Non Profit Music Foundation presents Eduardo Frias in Review

Non Profit Music Foundation presents Eduardo Frias in Review

Eduardo Frias, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
October 3, 2017

 

A disappointingly small audience turned out for what proved to be a well-played evening of contemporary Spanish piano music, about which, however, I had some reservations.

Eduardo Frias has made himself a champion of the piano music of Jorge Grundman, whose complete works for piano (up to 2016) were played on this occasion. He has worked side-by-side with the composer on developing this music, and he has also recently recorded them on Sony Classical.

Mr. Frias has an uncannily beautiful sound, especially at the softer dynamics, piano all the way down to ppppp. He never loses expressivity, and understands the nature of rubato. At the few louder moments in the program however, his sound grew strident. He used scores for the concert, yet did not deliver a “note-perfect” rendition of all the works, especially in those rare instances when the music got a bit rambunctious, breaking out of its gauzy moderato softness.

The music of Mr. Grundman was previously unknown to me, and since this is a rare and precious event in the life of a busy reviewer, I was looking forward to hearing it. He calls himself a “music writer” rather than a composer, whatever that means; and he has written chamber music and operas, besides this piano output.

Unfortunately, the piano music all sounded extremely similar: poignant, lyrical, and mournful, but too often with predictable formulae and cliché gestures. There were a few melodic moments that were compelling, but the main interest is in the harmonic changes. Mr. Grundman sounds like a neo-romantic composer combined with a minimalist (perhaps with more heart, but less craft).

In his mission statement, taken from his own website, he states: “I am sorry because there is nothing new in the music I write and, moreover, it was not even my intention. This might be the reason why I prefer to say that I consider myself a writer of music more than a composer. I just try to tell stories through the music narrative. I do this in the simplest, almost naive way possible. However, if there is something that leads me when I start writing a piece, it is to avoid communicating something tiring and boring. I want people to find my music sentimental and moving and also, as far as possible, to fancy listening to it again. I am talking about being accessible to the listener and the performers. In other words, I do not write for composers.”

I agree that he accomplishes nearly everything he said. The music is indeed sentimental, and sometimes quite moving. I just don’t feel there is enough strength on the compositional side to make it enduring. His justifications are numerous, all in this direction, and he claims humility as his start- and endpoint, but that seems like a defense. (Critics have been wrong many times before!) His titles verge on maudlin, though they must come from a very sincere place (Who Remembers Beauty When Sadness Knocks at Your Door? and We Are the Forthcoming Past).

Despite the attenuated Alberti-bass figure in Mozartiana, there was very little of either homage or even pastiche in it. The same was also the case for Haydiniana. Only in Chopiniana was the overt shadow of Chopin’s Etude Op. 10, No. 12 (“Revolutionary”) evoked, a bit heavy-handedly. These three pieces comprise the “Genius Suite for Sara.”

Of the four Piano Fantasies, I found Will Not Remove My Hope to be the most successful. The Lullaby for the Son of a Pianist had an appealing wistfulness, making ample use of Mr. Frias’s gorgeous whisper-soft playing.

For me, and I’m certainly willing to admit that I was not on the wavelength of this composer, Mr. Frias should lavish his talent on music that is of higher quality. From the first notes he played, I was immediately reminded of some of the sonorities of Giya Kancheli or Arvo Pärt. I wish him success in his performing career.

 

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Canta! Canta! Canta! in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Canta! Canta! Canta! in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Canta! Canta! Canta!
Cabrillo Symphonic and Youth Choirs, Cheryl M. Anderson, conductor
Ensemble Monterey Chamber Orchestra; Cabrillo Symphonic and Youth Choirs, John D. Anderson, conductor
Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Francisco Núñez, composer/conductor; Kristen Kemp, piano; Steve Picataggio, percussion
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
June 26, 2017

The final choral offering of the 2016/17 season presented by Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) fell into two highly contrasted halves, musically and culturally, the whole making a complementary and enjoyable evening.

The first two offerings were by Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds, who has become highly sought after in his field. His music evokes natural and cosmic vistas with beautiful use of accessible diatonic tunes, tone clusters, soaring descants, and good quality texts. The Long Road is a Latvian poem (sung here in English translation) about a young woman whose lover she has lost to war, she yearns for their reunion but realizes that that may constitute a “long road.” As conducted by Cheryl M. Anderson, the radiance of the music perfectly underscored every line of text, which was rendered crystal clear by the large choir.

Then followed the New York premiere of what one might term an “environmental” piece: Mr. Ešenvalds’ Sunset in My Hand: Ancient Voices of the Wild Pacific Coast. The work was extremely effective at portraying the moods of the sophisticated poems (by Teasdale, Neruda, Gioia, Steinbeck, Jeffers, and an anonymous Franciscan monk) as each one of them contemplates a different aspect of nature, hence reflecting upon themselves too. John D. Anderson led the group beautifully. One of the movements, Prayer at Winter Solstice, contained a slow-ticking metronome, with which the choir was deliberately supposed to sing “out-of-sync” to show the difference between measured time and “felt” time. This was the only problematic movement for me, as the metronome interfered with the gorgeous choral output. My personal favorite was Evening Ebb, a meditation at sunset on the ocean shore. Its rising and falling palindromic cluster chord repetitions were stunning. The inclusion of an Ohlone chant (the indigenous tribe of the San Francisco/Monterey region) in the final section, I Hold the Sunset in My Hand, was a nod to California’s colonial history.

My only suggestion to Ēriks Ešenvalds would be to create more variety of tempo in his otherwise transcendent output. Everything sounds very stretchy, like slow floating. I would have liked to hear this central-California coastal group cut loose in something with a bit more rowdy energy.

After intermission, Francisco J. Nuñez took the stage with his own renowned Young People’s Chorus of New York City, part of a composite group that included many other children’s choirs from across the US. Mr. Nuñez is a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellow “Genius” grant, and has devoted his life to the creation and commissioning of quality accessible choral materials for children, works that will teach not only musical skills (while providing enjoyment) but also moral precepts such as diversity, strength, and faith.

His set was mainly of shorter “fun” pieces like the traditional Spanish song De Colores (colors of the rainbow and sounds of animals) and Pinwheels (joy of young people spinning and turning), but the Misa Pequeña Para Niños, an abbreviated Catholic Mass setting in Spanish was a novelty to me—its tiny dimensions coordinating with the children singing it. Four young soloists with great self-possession fulfilled the brief solo parts nicely. May I also note that the choir’s diction was clear as well, an accomplishment not so easy to achieve. An uncredited duo, one playing flute/piccolo/clarinet, the other violin, added excellent evocative sonorities to the piano and percussion.

The concert concluded with a rousing performance of La Sopa de Isabel (Elizabeth’s soup), a merengue that involved all manner of eurhythmic clapping, stomping, turning, etc. Mr. Nuñez’s sheer joy in this work was front and center, his hips grew ever looser with each repetition, and it was clear how much the children enjoyed working with him and he with them.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Song/Play in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Song/Play in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Song/Play
Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra (NC); Ernest Pereira, Director
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Cristian Grases, Guest Conductor
María Guinand, Guest Conductor
Alberto Grau, DCINY Composer-in-Residence
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
Saturday, June 17, 2017, 7 PM

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented an intriguing mix of French-“Spanish” music, music by Spaniards who studied in Paris, and one Spanish-born composer who has spent most of his life in Venezuela, working with young musicians.

 

The Charlotte Youth Symphony, ably conducted by Ernest Pereira, began with Chabrier’s evergreen orchestral rhapsody España, already so ubiquitous in its time (1883) that it was parodied by Satie a generation later as Españaña (1913). The players’ youthful enthusiasm was equaled by their instrumental ability. The notorious fortissimo outburst of the trombones made its (unintentionally?) humorous mark.

 

They followed with the Act II ballet music from Massenet’s opera Le Cid (1885). “Beginning of Act II ballets” were an onerous requirement for composers, so that members of Paris’ ultra-elite Jockey Club could have their intermission dinners (or clandestine affairs) and make it back to the opera house without missing anything of the actual opera. The five short sections reflect different regions of Spain, with appropriate musical symbols that represent the Frenchman’s “idea” of Spain, an obsession ever since Bizet’s Carmen (and even before) that would continue into the masterworks of Debussy and Ravel.

 

Then came two shorter works by Spanish composers who studied in Paris in the early twentieth century, where they were encouraged by their professors to develop their own nationalistic voices rather than try to recreate the sounds of “Impressionism.” Manuel de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance, from his ballet El Amor brujo (Love, the Sorcerer, 1914/15) is a musical exorcism that has not lost its hypnotic power, and it was well-played here. Turina’s Orgia (Danzas fantasticas, Op. 22, 1919), an Andalusian farruca (dramatic flamenco dance usually performed by men), is preceded in the score by a line from the novel that inspired the work: “The perfume of the flowers merged with the odor of manzanilla, and from the bottom of raised glasses, full of the incomparable wine, like an incense, rose joy.” All of this was enjoyably audible in the performance.

 

After intermission came two works by the Spanish-born Alberto Grau (b. 1937), who has spent most of his life in Venezuela developing high-quality choral works for children’s choirs. Venezuela is of course noted for its astonishing music education program El Sistema, which has produced the conductor Gustavo Dudamel, among many others.

 

The first work, La Doncella (The Maiden, 1978), is a short fable about a girl whose beauty wins over the sun, moon, and stars, when other, wealthier suitors are rejected by them. Mr. Grau’s characteristic shifting metrics enlivened the score, and they posed no problem either to orchestra or choir, conducted by Cristian Grases, a student of Mr. Grau. An English-language narration was provided on stage, very expressively, to illumine the suite of dances.

 

During the switch-out of choruses, a brief interview was held with Mr. Grau and his wife Maria Guinand (the next conductor on the program) who translated charmingly for him.

 

Then came the World Premiere of La Avispa Brava (The Angry Wasp), which Mr. Grau puckishly claims is autobiographical, though that is hard to believe. It is a moral fable about the insect (i.e. person) who is so consumed by anger that she cannot escape from a house that has all its windows and doors open. She falls into a glass of water “so small even a mosquito could save itself from it,” but our angry insect instead rages and drowns. Ms. Guinand’s supportive, energetic touch kept the extremely young singers in line, with more of the complicated rhythms, and lots of eurhythmic activity: clapping, stomping, vocal whooshes and slides. There were charming “group solos” and all the choristers were wearing insect antennae, wings, and various costume details. Were they musically “perfect” at every moment? Of course not, but what valuable exposure they are getting at such a young age.

 

The message of La Avispa Brava is a valuable one, not only for children’s growth and maturity, but for the adult world as well, as Ms. Guinand suggested during the interview.

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Sancta Civitas & Dona Nobis Pacem: The Music of Vaughan Williams in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Sancta Civitas & Dona Nobis Pacem: The Music of Vaughan Williams in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Sancta Civitas & Dona Nobis Pacem: The Music of Vaughan Williams
Nina Nash-Robertson, Guest Conductor; Latoya Lain, soprano; Eric Tucker, bass-baritone
Craig Jessop, Guest Conductor; Kerry Wilkerson, baritone
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
June 11, 2017

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a marvelous afternoon concert devoted entirely to the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, with two infrequently heard works, one of which was a Carnegie Hall premiere. The first piece was the cantata Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant Us Peace). Those words come from the Agnus Dei section of the Mass. However, Vaughan Williams makes use of three poems written just after the Civil War by Walt Whitman, and a portion of a mid-nineteenth century British political speech to intensify his fervent appeal for an end to senseless human conflict. Vaughan Williams enlisted in World War I (at age forty-two, mind you) and drove ambulances in France, Belgium, and Greece. He saw plenty of carnage, and was forever affected by it. The Dona Nobis Pacem was premiered in 1936, when Europe was only a few years from yet another conflagration.

Nina Nash-Robertson led the excellent Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and the composite choir (she got to bring her “home choir” from Michigan in addition to the others) in a performance that was brisk and always bracingly transparent even when the choral and instrumental writing gets complicated. The choir was thrilling in the forte sections, and very good at the softer ones too. The soprano soloist, Latoya Lain, had a gorgeous voice, with deep sincerity of expression and a wonderful variety of colors—she reminded me of a combination of what is best about Leontyne Price and Jessye Norman. The baritone soloist, Eric Tucker, was more successful in the second of his major solos: The Angel of Death, where his stentorian quality fit the mood. I didn’t feel that he found the tender sadness of Reconciliation, in which Whitman realizes, as he looks at his dead enemy’s body in the coffin, that he is “a man as divine as myself,” tenderly kissing the brow of the departed. The Dirge for Two Veterans was heart-rending, wherein a mother looks down, in the form of moonlight, on a funeral procession for her husband and son, killed on the same day. When the moon appears, the shimmer of string sound was magical.

Men don’t ever seem to learn the lessons of warfare in any lasting way, but Vaughan Williams believed that artists had to be messengers of hope.

After intermission, Jonathan Griffith, the co-founder of DCINY and its principal conductor, presented the DCINY Educator Laureate award to conductor Craig Jessop, who led the next work, Sancta Civitas (The Holy City), a Carnegie Hall premiere. In his remarks, Mr. Jessop said how much he learned from Robert Shaw, one of his choral mentors. Indeed, he had a “Shaw-like” quality to his own conducting that made this apocalyptic vision from Revelations even more intense. To name but one of his many accomplishments- Mr. Jessop led the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from 1999 to 2008, earning many Grammys in the process.

The main choir was on stage (Mr. Jessop also had his “home choir” from Logan, UT, as one of the composite), a divided balcony choir was on either side in the front of the hall, and the “distant” choir (and trumpet), Vaughan Williams’ specification, was all the way at the back of the hall, though it could have used some more acoustic “distance” of the sort provided by the great British cathedrals. The spacial distribution worked like a charm. The concertmaster, Jorge Ávila, was radiant in his personification of the human soul ascending in the And I Saw a New Heaven section, which sounded a lot like a less-ornamented “cousin” of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Mr. Ávila had also been perfect in the Reconciliation movement of Dona Nobis Pacem. The English horn and trumpet solos also were sensitively done. Baritone soloist Kerry Wilkerson rendered all his interjections beautifully, with clear diction and mellow “British” tone.

“Babylon the great is fallen” cried the chorus, and my mind went to the many cities in Iraq (and elsewhere) that have shared the same fate. Another Dona Nobis Pacem moment.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) and The Tyler Clementi Foundation present Portraits of Healing: Tyler’s Suite and the Music of Ola Gjeilo in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) and The Tyler Clementi Foundation present Portraits of Healing: Tyler’s Suite and the Music of Ola Gjeilo in Review

 Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) and The Tyler Clementi Foundation present Portraits of Healing: Tyler’s Suite and the Music of Ola Gjeilo
James M. Meaders, DCINY Associate Artistic Director and conductor
Ola Gjeilo, DCINY Composer-in-Residence, piano
Tim Seelig, Conductor Laureate
Stephen Schwartz, DCINY Composer-in-Residence
Michael McCorry Rose, Special Guest Artist
Andrew Caldwell, tenor; Steve Huffness, bass; Nancy Nail, mezzo-soprano; Keilan Christopher, tenor; Jorge Ávila, violin; Carl Pantle, piano
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International
David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, New York, NY
June 4, 2017

 

Talk about a concert with a mission! Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented the very moving New York premiere of Tyler’s Suite, a work commissioned by the Tyler Clementi Foundation in 2012 (the 2014 world premiere was in San Francisco) to honor the memory of the eighteen-year-old college freshman who committed suicide nearly seven years ago, due to intense, vile, cyber-bullying. We will get to that work , which comprised the second half of the concert, later.

The concert opened with four choruses by the Norwegian-born composer Ola Gjeilo, an eminence in the field, despite not yet having reached age 40. Even their texts seemed to relate to Tyler Clementi. For me, the standout was Dark Night of the Soul, from the poem by St. John of the Cross, the Counter-Reformation mystic whose sacred raptures border on the erotic. “One dark night,/fired with love’s urgent longings/–ah, the sheer grace!–/I went out unseen,/my house being now all stilled,” for example. Mr. Gjeilo is what I call a “maximal minimalist,” at times sounding like a descendent of Philip Glass, but with much greater access to emotion, and much more romantic. The Dark Night was preceded by The Ground, a reworking of a portion of Mr. Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass that had a beautiful three-note “Brahmsian” motive. Then came the phoenix legend reconsidered beautifully in Across the Vast, Eternal Sky. Finally, a counterpart to Dark was provided by the Luminous Night of the Soul, words mostly by Charles Silvestri, but with the inclusion of more St. John of the Cross. The composite choir was excellent, with absolutely stunning blends, surely the achievement of the conductor; the composer himself was the pianist, along with the strings of the Distinguished Concerts orchestra. Mr. Gjeilo’s sensitive rendition of the extended piano interlude in Luminous Night was breathtaking.

 

DCINY, Tyler’s Suite Dr. Timothy G. Seelig, Conductor Laureate
Stephen Schwartz, DCINY Composer-in-Residence
Carl Pantle, Piano

After intermission came the main event, Tyler’s Suite– a collaboration among nine of today’s most celebrated composers: John Bucchino, Ann Hampton Callaway, Craig Carnelia, John Corigliano, Stephen Flaherty, Nolan Gasser, Jake Heggie, Lance Horne, and Stephen Schwartz, with the libretto by Pamela Stewart, Mark Adamo, and Joe Clementi. Jane Clementi, Tyler’s mother, was introduced by composer Stephen Schwartz (of multi-Broadway show fame). I don’t understand how any mother (or parent, sibling, or friend) can ever truly “heal” from such an immense loss, however, she spoke with great composure and passion about the need for kindness and an end to bullying (online and offline), harassment, and humiliation. The family started the Tyler Clementi Foundation in the hope that their worst nightmare would not have to happen to anyone else. Tyler’s father even collaborated in part of the libretto.

The work is in nine sections, with a violin solo prominent (due to Tyler Clementi’s talent on that instrument), piano, SATB choir, and soloists. There was one lighter moment in The Unicycle Song, about Tyler’s ability to play the violin while riding, you guessed it, a unicycle. The points of view of mother, father, and brother were all represented in this collaborative work, whose composers aren’t identified by specific section, nor are librettists identified by whose words are which—they truly meld their identities in the service of this memorial.

As Jane Clementi said, she truly believes that perhaps only music has the power to reach inside and transform someone’s attitudes and soul. Overall, the work was at all times beautiful, but very difficult for me emotionally, but what is my discomfort compared to the family’s grief. Perhaps some of that was due to the raw, literal nature of the words. The children’s nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down” (in the movement called A Wish), though conceived years ago for this work, seemed strangely prescient given yesterday’s terrorism in London on that very bridge. It caused me to think about whether it is proper to take aesthetic enjoyment as a result of someone’s tragedy. However, if that were the case, we wouldn’t have Shostakovich’s Babi Yar symphony either. The soloists and choir were very, very good; and it was great to see the concertmaster of the Distinguished Concerts orchestra properly credited (he was the violin “embodiment” of Tyler Clementi).

This work should be required listening for every high school and college. Click here to watch the live video of the concert. Please be kind, people, and use social media for good purposes only.

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) Artist Series presents Ian Gindes in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) Artist Series presents Ian Gindes in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) Artist Series presents Ian Gindes
Ian Gindes, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
May 30, 2017

 

The Memorial Day weekend concluded with a solo piano recital by a Captain in the Army National Guard, Ian Gindes, who has a formidable piano study pedigree (including a D. Mus. Arts). His recital was a study in stark contrast, with his best work in the twentieth-century American repertoire that he has made his calling card.

He began with an account of Bach’s first Partita (B-Flat major, BWV 825), and he kept his right foot far away from the sustaining pedal, which in itself is admirable, but which in this case led to somewhat stiff, wooden readings of all but the final movement. His contrapuntal clarity was good, but he never rolled a single chord in the entire work, which was particularly detrimental in the Sarabande, making it sound heavy rather than sensual. In the Menuet II, he did not wait the correct amount of time before beginning the repeats, rushing instead and creating a sort of unease in this listener. Finally, in the concluding Gigue, joy entered his fingers, and that was the best movement.

A Chopin group followed, it suffered from a lack of elegance and/or poetry in the interpretive approach. The famous E-Flat major Nocturne (Op. 9, No. 2) had a punched melody way too loud for the accompaniment, some wayward rubati and some artificial-sounding lingering (still, I’d rather be irritated than bored). The A-Flat major Impromptu (Op. 29) lacked sensitivity and a tossed-off quality. In the Etude (Op. 10, No. 3) in E major, Mr. Gindes did present the iconic melody very beautifully. The next Etude (Op. 10, No. 4) in C-Sharp minor showed that he can move his fingers in the requisite fashion, but it was marred by heaviness.

Mr. Gindes followed this with a Liszt group. Two selections from the less-often played Années de pelerinage: Suisse were included. Here his thunderous approach suited the Chapelle de Guillaume Tell very well, invoking church-organs, battle horns, and echoes across mountain valleys. In Au bord d’une source however, his water did not play and sparkle, the tempo was too slow, though in Liszt’s “small-note” cadenzas he played beautifully; I wish he had brought that quality to the whole piece. Part of my definition of virtuosity is not only the ability to play difficult pieces, but to give the audience the sense “of course I can do that, AND I can do so much more.” In Liszt’s Paganini Etude La Campanella, Liszt set out to create a level of difficulty in purely pianistic terms that would equal what Paganini made one lone violinist do. Mr. Gindes seemed at the outer limit of what he is capable of doing, with nothing left to spare.

After intermission, it was as though a different person took the stage. I marveled at the utter perfection of his Copland groups, and the Gershwin/Wild song transcription/etudes. Mr. Gindes played one of my all-time favorite piano transcriptions by Copland, his Oscar-nominated score for the movie version of Our Town (1940). I could not believe how completely he was attuned to the content of the music, the beautiful piano tone, and the absolutely appropriate sentiment of every moment.

Probably only Earl Wild could make his own etudes based on Gershwin popular songs sound completely easy and effortless, but Mr. Gindes certainly gives him a run for his money, particularly in the sensuous rendering of Embraceable You.

Mr. Gindes finished with Copland’s own piano transcription of his ballet Rodeo (1942) composed for Agnes de Mille. Every buckaroo sprang to life, the wistfulness of the silent corral at night, the dancing flirtations of the Saturday night couples, and the final Hoe-Down. It was truly a celebration of America and Americana, in which Mr. Gindes did NOT seem at the limit of what he could do.

We need more contemporary American piano music on recitals, and Ian Gindes can fulfill that role beautifully.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents With Strength & Joy in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents With Strength & Joy in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents With Strength & Joy
William C. Powell, Guest Conductor
Meredith Lustig and Katherine Polit, sopranos; Jessica Grigg, mezzo-soprano
Pepper Choplin, Composer/Conductor
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, New York, NY
May 29, 2017

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York’s (DCINY) Memorial Day concert featured a musical amuse-bouche before the concert (and during intermission): “Amazing Grace,” and patriotic, folk, and march music played by the Patriot Brass Ensemble in an upper-right balcony. This gave the event the aura of “a small town in New England,” to be Ivesian about it.

We have composer Alfredo Casella to thank for the revival of Vivaldi’s Gloria, which took place only in 1939. It seems as though it has “always” been there, so iconic is its place in our concerts and sacred celebrations. I will confess to being apprehensive about the use of a large choir in the Vivaldi. There is no tradition of gigantism where Vivaldi is concerned (as there is, for instance, in Handel performance in England). However, I am delighted to report that the performance was absolutely transparent despite the huge choir. The excellent conductor William C. Powell must surely bear most of the responsibility for this: his motions were simple, yet always laser-precise, and he got what he wanted from the group. The second movement Et in terra pax was intensely expressive from the choir.

All three soloists were perfectly cast for their roles: Meredith Lustig and Katherine Polit, sopranos, in the duet Laudamus te, and Ms. Lustig as soloist in the Domine deus, where the dialog with the uncredited oboist was gorgeous. Mezzo-soprano Jessica Grigg sang the Domine deus, Agnus dei beautifully, with a wonderfully expressive (again uncredited) cello continuo; she appeared again in the Quoniam tu solus sanctus.

As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, as the orchestra is such a large part of the proceedings of most of these DCINY events, that it is a total shame for there not to be a listing of their names too.

After intermission, all active and/or retired service members in the audience were asked to stand and receive our grateful applause as each anthem of that branch of the armed services was played by the Patriot Brass—a fitting way to remind us of what the day is really about, barbecues notwithstanding. Service personnel had been admitted free of charge to this event.

I had issues with the major sacred work on the second half—Psalm 23: A Journey with the Shepherd, composed and conducted by Pepper Choplin—so much so that I had to call a friend of mine, a prominent organist/church choir director in Michigan who has attended some of Mr. Choplin’s workshops just to ascertain if I was really a sourpuss curmudgeon. He told me “Frank, there is a need and use for music of this type that you may not comprehend, since you’re not in the church-music field.” Okay, I had my “ouch” moment, then was left to consider how to address matters. Remember, Mr. Choplin is a best-selling composer of church music, and I am but a music critic, perfectly capable of being wrong.

Psalm 23 was extremely “easy-listening,” it had little contrapuntal interest, the harmonies were predictable and sweet, there was lots of text repetition, it was over-orchestrated (to the point of drowning out the mass choir at times), and Mr. Choplin surrounded the Psalm with a text “We are not alone” (two soloists drawn from the choir did good work here). I think Psalm 23 can do very well on its own. That being said, I was able to appreciate how fervently and sincerely the piece was played and sung. The choral sound was indeed thrilling in the louder climactic moments. So, I am left with my friend’s admonishment, and the enthusiastic applause of the audience who obviously loved it a great deal.

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Brahms’ Requiem in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Brahms’ Requiem in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Brahms’ Requiem
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Jonathan Griffith, DCINY Artistic Director and Principal Conductor
Claire Kuttler, soprano
Andrew McLaughlin, baritone
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
May 28, 2017

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) continued its Memorial Day weekend extravaganza with an all-Brahms program led by its artistic director and principal conductor, the estimable Jonathan Griffith. Although Ein deutsches Requiem can stand alone as a whole program, Maestro Griffith preceded it with a suitably moody account of the Tragic Overture, one that showcased the depth of the strings’ tone beautifully.

Then the massed international choir (288 by my estimate) took the stage for the main event, the consoling “humanist” (non-liturgical) Requiem Brahms composed, at least partly prompted by the death of his mother. Maestro Griffith gave a very spacious rendition of the lyrical movements, not leaving any shaping unexplored. Paradoxically, he drove the fugal sections (important portions of movements two, three, and six) quite briskly, causing a loss of some choral clarity and even a few coordination mishaps between choir and orchestra. Only the benevolent but tyrannical precision of a Robert Shaw, and more rehearsal time, could have solved that issue. Although control of pitch in the softer sections was tentative, the choral sound was thrilling at the louder dynamic levels.

So seductive is the “surface layer” of the Requiem that we can easily forget just how “constructed” the piece is: motivic unity among all movements, arch form, symmetry, and massive Bach-inspired fugues. Brahms really poured all his heart AND mind into this, his longest work by far. There is a certain “churning” of the composer’s mind that then opens into worlds of ineffable repose. The orchestral playing was great, with contrapuntal answering between parts heard in all its mellow clarity, and nice work from all the winds too (so often treacherous)—that I was able to hear this is a testament to the quality of this rendition.

The soloists were both very good, with Andrew McLaughlin delivering emphatic accounts of his, dramatically involved and with vivid diction. Probably one of the hardest things any soprano has to do is to sit still on stage for thirty-eight minutes through the first four movements and then rise and deliver one of the most difficult solos in the oratorio repertoire. Claire Kuttler has a voice larger than one is accustomed to hearing in this work, but it soared beautifully out into Carnegie Hall, though at times she appeared to be having breath difficulty. I did enjoy the fullness of her reading, at times even impetuous—it contrasted with the usual “ethereal” approach.

This Requiem is just the cure for our troubling time that seems to abound in bad news. Well done!

 

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Celebration and Reflection in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Celebration and Reflection in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Celebration and Reflection
The Hudson Festival Chorus and Orchestra (OH), Thomas Scott, director; Susan Wozniak, soprano; Daniel Doty and Christopher McGilton, baritones
Coro de Cámara de Campina Grande (Brazil), Loiret’s Singers (France), Tutti Choir BSB (Brazil), Vladimir Silva, director; Julie Cassia Cavalcante, soprano; Jeonai Batista, tenor; Regiane Yamaguchi, piano
Church Choir Oberbuchsiten, Projektchor Peter & Paul Aarau, Singkreis Wohlen Bern-Projektchor “SMW” Frick-Kantorei der Stadtkirch Aarau, (Switzerland), Dieter Wagner, director; Miriam Wagner, piano
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall. New York, NY
May 26, 2017

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) got Memorial Day weekend off to a fine start with a program showcasing widely disparate composers, conductors, nations, and styles, and all having sacred texts in common. All three conductors were uncommonly musical, even though their individual choral styles were, predictably, quite different from each other. They had the advantage of having their “native” choir(s) brought to New York, rather than having to conduct a massed choir assembled “on-the-spot” (though the results of those outings have also been uniformly splendid).

The evening began with the magic spell that is Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem, which was prompted by the deaths of both of his parents within a few years’ time. It was presented in a scaled-down version corresponding to Fauré’s earliest conception when he was assistant organist in a small loft at Paris’ Eglise de la Madeleine. A well-written justification was offered in the program notes by the excellent conductor Thomas More Scott, although, as we know, Fauré went on to two more revisions of the work, each time expanding it because he was not satisfied with the limitations of the first. This performance, with fifty-four singers and thirteen instrumentalists, allowed the many felicities of counterpoint to emerge with clarity. The overwhelming gentleness of Fauré’s view of the mass for the dead was created beautifully by the choir, with sensitive dynamics. All the soloists were good, especially since they were drawn from the ranks of the choir. For me, this rendition was more subtly effective than the heavily professionalized, sometimes inflated, versions one often hears.

The evening continued with a Brazilian composer’s (Danilo Guanais) setting of the Ordinary of the Catholic Mass, accompanied by piano and a light percussion duo. His philosophy of man as part of a community that believes and professes its collective faith was beautifully displayed in a work that abounded in textural variety from section to section, and accessible music with the occasional “Latin” flavor. There were so many lovely moments. I will only be able to cite the pastorale of Qui propter nos homines, the spooky moans and groans added to the Crucifixus, the twin solos in the Confiteor, and the tenor’s beautiful Benedictus. Both soloists were effective, with Jeonai Batista possessing an especially sweet lyric tenor. Conductor Vladimir Silva, obviously steeped in the style, led a dynamically vivid performance, with great energetic cut-offs.

After intermission, a consortium of Swiss choral groups sang a handful of too-seldom performed chorales and motets by Felix Mendelssohn, under the gorgeous choral conducting of Dieter Wagner (not to be confused with Richard Wagner’s grandson), both a cappella and with piano. Wagner’s motions brilliantly conveyed his meaning to the choir (the evening’s largest group) with the space and lyrical flow so appropriate to this music. All the selections showed Mendelssohn’s “debt” (if you can call it that) to Bach and the German Protestant tradition, perhaps inheritance would be a preferable word. In the final Hör mein Bitten (Hear My Prayer), a female vocal quartet from the choir was front and center for the lovely entreaty that was answered and complemented by the full choir.

What an inspiring evening!


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Viva La Musica de Argentina in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Viva La Musica de Argentina in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Viva La Musica de Argentina
Cuerda y Voz, Guest Artists: Dany Dorf, Drums & Voice; François Knab, Andean Flutes, Tiple Colombiano & Voice; Rodrigo Mosquera, Charango & Voice; Sergio Saraniche, Guitar & Voice; Vidal Rojas, Guitar & Voice
Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Jonathan Griffith, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor
Cuerda y Voz, Guest Artists; George Hemcher, Piano
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Saul Zaks, Guest Conductor
Martín Palmeri, DCINY Composer-in-Residence
Carla Filipcic Holm, Soprano; Daniel Binelli, Bandoneon; Martín Palmeri, Piano
David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, New York, NY
April 30, 2017

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) really did something to redress the grievous lack of Latin American music on our concert stages by bringing Argentine performers and composers to Lincoln Center on April 30, 2017. Many of us thrill to the Argentine tango as performed on Dancing with the Stars, and perhaps a few recognize the name Piazzolla. An intrepid singer might have explored the songs of Guastavino, and pianists may have struggled valiantly with Ginastera’s First Piano Sonata, but there is so much more going on in Argentina. The folk element is never very far from the surface, in fact sometimes it is the surface. Remember: the minuet and waltz were social dances before they were stylized into “classical” genres. Since the current Pope is Argentine, I think he would greatly have appreciated this evening, especially the sacred music. I enjoyed the concert so much (which was streamed live on DCINY’s Facebook page) that I ran home and watched it again.

 

The evening began with the vocal/instrumental quintet Cuerda y Voz (String and Voice) where all the members double on various instruments. They started with Atahualpa Yupanqui’s plaintive Camino del Indio (The Indian Road), which contained a tantalizing bit of the 1913 Peruvian melody on Andean flute that was appropriated by Paul Simon for his 1970 El Condor Pasa. Yupanqui is the most important Argentine folk musician of the twentieth century, his name means “He who comes from faraway lands to say something,” much like Cuerda y Voz. Then followed four numbers, all featuring the group’s great unanimity, expressive vocals, wonderful handling of the instruments, and even sly humor amid songs, many of which deal with the hardness of life. The tiple colombiano is a “small” guitar with three courses of four strings, very difficult to play, and I confess I had never heard one before. The charango is an even smaller stringed “guitar” with ten strings in five courses.

 

Cuerda y Voz stayed on stage, playing a discreet instrumental while the first massed choir took the stage for the Misa Criolla by Ariel Ramírez, in which they would take the role(s) traditionally allotted to soloists. This is a complete setting, in Spanish, of the Catholic Mass. Ramírez, who died in 2010, created this signature work in 1964, and it gave him financial independence, but many don’t realize that there are three hundred other works by him. The choir was accompanied by electric piano, a small percussion section, and Cuerda y Voz, the whole conducted by the excellent Jonathan Griffith, who wore a traditional poncho that matched those of Cuerda y Voz. Each movement has as its musical underpinning an Argentine folk-music genre. The Agnus Dei, particularly, was beautifully plaintive in its plea for peace; its music was in the estilo pampeano (from the pampas), a desolate area whose inhabitants are often lonely.

 

After intermission, a different set of singers took the stage, along with the DCINY orchestra, strings only, a concert grand piano (with the composer playing), a soprano, and a bandoneón soloist, all conducted by the superb Saul Zaks. For those who don’t recall, the bandoneón is the “accordion-like” Argentine instrument that imparts such bite, soul, and authenticity to that music. They were there to give us the world premiere of Tango Credo by Martín Palmeri, part of a projected complete Mass setting (he has previously created a Tango Gloria) in Latin utilizing tango rhythms and shapes. Daniel Binelli began the entire work with mysterious utterances from the bandoneón that sounded like he was assembling cosmic fragments that would later be revealed to be whole. He was excellent, and his virtual miming of death at the phrase “Passus et sepultus est” (He suffered and was buried) was gripping.

 

The soprano soloist, Carla Filipcic Holm, has a very big voice, and it was a pleasure to hear that it was totally in her control, capable of soft high notes and other subtleties. She invested the part with great feeling. The tango, for me, is such a physical dance, full of sudden alternations of seduction and rejection, that when it is stripped of dance movement I don’t know quite what to make of it. It seems a bit too sensual for sacred music, my limitation I’m sure; perhaps I just need a long stay in Argentina! Palmeri’s Credo took 38 minutes, whereas the entire Mass by Ramirez was 22 minutes. The Credo is the wordiest section of the Mass, and there was a lot of repetition of what had just been sung by the chorus or the soloist. Nevertheless, the movement built very well, the Crucifixus was the appropriately solemn low point, and thereafter the piece progressed to a triumphant affirmation of faith, which after all is the point of the Credo.

 

Interestingly, the Argentine composer Palmeri had a Danish grandfather, and the conductor, who is native Argentine, currently makes his home in Denmark. The choirs were extremely international, with groups from Argentina, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Denmark, as well as a few “domestic” groups. The triumph of globalization, when applied to something worthwhile!