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BlogCritics reviews Momenta Festival

Concert Review: Momenta Quartet Plays Ligeti, Partch, and a Roberto Sierra World Premiere (Oct 16, 2019)

Jon Sobel

The Momenta String Quartet gave each of its members an evening to curate during this year’s edition of the ensemble’s Momenta Festival. Despite a heavy rainstorm, a sizable audience turned out for the “Night Dances” concert curated by first violinist Emilie-Anne Gendron. While her inspiration may have lain in the shadows, the energy was bright during a program of fascinating music by legendary 20th-century iconoclast Harry Partch, modernist icon György Ligeti, and others. Notable was the world premiere of an intense piece written for the Momenta Quartet by the eminent Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra – who can count Ligeti as one of his teachers.

It’s hard to imagine Sierra, who was in attendance, being anything but delighted by the debut of his “Cuarteto para Cuerdas (String Quartet) No. 3.” A thoughtful and virtuosic showpiece, with five flowing movements built around a single nine-note scale, it leaps off the page with tricky rhythms right from the start. A percussive and densely harmonic “Cantando” second movement opens the way for the intriguing fits and starts of the “Rapidísimo” third. The final movements boil together with untrackable (yet somehow playable) rhythms. Altogether it’s a brilliantly constructed contiguous whole that leaves the listener metaphorically breathless.

The musicians’ convincing reading made Sierra’s new baby a fitting counterweight to the big beast of the concert’s second half, Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1, “Métamorphoses nocturnes.” This work demands a great variety of techniques and colors, which the musicians achieved with a warm humanism matching their technical mastery.

As the instruments traded off on the simple main theme in the final section, sometimes straightforwardly, sometimes in reverse, sometimes with slides, the theme’s wild variations and developments, which had formed the meat of the piece, came back to me in a satisfying recall (including a sort-of-cubist waltz). This youthful work may predate the full flowering of the composer’s personal language, but it fully deserves its place in the 20th-century canon, as the Momenta’s accomplished performance demonstrated.

Harry Partch was surely one of the last century’s most unusual musical spirits, defying most conventions and composing for instruments of his own invention. Gendron chose to open the concert with an arrangement for string quartet by Ben Johnston of Partch’s “Two Studies on Ancient Greek Scales.” These folksy miniatures featured playful melodies with startling use of just intonation, evoking in a humble but effortless way the weirdness of the large 44-string resonating boxes called the Harmonic Canon II for which Partch originally wrote them.

The Ligeti and Partch on the program drew me to this concert, but I was pleased to hear music by Erwin Schulhoff as well. This Czech-German-Jewish composer who perished in the Holocaust is little heard today. I first encountered his music on the Jerusalem Quartet’s recent Yiddish Cabaret album (reviewed here), which included Schulhoff’s spirited “Five Pieces for String Quartet.” Gendron of the Momenta performed a piece I hadn’t heard before, Schulhoff’s 1927 “Sonata for Violin Solo.” Playing a modern violin that sounded both fulsome and intimate in the Americas Society‘s small concert hall, she regaled us with magnificent fiddling in this colorful, barnburning music.

As if the pieces described above didn’t offer enough variety, the night-inspired program also included Mario Lavista’s String Quartet No. 2 “Reflejos de la noche” (1984), comprised entirely (with the exception of some lighthearted squeaks) of harmonics. So of course it’s a quiet piece, but its suggestions of bird and insect sounds are punctuated by siren wails. The single movement develops into a kind of skewed pastoral, with a surprisingly wide variety of colors (given the restrictions of harmonics), and tugged in unexpected directions by blue notes.

The Momenta musicians played this innovative (if somewhat overlong) work with sensitivity and charm, as they did the entire program. Their festival wraps up Oct. 18 and 19 with concerts at the Tenri Cultural Institute. Visit the Momenta’s website for information on upcoming concerts, and the Americas Society website for its calendar of upcoming musical events.

Lucid Culture reviews Momenta Festival

Things Go Bump in the Night With the Momenta Quartet

It’s extremely rare that an artist or group make the front page here more than once in a single week. But today, because the Momenta Quartet play such stylistically diverse, consistently interesting music, they’ve earned that distinction – just like the Kronos Quartet have, on two separate occasions, since this blog went live in 2007. Some people are just a lot more interesting than others.

This year’s annual Momenta Festival is in full swing, with its usual moments of transcendence and blissful adrenaline. The Momenta Quartet’s violist Stephanie Griffin programmed night one; night two, violinist Emilie-Anne Gendron took charge. As she put it, the theme was “Lively things that happen at night.” She wasn’t kidding.

Maybe, to provide a little break for her bandmates – who also include violinist Alex Shiozaki and cellist Michael Haas – Gendron supplied a major portion of the adrenaline with an irresistible romp through Erwin Schulhoff’s rarely performed Sonata For Violin Solo. Throughout its eclectic shifts from evocations of Appalachian, Middle Eastern, Asian and rustic Romany music, she swayed and practically clogdanced at one point, and that vivacity was contagious.

The high point of the night was one of the group’s innumerable world premieres, Roberto Sierra‘s sublimely shapeshifting, relentlessly bustling Cuarteto Para Cuerdas No. 3. Flurrying, almost frantic interludes juxtaposed with brief, uneasily still moments and all sorts of similarly bracing challenges for the group: slithery harmonics, microtonal haze spiced with fleeting poltergeist accents, finally a wry series of oscillations from Haas and a savagely insistent coda. Distant references to boleros, and a less distant resemblance to restless, late 50s Charles Mingus urban noir drove a relentless tension forward through a rollercoaster of sudden dynamic changes. There were cameras all over the room: somebody please put this up on youtube where it will blow people’s minds!

There was even more on Gendron’s bill, too. The hypnotic horizontality and subtle development of playful minimalist riffs of Mario Lavista’s String Quartet No. 2 were no less difficult to play for their gauzy microtonality and almost total reliance on harmonics. Harry Partch’s Two Studies on Ancient Greek Scales have a colorful history: originally written for the composer’s own 88-string twin-box invention, the Harmonic Canon II, the Momentas played the string quartet arrangement by the great microtonal composer Ben Johnston, a Partch protege. Part quasi Balkan dance, part proto horror film score, the group made the diptych’s knotty syncopation seem effortless.

They closed with Gyorgy Ligeti’s String Quartet No.1, subtitled “Metamorphoses Nocturnes.” The ensemble left no doubt that this heavily Bartokian 1953 piece was all about war, and its terror and lingering aftershock (Ligeti survived a Nazi death camp where two of his family were murdered). The similarities with Shostakovich’s harrowing String Quartet No. 8 – which it predated by six years – were crushingly vivid. If anything, Ligeti’s quartet is tonally even harsher. In the same vein as the Sierra premiere, these dozen movements required daunting extended technique. Which in this case meant shrieking intensity, frantic evasion of the gestapo, (musical and otherwise) and deadpan command of withering sarcasm and parodies of martial themes. All that, and a crushing, ever-present sense of absence.

The 2019 Momenta Festival winds up tonight, Oct 19 at 7 PM at the Tenri Institute, 43A W 13th St., with a playful program assembled by Shiozaki, including works by Mozart, toy pianist Phyllis Chen (who joins the ensemble), glass harmonica wizard Stefano Gervasoni and an excerpt from Griffin’s delightfully adult-friendly children’s suite, The Lost String Quartet. Admission is free but you should rsvp if you’re going.

anearful reviews andPlay "playlist"

andPlay - playlist There’s so much overlap in NYC’s fecund new music scene that it took me a minute to connect the Hannah Levinson I was watching play Catherine Lamb with Talea Ensemble at Tenri Cultural Center last month with this album, which I already had on repeat at the time. But, yes, this is the same violist, here paired with violinist Maya Bennardo, whom I also know as a member of Hotel Elefant. Though they founded andPlay about seven years ago and have commissioned many works, this is their debut album. The five world-premiere recordings make a perfect statement of the versatility and even power of this combination of instruments.

Ashkan Behzadi’s Crescita Plastica (2015) opens the album with dramatic swoops and glides, guttural stops and eerie harmonics in a bold statement of purpose. Bezier (2013), the first of two works by David Bird, turns the viola and violin into glitchy simulacra of electronic instruments, with bird-like tones intruding playfully before the real fireworks start. It’s a tour de force and quite a calling card for this composer, who was new to me. Clara Iannota’s Limun (2011) is next, adding a harmonica to the sound world, which provides a drone over which Levinson and Bennardo alternately duel and join forces. Bird’s Apocrypha (2017) further expands things with electronics and brings the album to a stunning close. He is a composer I hope to hear more from soon. Bennardo and Levinson have made such a strong case for this instrumentation that I hardly thought about it, just reveling in all the fantastic sounds, expertly captured by New Focus. I hope andPlay is prepared to be overwhelmed next time they put out a call for scores!

New York Music Daily reviews opening night at the 2019 Momenta Festival

Transcendent Rarities and World Premieres to Open The 2019 Momenta Festival

by delarue

A few months ago at a panel discussion at a major cultural institution, a nice mature lady in the crowd asked a famous podcaster – such that a podcaster in the 21st century serious-music demimonde can be famous, anyway – what new composers she should be listening to. Given a prime opportunity to bigup her favorites, the podcaster completely dropped the ball. She hedged. But if she’d thought about the question, she could have said, with complete objectivity, “Just go see the Momenta Quartet. They have impeccable taste, and pretty much everything they do is a world premiere.”

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the annual Momenta Festival, and the fifteenth for the quartet themselves. There was some turnover in the early years, but the current lineup of violinists Emilie-Anne Gendron and Alex Shiozaki, violist Stephanie Griffin and cellist Michael Haas has solidified into one of the world’s major forces in new music. Opening night of the 2019 Momenta Festival was characteristically enlightening and often genuinely transcendent.

Each of the quartet’s members takes a turn programming one of the festival’s four nights; Griffin, the only remaining member from the original trio that quickly grew into a fearsome foursome, took charge of the opening festivities. Each festival has a theme: this year’s is a retrospective, some of the ensemble’s greatest hits.

In a nod to their trio origins, Shiozaki, Griffin and Haas opened with Mario Davidovsky’s 1982 String Trio. Its central dynamic contrasted sharp, short figures with lingering ambience, the three musicians digging into its incessant, sometimes striking, sometimes subtle changes in timbre and attack.

The night’s piece de resistance was Julian Carrillo’s phantasmagorical, microtonal 1959 String Quartet No. 10, a piece the Momentas basically rescued from oblivion. Alternate tunings, whispery harmonics and a strange symmetric logic pervaded the music’s slowly glissandoing rises and falls, sometimes with a wry, almost parodic sensibility. But at other times it was rivetingly haunting, lowlit with echo effects, elegaic washes underpinned by belltone cello and a raptly hushed final movement with resonant, ambered, mournfully austere close harmonies.

In typical Momenta fashion, they played a world premiere, Alvin Singleton‘s Hallelujah Anyhow. Intriguing variations on slowly rising wave-motion phrases gave way to stricken, shivering pedal notes from individual voices in contrast with hazy sustain, then the waves returned, artfully transformed. Haas’ otherworldly, tremoloing cello shortly before the coy, sudden pizzicato ending was one of the concert’s high points.

After a fond slideshow including shots of seemingly all of the violinists who filtered through the group in their early years, conductor David Bloom and baritone Nathaniel Sullivan joined them for another world premiere commission, Matthew Greenbaum’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, a setting of Walt Whitman poetry. The program notes mentioned that the text has special resonance for the composer, considering that he grew up close to where the old ferry left Manhattan and now resides across the river near the Brooklyn landing. Brain drain out of Manhattan much?

It took awhile to gel. At first, the music didn’t seem to have much connection to the text, and the quartet and the vocals seemed to be in alternate rhythmic universes – until about the time Sullivan got to the part cautioning that it is not “You alone who know what it is to be evil.” At that point, the acerbic, steady exchange of voices latched onto a tritone or two and some grimly familiar, macabre riffage, which fell away for longer, rainy-day sustained lines.

The Momenta Festival continues tonight, Oct 16 at 7 PM at the Americas Society, 680 Park Ave at 70th St. with works by Harry Partch, Mario Lavista, Roberto Sierra, Gyorgy Ligeti and Erwin Schulhoff programmed by Gendron. How much does this fantastic group charge for tickets? Fifty bucks? A hundred? Nope. Admission is free but a rsvp is very highly advisable.

Amsterdam News features Alvin Singleton premiere at Momenta Festival

Prolific composer Alvin Singleton talks upcoming work, ‘Black culture’ as ‘American culture’

NADINE MATTHEWS

Alvin Singleton was a kid with access in the midtwentieth century close-knit Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of his childhood. “Where I grew up,” he explains in an interview with Amsterdam News, “there were a lot of jazz musicians. I had friends in their families so I used to go to their rehearsals.” That informal exposure became the foundation for what became Alvin Singleton’s international career as an award-winning musical composer.

He studied music composition at New York University and Yale University and was a Fulbright Scholar in Rome. After returning to the U.S., after living in Europe for almost 15 years, he was Composer-in-Residence with the Atlanta Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Ritz Chamber Players and Spelman College. Singleton still spends much of his time in Atlanta.

Momenta Quartet will premiere Singleton’s Chamber Music America-commissioned piece “Hallelujah Anyhow” at Americas Society in New York City on Oct. 15. It will be part of the fifth annual Momenta Festival, a series of four concerts with diverse programs curated by the members of Momenta Quartet. Admission is free, but reservations are strongly recommended.

Singleton’s parents also played a significant role in his decision to become a musician. “They made me learn an instrument and I chose piano. Eventually, I learned to play jazz.” Singleton’s experience with jazz led to an interest in composing music. He enrolled in the New York College of Music (now part of NYU) where he began studying music composition. “I didn’t really categorize myself. I had begun listening to classical pieces and I knew there were a lot of Black composers.” Singleton joined the Society of Black Composers, which further fueled his fascination.

Singleton demurs when described as a composer of classical music. “I know that I write music. I’m a composer. So, categorization always gets us in trouble because it defines us very narrowly.”

When asked to describe “Hallelujah Anyhow,” he is characteristically reluctant to do so. “When people ask me about the titles for my pieces, I always say titles are for identification, not explanation. To know the music, you have to listen to it.”

The process of composing “Hallelujah Anyhow” was unexpectedly interrupted by a health scare. Singleton shares, “This piece took quite a long time,” he says, “because I had to have heart bypass surgery last year. It came out of nowhere because I didn’t have a heart attack or anything, I just had a blockage.”

He will, however, share his thoughts on some of his works that are relatively special to him. He has admitted that his “After Fallen Crumbs” was dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. due to King’s focus on helping

the poor.

The prolific Singleton will also share that he is particularly proud of “Shadows,” which he wrote for orchestra. “When I go back and examine it I see ideas that I was using that I didn’t realize at the moment. When I go over early music, I see ideas that aren’t fully developed because I was still developing. The more I write, the more I mature. In fact, I’m still developing even at this age.”

Perhaps because of his special connection to “Shadows,” Singleton has ventured to describe it in a past interview as, “An idea based upon different-sized spinning tops, each having its own little melody, and they intersect and shadow one another as the work develops.”

The general acknowledgment that Black American culture is an integral part of U.S. culture itself is something Singleton is excited about. In part borne out by recent developments such as the announcement by The Met that it will present Terence Blanchard’s opera based on New York Times columnist Charles Blow’s memoirs “Fire Shut Up In My Bones,” the first time in the storied institution’s history that it will present an opera by a Black composer. The libretto is by writer and filmmaker Kasi Lemmons (“Eve’s Bayou”). “I think it’s about time, first of all,” Singleton says. “Secondly, it’s about the music. There are plenty of Black composers writing really good music but they don’t get the opportunity to be invited to be composers. Slowly but surely Black culture is being recognized as true American culture. I can’t imagine this country without Black people.”

NYC-ARTS previews Dan Siegler's “Concrète Jungle”

“Concrète Jungle” is a work of sound art performed live by composer Dan Siegler and special guests. The piece is inspired by and takes its title from musique concrète, an electroacoustic genre in which ready made sounds are employed in place of instrumentation. Featuring hundreds of intricately edited New York voices, “Concrète Jungle” highlights borough-specific accents, linguistic filler and word repetitions to form assembled sentences and musical grooves. Siegler has pointilistically sequenced these recordings, creating a work that contains both pre-arranged and improvisational components. Layered under the dialogue, Siegler transforms harsh urban street noise, filtering it through digital delay, reverb and echo effects, rendering it meditative and ambient.

Connected to his father’s loss of language from dementia, Siegler attempts to create order out of verbal chaos, removing words from their original context and intended meaning and reassembling surprisingly comedic, often poignant invented dialogue between people who have never met. A native New Yorker, Siegler grew up in Greenwich Village at a time when artists and middle-class families could afford to live there.”Concrète Jungle”contrasts that era’s debates with today’s public discourse, illustrating the value of meaningful conversation around challenging subjects across generations. The piece engages the audience in what composer Pauline Oliveros called “deep listening.”

The world premiere performance includes collaborative performers, including dancer Pam Tanowitz, vocalist Christina Campanella and violinist Tomoko Omura, improvising onstage with the electronic sounds manipulated by Siegler in real time.

Image courtesy of Dan Siegler.

Image courtesy of Dan Siegler.

MusicWeb International Review: Mozart Piano Concertos

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 17 in G, K453 (1784) [30:01]
Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor, K491 (1786) [29:04]
Orli Shaham (piano)
St Louis Symphony Orchestra/David Robertson
rec. 2017/18, Powell Hall, St Louis, Missouri
CANARY CLASSICS CC18 [59:10]

Coupling two such theatrical concertos as these, and ones that sport theme and variations in their finales, makes good sense. It also marks the first commercial recording in 16 years for the St Louis Symphony under David Robertson, then nearing the end of his 13-year stint as music director. Who better to accompany, then, than his wife, Orli Shaham playing on a New York Steinway.

Clearly there was perceptive microphone placements in Powell Hall, as the balances are finely judged, and things emerge naturally and not spotlit. In the Concerto in G the opening orchestral introduction is genially characterised and there is a chamber-like colloquium between soloist and wind principals. The violins sound divided too, and the consequent performance marries elegance, precision in voicings and secure ensemble. Similarly, there’s a touching intimacy in the slow movement and Shaham’s cadenza here has a quality of veiled melancholy. Cannily judged, the variations in the finale are both engaging and full of bubbling wit.

The companion concerto in C minor is the moodier and more introspective work but it too receives a buoyant and winning reading. The horns make their presence felt and the St Louis strings sound lithe but full toned and mercifully free of period desiccation. To enliven the first movement Shaham plays the Saint-Saëns cadenza with fiery intensity and commanding bravura – Robert Casadesus did the same in his old recording with Szell. The slow movement is fluency itself, in a clarity-conscious landscape, and the finale reprises the virtues, of line, definition and characterisation, that imbued the G major work.

Working hand in glove ensures a particularly simpatico reading of this brace of concertos. The booklet is a symposium between Shaham, Robertson and writer and academic Elaine Sisman that goes into some interesting musical detail about the works and is well worth reading. And as for this disc – it’s well worth hearing.

Jonathan Woolf

OperaWire previews Victoria Bond's "Clara"

Victoria Bond’s ‘Clara’ Comes To NYC This November

ByDavid Salazar

The German Forum is set to showcase Victoria Bond and Barbara Zinn Krieger’s “Clara” in New York.

The new opera will be presented at Symphony Space in New York City on Nov. 8 with another showcase set for Nov. 10 at the Church of the Messiah in Rhinebeck.

The opera will feature Christine Reber as Clara Schumann with Jonathan Estabrooks as Robert Schumann. Heejae Kim will take on the role of Johannes Brahms while Robert Osborn will portray Friedrich Wieck. The performance will also showcase a piano trio comprised of violinist Sumina Studer, cellist Thilo Thomas Krigar, and pianist Babette Hierholzer.

The opera had its premiere at the Berlin Philharmonic Festival in Baden- Baden earlier this year in celebration of Schumann’s birth.

“Bond’s opera emphasizes Clara’s inner life and the conflicts of a woman struggling to balance the demands of those who depend on her against her rising consciousness of her own needs,” stated the review from Classical Voice America.

Lucid Culture reviews andPlay CD release party

New Music Duo andPlay and Cello Rocker Meaghan Burke Put on a Serious Party at the Edge of Chinatown

How do violin/viola duo andPlay manage to create such otherworldly, quietly phantasmagorical textures? Beyond their adventurous choice of repertoire, they use weird alternate tunings. Folk and rock guitarists have been doing that since forever, but unorthodox tunings are a relatively new phenomenon in the chamber music world. At the release party for their new album Playlist at the Metropolis Ensemble‘s second-floor digs at 1 Rivington St. last night, violist Hannah Levinson and violinist Maya Bennardo – with some help from their Rhythm Method buds Meaghan Burke and Leah Asher, on harmonica and melodica, respectively – evoked a ghost world that was as playful and bracing as it was envelopingly sepulchral. Anybody who might mistakenly believe that all 21st century serious concert music is stuffy or wilfully abstruse needs to check out the programming here.

The party was in full effect before the music started. A sold-out crowd pregamed with bourbon punch and grapefruit shots. As the performance began, Levinson sent a big bucket of fresh saltwater taffy around the audience, seated in the round. The charismatic Burke opened with a brief solo set of characteristically biting, entertainingly lyrical cello-rock songs. Calmly and methodically, she shifted between catchy, emphatic basslines, tersely slashing riffs, starry pizzicato and hypnotic, loopy minimalism. The highlights included Hysteria, a witheringly funny commentary on medieval (and much more recent) patriarchal attempts to control womens’ sexual lives, along with a wry, guardedly optimistic, brand-new number contemplating the hope tbat today’s kids will retain the ability to see with fresh eyes.

Dressed in coyly embroidered, matching bespoke denim jumpsuits, andPlay wasted no time introducing the album’s persistently uneasy, close harmonies  with a piece that’s not on it, Adam Roberts‘ new Diptych. Contrasting nebulous ambience with tricky polyrhythmic counterpoint, the duo rode its dynamic shfits confidently through exchanges of incisive pizzicato with muted austerity, to a particularly tasty, acerbic, tantalizingly brief coda.

Clara Ionatta’s partita Limun, Levinson explained, was inspired by the Italian concept of lemon as a panacea. Playful sparring between the duo subtly morphed into slowly drifting tectonic sheets, finally reaching a warmer, more consonant sense of closure that was knocked off its axis by a sudden, cold ending.

The laptop loops of composer David Bird‘s live remix of his epic Apochrypha threatened to completely subsume the strings, but that quasar pulse happily receded to the background. It’s the album’s most distinctly microtonal track, Bennardo and Levinson quietly reveling in both its sharp, short, flickeringly agitated riffs and misty stillness.

The next concert at the space at 1 Rivington is on Oct 11 at 7:30 PM with composer Molly Herron and the Argus Quartet celebrating the release of their new album “with music and poetry that explore history and transformation.” Cover is $20/$10 stud.

Momenta Festival featured in The New Yorker

Any good string-quartet performance demonstrates the capacity for four individuals to meld their distinct personalities into a group identity and sound. The Momenta Festival serves notice that the reverse is also true, as each member of this excellent quartet—the violinists Emilie-Anne Gendron and Alex Shiozaki, the violist Stephanie Griffin, and the cellist Michael Haas—programs a free concert. Taken together, they provide a kaleidoscopic view of the group’s inner urges. The first two programs, curated by Griffin and Gendron, respectively, present a fascinating mix of works, including world premières by Alvin Singleton, Matthew Greenbaum, and Roberto Sierra; the next set follows on Oct. 18-19, at Tenri Cultural Institute.

Steve Smith

Insider Interview with Pianist Vasco Dantas

On Sunday, November 17, 2019 at 2 p.m. Portuguese pianist Vasco Dantas makes his Carnegie Hall debut performing music by Debussy, Mussorgsky, and Portuguese impressionist Luis de Freitas-Branco. In this Insider Interview, Vasco Dantas talks about his role as a cultural ambassador for Portugal, his early aspirations as a pianist, and more.

What first drew you to the piano? Tell us about some of your first memories about it.

The piano came into my life at the age of 4 by a mere coincidence. No one in my family is or was a professional musician, although my father always enjoyed music and arts (he had been a theatre actor before deciding to do engineering) and my mom has always painted as a hobby.

When I was 4 years of age, my father was singing in a choir and I would go with him to the rehearsals on Saturday mornings. The conductor of this choir, José Manuel Pinheiro, noticed that during the rehearsal break I would play at the keyboard. He realized I was imitating some of the melodies the choir had been singing just before. He sat down with me started playing a few musical games with me. He quickly realized that I had perfect pitch and subsequently suggested to my parents that there should be no question that I should begin studying the piano. That was it, the next school year I started learning this instrument which is now a major part of my life.

How did you choose the repertoire for this program? Tell us about the connections between the pieces.

I wanted to choose a program that I love and, at the same time, one I would be comfortable playing. Therefore I immediately chose “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky, which is one of my favorite works for piano which, curiously, I first learned about when I played the Ravel orchestration of the piece, on the violin with the Portuguese Youth Orchestra. I first recorded this piece in 2015 at the London Royal College of Music on my first solo CD called “Promenade” and I believe this is a fantastic piece to have in any piano recital.

For the first half of the program, I chose a special combination of 10 Prelúdios by Freitas Branco together with 5 Preludes by Debussy. This has been a recent project from me, combining these two similar composers, contemporaries of each other, resulting in carefully chosen sequence of 15 preludes performed with no significant interruption, giving it all a wonderful new combination and fresh vision. During the first half program, besides choosing wonderful music, I also wanted to bring new sounds and something different from my country, Portugal, a ‘premiere’ at Carnegie Hall.

Tell us more about the Portuguese composer Luis de Freitas Branco – he is not familiar to most music lovers here. How would you describe his style, and where does he stand in the history of music amongst his more famous contemporaries?

Luís de Freitas Branco is probably the most important Portuguese composer and pianist from the first half of the 20th century. Branco was from Lisbon but had the opportunity to study abroad in Central Europe and France where he had his first contact with modernism and impressionism, the prominent musical styles of the previous century. At that time the dominant musical paradigm in Portugal was still based on and inspired by the Romantic Musical Style from the 19th century. When Branco returned to his homeland he was the first composer to introduce Modernism into the Portuguese music. He, along with his older friend and composer Vianna da Motta, (pupil of Franz Liszt) also renewed the music curriculum at The Lisbon Music Conservatory, together).

Branco’s style is very much inspired by the French composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, as well as the Belgian composer César Franck. These preludes, in particular, remind us of the French Impressionism from a uniquely different Portuguese perspective.

Branco has to his credit an abundance of high-quality repertoire, not only for solo piano, but also for Chamber Music. I believe his music ought to be played more often and studied more, both in Portugal and abroad.

You have won dozens of prizes in competitions, and now are making your Carnegie Hall debut. What are the next steps in your career?

First of all, it is for me an honor to perform in Carnegie Hall: such a mythical and hallowed venue where I have seen so many historic concert videos of fantastic musicians, particularly pianists.

I plan to continue developing my career, not only in Europe, but also in other parts of the world like USA and South America. One of the things about being a classical pianist is that there is almost an unlimited quantity of wonderful repertoire available. Therefore, I still have much repertoire I wish to perform, in solo and chamber recitals and with orchestras.

In the future, I would also like to combine my performance career with a pedagogic career, because I love teaching and I feel I learn so much by teaching others!

Apart from my performing career, I would like to continue to develop the cultural and musical scene in Portugal. I plan on expanding my chamber music festival “Algarve Music Series”, and creating other new musical projects in order to provide greater opportunities to the younger generation of musicians so as to foster classical music in Portugal, both broader in scope and in depth.

Your performances have taken you to many parts of the world. What experiences stand out to you in your travels?

My concert appearances have taken me to four different continents and many distinctive countries. I have had quite a few wonderful experiences while in contact with different people, cultures, food, and weather.

Once, on the first time I was in Russia for a concert with the orchestra, I had just met the musicians, and I realized they could not speak English well enough nor could I speak Russian very well. So before the rehearsal we were having a hard time communicating and sharing opinions with each other. I felt a little bit stressed imagining how hard those rehearsals and the concert were going to be. But something wonderful happened; once we started rehearsing everything started to make sense and we were able to communicate through music, musically demonstrating our artistic opinions on the piece we were playing. At that moment I understood that music truly is “the universal language”.

Which activities do you enjoy during your leisure time?

I love sports, when I am home I like to go surfing. It works as a kind of meditation time for me. I also like to run by the sea, play football with my friends and often I participate in chess tournaments, which I love too.

I like to be with my family and friends, hiking in Natural Parks or other beautiful places full of nature, and cooking nice meals.

What would you like people to know about Portugal?

Portugal has almost nine centuries of history and distinctive culture; it has both influenced and been influenced by its worldwide trade with other nations. However, during much of the 20th century, Portugal was ruled by a dictatorship that kept its borders closed to cultural and music influences from abroad.

Since the “Carnation Revolution” in 1974, the country has gradually changed; it is now a completely different place. It’s become a tourist destination, open to the arts and classical music, and the Portuguese musicians are among the best in Europe.

Violin Channel Interviews David Bird, whose music is featured on andPlay's Debut Album "Playlist"

On Friday, September 27, 2019, violinist Maya Bennardo and violist Hannah Levinson, collectively known as the duo andPlay, release their debut CD playlist, on New Focus Recordings. The album features music by Ashkan Behzadi, Clara Iannotta, and David Bird. In this extended interview with The Violin Channel, David Bird discusses his piece “Apocrypha”, collaborating closely with andPlay, and more.

What was your idea or inspiration behind the work?

"Apocrypha" is loosely inspired by Stanislaw Lem's 1961 novel "Solaris". Lem's book follows a team of scientists stationed on a distant planet covered by a vast and gelatinous ocean. In the novel, the ocean demonstrates a bizarre ability to manipulate the emotions and memories of the scientists. "Apocrypha", exploits a similar process, where the enveloping presence of the electronic sounds prompt different emotional states in the duo's performance. “Apocrypha” was written for andPlay (Hannah Levinson and Maya Bennardo), and was developed in the summer of 2016 at the Avaloch Farm Music Institute. It’s also featured on the ensemble’s upcoming album ‘playlist' available on New Focus Recordings, September 27th.

How did this opportunity come to you?

I had worked with andPlay prior on a piece entitled "Bezier", it was a remarkable experience, as the ensemble was really willing to sit down and try things out as I was sketching the piece. I quickly appreciated how flexible and poignant they were in engaging with musical structures that were 'a bit weird' or uncommon, and doing so with a lot of poise and professionalism. So it was easy to hope for and anticipate a subsequent collaboration. Additionally the ensemble had been playing “Bezier” often, and being a composer with a background in electronic and electroacoustic music, I was eager to follow that with something that integrated my electronic music skill set with their unique sound world and performance capabilities.

What was your personal process for taking it from your head to the concert stage?

I think this was one of my longer composing periods, with this piece taking over a year to write. Because of this I was able to take a wider perspective on the piece and cut out extraneous sections where necessary. Even though it took a while to compose, the sound world of the piece always felt very alive and vibrant to me, I think this was in part because we had developed a lot of the sounds and sections together in residence at the Avaloch Farm Music Institute. And so in addition to being inspired by these sessions, I knew what would and wouldn’t work, and was able to work with a lot of high quality recordings made with the ensemble in these sessions.

What do you hope listeners will take away with them?

The novel "Solaris" depicts the way in which a planet is able to manipulate the emotions and memories of space travelers as they approach it, and I was interested in depicting the violin and viola as characters that slowly, and almost unknowingly, enter some kind of turbulent emotional orbit and then depart from it. And so in a broad sense, the piece charts a transformation of tone and perspective, with each section of the work descending into new layers and emotional depths, each with their own sound worlds and musical relationships. Ultimately I’d invite any perspective or listening of the piece, but would be glad if an audience experienced some kind of transformation for (or in) themselves.

Gramophone Reviews Victoria Bond's latest album "Instruments of Revelation"

BOND Instruments of Revelation

Gramophone Magazine | October 2019
By Guy Rickards

Victoria Bond (b1945) is a multifaceted composer and conductor (the first woman to hold a Doctorate in Conducting from the Juilliard School). Her catalogue ranges from chamber opera – her Clara was premiered this April during the Berlin Philharmonic Easter Festival to mark Clara Schumann’s bicentenary – to concertos, vocal, chamber and instrumental pieces, for instance the quintet for flute, clarinet and piano trio Instruments of Revelation (2010), which derives from three Tarot cards. Resonances of Stravinsky and Debussy rub shoulders before the triptych closes with ‘a touch of both comedy and chaos’.

There is more of both – and pathos – in Frescoes and Ash (2009), inspired by the paintings of Pompeii and, in the finale, the citizens’ appalling fate. Bond uses her ensemble (clarinet, piano, percussion and string quartet) sparingly in four of the seven movements; the central ‘The Sibyl Speaks’, for example, is a trio for two violins and viola. The whole is stylistically varied but always tonal, sometimes a little freely, as is the piano piece Binary (2005), which cunningly transmutes the digits 0 and 1 into variations on a samba!

Leopold Bloom’s Homecoming (2011) is a scena for tenor (sometimes speaking, sometimes singing) and piano, part of a varied series setting portions of Joyce’s Ulysses (Molly ManyBloom is available on Albany). Composed for Rufus Müller – who sings, narrates and declaims it with relish, nimbly accompanied by Jenny Lin – it is perhaps more of an acquired taste (like Joyce) but there is no denying the inventiveness of Bond’s setting. The performances throughout are well prepared and committed, from the virtuoso pianism of Olga Vinokur to the effortless ensemble of Chicago Pro Musica. An excellent disc and a benchmark for how contemporary music can be presented to a wider public.

Insider Interview: andPlay Duo

On September 27, 2019, the pioneering violin and viola duo, andPlay release their debut album "playlist" on New Focus Recordings (FCR233). In this Insider Interview we spoke with Maya Bennardo and Hannah Levinson about how their duo began, how they developed their musical aesthetic, and more.

How did you meet, and what inspired you to form andPlay? 

andPlay met many moons ago when we were both undergrads at the Oberlin Conservatory. We were friends through Maya’s freshman roommate, and reconnected at the roommate’s wedding before Maya moved to NYC. Once Maya had made the move we ended up playing in a new music ensemble together. The ensemble asked if small groups of players would be interested in going to Fire Island to play chamber music concerts. Maya loves the beach and did not want to pass up the opportunity, so she called me [Hannah] and we decided to play violin/viola duos. We scoured the NYU music library and asked around to find some good music, and ended up putting together a very challenging and fun program of music by Stefano Gervasoni, August Reed Thomas, Brendan Faegre, and Christian Wolff that went over quite well with the beach-loving audiences! After that we decided that we wanted to play more together, so we booked a show and starting racking our brains for an ensemble name. andPlay was born, and the rest is history...

How did you come up with your name, and how does it describe the aesthetics (or any other aspect) of your ensemble?   How would you describe andPlay’s style? 

andPlay was born out of another freelance gig that Maya was part of in her early days in NYC. In this piece a group of 12 performers each had their own tape part with headphones that would tell the performers when to play. Maya would wait and wait until a firm voice would quickly say “and PLAY”. We spent a great deal of time making lists and contemplating different ensemble names, and one evening at my [Hannah’s] apartment while hosting a monthly cake night we workshopped some names around to the group. There were a few contenders, but andPlay was the one that everyone kept coming back to. 

We liked the connotations of the name and how succinct it was. There is something playful and mischievous about it that keeps you on your toes. This curiosity and light-hearted nature is something that we always strive to bring to our collaborations and performances. Even when performing very “serious” music, we try to remember that we are “playing,” both in the sense that we are literally playing our instruments, and that we are enjoying making something together!

How did your interest in music by contemporary composers develop?  How has your taste in various compositional styles changed over the years?

Like I mentioned before, we both went to the Oberlin Conservatory where the Contemporary Music Ensemble and new music in general was woven into the fabric of the community in the same way that Bach and Brahms are. Our professors encouraged us to explore music outside of the traditional repertoire and we both fell in love with the collaborative quality of performing music that was being written in our time and by people that we could actually have a conversation with. 

Over the years our tastes have broadened and we experiment with and discover new styles of music. We have been performing a lot more music by the Wandelweiser collective in the past three years, and have become quite enamored with exploring the intimacy of two voices playing static or sparse music. We have also commissioned music in Just Intonation and have committed to delving into this musical world and learning as much as we can. 

Your upcoming debut album, playlist, features world premiere recordings of works that you commissioned. What do you look for in selecting composers to write works for the duo? 

When we commission new works we are looking for composers that are writing music that speaks to us and who we can imagine writing something genuinely unique for our instrumentation. So much of the early repertoire for violin/viola duo was written as if it were almost two different hands on a piano - someone has the melody, someone accompanies them, and vice versa! We are really interested in composers who push past that and treat the ensemble as one giant instrument, figuring out creative ways to compose for two similar instruments.  Some of our commissions stem from long-term collaborations with composers and their music, whether with andPlay, or through other ensemble or solo pieces. Those types of relationships are really special to us because it means that we develop a musical language together that we have fully immersed ourselves in over the years, like the two pieces by David Bird featured on this album, which were written four years apart. 

What other projects are keeping each of you busy, both with the duo and elsewhere? 

We are constantly dreaming and have a long list of projects that we want to bring to life in the coming years with andPlay. So much of our creative energy is thrown into the duo, and our differing yet complementary personalities keep us both grounded/idealistic enough to pinpoint the projects that we know will be both fulfilling, exciting, and possible for the ensemble. This season we are looking forward to new commissions, a collaborative project with some LA-based musicians, the second season of our audience engagement series,  and performances throughout the United States. Stay tuned for some larger projects on the horizon in the next few years! We can both also be found performing with other ensembles in NYC and around the world; we are definitely keeping busy!

Insider Interview: composer Dan Siegler

On October 17 and 18, 2019, composer Dan Siegler and guest artists perform the world premiere of Concrète Jungle at The Invisible Dog (51 Bergen St.) in Brooklyn. In this Insider Interview we spoke to Mr. Siegler about the origins of Concrète Jungle, his early inspirations as a composer, and more.

How did Concrète Jungle come into being? 

The work evolved slowly. It was something I would do for fun in between assignments for hire. I became fascinated by New York voices and sounds, and more conscious of the city I’ve spent my whole life in. I would wander the streets recording noise, interview people with strong accents, find archival clips on YouTube. After a few years it had developed into…something. I wasn’t sure what yet. 

How/where did you find and gather all of the different voices you use in the piece? How did you determine which bits to use?

The piece is entirely instinctual, with the imperative that every sound come from New York or a New Yorker. As I collected the voices, I began to notice that themes were emerging; dialogue about gentrification, art making, industry, feminism. Do you remember that game “Concentration”? It was kind of like that. I’d turn over one square and try to find the other square that matched the same subject matter. It was like some gigantic puzzle, but the answers were more abstract than literal. I became interested in creating dialogue through editing, between people who had never met. 

You recently gave a workshop performance of excerpts of this work. Tell me about the audience reaction. What do you hope the audiences at the Invisible Dog performances will come away with?

In the Summer of 2018, I finally showed the piece to the public when David Lang and Suzanne Bocanegra graciously opened their little theater to me. If I didn’t get this thing out of my head I was going to go crazy. What I was looking for was what they call “proof of concept” on Shark Tank. In other words, does the thing work? Does it hold an audience’s attention. It’s a “deep listening” experience and requires focus. To my complete shock at the Q & A after, there was so much response that we had to cut it off at a certain point. The conversation with the audience on that night was one of the most validating experiences of my life and helped me recommit to the project and go deeper. I hope that the audience for Invisible Dog will feel the intention of the piece which is about connection and how hard it is and how important it is, between people and across generations. We have sound, lighting, and production design now so the whole piece has taken a bold step further. 

What roles do the guest performers – be it dancer, instrumentalist, or vocalist - serve in relation to what you are doing on stage? Do you provide printed music, parameters or suggestions to them? 

The guest performers are all talented artists I know or have worked with and I’ve been lucky to have surrounded myself with a lot of special people. That they would contribute their time and talent to this is really an honor. All the direction really comes from curation. I would only ask people I knew would be comfortable improvising in this sort of environment. I think of the guests as representing those chance encounters that you have, like at the deli or on the street, that affirm humanity and make the city feel like a special place. They serve as a reminder to not live too far inside your own head, that others around you can contribute to a shift in collective energy if you’re open to it. 

And….what ARE you doing on stage during the performance? 

What I’m doing is live mixing. So I’m taking the text and the sounds and using f/x to manipulate them, so that every performance contains improvisatory elements, both from the guest soloists and myself. I can decide to emphasize a particular part or bring something down. I can fly a sound around the room or make it sound tinny, like it’s coming from an old transistor radio. 

What led you to a career as a composer?

I studied classical piano until I got to high school and then I ditched it for rock music. I had bands and played all the great clubs that are now closed, CBGB’s etc. All the while, I was contributing music to friends’ theater productions and modern dance performances. I was setting up my recording studio and finding that was my happy place. I love tinkering with sounds and structures and I can take a maddeningly long time to finish. But I get there eventually. So essentially, not becoming a rock star led to my career as a composer, which it turns out, I was a lot better suited for. 

How would you describe your composition style, and what other composers do you draw inspiration from? 

I start with sounds, as opposed to notes. The notes come later after I’ve established the baseline concept. The concept comes from the sounds. Over the past few years my work has evolved and has become more mobile. I record from wherever I am and that inevitably becomes part of the composition. Hildegard Westerkamp has been a huge influence as of course has Pierre Schaeffer, an early pioneer of musique concrète, from which Concrète Jungle gets its name. I try to mess with people’s conception of rhythm. We’re such a beat-driven society. I love beats as much as the next person, but I want to find rhythm in different ways. Even arpeggios make me impatient. We all rely on these devices to create propulsion and I try to find that motion in other ways. I use words rhythmically, voices as instruments, not as singers or storytellers. Then I usually add vintage synthesizers and minimal orchestration for strings, horns or woodwinds.  

Gapplegate Classical-Modern reviews "Instruments of Revelation"

A program of chamber music in first recordings is what we contemplate this morning, in other words New Tonal Music 2005-2011 by Victoria Bond (b. 1945), under the umbrella title Instruments of Revelation (Naxos 8.559864). The Chicago Pro Musica does the performance honors and they are quite convincing and well worth hearing in that role.

The music has a whimsical quality throughout, whether by means of mildly sarcastic quasi-march-gallops or a shade here and there of the burlesque. I was alerted to the attractions of this album as a huge James Joyce fan by the 20-minute "Leopold Bloom's Homecoming" (2011) based on a relevant Ulysses-oriented Joycian text sung by tenor Rufus Muller with piano accompaniment by Jenny Lin. It is broadly lyrical in a matter-of-fact way and convinces as viable vocal art without sounding as "radical" as the Joycean original, but that is OK. What I mean to say is that the music gives the words less of a stream-of-consciousness and more of a deliberation a la Britten with Henry James? No matter because it is nicely done and memorable.

The short piano solo work "Binary" (2005) is the more exploratory of the works here, with a convincing rhythmic punch that has a slightly "Jazzy" pedigree and clustering quasi-pentatonic-chromatic thrust that comes through nicely as played by Olga Vinokur. The music I read in the liners is based on a Brazilian Samba, which makes sense of it all once you know. The "Binary" of the title alludes to the composer's treatment of the digits zero and one, which the unaided ear may not at first catch but no matter as the music is compelling.

Backing up to the first works on the program we have the title piece. "Instruments of Revelation" (2010) which is for a large-ish chamber ensemble. The music has some somewhat Stravinskian whimsy a la L'Histoire du Soldat in an extension and a furtherance that goes beyond the original feeling and then segues into other realms. There is a pronounced descriptive exuberance at times that is captivating.

"Frescoes and Ash" (2009) has a rippling rhapsodic feel to it, a Carnival of the Animals sans animals flavor at times, descriptive and absorbing. The chamber ensemble sounds quite full thanks to Ms. Bond's artful scoring. There are times when I am slightly and favorably reminded of the hushed stillness of Vaughan Williams' "A Lark Descending," but then Ms. Bond moves forward into her own zone and the feeling goes to be replaced by another vista not without its own artful quality. Regardless there is poise and good humor throughout.

And as all is said and done with this program one feels refreshed and in the presence of a lively musical mind. This may not quite be a music of sturm und drang, but if you listen on its own terms there is music to like just fine, to draw a smile, to give is a puckish Midsummer Night's Dream without Puck himself or the Fairies. It is enchanted music nonetheless. Listen.

Review Corner on Truman Harris "A Warm Day in Winter"

This is a jolly album of bassoon-led pieces.

Yes: you study all your life, you’re really good and you put out a complex album … and it’s summed up as jolly. All that effort for one word. Jolly hockey sticks is what always comes to mind when we play this, but we’re not really sure what that means.

This album features six works and the bassoon and flute (the former played on some tracks by Harris, an orchestral bassoonist) feature a lot. It reminded us of jazz in the way the instruments take the lead but it’s not for fancy solos, just runs of notes. Hunting online we found a biography of Harris: Gramophone magazine called his music “winsome and engaging,” and Music Web International wrote that the album is “hugely enjoyable,” which it is. Jolly is what they meant; perky maybe.

The pieces on here suggest a man who understands the complexities of music but, as a working musician, knows the importance of getting bums on seats and balances the two out. That’s not to say this is workmanlike music: it’s subtle and varied, and he favours the wind instruments.

We can’t pick out standouts. It’s all to a quality, though the opening piece Rosemoor Suites captures the imagination straight away. It’s all evocative; there are moments of modernism but Mr H is always thinking of his audience, so there’s nothing even remotely scary on here.

The Eclipse Chamber Orchestra/Sylvia Alimena play. Recommended for when you want something entertaining and easy, but not anodyne. And if you like the bassoon, obviously.

Out on Naxos 8.559858.

Insider Interview: Ted Altschuler, Director of BPAC

 

Insider Interview with Ted Altschuler, Director of the Baruch Performing Arts Center

What’s the process for programming a season at BPAC?  How do you develop a theme or unifying concept?

We feature New York as well as international artists, presenting a season that is diverse in artistic genre, national origin of the art and artist, and subject matter. We present only artists whose work I have experienced live.  I am particularly interested in a confluence of genres – whether that means multiple arts disciplines, arts and humanities, or arts and sciences.  We emphasize programs combining arts and social justice.  As a venue located at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York, we echo the university’s ethos of inclusion and accessibility.  Our students come from over 100 different countries!  I don’t tend to decide on a more specific theme beforehand, but as the season takes shape, one emerges. The 2019-20 tagline is: Imagination. Depth. Diversity. 

You have a doctorate in neuroscience and decades of experience as an opera and theatre director.  How does your unusual background inform your programming decisions?

I spent many years directing plays and opera and teaching at The Juilliard School because I am interested in the creative process.  When I really connect with artists, it is most often about artistic practice and values. There are easily 50 cellists whose playing might be thought of as excellent. I’m interested in what values they bring to the work, the extended narrative of their work over time, what composers they are drawn to, how they connect with the music, fellow artists and audience, does their practice include intense collaboration, site-specific work, do they improvise, do they compose – how they achieve the qualities we see in the finished product? As someone who makes work, I am intensely aware of the creative and practical resources required.  At BPAC, we don’t just “book” artists, we host residencies for choreographers, composers, playwrights and other artists, providing time and space to make work.  This helps cushion the financial risk, and since the creation of the work is happening here, creative process can be another point of entry for BPAC patrons and Baruch students.  While some people love the performance, others get into what goes on behind the scenes. 

I got interested in neuroscience via my work with performers. Cognitive neuroscience looks at the physiological sources of our emotions and behaviours - how we pay attention, remember, use our senses – these are processes we all engage in, but actors consciously exploit them. My experimental studies looked at what the brain contributes to the information that our eyes collect from our world to produce the experience of seeing - something that is really a creative act. 

Science, like art, observes the world, playing with something in it to understand it better. Cognitive science has made me keenly observant of human behaviour; it has given me a rigor in how I direct an artistic organization and, has made me a better story teller.  The data that results from an experiment is really not of value until it is embedded in narrative.  It is story that attaches outcomes to what is known so far and says why they are significant.

How do you discover the artists that you consider for a season?  How do you get to know these performers if you have not already experienced their work?

I’m a voracious consumer of live performing arts.  It’s my pleasure, as well as my job. Living in New York City certainly doesn’t hurt, although I see performances pretty much anywhere I travel.  As more arts patrons have gotten to know BPAC’s great 25th Street location - its intimately scaled concert hall with superb acoustics, its beautiful black box theatre - and as our programs have become generally more visible in the performing arts landscape, colleagues, artists, and artists’ managers have come to me with great frequency about their ideas for collaborations. I get to know artists’ work over time by experiencing it myself and talking to them. Then logistics like time and budget come into play and if that works for everyone, we have lift-off! 

What kind of balance do you strive for, with regard to artists making their BPAC series debut vs. returning artists?  

I hope that around 1/3 of our artists or artist pairings in any given year are new to BPAC.  Sometimes they are completely new, for instance this year we will present Clarion and Daedalus Quartets for the first time, but we are also bringing back pianist Michael Brown.  Instead of a solo recital, he will perform with his frequent collaborator, cellist Nicholas Canellakis. We have also invited back the fabulous modernist pianist Guy Livingston, he will perform with soprano Rayanne Dupuis who is well known internationally, but will make her New York debut at BPAC premiering songs by William Bolcom! I’m very excited that BPAC is the venue where New Yorkers can first hear his “Poèmes libres de droits” written for Guy and Rayanne.

New York is a world capital when it comes to the performing arts.  What are the special aspects of BPAC that bring audiences to your events?  What is unique about BPAC and its offerings?

What is unique about BPAC, and a real asset to New York when it comes to chamber music, is our Rosalyn and Irwin Engelman Recital Hall. At a capacity of 175 seats, it is truly a chamber setting in which to appreciate soloists and small ensembles.  Its acoustics are among the best in the city.

BPAC prioritizes intimately scaled performances. This is the third year in which we will co-present Heartbeat Opera, whose aesthetic is intentionally scaled down – they are what off- Broadway is to Broadway. They take the grandiosity out of opera, leaving what is truly grand – focused story-telling, compelling characters, and an impeccably played and sung score that has been re-orchestrated so as to hear the music anew in a way that fits a 200-seat theatre.

There are some ways in which I’m pleased not to be unique.  I would say that the quality of the artists we present are on par with the musicians you can and do hear at Alice Tully Hall or Jazz at Lincoln Center, the dancers you see at the Joyce, the performances that you see at New York Theater Workshop or the Metropolitan Museum.

We are in a great neighbourhood - 25th Street between 3rd & Lexington Aves borders Gramercy, Kips Bay and No Mad – the area now known as Flatiron, due to its proximity to the Flatiron building on 23rd & 5th.  There are so many good places to eat nearby – Eataly, the Freehand Hotel, all the fantastic Indian spots in Curry Hill.  Madison Square Park is a lovely urban refuge just two blocks away on Madison and 25th.  

Last, but certainly not least, in this pricey cultural capital, we have affordable tickets.  For every event in our season, there are tickets available for $35 and often for less, and student tickets for $15 and sometimes less.

What programs on the ‘19-20 season stand out for you as highlights?

I’m not supposed to play favorites, but in each program genres I’ll draw your attention to:

THEATRE

Terra Firma – WORLD PREMIERE -   Sep 27 – Nov 10.

In a Brechtian future, a tiny kingdom is created. This play wrestles with what makes a citizen, a country and a civilization.  Inspired by real events in which an army major claimed an abandoned concrete platform in international waters as his own sovereign nation.  Featuring Andrus Nichols (Sense & Sensibility) “I’m beginning to think she can do anything.” – Ben Brantley, NY Times.   

CHAMBER MUSIC

Daedalus Quartet – Music from Exile w/ NY PREMIERE of Babel - Nov 22

This “exceptionally refined young ensemble with a translucent sound.” – The New Yorker makes a sonic exploration of the response to repression and exile.  The program includes the defiantly joyful third string quartet of Viktor Ullman, written in Theresienstadt in 1943. The NY Premiere of Babel by Gabriel Bolaños, whose family fled Nicaragua. The piece uses the sound of string instruments to explore the variety of human language, revealing both cultural differences and our fundamental similarity. Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s monumental piano quintet, composed in Moscow after his escape from the Nazi invasion of Poland, closes the program in celebration of his centenary

OPERA

dwb (driving while black) NY PREMIERE  - March 19 – 21

“Singers are storytellers,” says soprano/librettist Roberta Gumbel (“silver voiced…” – The New York Times), “but rarely do we get the opportunity to help create the stories we are telling.” Collaborating with Susan Kander (“A composer of vivid imagination and skill.” – Fanfare) and the cutting-edge cello/percussion duo New Morse Code,  this brief, powerful music-drama documents the all-too-familiar story of an African-American parent whose “beautiful brown boy” approaches driving age as, what should be a celebration of independence and maturity is fraught with the anxiety of “driving while black.” 

DANCE

Foray WORLD PREMIERE - March 26 – 28

The first evening-length solo concert in five years by this very-in-demand Lincoln Center Institute choreographer.  Set to an array of classical/contemporary music remixes, this marks the debut of D2D/T, Mr. Latif’s artist collective. They present four original works made with collaborators from New York City Ballet, Alvin Ailey, and American Ballet Theater.  

MULTI-DISCIPLANRY PERFORMANCE

Talea Ensemble – Love and Diversity US PREMIERE - April 2 - 4

Lying somewhere between music and theater, this work is by Manos Tsangaris, never before seen in the U.S.  The audience begins in a social setting filling out a questionnaire about, art, love, and friendship. They enter the performance in small groups, visiting several stations. At each sits a musician/actor.  In a sequence of interactions, the audience is immersed in the performance – first encountering each musician individually and, finally, experiencing the piece as a whole. This exemplifies Talea's mission to champion musical creativity and cultivate curious listeners and is why they are hailed “A crucial part of the New York cultural ecosphere”- New York Times

TransCentury Communications reviews Mozart Concertos

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 17 and 24. Orli Shaham, piano; St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Robertson. Canary Classics. $16.

There are endless ways to interpret Mozart, endless reasons for doing so, and endless explanations of why one interpretation or another “works” or does not. The reality is that all interpretations “work” if they interest, intrigue, move, engage, attract the audience; in that sense, whether they are academically correct, historically informed, careful to play what the composer expected to hear or more concerned with being heard in a modern setting by contemporary audiences, is largely irrelevant to their “rightness.” This is important to remember at a time when ongoing arguments about piano type, orchestra size, recording venue and more seem never-ending when it comes to music from before the 20th century (and even some from the 20th century). Mozart’s music, like Bach’s, communicates effectively, often brilliantly, whether or not played in the way Mozart played it himself or expected others to play it. Academics can argue whatever points they will, but what ultimately matters is whether performers have something valuable to say, to communicate to listeners, and have found an effective way of bringing it forth.

What is striking about the Orli Shaham/David Robertson collaboration in two well-known Mozart piano concertos, on the Canary Classics label, is how well it communicates feelings and expressions that seem “Mozartean” even though there is nothing historically accurate about the recording at all. The orchestra is too large for Mozart’s time, the piano far too big and resonant, the cadenzas not at all in Mozart’s style (especially in the first movement of Concerto No. 24), and Shaham’s playing is far too focused on the emotionally expressive passages of the music – not only in the enormously powerful No. 24 but also in the slow movement of No. 17. Purists will not care for what Shaham and Robertson have done here, although they will (or at least should) appreciate the consistency of these interpretations and the excellent support that the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra accords Shaham. But as a reaching-out CD, as a deeply felt production that connects beautifully and meaningfully with an audience 230-plus years after these concertos were written, the recording is absolutely first-rate.

Shaham and Robertson clearly have deep feelings for Mozart that they know how to translate into feelings to be shared with an at-home audience. It is extraordinarily difficult to listen to this recording without giving it full attention: it insists that what it has to say is more important than anything else that may be in a listener’s environment while the disc plays. This is by no means always the case with recorded music, or even with recorded Mozart, which can descend into mere prettiness without the counterbalancing pathos that is one of the signposts of Mozart’s genius. It would be facile and rather silly to say that Shaham and Robertson “channel” Mozart; better to say that they understand Mozart with a thoroughness that allows his music to flow through them and through these performances in a way that connects directly with an audience that, objectively, is immeasurably different from any for which Mozart wrote or could have written. The way Shaham shapes each individual variation of the finale of Concerto No. 17, the considerable drama of the coda of that movement, the unbridled intensity Shaham insists on presenting from the start of Concerto No. 24, the almost unbearable heights to which she takes that intensity in the finale of the latter concerto – these and many other touches illuminate aspects of Mozart that have always been there in the score (and of which, to be sure, other performers have also been cognizant), but that Shaham and Robertson connect with tremendous skill in performances that are fully and beautifully integrated from start to finish. This is not “correct” Mozart in the historical sense, but it is hard to escape the feeling that it is very much correct in its effects, its meaning, and its emotional impact. The ultimate test of performances for most listeners is not whether they are historically accurate but whether they are convincing – and these certainly are.

TransCentury Communications reviews "A Warm Day in Winter"

Truman Harris: Concertino for Horn and Chamber Orchestra; Concertino for Flute and Chamber Orchestra; Rosemoor Suite; Aulos Triptych; Flowers; Sonata for Two Bassoons and Piano. Alice Kogan Weinreb, Aaran Goldman, Carole Bean, Leah Arsenault Barrick, flutes; Nicholas Stovall, oboe; Paul Cigan, clarinet; Truman Harris, Sue Heineman, Steven Wilson, bassoons; Laurel Bennert Ohlson, horn; Audrey Andrist, piano; Eclipse Chamber Orchestra conducted by Sylvia Alimena. Naxos. $12.99.

There is a somewhat unfair perception that many contemporary composers care more about impressing other composers and/or performers of their music than about reaching out to a wider audience. Like many behavioral generalizations, this notion has a grain of truth at its core in some cases but is a vast overstatement when applied to all cases. Indeed, there are composers such as Truman Harris (born 1945) who, while clearly interested in creating music that will appeal strongly to performers, are also hoping that an audience of non-performers will find the works worth hearing even if the listeners do not realize just what goes into the playing. All six Harris works on a new Naxos CD are interestingly scored and written to intrigue and challenge the performers – indeed, the players on the disc are the ones for whom Harris wrote the pieces. But all the works also have much to recommend them simply as music and, on that basis, will appeal to listeners who enjoy woodwinds (which dominate these pieces) and are open to hearing some unusual instrumental combinations.

Harris’ music has something of pastiche about it, with noticeable (that is, audible) influences both from classical composers (Stravinsky, Poulenc and others) and from popular music (ragtime, tango, etc.). This music generally lies quite well on the wind instruments, which is scarcely surprising in light of Harris’ lengthy career as a bassoonist with the National Symphony Orchestra, the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra (heard on this recording), and other ensembles. The string writing here is also fine, although piano parts, when that instrument is used, are rather pedestrian. The longest and most expansive pieces here have the most conventional scoring. They are the two concertinos, for horn (2015) and flute (2003). Both offer the soloists plenty of opportunities to stand out within a traditional three-movement structure. In fact, despite their dates of composition, both these works could have been written decades earlier – and that is not a criticism but a measure of the skill with which Harris has absorbed earlier influences and put them to good use in producing well-balanced, intricate but eminently listenable music. Still, the four non-concertino pieces, although slighter than the concertinos, are more aurally interesting through their use of unusual instrumental combinations.

The five-movement Rosemoor Suite (2015) is for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon, with Harris himself playing the last of these instruments. The work pays direct homage to some of Harris’ musical inspirations by including a Charleston and a “Silent Movie” movement that does indeed sound as if it could accompany a film from the pre-sound era. There is also an attractive, brief theme and variations here, called “Fantasia.” Even more engaging is Aulos Triptych (2015), for four flutes and piano – quite an ensemble! – whose three movements’ grace, reminiscent of Poulenc, is nicely expressive of the titles “Light and Color,” “Dreams of Fancy Places,” and “A Warm Day in Winter.” Harris has considerable skill as a miniaturist, as is clear not only in Aulos Triptych but also in Flowers (2006), whose six movements are very short indeed: the longest, “Tulips,” lasts less than 90 seconds. LikeRosemoor Suite, this work is for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon (Harris again). The daintiness and delicacy of Flowers are admirable and are effectively communicated. And then there is the fascinating Sonata for Two Bassoons and Piano (2008), another work (like the concertinos) in the traditional three movements, but one whose sound is decidedly unusual. The piano’s three chords in “Until Three [o’clock]” are its most noticeable contribution here, with the bassoons weaving a lovely sonic tapestry in “Moon in the Water” before cutting loose in a jazzy, waltzing rondo finale in which Harris does not perform, perhaps preferring in this instance to sit back in the role of composer and delight in the many moods of which he knows his instrument to be capable. Even though the bassoon is often relegated to a kind of comic role, Harris knows that it, and the other instruments for which he writes, have a far greater expressive capability – and one that does not require the sorts of artificial “extensions of range” that engage many contemporary composers but few contemporary audiences.