Andrew Mikhael LLC presents Elizabeth Mikhael and Santiago Piñeirúa in Review

Andrew Mikhael LLC presents Elizabeth Mikhael and Santiago Piñeirúa

 

Elizabeth Mikhael, Cello
Santiago Piñeirúa, Piano

 

Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
October 15,2017

 

As an encore performance of a Mexico City concert, cellist Elizabeth Mikhael and pianist Santiago Piñeirúa rejoined forces at Weill Hall on October 15, 2017. In a program of two cello sonatas, one by Brahms and other by Shostakovich, it was to be a triumph for the performers and a treat for the listeners in the packed hall.

As the hall filled, one noticed a large number of young people in attendance, many of whom were elementary school students. I was at first curious about this, as Ms. Mikhael’s printed biographical information did not mention teaching, either privately or with a school. Upon some further investigation, I learned that Ms. Mikhael is on the faculty at the School for Strings in New York. It was heartening to this reviewer to see that Ms. Mikhael’s students were in force to hear their beloved teacher in concert.

Elizabeth Mikhael and Santiago Piñeirúa both have impressive performance histories, complete with numerous awards and crossover collaborations with popular artists. One can learn more about Ms. Mikhael and Mr. Piñeirúa by visiting the following websites: Elizabeth Mikhael and Santiago Piñeirúa (in Spanish).

It was a bit disappointing that there were no program notes offered. Even the brief information that was listed at the Carnegie Hall website about the two works would have been helpful to offer some insights to the layperson. When one also considers that Shostakovich’s music almost always had some important autobiographical context, it seems that the opportunity to make his Sonata even more accessible to the listener was lost.

Ms. Mikhael and Mr. Piñeirúa took the stage to the roaring cheers of the audience. Complete with yelling, whistling, and stamping feet, this is something one is more likely to encounter at a sports event than a concert hall. Normally this reviewer finds such behavior a sign of lack of familiarity with “concert manners,” but in this case it seemed just a very demonstrative display of affection.

Brahms’s Cello Sonata in E minor, Op. 38 opened the concert. Brahms entitled it Sonate für Klavier und Violoncello with the intent that the piano is not merely a background accompanist, but a full and equal partner. Completed in 1865, the sonata is Brahms’s homage to J. S. Bach, and uses material from Contrapunctus 4 and 13 of The Art of Fugue. It is this work that is the source of a famous little story. A cellist friend was playing this work with Brahms at the piano. Brahms was playing so loudly that his partner remarked he could not hear his cello. “Lucky for you!” was Brahms’s reply! All fun aside, there was no danger of a re-enactment of this story. This Brahms was a delight for the reviewer, who had the rare pleasure of being able to sit back and enjoy a first-rate performance from these fine musicians. It was a twenty-five-minute journey through some of the finest music Brahms wrote, handled with polish and expertise by both players.

Ms. Mikhael has a warm, full-bodied tone. Her intonation was impeccable throughout, and she invests her considerable talents in the music, rather than in histrionic gestures or exaggerated musical extravagances. Her rapport with Mr. Piñeirúa was noteworthy as well.

After intermission, the duo offered Dmitri Shostakovich’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor, Op. 40. Written in 1934 during a time of separation from his first wife Nina, it is filled with many of Shostakovich’s characteristic compositional traits – the somber character, the fluid shifts of tonality, mock ebullience, and frenzied energy. The duo captured all these elements with skill in a completely engaging performance. The audience was wowed by the brilliant finale, with its helter-skelter gusto, but this listener, though thoroughly enjoying the finale, is going to single out the Largo as not only his favorite of the work, but the highlight of the evening. The desolate beauty of the music was projected by Ms. Mikhael in a way that was heartbreaking. This was real artistry!

One would be remiss if not giving the proper respect to Mr. Piñeirúa. He was the ideal collaborator who not only blended seamlessly with Ms. Mikhael, but also handled these difficult works with an understated assurance. He was a star in his own right.

After the final notes the audience shouted and stomped even longer and louder than at the opening with an extended standing ovation. After two encores and the presenting of many bouquets of flowers, the two performers took their leave to the continued cheers of the audience.

 


Creative Classical Concerts presents Hyun Ji You in Review

Creative Classical Concerts presents Hyun Ji You in Review

Hyun Ji You, piano
Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
October 4, 2017

 

Creative Classical Concerts presented pianist Hyun Ji You in a concert of Bach, Chopin, Scriabin, Debussy, and Villa-Lobos on October 4, 2017 at Weill Hall. Ms. You is a winner of multiple piano competitions both in her native Korea and the United States. She lists Hee Sung Joo, Karen Shaw and Jean-Louis Haguenauer, and Jae Hee Hyun as her teachers. Ms. You has earned her Master’s degree and Artist Diploma at Indiana University, and is working on her Doctorate at Sejong University in South Korea. She also teaches piano in three South Korean Universities.

Before anything else, I must express my dismay about one of my pet peeves. When you are performing at one of the most famous venues in not only the United States, but the world, it should be a given that all materials, such as program notes are done with care. I’m sorry to say that this was not the case (and not for the first time). The very spare program notes were almost an afterthought. Proofreading would have caught the non-idiomatic English and the fact that the 3rd and 4th Preludes of Debussy were listed with the same title. If English is not your first language, it is a must to have a trusted native speaker proofread. Add to this that some of the notes were copied verbatim from Wikipedia without attribution, and I was left thinking that it would have been better to forego the notes altogether. Note to presenters and performers alike: this is not acceptable. With all the time and money invested, there is no excuse (and lest anyone think otherwise, this reviewer has been a presenter as well).

Now that I have dealt with my annoyance, it is time to get to the many positive things about this concert. Ms. You has a fine technique, as one would expect from a multiple contest winner, but she also possesses a true poetic side, which sets her apart from many other contest winners.

Ms. You opened with J.S. Bach, the Adagio, BWV 974 (after Marcello), and Schafe können sicher weiden (Sheep May Safely Graze) from the Cantata Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd (The lively hunt is all my heart’s desire), BWV 208. While my sheep prefer a slightly less hectic sound, and one with a bit more clarity, these are preferences more than anything else, and the end result was still lovely!

Chopin Ballade No.4 in F minor, Op.52 followed the Bach. Often considered the most demanding, both musically and technically, of the four ballades, this work was said by Robert Schumann to have been inspired by Adam Mickiewicz’s poem The Three Budrys; although this connection has been disputed, the epic sweep is undeniable. Ms. You showed both artistry and virtuosity, especially in the fiercely difficult coda. Rather than forcing a cohesive shape on the sprawling work, she surrendered to Chopin’s dream-like writing in what was truly a wondrous performance. It deserved a much better reaction from the audience, but it was the highlight of the evening for this listener.

Alexander Scriabin’s Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 ended the first half. This eleven minute, single-movement work was written in 1907 and marks Scriabin’s transition away from traditional harmony, including the so-called “mystic” chord and movement away from a clear tonal center. In an earlier review I wrote for this journal, I quoted pianist Joong Han Jung, who described the piece as “hyper-romantic,” a simple description that I find rather apt. Ms. You seems to agree, as her approach was what some might call “over the top,” but I found it to be just right. If one does not embrace the ecstatic quality that Scriabin demands, the result seems a mishmash of random impulses. It is the extravagant spirit that holds the work together, and Ms. You captured it to a tee. It was an excellent end to a dynamic first half.

After intermission, Ms. You offered six selections from Book I of Claude Debussy’s Préludes. They were numbers three through eight: Le vent dans la plaine (The Wind in the Plain), “Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir” (“The sounds and fragrances swirl through the evening air”), Les collines d’Anacapri (The Hills of Anacapri), Des pas sur la neige
(Footsteps in the Snow), Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest (What the West Wind Has Seen), and La fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair). Ms. You was judicious in her selections. Her “winds” were ferocious and the “perfume” was exquisite. The “footsteps” were delicate, and her flaxen-haired maiden was delightfully innocent. I would like to hear Ms. You play the entire book, and have a go at the second book as well.

Ms. You closed her program with Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Ciclo Brasileiro, W. 374. She offered three of the four works in the cycle: No.2, Impressões seresteiras (The Impressions of a serenade musician), No. 3, Festa no sertao (The Fete in the Desert), and No. 4, Danca do Indio Branco (Dance of the White Indian). Written in 1936, this work brings to mind Stravinsky’s Firebird, but is not derivative – it is pure Villa-Lobos, overflowing with ideas, brimming with energy, and often alternating between poignancy and brutality (especially in The Impressions of a serenade musician). It is a fiendishly difficult work that is a much a showstopper for the eyes as for the ears. Ms. You wowed the audience, and they reacted with a standing ovation.

Ms. You offered two encores, the Paganini-Liszt La Campanella, in what was another display of technical prowess, and Debussy’s Clair de Lune, which she played with ethereal beauty.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Music of Dinos Constantinides in Concert in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Music of Dinos Constantinides in Concert in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Music of Dinos Constantinides in Concert
Dinos Constantinides, composer
Maria Asteriadou, Michael Gurt, piano; Kurt Nikkanen, violin; Yung-Chiao Wei, double bass
Hamiruge, The LSU Percussion Group: Brett Dietz, Eric Scherer, Manuel Treviño, Kyle Cherwinski
Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
October 1, 2017

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) opened its 2017-2018 season on October 1, 2017 with a concert entitled The Music of Dinos Constantinides. This is the tenth time that DCINY has presented the music of Mr. Constantinides. On hand were eight talented colleagues of Mr. Constantinides from Louisiana State University to present a survey of works from his long career. The performers were pianists Maria Asteriadou and Michael Gurt; violinist Kurt Nikkanen, double-bassist Yung-Chiao Wei, and percussionist members of Hamiruge (LSU’s percussion ensemble), Brett Dietz, Eric Scherer, Manuel Treviño, and Kyle Cherwinski.

Greek-born Dinos Constantinides is the head of Composition and Music Director of the Louisiana Sinfonietta at Louisiana State University. He is presently Boyd Professor, the highest academic rank at LSU. Mr. Constantinides has composed over 300 works, including six symphonies, two operas, and music for a wide variety of instruments and voices, and has a long list of prizes won and excellent reviews worldwide. His writing style is all-encompassing, from the simplest of forms to the ultra-complex, and from the strictly tonal to the acerbically atonal and serial. He is especially adept in his use of Greek influences, such as Greek poetry from both ancient and modern sources, and Greek modal harmony.

This is my third occasion to review Mr. Constantinides’s music, and anyone who read my two previous reviews may recall that I expressed my reservations about the excessive length of the concerts. I will confess that I was fully expecting to do so for a third time, but I have the great pleasure of saying that this was not the case. Perhaps I might be flattering myself in believing that my concerns were heeded, but whatever the case, it was a pleasant surprise.

Violinist Kurt Nikkanen and pianist Maria Asteriadou opened the first half with Patterns for Violin and Piano, LRC 119b, a highly dramatic work that was played with passion by both players. In particular, Mr. Nikkanen’s sound projected boldly, as his robust tone filled the hall without any stridency. It was to be this listener’s favorite selection of the evening. Mr. Nikkanen followed with the Sonata for Solo Violin, No. 3, LRC 63 (Kaleidoscope), a work that can be described as either serialist or experimental in nature. It was amusing to see the poster-sized score being carefully placed on the music stand before Mr. Nikkanen began. This work is thorny for the performer and listener alike, and Mr. Nikkanen’s fine performance might have not gotten the credit it deserved from the audience, but this listener was impressed. It was not just his commitment to this difficult piece, but also his technique in dealing with the challenges that abounded throughout. The Theme and Variations for Solo Piano, LRC 1, played by Ms. Asteriadou followed. The composer writes in his notes that this work is based on a famous Greek folk tune (but does not name the actual tune). The melodic line is definitely modal, but the harmonies have diverse styles, including bi-tonality. One could hear hints of Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, and even Debussy throughout this eight-minute work, which Ms. Asteriadou played with an evident reverence.

To end the first half, Mr. Nikkanen and Ms. Asteriadou offered the twelve-tone Sonata for Violin and Piano, LRC 21c. It would seem that Mr. Nikkanen has a special affinity for taking on works that require a huge technique without any real hope of the general listening public to be wowed by that technique (read: This work is not Sarasate). Kudos to both Mr. Nikkanen and Ms. Asteriadou for their excellent playing.

After intermission, double bassist Yung-Chiao Wei and pianist Michael Gurt offered Reverie II for Double Bass and Piano, LRC 81b, a lovely three-minute work. Mr. Gurt followed with a sensitively played Two Preludes for Piano, LRC 101b, the first of which employs melodic lines from the First Delphic Hymn (c. 138 B.C.(!)) according to the composer. I’m not at all sure about this, but I’m going to give Mr. Constantinides the benefit of the doubt! Ms. Wei and Mr. Gurt returned for the Concerto for Double Bass and Piano, LRC 269b, derived from a cello concerto. It showcased Ms. Wei’s virtuosity to say the least. It was notable how well she articulated some rapid passagework that one would have not expected to be possible on the double bass. Other than a few moments when there were some balance issues, it was a remarkable performance. Percussion Quartet No. 2, LRC 270, featuring Hamiruge, The LSU Percussion Group, closed the evening. This four-movement, fifteen-minute work saw the members of Hamiruge playing xylophones, wood blocks, suspended cymbals, snare drum, timpani, chimes, triangles, and even the celesta. It was mesmerizing both to see and to hear. The audience responded with prolonged applause. Mr. Constantinides was present and came to the stage to join all performers to accept the continued applause of the large audience.

 


Víjon Duo in Review

Víjon Duo in Review

Víjon Duo
Joong Han Jung, piano
Victor Chávez Jr., clarinet
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
June 22, 2017

On June 22, 2017 at Weill Recital Hall, the Víjon Duo presented a concert of clarinet-piano duos and solo piano works. The duo’s musicians are pianist Joong Han (Jonathan) Jung and clarinetist Victor Chávez Jr. Both performers have impressive credentials and extensive performing appearances in venues throughout the globe. One can learn more about the artists by clicking on the following links: Joong Han Jung and Victor Chávez Jr. As an additional point of interest, Mr. Chávez is a Buffet Crampon Artist and exclusively plays on Buffet Crampon clarinets, which are considered by many to be the finest in the world.

There were brief programs notes for all the works in both English and Korean, no doubt due to the large following of Korean-speaking fans of the duo.

The duo opened with Prokofiev’s Sonata for Flute and Piano in D major, Op. 94, as transcribed for clarinet by Kent Kennan. It is well-known that Prokofiev himself made a transcription for violin, at the request of his friend, the legendary violinist David Oistrakh (Op. 94a). There seems to be no reason why the clarinet, an instrument with versatile and agile qualities similar to the flute, cannot “be part of the fun” that this popular work gives performer and audience alike. Make no mistake, the end result is something rather dissimilar, due to the differences in timbre between the flute and clarinet, especially in the extreme register. This listener did not find those sections to be effective, but that in no way is a criticism of Mr. Chávez. His technical prowess was more than able to deal with the challenges, and his tone in the middle and lower registers was warm, full-bodied, and enchanting. There were some “squeaks” in the extreme register, which are among those occupational hazards that clarinetists have to deal with. In the end, it was an excellent reading that showed both performers to advantage.

Following the Prokofiev came Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, composed by Mr. Jung. Originally conceived for voice and piano, Mr. Jung arranged these pieces for clarinet in 2017 to honor his friend and duo partner Mr. Chávez. In his notes, Mr. Jung wrote that the four pieces were to be used “to compliment and uplift the Catholic Mass.” The four pieces are (no title), Illuminate, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. There is a strong French influence in the first three; the first two have striking Debussyian qualities, and the third reminds one of Milhaud. The piano part is virtuosic; there is no “hack-in-the-back” anywhere to be found in any of the selections. The fourth piece, the Agnus Dei, was much more individualistic, with a mournful sound that was truly moving. It was this listener’s favorite of the set. Mr. Jung knows his partner well, as the clarinet writing strongly realizes all of Mr. Chávez’s strengths- his rich tone and assured technique.

After intermission, Mr. Jung took the stage and briefly spoke to the audience about how he came to collaborate with Mr. Chávez, and about the Beethoven and Scriabin works he was to play. After thanking the audience for attending, he took his seat at the piano and played Beethoven’s Seven Bagatelles, Op. 33. As the title suggests, these are light-hearted works showing Beethoven in a happy, playful vein. Mr. Jung played with a light touch that seemed ideal, not too serious, but not tossed off glibly. Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 followed the Beethoven. This work, in a single movement (a scheme that Scriabin used for his subsequent sonatas), was written shortly after the Poem of Ecstasy, in which Scriabin struck out towards a style that Mr. Jung aptly called “hyper-romantic.” It’s an eleven-minute powerhouse work. Mr. Jung has obviously made it his mission to make this work a signature piece. He brought a well-considered, technically polished, and “hyper-romantic” approach that electrified the audience. It was a performance that Mr. Jung can be proud of and one that this listener found compelling.

Mr. Chávez rejoined Mr. Jung in a spirited reading of World Dance, the third of Three Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, from the pen of the well-known Israeli-American composer Ronn Yedidia (b. 1960). One can hear many dance styles, in what might be called a “Klezmer Hoedown.” It’s a delightful romp, and the duo played it to the hilt. It was a joyous ending to the evening. The composer was present, and he acknowledged the cheers of the audience. They gave the duo a standing ovation.


MidAmerica Productions presents New England Symphonic Ensemble in Review

MidAmerica Productions presents New England Symphonic Ensemble in Review

MidAmerica Productions presents New England Symphonic Ensemble
New England Symphonic Ensemble; Preston Hawes, Artistic Director
Jane Morison, Sandy R. Holland, Sonja Sepúlveda, Michael J. Glasgow conductors
Haley Sicking, soprano, Cody Austin, tenor
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
June 11, 2017

 

On June 11, 2017, MidAmerica Productions presented a three-part concert featuring the New England Wind Ensemble, including a New York premiere of Michael J. Glasgow’s Requiem. The Glasgow work is to be the primary focus of this review, though I will briefly mention the others, as those performers are deserving of mention.

Before I continue, I’d like to say that a two-intermission concert starting at 8:30pm on a Sunday night is something that should be avoided. This reviewer got to watch a group of youngsters fidgeting restlessly for nearly two hours, for which I cannot blame them – it was getting very late, and they were getting tired.

The concert opened with combined choirs of young singers (elementary and middle school aged) from North Carolina and Tennessee. In ten works, with the conducting honors divided evenly between Jane Morison and Sandy R. Holland, the youngsters delighted their friends and families with a joyous performance.

After the first intermission, we heard the Requiem by John Rutter – the first of two requiems on the program. I have spoken of the history of this work in prior reviews, so I will only mention the strong influence that Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem had on Rutter’s work. Conductor Sonja Sepúlveda led an outstanding performance of this wonderful piece. It must be said that the New England Symphonic Ensemble is an excellent group. Kudos also to soprano soloist Haley Sicking, and the combined choruses from North Carolina, South Carolina, and New Jersey for their fine work.

After another intermission, Michael J. Glasgow (b. 1977) took the podium to conduct the New York premiere of his Requiem. This seven-movement, forty-minute work is modeled after Fauré’s. Mr. Glasgow writes in his program notes of having had his first exposure to the Requiem text being Fauré’s; it would be a mistake, however, to assume that this is a clone of the Fauré, as there are many unsettled moments that bring to mind some of the less serene requiems (such as those of Mozart, Berlioz, Verdi, etc.).

I was glad to have read Mr. Glasgow’s notes, as they provided much insight into understanding his conception. He wrote of his struggles with self-identity and loss; some losses were after long lives, but others were lives cut short by hatred, ignorance, and violence.

This Requiem seems to be much more for the living than for the departed. There is a strong autobiographical element, as can be heard in the Introit, which is at once full of shock, anguish, and anger. It’s a powerful, emotionally supercharged opening, but some very large handbells were virtually inaudible, probably a combination of the soft clappers of the bells and the hall acoustic. The Offertory had a sinister quality that eventually moved towards a peaceful mood. The Pie Jesu was heavenly, showing Mr. Glasgow’s abundant melodic gift. The Sanctus and Benedictus with an unusual martial quality, were triumphant, as anger gave way to peace. There was a final angry burst in the Libera Me, but it had more the feel of defiance rather than rage. After a bridge that Mr. Glasgow called the “Ascension Interlude,” the sublime Lacrimosa, which was strongly reminiscent of Fauré’s In Paradisum (one could hardly pick a more beautiful model!) was the final movement.

Mr. Glasgow originally finished the Requiem in 2001, but it remains unpublished. One has the distinct feeling that this is still very much a work in progress, and I would not be surprised if Mr. Glasgow has different ideas for this work at age fifty. I would be very interested to hear this work again.

After the last notes of the Lacrimosa faded away to silence, the audience immediately rewarded all with a long standing ovation. Mr. Glasgow can be proud – it was a memorable performance of a highly personal, emotional work. Congratulations to the soloists, tenor Cody Austin, and soprano Haley Sicking, the North Carolina-based choruses, and once again, special mention to the New England Symphonic Ensemble.

I’ll leave the last words to Mr. Glasgow: “Now, more than ever, the hearts of humanity need to be moved by the communal, healing power of music. Now, more than ever, we need to recognize that despite the horror and ignorance, the day will come when peace, tranquility, and love will reign. Now, more than ever, we need that time to be now.”


Legato Arts presents The International Trio in Review

Legato Arts presents The International Trio in Review

Legato Arts presents The International Trio
Luisa Sello, Guoliang Han, flute
Amir Farid, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
May 22, 2017

 

Legato Arts (www.legatoarts.com), with additional support provided by the Italian Regional Project FVG 2016, presented the International Trio on May 22, 2017 at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. The International Trio consists of two flutists, Luisa Sello (www.luisasello.it) and Guoliang Han (www.hanguoliang.com), and pianist Amir Farid (www.amirfarid.com). In a program featuring some of the “usual suspects” (Franz Doppler, Freidrich Kuhlau), great masters (Bach, Mozart, Ravel), and a few unfamiliar names (Huang Huwei, François Borne), the selections proved to be a hit with the audience that filled the hall.

The program was structured to showcase both the trio and more soloistic repertoire for Ms. Sello and Mr. Han. The first half consisted of works that are technically challenging and musically rich in content, while the second half was dedicated mostly to showstoppers that highlight the virtuosity of the players. It was also a program that could be described as “user friendly,” with all accessible works, no strident dissonances or excessive demands on the listener.

Ms. Sello, Mr. Han, and Mr. Farid took the stage and opened with J.S. Bach’s Trio Sonata in G Major, BWV 1039. The balance was excellent (even with the piano on the full stick), the intonation was accurate, and the details of line and form were done with careful precision. Ms. Sello then played Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess), in an arrangement for flute and piano. Ms. Sello has a light tone, with an amount of vibrato that never wandered into the “wobbly” territory, which was well-suited to this work. Mr. Han followed with Sunlight on Mountain Tian by Huang Huwei (b. 1932), a 20th century work with its heart in the 19th. One could speak of a musical East-meets-West mélange. It was poignant with splashes of color that Mr. Han brought out with the maximum effect. The half ended with Doppler’s Andante et Rondo for Two Flutes and Piano, Op 25. Filled with Doppler’s characteristic brilliant writing for the flute, it starts calmly and “heats up” in what is a fun work for performers and listeners alike. The performers handled this work with perfect understanding in a satisfying performance.

Before anything else, much praise must be given to Mr. Farid, who handled his role with complete commitment, when it would have been so easy (and so understandable) to go through the motions given many of the works have the pianist in an almost parenthetical role.

After Intermission, Ms. Sello and Mr. Han offered Two Arias for Two Flutes from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte – Pamina’s Ach, ich fühl’s, es ist verschwunden (Ah, I feel it, it is vanished), and the famous Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart), as sung by The Queen of the Night. The interplay between the two players was excellent, and there were moments of charm and excitement throughout. Mr. Han then offered Doppler’s well-known Fantaisie Pastorale Hongroise, Op. 26. This is one of those “must play” works, that is filled with virtuosic adventure. Mr. Han did not disappoint, as he tossed off the challenges with apparent ease. Not to be outdone, Ms. Sello answered the “challenge” with a brilliant performance of themes from Bizet’s Carmen in a work entitled Carmen Fantasy (Fantaisie brillante) by François Borne.

After all this razzle-dazzle, it was time for the players to reassert their artistry with a musically taut rendering of Kuhlau’s masterful Trio Sonata in G major, Op. 119, which ended the concert in fine style. The audience rewarded the trio with extended applause. The performers were presented with bouquets of flowers from their fans. Mr. Han ended up with an extra bouquet, which he gallantly presented to Mr. Farid’s page turner, who was visibly delighted by the gift. All then took their final leave to the continued applause of the large audience.


Legato Arts presents The Ženatý/Shapiro Duo in Review

Legato Arts presents The Ženatý/Shapiro Duo in Review

Legato Arts presents The Ženatý/Shapiro Duo
Ivan Ženatý, violin
Sandra Shapiro, piano
Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
April 24, 2017

 

Today’s world is filled with frenetic energy. Loud, fast, and unrelenting sounds and “news” stories assault us non-stop. People shout instead of speak, debate is reduced to memes and 140-word missives, and attention spans are getting ever shorter. For a short time, those persons who stepped into Weill Hall on April 24, 2017 were transported back to an earlier time, when things moved more slowly. The sounds were not there to assault the ears, but rather to delight them in the creations of masters like Brahms, Dvořák, Saint-Saëns, and Elgar. The excellent Ženatý/Shapiro Duo took the stage to treat all present to this wonderful journey.

The Ženatý/Shapiro Duo is violinist Ivan Ženatý and pianist Sandra Shapiro. Mr. Ženatý (www.ivanzenaty.com) maintains a busy schedule as a performer, collaborator, recording artist, adjudicator, and teacher. He plays a 1740 Giuseppe Guarneri del Jesu violin, courtesy of the Harmony Foundation of New York. Ms. Shapiro (www.sandra-shapiro.com) also is much in demand as a performer and teacher, and is highly sought-after as a chamber musician.

Mr. Ženatý exudes an old-world charm, in both his dress (tuxedo with tails) and his bearing. He stood silently as the rush of late-comers rushed about the hall looking for open seats, while nodding at this pack of humanity with a smile, as if to say “Please, take your time, I will wait for you.” He also held the stage door open for the page turner, who was late in exiting the stage, before exiting himself. It all gave this reviewer a feeling of gemütlichkeit, which further accentuated the feelings of a different era.

Brahms’s lyrical Violin Sonata No.2 in A major, Op. 100 was the opening piece. This work is Brahms in his happiest mood, with the piano and violin as equal partners. Lest anyone think that lyrical means “simple,” this work is demanding for the players, both as individuals, and as a duo. What was apparent from the very beginning was that Mr. Ženatý and Ms. Shapiro were more than up to the challenge. Their rapport was outstanding, the balance was finely realized, and the singing phrases of the work were brought out with practiced assurance.

Edward Elgar’s 1918 Violin Sonata in E minor, Op. 82 followed the Brahms. This work is highly emotionally charged, filled with melancholy and angst, which was no doubt reflective of the feelings of the nation at the time, weary from the carnage of World War One. There is always the danger of the melancholy becoming overblown in this work, and the effect descending into an almost cartoonish, mawkish mess of emotional wreckage. Much credit is due to Mr. Ženatý and Ms. Shapiro for not allowing this to happen even for a moment. It was an outstanding performance of a work that this listener has never found to his liking. It was so convincing that I must re-think my opinion about the work. The audience appeared to be moved as well, as the first half came to a successful close.

After intermission, the second half opened with Antonin Dvořák’s lovely Ballade in D minor, Op. 15. This six-minute work was written for John Coates, the publisher of the London Magazine of Music. The Duo captured both the brooding opening and the sudden explosive middle section in what was a superior performance.

Ending the program was Camille Saint-Saëns’ Violin Sonata No.1 in D minor, Op. 75. It has been said that Marcel Proust confessed that this sonata provided the model for the fictional sonata by Vinteuil that plays such an important part in Swann’s Way. The four movements are grouped in twos, so there is only one pause (after the second movement Adagio), a plan Saint-Saëns’ used again in the Organ Symphony. It is a brilliant work that shows both the violinist and pianist to great advantage. The Adagio was especially beautiful, but the moto perpetuo finale highlighted Mr. Ženatý’s virtuosity. The audience responded with a standing ovation.

Mr. Ženatý is fully invested in the music, as he searches for and brings forth the emotions and subtleties of the works he plays. There are no histrionics, no flash, and simply no showiness. His tone is rich and warm, and his intonation is impeccable. He has technique to burn, so it would be an easy thing for him to dash off any number of virtuoso showstoppers. That he chooses to plumb the depths of deeper works reflects the confident, mature artist that he is, with faith in the best listening from his audiences. Mr. Ženatý has an ideal collaborator in Ms. Shapiro, who is a sensitive musician with superb technical command.

The duo played a beautiful Fauré encore as a final offering before we were returned to the present. It was a lovely two-hour trip, and one that I hope to take again with this fine duo.

 

 


Chamber Music|OC featuring Trio Céleste and Special Guest Artists in Review

Chamber Music|OC featuring Trio Céleste and Special Guest Artists in Review

Chamber Music|OC featuring Trio Céleste and Special Guest Artists
Trio Céleste: Iryna Krechkovsky, violin; Ross Gasworth, cello; Kevin Kwan Loucks, piano
Chamber Music |OC Young Artist- Reina Cho, cello, Leo Matsuoka, violin, Brandon Sin, cello
Special Guests: Eugene Drucker, violin; Philip Setzer, violin; Marta Krechkovsky, violin; April Kim, violin; Yuri Cho, violin; Hanna Lee, viola; David Samuel, viola; Colin Carr, cello
Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
April 15, 2017

Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall was the venue for a concert presented by Chamber Music|OC on April 15, 2017. On the program were three works – two established masterpieces of chamber music, Antonín Dvořák’s Piano Trio in E minor, Op. 90, the “Dumky,” and Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20, plus the World Premiere of Concerto Grosso for Piano Trio and String Octet by Paul Dooley (b. 1983).

Chamber Music| OC is based in Orange County California. Launched in 2012 by Kevin Kwan Loucks and Iryna Krechkovsky, Chamber Music | OC is dedicated to advancing the art of chamber music through performance, education, and community outreach. Mr. Loucks and Ms. Krechkovsky , along with cellist Ross Gasworth, form Trio Céleste, the featured ensemble. Also included were members of the Chamber Music|OC Young Artists program, and many special guests, including founding members of the famed Emerson Quartet Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer.

Trio Céleste (www.trioceleste.com) took its name after the first meeting of the players in New York City, upon seeing the largest harvest moon in two decades – “a rare celestial occurrence.” Now with a full calendar of recitals nationally and internationally, a recently released recording (Navona Records – Trio Céleste ), and an impressive list of distinguished collaborators, it is obvious that this is a group on the rise. Each of the members has a long list of honors and accolades as soloists. What remained to be seen is how well they meshed as an ensemble. Often when talented individuals come together, the whole is less than the sum of the parts.

Let’s get a long-standing gripe of this reviewer out of the way- the lack of program notes. While it was good that notes were provided for the World Premiere work, it was a lost opportunity to educate many in the audience by not including program notes for the Dvořák and Mendelssohn. While they are well-known works, it would not be unreasonable to assume that at least one hundred members in the audience were hearing these works for the very first time, and would have been interested in knowing the meaning behind “Dumky” and that Mendelssohn was only sixteen when he wrote his Octet. On the other hand, it was above and beyond to include pictures and biographies of EVERY participant.

Antonín Dvořák’s Piano Trio in E minor, Op. 90, the “Dumky,” was the first work on the program. Written in 1891, this is one the great works in the genre, and one that has a rich performance history by some of the most distinguished ensembles. One might think that these young players were aiming too high in selecting this work, that they need to let it mature over many more years before offering it in concert, but in this case one would be completely mistaken. What was immediately apparent was the rapport the players have, which usually takes many years to develop to such a high level. The players as individuals were sparkling, and ensemble balance and intonation were flawless in a way that I have often found lacking with other (and often far more experienced) ensembles. The essence of this wonderful work was projected with skill and understanding that can hold its own with any more established ensembles. I might have started as a doubter, but ended as a believer. It was a first-rate performance that had me eagerly awaiting the following works.

Following the Dvořák was the World Premiere of a work commissioned by Trio Céleste and Chamber Music |OC for this concert, the Concerto Grosso for Piano Trio and String Octet (2017) by Paul Dooley. Mr. Dooley has a long-standing relationship with Mr. Loucks (they attended the same High School), and he expressed being honored to write this piece for Mr. Loucks and his colleagues. Mr. Dooley writes that his work is inspired by the concerto grossi of Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti, with the trio taking the part of the concertino, and the octet the part of the ripieno. It is a three-movement (the movements simply marked as I. II. and III) work that showed Mr. Dooley’s mastery of the form, but with contemporary harmony.

Forming the String Octet were violinists Marta Krechkovsky, April Kim, Yuri Cho, violists Hanna Lee and David Samuel, and future stars from the Chamber Music OC| Young Artists, violinist Leo Matsuka (age 16), and cellists Reina Cho (age 15) and Brandon Shin (age 12).

As the players were taking the stage and readying themselves, Mr. Loucks took out his phone to take a picture of the audience before starting the Concerto Grosso. “You all look so good,” he quipped to the delight of the audience.

This work was played with brio by the combined forces, in what was an impressive display from all eleven performers. One can’t imagine that there was a lot of rehearsal time, which made the achievement all the more striking.

This listener thoroughly enjoyed the Concerto Grosso, but his favorite was the eerie second movement, which sounded like a musical depiction of a nightmare, or at least some rather unsettled dreams. After the high energy final movement, the audience roared in approval. The composer was in attendance and came to the stage to embrace Mr. Loucks and accept the audience’s enthusiastic ovation. It was a nice end to the first half.

After intermission, Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major. Op. 20 was to be the last work of the evening. Joining Trio Céleste for the Octet were violinist Eugene Drucker, Philip Setzer, Yuri Cho, violists Hanna Lee and David Samuel, and cellist Colin Carr – a group of “heavy hitters” to be sure! The eight players meshed beautifully. The Octet is demanding enough even apart from ensemble issues, but these musicians were in their element. What a treat it was to hear this performance, a rare opportunity for the reviewer to sit back and enjoy, when there is really nothing to quibble about. From the exquisite control of the Allegro moderato ma con fuoco to the thrilling Presto, it was without a doubt one of the best performances of the Octet this listener has heard.

The audience gave the players a standing ovation, which was richly deserved. Trio Céleste is a group to watch, and I hope to hear them again in the future.


2017 New York International Music Festival in Review

2017 New York International Music Festival in Review

2017 New York International Music Festival
Gwent Youth Wind Orchestra, Wales, United Kingdom
Sean O’Neill, director
Virginia Tech Wind Ensemble and Combined Choirs, Blacksburg, Virginia
Jonathan Caldwell, Dwight Bigler, conductors
Deborah Lee Gibbs, master of ceremonies
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
April 11, 2017

 

Carnegie Hall was the venue for a series of concerts of the 2017 New York International Musical Festival. The evening showcase concert featured the Gwent Youth Wind Orchestra from Wales, and the Virginia Tech Wind Ensemble and Combined Choirs. Also featured was world renowned euphonium player David Childs, who was the soloist in two World Premiere works that he commissioned. Master of Ceremonies Deborah Lee Gibbs introduced each group.

Program notes were only provided for the two World Premiere works. While it was nice that the Master of Ceremonies spoke briefly of each work, it was more of a “reading of the menu,” rather than offering much explanation or history of the works. I’m sure this was done to economize on printing costs (there were several concerts using the same program booklet, with only minor changes), but this, coupled with the curious placement of each group’s selection as if it were parenthetical, was vexing. The majority of the works played were not so well-known that they would not need some explanation or context.

The Gwent Youth Wind Orchestra, led by Sean O’Neill, took the stage for the first half. They offered six works (two World Premieres), five by Welsh composers, with the sixth by Arturo Márquez. The Gwent is open by audition to players up to college age. The rough equivalent in the United States would probably be a High School Honor Band. As one might expect, there is often some unevenness in the quality of the players, and this was no exception. That’s not meant to be a criticism, for the overall level of play was generally excellent, but it is just a reality of having a group with constantly changing personnel. The most problematic area was intonation, some of which one could attribute to nerves, but some to inexperience (e.g. the low D – concert C – at the end of Abide With Me is a notoriously sharp note on the B-flat Trumpet, which requires either a third valve slide adjustment or one brought about from embouchure to bring it into tune).

Now that I’ve gotten these issues mentioned it is time to move on to the positive, of which there was much to praise. The opening work, Prismatic Light by Alan Fernie, was boldly played, with precision and a festive feeling. Gareth Wood’s Salome – Rhapsody for Band has a grotesque, heathenish quality that the Gwent played up to the hilt – an impressive performance of a demanding work. Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Márquez, a popular and much-loved work, had the right amount of restraint that lesser groups often fail to maintain, and it showed the Gwent to the maximum advantage.

Now it is time to say a few words about the featured soloist. The story of the violin virtuoso Paganini is well known. Some said he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his virtuosity. It seems that Paganini was re-born in Wales, but instead of the violin, this new incarnation has taken to the euphonium. Disguised as the mild-mannered David Childs, the wizardry was on full display on the stage of Carnegie Hall. This is only half in jest – Mr. Childs possesses a mind-boggling technique that would be the envy of not only euphonium players, but many a trumpet player as well, especially in the clarity of his high-speed passagework and articulation. Usually with the larger brass, the faster the playing, the muddier the sound, but not so with Mr. Childs. Coupled with this, his extreme upper range tone is bright and clear, without a hint of strain.

Seren Wen (White Star) Euphonium Concerto was the first of the commissioned World Premiere works. The program notes quote composer Bernard Kane as saying: “I’ve used the ‘White Star’ as the title of the work…It was the Line of the Titanic, who’s [sic] distress signal was first heard in the Welsh Village of Pontllanfriath, some 3000 miles away from where Titanic hit that fatal iceberg … It is not a tone poem about the sinking, rather the story being the work’s impetus and the link with Wales.” I found this all puzzling, the relevance tenuous at best, not to mention the highly debatable claim regarding the distress signal (this reviewer is a long-time Titanic enthusiast). In any case, the work is a showcase for Mr. Childs’ virtuosity, with writing emphasizing his strengths (as listed above). It was a dazzling display.

The second World Premiere was the beautiful Welsh Prayer by Paul Mealor. It’s not showy, but requires great control to maintain its lyrical quality. Of course, Mr. Childs has this ability in spades, and I would not be surprised if this work figures into his regular repertoire.

After Abide With Me, as arranged by Karl Jenkins, the audience, which included many from Wales (many carrying the national flag), gave the performers a standing ovation. Da Iawn!

After Intermission the Virginia Wind Ensemble Tech and Combined Choirs took the stage. Before all else, it is notable to mention the great level of preparation and organization from Virginia Tech. Each stage change (and there were several) was accomplished in record time without any fuss at all, something I wish many other concerts would take as an example. What was disappointing was the complete lack of program notes and texts for their selections.

The Wind Ensemble with Combined Choirs led off. Conductor Jonathan Caldwell led a lively performance of Percy Grainger’s charming I’m Seventeen Come Sunday. Dwight Bigler then took the podium to conduct his work I Shall Not Live In Vain, which was moving.

The Chamber Singers, conducted by Mr. Bigler, offered three works. The first, William Byrd’s Sing Joyfullly had good balance, clear diction, and precise intonation. The second, Rivers of Light by Ēriks Ešenvalds (with one of the chorus playing a mouth harp), was hauntingly beautiful. The last, the third and final movement, Strike, of Gene Koshinski’s Concerto for Marimba and Choir with Percussion, is one of the more unusual works this listener has heard. Featuring Assistant Professor of Percussion Annie Stevens, this highly entertaining selection had a tribal, primitive feel. It would have been helpful to know the “back story” for his work to gain more insight.

Jonathan Caldwell then led the Wind Ensemble in Mason Bates’ Mothership, with soloists Jason Crafton (Assistant Professor of Trumpet), and Alan Weinstein (Associate Professor of Cello) playing an electric cello. It’s a scherzo-like work, with 21st-century idioms, such as techno rhythms. It’s a fun work, with electronic atmospheric touches, “visiting soloists to the docked Mothership,” and action-packed writing for all. The Wind Ensemble treated the listener to a ten-minute otherworldly romp.

To close the concert, Mr. Bigler returned to the podium to conduct the Wind Ensemble and Combined Choirs in his work Three Appalachian Songs. The whimsical Cluck Old Hen, the mournful Poor Wayfarin’ Stranger, with soprano soloist Ariana Wyatt (Assistant Professor of Voice), and the exultant Sourwood Mountain brought the night to a rousing close. The audience, which included ensembles that had performed in the earlier afternoon concert, gave the combined forces a loud and long ovation.


Temple University Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Band in Review

Temple University Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Band in Review

Temple University Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Band
Andreas Delfs, conductor; Terell Stafford, director
William Wolfram, piano
Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, New York, NY
April 8, 2017

 

One of the greatest pleasures of being a music reviewer is when one is treated to a night of music by passionate young players giving their utmost in performances that rival those of more seasoned professional groups. In these cases, one can almost “turn off the meter” and sit back and enjoy. On April 8, 2017 at Alice Tully Hall, the Temple University Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Band stepped up and gave a concert that was not only technically polished, but full of vitality. Anyone who bemoans the alleged decline of concert music should take note – this is how you do it!

Conductor Andreas Delfs took the stage to lead the Symphony Orchestra in Orchestral Variations on a Theme by Paganini, Op. 26 (1947) by Boris Blacher (1903-1975). Blacher is among a long list of luminaries (Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Lutoslawki, and Rochberg) who used Paganini’s 24th Caprice for sets of variations, and his version has sixteen diverse variations, of which many are jazz infused (this listener’s favorite was a stylish pizzicato variation). Other than one moment when one of the string players was a fraction of a second behind in attack, it was an excellent reading in what was a great start to the night.

Maestro Delfs is one of the most involved conductors I have ever seen. He was fully invested in each and every note, as if he was living and breathing the music. His players returned that passion with interest.

After the Blacher, the stage was readied for George Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra. Written in 1931 for the movie Delicious, the Second Rhapsody in its finished form has been largely neglected until recent times. This fifteen-minute work lacks the appeal of the Rhapsody in Blue and the Concerto in F, which probably accounts for its lesser popularity. That is not to say that it is not filled with Gershwin’s characteristic melodies and rhythmic liveliness, but that its darker nature makes it more difficult to embrace. It certainly helped that one of the finest pianists in the country, William Wolfram, was the featured soloist. Mr. Wolfram is a no-nonsense musician. He took the stage, sat down at the piano, and without any ado launched into the opening notes. There were not any displays or histrionics, for Mr. Wolfram doesn’t need any gimmicks – he lets his playing speak for him. I wonder if the audience really knew how good Mr. Wolfram is, as he made it all look so easy, in what might be an “occupational hazard” of having such a huge technique. It was an outstanding performance that had this listener wanting to hear Mr. Wolfram in one of the “big” works (such as Prokofiev’s 3rd Piano Concerto), where his firepower could be unleashed. The audience gave him a nice ovation.

After intermission, the Jazz Band, led by Terell Stafford, offered Juan Tizol’s 1941 classic Perdido, which has figured in the recorded work of many of the giants of jazz (Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan, to name a few), but was most associated with Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. The Spanish word perdido usually is translated as “lost,” but in this case it refers to a street name in New Orleans. The players took on Gerald Wilson’s supercharged arrangement, which is no walk in the park. What a high-octane performance it was, from the soloist to the ending double High C in the trumpets (I was waiting for it!), which shook the walls of the hall. This highly-opinionated listener found himself highly impressed and just a touch nostalgic for those long ago days when he was a young trumpeter.

Conductor Andreas Delfs spoke to the audience prior to the New York Premiere of UNITED, Symphony for Orchestra and Big Band, by Daniel Schnyder (b. 1961). Descirbed by Maestro Delfs as a concerto grosso, UNITED is a four-movement work that seeks to unite the two worlds of classical and jazz, while giving each “faction” an opportunity to shine not only in its own “style,” but in the style of the other! It’s a powerhouse work, a showstopper par excellence. The huge combined forces, to borrow an expression from Mr. Schnyder’s notes, “rocked the house” in a scintillating performance. The composer was in attendance and was greeted with an ovation as Maestro Delfs held the score in the air.

Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, in a special arrangement by Bill Cunliffe for Orchestra and Big Band, served as a built-in encore, a “victory lap” for everyone to enjoy. The audience was obviously enchanted (three women directly in front of me were dancing in their seats), and when it was over there was a long, loud, and well-deserved standing ovation. I’m sure that everyone in attendance left happy. Congratulations, Temple University Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Band, for a most enjoyable concert, which this listener will remember for a long time.