Los Angeles Youth Orchestra
The Los Angeles Youth Orchestra arrived at Carnegie Hall and performed with great passion and dedication. They not only arrived at Carnegie, but as an organization and youth orchestra, they have truly “arrived’. The obvious reason for this event was to give these young players a remarkable opportunity to perform in New York, in one of the great halls of the world. But the other purpose was to show that this organization will be a permanent mainstay in their own community. Clearly, they will be just that.
The students’ training, which involves mentoring with members of major orchestras and rehearsing with professional musicians on a weekly basis, is paying off. The orchestra includes between 80 and 90 students ranging in age from 8-18, from both public and private schools. Although a good percentage of its students do not pursue music as a profession, all of the students’ lives are greatly enhanced through the classics and new music, and they learn life lessons through the program—including giving to and feeling a sense of community, the benefits of teamwork, plus knowledge of history and the arts. Some of their alumni, like violinist Niv Ashkenazi and flutist Elizabeth Erenberg, have decided to enter the music profession, and they joined current members for this Carnegie performance. Ashkenazi joined the orchestra originally as a teenager with the dream of becoming a concert violinist and studying at Juilliard with Itzhak Perlman, and he has fulfilled both those goals. Erenberg is now a successful flutist who recently received her master’s degree from The New England Conservatory, studying with Paula Robison.
The program was dedicated to the memory of the orchestra’s late program director and viola coach, Eve Cohen. In addition, one of the premieres, “EveStar”, by Russell Steinberg, was composed in her honor. Cohen worked with Steinberg to help develop the future of the organization and also to convince violinists to make the relatively seamless switch to the richer, more velvety sound of the viola. The music appropriately concludes with the viola section sustaining a low G string note while violins shimmer and sparkle above–as if to say she has said goodbye but will always remain with the orchestra in spirit. The work is structured so that its sprightly middle section provides a welcome energetic contrast (kids like upbeat tempos)—as if to bask in the many happy memories Cohen provided. This section gives the work real variety, and therefore provides conductors with the opportunity to program a contrasting work that’s both dreamy and animated. No doubt, it is the kind of inspired, catchy piece that deserves many performances. The same can be said for Steinberg’s “Carnegie Overture”, which is naturally celebratory–containing freshly lyrical passages that invite warm feelings–but also pulsating with edgy syncopations and dissonance. The percussion section helps drive the work, which has a real sense of continuity and organic growth from beginning to end. The orchestra played both works with a sense of nostalgia and purpose, with focus and infectious energy. They were well-prepared, performing with rhythmical precision and tonal refinement.
Also on the program was music from Beethoven’s challenging eighth symphony and a welcome, playable William Ryden/ Stephen L. Rosenhaus arrangement of De Falla’s music: a combination of the Miller’s Dance from “The Three Cornered Hat” and the Ritual Fire Dance from “El Amor Brujo”. Steinberg exudes much joy in his conducting, and the players respond with affection and exuberance in return. His interpretations of the Beethoven and De Falla were first rate. I cannot mention everyone here, but the horn and percussion sections were particularly excellent throughout the program, with special kudos to the solo clarinet and solo bassoon players.
Carnegie Hall was packed with a nearly full house, and there was excitement in the air. The Los Angeles Youth Orchestra staff, board and generous supporters are making this orchestra a vital part of the Los Angeles community, and it was wonderful for them and the New York audience that they made such an auspicious Carnegie Hall debut. Russell Steinberg has greatly helped with building this orchestra into an invaluable treasure; a shining and everlasting star.
-Anthony Aibel for New York Concert Review; New York, NY
Patrick gallois and Maria Prinz
French flutist Patrick Gallois and Vienna- based pianist Maria Prinz combined their talents in a program called “Vienna Meets Paris”, the first half dedicated to Vienna, and the second half, Paris. Their no-nonsense manner upon entering the stage reflected the lives of busy professionals, but from the first sterling tones it was obvious that this was going to be something memorable.
Opening with Mr. Gallois’s arrangement of the Sonata in F major, K. 376 of Mozart, the duo gave notice that they were one with this piece, which one might expect as they have recently recorded this work for Naxos (http://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=8.573033). Ms. Prinz, who has collaborated with other prominent flutists, never allowed her playing to become overpowering, even though the piano was on the full stick. It is also a credit to Mr. Gallois that he projected his playing with such ability that he was never in any danger of being covered. Mr. Gallois has a full-bodied tone that sings and soars, but never allows any overblowing. He also has an assured technique that allows him to make short work of difficult passages. It was an auspicious start.
Beethoven’s National Airs with variations, Op.105 and Op. 107 were commissioned by the Scottish folk-song collector and publisher George Thompson. A Schüsserl und a Reindel, Op. 105, No. 3 and St. Patrick’s Day, Op 107, No. 4, were featured. As per the request of Thompson (“You must write the variations in a familiar, easy, and slightly brilliant style, so that the greatest number of our ladies can play and enjoy them”), Beethoven gives the pianist the bulk of the difficulty in some brilliant writing. Even “easy” pieces can be dangerous, but Mr. Gallois did not fall into this trap. He played with finesse, adding his own touches of brilliance, while Ms. Prinz’s star shone brightly in what really are piano works with flute added. Ending the first half, three Schubert songs, Gute Nach, Das Fischermädchen and Ständchen, as transcribed by Theobald Böhm (1794-1881). Böhm, who can be considered the father of the modern Western flute and the corresponding fingering system still In use, did for the flute what Liszt did for the piano in his transcriptions of these songs. Mr. Gallois and Ms. Prinz played these songs with flair, but also with sensitivity. It was a thoughtful and melodious departure from Vienna.
The second half took the listener to Paris with three works by French composers written explicitly for the flute. Philippe Gaubert (1879-1941) wrote in the style of his great contemporaries Franck, Debussy, and Ravel. His Sonata for Flute and Piano No. 2 is unmistakably impressionistic in its tonal form and written with idiomatic detail that one would expect from one so familiar with the flute. Mr. Gallois captured the singing lines, the magical, and the mystical with what seemed to be the greatest of ease. This is not at all surprising considering the connection Mr. Gallois has with this work. The baton has been passed through the generations when considers the musical genealogy – Gaubert to his student Marcel Moyse to his student Joseph Rampal, to his son Jean-Pierre, to Jean-Pierre’s student Gallois.
La merle noire (The Blackbird) from Olivier Messiaen followed. Written in 1952 as a test piece for the Paris Conservatoire, this short composition was one of Messiaen’s earliest works to use the concept of notated birdsong, which was a life-long fascination of him. Mr. Gallois captured the warbling element with great imagination, and both he and Ms. Prinz conveyed its dizzying effects in a captivating performance. The Sonata for Flute and Piano by Francis Poulenc closed the program. This work is among the best-loved and most frequently performed works in the flute repertoire. It was composed with Jean-Pierre Rampal in mind. In his memoirs, Rampal mentions a phone call from Poulenc- “Jean-Pierre,” said Poulenc, “you know you’ve always wanted me to write a sonata for flute and piano? Well, I’m going to, “he said. “And the best thing is that the Americans will pay for it! I’ve been commissioned by the Coolidge Foundation to write a chamber piece in memory of Elizabeth (Sprague) Coolidge. I never knew her, so I think the piece is yours.” Brimming with brilliance, this work is vintage Poulenc, and a successful performance requires a player who can “do it all”. Mr. Gallois brought out the bursts of optimistic energy with confidence in the first movement, the longing, wistfulness of the second movement, and the joyous whimsy of the “off to the races” finale. Ms. Prinz was with him every step of the way. Played with élan, it was a winning performance. Encores followed, of which I especially liked the “Meditation” from Massenet’s Thaïs, played with delicate beauty.
A final thought – it was particularly striking how synchronized Mr. Gallois and Ms. Prinz were throughout. It was as if they were of the same mind, a “mind-meld” that found them in perfect ensemble without any visual contact or physical cues such as nodding. I have seen other duos that had excellent rapport, but this was truly something above and beyond the norm. This is a pairing that has unlimited potential if they decide to continue as a duo.
-Jeffrey Williams for New York Concert Review; New York, NY
Irrera Brothers at Carnegie Hall
The Irrera Brothers, violinist John, and pianist Joseph, list many credentials separately as soloists, but in Weill Hall this February they joined together in a performance as a duo. It is always interesting when talented soloists play together, but when they are siblings, there is an additional layer of interest. One would expect a connection between the players that would be hard to match. By and large, I found this to be the case.
Beethoven’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major, Op. 96 opened the program. There were balance issues at the very beginning, with the piano covering the violin, and the playing was somewhat tentative. The notes were all there, and there were moments of beauty, but I was hoping for more. Perhaps there was some nervousness at first. The Chaconne in G minor from Italian composer Tomaso Antonio Vitali (1663-1745) followed the Beethoven and whatever nerves might have present prior had happily abated. The balance was excellent, the shaping of the dramatic lines was strongly realized, and the brothers were right with each other as they built the tension into a fever pitch.
The second half opened with the World Premiere of “Bow Shock” by Russell Scarbrough (b. 1972). Written for the Irrera Brothers in 2012, this is a work that showcases their individual and duo talents to the hilt. The composer in his program notes stated, “the term ‘Bow Shock’ comes from the field of aerodynamics and refers to a curved shock wave that proceeds a solid body moving through the atmosphere at supersonic speeds. It’s a great image for this music…and I couldn’t resist the double-entendre with the word ‘bow’.” It is a jazz-tinged, driving, hyper-energetic work that invites the listener to fasten his seatbelt for the ride. It was a win-win-win: the Irreras can be well pleased that this work shows them to such great advantage. Scarbrough should be delighted with such accomplished musicians giving his music such a dynamic performance. Finally, the listener gets the best of both worlds! After this wild ride, it was time to come back to earth with Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op. 22 from Clara Schumann (1819-1896). These works were composed as a gift for the legendary violinist Joseph Joachim. These pieces might at first glance seem light works for the salon, but they require subtlety from the violinist and pianist alike. The Irreras clearly grasped this concept and delivered a performance full of grace, wit, and charm. Ending the program was the Sonata for Violin and Piano in D major, Op. 94a by Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953). Originally scored for flute and piano, it was modified for violin by the composer at the request of his close friend, the great violinist David Oistrakh. This work, although “classical” in form, is unmistakably Prokofiev with its humor, lyricism, and driving energy. The Irreras evidently have a special affinity for this work, as it was a riveting performance. It was the highlight of a very successful concert.
The brothers offered two encores, The first was an arrangement of Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 9, No. 2 (“for Chopin’s birthday,” stated Joseph Irrera, although Chopin himself always stated his birth date as March 1). The second was “Danse espagnole” from Manuel de Falla’s La Vida Breve, as arranged by Fritz Kreisler in 1926.
Na Young Kim
Winner of numerous competitions, appearances throughout the world, and the full complement of degrees and diplomas from Seoul National University, New England Conservatory, Cleveland Institute of Music, and The Ohio State University, pianist Na Young Kim gave her New York debut on February 21, 2013 at Merkin Hall.
The first half of the program was all Beethoven, the Andante favori, WoO 57, and the Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111. The Andante Favori was originally intended as the middle movement of the “Waldstein” Sonata, but Beethoven replaced it with a shorter movement after being criticized for the length of the sonata. As it stands on its own, the decision was well considered and served to improve the dramatic effect of the “Waldstein”. As for the name Andante Favori, Beethoven’s famous pupil Czerny stated, “because of its popularity (for Beethoven played it frequently in society) he gave it the title Andante favori (“favored Andante”). Ms. Kim gave a controlled and confident performance, bringing out the singing tone without allowing its charms to degenerate into something cloying. It was a good start to the evening. The Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111, Beethoven’s final piano sonata, is a work overflowing with stormy drama and transcendent beauty. With a rich performance history, including many of the legends (e.g. Richter, Kempff, Arrau), its programming begs the question of what a new performer is going to “bring to the table”. Happily, Ms. Kim showed herself to be up to the challenge. The opening movement, Maestoso – Allegro con brio ed appassionato, was rendered by Ms. Kim with driving energy, clarity of lines and balance, and excellent pacing throughout. The second movement, Arietta: Adagio molto, semplice e cantabile, was played with steady restraint. Ms Kim showed herself to be a player who patiently brings out Beethoven’s transcendent writing with understanding of the architectural and dramatic demands of this movement. Her pianissimos were amazingly clear, even capturing a music-box sound near the end of the work. It was an inspired performance of one the greatest works of the piano repertoire.
The second half consisted solely of Rachmaninoff’s popular Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 36. Originally composed in 1913, it was revised by the composer in 1931. It is the version that is most often performed today (in addition to that of Vladimir Horowitz, who with Rachmaninoff’s consent made a hybrid version of the 1913 and 1931 versions in 1940). It is a work requiring power, passion, and tremendous technique, which Rachmaninoff had in abundance. Was Ms. Kim up to the demands? From the ferocious way she attacked the opening bars, it was obvious that she was. Sterling technique throughout, power without pounding, and strong dramatic sense abounded in Ms Kim’s reading, making it all seem so easy, perhaps too much so. It was an “A” performance that could have been “A+” with a touch more fire, but a performance of which Ms Kim can well be proud.
Ms. Kim projects an image of calm inner confidence. Everything seems to have been well thought out, planned carefully, and executed with the utmost precision. Not for a moment did she ever appear to be anything but completely in control, which may have led a visually oriented audience to fail to give her the proper respect for her technical prowess. There is little doubt that Ms. Kim has the technique and the intellect to tackle all challenges, but if I had any suggestion, it would be that she could take a few more risks and savor the adventure of her already excellent playing.
For encores, Ms. Kim played the Chopin’s “Minute” Waltz with sparkle and Robert Schumann’s Träumerei from Kinderszenen with tenderness. It was a gentle end to a memorable concert. Na Young Kim is a musician to watch.
- Jeffrey Williams New York Concert Review; New York, NY
Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) : Photo credit: DCINY Production/Hiroyuki Ito
In a concert with the title “Bluegrass 57@7” (the 57 referring to 57th Street, the location of Carnegie Hall, and the 7 referring to the 7:00PM start time), Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a program dedicated to the Bluegrass genre and its various sub-genres. Featuring Bluegrass quintet Monroe Crossing, it had the makings of an interesting and educational evening.
The first half featured the vocal music of composers Pepper Choplin and Joseph M. Martin, with the able support of Monroe Crossing. I do believe the most accurate description of the selections presented would be Bluegrass Gospel. The music was mostly joyful and almost always tonally consonant. Indeed, no dodecaphonists were harmed in the making of this music. Each composer conducted his own works. Highlights of Mr. Choplin’s pieces were the anthem-like “Circle of Love”, featuring the talented vocalist Emily Drennan, and the electrically-charged energy of “Joy on the Mountain”. Mr. Martin’s “Coming Home” with soloist Sue Martin’s emotional vocals was touching. Then the ebullient Martin waved Choplin back to the stage, handing him the conductor’s baton as he took to the piano for his own “Great, Great Morning.” It had the feeling of a revival meeting. It brought the first half to an exuberant close.
The second half opened with selections from Monroe Crossing. Monroe Crossing takes its name as homage to the “father of Bluegrass” Bill Monroe and the fact that his music was the common thread that brought the group together (“we crossed paths through the music of Bill Monroe”). Mandolin player Matt Thompson regaled the audience with stories about the group and its members with both humor and humility. in what was probably a well-rehearsed part of Monroe Crossing’s regular performances. All showmanship and shtick aside, when this ensemble got down to the business of playing, they showed themselves to be not only committed to the art of Bluegrass, but also possessing some serious “chops” as well. The energy was infectious as they played four signature works. All four pieces were crowd pleasers, but the last called “Bullet Train” was just pure fun from start to finish, and the audience roared its approval.
The final work on the program, Carol Barnett’s The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass, was composed with the talents of Monroe Crossing in mind. Matt Thompson told the audience about the challenges Monroe Crossing faced when first receiving their parts. Not all Bluegrass musicians read notated music, as the art of Bluegrass is largely improvisatory, so this “jumble of dots” was a challenge that was overcome by having each player learn his part by listening to a recorded version. After much hard work, the parts were mastered, and Monroe Crossing has performed this work about “40 times”, according to Thompson. Composer Carol Barnett stated, “My highest hope is that listeners coming from one tradition, classical or bluegrass (and perhaps dubious about the other), might discover something new and wonderful in the combination”. It was an interesting thought and a worthy goal, but one also might feel that neither classical nor bluegrass enthusiasts would be fully satisfied by the end result. The work is quite moving in sections, and the addition of Monroe Crossing added color, but it is open to debate how much “Bluegrass” was present amid some of the more sophisticated rhythms. Marisha Chamberlain’s libretto is quite provocative in sections, including an unconventional Credo, the thinly veiled 9/11/01 reference in the third verse of the ballad, and the feminization of God in the Conclusion. Conductor Nancy Menk was charged with the challenge of bringing this interesting concept to life, which she did with marked ability. Any reservations I might have had were of no concern to the audience, who responded with a prolonged standing ovation. The Gloria was repeated as an encore to the delight of the audience. Ms. Barnett and Ms. Chamberlain joined the conductor on stage for bows.
- Jeffrey Williams for New York Concert Review; New York, NY
James Kim: Photo credit: Ryan Moon
There are debuts and debuts: the blood bank of human endeavor is forever bringing new musical talent to the fore. But I daresay, the recital of a 19-year-old cellist at Weill Hall on February 3rd was more than merely excellent, it was an historical coming of a fully honed master virtuoso; one is compelled to formulate new standards for the golden instrument!
Young Mr. Kim came to us with formidable credentials. The young artist was born in Seoul, Korea in 1993 and began his studies with Susan Moses, with whom he worked for five years at the University of Indiana in Bloomington. During this time he also received tutelage from Janos Starker, and later from Laurence Lesser at the New England Conservatory. He also enrolled at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts, and is currently studying at Yale with Aldo Parisot. It goes without saying that during his apprenticeship to some of the most illustrious and revered pedagogues of his instrument, Mr. Kim has garnered competition prizes and performance laurels (e.g. The Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall; the NEC Youth Orchestra at Jordan Hall; the Korean Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra in his native South Korea– just to cite a few of his accomplishments–before making his official debut at Weill Hall).
But all of this foregoing is commonplace: after a few astonishing and beautifully tapered, long spun phrases of Schubert’s “Arpeggione” Sonata, D.821, this astonished and experienced connoisseur realized that James Kim is a miracle. Never mind my hyperbole; the absolute perfection of his playing, technically, musically and communicatively, had me recalling Casals, Fournier, Rostropovich and Tortelier (of a very different school) but likewise, Feuermann, Yo-Yo-Ma, Miklós Perényi, Heifetz (of a closely analogous virtuoso persuasion), and of course Kim’s mentors, Starker and Parisot. Never before, have I encountered such winged ease, such airborne joy, such silken smooth bowing and tone production. All of these facets were present at the service of stylistic knowledge, bracing rhythmic thrust and most importantly, an inviting warmth and modest honesty.
The Schubert Sonata was played with the first movement repeat, forward momentum and necessary flexibility. Kim’s assisting pianist, Larry Weng, a pupil of Boris Berman at Yale, supplied spot-on ensemble and concentration. He also won a “Brownie Point” by using the Barenreiter Edition, with its corrected harmonies in the central Adagio.
The Debussy D Minor Sonata that followed also had the requisite impetuosity and unpredictability. Altogether, a volatile, wonderfully shaded and exquisitely timed rendition from both protagonists.
Isang Yun’s short unaccompanied piece, “Glissees pour violoncello seul”, especially written for a competition in 1970, makes, as intended, fiendishly difficult demands on the player, but Kim mastered these hurdles as if they were child’s play.
The Mendelssohn D Major Sonata, Op. 58 (more frequently played than its predecessor, No. 1 in B-Flat) took off in a shower of gravel, a galloping interpretation (with pianist Weng as an ideal co-jockey).
There was an encore, too: Rostropovich’s Humoreske, which resembled David Popper’s “Elfentanz”, albeit with an unfamiliar, sinister spice.
-Harris Goldsmith for New York Concert Review; New York, NY
The title “Olympic Challenge Competition” may seem to suggest athletics rather than the more subjective field of music, but the name does suit the heroic efforts showcased recently in a concert of its young winners, ages 5-18, presented by the “You Need Music” Educational and Performing Enterprise. Offering a great incentive to practice and a much-needed chance to perform, “You Need Music” has been growing, according to the director, to draw students from all over the country. As the presenter’s website itself states, ”’You Need Music’ offers the unique opportunity to play at Carnegie Hall for children who put their effort in learning music without a goal to become professionals, but for the sheer love of performing.” Whether or not on a professional track, the twenty-five soloists on violin, cello, and piano (selected from DVD screening and live audition) had clearly invested tremendous energy and discipline to reach levels that were in some instances of a professional quality. Several players, as one would expect for the age range, experienced struggles with technique, focus, intonation, and other matters, but the level was generally high and in all cases was promising. Their concert at Weill Hall, as well as being a “victory lap” of sorts, was to further select three top winners to continue to a February 24th recital at Merkin Hall, with monetary prizes. As it turned out there were two Special Mentions (without monetary prizes) as well. I would have added several more, or exchanged one or two, but such is the nature of competitions. Having adjudicated for four hours for a different organization on the same day, I came to this event with many contest-related issues already in mind.
First of all, this audience at Weill Hall was not told the individual ages of performers, though one could hazard some guesses (and there were no college students allowed). It was also not clear whether the three judges were privy to age information, and one was uncertain whether awards were being made based on current development or potential for later success. Knowing numeric ages can be prejudicial – as in the psychologically misleading single-digit 9 versus double-digit 10 (with perhaps a birthdate difference of only a few months), making one child seem comparatively precocious; there can be equal misjudgments, though, on a visual premise, for instance assumptions based on height. The ideal solution may be a single artistic standard, but how is that really possible within a 13-year age range? One hopes for true discernment, but the cited Olympian “criteria” from the contest’s website, comparing musical qualities to attributes of Zeus, Poseidon, and Athena, seemed not to be terribly relevant or helpful in this case. It may add to the administrative work, but I would recommend a few separate age categories. It would also make possible eliminations more palatable for the older players.
Among these more mature players, William Hume, pianist, would have been one of my choices as a winner. He delivered Kapustin’s very difficult Concert Etude Op. 40, No. 1, with the fluency and ease of a veteran performer. He could certainly have a musical profession in his future, so I was disappointed that he was not chosen for something. Also among the teenagers, Mika Lin, violinist, gave an account of Bach’s Sonata No. 1 (Adagio and Presto) that was commendable for a pre-college-aged student. Pianist Orcin Akman handled the challenges of Liszt’s “Gnomenreigen” with such spirit and clarity that I had her in mind for the top winner, while pianist Deniz Akman savored and explored every ounce of drama in his rendition of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# minor.
Several players were outstanding among the (seemingly) much younger set, including pianist William Chen, performing Liszt’s La Leggierezza, and violinist Matthew Ho, taking on the challenging Praeludium and Allegro of Kreisler. Also impressive were very young pianists Joy Xu (the first I’ve ever beheld playing Debussy’s Dr. Gradus ad Parnassum with the aid of a pedal extender meant for the tiniest players), Annie Gu, who opened fearlessly with Chopin’s Polonaise in G minor, and Dylan Wang, highly self-assured for one so young in Bach’s Concerto in A Major, BWV 1055. Amid the concert’s torrent of notes, young pianist Darina Korneeva played a relatively simple Sarabande (by a composer listed as “Lak”) with genuine tenderness of feeling. One has years to learn octaves and scales, but this little one saw that no note was wasted.
In the end, the First Prize went to William Chen and the Second to Orcin Akman, both mentioned above. Third Prize went to Eugenia Zhang, a violinist who had bravely tackled Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole (first movement). Special mention went to Deniz Akman and Joseph Maldjian, the latter who had played Shostakovich’s “Hurdy-Gurdy” from “Dances of the Dolls.”
Judges were Ilya Kazanstev (piano), Aisha Dossumova (violin), and Slava Znatchenii (oboe). It was a refreshing touch to have them precede the children’s recital with performances of their own, setting a high bar. Opening was the Solo de Concert for oboe of Émile Paladilhe, followed by Kupkovic’s Souvenir for violin (think Vaudeville meets Paganini). Both works were admirably accompanied by Dmitri Korneev at the piano. Closing the jurors’ performances was Mr. Kazantsev (whom I reviewed favorably about five years ago), tossing off the Kreisler-Rachmaninoff Liebesfreud beautifully.
-Rorianne Schrade for New York Concert Review; New York, NY
Novus String Quartet
In a Carnegie concert sponsored by Sejong Soloists, the Novus String Quartet did an excellent job of presenting stylistically authentic performances of varied music by Mozart, Ligeti, and Dvorak. The Mozart was particularly impressive, as its exposed, transparent strands were beautifully shaped with clean textures and impeccable intonation. The violinists Jae-Young Kim and Young-Uk Kim, the violist Seung-Won Lee, and the cellist Woong-Whee Moon were all rhythmically in sync too. The challenging Ligeti String Quartet No. 1, “Metamorphoses Nocturnes”, poses its share of complexities, and Novus handled obstacles with ease. They were well-prepared.
Their preparation was also in evidence with Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 13 in G Major, a late opus composed near the time of the cello concerto. The work has both the transparencies of the Mozart and the dense counterpoint of the Ligeti, and Novus solved difficulties with aplomb, presenting a fluid, confident performance of the first order. On top of that, they homogeneously sang out Dvorak’s expressive folk-like music with charm and eloquence.
This ensemble will go far. They clearly have an affinity for the classical style, but also modern works and romantic staples. In an effort to broaden their repertoire, they are currently taking the Konzertexamen degree course under the guidance of Christoph Poppen and Hariolf Schlichtig at the Hochschule fur Musik und Theater Munchen (Academy of Music and performing Arts Munich) . Over the last five years, (the group was founded in 2007 by violinist Jae-Young Kim), Novus has been the recipient of many prizes and awards, such as at the Lyon International, the Osaka, the Haydn, and the ARD in Germany. Most recently, Novus has appeared at the Seoul Spring Chamber Festival, and the highlight of the season was marked by their performance tour through Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama, sponsored by the Korea Foundation. The tour not only attracted wide media attention and great audience response, but it helped bring together the music and talented artists of Korea and Latin American countries. This is commendable work. They seem interested in bringing their collective talent to places and people that are under-nourished in classical music. They are the right group to do this, as they are building a broad repertoire and presenting it with charisma and skill.
“The Sounds of War and Peace: Chapter 2″
“The Sounds of War and Peace,” a two-evening event begun January 20th, continued on January 21st with Chapter 2 – The music of Karl Jenkins. The United States premiere (and second performance worldwide) of Songs of the Earth was programmed with The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace and its accompanying film (also entitled The Armed Man), and it had the promise of being a fascinating evening.
The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace is probably the most frequently performed work by Karl Jenkins; in fact, it might be one of the most frequently performed works of any contemporary classical composer. Since its premiere in April 2000, The Armed Man has been performed worldwide well over 1000 times – an average of twice a week. Although I have heard this work on recording countless times and know it well, a live performance of The Armed Man is an experience that never ceases to move me.
The Armed Man is a thirteen-movement work for orchestra, chorus and vocal soloists. Using the 15th century French song L’homme Armé as a starting point, the theme is that the armed man must be feared – an idea that is still with us in the 21st century. Using sections of the Latin Mass, the Bible, The Mahabharata, and words from Kipling, Dryden, Tennyson, Mallory, Swift, Togi Sankichi, and Guy Wilson, this hour-long work is a journey through the preparations for battle, prayers for deliverance, the call to arms, the horrors of the battle, and its aftermath, with the final declaration that “peace is better than always war”.
The accompanying film I have always had mixed feelings about. It was premiered in its current form in Johannesburg, South Africa in September 2007. The images are powerful and often disturbing, as I am sure was the intent, to highlight the horrors of war. Quoting Jenkins, the film “greatly enhances the musical performances and inevitably leaves the audience emotionally drained, often in tears.” I understand Jenkins’ viewpoint, but I also believe the music is powerful enough to stand on its own without any imagery.
Conductor Jonathan Griffith knows this work well and his mastery was immediately obvious. His steady leadership kept everything under control, even deftly tackling a small ensemble problem in the “Better is Peace” movement that could have turned into a disaster. He brought it back on-track almost instantly. The Distinguished Concerts Orchestra played, especially the percussion section, with the fire this work demands. The chorus was well-prepared and a worthy collaborator to the orchestra. It was notable that the sopranos did not crash on the jagged rocks of “Charge!” in which the high A’s have claimed countless victims. Highlights included the cello solo in the Benedictus, and Iman Shamsi Ali in his off-stage Adhaan. The four vocal soloists were all impressive in their roles, limited though they were. My one disappointment was the surprisingly timid brass in the “Charge!” This was a time for them to really come to the fore and it just did not happen. All-in-all, it was a inspired performance that was held the listener from the opening snare drum marching cadence, to the chorus singing the healing words of Revelation 21:4, to end the work.
The Vocal Ensemble Brevis, an all-female choir from Croatia took to the stage to open the second half. Led by Antoaneta Radocaj-Jakovic, they presented works from the Croatian composers Josip Hatze (1879-1959) and Slavko Zlatic (1910-1961). Hatze’s Ljuven Sanak (Sweet Dreams) was especially soothing after the emotionally demanding first half of the concert. Zlatic’s Varijacije na nardonu temu (Variations on a Folk Theme) was an interesting work that deserves to better known. It was disappointing that the program notes omitted any information about the composers, the pieces, or the ensemble. This excellent assemblage deserved its proper recognition. As a way to bridge the two large Jenkins works, the ensemble ended with his Adiemus, which they performed with great energy and polish.
While the orchestra and chorus members returned to the stage, Griffith invited Karl Jenkins to the stage to have an impromptu discussion about his new work, Songs of the Earth. Jenkins told the audience that the work came from a commission from the Cultural Olympics. He decided to use the idea of Greek mythology as the basis for the work. Jenkins’ “invented language”, first used in the Adiemus project, was the text for Songs of the Earth. Jenkins explained this gives the composer great flexibility in tone and rhythm in the vocal writing. The six movements were selected because Jenkins found them “musically stimulating” as opposed to following any defined story lines.
Songs of the Earth is an interesting combination of the early Jenkins (Adiemus and the jazz influences from his Soft Machine days) with the larger works, such as The Armed Man, Stabat Mater, and The Peacemakers. The opening movement,” Khaos”, is aptly titled. An improvised saxophone solo plays over the pulsating rhythms of the orchestra and the chorus. It has a primordial quality suggesting the birth of the unformed universe. The second movement, “Gaia: Mother Earth” has the chorus chanting her name over and over in a worshipful manner or ritualistic adoration. “Ouranos and the Heavens”, the third movement, has an ethereal quality, with a singing violin solo and another improvised saxophone solo. The fourth movement, “Dance of the Titans”, with its ever changing meter (one bar 7/8, the next bar 3/4, then the pattern repeats), has a quirky feeling that at times boarders on the grotesque. “Tethys, Goddess of Fountains and Stream”, the fifth movement, has a flowing, water-like feel that the title suggests and features another extended saxophone solo. The final movement, “The Pit of Tartarus” has a relentless driving energy that is strongly akin to the Paradisi Gloria from Jenkins’ own Stabat Mater.
Mr. Jenkins should be pleased at the fine performance of his new work which made it a great success. Congratulations are in order for the chorus from Pennsburry, Pennsylvania (consisting of the High School Concert and Women’s Concert choirs with the Community Chorus), the Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, and conductor Griffith, who combined their considerable talents to make it all come together. Songs of the Earth should take its place with other of Mr. Jenkins’ popular works, and I’m sure his many fans will be looking forward to future performances.
-Jeffrey Williams for New York Concert Review: New York, NY
Oberlin Orchestra; Photo Credit: Chris Lee
The Oberlin Orchestra sounded polished and impressive in their Carnegie Hall Concert on January 19th. The music was challenging, including Ravel’s “La Valse” and Stravinsky’s “Firebird” (1919), and the young players rose to the occasion, sounding highly professional–especially in the execution of complex rhythms. The percussion nailed those complexities with ease and solidity of sound, the brass and winds were expressive and noble–even during tricky sections, and the strings were clear and energetic at all times. In Ravel’s “La Valse”, for example, the violins employed every bow stroke, vibrato and portamento with precision and unity.
One could quibble with the lack of sheer tonal strength in the strings, but this may have been due to the brass and percussion overpowering them at times. Or it may have been due to the inferior quality of some of the string instruments (after all, not every student can afford something top-notch yet). Here is something a little esoteric: the influence of the major orchestra in town could enter the attitudes of the major conservatory in town. In other words, it may be that the sound of the pristine, elegant Cleveland Orchestra is in the air.The Oberlin Orchestra in many ways sounded like a young Cleveland Orchestra: polished and elegant, but not necessarily powerfully robust–and that is not a negative, but simply a tradmark characteristic. Conductor Raphael Jimenez did a wonderful job of balancing the sections of the Ravel and Stravinsky, and bringing out the various colors in Christopher Rouse’s “Iscariot”, a dissonant work reminiscent of Ives, from 1989. All these works require an excellent navigator for the heavy orchestration, and Jimenez made these textures transparent. He also deserves credit for preparing the ensemble so well. Most of these young musicians have never played in Carnegie Hall, and any nerves were tempered by Jimenez’s controlled, collected podium style. That said, Jimenez might have allowed for more abandonment and chaos in certain sections of the Ravel. This is a not an effervescent, ebullient Johann Strauss Jr. Waltz, but rather a parody of it–music that gets more and more out of control.
Rouse, an outstanding composer who is Composer-in-Residence of the New York Philharmonic and an Oberlin alumnus (graduating class of 1971), made a welcome onstage appearance. A younger alumnus, the accomplished Jeremy Denk (a 1990 graduate), performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467. Denk gave an impressively speedy and facile performance, but one that still found time to be sensitive to all the music’s phrasing and harmonic shifts. The ensemble between orchestra and soloist was superbly homogenius. The quality of the strings and winds was very high, imbued with clarity of rhythm and excellent intonation.
This evening at Carnegie Hall was a wonderful celebration of Oberlin’s depth of talent and the school’s and students’ accomplishments. Oberlin is no doubt a great place to be if you want to make a deep impact as a musician.
-Anthony Aibel for New York Concert Review: New York, NY
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