Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents: The Beauty of Korean Song in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents: The Beauty of Korean Song in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents: The Beauty of Korean Song
Suwon Civic Chorale
Dr. In-Gi Min, conductor, Ami Woo, Eun-Jung Yoo, accompanists
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, NY 
October 19, 2013
 
 

Now in its 30th year, The Suwon Civic Chorale from South Korea was invited by Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) to perform at Alice Tully Hall. In a program featuring traditional Korean music, modern Korean music (including two commissioned works written especially for this occasion and given their World Premieres), and American favorites, it had all the makings of an interesting and educational evening.

The Suwon Civic Chorale filed on stage in traditional Korean dress. Before starting the concert proper, conductor Dr. In-Gi Min requested that the audience stand as the Chorale sang the national anthems of South Korea and the United States – a thoughtful and respectful gesture that I very much appreciated.

The first half was dedicated to the music of Korea. Arirang is to Koreans what Finlandia is to the Finnish, a much-loved, unofficial national anthem.  Composer Sung-Hyun Yoon used the traditional theme with modern Western compositional technique, a musical East meets West that was given a heartfelt performance and approval from the appreciative audience. Following this setting, Jung-Sun Park’s Kyrie from the Arirang Mass was expertly performed, reflecting traditional Korean harmony and an ornamented singing technique that would be difficult for those without training in Korean singing tradition. As throughout the entire concert, Dr. Min led in an attentive and restrained manner with no showboating – the music was always first and foremost. When a work was finished, Dr. Min would retire stage left and gesture to the Chorale before taking any bows of his own, demonstrating a humility I would like to see more conductors emulate.

Four traditional songs, the Stephen Foster-like Gagopa (Wishing to Return), the three-note based Saeya, Saeya (Blue Bird), the charming Sae Taryung (The Bird Song), with the four soloists singing bird calls in antiphonal style, and the work song Mokdosori (A Song of Pole Carrying), which was sung with gusto, all served as a introduction to the folk music of Korea. The joy of the Chorale members sharing their traditional melodies was apparent, both from the visual and aural aspects of the performances.

The two commissioned works were by highly accomplished Korean composers. The Dona nobis pacem by Keeyoung Kim (b. 1963) is complex, with extensive chromaticism, Korean pentatonic modes, and using a circle of thirds, instead of the traditional western circle of fifths. The Chorale gave this demanding and intricate work a praiseworthy performance. Miserere by Jeeyoung Kim (b. 1968) is a powerful work, from the quiet opening with Tibetan bowls to create what is considered the sound of Heaven in Korea, to the two solos sung in a traditional style called Jeong-Ga, to the bold middle and ending sections. The Chorale realized all of Ms. Kim’s musical ideas in what must be called a simply dazzling performance. Both composers were in attendance, and took richly deserved bows.

The Chorale returned to the stage after intermission with the women dressed in evening gowns and the men in tuxedos with tails. The second half opened with two works by the highly popular American composer Eric Whitacre, Lux Aurumque and Little Birds.

Lux Aurumque is one of Whitacre’s best-known and most frequently performed works. Anyone who is familiar with the YouTube sensation Whitacre’s Virtual Choir has seen and heard this work.  The Chorale mastered the tight harmonies with precision, often with the SATB parts dividing into two, and the sopranos even into three. The balance, as the title suggests, was “golden”. Little Birds uses verses written by the Mexican poet Octavio Paz. The composer suggested in his performance instructions that the singers research real bird calls and whistles, and  it seemed from the sensitive performance that his instructions were heeded. There was a feel that the sounds of the birds flowed organically and did not ever overshadow the vocals.  The effect was enchanting in a nuanced way.

After the Whitacre works, it was time for something completely different, and that was the entertaining Kecak Attack. This work is based on the Indonesian monkey dance of the same name. The chorus separated into smaller sub-sections and used the sound cak-ka-cak in rhythms of various complexities, with snapping fingers and choreographed gestures in an attack-counterattack manner between the divided forces. The sense of play brought much laughter; even Dr. Min got into the act by an exaggerated “push back” of the ever-bolder faction of tenors moving forward in a mock menacing fashion. The incongruity of this spectacle and the elegantly attired performers added to the hilarity.

After this “play”, it was time to get back to serious work with Samuel Barber’s Agnus Dei, an a cappella arrangement of his masterpiece, the Adagio for Strings. The arrangement retains all the beauty of the original as well as the challenges of voicing and intonation.  Both must be precise throughout, or else the entire effect is destroyed – there simply is no margin for error. Using an interesting repositioning of the singers (male-female alternating in all rows), the Chorale met the challenges and delivered a very moving performance. If I had one reservation, it was that the tempo was a bit too fast for my taste, but this was a personal preference.  To end, two traditional Americana songs, Shenandoah and The Battle of Jericho were given solid readings. The full house responded with a prolonged ovation and was rewarded with three encores, the highlight of which was a nod to the Big Apple by way of the highly stylish New York, New York, complete with ballroom dancing and Rockette-style kicks. It was a huge hit.


Seunghee Lee, Pianist in Review

Presented by MidAmerica Productions
Alice Tully Hall, New York, NY
November 24, 2012

The arts are in a jumble, but America remains the coveted destination for those who seek higher education and a head start in a classical performance career. As college costs aspire to reach the stars, so do many of our foreign students, who are being trained superbly, and increasingly, outside of the typical metropolitan capitals of the country.

On Saturday, November 24 at 2:00 pm, the Korean pianist Seunghee Lee gave a recital at Alice Tully Hall presented by MidAmerica Productions (now in its 30th season of forging concert liaisons here and abroad). A graduate of SangMyung University in Seoul, Ms. Lee chose to make her next stops at Ohio University and the University of Kentucky, whence she has emerged in the spring of this year, fully equipped to join the profession as instructor at SangMyung University in Seoul, with a doctoral dissertation on Korean contemporary piano music in hand. Ms. Lee’s biography cites a number of prizes and credits, including concerts in Brazil and a master class coaching with Kimura Park (presumably the pianist Jon Kimura Parker).

Ms. Lee established her porcelain signature sound from the outset on Saturday in a pair of unrelated Scarlatti sonatas, the tender K. 197 in B Minor and the top-ten favorite K. 159 in C Major, with its stuttering staccato thirds and cheery grace notes, deftly enunciated. Consistently attentive to clarity and polished treble, Ms. Lee prefers to butter her Baroque textures lavishly, but her sound retains its characteristic simplicity and integrity at all times.

If Ms. Lee is discovering a personal statement independent of the common sincerity of all music-making, this statement may be in its germinal phase: Saturday’s recital was a heavenly musical pot-luck. Its major works were the Bach-Busoni Chaconne and Brahms’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel (listed familiarly as “Handel Variations”). The Bach-Busoni was a late substitution for the “Corelli Variations” by Rachmaninoff, publicized on the outdoor marquee. A penchant for Baroque themes with their sets of full-blown Romantic variations would be an intriguing specialty, but the association would warrant an architectural perspective as well as an effervescent one. Ms. Lee’s cultivated sound and beautifully proportioned sense of rhythm did much to compensate for the absence of tragic declamation or exhilaration, respectively, in Bach-Busoni and Brahms. To decrease the cumulative effect of repetition and downplay the arrival of the fugue, Ms. Lee showed the courtesy to keep things moving and omitted nearly every repeat in the Brahms, as if for a timed audition. The through-composed Variation 13, in which Brahms extravagantly reiterates phrases in the upper octave to prolong the sway of the Hungarian lassan, contrasted noticeably with the compactness of the piece. After a dozen progressively thornier segments, the expected main course fugue proceeded as a blip on the radar, proficiently executed but minimally histrionic.

Partial responsibility for this non-starter of a cultural event should fall to the MidAmerica audience, which seemed especially papered with musical novices. Just as we were getting to know Ms. Lee and her lithe, violinistic style in the Bach Chaconne, the handsome crowd erupted into intermittent applause as if to cheer a home run every time she traversed the keyboard with razzle-dazzle. The offending persons did not stay beyond the first half, but we were treated to security ringtones, flash photography, electronic chimes, and exiting audience members during the remainder of the concert.

The most successful aspect of the recital was the grassroots parallel Ms. Lee drew between Samuel Barber’s Excursions and two atmospheric Korean dances by the composer Young Jo Lee, who is lucky to have such a devoted interpreter of his new piano works. Barber’s ostinato figures were comfortably controlled and his violin square dance full of fun, while the octatonic barcarolle and sicilian rhythms in Young Jo Lee’s Korean Dance Suite extended throughout the piano’s range and began to resemble Henri Duparc’s L’Invitation au Voyage gone to the dark side. Christian Sinding’s Rustle of Spring was a fluent and colorful encore.


Chamber Music Society of Kumho Art Hall in Review

KMF Virtuoso Concert Series
Music of Poulenc, Françaix, and Dvořák
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center; New York, NY
June 7, 2012
 
Chamber Music Society of  Kumho Art Hall

Chamber Music Society of Kumho Art Hall

 

The Chamber Music Society of Kumho Art Hall (CMS) was founded in 2007 and is presently a group of sixteen distinguished artists whose mission is to broaden the horizons of chamber music in Korea by performing and mentoring talented young players. Each season, the CMS performs with CMS Junior Members, giving these young talents the opportunity to learn and play with esteemed musicians. Tonight’s program had the Junior Members playing Francis Poulenc’s famous Sextet for Wind Quintet and Piano and the rarely played Dixtuor of Jean Françaix. The Senior Members took on Antonín Dvořák’s Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81.

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) demonstrated his gift for wit, whimsy, and magic in his brilliant Sextet. The light-hearted nature of this work belies its fiendish difficulty; every player must be up to the mark or disaster ensues. There were no worries, as these young players were technically accomplished to a high degree. It seemed that the piece was child’s play for them. The notes were all there, passagework was clear, and the ensemble playing was excellent; a few intonation issues crept in, but these were few and far between. What was missing was the feeling of Poulenc as jaunty raconteur. I suspect this element will come with more experience and performance; the foundation is there in abundance, but it still needs developing. Once this is done, I am sure this ensemble will give an unforgettable performance of this mainstay of the repertoire.

Jean Françaix (1912-1997) is an unfamiliar name to many, which is regrettable given his tremendous output and sparkling style of composition.  Being a staunch and unrepentant Neo-Classicist in the time of serialism and atonalism probably has contributed to this. Dixtuor pour quintette à vent et quintette à cordes (Dectet for Wind and String Quintet) was composed in 1987. Scored for two violins, viola, cello, double bass, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn, it is a work full of youthful optimism. While not as technically demanding as the Poulenc, it still requires top-notch players and has the additional challenge of ensemble and balance issues among ten musicians.  Perhaps to highlight the idea of yesteryear, the players performed while standing; in my opinion this neither added nor subtracted anything from the performance. The ensemble captured the essence of this charming work in a way that was lacking in the Poulenc.  There was whimsy without being cloying, the lyrical second movement was beautifully played, and the articulation was rendered with laser-like clarity throughout, especially the triplets in the third movement. The final movement built up such momentum that the double bass player inadvertently hit his stand with his bow, underscoring his enthusiasm. My only reservation was at times the strings were somewhat timid and overshadowed by the winds, but all in all it was an inspired performance of an unjustly neglected work.

After intermission, the senior members took to the stage. Music Director Daejin Kim led a bold performance of Dvořák’s Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81. Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) showed his devotion to his native land in this masterpiece, using Bohemian folk idiom throughout and the CMS gave it a high-voltage performance. They showed their great understanding of Dvořák’s ideas and projected them with vigor. Other than a small slip where one violin was a fraction of a second early in an exposed section, the playing was extremely polished. The last measures of the finale were played with brio, bringing the work to an exciting close. The large audience responded with loud and prolonged applause, calling the performers back to the stage three times.

As much as I would like to name each and every player for their performance, I will simply congratulate CMS as a whole on a highly successful evening. I hope I have the pleasure of hearing them again in the future.


Chinese Hua Xia Chamber Ensemble in Review

Chinese Hua Xia Chamber Ensemble
“Dialogue Between the Traditional and the Modern”
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center; New York, NY
May 7, 2012

In a program entitled “Dialogue Between the Traditional and the Modern”, the Chinese Hua Xia Chamber Ensemble presented a program of Ancient and Modern Chinese music, pairing traditional Chinese instruments with “Western” instruments in commissioned works. Featuring six (!) World Premieres, it was a concert that bridged the musical heritages of the East and the West.

The Chinese Hua Xia Chamber Ensemble was founded in 1995. The members are mostly award-winning, young conservatory teachers who are considered the “best of the best” in China.  The ensemble requires members not only to master traditional folk music, but to explore and seek innovations in modern styles as well.  Conducted by Tsung Yeh, they have recorded several albums and have performed throughout the world.

Wanting a closer look at the various Chinese instruments, such as the zheng, the ruan, and the yangqin, among others, and to observe the players “up close” made me abandon my usual strategy of sitting in the back rows.  It was fascinating to see these wonderful instruments being played with such mastery.

Six members of the ensemble opened the concert with traditional Chaozhou music entitled “Lang Tao Sha”. In this arrangement, the erxian, zheng, pipa, flute, yangqin, and the ruan were used.  The playing and balance among the six players was outstanding; the six instruments sounded as one. Following this piece was the first premiere of the evening, “Feng Qiu Huang” (a male phoenix sparks a female phoenix). Written by Liu Qing for cello, Chinese percussion, and the guqin (a small, seven-string zither-like instrument, played by plucking the strings), it uses an ancient Hainan love song that depicts the story of a male phoenix (“Feng”) courting a female phoenix (“Huang”). Beginning with quiet low tones in the cello, followed by responses from the guqin, it built in intensity until it reached a climax, then released the tension and came to a quiet conclusion. There were moments where it was difficult to hear the guqin, but this did not spoil the net effect.  The second premiere, “Five Impressions” by composer Gao Ping, was given in partial form (stated in the program as “Part of Movements”). The conductor Tsung Yeh showed admirable concentration and restraint even before the first note by patiently waiting for the incessant picture taking to cease. Once these distractions passed, an inspired performance took place. With haunting flute lines paired with the cello, then pipa with marimba, then all players joining together, each “Impression” had reminders of one previously played. Culminating in rapid passagework that had me thinking of Prokofiev, this imaginative piece was brought to a crackling close. After this excitement, it was a good choice to pull back to an ancient work called “Wild Geese in the Sandbank”. Played on the xiao, a vertical end-blown flute that is roughly the size of the western Alto flute, this work has a pastoral quality, both in the beautiful lento and the joyful allegro sections. Zheng Weiliang gave an enchanting performance and was rewarded with thunderous applause from the audience; he returned to the stage for a well-deserved second bow. Ending the first half was the third premiere, “Graceful”, from composer Wang Danhong. Described as the emotional journey to Dunhuang Caves, and the graceful dancing of flying fairies, the work mesmerized this listener from start to finish. The erhu melody had Ravel-like moments, the flute playing was increasingly virtuosic, and the work continued to gather momentum to a fever pitch. Finally, there was an unforeseen twist – what seemed to be a final explosion of energy was a false ending. Indeed, conductor Tsung Yeh turned to the audience with a quick wave and smile that said “Don’t clap just yet! We’re not done!” Winding it down to a conclusion, he finished with clasped hands and a bowed head, and then turned to the audience. I found this amazing work to be the highlight of the concert, and I would like to hear it again and again!

After intermission, the first work by a Western composer and the fourth premiere, “Nodes”, by John Mallia was presented. In his notes, Mr. Mallia states, ”‘Nodes’ is composed from several discrete strains of material that are alternately exposed and hidden as thresholds positioned throughout the formal structure are crossed.” Combining violin, cello, bass clarinet, and percussion with the zheng, pipa, flute, and erhu, this interesting piece was played skillfully and showed expert blending of Western and Chinese instruments. As Mr. Yeh said in his charming remarks, “open your mind and let the music fill you”. After the piece was finished, zheng player Qui Ji discreetly pulled out a tuning wrench to re-tune the zheng, which she did very quickly, no doubt to bring it back to traditional Chinese tempering. The last traditional Chinese work, from Peking Opera, was “Dark Night”.  Mr. Yeh told the audience the story behind the piece, which I suspect a majority already knew, to judge by the roar of approval. The story is of a great warrior King’s wife saying good-bye to him on the eve of a great battle from which they both know he will not return. It was played with deep reverence, capturing the martial qualities with vigor. The audience was clearly delighted and expressed their approval with the loudest and longest ovation of the evening; this piece was clearly the audience favorite. Chai Shuai, playing Beijing erhu (a smaller version of the standard erhu), was called back on-stage by the audience for his incredible performance. The fifth premiere, “Less, but More” was next on the program, composed by recent Cincinnati Conservatory graduate Xie Wenhui. Ms. Xie writes in her notes that “the inspiration of this piece is taken from the concept of Wang Wei’s works, who is a well-known Chinese poet in Tang Dynasty (8th century). He affirms the world’s beauty, while questioning its ultimate reality in his works. In this piece, I want to draw a comparison between the deceptive simplicity and the Zen path to enlightenment, which is built on careful preparation but is achieved without conscious effort”. The program omitted the mention of the clarinet, pipa, and zheng. The work was given a thoughtful performance by the talented players, making what was quite complex seem simple. The final work (and premiere) was the ingenious “Bridges”. Composer Victoria Bond has written a work with a double meaning; inspired by bridges in both the United States and China, and the concept of ‘”bridging” Western and Eastern influences. It included a train-like rhythm (“Railroad Trestle Bridge in Galax, Virginia”), a traditional Chinese song “Moli Hua” (Jasmine Flower), shades of Joan Baez, and finally, George Gershwin (in the “Brooklyn Bridge”). I suspect this work is as fun to play as it was to hear, and the ensemble really took to the spirit in all the various tributes. East joined West in a jubilant finale and brought the evening to a close with a bang.

Some final thoughts on this most enjoyable evening- The Chinese Hua Xua Ensemble is a first-rate group and their conductor Tsung Yeh is a charismatic leader. It is truly a privilege to see and hear musicians who are all about the music, who play with such passion and such skill, and are keeping the thousands-year old traditions alive. Bravo!


Birmingham Symphonic Winds in Review

Birmingham Symphonic Winds in Review
Keith Allen, conductor
Alice Tully Hall; New york, NY
April 17, 2011

Birmingham Symphonc Winds

 

 In the last three years I have reviewed three superb choral ensembles brought to New York by Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY.) The high standards of DCINY were again reflected in this performance by the Birmingham Symphonic Winds (BSW). Founded in 1992 by conductor Keith Allen, this forty-five member English group was begun to “meet the demands of players in the area to perform with a high quality wind ensemble.” And one couldn’t ask for higher quality playing. From beginning to end, this very youthful ensemble played with perfect intonation and beautiful blend. The conducting of maestro Keith Allen was unobtrusive and precise. And his comments between movements created a warm bond with the very enthusiastic audience.

 Titled “Atlantic Crossing,” the concert featured eleven works by British and American composers. It opened with a rousing performance of “Second City Ceremony” by Phillip Sparke, the title alluding to Birmingham’s relationship to London, England’s “first city.” Designed as a concert-opener, this work was one the five BSW commissions we heard this afternoon. Upon hearing the fortissimo opening fanfare, I worried that the sound produced by the ensemble at full throttle was too loud for Tully Hall. And although this feeling returned once or twice during the concert, these loud sounds were never harsh or even edgy. They were unforced and viscerally exciting, if at times a bit too much for this listener’s ears

 Another commission followed, Nigel Hess’s “Shakespeare Pictures.” The first movement used the same jazzy language we heard in “Second City Ceremony,” the second featured lovely playing by the solo woodwinds, while the third juxtaposed perfectly blended sounds by the brass and woodwind choirs, something which we would hear throughout the afternoon. “Prelude from 49th Parallel,” part of an orchestral film score written in 1941 by Ralph Vaughan Williams, was then performed in a transcription for band by Leroy Osmon. During this work I found the BWS’s playing to be wonderfully expressive.

  Although a bit more dissonant than the works by Sparke and Hess which preceded it, Guy Woolfenden’s “Divertimento for Band” featured more of the same jazzy language and, in the last movement, a similarly easy-listening-melody. Emma Stockdale’s second movement flute solo was quite beautiful. Mr. Sparke’s “A Weekend in New York” then called on all the big-city clichés, including bent minor thirds. I found the performance a bit stiff, especially the sections which should swing.

 A fourth BSW commission ended the concert’s first half, and what an ending it was! Martin Ellerby’s “The Canticle of the Sun”, a work for solo percussion and concert band composed in 2006, was written for this afternoon’s soloist, Simone Rebello. While a piano soloist sits at a keyboard and a violinist stands in one spot, Ms. Rebello moved between the many instruments which stretched from one side of the stage to the other. She used a violin bow on the vibraphone, she expressively played chords on the marimba using four mallets, she perfectly executed very rapid scales on the xylophone, she played drums, cymbals and crotales. It was a pleasure to listen to and a thrill to watch.

The oldest work on the concert began the second half, a transcription for wind orchestra (sic!) of “Jupiter” from “The Planets” by Gustav Holst. Although it was composed almost one-hundred years ago, it seemed to me that many of the more contemporary works heard on the first half of this concert, save for being a bit more dissonant, utilized a similar musical language. Next we heard two movements from another work with soloist, Karl Jenkins’s “Euphonium Concerto,” featuring David Childs. I have a soft spot for the euphonium, having always marveled at its ability to sound like singing. And that’s just what Mr. Childs accomplished during his performance of the Romanza as his expressive phrasing was the kind that you would hear in song performed by a great baritone. And yes, in the last movement we heard him play at a speed that even a trumpet player would have difficulty reaching. The audience marveled at this display, but I found the rapid line to be blurry. This was not the performer’s fault – it’s the physics of a very long tube.

After the concert’s first American work and another BWS commission, the regular program concluded with John Philip Sousa’s “Humoresque on Swanee.” These humorous variations on George Gershwin’s first big hit, followed by an encore, Gershwin’s “Strike up the Band,” brought this wonderful concert to a rip-roaring happy conclusion. 


Yoonjung Han, piano

Yoonjung Han, piano
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, NY
April 16, 2010

Gold medalist at the 2008 World Piano Competition in Cincinnati, South Korean pianist Yoonjung Han recently presented her debut recital at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. A feeling of celebration and anticipation of the moment filled the auditorium. Having made her debut at the age of thirteen, Han is no stranger to the concert stage. She got right to business with a colorful and joyfully performed Haydn Sonata in E-flat Major, Hob. 52. After the light and giddy first movement, the audience erupted into applause. The Adagio was carefully planned out and balanced, though one might have wished for more spontaneity and abandon. The Presto Finale floated gracefully above ground and was received with a warm ovation.

Han seemed to truly enjoy herself during the Chopin Sonata, Op. 58. Although her sound was a bit timid at times, every harmony had a lovely inflection. This was most apparent in the third movement, which might have been a love duet in an opera Chopin never wrote. My favorite part of the program turned out to be the two selections from Granados’ “Goyescas” after the intermission— (and the gown change). “Los requirebros” (Flattery) was filled with both joy and the requisite flirtation. She showed understanding of multi-layered textures and an admirable sensitivity to the counterpoint and key structure, at the same time masterfully displaying the shimmering figurations. “El amor y la muerte” (Love and Death) was presented with drama, yearning, and passion. She now truly identified with the music and brought out the intensity I hoped for in the Chopin Sonata.

Han concluded the program with Schumann’s “Carnaval,” performed without most repeats. Many fast sections felt rushed, yet she managed to portray the festive character of this colorful ball. Overall, Han’s natural gift for melody and a charming stage presence made her recital a joy to hear.


Temple University Symphony Orchestra

Temple University Symphony Orchestra
Louis Biava, conductor;
Terell Stafford, trumpet
Alice Tully Hall, New York, NY
April 9, 2010


This concert “celebrated the American creative spirit” by combining photography and music. The program featured the “three B’s” American style – Barber, Bernstein, and Brubeck (Dave and his son Chris) – and included two New York premieres: the Brubecks’ “Ansel Adams: America,” and Bill Cunliffe’s fourth stream… La Banda (The Band). Composers Dave Brubeck and Bill Cunliffe were present, as were several members of Adams’ family.

The program’s only non-jazz work was Samuel Barber’s 1942 Essay No. 2, three continuous movements, the first slow and stately, the second an energetic fugue, and the third a “solemn chorale.” In Leonard Bernstein’s own symphonic arrangement of the Three Dances from his “On the Town,” the orchestra admirably captured the nostalgia of the middle section and the vibrant liveliness of the outer dance movements.

The program’s centerpiece was “Ansel Adams: America,” the Brubecks’ collaborative work written to accompany a projection on screen of Adams’ photographs of the American West. The concept was inspired by the composers’ discovery that Adams intended to become a concert pianist until, overwhelmed by the scenic beauty of Yosemite, he turned to photography instead. At the concert, the orchestra performed the music while Adams’ photographic images were displayed on a huge screen behind it. Proceeding without pause or interruption, this visual and auditory experience created a riveting cumulative impact. However, concentrating on both eventually became difficult; and, since each element was absorbing and beautiful enough to stand on its own, one began to wonder whether the simultaneity acted as an enhancement or a distraction.

Bill Cunliffe cites as his inspiration John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet as well as the distinctive rhythms of Latin music. For his La Banda, a jazz band with a large percussion section was added to the orchestra; the players were splendid, but so enthusiastic that they obliterated virtually everything else. Trumpeter Terell Stafford was fine but also had only one dynamic: fortissimo. The orchestra, apart from some doubtful intonation in the winds, was excellent throughout. Maestro Luis Biava was at home in every style and in full command of his forces. The audience was extremely responsive, but included a large group of friends whose behavior was more suitable to a private party than a public cultural event.


Xiayin Wang, Piano

Alice Tully Hall, New York, NY
May 18, 2009

Dear Reader: It gives me great pleasure to report that Xiayin Wang’s magnificent recital on May 18th was a milestone; a true rite of passage! As they say, nothing succeeds like success and before Ms. Wang even played a note, a large upbeat audience roared its approval as she took her place on stage. The ensuing opening chords of Haydn’s great last Sonata in E flat, Hob. XV1/52 (actually 62), played Maestoso, at once served notice that Ms. Wang’s appealingly reticent musical persona familiar to this writer from her several previous recitals and her compact disc (Marquis 81369) had metamorphosized into a bigger, bolder, confident and more interesting artiste. Rarely have I heard such an outstanding transformation (just for comparison, try Ms. Wang’s small scaled, shapeless performance of Mozart’s K. 330 Sonata on the cited recording). The Haydn was heroically revealed; the subito fortissimos at the ends of the first movement exposition and recapitulation had just the startling impact Haydn specified; the Adagio had remarkable gravitas and the movement’s imperious forte interjections and audacious juxtapositions of unexpected key relationships all enhanced the work’s harmonic tensions. The Finale too burst forth with a blistering Presto. Ms. Wang, you might say, made the Haydn sound like early Beethoven, and I think she was stylistically right on the money.

Chopin’s Ballade No. 2 in F Major, Op. 38 (some musicians like Brahms and Murray Perahia insist that the composition ends and should be identified as being “in A minor”) began liltingly, its opening melody lovingly shaped with subtle, unobtrusive rubato. The fierce ensuing second part came as an avalanche and the forward-thrusting phrasing slashed forward with unfailing direction and purpose. The potentially terrifying coda was rendered with note perfect confidence and accuracy: A great performance.

There were two World Premieres on Ms. Wang’s program. Richard Danielpour’s Preludes Book II, “The Enchanted Garden”, proved accessible and appealing. The first piece, “Persepolis” was rather suggestive of Poulenc. The second, “Surrounded by Idiots” scampered about engagingly; the Third was an “Elegy”; the Fourth “Lean Kat Stride” a jazzy free for all. And inevitably, for a suite called “The Enchanted Garden” Mr. Danilepour turned his sights to Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite. The pleasingly derivative music was beautifully written for the piano and evidently tailor-made for its dedicatee who played it to the hilt. The other World Premiere, Sean Hickey’s Cursive was a bit harder for this reviewer to absorb in one hearing, but it, too, was demandingly and effectively written for the piano (Hickey, according to his bio was trained as a jazz guitarist). His piece was also handsomely played by Ms. Wang.

Everyone these days seems to be fielding Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit and Ms. Wang’s account of Scarbo was unusually robust and large scaled (with all its fearsome repeated notes and virtuoso obstacles magnificently under control.

Scriabin’s 1903 Valse, Op. 38 was elegantly bittersweet. (Ms. Wang has always shown special affinity for the short-lived Russian composer’s slightly demented music and, as this review is written, a new all-Scriabin Naxos recording from Ms. Wang is imminently awaiting release.)

The formal portion of the concert ended with one of the fastest, fleetest accounts of Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1 with all its swashbuckling glissandos (which we heard earlier in the Danielpour), and leaps brilliantly nailed.

For an encore, the pianist beguiled us with one of those Chinese Picture Postcards, “The Autumn Mood over the Calm Lake” from the Dvorak dynasty (you might say that pentatonic scales were as typical of the Czech composer’s music as any quintessential Chinese or  Japanese stereotype).