In recent years, the New York Chamber Music Festival has stepped up during the early September lull in the classical music calendar with innovative programs at Symphony Space featuring both established and emerging artists. This year’s festival offers some intriguing programs on Friday and Saturday.The Russian-born, Juilliard-trained pianist Konstantin Soukhovetski, who has been adopting rock star trappings of late, offers a typically unusual program at 5 p.m. Friday, including his own transcriptions of scenes from Strauss’s “Capriccio,” Massenet’s “Manon” and other operas. That evening at 8, the veteran soprano Carole Farley appears with the flutist Patricia Spencer, the Delphinium Trio and the New York Piano Quartet in “Prokofiev & Friends,” with works by Prokofiev’s colleagues Stravinsky, Gershwin and Vernon Duke.Saturday afternoon at 2, there is a free program of works by “Very Young Composers,” as the concert is billed. That evening at 8, the violinist Elmira Darvarova joins the acclaimed French pianist Pascal Roge for some French sonatas.
.5. “John Cage at 100” Among the centennial bashes for the impish master of randomness was the New York Chamber Music Festival’s varied retrospective at Symphony Space. A highlight: their bewitching treatment of Cage’s organic-instruments piece Branches.
For a composer who was a true rebel, a pioneering American maverick, John Cage was frequently celebrated in programs and festivals at the world’s most prestigious concert halls. Wednesday was Cage’s 100th birthday. For the occasion the fourth New York Chamber Music Festival , which runs for 10 days at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side, opened with an all-day celebration of “John Cage at 100!” The evening concert began with “Dawn at Stony Point, New York,” a sound recording from 1974, an inspired way to invite the audience that nearly filled the hall into the world of Cage. The recording consists of quiet sounds from cars whistling by in the distance, ambient street noise, crickets and chirping birds. “Everything we do is music,” Cage often said, a central tenet of his philosophy. The catch is that a piece like “Dawn at Stony Point” only works if the listeners get into a mind-set to hear it as music. Cage tried to foster that mind-set in his compositions. But his pieces need help from performers, which is what happened wonderfully here. As we listened to the recording, four percussionists from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (Charles Barbour, Robert Knopper, Duncan Patton and Gregory Zuber) sauntered one at a time onto the stage and took a seat on two couches. In front of them was a coffee table strewed with magazines, books, cups and various small items of wood and glass. Saying nothing, the performers just sat quietly, thumbing through the magazines, occasionally picking up and putting down some item from the table, which of course made sounds that became part of the piece. As we listened to the recording, four percussionists from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (Charles Barbour, Robert Knopper, Duncan Patton and Gregory Zuber) sauntered one at a time onto the stage and took a seat on two couches. In front of them was a coffee table strewed with magazines, books, cups and various small items of wood and glass. Saying nothing, the performers just sat quietly, thumbing through the magazines, occasionally picking up and putting down some item from the table, which of course made sounds that became part of the piece. Then they segued smoothly into Cage’s “Living Room Music.” This 1940 piece has intricately notated, quite sophisticated rhythmic patterns, played here by the percussionists tapping small sticks on cups, glasses, household objects, magazines, cardboard, whatever. In one section, “Story,” the players spoke a line from Gertrude Stein (“Once upon a time the world was round and you could go on it around and around”), breaking it into rhythmic fragments, repeated words and syllables (“ti ti ti ti”), essentially using Stein as a prototype of rap. The performance was exhilarating and sweet. And the living-room setting was perfect. There was another arresting percussion piece, “Third Construction” from 1941. And for a performance of “Branches” (1976), the four Met players were joined by several more percussionists, stationed throughout the hall, including the balconies, to create a “surround sound” of delicate, restless, rippling percussion music. The program ended with a rare performance of “The City Wears a Slouch Hat,” a 30-minute radio play from 1942 with a text by Kenneth Patchen, a patchwork of snippets and stories from urban life. The play describes people wandering rainy city streets, ducking under awnings, being held up by robbers and telling tragic personal tales (that may be made up) to strangers. Morris Robinson performed a role called the Voice; Karen Beardsley Peters was Woman; Jon Burklund was Man, MC, Second and Third Voices. The text is full of aural references to street noise, telephones, ocean waves, falling rain and more. Cage backs the text with a varied and rhapsodic score of sound effects, played here by six percussionists. Of special interest was a short work from Cage’s early 20s, when he was exploring his own kind of music for 12 tones: the Sonata for Two Voices (1933), played by the violinist Cornelius Dufallo and the cellist Wendy Sutter. This skittish piece is the work of a young composer grappling with the modernist currents of his time. Yet even writing in this more formal language, Cage’s quirky mind and rhythmic inventiveness come through. The piece suggests another path he might have taken. Thankfully, he found his own way.
John Cage Is Still Rattling the Bars at 100, by Justin Davidson, New York Magazine
Pause for a moment, and listen: What you’re hearing is John Cage’s world. The buzz of a New York street corner, the complicated quiet of a country road at dusk, the din of TVs from various apartments mingling on a fire escape — Cage claimed it all. He explored the wondrous border zone between the intentional and the accidental, deploying electronic beeps, mathematical rhythms, scratched recordings, nature’s moans, banged-on pots. He wrote for ensembles of randomly tuned radios, guaranteeing music that sounds predictably unpredictable, depending on whether it is performed in Houston or Beijing. And, of course, he most famously recruited silence, or its approximate facsimile, in 4’33’’, though what really interested him was not the absence of sound but the hum revealed when we’re forced to pay attention. “There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time,” he wrote. “There is always something to see, something to hear.” On his 100th birthday (September 5), four members of the Metropolitan Opera’s percussion section ambled onto the stage of Symphony Space, which was furnished with chemical-orange couches, and sat back, rifling through magazines while speakers piped in the hushed, domesticated sounds of Cage’s 1974 recording, Dawn at Stony Point. After a while, the performers began tapping on cups and pens and books that were lying about the coffee table, unspooling the crisply intricate rhythms of Living Room Music. In Cage’s sonic universe, nature, noise, silence, and concert music are always bleeding into one another’s territory, forming alluring hybrids. Cage (who died in 1992) was born in Los Angeles just as the movie industry was establishing itself there, and at one point he pleaded for access to the MGM sound department, the perfect playground for an avant-garde composer. Even after he moved to New York, he dreamed on a Hollywood scale, though he became adept at extravaganzas on a budget. He turned a piano into a one-man ensemble by festooning the strings with felt, paper, and bolts. One of his most magnificent pieces for “prepared” piano is The Perilous Night, in which familiar timbres mix with bleak tollings, crackling, and harsh desert sounds. When CBS hired him to score a radio play, he wildly overestimated the station’s technological capacities. “I wrote 250 pages of score for instruments the timbre, loudness, and relative pitch of which I described, but the existence of which I only guessed,” he later recalled. When the engineers balked, he started again. The resulting work of surreal drama, The City Wears a Slouch Hat, closed the Symphony Space concert, which kicked off the New York Chamber Music Festival.
It’s still easy to laugh at Cage. He courted mirth, often at his own expense. In a YouTube clip of his appearance on the game show I’ve Got a Secret in 1960, he parted the curtain to reveal an elaborate setup of noisemakers and a bathtub. Gangly and deadpan before a studio audience, he clinked ice cubes, released steam from a boiling pot, squeezed a rubber duckie, placed a vase of flowers in the tub then doused it with a watering can, spritzed seltzer, and produced a range of other liquid percussion sounds. Cage’s whimsy was strategic, his playfulness serious. To look back on his lifetime is to observe a revolution take shape, dazzle, and spread. His innovations were thrilling and multifarious. He liberated noise, provided an intellectual framework for electronic music, and gave percussionists a repertoire for which they remain profoundly grateful. Gregarious, accepting, and perpetually curious, he became a genial guru of the downtown avant-garde, perhaps the only artist of that time equally comfortable in the worlds of music, dance, and visual art. (The National Academy Museum has just opened “John Cage: The Sight of Silence,” an exhibit of his prints, drawings, and watercolors.) That cerebral impishness can sometimes obscure the visceral allure of his music, especially the work that flowed from his 50-year personal and professional partnership with Merce Cunningham. In a 1948 lecture, Cage explained that he rarely began composing until the dance was ready, an inversion that would have driven most composers bonkers. “From a musical point of view,” he admitted, the dancer’s count was “totally lacking in organization: three measures of 4/4 followed by one measure of 5, 22 beats in a new tempo, a pause, and two measures of 7/8.” From this collection of beats, Cage derived an organization that was both rigorous and radical: He made every level of music — from tiny phrases to groupings of measures to large-scale structures — conform to the same irregular proportions. Today, we might call that approach fractal, emulating the nonlinear patterns that emerge in leaves, ice crystals, clouds, and mountain ranges. Using chance procedures, he struggled to liberate his music from his own clutches, forcing his creative will to dissipate into the exquisite chaos of noise. For Atlas Eclipticalis (which can be played by an ensemble numbering between one and 86 players), he superimposed staff paper on a map of the heavens so that the brightest stars become the loudest notes. Some scores consist only of instructions that read like scavenger-hunt tasks: Improvise, using only instruments made of plants. Yet of all his immense and imaginative output, his most durable pieces are those in which the element of chance is constrained — Caged, you might say. Provocations do not age well, especially those neutralized by their success. He craved technology that would allow a composer to make and manipulate any sound; now free software lets children hammer together symphonies of cat mewls or doorbell chimes. Cage preached the beauty of accidental musical collisions; today, the streets are alive with ringtones, symphonies, and snatches of hip-hop exploding out of pedestrians’ pockets. The critic Alex Ross elegantly described the feedback loop between reality and the radical imagination: “Because Cage made his music sound like the world, the world sounds like Cage.” Which is true, but makes me wonder: If the world sounds like Cage, then what do we need him for? We remember John Cage at 100 not simply because he was an iconoclast but because he was a traditional creator, too. His Third Construction, for percussion quartet, is a marvelously expressive machine, a kaleidoscope of changeable timbres and simultaneous rhythms that wander away from each other, meet up, and then part again like intertwining streams. Though it has no fixed pitches, no harmonies or tunes, it’s one of those works — like a Beethoven piano sonata, or a Monteverdi madrigal — that draw you deep into their bewitching complexities. It makes you want to shut out the world’s cacophonous chatter — to retreat into music, in the most archaic, pre-Cageian sense of that word.
In a few seasons the New York Chamber Music Festival, which presents both established and emerging artists in innovative programs at Symphony Space, has drawn loyal audiences during the early part of September, before the concert season in New York takes off. This year’s 10-day festival (through Sept. 15), which began Sept. 5, continues with some enticing concerts, usually two each evening. The 6 p.m. program on Sept. 7 offers the dynamic young pianist Konstantin Soukhovetski in an unusual program that includes his own solo piano transcriptions of scenes from operas: the countess’s final monologue from Strauss’s “Capriccio” and the St. Sulpice scene from Massenet’s “Manon,” a world premiere, played in honor of the composer’s centennial. The 8 p.m. program presents chamber music by the composer David Amram, whose music blends jazz, classical and other styles, played by a roster of distinguished artists. On Sept. 8 the French tenor Damien Top and the pianist Linda Hall present a full program of Massenet songs and vocal works. Among other highlights are “Violin Loops,” a program of pieces for amplified violin featuring the brilliant violinist Cornelius Dufallo on Sept. 9. (The Web site has a full lineup, with programs and times.)
NEW YORK CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL, by Allan Kozinn, The New York Times
The New York Chamber Music Festival, now in its third year, takes up residence at Symphony Space just before the start of the formal concert season, when its core players -- members of the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and a handful of soloists -- still have time on their hands. This year's festival opened on Sunday evening with a free three-hour program that commemorated the Sept. 11 attacks.
There was more than music: between the performances poems were read (several about Sept. 11, but classics by Dickinson, Wordsworth and Emma Lazarus, too), and dignitaries (the Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and the Rev. Al Sharpton Jr., among them) offered brief remembrances. The actor B. D. Wong was the host.
The program began with the composer David Amram giving a penny-whistle reading of his own inventive ''Variations on 'Amazing Grace.' '' Mr. Amram also contributed a ruminative piano accompaniment to the poet Frank Messina's reading of his affecting ''Bicycle (for Juan Gutierrez, Delivery Boy).'' Elmira Darvarova, the violinist who directs the festival, and Tomoko Kanamaru, the pianist, gave a focused, energetic account of Lera Auerbach's alternately brash and introspective ''September 11'' Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano.
Ms. Darvarova also presided over a couple of string quartets -- Laura Kaminsky's dark, Bartokian ''Transformations II: Music for a Changing World'' and the Barber Adagio. And she collaborated with the composer and bassist Jon Deak on his amusing children's piece, ''Mose, the Fireman, 1840,'' and with Mr. Deak, the hornist Howard Wall and the flutist Patricia Zuber on Justin Tokke's ''Remembrance,'' one of the more emotionally pointed premieres.
Also among the evening's most striking performances, the trumpeter Jon Faddis read Skip Shea's poem ''Songs of Mourning'' and performed his own ''War and Peace,'' and Simon Mulligan, a composer and pianist, gave poetic accounts of a Chopin Nocturne (Op. 27, No. 2) and his own jazz-tinged ''St. Croix in the Rain.''
Debussy’s Gallic Urbanity and an Alluring Saint-Saëns Oddity, by Allan Kozinn, The New York Times
Now in its second season, the New York Chamber Music Festival at Symphony Space has expanded impressively. In a seven-day run that began last Friday, the festival is offering 13 concerts, up from 6 last year. Among the performers are musicians from the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, as well as several soloists and ensembles. The repertory includes a bit of everything: standard fare, rarities (piano quartets by Korngold and Joseph Marx), contemporary works and jazz transcriptions.
The pianist Pascal Rogé, one of the strongest draws on the roster, opened his Monday evening program of French music with an alluring oddity, Saint-Saëns’s Scherzo for Two Pianos (Op. 87), performed with his wife, Ami Rogé. Saint-Saëns gave both players plenty to do in this playful work: a long, shapely melody will sometimes leap between keyboards and sometimes sing on one while the other decorates it with sparkling filigree. An evocative chromaticism keeps the work’s harmonic core lively and slightly off kilter.
Mr. Rogé was joined by Samuel Magill, the associate principal cellist at the Met, for a rendering of Poulenc’s Cello Sonata (Op. 143) that was admirable for its detailed and finely polished interplay and for the power and richness that both musicians brought to the plangent finale. But that opulence was long in coming. In the work’s first three movements, Mr. Magill clothed his otherwise unimpeachable reading in a dry sound that seemed all the more colorless when set against Mr. Rogé’s more vivid playing.
No such complaints could be lodged against Elmira Darvarova, who played Debussy’s Violin Sonata. Ms. Darvarova, a former concertmaster at the Met and the director of the festival, couched this colorful score in a sweet, flexible tone and reacted deftly to Debussy’s idiosyncratic character shifts, like the leap from Gallic urbanity to a lively flamenco figure at the end of the first movement. She also gave an admirably speedy but clearly articulated account of the finale.
Though Mr. Rogé proved an adept and considerate chamber player, he was most fully in his element in the Ravel Sonatine, the only solo work on the program. Using a touch that combined gracefulness and power, Mr. Rogé gave the score a supple reading in which Ravel’s right-hand melodies floated freely and with an almost songlike quality over the accompanying figuration, and in which even the densest rolling figuration had an inviting transparency. In the finale, particularly, he gave the music an organic ebb and flow. To close the program, Mr. Rogé, Ms. Darvarova and Mr. Magill gave a fluid, finely balanced and sharply accented performance of Ravel’s Piano Trio.
PHOTO by ERIN BAIANO for The New York Times: The violinist Elmira Darvarova, the pianist Pascal Rogé and the cellist Samuel Magill in a concert of French music at Symphony Space.
Connecting the Dots Between 2 Composers, by Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times
The accomplished young Israeli pianist Shai Wosner, who performs regularly with chamber music ensembles in the United States and Europe, has a new recording that fascinatingly juxtaposes works by Brahms and Schoenberg. On Wednesday at Symphony Space, as part of the weeklong New York Chamber Music Festival, Mr. Wosner again showed a knack for drawing connections between composers.
For this rewarding program, lasting just over an hour, Mr. Wosner began with Schubert’s Sonata in D (D. 850), sometimes called the “Gasteiner” because it was composed during three weeks in 1825 when Schubert was staying in Bad Gastein, an Austrian spa town. Then Mr. Wosner was joined by Hyunah Yu, a gifted young South Korean-born soprano, in six Mahler songs from “Des Knaben Wunderhorn.”
Before the Mahler group, having just played the sonata, Mr. Wosner spoke about the links he saw between these seemingly disparate composers. The song genre was central to them, he said, and they shared powerful attachments to both the idyllic and the tragic realms of life.
Mr. Wosner went further, playing themes and phrases from the sonata just heard and pointing out similar bits in the Mahler songs. He did not claim that Mahler was actually quoting Schubert, but the correspondences were striking.
Mr. Wosner gave a lively and sensitive account of the demanding Schubert sonata. The buoyant first movement shifts between bursts of fanfarelike themes and rippling passagework. Though Mr. Wosner took a brisk tempo, his playing was lithe and articulate. The breathless energy of his conception was captivating, though he could occasionally have taken just a moment extra to set up the next episode or phrase.
The second movement is marked Con Moto (With Motion), and Mr. Wosner played it that way: though he was always sensitive to passages of harmonic and expressive intensity, his ambling pace never allowed the poignancy to take over. He deftly dispatched the feisty scherzo and ended with a supple account of the dancing rondo, played with impressive lightness and clarity. Ms. Yu’s lyric soprano voice is light and youthful, yet its warmth and creamy richness make it well suited to Mahler.
The resonances of Schubert in the Mahler songs came through vividly in these original versions for voice and piano. Most of the Mahler songs, including these six from “Des Knaben Wunderhorn,” are best known from their orchestrated versions. Ms. Yu and Mr. Wosner ended with “Das himmlische Leben,” widely familiar as the final movement of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. Increasingly, I find the versions for voice and piano more direct, subtle and intimate, especially in performances as beautiful as this one.
Pascal Rogé et al @ New York Chamber Music Festival, by Gene Gaudette, Synaphaï
The "official" music season usually does not start in New York until a couple of weeks after Labor Day, but there is still plenty to see and hear -- and one of the best places to jump the gun is at Symphony Space, where the New York Chamber Music Festival has already launched their second season. Artistic and Executive Director Elmira Darvarova and her circle of artistic collaborators have again assembled a wide-ranging series of programs spanning a broad range of chamber repertoire.
Slower-than-expected recuperation from nose surgery forced me to beg off the first few events in the festival, including performances by cellist Christine Walevska and New York Philharmonic principal trumpet Philip Smith, but I loaded up on analgesics late Monday afternoon in preparation for a program of French chamber and piano music featuring Pascal Rogé. He is best known on this side of the Atlantic for his deservedly acclaimed recordings of French piano music for Decca, but I also like his more recent recordings for Onyx and Oehms, particularly the Gershwin and Ravel concerto SACDs on the latter label with the RSO Wien conducted by Bertrand de Billy providing idiomatic, spirited accompaniment.
Symphony Space is, to be polite, not exactly the most richly reverberant venue in Manhattan; the front rows provide an intimate atmosphere with good sight-lines, though the acoustics favor players further back on stage.
The program opened with Saint-Saëns's charming Scherzo for Two Pianos, Op.87, with Rogé's wife Ami on second piano. This is music with one foot unashamedly in the salon and the the other in the conservatory. Saint-Saëns's detractors often carp about his music's superficiality, but with the Rogés at the keyboard it is impossible not to succumb to this music's charming melodies and balance of craftsmanship and wit.
Poulenc's Cello Sonata, written in the late 1940s, is slightly craggier than his earlier solo sonatas and chamber music, but retains the composer's charming style that is infused with just a touch of the Parisian music hall and jazz. Cellist Samuel Magill's lean sound and Rogé's rich palette sometimes seemed at odds, but did serve to shine a spotlight on the hairpin-turn changes in timbre and articulation. In the second movement Cavatine and the Finale, sets of themes sounded strikingly as if they could have been lifted from the chamber music of Prokofiev -- then instantly morphed back into something unmistakably French.
Darvarova and Rogé took an equally daring approach to Debussy's Violin Sonata. Stripped of romantic trappings and sentiment, Darvarova conjured an amazing array of timbres and sounds, consistently punctuated and supported by Rogé's transparent and dynamic pianism. The work seemed more a gateway to Messiaen and an avant-garde generation to come than a culmination of Debussy's oeuvre.
Don't let the title "Sonatine" fool you -- Maurice Ravel's short three-movement work opened the second half of the recital with an abundance of energy and color, distilling the composer's piano oeuvre into a pointed and compelling work. Rogé delivered the final Animé with a particularly impressive balance of color and pianistic control, unfolding with irresistible momentum in almost a single phrase.
The program concluded with a strongly expressive and, as with the Debussy, forward-looking vision of Ravel's enormously demanding Trio. The unanimity of Rogé, Darvarova and Magill was impressive, as was the clear but unexaggerated use of string instrument timbre. I can't recall hearing the Passacaille played with this much potency, and the daunting Finale generated not only goosebumps but an enormous -- and gratifyingly warm -- volume of sound.
The festival has scored a real coup with the participation of Pascal Rogé. He will be one of the performers in tonight's program, including works by Schumann, Brahms, David Amram and Paul Chihara. Miss it at your own peril!
Mission Possible: Entertaining Chamber Music, by Allan Kozinn, The New York Times
Symphony Space is presenting its first New York Chamber Music Festival, a six-concert series that began on Sunday afternoon with Principal Brass, a quintet (four principals and one associate principal) from the New York Philharmonic .
The program was fairly light: at the end of the concert, Philip Smith, the orchestra’s principal trumpeter and the chatty master of ceremonies here, saluted the Canadian Brass for transforming quintet performances into entertainment, and added his hope that this Philharmonic ensemble had done so as well. There was no visible sign of dissent from Mr. Smith’s colleagues, Matthew Muckey, the associate principal trumpeter; Philip Myers, the hornist; Joseph Alessi, the trombonist; and Alan Baer, the tuba player. To that end, the group devoted its program mostly to transcriptions — Baroque favorites, jazz tunes and movements from Leonard Bernstein ’s “West Side Story” — with a couple of pieces composed for brass tucked into the first half like stowaways.
Not surprisingly, those scores worked best. The Intermezzo from Ingolf Dahl’s “Music for Brass Instruments” (1944) was given a bright-hued, energetic performance, and the fast movements of Malcolm Arnold ’s first Quintet (1961) sizzled. The Chaconne at the heart of the Arnold was striking in a different way: in this slow movement the players were alert to the dynamic nuances and produced a finely balanced sound.
They did so in some of the transcriptions too. “America,” from the “West Side Story” set, in a Jack Gale arrangement, was dazzling enough that you didn’t think much about the original orchestration. An Albinoni sonata, arranged by David Hickman, and the Sarabande from Bach’s Partita No. 1 for Unaccompanied Violin, in a transcription by Donald Rauschen, had a quirky appeal in brass timbres too.
Others went less smoothly. The Bourée from the same Bach Partita and a movement from Handel ’s “Royal Fireworks Music” (arranged by Chuck Seipp) had rhythmically flat-footed moments. And neither superb trumpet dialogues nor character-ful trombone playing was enough to save some of the jazz arrangements (most by Robert Elkjer) from seeming to plod rather than swing.
Even so, Mr. Smith was in his element playing the solos originally made famous by Cootie Williams in Duke Ellington ’s “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me.”
A Sampling of Strings From Baroque to Gypsy, by Allan Kozinn, The New York Times
The violinist Rachel Barton Pine has recorded plentifully and has performed in New York several times as a chamber player, most notably at the Frick Collection with Trio Settecento, her period-instrument group, in 2006. The program on that occasion was a set of Baroque trio sonatas in which the violin held the spotlight most of the time. But it turns out that Ms. Pine had never played a traditional recital here, the kind with just piano accompaniment (or none) and with a program that ranges across a few centuries and style.
She rectified that omission on Tuesday evening with a recital at Symphony Space as part of the hall’s New York Chamber Music Festival. Because Ms. Pine is a star in Chicago, her hometown, the concert was broadcast live on WFMT, Chicago’s principal classical music station, with the radio personality William McGlaughlin as the host and, unaccountably, a permanent stage fixture. Though he did not conduct an interview with Ms. Pine or introduce the works (Ms. Pine did that herself), Mr. McGlaughlin sat at a table on the stage through both halves of the program, sometimes writing or drinking water. Was that absolutely necessary?
Ms. Pine began where her Frick performance had left off, in the heart of the Baroque, with a Sonata in A minor for Unaccompanied Violin (1717) by Johann Georg Pisendel, a contemporary of Bach and a kindred spirit. Like Bach, Pisendel provided a single line of music, phrased in ways that invite a player to create the illusion of counterpoint. Ms. Pine accomplished that with deftly shifting articulation and color. You may have wished, all the same, that she had played Bach instead, but Ms. Pine made a valiant case for Pisendel as a reasonable alternative.
She was joined for the rest of the program by Matthew Hagle, a sensitive pianist who knew when to defer, and when deference would be counterproductive. They proved a well-matched duo in Mendelssohn ’s Sonata in F (1838), which gives both players singing lines as well as sparkling, brisk figuration.
But it took them a few moments to find common ground. Ms. Pine’s phrasing was oddly breathless at first and seemed to push against Mr. Hagle’s more settled pace. She found her bearings by the end of the first movement. In the central Adagio she played with a warm tone that stopped just short of lugubriousness, an approach that set up the sizzling finale perfectly.
Ms. Pine recalibrated only slightly for John Corigliano ’s Sonata (1963), a neo-Romantic work that thrives on melody, but uses chromaticism freely to give its tunes both a modern cast and a touch of unpredictability. It has stood up remarkably well: having weathered a period when consonance was suspect, it seems prescient now that a generation of composers have adopted Mr. Corigliano’s eclecticism.
Ms. Pine and Mr. Hagle closed their recital with fiery accounts of two showpieces rooted in Gypsy fiddling: Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, and, in an encore, Cesar Espejo’s “Airs Tziganes.”
The New York Chamber Music Festival continues at Symphony Space, by Mona Molarsky, The Examiner
After rousing performances last night by violinist Rachel Barton Pine and pianist Matthew Hagle, the New York Chamber Music Festival continues at Symphony Space.
Tonight, a Beethoven string trio shares the bill with a more modern string trio by Eugene Ysaye (1858-1931), a piano quartet by Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) and “Metamorphosis for Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano” by Gernot Wolfgang (born 1957). Violinist Elmira Darvarova, violist Ronald Carbone, cellist Samuel Magill and pianist Linda Hall will perform.
Thursday’s program offers work by two 20th century composers, Franco Alfano (1875-1954) and Vernon Duke (1903-1969)—performed by violinist Elmira Darvarova, cellist Samuel Magill, and pianist Scott Dunn.
Sunday, the final night of the festival, features chamber works by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), Claude Debussy (1862-1918), Osvaldo Golijov (born 1960), Lalo Schifrin (born 1932) and Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992). Cellist Antonio Lysy will be making his New York debut, in a joint concert with pianist Pascal Rogé.
This is the inaugural season for the festival, directed by violinist Elmira Darvarova, formerly concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Judging by last night's wonderful concert, the New York Chamber Music Festival is a valuable addition to the cultural life.
Long Overdue, Well Worth the Wait, by Gene Gaudette, Synaphaï
Violinist Rachel Barton Pine made her long overdue New York recital debut this evening at Symphony Space, in a program featuring works by Pisendel, Mendelssohn, Corigliano and Liszt with pianist Matthew Hagle . It was one of the finest recital programs I've seen in a very long time.
Barton Pine is a scholarly and perceptive musician who has restored a number of neglected works to the repertoire, but rest assured: boring she is clearly not. She puts rigorous consideration into her approach to a broad spectrum of music (not limited to classical music, by the way – she also plays with phenomenal metal band Earthen Grave). Her interpretive approach to violin repertoire is at times reminiscent of the urbane approach one associates with Kreisler and Gingold — but she also delivers virtuoso pyrotechnics that are unusually nuanced.
She's found a sympathetic and formidable partner in Hagle. I was impressed by their remarkable musical unanimity, and their remarkable unity and control during striking tempo changes – particularly the fleet accelerandos in the sixteenth-note figurations that grace the opening Allegro vivace of Mendelssohn's F Major Sonata and the adrenalized tempo shifts in the finale of the Corigliano Sonata . Barton Pine brought out the baroque grandeur of Pisendel's solo Sonata in a minor , which not only has much in common with his contemporary Bach but a central Allegro that evokes the sound of Northern Italian baroque string works. Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 concluded the program, with Barton Pine and Hagle finding an ideal balance between the concert hall and gypsy camp.
Barton Pine introduced each piece from the stage, combining musical background with her own observations — and providing a few shout-outs to her home town of Chicago, where local classical radio station WFMT was broadcasting and streaming the event live.
Barton Pine and Hagle received sustained and enthusiastic ovations – including uncustomary applause after the first movements of the Mendelssohn and Corigliano, from an audience filled with more than a few well-known New York musicians.
The recital was the third in the newly established New York Chamber Music Festival , which runs through September 20th at Symphony Space. The festival's executive and artistic director, Elmira Darvarova, and her outstanding team deserve congratulations and gratitude not only for this debut recital coup but a superb lineup of programs. Darvarova is herself an excellent violinist, and she will be performing tomorrow night and Thursday with a number of other superb musicians; the festival concludes Sunday with a recital by cellist Antonio Lysy and pianist Pascal Rogé.
While the rest of the music press in town is obsessing over the opening of the New York Philharmonic season under new music director Alan Gilbert, it's a sure bet that the attendees at this evening's recital will tell you the new season is already off to a rousing start.
THE PRICE OF ADMISSION, by Frank J. Oteri
A week ago I wrote about it feeling like autumn because I had just started going to concerts again after a mostly eventless (pun intended) summer. Since then it’s been a non-stop rollercoaster ride of concerts, music-related receptions, and other meet and greets. The 2012-13 concert season is now officially underway. Two performances I attended over the weekend were particularly noteworthy in that they were both devoted exclusively to the music of living American composers and—in both instances—all of the composers were there and spoke to the audience.
On Friday night, I finally got a chance to hear the JACK Quartet play live on American soil. The following night I attended the final concert of the 2012 New York Chamber Music Festival at Symphony Space. While the festival was not devoted exclusively to new music, I was saddened to have missed the opening of this year’s series which was a marathon concert for the John Cage centenary and the finale was a celebration of contemporary American art song performed by soprano Carole Farley. Farley’s concert featured songs by four composers—Paul Moravec, Ned Rorem, David Leisner, and William Bolcom. Originally the plan was for each of the four to accompany Farley in the performances of their music, but Rorem, who will turn 89 next month, ultimately decided not to play and so Judith Olsen accompanied Farley instead. While I missed hearing him play, at this point in his life I can totally understand his reluctance to attempt a potential minefield like his Theodore Roethke setting “I Strolled Across an Open Field,” something I’d be terrified to perform even for friends, although as recently as a decade ago when he recorded that song with Farley he made its relentless figurations sound like child’s play. Rorem still attended the performance and it was great to see him and hear him talk about his music in his usual oblique way: “A composer can’t say anything about his music that the music can’t say better itself.”
Although Moravec originally composed the song cycle Vita Brevis for tenor and piano in 2001, he re-arranged it for voice and piano trio in 2009 and that is how it was presented on Saturday night by Farley with Moravec behind the piano, joined by NYCMF’s President and CEO Elmira Darvarova on violin and Samuel Magill on cello. It’s a surprisingly uncommon combination—the only other work so scored that’s immediately coming to my mind is Rorem’s Auden Songs from 1989—but as Moravec pointed out in his comments to the audience it’s nice to be able to match long vocal notes with instruments that can sustain. Bolcom’s songs, like much of his music overall, were a mix of ravishingly prettiness (“Never More Will the Wind”) and over-the-top shenanigans (“The Digital Wonder Watch”). But the highlight of the evening for me was hearing the songs of David Leisner for which the composer served as accompanist on classical guitar, since he is one of today’s leading practitioners on the instrument. But his vocal writing is every bit as idiomatic as his guitar writing. I was particularly drawn to the last of his three settings of the poetry of James Tate in which the vocal melody is clothed in a series of ascending phrases whose meters keep shifting. And I was shocked to learn that his fascinating cycle of Emily Dickinson settings, Simple Songs, though composed thirty years ago have yet to be recorded commercially.
NY Chamber Music Fest: Violinist Gary Levinson, by Diana Barth, The Epoch Times
NEW YORK—Part of the 4th New York Chamber Music Festival was the delightful and elegant concert by violinist Gary Levinson and his accompanist, pianist Daredjan Baya Kakouberi, on Sept. 9. After the two musicians took their places onstage at Symphony Space’s Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, on the Upper West Side, Mr. Levinson began with Ernest Chausson’s “Poeme,” playing with both delicacy and ardor. His tone was lush, as is to be expected since he performs on a 1726 Antonio Stradivari violin (loaned to him by the Dallas Symphony Association).
The choice of pieces on the program indicated great versatility on the part of Mr. Levinson, as we were later to be treated to works by such varied composers as Prokofiev, Beethoven, and Ravel. Mr. Levinson performed the Prokofiev “Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 Op. 80 in F Minor” with passion and verve, the Andante assai flowing effortlessly to the Allegro brusco, then to the andante, and finally the Allegressimo. The performer does not resort to flamboyancy, as do some other artists. His approach stresses the music, in a pure sense. One can arguably hear it better that way. After a brief intermission, Prokofiev was again the order of the day, featuring “Five Melodies Op. 35bis.” The two performers gave a lovely, sensitive rendition of this not so-well- known piece by the noted Russian composer.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 9,” commonly known as the “Kreutzer Sonata,” is a major work, and Mr. Levinson and accompanist Miss Kakouberi accorded it their full technical and emotional skills. The piece is exceptionally long, approximately 40 minutes, and has a particularly demanding violin part, with movements featuring a placid approach, followed by greater liveliness, then a darker level, then a slower and more dramatic quality, and ultimately a burst of passion and speed in the final Presto movement.
The performers acquitted themselves so favorably that when they had finished shouts of “Bravo!” came from the audience. To cap the performance was Maurice Ravel’s “Tzigane.” The French composer, noted for his melodies and texture of tone, here portrayed Gypsy musical themes. It was a delightful close to the afternoon, and beautifully played by the two musicians.
Mr. Levinson was chosen by conductor Zubin Mehta to join the New York Philharmonic at an early age. He went on to earn top prizes at major international competitions. He has recorded CDs of the complete Beethoven sonatas with Miss Kakouberi, and he also performs internationally with Eugenia Zuckerman and Adam Neiman as Trio Virtuosi.
Miss Kakouberi has been awarded prizes at numerous competitions and has been soloist with various orchestras abroad. She made her Carnegie Hall debut in 2002 and will perform at Carnegie’s Weill Hall this fall.
The New York Chamber Music Festival offers excellent programs and outstanding artists. Its president and artistic director, Elmira Darvarova, former concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (the first woman concertmaster in the Met’s history), will perform at this season’s penultimate concert on Sept. 15.
New York Chamber Music Festival -- Forecast: Thunder, with Scattered Democracy, by Gene Gaudette
The fourth annual New York Chamber Music Festival opened today, honoring the centenary of John Cage.
I managed to break a way from the office to take in one of Cage's unique text-based pieces, "Lecture on the Weather" -- a setting of selected writings by Henry Thoreau, focusing primarily on issues of governance and democracy.
Written in 1975 for twelve speakers with musical instruments, Cage had suggested the work be performed "preferably [by] American men who have become Canadian citizens" (in a nod to the post-Vietnam era). The title is certainly a nod to a "climate change" in American political culture, including the oft-maligned Weather Underground; Thoreau's writings were no less radical in their era than the views of many 1960s and '70s radicals, particularly antiwar activists.
Cage would likely have been tickled by the dozen performers: prominent composers Ned Rorem, Joan Tower, David Amram, Jose Serebrier, Tania Leon, David del Tredici, Laura Kaminsky, Arturo O'Farrell, David Leisner, Sean Hickey, Jon Deak, and Noel Zahler.
The "lecture" begins shortly after prerecorded sounds of nature and a rainstorm filled Symphony Space, followed by the composers entering in small groups and reading their parts. Visuals occasionally appeared for a few brief seconds at a time on a screen behind the performers, renderings of sketched symbols in white on a black background that suddenly flashed, strobed, or turned black-on-white. The musical "intrusions" are notated into the texts, and the variety of instruments on the stage -- from Jon Deak's double bass on the bottom of the musical range to David Amram's and Sean Hickey's recorders on the top -- would emerge with aural commentary both tonal and abstract. The twelve voices formed an aural panoply from which words would occasionally pop out of the texture -- almost all of which referenced government ("Democracy"... "legislature"... "representative"...). At about the midpoint of the half-hour performance, the performers slowly united in a not-quite-tonal, inventively irreverent rendition of "Happy Birthday." As the work approached its end, sounds of thunder from the prerecorded "background" acted as an ominous coda.
In a year of tributes to Cage, this was far and away one of the most memorable, harnessing Cage's maverick spirit with humor and the feel of a "happening."
New York Chamber Music Festival - Alfano and Duke -- Seen and Heard International, by Bruce Hodges, MusicWeb International's Worldwide Concert and Opera Reviews
In his excellent notes, cellist Samuel Magill describes Toscanini conducting the world premiere of Turandot , and the conductor's curt dismissal of Franco Alfano's completion of the opera's final act: "On opening night at La Scala in 1926, Toscanini stopped conducting where Puccini's music ended and Alfano's began, and abruptly left the orchestra pit.
This incident had a lot to do with damaging Alfano's career and ensuring his falling into obscurity after his death."??So fast-forward to the 21st century, when there appears to be a bit of an Alfano revival afoot. In 2005 the Metropolitan Opera staged his Cyrano de Bergerac , which I thought was an underrated gem, at least on one viewing. And now, in conjunction with their new recording of two of Alfano's chamber works, Magill and his superb colleagues, violinist Elmira Darvarova and pianist Scott Dunn, performed them at Symphony Space.
Alfano's Cello Sonata is an intense outpouring of emotion—florid and romantic—and Magill's larger-than-life sound immediately captured attention, coupled with Dunn's astute work at the keyboard. The harmonic language is not too far removed from Debussy, with moments of intense chromaticism that could almost be from Scriabin. The emotional range is huge, from the touching middle lullaby, to the anxiety of the final agitated movement, and Magill and Dunn captured every nuance. During the final pages, with an impassioned climax dissolving into an ending of haunting repose, I kept thinking this might be a major find for cello sonata aficionados.
As a well-conceived break, Ms. Darvarova and Mr. Dunn tackled Vernon Duke's surprisingly virtuosic Sonata for Violin and Piano. Perhaps best known for popular songs like "Autumn in New York," "April in Paris," and a favorite, "I Can't Get Started," Duke studied with Gliere and admired Prokofiev, and some of those influences can be heard here. The sonata's flavor is very much Latin-influenced, especially in the off-kilter rhythmic patterns of the final movement, titled Brilliante and tumultoso . The violin part is extremely difficult, which is perhaps why it hasn't been performed often, but Ms. Darvarova pulled through winningly, with Dunn in close footsteps behind her.
The title of Alfano's Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano is a bit misleading, since it is basically a piano trio, most likely dubbed a "concerto" because of its difficulty. It also gave Mr. Dunn a considerably larger role, which he filled effortlessly, while his companions played tag, the cello using its upper register to mimic the violin timbre. Moments of violence are matched by dusky muted string hues, and the first movement ends on a note of solitude. In the middle section, pizzicatos sprinkle down like a spring shower with hints of Eastern European folk music. Time after time, the tension rises then cools off and steps back, as if a scene were being glimpsed behind a curtain. The finale evokes Bartók—vigorous, feverish, dance-like—and oceans away from the previous movements. Bristling with energy and occasional fugal treatments for all three players, skittering figures alternate with long-breathed interludes leading to a bravura final page. All three gave some of their best playing of the entire night.
The concert was part of the inaugural season of the New York Chamber Music Festival, created and administered by Ms. Darvarova, which presents off-the-radar music by musicians from the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera. A light audience turnout notwithstanding, some seriously good music was on display this evening: I suspect all three works will delight those who encounter them.