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.


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.”

Requiem for My Mother by Stephen Edwards: DVD in Review

Requiem for My Mother by Stephen Edwards: DVD in Review

Requiem for My Mother by Stephen Edwards
Recording and DVD Documentary
The Continuo Arts Symphonic Chorus, The City of Prague Philharmonic; Candace Wicke, conductor
Orchestrations by Marcus Sjowall and Michael Pelavin
Directed by David Haugland and Stephen Edwards
Produced by Stephen Edwards, Julie Hartley, David Haugland


Stephen Edwards’ Requiem for My Mother is a beautiful and powerful work inspired by an original and poignant personal story. That is why the accompanying DVD about the inspiration for this recording is a true revelation, and one of the most moving and honest music documentaries you will see. I recommend owning both the recording and the documentary. The film is not only a lovely telling of the story behind a deeply personal work, but also the evolution of those feelings into the reality of the rehearsal and recording process. The Requiem is so emotionally overwhelming and deeply symbolic of the love a son has for the mother that inspired him, that it is difficult to put those thoughts into words. Mr. Edwards hints about that difficulty, and as a result turned to the purist and most ancient forms of Latin chant, ultimately culminating in the performance at a Rome cathedral. Rome is also where the great film composer and Mr. Edwards’ idol Ennio Morricone produced his many studio recordings, and the Continuo Arts Symphonic Chorus on this CD was recorded separately there. (The orchestra was recorded in Prague and the two recordings were mixed later).


Because of Edwards’ love for film and film music, he was able to beautifully co-direct a documentary that is as heartfelt and honest as his Requiem itself. The score is cinematic in nature, but also has solid concert music craft behind it, with interesting harmonies (the work ends on a surprising major second, perhaps symbolizing mother and son), some clever use of minimalism, and creative changing meters (3/4 to 4/4) in the Dies Irae. The high opening flute solo represents his mother, who was both a flutist and a choral director, which makes the use of chorus also appropriate for this dedication. The Dies Irae in the documentary is brilliantly and thoroughly examined with eye-popping video cuts of Leonard Bernstein conducting Mozart’s Requiem, plus short footages from Star Wars, The Exorcist and It’s a Wonderful Life as part of an insightful, well-explained effort to show how this ancient chant is employed in well-known films.


Huge kudos to the outstanding and deeply inspirational choral conductor Candace Wicke and the expert engineers and sound mixers for producing such a finely balanced, robust, rhythmically tight, and soulful recording. Ms. Wicke poured blood, sweat, and tears into the rehearsal preparation, and inspired the Continuo Arts Symphonic Chorus to rise to a level they probably didn’t know they were capable of achieving. The documentary DVD reveals many parallel stories, such as those of Ms. Wicke and her father (having recently lost a close family member), who feel as passionately about the Requiem as the composer himself. Don’t get me wrong, one can enjoy the recording of this composition on its own, but the documentary doubles that enjoyment. Having both is, in fact, important at a time when music streaming makes it all too easy to grab a sound-bite snippet here and there. The Requiem for My Mother, and the story behind it, combine to make for an inspiring time well-spent. This spiritually uplifting composition is like a great movie- you invest in it and want to learn the deeper meaning behind it. Just like a viewer of the film It’s a Wonderful Life, one is on a journey to find the reason for dying and for living on. And like the Angel in that classic film, both Stephen Edwards and his mother Rosalie have more than earned their wings.

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.

Amy E. Gustafson in Review

Amy E. Gustafson in Review

Amy E. Gustafson, pianist
Florence Gould Hall, French Institute, Alliance Française, New York, NY
June 9, 2017


A sizable crowd at Florence Gould Hall was treated on June 9th to an evening of Debussy played by pianist Amy E. Gustafson to mark the release of her new CD entitled Reverie. The CD includes Book II of the Préludes, Suite Bergamasque, L’Isle Joyeuse, and the title piece, Reverie. The recital program included nearly all of the works from the CD, with the exception of three of the Préludes (Les fées sont d’esquises danseuses, La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune, and Les tierces alternées), and with the Reverie not listed but being added as an encore. It was a beautifully crafted program showing Ms. Gustafson to be a sincere artist with a deep commitment to this repertoire.


It is not easy to pull off an entire recital of Debussy, but Ms. Gustafson did just that, and not once did the music overstay its welcome. She is not a performer of overt drama or physical demonstrativeness, but if one listened rather than watching (the point, after all), one found her to have ample emotional range within a carefully defined tonal palette, along with a keen sense of shape and direction within that palette. She tended to avoid dynamic extremes and the flood of pedal in which many indulge, opting for a more “pen-and-ink” approach to Debussy’s fine details, and it was a delight to hear.


Where Debussy required, Ms. Gustafson showed a versatile sense of his more theatrical characterizations, conveying the bumptious pace of Général Lavine – eccentric, the whiff of Dickensian air in Hommage á S. Pickwick, Esq. P. P. M. P. C., and the sinister shimmer of the nymph Ondine (painted with far fewer brushstrokes than Ravel’s Ondine, but with a similar spirit).


At the same time, Ms. Gustafson was unafraid of the grays of Brouillards (Fog), the subtle shades in Feuilles mortes (Dead Leaves), and the deathly stillness of Canope (Canopic Jar – the jar used for various remains of mummies). These three pieces combined could represent the kiss of death in a live recital, given the ever-decreasing attention spans of many audiences today, but this pianist credited her listeners with keen sensibilities, and she was rewarded with the same. She led her willing listeners on a journey of the imagination, and for that she won my complete admiration. The touching simplicity of Bruyères (Heather) was captured perfectly as well.


The brighter musical colors of La Puerta del Vino and Feux d’artifice (Fireworks) were welcome, but Ms. Gustafson was never bombastic, and she never overplayed. I might have even wanted a touch more fire in the “fireworks” – but this is again individual. Vive la différence!


Taking no intermission (another plus in my opinion), Ms. Gustafson followed the Préludes with the Suite Bergamasque. It was refreshing to hear this four-piece set in its entirety, as one so often hears selections from it, particularly the Clair de Lune and to a lesser extent the Passepied. One can always safely bet that heads will turn as the dreamy Clair de Lune opens, listeners looking towards another as if to say, “that’s our song” or “remember this, my favorite?” – and I won that bet again. By virtue of such familiarity, performing the piece can be somewhat daunting; Ms. Gustafson knew what she was doing, however, and she played it beautifully with only the tiniest of glitches. Notable was how she took time to let the music speak. The musical result was richly satisfying. The Minuet from the same suite did not fare quite as well, with a few lapses along its winding path, but the Passepied concluded the set beautifully. Throughout the recital, Ms. Gustafson had shown thorough attention to detail, including some expert pedaling (for example in Ondine), but her delicate approach was especially impressive in the Passepied.


L’Isle Joyeuse capped off the program with joy, even if occasionally this listener wanted more abandon. The beginning was a bit measured sounding and even the end, not quite as ecstatic as I’ve heard – but again, these matters are highly individual. (This listener also wanted to hear more of the crests and nadirs in each wave and perhaps a bit less of the textures in between).


All in all, these tonal scenes and vignettes seemed the perfect musical fare for Florence Gould Hall, a venue frequently used for cinematic arts, particularly French films. In lieu of subtitles, we had some very expressive and articulate program notes by the pianist. She clearly wanted to share her reactions to this music, and she did so in every possible way. It was a wonderful evening.


Without a doubt, the high point of the recital for this reviewer was the encore, Reverie. In a slower–than-usual tempo, Ms. Gustafson savored each moment of the daydream. It was truly moving, and I’d have to place it high on the list of my favorite renditions of this piece. If you’d like to hear it, you can hear something close to it (without the live performance magic but still beautiful) on her CD (visit http://www.amygustafson.com).


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.


Key Pianists Presents Sara Davis Buechner in Review

Key Pianists Presents Sara Davis Buechner in Review

Key Pianists presents Sara Davis Buechner, piano,
Recital of Japanese Piano Music and Ibert’s Histoires
with guest artist, Yayoi Hirano, Noh/Kabuki Mime and Mask Dancer
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
June 1, 2017


Sara Davis Buechner needs little introduction within the world of pianists. She has enjoyed a high- profile career for several decades, launched in part by numerous major prizes, and she has played with many of the world’s finest orchestras and in the most prominent concert venues. Her biography states that her repertoire of more than 100 piano concertos ranges “from A (Albeniz) to Z (Zimbalist),” and I can attest that what is in between – along with her discography – is a tantalizing array of discoveries and treasures.

While it is no secret that Ms. Buechner’s repertoire ranges from the mainstream to the exotic and underappreciated, including such names as Friml, Suesse, and Rózsa, nothing prepared me for the power and originality of her Japanese-themed program at Weill Hall. It went far beyond what one might expect as a doffing of the hat to Japan (2017 being her 30th year as a Yamaha artist). She plumbed the depths of a pianistic goldmine that has simply remained largely untapped here in the US. The works of Kouji Taku (1904-1983), Yoshinao Nakada (1923-2000), and Yukiko Nishimura (b. 1969) were revelations.

The Japanese works on the program that Ms. Buechner did not discover or rediscover, she commissioned, namely the first work Ten Etudes for Piano (2010-2011), by Yukiko Nishimura (a pianist in her own right). From the very first Étude, Snowy Sky, one was mesmerized by the kaleidoscope of colors, shimmering evocations that the pianist projected with crystalline sound, vivid tonal imagination and exceptional control. There emerged a definite kinship with works of the French Impressionists here, and yet this music was distinctly Japanese and bracingly new.

Ms. Buechner is capable of every shade on the musical spectrum and played each successive etude somehow more stunningly than the last. The set of ten pieces demanded nearly a half hour of pianistic wizardry of all kinds, but Ms. Buechner never flagged, and I’m happy to report that the listeners did not either. Fanfare dazzled with its energy and brilliance. Windmill intrigued with its tone-painting, augmented in sections by percussive knocking under the keyboard. Drops drew out more of the quieter colorist in Ms. Buechner, and the dance-like Hide and Seek was feisty and rambunctious through fistfuls of notes and hand-crossings. There were elements of modern jazz and minimalism apparent, but no piece in ten could be stylistically pigeonholed.

There was added fun in observing specific pianistic challenges as well. While Tango, for example, was wildly virtuosic all around, Daydreaming featured left hand alone, and Rock Candy exploited the right hand alone (the much less common solo hand). Harvest Moon, a transcription of one of the composer’s orchestral works, capped off the set with exuberance. These pieces will undoubtedly attract many pianistic daredevils and musicians, though it is difficult to imagine Ms. Buechner’s renditions being surpassed. She has, in a sense, created these pieces as well as inspiring them, and she is one with them. In the words of W. B. Yeats, “Who can tell the dancer from the dance?”

If the influence of jazz was prevalent in Ms. Nishimura’s pieces, it was even more the case in Variations on a Theme by Poulenc by Kouji Taku (1904-1983) a classical pianist (and student of Alfred Cortot) who had a lifetime of experience with French cabaret style. Ms. Buechner’s own excellent notes tell us that the Taku work was published in a 1960 Zen-On anthology and had almost no pianists perform it since its composition in 1957, except for Arthur Loesser in 1961, and, of course, herself. It is a fantastic (re-)discovery based on Poulenc’s well-loved Mouvement Perpetuel No. 1, a sweetly nonchalant theme with an ambling B-flat bass, a perfect point from which Taku could launch into an ostinato variation, tango, blues, and then samba-like flights of fancy. What a fantastic finale to the first half – bravissima!

As hinted above, a French tone to the evening was never far, but it was overt, of course, in the inclusion of Histoires (“Stories), the marvelous set of ten character pieces by French composer Jacques Ibert (1890-1962). Each of the ten miniatures was paired – incorporating the Japanese theme – with a performance by guest Kabuki mime and mask dancer, Yayoi Hirano, wearing traditional masks that she had created. One almost forgot about the pianist, playing from score (as she did, understandably, for the entire evening), with a string of varied masks poised on the piano lid; the music, however, was never forgotten. Ms. Buechner presented the “stories” vividly through her sensitive playing, as did Ms. Hirano with her movements. It was an intriguing conception, even to this listener who loves this music by itself.

This revelatory evening closed with Sonata for Piano (1949-1969) by Yoshinao Nakada, known in the US chiefly for some popular student miniatures, it seems. The Sonata is a large, complex, neo-Romantic work that represented a great struggle for the composer (as one might surmise from the composition timespan), and it will frankly take this listener a bit more listening to fully embrace. The composer, an ex-kamikaze pilot who survived World War II, poured his torment into it – that was quite clear – and moments were extremely stirring. I am grateful to Ms. Buechner for my first hearing of it, as well for first hearings of Taku and Nishimura, and I hope for more.

Loud ovations were met with some endearing quips from the pianist about encores being an unnecessary delay before the first martini – plus a poem and an original haiku by the pianist about the NY Mets’ recent performance (translated). I wouldn’t know about the Mets, but the performance I attended was phenomenal! Long may Ms. Buechner continue to find and commission great treasures to play for us! She has already given much to music, but her Japanese repertoire may become the most important contribution yet. She is well-situated to do more, as she now divides her time between Takatsuki, Osaka, Japan and Philadelphia, where she joined the illustrious faculty of Temple University in 2016 – lucky piano students!

Kudos to everyone involved, particularly to Key Pianists and Terry Eder for making it happen (see Frank Daykin’s interview from 9/14/16 Unlocking Beauty: A Conversation with Terry Eder).


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!