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

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

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Music of Dinos Constantinides
Featured Artists: Yova Milanova, Mariana Todorova, violins; Sandra Moon, soprano; Maria Asteriadou, piano; Athanasios Zervas, Jeremy Justeson, saxophones
Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
February 21, 2017

 

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. With the help of six exceptionally talented colleagues, his audience was privy to a broad survey of his varied style, in nine works. This concert was the ninth occasion that Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) has presented the music of Mr. Constantinides.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way. Very often, concerts of this type (survey of a composer with a long career), try to offer as many works as possible to cover all periods, etc. The net effect is a concert that is overly long, an unfortunate thing, as those persons without the stamina to endure often miss out on works they probably would have enjoyed. In today’s world, with people’s shortened attention spans, it is imperative to consider this in programming works.

Now, let’s move on to positive things. Mr. Constantinides is a master of form, and I am sure his composition students benefit greatly from his expertise. In particular, it is his Greek-influenced works that stand above the rest, as if they are a natural extension of his being. It was those works that took from Greek themes that this listener found to be the most compelling.

The six featured artists were all superb interpreters of Mr. Constantinides’s compositions. We heard violinists Yova Milanova and Mariana Todorova, soprano Sandra Moon, pianist Maria Asteriadou, and saxophonists Athanasios Zervas and Jeremy Justeson. While it would be beyond the scope of this review to speak of each piece, I would like to offer highlights of each performer. Ms. Milanova offered a nuanced reading of Four Interludes for Violin Alone, LRC 136. Lazy Jack and His Fiddle, LRC 199, with its virtuosic demands, was tossed off by Ms. Todorova with panache. Ms. Milanova and Ms. Todorova joined together in a light-hearted reading of the charming Family Triptych for Two Violins, LRC 182I. Ms. Moon was a force in Listenings and Silences for Voice Alone, LRC111, with text from the prominent African-American poet Pinkie Gordon Lane (1923-2008). Ms. Asteriadou played the 2016 arrangement of Dreams, Earth, and Heaven, LRC101, with great understanding, bringing out the various Greek influences, ancient and modern, with devotion. The clever interplay of Music for Two Saxophones, LRC 173d was realized with consummate skill by Mr. Zervas (soprano sax) and Mr. Justeson (tenor sax), in what was a fun end to the concert.

 

At the end, Mr. Constantinides joined his colleagues on the stage to offer them his congratulations. He spoke in a humble fashion to the audience, thanking all, including LSU officials, for their support. It was quite touching to witness. It was then announced by one of the LSU officials in attendance that the composer and his wife had endowed a Dinos Constantinides New Music Ensemble, a continuing legacy of his fifty-three years (and counting- he’s still going strong at age 87!) at LSU. Congratulations, Mr. Constantinides, and may you have another fifty-three years of music making!

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Mercer University at Carnegie Hall in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Mercer University at Carnegie Hall in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Mercer University at Carnegie Hall
Mercer Singers
Stanley L. Roberts, conductor; Carol S. Goff, accompanist
McDuffie Center String Ensemble
Amy Schwartz Moretti, director and violin
Olivia McMillan, soprano
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
February 19, 2017

 

The nightcap of the President’s Day weekend concert doubleheader presented by Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) featured the talents of musicians from Mercer University, located in Macon, Georgia. William Underwood, President of Mercer University, came to the stage to “throw out the first pitch” by welcoming the audience, talking briefly about Mercer, and expressing his pride in the Mercer music department. He thanked all for coming, asked all to enjoy the concerts, and then left the stage.

The Mercer Singers, led by Stanley L. Roberts took the stage to open the concert. They offered six works in a wide range of styles, highlighting their versatility. Things got off to a good start with the Kenyan folk song Wana Baraka. Complete with the singers swaying to the music, it was moving in its simplicity. Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque followed. This work is deceptively simple, but it requires extreme precision in ensemble balance and intonation, or else the overall effect is ruined. There was no danger of that here, as the balance was superb, with the close intervals precisely rendered. It was an excellent performance. Special mention goes to the soprano soloist, whose voice soared in a way I have not encountered in this work. After this, the Mercer Singers delivered an “adrenaline shot” in the form of Brent Pierce’s Hosanna in excelsis, a two-minute jazz influenced, rhythmically power-packed piece. Faire is the Heaven, by William Henry Harrison, followed with refinement, and Dan Forrest’s setting of Lead, Kindly Light, was the highlight of their selections to this listener. Ending with Moses Hogan’s show-stopping The Battle of Jericho, the Mercer Singers brought the audience to their feet with a rollicking performance.

After intermission, the McDuffie Center String Ensemble took the stage. Led by Amy Schwartz Moretti, who also plays violin in the ensemble, the Mc Duffie Center String Ensemble is composed of twenty-four full scholarship students of the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings, and five faculty mentors. This gives the young players the opportunity to play with and learn from experienced veterans who play with some top-notch ensembles. They offered two selections, Edward Elgar’s Serenade for String Orchestra, Op. 20, and the fourth movement finale from Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet.

The conductor-less ensemble, with the violins and violas playing standing, proved to be a exceptional group. The benefits of playing with accomplished mentors lent wings to the younger players in what were inspired performances. The Elgar was played with polish throughout, but I must give preference to the second movement Larghetto, which was simply sublime. The Presto of the Octet followed – the finale of a masterpiece from one of the greatest prodigies in the history of music, Mendelssohn having written this work at age sixteen! It was played with considerable brio. It was not perfect, to be sure, but the bold approach was something this listener always appreciates, and was worthy of the work. I would in fact like to hear this ensemble play the entire Octet. The audience gave the players a richly rewarded standing ovation.

After a short break, the Mercer Singers joined the String Ensemble (both with the help of some “Friends and Alums”) for the finale work of the night, John Rutter’s Requiem. This seven-movement work was inspired in a large part by Rutter’s editing of a new edition Fauré’s Requiem in 1983. It can be said that Rutter’s study of Fauré led to the creation of an equally serene and beautiful work. Rutter used texts from the Latin Requiem Mass, the 1611 Bible, and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

There was much to commend in this performance, but I will mention above all the heavenly Pie Jesu, highlighted by the sheer radiance of the voice of soprano soloist Olivia McMillan. The audience, who broke convention with applause after each movement, gave a prolonged standing ovation at the end. Congratulations to all for a fine evening of music.

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Glory to Freedom: A Concert to Honor Our Veterans in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Glory to Freedom: A Concert to Honor Our Veterans in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Glory to Freedom: A Concert to Honor Our Veterans
Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Erin Freeman, DCINY debut conductor, Lee Nelson, guest conductor
Suzanne Karpov, soprano
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
February 19, 2017

 

On an unusually warm February day, with temperatures in the mid-60’s, and pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training to kick off the baseball season, I was reminded of the legendary Ernie Banks. “Mr. Cub” never lost his zest for the game. “Let’s play two,” was his motto. So why not have two concerts on the same day? Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) served up just such a doubleheader. The first (and the subject of this review) was entitled The Glory of Freedom: A Concert to Honor Our Veterans. It featured the talents of the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra and the Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Singers International. Chorus members were from Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Virginia, the United Kingdom, and individual singers from around the globe.

The Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, led by Dr. James Mick, took the stage to open the afternoon. Established in 1970, this group offers talented young players the opportunity to come together both to further their development and to enjoy the enriching experience of making music. I was immediately intrigued by their unusual seating scheme, a double-pyramid, with the upper pyramid inverted, with the brass players and double reeds on risers that are normally used for singing ensembles. I’m sure that Dr. Mick had a specific purpose in mind, but I can’t say that it enhanced or detracted from the overall sound.

Opening with Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, the young players had a slightly nervous start, with some “push-pull” tempo issues at the onset, but the attentive Dr. Mick got things back on track without any difficulty. I would like to see a more consistent approach, especially in the brass sections. When they were good, they were very good, but at other moments, the playing was tentative, with the expected results. Boldness, especially in this work, is always called for, regardless of the dynamic marking. To be fair, these issues are quite common for the developing players, and should not be considered a stinging criticism. All in all, these issues aside, the playing was commendable. It was bright and cleanly articulated, with good intonation throughout.

The all-around good start had me anticipating an upward arc of excellence, and I was not disappointed. The third movement of Gustav Mahler’s 1st Symphony (often referred to as the “Funeral March”) was played with a maturity beyond the ages of the players. Too often, Mahler’s sometimes ironic approach is rendered with exaggerated effects that can become almost cartoonish. There was none of that in this performance. It was far and away the highlight of their selections to this listener. Closing with Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Marquez (made popular by the early advocacy of Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela), the ensemble offered a vibrant reading of this work. The watchword was “fun.” I particularly admired the principled restraint and build-up, which I have missed in other performances of this piece. The audience loved it and rewarded the players with a nice ovation.

After intermission, DCINY debut conductor Erin Freeman took the podium to lead Francis Poulenc’s Gloria. As Ms. Freeman writes in her excellent program notes, Gloria is a twenty-five minute, six-movement work that is a musical depiction of the composer’s life story. Complete with tribute to Stravinsky, reminiscences of Les Six, and his religious feelings, Gloria is the culmination of Poulenc’s mastery.

Ms. Freeman was well-prepared and energetic in her conducting. She led the large forces with meticulous detail to the many challenges of this work. The chorus sang with excellent balance and clear diction, not always a given with such large forces. The star of the performance was soprano Suzanne Karpov, whose angelic voice filled the hall. The audience was so moved that they broke convention and applauded enthusiastically between each movement, offering a standing ovation at the end.

After a brief pause, guest conductor Lee Nelson took the stage to conduct Randall Thompson’s choral work, The Testament of Freedom. Written in 1943 to celebrate the bicentennial of Thomas Jefferson’s birth, The Testament of Freedom uses text from Jefferson’s writing. With its dramatic setting of Jefferson’s powerful prose, this work has become a staple of the male chorus repertoire. Regardless of contemporary assessments of Jefferson the man, the power of his words is undeniable, and the truths he stated in 1775 are every bit as powerful in 2017. Some cynics have dismissed this work as jingoistic and musically reactionary, pronouncements for which this listener has no patience. I am always pleased to hear this work, and today’s performance was especially fine. The all-male chorus, with forces so large as to spill out onto the sides of the stage, was first-rate, and Mr. Nelson proved to be an able leader. The audience gave the performers a long, enthusiastic standing ovation.

Congratulations to all. Stay tuned for part two of this doubleheader of music!

 


Karwendel Artists Gala Concert in Review

Karwendel Artists Gala Concert in Review

Karwendel Music Festival Faculty and Alumni: Javor Bračić, piano, Xi Wang, Sarah Kuo, Sven Stucke, and Rimma Benyumova, violin; Liyuan Liu, viola; Konstantin Bruns, cello; and Guest Artist, James Kim, cello
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
February 16, 2017

If you haven’t heard of the Karwendel Music Festival (KMF) in Mittenwald, Germany, don’t feel embarrassed, as it only had its inaugural season in 2016; you may, however, want to learn the name, as it seems headed to become a fixture among music festivals. Founded by vibrant young violinist directors, Xi Wang and Sven Stucke, the festival, which takes place in the latter part of August, has already enjoyed an auspicious start. According to the program notes for their recent New York recital, they’ve presented seven concerts, plus workshops, masterclasses, lectures, and panel discussions, “showcasing 10 internationally acclaimed artists and 18 fellows representing seven countries and four continents.” Perhaps just as meaningfully, they’ve awarded a €20,000 French violin bow made by Claude Thomassin to an outstanding alumna to use free for a year.

Ms. Wang is a persuasive spokesperson for the KMF mission, and she introduced their program by expressing the founders’ and directors’ desire to “give back” and help younger musicians, putting resources at their disposal. “We’ve been there,” she explained. It was striking to hear these words from a musician who seems so young herself!

Youthful vibrancy characterized the entire evening. Opening with just the first movement of the ever popular Café Music (for piano trio) by Paul Schoenfeld, violinist director Xi Wang joined pianist and KMF faculty member Javor Bračić and guest cellist James Kim to show they know how to put the “festive” in “festival.” It was saucy and stylish, just as it should be.

Following in extreme contrast to this jovial opening, but equally au courant was a solo cello work by Gerald Resch (b. 1975) entitled Al Fresco, inspired by the music of Syria and the beginnings of the Arab Spring in 2011. KMF Alumnus, Konstantin Bruns, played this tour de force to the hilt. The piece is improvisatory in feel, starting with a lone desolate pizzicato, inflected tonally to evoke sounds of the oud, and becoming powerfully rhapsodic with extended cello techniques, bending of pitches, glissandi, percussive strikes of the fingerboard and elsewhere, as well as foot-stomping. All of this was easily within the artistic range and abilities of Mr. Bruns, a highly imaginative performer, who also relates well to his listeners. Sensing their rapt attention as he tuned prior to the performance, he paused and quipped, “that is just the tuning.”

More traditional virtuosity followed in the form of Pablo Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen played by KMF alumna, Sarah Kuo with her excellent collaborator Javor Bračić. It was an engaging performance by an outstanding young violinist. She navigated the piece’s challenges with impressive ease.

Brahms’ Sonatensatz (Scherzo from the F.A.E. Sonata) followed, pairing up another excellent KMF alumna, violinist Rimma Benyumova, with Mr. Bračić. Ms. Benyumova plunged into the music with total immersion, and with just the intensity that the piece warrants.

After intermission we heard the Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34, bringing Mr. Stucke, Ms. Wang, Mr. Kim, and Mr. Bračić returning to the stage with excellent violist Liyuan Liu. On paper, the Brahms is the perfect second half to any program; on this occasion, though, to these ears, it could have been more cohesive. As a disclaimer, for this reviewer, it is one of those hypothetical “desert island” pieces, so a less than ecstatic reaction may be explained by an excessively high bar.

To analyze what one wants in such a work, one wants first a burnished collective sound. Admittedly, that can take years for a string quartet to achieve, but without it, even the great works become a mere alternation of thematic turns by four soloists rather than a unified expression from a single musical heart – that of Brahms, here. Brahms composed this magnificent work as an organic entity – and the work’s several incarnations (including one for two pianos) support this. One probably should not even be thinking “what an excellent violist” (as one did here) more than one should think, “that pianist has a great left hand thumb.”

One heard four fine string players who had clearly done their homework and sorted out their respective thematic entrances, but the entrances were showcased at times so prominently (abetted by the others’ receding) – that it reminded one of a tap dancer stepping out of an ensemble for the center stage moment.

Speaking of center stage, one did want more from the pianist, and having the lid on the half-stick was not ideal. Having heard this pianist before in a highly successful debut, one can safely say that there should have been no problem in his matching the quartet in power – so perhaps some group decision was at play. At any rate, the bass of the piano can pair so beautifully with the cellist in this piece, sometimes as a growl, sometimes as a throbbing pulse – and one wanted more of these qualities. Instead, the upper strings dominated, and some sections were strident rather than voluptuous or powerful. In matters of tempo as well, the strings seemed to take flight without regard for the fistfuls of notes in the piano part, which thus at times seemed glossed over in haste. The work is just as exciting –actually more so – if allowed time to build the surges, waves, and peaks with substance and intensity. There was indeed excitement in a virtuosic sense, but there could have been more.

It may be unfair to set such a high bar for what was probably an ad hoc collaboration, assuming the quintet may have suffered some of the last-minute travel-related personnel changes that Ms. Wang mentioned in her opening words. One could only guess which program selections were affected by the visa woes of the three absent performers from China, but the very stress of such matters in a way makes the entire evening seem miraculous.

The group is, all in all, to be congratulated for such an evening of variety and brilliance. The audience seemed to agree, and a final standing ovation earned a reprise of the Scherzo from the Brahms Quintet. Kudos to all for their concert – and also for such an important undertaking as the Karwendel Music Festival.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Reflections of Peace in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Reflections of Peace in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Reflections of Peace
Flutopia Wind Ensemble, Jennifer Lapple, director
Catherine Sailer, guest conductor
Angela Mannino, soprano; Kirsten Allegri, mezzo-soprano; Jeremy Little, tenor; Steven Taylor, bass
James M. Meaders, DCINY Associate Artistic Director and conductor
Kim André Arnesen, visiting composer
Viola Dacus, mezzo-soprano; Aria Manning, youth soprano soloist
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra; Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
January 16, 2017

 

In a second concert this past weekend to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a concert entitled Reflections of Peace. It centered on two large works, the Missa In Angustiis of Haydn and the New York City premiere of Kim André Arnesen’s Requiem. The talented youth wind ensemble Flutopia was also featured.

The Flutopia Wind Ensemble took to the stage for the first half. Led by Jennifer Lapple, Flutopia is comprised of high school wind players from the Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia areas. This was their third appearance in a DCINY event and the second time this reviewer has had the pleasure of hearing them. The name suggests a “flute-centric” ensemble, but this was less the case on this occasion (the number of clarinets being only one fewer than the flutes). I was intrigued by the bottom-to -top tuning approach (tubas first, then rising until reaching the high woodwinds), which was to pay off handsomely.

Opening with the finale of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony, things got off to a slightly rough start, as the brass attacks were tentative, which led to some cracked notes. I cannot emphasize enough to young players to that “playing it safe” is anything but safe. Be bold and confident! Happily, these were isolated occurrences and the growing confidence took over in what was a solid performance. Following with an arrangement of Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse, the young players did the maximum that this arrangement allows. There is a certain sensuousness in the original piano version that is difficult to bring to a wind arrangement on a level appropriate for a young ensemble. Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque followed the Debussy, and proved to be the highlight of Flutopia’s offerings. Intonation and balance were perfect, in a way that I have seldom heard from such a young ensemble. Whitacre’s characteristic textures, with very close intervals, radiated with real beauty. Armenian Dances, based on folk songs from the works of Gomidas Vartabed (also commonly known as Komitas) was the final selection. In a very effective arrangement by Alfred Reed, Flutopia played with brio and polish. Their many supporters gave them a standing ovation, and it was especially delightful to see the beaming smiles on the faces of the young performers. Well done!

After intermission, Catherine Sailer took the podium to lead Haydn’s Missa In Angustiis (Mass in Time of Anxiety), also called the “Lord Nelson Mass”. There does not seem to be any definitive agreement about how the name of Horatio Nelson became attached to this work; a possible explanation, however, was that Nelson visited the house of Esterhazy in 1800 and heard a performance of the work. All this speculation about titles aside, this work, written in 1798, is Haydn at his greatest – the master at work.

Maestra Sailer led with confidence. It was readily apparent that she was prepared with a clear-cut plan of what she wanted and how to get it. Haydn’s large conception was well rendered, but the small details were not overlooked. It might sound trite, but this was a first-rate musician leading a first-rate performance.

The soloists all earned their stars as well. Their parts are not trifles to be dashed off; they are demanding and a challenge for any singer. Kudos to soprano Angela Mannino, mezzo-soprano Kirsten Allegri, tenor Jeremy Little, and bass Steven Taylor for their outstanding singing. Congratulations to the chorus and orchestra are in order as well.

After a brief pause, James M. Meaders took the podium to conduct the New York City premiere of the Requiem by Kim André Arnesen (b. 1980). Mr. Arnesen’s work is in eight movements – six from the traditional mass and the remaining two using texts from Emily Dickinson (Not in Vain), and a slightly modified We Remember Them from the Jewish Book of Prayer.

Mr. Arnesen writes in the program notes of his “fascination with Requiems…I discovered the Requiems by Fauré, Duruflé, Lloyd-Webber, Schnittke, and many others,” and his desire to compose his own Requiem. This admission is telling, for while I cannot point to a definitive example, I had the feeling that the composer was trying to emulate the best of his many famous predecessors. This is not saying that his work is completely derivative, as it is not, as Mr. Arnesen ‘s effective use of the full battery of percussion is a welcome addition to the form. He also has a strong melodic gift, which was especially apparent in the trumpet solos in Not in Vain, Lacrimosa, and Rex Tremendae movements.

The chorus gets high marks for the clarity of diction in the Dies Irae in some high-speed passages. Coupled with the pulsing percussion, it was the highlight of the work for this listener. Just after that, DCINY favorite, mezzo-soprano Viola Dacus, used her vocal gifts to express the poignancy of Dickinson’s text in the Not in Vain movement. She sang with a simple grace that was very moving to this listener. Young soloist Aria Manning has a lovely voice that shows the promise of bright future.

After the quiet ending of the We Remember movement, the audience rewarded the performers with a standing ovation. Mr. Arnesen came to the stage to accept well-deserved congratulations.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Music of Sir Karl Jenkins in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Music of Sir Karl Jenkins in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Music of Sir Karl Jenkins
Jonathan Griffith, DCINY Artist Director/Principal Conductor
Sir Karl Jenkins, DCINY Compose-in-Residence
Joanie Brittingham, soprano; Holly Sorensen, mezzo-soprano; James Nyoraku Schlefer, shakuhachi; Catrin Finch, harp; Mark Walters, baritone; Jorge Ávila, violin; David Childs, euphonium
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra
Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
January 15, 2017

 

On what has become an annual event, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a concert featuring the music of Karl Jenkins in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In a January 15, 2017 concert entitled simply “The Music of Sir Karl Jenkins” (as he is styled after his 2015 knighting), two works were offered, the Requiem, and the North American premiere (and only 2nd performance anywhere) of Cantata Memoria: For the Children. Both works also featured a film to go along with the music. Fans of Sir Karl had the opportunity to meet and greet him after the concert and to have the recent CD of Cantata Memoria signed.

The hall was abuzz long before the concert began, even more so than usual for a DCINY event. Friends and family in the audience shouted out to their stars and one could feel the electricity in the air. With singers from Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Washington, Australia, Finland Germany, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and “individual singers around the globe,” the stage was set for a memorable night.

The concert opened with the Requiem. Dedicated to the composer’s late father, the Requiem combines elements of the traditional mass with five Japanese haiku “death” poems. The shakuhachi, an ancient wind instrument, figured prominently in the haiku sections.

Before anything else, I want to express my feelings regarding the accompanying film for this work. Usually I would expect some strong correlation to the text/music, but this was not the case. Furthermore, in some sections, the same montage recycled several times (at least three in the Dies Irae) to the point where one felt exasperated. As the film adds nothing, I would strongly suggest removing it from any future performance. The music is strong enough and meaningful enough to stand on its own without any artificial support.

Now that I have dispensed with that quibble, it is time to commend all for a wonderful performance of a moving work. Highlights for this listener were the Dies Irae (film notwithstanding), and the Lux aeterna. Special mention to harpist Catrin Finch, James Nyoraku Schlefer for his fine playing of the shakuhachi, and the lovely voices of soprano Joanie Brittingham and mezzo-soprano Holly Sorensen. The large chorus was well-prepared, with some very strong bass singers especially rising to the occasion. The audience rewarded all with the standing ovation that one usually hears at the end of a concert. It was a testament to a very successful first half.

Before the second half began, in what is also becoming a tradition, conductor Jonathan Griffith joined Karl Jenkins on stage for an impromptu conversation about the Cantata Memoria. Mr. Jenkins talked about of the history of the October 21, 1966 tragedy in Aberfan, Wales, when the collapse of a coal spoil tip killed 116 children and 28 adults. Mr. Jenkins said the memory as a Welshman was like “knowing where you were when President Kennedy was assassinated” to an American (and Maestro Griffith mentioned the Twin Towers as a reference point for younger persons). It was made clear that this tragedy is deeply entrenched in the hearts and minds of Welsh people. On a more upbeat note, Maestro Griffith mentioned that DCINY has commissioned Mr. Jenkins to write a new work commemorating the 10th anniversary of DCINY for a performance in January 2018.

Going into detail about the Aberfan tragedy is well beyond the scope of this review, but I highly recommend the well-written and comprehensive article on Wikipedia. Click the following link to access – Wikipedia- Aberfan Tragedy

Quoting the composer- “The work is in two distinct sections but performed continuously. The first deals with the tragedy and the immediate aftermath, and the second moves from darkness to light, reliving memories and celebrating childhood, ending with the Lux aeterna.” He also states that it “is not a documentary, nor even a dramatization, but it does include ideas and facts that were relevant and by now part of the legacy.”

This reviewer had seen the broadcast of the World Premiere in Wales, and also has the recording recently released by Deutsche Grammophon, so I was especially interested to see how an actual live performance would compare. It exceeded all my expectations.

The accompanying film, in this case, lent additional meaning and deepened the effect of the music, especially in the actual footage of the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. While the music certainly does not require the film, the film itself does not in any way distract or lessen the meaning or power of the music itself.

The music may not be a dramatization (as per the composer), but there are musical “suggestions” of events, i.e. the rumbling in the opening movement Pitran, patran foreshadowing the collapse of the coal spoil tip.

The names of all the victims were recited in the third movement Cortège (in a chant-like manner on a B-flat throughout), with those same names appearing on the film until the screen was literally filled with names. It was a reminder that this tragedy was not just about the numbers lost, but the very real lives snuffed out, the majority of them just beginning. Combined with the footage of the funerals, with countless tiny coffins, it was heartbreaking (and even though I knew the content and what was coming, it still had me in tears). Cortège ended with the baritone soloist Mark Walters quoting the denunciation by a victim’s father, “Buried alive by the National Coal Board.”

Lament to the Valley which followed was hauntingly beautiful. I suspect it will have many a performance independent of the entire work. DCINY concertmaster Jorge Ávila was superb as he played the lyrical sections with emotion without ever making them maudlin, and he handled the virtuosic sections with an understated flair that was perfect. The Lament was the highlight of the Cantata for this listener.

The bird-like singing of soprano Joanie Brittingham in Did I hear a bird? was delightful – the highlight of her outstanding solo work. Baritone Mark Walters was a force as well, with his powerful voice projecting well into the auditorium.

Of the remaining sections, I would like to single out And-a half as a favorite, with the child-like “one-upmanship” the theme which only could make one laugh and smile.

The final movement, Lux aeterna, is “borrowed” from the Requiem. Ending with the soprano soloist singing the word “Light,” the circle from darkness to light was closed.

Maestro Griffith led the large forces with his customary steady hand, maintaining complete control in a way that always appears to be effortless, which it is certainly not! The chorus is to be congratulated on a very polished performance which suggested a high level of preparation. This review would not be complete without the mention of harpist Catrin Finch and euphonium virtuoso David Childs, both of whom were featured in the world premiere and lent their unmatched talents to this performance.

 Cantata Memoria is a work that takes the listener to the depths of despair and heartache, then lifts them back out with a message of hope and light. It was an incredibly moving experience.

Audience members sprung to their feet with a standing ovation that became a roar when Mr. Jenkins came to the stage. I am already looking forward to January 2018. Bravo to all!

 

 


The Sheen Center for Thought and Culture Classical Music Series curated by Mark Kaplan presents the Parker Quartet in Review

The Sheen Center for Thought and Culture Classical Music Series curated by Mark Kaplan presents the Parker Quartet in Review

Parker Quartet
Daniel Chong, violin; Ying Xue, violin; Jessica Bodner, viola; Kee-Hyun Kim, cello
Featuring special guest Charles Neidich, clarinet
Loreto Theater, New York, NY
Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Parker Quartet needs no advocacy from me—they are Grammy winners, artists-in-residence at both Harvard and USC, and regularly tour, record, and perform with the world’s finest collaborators. Their program was beautifully conceived: two major works, each by a classical/romanticist (or a romantic/classicist, if you prefer)—Mendelssohn’s first essay in the string quartet, and Brahms’ sentiment-drenched, nearly-final chamber work. Both works are also cyclical (music from the first movement recurs at or near the end of the final movement). The concert was without intermission, a form which appeals to me (and apparently to audiences).

Due to a colossal GPS/GoogleMaps failure, this reviewer was late to the hall, and had to witness the Mendelssohn from the lobby on a TV screen with sub-par volume. Therefore, the comments in most detail will be directed at the Brahms.

Mendelssohn’s opening gesture from the E -flat tonic triad up to D-flat seems to embody a world of yearning “just out of reach,” and is indebted to Beethoven’s Op. 74 as well. The Canzonetta in G minor (with faster scherzando middle section) may have inspired his colleague Robert Schumann in the final movement of Kreisleriana. The Andante espressivo in B-flat major leads without pause into the finale, which spends most of its time in C minor, until the cyclic coda resolves to E-flat major. In 1830, Mendelssohn added a secret dedication on the manuscript of Op. 12 to “B.P.” (Betty Pistor, 1808-1887), a member of the Singakademie conducted by Zelter, for which Felix was accompanist. He had a teen crush on her. B-flat up to E- flat- “Bes,” three musical letters of her name, forms a prominent thematic element. After he learned of her engagement to Rudorff, he had his friend Ferdinand David change the P to an R.

From what I was able to see (primarily) in the lobby, the quartet’s visual synchronization was a marvel, and their energy infectious. Of course, their intonation and phrasing were impeccable. Their choices were those of youth and impetuosity, certainly valid in the case of Mendelssohn, his infatuation, and their own youth. There may be, however, other nuances, less vehement, more in the direction of elegance and even restraint, that they will discover as they mature. Nevertheless, to play at this level is a marvel.

Brahms described his Quintet for clarinet and string quartet as “a far greater folly” (than the clarinet/cello/piano trio). It was conceived for Richard Mühlfeld (1856-1907), originally a violinist and self-taught clarinetist (!), who played in the Meiningen and Bayreuth orchestras, and whom the normally gruff Brahms called “Fräulein Klarinette,” “my dear nightingale,” “my Primadonna,” and “Fräulein von Mühlfeld.” Tonight, the legendary Charles Neidich expressed the clarinet part from the most lyrical place imaginable—his lifetime of living with the single-line instrument leaving no inflection unexplored, no color unpainted, our dear nightingale indeed. It was a master class for all musicians, really. Here, I felt the Parkers could have provided a deeper, darker velvet carpet for the clarinet to “walk” on. Though the ensemble was perfect, particularly the way the violist leaned physically toward her clarinet neighbor, the strings’ inflections were “paler” than the clarinet, sometimes giving the impression of a background rather than a full chamber texture. (I realize I am nit-picking!) They understood and reflected every harmony and texture, however. The Adagio had a beautiful meditative, rapt quality. The balance issue was overcome beautifully in the third movement, which suddenly sprang to full life and energy, and mostly in the fourth movement, where the final return of the first movement’s sadness was rendered in appropriately awestruck hushed tones.

 


Foundation of M. K. Čiurlionis presents Victor Paukštelis in Review

Foundation of M. K. Čiurlionis presents Victor Paukštelis in Review

Foundation of M. K. Čiurlionis presents Victor Paukštelis
Victor Paukštelis,piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
November 30, 2016

 

It is a pleasure to review the fine Lithuanian pianist Victor Paukštelis in what was his second New York concert at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. Just last year he presented a recital in the same venue and was quite favorably reviewed by David La Marche for New York Concert Review (as the reader can see here: Review). I was delighted to find, after forming my own opinions, that Mr. La Marche and I had at least two strong points of agreement.

The first point is that Mr. Paukštelis possesses an admirable sense of architecture in the building of a program. That is no minor achievement. His sequence of selections was expertly conceived in terms of length, key, style, and emotion. On this occasion his opening of Handel’s Suite in E major (HWV. 430) established a tone of regal dignity and contemplation, inviting us to join his musical journey with confidence. (If this artist’s dual career as a pianist and painter had raised any questions about his ability to keep up with the monomaniacal pianists of today, any doubts were quickly dispelled.)

It made good sense to follow with Beethoven, one of Handel’s great admirers, and the flow was perfect key-wise to the Sonata Quasi Una Fantasia in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No.2 (popularly called the “Moonlight Sonata”), which the pianist paced beautifully from its meditative start through to its stormy third-movement bursts.

Then, instead of intermission in this taut hour-long program, Mr. Paukštelis offered what amounted to a musical breather via three brief works by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935), the Variations for the Healing of Arinuschka, Für Alina, and Anna Maria. Those who know the style of Pärt (sometimes called a “holy minimalist”) know that it can transport a listener to another universe through sheer purity of tone and texture, so these works were in effect their own “intermission” (sans chattering crowds) – an ingenious touch. The pianist played all three with refinement and sensitivity.

One was then ready to be swept up in the Romanticism of Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G minor and Scriabin’s mystical and fiery Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 for a close. The dramatic trajectory was perfect, and it was all a captivating musical journey just shy of an hour, not including four encores (a good fifteen minutes worth).

My second point of agreement with the prior New York review is that Mr. Paukštelis is (as David La Marche aptly states) “a highly individual artist with a very clear vision.” A testament to this pianist’s strong individuality of conception is that he gave a feeling of newness and energy to works which are anything but new (with the exception of the Pärt). The Handel is a four-movement suite closing with a set of five variations on one of Handel’s most famous themes (known as the “Harmonious Blacksmith”). In the wrong hands it can sound stale, but Mr. Paukštelis, though his attentive articulations, strong sense of shape, and most of all deep connection to the music, gave it a bold energy that made it feel new.

The Handel wasn’t the only one of the evening’s selections belonging to that paradoxical category of works “so overdone that no one does them.” Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata, attempted by nearly every intermediate piano student, falls squarely in this category, but the artistic Mr. Paukštelis breathed life into it it from its dreamy Adagio sostenuto to the gracious Allegretto and the impassioned Presto agitato. His playing had involvement, insight, and intensity. Though I had very few quibbles (including perhaps an excessive pedal blur in the last movement chromatic scale), criticisms seem moot in the light of such a persuasive conception.

Chopin’s Ballade in G minor, another top-ten list piece for pianists, followed suit – remarkably expressive in this pianist’s hands, but without the gnashing of teeth and histrionics that it sometimes arouses. It was thoughtfully conceived and held the audience rapt.

Among reservations, this listener prefers a deeper, fuller sound at Chopin’s peaks, some of which were a tad brittle. Similarly, in Scriabin’s Op. 53, one wanted to feel a bit more unleashing of power and abandon, where the emphasis seemed instead to be on precise articulation. Again, though, there did seem to be integrity and intelligence behind just about every decision.

Though it seems nitpicky to comment on administrative details, Mr. Paukštelis deserved to have had biographical notes that are in clearer English without so many typographical errors. He filled a hall amply with responsive listeners and will surely fill it more next time. He deserves to be well presented.

Standing ovations were met with several encores including Chopin’s Scherzo in B minor, Op. 20, the Tambourin from the Suite in E minor by Rameau, and the Sarabande from the English Suite in G minor. I look forward to hearing this pianist again.

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Go Sing it on the Mountain in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Go Sing it on the Mountain in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Go Sing it on the Mountain
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concert Singers International, Pennsbury High School Concert Choir
James D. Moyer, director; Pepper Choplin, composer/conductor
Julianna Massielo, soprano; Ethan Barr, baritone; James T. Moyer, baritone; David Enlow, organist; Emily Drennan, soprano
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, NY
November 28, 2016

‘Tis the season! With throngs of eager shoppers being coaxed into action by the myriad sales and specials that many stores are offering, it is a time of frantic activity that can try the hardiest of souls. As an antidote to this, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) offered a concert entitled Go Sing it on the Mountain, on November 28, 2016 at Alice Tully Hall. Consisting of two works, the much-loved Requiem from Gabriel Fauré, and the New York premiere of Go Sing it on the Mountain by DCINY favorite Pepper Choplin. With singers from North Carolina, Connecticut, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington, it was a concert to re-charge the weary soul.

James D. Moyer took the podium to conduct the Fauré Requiem. As I wrote in an earlier performance (June 7, 2015) about the Requiem: “Fauré began writing the Requiem in 1877, but did not complete it in its final orchestration until 1900. One of the best-loved works in this form, Fauré’s vision of death as a ‘happy deliverance…rather than a mournful passing,’ did not find favor with his employers at La Madeleine, one of the largest churches in Paris. One of the clerics there tartly remarked, “Monsieur Fauré, we do not need these novelties. The Madeleine’s repertoire is quite rich enough.” No doubt his omission of the fearful Dies Irae, the core of the Latin requiem mass, had something to do with this remark. One can say that Fauré won in the end, as this serene work continues to enchant listeners with its beauty.”

Tonight’s performance was a version for organ and chorus, with the excellent David Enlow at the Tully Hall organ, and the talented Pennsbury High School Choir from Pennsylvania. I was curious to see how these sixty-eight young singers were going to fare, due to what I (and many others) believe is a less than ideal hall acoustically (even after renovations to address this issue). It does appeared that the Tully Hall organ fared well, with what seemed increased heft in the lower register.

The three soloists (baritones Ethan Barr and James T. Moyer, and soprano Julianna Massielo) all delivered commendable performances, with kudos for Mr. Barr for keeping his focus when his solo became a “duet” with a toddler, whose screaming nearly drowned out everything. Kudos also to Mr. Moyer and Ms. Massielo, whose voices projected quite well. Mr. Enlow gave an outstanding performance.

While there were some minor issues with intonation and ensemble, the chorus was up to the challenge, and captured the essence of the work, saving the best for the last in the sublime In Paradisum. The audience was filled with supporters, and they gave their stars a loud and long ovation, that continued even as the stage was nearly empty. It was something that this sometimes jaded reviewer found touching. Well done, Pennsbury High School Choir and Mr. Moyer!

After intermission, the ebullient Pepper Choplin took the podium to conduct his work Go Sing it on the Mountain. Following the mountain theme, Go Sing it on the Mountain is a nine-movement work that uses folk tunes to tell the Christmas story (for the texts click here: Program Notes ). Some of the tunes use new texts devised by Mr. Choplin, while others use varying techniques (multi-layering of voices, combining melodies, etc.) to great effect. Each movement is preceded by a narrative written by the composer. Mr. Choplin is a man of deep faith, and his work is a natural expression of this. This reviewer has the utmost admiration for Mr. Choplin’s strength of mission, especially in a world today that often scorns or is outright hostile to such a stance.

One must also acknowledge the narrators, who were uncredited in the program notes, for their passionate readings. While these readings add luster, they could be set aside for non-secular sensitivities without any loss of the glory of the music.

Soprano soloist Emily Drennan, whom I had the pleasure of hearing in an earlier performance of Mr. Choplin’s song Circle of Love (A DCINY concert entitled Bluegrass57@7 on February 18, 2013), was delightful with her passionate delivery throughout. Her voice is ideal for these pieces, from the child-like innocence of A Child is Gonna Come, to the unbridled joy of Go Sing it on the Mountain, but she saved her best for Star Eternal, which soared to the heavens.

Highlights for this listener included the rousing opening movement Rise, O People and Bring Good News, the simple beauty of Call His Name Jesus, and the Appalachian-tinged Angel Band. Go Sing it on the Mountain is a welcome addition to the Christmas repertoire.

After the jubilant last words of the final movement Joyous Nowell to the World rang out with “The Lord has come!” the large audience rose to give Mr. Choplin a well-earned standing ovation. It was a fitting end to the evening.


DCINY presents Messiah…Refreshed!

DCINY presents Messiah…Refreshed!

Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Jonathan Griffith, Conductor
Penelope Shumate, Soprano
Claudia Chapa, Mezzo-Soprano
John McVeigh, Tenor
Christopher Job, Bariton
Sunday, November 27, 2016, 2 PM
Carnegie Hall, Stern Auditorium

 

Well, the holiday season is officially here, with the sixth annual presentation of Messiah in the “inflated” version commissioned by Sir Thomas Beecham from Eugene Goossens for the Handel death-bicentennial in 1959. I shall try not to be too Scrooge-like about it, that wouldn’t really be in the spirit of things! I first heard (and reviewed) this version two years ago with pleasure, and the interpretation is remarkably consistent across that time. Only the mezzo-soprano was different (and of course the massed choirs). The whole endeavor, powered by Jonathan Griffith’s committed conducting, gives enjoyment to the performers and to their audience, so after all it must be counted a success, even if one has quibbles with specifics.

Is there any other single work that so identifies its composer, almost to the exclusion of Handel’s numerous other worthy genres: opera, cantata, organ music, anthems, even the other oratorios?

The grand old tradition of Handel-tampering, of course, began with Handel himself and continued through Mozart, Hiller, and many others. Gigantism began as early as 1784 in British performances of the then hallowed Handel with a 513-performer rendition. The European Magazine wrote: “The immense volume and torrent of sound was almost too much for the head or the sense to bear—we were elevated into a species of delirium.” Sir Joshua Reynolds wrote: “I was so delighted that I thought myself in the heavenly regions. The Harmony so unbroken that is was like the fall of Waters from one source, imperceptibly blended. The Spectacle too was sublime, So universal a silence, So great a number of people.” In an 1857 British performance, there were 2000 vocal and 500 instrumental forces. In 1859: 2765 singers, 450 instruments. In 1883: 4000 singers, 500 instruments. Objections to these outsize forces were also found as early as the beginning of the nineteenth century, but they were outweighed by Victorian reverence for Handel combined with the explosive growth of choral societies. G.B. Shaw, in the early twentieth century, also pleaded for something closer to what Handel might have known: “People think that four thousand singers must be four thousand times as impressive as one. This is a mistake: they are not even louder.”

I will confess that when I counted upwards of 400 names in the choral listing in the program booklet, I was a bit nervous. However, Griffith seems to have selected about half of them for Part 1 duty, then they retire to the balconies on either side of the audience, and after intermission the other half performs Parts 2 & 3. Choir 1 did not have clean runs; but Choir 2 did, and Griffith was quite merciless in pursuing brisk tempi that almost prevented anything but a choral smudge. Their block chord work however, was mostly exciting, and he even managed to elicit a few softer sounds from these large forces. All 400-plus joined together for the “Hallelujah” chorus and the concluding “Worthy is the lamb that was slain” for a truly thrilling sound that had actually been missing most of the afternoon in the “mere” 200-voice choirs. Even some audience members couldn’t resist the temptation to add their voices to the mix during “Hallelujah.”

Handel began work in 1741 in London on Messiah for a series of concerts for Irish charities, at the invitation of William Cavendish; the series would include many other works as well. Handel started on 22 August, Part 1 was complete by 28 August, Part 2 by 6 September, and Part 3 on 12 September. A few more days were added, polishing up the results, twenty-four days in all. Of course none of this could have happened without Handel’s well-known recourse to self-borrowing, or even appropriation from other composers, for which he was taken to task more than once in his lifetime. (Although William Boyce reportedly said: “He takes other men’s pebbles and polishes them into diamonds.”) Handel also reworked many numbers from it considerably over the years. Handel himself associated the performance of Messiah with Easter, but modern practice also favors Christmas—the text, dubbed a “Scripture collection” by its creator Charles Jennens, outlines all the festivals of the Christian church-year.

The premiere was in Dublin, 13 April 1742 (at noon), at the New Musick Hall in Fishamble Street, seat of the Charitable Musical Society. The audience capacity was between 600 and 700. Handel had to provide his own organ (portable, called a “bureau” organ) since there was none in the hall. Several of his own organ concerti were also on the bill with Messiah in what must have been a long afternoon of music. The chorus consisted of thirty-two: sixteen men and sixteen boys. The solos were considered so taxing that there was more than one soloist for each voice type.

Today’s soloists were uniformly excellent, with soprano Penelope Shumate and her sparkling coloratura perfection in “Rejoice greatly” and a very affecting “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” though at times her English had an “Italian” accent with many schwas at the end of words (they add clarity, but can be overdone). Claudia Chapa, mezzo-soprano, sang with absolute heart, so much so that I wished “He was despised” was not cut, but would go on forever (I really wanted to hear how she would express “He gave his back to the smiters.”). All afternoon her phrases were of admirable length, she seems to have unlimited air supply. Tenor John McVeigh reprised the sweet lyric quality that I remember so well from two years ago, tending to shade a bit sharp (nerves?) near the beginning, and once in a while chopping up phrases or single words instead of sustaining a legato. His “Behold and see if there is any sorrow” was beautiful. His most endearing trait was the attention he paid to his other colleagues when they were singing their solos, he even turned to face the chorus with an air of painful surprise as they hurled their accusatory “He trusted in God that he would deliver him,” before returning to face forward. Bass Christopher Job again had the perfect sound for the punishing “The trumpet shall sound,” but there were some weird additional musical lines in the orchestra during “The people that walked in darkness” that threatened to “like sheep,” lead the music astray. All the soloists risked being overbalanced by the heavier orchestra, but only at times (too much cymbal!)

May I suggest that Maestro Griffith go ahead and make his own version of this version, so to speak, removing some of the dated bombast and perhaps clarifying a few textures here and there? I do admire his devotion to this “relic” however. By the way, since this is not only about the massed choirs, but a substantial re-orchestration, the fact that the excellent orchestra is not listed person-by-person in the program is a grave injustice. The concertmaster is excellent, and the clarino trumpet was superb. The hushed return of the A section of the “Pifa” (Pastoral Symphony) was gorgeous, as it was two years ago.

The work affords the chance for these dedicated multi-state and international choruses, whose individual conductors were acknowledged at the end, the thrill of a holiday trip to New York and the unparalleled experience of singing on the main stage of Carnegie Hall. Bravo to all, and happy holidays!