame, vocalist and composer, Chaka Kahn sat animated in a box over stage right as the affable host Wayne Brady kept the good cheer and stars rotating. A parade of female belters sang tributes to Chaka Kahn. The woman who inspired this year’s Tony Award winner Billy Porter, the gutsy-voiced Jennifer Holiday, jump-started the festivities. Energy kept building when the seasoned Patti LaBelle fired up the house with her warm gospel voice, followed by the energetically soulful X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke.
Finally, it all came together on a high note when Mary J. Blige appeared and claimed Ms. Khan as a major inspiration.
Erykah Badu presented the award to Ms. Khan, who due to doctor’s orders, could not sing but could expressed unending appreciation.
Other well deserved awardees included Time Warner (Corporate Award), and Lisa Price founder of Carol's Daughter (Percy E. Sutton Civic Leadership Award).
Board members spoke, praising Apollo's contributions to the community and to the thousands of children through sustained excellence in programming under the leadership of Miikki Shepard. Truly a cultural lynchpin of Harlem, speakers accurately described the Apollo as the cultural heartbeat of America.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis
CHICK COREA FESTIVAL at JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER
May 20, 2013
Jazz at Lincoln Center's compound was overflowing with musical tributes to Chick Corea in May. Ensembles curated by Corea in Dizzy’s Club and the Allen Room overlapped with performances headlining Corea in the Rose Theater with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis.
Addressing the audience in the Allen Room, Corea introduced two seventeen year-old pianists who caught his ear: Israeli Gadi Lehavi and Georgian Beka Gochiashvili. The seasoned saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, trumpeter Wallace Roney, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Marcus Gilmore supported these young bucks in a program dedicated to works by Corea.
Stylistically different, both pianists betrayed classical roots in their technique and hand position on the keys. More introspective and shy, Gadi floated lightly over Corea’s compositions, absorbing encouragement from Patittucci’s bass. As the evening progressed, Gadi’s personality ballooned, particularly when Coltrane’s spare, kilowatt notes picked off Corea’s complex rhythms drawing Lehavi out of his solitude.
When Gochiashvili strode on stage, he exuded the swagger of a boxer compared to Lehavi’s gymnast (both are slim young men). Outgoing and muscular, Gochiashvili attacked the piano with confidence building off of Coltrane’s pungent riffs. Born of the school of Jerry Lee Lewis, Gochiashvili pushed away from the piano bench, bopping and weaving, unable to execute the music without giving it a physical existence.
Compared to Lehavi’s streamlined, gymnast countenance, Gochiashvili strode on stage with the swagger of a boxer (both are slim young men). Outgoing and muscular, Gochiashvili attacked the piano confidently building off of Coltrane’s pungent riffs.
Granted, there were moments when the combo nearly took off pulling the pianists in their sizable wake, but mostly, they were generous and favorably framed the young men’s ideas.
In the end, the two young jazz artists came on stage and played together. By this point, Lehvai was primed and rippled his arpeggios through Gochiasvilli’s piano marathon.
Set in relief against the ceiling to wall, slanted windows facing a breathtaking view of Columbus Circle and spring’s sunset, both pianists demonstrated their native talents and Corea’s remarkable versatitlity.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis
NY PHILHARMONIC CHINESE NEW YEAR CELEBRATION
February 18, 2013
Crowds funneled into Avery Fisher Hall for the Gala evening concert celebrating the Chinese New Year. West and East met up in the crossroads between traditional art forms and contemporary expressions. Rousing processional music called the audience to attention in Li Huanzhi’s “Spring Festival Overture.” Soon the sound of flutes calms the bombastic waves until the brisk tempi returns with a flourish. In one of his last works, Mahler’s “Der Einsame im Herbst” (The Solitary Person in Autumn) from Das Lied von de Erde (The Song of the Earth) dwelled inside a deep, melancholy realm, and mezzo soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano drew warmth from the sorrow. In the US premiere of Ye Xiaogang “Imitations of Old Poem: Long Autumn Night,” from The Song of the Earth, an assured Ying Human exhibited strong musical intent and control over the expansive vocal variations.
But when Herbie Hancock strode on stage, the evening’s energetic conductor Long Yu appeared as thrilled to see him as the adoring audience. Jazz pianist and composer, Hancock’s mastery is immediately evident. The score for Chen Quigang’s “Er Huang for Piano and Orchestra” was propped in front of Hancock. Despite the written notation, Hancock invested the piece with a muscular performance, and undeniably personal interpretation. Deep breaths separated chord progressions that ultimately fanned up and down the piano keys. Near the end, Hancock broke into an improvised passage that drew on his classical and jazz roots, dancing vibrantly to the atonal melodies that rose and fell into a dizzy spinning jazz flower.
In another star turn, Ye Zou demonstrated remarkable body and facial control and expressivity in her role as the Concubine in Selections from the Beijing opera’s “The Drunken Concubine.” A tip of the head or snap of the wrist exploded in expressions of sadness or happiness, disappointment or drunkenness. I’ve never seen a person imitate a drunken person with so few moves that were so vibrantly real.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis
NEA JAZZ MASTERS
January 4, 2013
National Endowment for the Arts Announces Live Webcast of 2013 NEA Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony & Concert
on January 14
In partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center, will hold its annual NEA Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony & Concert at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, and via live webcast. The NEA Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony & Concert will prominently feature NEA Jazz Masters who will perform tributes to the 2013 honorees: Mose Allison, Lou Donaldson, Lorraine Gordon (A.B. Spellman, NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy), and Eddie Palmieri. The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. EST and can be accessed by the public at arts.gov/jazzmasterswebcast as well as jalc.org/neajazzmasters. An archive of the webcast will be available the following day.
Wynton Marsalis, NEA Jazz Master (2011) and Jazz at Lincoln Center Managing and Artistic Director, will emcee the concert. NEA Jazz Masters Kenny Barron (2010), Ron Carter (1998), and Jimmy Cobb (2009) will make up a featured trio in an evening of performances that will also include Paquito D'Rivera (2005), Sheila Jordan (2012), Dave Liebman (2011), and Randy Weston (2001), as well as 2013 NEA Jazz Masters Mose Allison, Lou Donaldson, and Eddie Palmieri. Other NEA Jazz Masters in attendance at the concert include Muhal Richard Abrams (2010), David Baker (2000), Benny Golson (1996), Chico Hamilton (2004), Roy Haynes (1995), Dan Morgenstern (2007), Jimmy Owens (2012), McCoy Tyner (2002), Cedar Walton (2010), and Phil Woods (2007).*
In addition to the live webcast, the concert will be broadcast live on WBGO Jazz 88.3FM, NPR Music, and SiriusXM Satellite Radio's Real Jazz Channel XM67. A video archive of the concert will also be available at arts.gov/jazzmasterswebcast following the event.