Sunday, June 30, 2019

[23] ChamberQUEER Opening Concert at Brooklyn Arts Exchange | #1Summer50Concerts #MyBigGayClassicalWeekend

Support ChamberQUEER!

WHAT: Works by Caroline Shaw, Jessica Meyer, Arcangelo Corelli, Franz Schubert, Ethel Smyth, inti figgis-vizueta, and Pauline Oliveros
WHERE: Brooklyn Arts Exchange
WHEN: June 21, 2019 at 8:00pm

Welcome to Classical Music Geek's Big Gay Classical Weekend! I saw three concerts last weekend, and only realized after the fact that all of them were queer-themed. And besides which, I'm not going to get to use the hashtag #MyBigGayClassicalWeekend again until they invent time travel to ancient Rome -- as the Romans say, carpe diem.

My lovely date for this concert turned up sick, and I was having some reservations about hiking all the way out to Park Slope to go to a concert alone. Usually, I'm totally fine with going to concerts alone -- it's almost meditative, I find -- but this concert was attached to a mixer and mixing is awkward. Have I mentioned that I'm awkward?

But then my dad made a good point: at a queer-themed chamber music concert, there was practically a 100% chance that I would run into someone I know. Fair enough. I decided to go.

Lo and behold, as soon as I mounted the stairs I ran into someone with whom I went to music camp in 2010 -- we hadn't seen each other since 2013 or so. Absolutely crazy.

The only thing we could think to do after not seeing each other for more
than six years was to take a selfie. Have I mentioned I'm awkward?

And then two minutes later, I heard a familiar voice behind me. Not in the friend's-voice kind of way -- a famous voice. I turn around to queer icon, composer, and youngest-woman-to-ever-win-a-Pulitzer Caroline Shaw, grabbing a drink and chatting with the bartender. Turns out, she was best friends with everyone there.

I did my best to play it cool, even though I really REALLY wanted to accost Caroline Shaw and pathetically fangirl like a 12-year-old-girl meeting One Direction for the first time (dated reference? I don't know, I haven't been up to date on pop culture since my grade's bar mitzvah era). In the end, I chickened out of talking to her at all, even though I had an easy conversation starter because we went to the same music camp when we were younger (about 10 years apart of course) -- Caroline, if you're reading this, the last line of your bio gets me every time. <3 <3 Kinhaven forever

So at this point, I'm just standing there like a bump on a log -- it's not like I KNEW anyone (I didn't officially reunite with my music camp friend until intermission). I must have looked panicked or something, because one of the organizers, soprano Danielle Buonaiuto stormed past, on their way to the drinks table, and then they stopped. In their tracks. And turned around. And started a conversation with me as if they dealt with awkward 20-somethings all day, every day.

Have I mentioned I'm awkward?

Already giddy at Danielle's random act of kindness, I went into the concert room and geared up for what turned out to be one of the best nights of music I've seen this summer.

The program consisted of an eclectic mix of "whatever we feel like." New music, old music, big music, small music, it was just all, in some way or another, LGBTQ+ related. And everything on the concert was tremendous -- so much so that, instead of the highlight reel I usually give right about now, I'm just going to run through a bit of everything.

Cellist and ChamberQUEER founder Andrew Yee's recompositions featured prominently on the program. First was a quilted pastiche of Caroline Shaw's greatest hits (coupled with quilted clips of people talking about their quilting habits -- get it?), followed later in the program by a couple of Schubert songs that Yee had arranged. Originally for four cellos, the songs were performed here by the ChamberQUEER founders in quartet (Buonaiuto, Yee, baritone Brian Mummert, and cellist Julia Biber). The arrangements perfectly preserved Schubert's harmonic framework while adding a quasi-madrigalistic intimacy that the customary voice-and-piano orchestration could never hope to parallel.

One of Andrew Yee's fawn-worthy Schubert arrangements -- I can't stop thinking about them

Alongside the recompositions stood a couple of more recent compositions. inti figgis-vizueta's charged string quartet love reacts only was impressive, but violist-composer-educator Jessica Meyer's song cycle Space, in Chains, written for viola and soprano after poetry by Laura Kasischke, stole the show. As Meyer so eloquently put it, "It's so nice to have this song cycle owned by someone. And Danielle [Buonaiuto] owns it." Buonaiuto's expert tone-coloring aided her comfortable acting to lend drama to even the most sparse moments of the piece; Meyer's writing explored every possible timbre that the duo could produce (it read a bit like the Holst violin-soprano songs, but on steroids). Oh, and she played her part beautifully as well.

And then for the odds and ends -- turns out most historians agree that Arcangelo Corelli was *probably* a closeted homosexual, so they threw one of his trio sonatas on the program. Handel and Haydn Society concertmaster and all-around badass Aisslinn Nosky played the first part (more on her in a week or so), joined by International Contemporary Ensemble member Jen Curtis, harpsichordist Kevin Devine, and Biber playing baroque cello. The interpretation was witty and whimsy, full of spontaneity and those little smirks that chamber musicians make to each other onstage. And then, Nosky, Curtis, Meyer, Yee, and Biber teamed up for British suffragette Ethel Smyth's string quintet. The piece was lovely, but more memorable was the tangible electricity that was running through the room. The energy was contagious.

At this point, I'd been wearing the same shit-eating grin for the entire concert. My face muscles started to seize up, but I couldn't stop smiling. Oh well, at least it was for a good cause.

And, naturally, what better way to end a pride concert than with a Pauline Oliveros audience-participatory piece? It's really been a trend this summer -- either this is part of NYC new music culture, or I'm just really lucky.

It was around this time that I decided I was going to grow a pair and talk to Caroline Shaw after the concert! It was around two minutes later that I decided that wasn't actually going to happen. My mother boo'd me when I told her that I chickened out. Have I mentioned I'm awkward?

This was another one of those concerts where I don't feel like I can do it justice in words. I've been to a lot of concerts this summer, guys. And I've been to a lot of concerts with a lot of young people in the audience, and I've been to a lot of concerts with a lot of queer people in the audience. But this concert? This concert made me feel like I found my people. When I left (instead of going out for drinks, because I'm 20½ and I have a conscience), my heart was full.

With any luck, the ChamberQUEER organizers and performers will be reading this -- I want to personally thank them for creating such an open and hospitable musical environment. I encourage each and every one of you to attend ChamberQUEER's community events during the year, and (hopefully!) their second season next summer.

And, just so that this post will show up next time she googles herself (we all do it, don't lie), I just wanted to say her name one more time: Caroline Shaw.

Friday, June 28, 2019

[22] Pierre Hantaï plays Bach's Goldberg Variations and more at the DiMenna Center | #1Summer50Concerts

                                            Image result for pierre hantai

WHO: Pierre Hantaï, harpsichord
WHAT: BYRD Will Yow Walke the Woods soe Wylde; BACH Prelude and Fugue in d minor; BACH English Suite in a minor; BACH Goldberg Variations
WHERE: DiMenna Center for Classical Music
WHEN: June 19, 2019, 7:30pm

I was SO excited when I heard that the Orchestra of St. Luke's was using June as a Bach celebration month. They had a couple of really interesting programs at Carnegie earlier this summer -- one of Bach orchestral music, one of cantatas -- and I was looking forward to seeing them, until one day I called their box office to get tickets:

ME: Hi, I'd like one student ticket to tonight's concert.

OSL REP: That'll be $65.

ME: *spit take, hang up*

In the end, I decided that my budget allowed me to go to only one of OSL's Bach presentations, and that decision was a no-brainer. Pierre Hantaï is one of the world's best harpsichordists. The Goldberg Variations is one of the world's best pieces. The concert was cheaper than any of the programs OSL was putting on at Carnegie. Win-win-win.

I was stupid. I didn't buy tickets ahead of time, and when we got to DiMenna the tickets were sold out. Even though my brother and I were second in the waitlist line, my heart was still pounding. Hantaï himself came upstairs for a smoke break before the concert started; it took every ounce of self-restraint I had not to approach him and beg on my hands and knees for a ticket. But I played it cool. And we got tickets, along with the 20-some Hunter College students whose professor had forgotten to make reservations even though seeing this performance was required to pass their class.

$40 for the Goldberg Variations seemed like a fair price, but apparently Hantaï didn't think so. He announced a completely separate program for the first half of his concert -- apparently, he likes to "meet ze harpsichord" before deciding on which pieces to pick out of his three-inch black high school binder. He started with the only non-Bach work on the program, citing William Byrd as a "direct predecessor of Bach's," which is a characterization I don't necessarily buy, but whatever. The Byrd theme and variations was fabulous, reserved yet supremely musical.

The prelude, fugue, and suite that followed let Hantaï put his distinctly French musical sensibilities on display. The flow was rhythmic, though not mathematical, and in those rare moments where strict rhythmic accuracy was not appropriate, Hantaï's flourishes were regal and well-organized.

As for Goldberg: of course it's a tremendous piece, but it's also LONG. Hantaï's fingers began to run out of steam in the middle -- an obvious wrong note every now and then. But his brain was in it the whole time. Even the occasional wrong note was masked by his cogent interpretation. I'm not going to mention any specific variations, because I counted about three before I lost track until the last variation, which is my favorite.

Hantaï feels like the kind of guy who can adapt to any environment. I mean, he doesn't get to bring his own instrument, and there's much more variation in the mechanics of a harpsichord than in, say, a piano. Harpsichords can have two separate keyboards stacked upon one another, and any number of levers and buttons to press to achieve the different timbres that it can't get from the player's touch. I don't know whether Hantaï spent 10 minutes or 10 hours learning the ins and outs of the DiMenna harpsichord (a beautifully decorated double-manual instrument), but he played it as if it were an old friend.

Hantaï's masterful performance was accompanied by lighting design by Burke Brown. I was expecting the lighting to be really loud -- a couple months ago, I saw pianist-composer-electronics artist Kelly Moran, whose set was accompanied by abstract animations in neon pinks and greens and blues, which was beautiful but also a lot to take in. Rather than a barrage to the eyes, the lighting read more as a mood intensifier, soft argyles of color on the wooden-slat back wall of the concert hall. Most importantly, the music came first.

I know a lot of people who say they unilaterally don't like the harpsichord because it "sounds like mosquitoes" or something like that. I urge those people to get out and listen to a real harpsichordist play a really good harpsichord. A good player knows how to take advantage of the harpsichord to its fullest, and Hantaï did just that. Not a single tone was left unexplored on that instrument. There may be a new Goldberg king in town -- move over, Glenn Gould.

Image result for glenn gould
I'm just kidding Glenn, I love you

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

[21] The Knights play Jacobsen, Sanna, Britten, Bielawa, and Mendelssohn at Temple Emanu-El | #1Summer50Concerts

The gorgeous (GORGEOUS!!!!) Temple Emanu-El

WHO: The Knights; Colin and Eric Jacobsen, directors; Kristina Nicole Miller, narrator and vocals; Nicholas Cords, viola; Alex Sopp, flute; Michael Atkinson, horn
WHAT: C. JACOBSEN, E. JACOBSEN, KYLE SANNA Compositions after Walt Whitman; BRITTEN Lachrymae; LISA BIELAWA Fictional Migration; MENDELSSOHN Octet, Op. 20
WHERE: Temple Emanu-El
WHEN: June 18, 2019, 7:00pm

"Don't fart."

That's all I can think when I sit in the audience of live-broadcast concerts. A cough is forgivable; a sneeze even more so. But if those WQXR microphones are poised just right, your toot could be the talk of the nine people who still listen to live concerts on the radio.

God, look at me. Potty humor, radio jokes, you'd think I grew up in the 2000's or something.

This concert was the opening of this year's Naumburg Orchestral Concerts, so named for the Naumburg Orchestral Shell in Central Park where they're usually played. However, 114 years of free orchestral concerts can take its toll, and the shell was in dire need of some TLC, so the concerts were moved for this year to the gorgeous (GORGEOUS) Temple Emanu-El on E 65th. Good thing, too -- it was rainy and disgusting while we were standing in the long, long line to get inside.

The Knights are one of the more active independent orchestras in New York City, the kind that starts with friends playing chamber music in someone's living room. This was their tenth consecutive appearance at the Naumburg series, and you could tell they felt right at home. This concert was a dual celebration: first and foremost, they were celebrating the 200th anniversary of Walt Whitman's birth. However, they also managed to get their hands on a tremendous Amati viola which was celebrating its 400th birthday -- move over, Whitman!

The full WQXR broadcast from the other night, fart-free!

Though Kristina Nicole Miller was credited in the program as a "narrator," her singing was one of the highlights of the first half. Kyle Sanna's Whitman composition, after a section of Song of Myself, morphed into something of a Disney-meets-modernism situation -- very interesting indeed. Miller would have been right at home as a Belle or Ariel, but her clear understanding of the complex Whitman propelled her far ahead of any Disney aspiration.

Lisa Bielawa's piece took many a cue from composer and amateur ornithologist Olivier Messiaen, weaving birdsong in and out of the gossamer orchestral texture with impressive aptitude -- though Bielawa's birdsongs were not taken from real birds, they were just as convincing as any material Messiaen drew from. Flautist Alex Sopp channeled her inner avian as though she'd been doing it regularly all her life; hornist Michael Atkinson played similarly well, but the gorgeous (GORGEOUS) Temple Emanu-El's acoustics did him a disservice by swallowing him completely.

The Amati came out in the hands of violist Nicholas Cords for Britten's Lachrymae, a piece modeled after John Dowland's 17th-century consort work of the same name. Cords played ridiculously well, from what I could hear of him -- Emanu-El is harsh on all mid-range instruments, not just horns. Too often, modern reinterpretations of early pieces suffer from hypermodernization; Cords and The Knights, under the functional baton of Eric Jacobsen, infused the Lachrymae with almost as much Dowland as Britten.

As for the Mendelssohn -- well, it certainly did the job. Eric Jacobsen pulled out his cello and joined the lively octet with his brother (concertmaster Colin Jacobsen), Nicholas Cords (400-year-old Amati in his hands), and five others from the orchestra. It was great. It was everything you wanted from chamber music. By the time the ensemble played the final E-flat chord, I was fully convinced that a) they had been playing together as an octet for years, and that b) they were all best of friends. Whether either of those were true, who knows, but that's the kind of emotion they exuded, and let me tell you, I couldn't wipe the grin off my face for the rest of the evening.

Free concerts are always worth it, but that doesn't mean that some free concerts aren't better than others. The Knights have impressed once again that not all great music has to come at a great price; some organizations care more about serving their audiences than they do about turning a profit. All musical ensembles want to serve their communities to at least some extent. And I think the Naumburg series has refined that art down to a T.

Stay tuned for the next Naumburg concert on July 10: Venice Baroque Orchestra with Anna Fusek, recorder!

Sunday, June 23, 2019

[20] Dalit Hadass Warshaw's "The Letters of Mademoiselle C." at National Opera Center | #1Summer50Concerts

It specifically reminded me of one of those neon candy orange slices -- does that make me a terrible person?

WHO: Dalit Hadass Warshaw, composer and piano; Nancy Allen Lundy, soprano; Beth Greenberg, director
WHAT: The Letters of Mademoiselle C., by Dalit Hadass Warshaw (world premiere)
WHERE: Marc Scorca Hall at the National Opera Center
WHEN: June 17, 2019 at 7:00pm

I am an opera nut. We have established this before.

You'd think I would have at least heard of a place called the National Opera Center. Where the organization OPERA AMERICA is based. But I hadn't. My date made fun of me for that one -- rightfully so.

Anyway, the NOC is on the sixth or seventh floor of your average Gramercy office building, above a couple bodegas and a payroll services shop. It looks like a pretty average office lobby until you step into the concert hall. I mean, no office space has a concert hall, but this is probably the weirdest venue I've been in so far. Imagine if you took an orange slice and modeled a concert hall after it -- sort of like if you sliced a cylinder and then sliced those slices in half lengthwise, and then put in a wood paneled floor and a stage and painted the walls blue. Weird.

But my date sent me the Facebook event attached to a message that said, "We're going to this." So it's not like I had much of a choice.

I suppose I should be glad that my friends know to forward me any and all concerts. But hey, I'm an ingrate. That's why I'm going into music criticism.

So, I'm terribly illiterate, and I had only heard the name Camille Claudel once or twice. From what I gathered from the program notes, the performance, and S2E1 of Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, she was a sculptor who had an affair with Auguste Rodin and was subsequently committed to an asylum on dubious suspicions that she was mentally ill. That kind of story arc makes for a perfect song cycle, I will concede.

I think her primary instrument is theremin -- what a legend

The program started with three composers that would have been ringing in Claudel's ears: Germaine Tailleferre, Lili Boulanger, and finally a prelude of her dear friend Claude Debussy. Warshaw's performance was sound indeed -- it was almost invocative of jazz in the way that the individual lines were phrased in relation to one another. The product was an interesting interpretation that traded absolute readings of dynamics in favor of a sense of relativity, which was, in my opinion, a novel and refreshing.

And then, as the Debussy ended, soprano Nancy Allen Lundy, as the disheveled Claudel, slowly and trepidly walked down the center aisle of the audience. Onstage were a couple of chairs and a shawl; director Beth Greenberg made the most of a sparse staging.

The music itself was tremendous -- imagine all of the rhythmic uncertainty of Schoenberg or Webern, but with a color palette similar to that of Debussy and ilk. Warshaw played beautifully, not just because it was her piece; she clearly had a stylistic goal in mind, and she executed it beautifully. One would have thought the music emerged straight from a table at Les Deux Magots or another Parisian intellectual haunt.

Lundy's performance had its ups and downs. Her climactic high notes were right on target, impassioned and drenched in a thick coating of manic sorrow. Most of her tessitura, though, was underwhelming; her tone was breathy, and her diction was barely there. One of the movements had a refrain that repeated the word "chisel", which invariably came out as "shizzle" or "jizzle."

Because of the diction issues and the lack of subtitles, I don't think I got as much out of this premiere as I could have. The piece was obviously very well thought-out, and I'd like to see it performed again once it's had the opportunity to go through some stages of performance workshopping -- hopefully, the performers will tour it and give it the chance it really deserves.

[19] Downtown Voices and NOVUS NY perform Bartók and Orff at St. Paul's Chapel | #1Summer50Concerts

                                         Image result for st paul's chapel nyc

WHO: Downtown Voices; NOVUS NY; Stephen Sands, conductor
WHAT: BARTÓK Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion; ORFF Carmina burana
WHERE: St. Paul's Chapel
WHEN: June 16, 2019, 3:00pm

"Blessed are those who make classical music accessible by putting on free Sunday matinee concerts."
-- God, probably

I had a good hour and a half to kill before the concert started, so I decided to pop into a Starbucks and blog a bit. I sauntered on over to the chapel with plenty of time to spare -- it was maybe 25 minutes until the concert started -- and I arrived to find out that a) there were no full-view seats left and I had to go sit in the balcony and b) St. Paul's Chapel has free wifi, so I could have sat in the front row and worked while I waited for the concert to start.

It was just not my day, I guess.

When I got up to the balcony, I looked out over the audience and any shred of resent I had immediately melted. The great thing about a matinee concert is that it isn't too early or too late for anyone. That meant that parents brought their children, all sat in a row and clad in frilly dresses and bows and cute little button-down shirts. I felt a little underdressed in my usual t-shirt and jeans ensemble, but then a guy wearing shorts sat down next to me. Phew.

I don't know what Trinity Wall Street's worship services are like, but I can tell you one thing: their music programs are outstanding. Their flagship ensembles are a full professional choir and one of the leading baroque orchestras in NYC, but they also have burgeoning new music, youth, and community programs.

One of the best things about the Trinity music program is that all of their different levels collaborate often. This particular concert drew from almost all of their programs; the age range was approximately 6 (the youngest members of the Carmina children's choir) to 86 (the oldest members of Downtown Voices).

Needless to say, most of the audience was there for Carmina burana, but that didn't stop NOVUS NY from delivering a compelling version of the Bartók sonata (in this case, more like Bartok's Sonata for Two Pianos, Percussion, Police Sirens, and Brooklyn-Bound 6 Train -- but that's not their fault). Pianists Daniel Schlosberg and Lee Dionne had their backs to each other, but it was blatantly obvious that their heartbeats and pulses had synced -- it was as if one person was playing two parts. Percussionists Ian Rosenbaum and Victor Caccese worked as an impressive team, pushing the unpitched percussion parts to the front, almost treating them as melody instead of emphasis.

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Me at the beginning of Carmina burana, colorized (2019)

At the start of Carmina, it became clear that Downtown Voices was not just any community choir. I would have been content seeing them on stage with the New York Philharmonic, or with any visiting orchestra at Carnegie Hall -- in fact, I think I liked their performance more than I usually like the NY Phil's house choir. They felt well-rehearsed, but still interested; no one was 'dialing it in' and everyone looked like they couldn't imagine being anywhere else at that moment in time.

Soloist-wise, tenor Brian Giebler stole the show with his roasted swan-song ("Olim lacus colueram"). He paraded onstage in a black-and-red reversible sequined jacket and proceeded to full-voice the entire movement, which is a feat in and of itself. What made his version particularly impressive was how he delivered it -- it read almost like a country ballad, the way he occupied the back of the conductor's podium and swung his legs off. Country-classical crossover -- talk about a thing I never thought I'd enjoy.

Baritone soloist Christopher Dylan Herbert shouldered the largest musical load of any of the soloists, and did so with grace and accuracy. His "Estuans interius" was particularly noteworthy, his passionate high range not buckling under the emotional weight of the movement. Also of particular note was the children's chorus, which wrenched the hearts of audience members with their toothy-grinned "Amor volat undique."

There was not a single person in that room that wasn't having fun. From the pianists, to the four percussionists, to the choir and soloists, to the audience, even to Trinity's music director Julian Wachner, who did nothing but work the microphone the whole time -- the energy in the room was electric. Even the youngest children in the audience sat wide-eyed the whole time, as if under Carl Orff's spell.

This concert just cemented a hunch that I've had for awhile: if Trinity puts it on, then it's bound to be good. Trinity doesn't deal in mediocre music, but it's not like that's a prohibitive factor. They have perfected the art of getting the most out of every musician, and making every musician feel like they're giving the most they can. And if that doesn't satisfy you, then consult a doctor: you might be a sociopath.

Friday, June 21, 2019

[18] The MET Orchestra and Elīna Garanča perform Mahler and Bruckner at Carnegie Hall | #1Summer50Concerts

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Look at that SMILE!

WHO: The MET Orchestra; Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Elīna Garanča, mezzo-soprano
WHAT: MAHLER Rückert-Lieder; BRUCKNER Symphony No. 7
WHERE: Carnegie Hall
WHEN: June 14, 2019, 8:00pm

I'm pretty much convinced that Yannick Nézet-Séguin is the perfect human being.

His conducting is fabulous. He is the principal conductor of three orchestras (MET, Philadelphia, and Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal) and everyone in each of those orchestras loves him. He is always smiling. He can light up a room the size of Carnegie Hall. And my friends who have met him have assured me that he's just as nice in person. Even his bald spot is perfectly round.

Yeah, he's kind of my celebrity crush. Don't tell him, though.

I have this weird thing where I love going to see Mahler symphonies live, but I can't bring myself to listen to them in my free time. I'm not exactly sure why -- I obviously like them at least some, but for some reason my idea of "fun listening" (especially background listening) isn't an hour of hyper-dramatic maximalist symphony.

Mahler's song cycles, on the other hand, are far more reserved. Mahler had to tame his bombastic tendencies to fit a whole orchestra underneath a vocal soloist, and it shows. Some of the song cycles have a theme -- for instance, the Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children -- super uplifting) -- but others are simply themed with a poet. These five songs, to texts by Friedrich Rückert, fall staunchly in the latter category, and I think they're my favorite thing that Mahler ever wrote. Vivid orchestral color, tear-jerking melodies, equal opportunity for heart-rending theatricism and musical bravura.

So, what do you get when you combine a perfect conductor, a perfect mezzo-soprano, a perfect orchestra, and a perfect piece?

Yup, this performance was damn near perfect. Garanča's tone was always enough to fill the hall, even in the rare moment when she traded her full splendor for a more impish affect. The MET Orchestra sounded like a multi-headed beast, so perfectly attuned to one another that it almost felt like the musicians were being operated by a switchboard backstage -- of course, the musicality remained uncompromised. And Yannick....well, he was perfect.

All was perfect until that moment of silence after the last chord of the piece petered out -- probably my favorite part of the entire song cycle -- when some asshole in the audience shouted "BRAVA!!!!" before Yannick even had a chance to put his arms down. If you're that guy, and you're reading this, then fuck you. Full stop.

Much in the same way that I never listen to Mahler symphonies in my free time, I had never listened to a full Bruckner symphony before this concert. I'd been told that it was like Mahler, but boring -- not my style. But I was pleasantly surprised, not only by the piece, but by how the MET Orchestra worked their magic (I feel like that's a theme, maybe it shouldn't surprise me anymore).

He's like classical music James Corden!

Mahler's big hallmark is the loud-and-louder concept -- louder than loud is louder, louder than louder is blow-your-brains-out loud, and so on and so forth. Bruckner didn't feel like loud and louder. Bruckner felt like deep and deeper. When Bruckner wanted loud, he added an extra instrument or two in a lower or higher octave, maturing the sound. And the MET orchestra highlighted that perfectly. Every member of that orchestra knew the score perfectly, and when it was their turn to play they slipped into the timbre of the chord seamlessly. In any other orchestra, I'd say that was because they'd played it 40 times before, but Yannick himself said from the stage that it was the first time the orchestra had ever played a Bruckner symphony.

And speaking of Yannick: he was perfect.

So I know I made a little bit of a jab at the MET orchestra in my last post for not having a particularly pride-friendly program for this concert. But you know, with a concert of this quality, I really shouldn't complain. Get excited for next MET season -- the orchestra is going to get its chance to shine in a few of the productions (Wozzeck, Flying Dutchman, Rosenkavalier, Káťa Kabanová), so keep an ear out for them.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

[17] confluss + Spark Duo at Saint John's in the Village | #1Summer50Concerts

West Village churches: fighting homophobia one LGBTQ+ themed concert at a time

WHO: confluss (Amber Evans, soprano & Samuel Zagnit, bass) and Spark Duo (Kate Amrine, trumpet & Ford Fourqurean, clarinet)
WHAT: a concert in honor of Pride Month
WHERE: Saint John's in the Village
WHEN: June 13, 2019 at 7:30pm

I think I said it once in passing, but I'll say it again, louder this time:

Happy Pride Month!!!!!!!

I love love LOVE being a classical music geek in NYC during pride time. When you go to other cities, their "pride month concerts" center around the composers who lived in a time when being LGBTQ+ was taboo. A lot of Tchaikovsky, a lot of Poulenc, some Britten if you're lucky. Gotta keep those tickets sales high with the *older demographic*.

Thank god NYC has a burgeoning new music scene, because I think I'd die if I only heard Tchaikovsky throughout the entire month of June.

The classical music pride celebration hasn't been spearheaded by any of the larger ensembles in NYC -- their social media accounts show their support, but something about a program of Mahler and Bruckner doesn't scream queer (*ahem* MET ORCHESTRA). So, it's up to the smaller venues to program for the special season.

Saint John's in the Village has a whole series of LGBTQ+ themed concerts, from a 1920s portrait of "Le gai Paris" to lecture-concerts on the role of gay culture in worldwide popular music. This concert featured exclusively works by LGBTQ+ composers, many of which were commissioned by the two ensembles.

The program ran the gamut from (relatively) traditional to (totally) experimental, and some pieces fell off that spectrum entirely. Those included a piece inspired by punk rock legend Kathleen Hanna; a piece, performed by both confluss and Spark, in which the instrumentalists would shout random letters, each of which was associated with an instrumental sound (a musical interpretation of synesthesia, according to the composer); and a series of Sonic Meditations by the late Pauline Oliveros (one of which was interactive -- what is it with me and inadvertently walking into audience participation situations???).

The highlights of the program were far and away the compositions by confluss bassist Sam Zagnit. His diverse background shone brightly throughout, especially in excerpts of his long-form song-cycle-quintet catalogues, whose soprano part contains a theatrical breakdown that could be excerpted straight from a 1960s sitcom (or Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, pick your poison). Soprano Amber Evans proved she is as much actress as singer, which is saying something considering she's one hell of a singer. Zagnit seemed precisely in his element as an aesthetically stoic, but musically expressive foil to the hilarity that ensued from the singer's side.

Spark Duo's program was more subtle than that full-blown episode, though no less interesting. Each player had a solo -- clarinetist Ford Fourqurean played a piece entitled Rhapsody and Groove, which he described as "rhapsodic...then groovy," which seemed rather reductive at first but turned out to be the only apt description for the piece. Trumpeter Kate Amrine's solo made more of a statement in the form of a piece for trumpet and video reel entitled Thoughts and Prayers, which interspersed music with both live and recorded calls to action in the wake of gun violence. Rounding out their half of the program was another Zagnit premiere, this time in a more postmodern vein, but equally enjoyable.

There is a reason why this performance is on the channel "Famous musicians you haven't heard of yet"

If you're not sniffing out these tiny little new music concerts in NYC, then you're doing it wrong. People often moan and groan about how classical music is dying. Wake up and smell the roses: if you want classical music to live on and gain back some of that precious pre-WWII cultural relevance, stop complaining and start supporting the innovators of the future.

Monday, June 17, 2019

[16] Camille Bertault Quartet and Friends at Birdland | # 1Summer50Concerts

WHO: Camille Bertault Quartet and Friends
WHAT: "Pas de Géant" Project
WHEN: Wednesday, June 12, 9:45pm

"You knew you were coming to see jazz, but you didn't know you were coming to see CRAZY JAZZ!!!!!"

And some crazy jazz was exactly what I needed on that night.

For the first two weeks of this project, I was sticking to a very strict regimen: one concert per day, two on Saturdays, a matinee on Sundays so I can grocery shop and meal prep for the week.

I'm glad to say I didn't fully burn out. But last Sunday, I decided that I needed to take a couple of concert-free days. One night I stayed in and did nothing (I mean, I tried to blog, but that didn't work so well). The next night, I went for a stroll with a professor. And Wednesday, I finally went back to the concert scene, but not before a lengthy family dinner.

Just goes to show you that you CAN get tired of things you love. I mean, that shouldn't surprise me, but sometimes I forget.

Anyway, this show was the perfect potpourri to get me back in the swing of things. Not that I expected it to be a potpourri -- I've seen many of Bertault's YouTube videos, starting with the viral one in which she scats along to the solo from Giant Steps ("Pas de Géant" in French -- that's kind of her thing), so I know she knows her way around the classical canon. She's scatted the first variation of Goldberg, she's done Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum from Debussy's Children's Corner suite, all sorts of stuff. So naturally, after a short original song for her introduction, she launched into a "tribute track" to the composers who had influenced her over the years; apparently, her father started her on piano at the ripe old age of three years old.

"Un, deux, un deux trois quatre"

And she launches into Goldberg me here Moranis!

                                         Image result for ludicrous speed

Bertault had obviously done this a million times before. Her pianist, Vitor Gonçalves, looked petrified, but kept his cool to play a musically and technically impressive Bach. She followed with a series of mutations on the first movement of Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin, and then a whole song based on Satie's first Gymnopédie.

So at this point we know she does classical well. She goes into a short phase of French standards, including a Serge Gainsbourg song that starts, "I drink regularly to forget my wife's friends." Charming. That one ended up with a stone-cold sober Bertault lying on the floor "drunkenly" babbling on in French about all of her problems, and eventually falling asleep on the ground -- I gather the band was a group of New York ringers, because they seemed bewildered.

Almost as bewildered as when Bertault shooed them offstage after that chart, and invited up a piano professor from the Manhattan School of Music (god help me if I can figure out which one -- Solomon Mikowski rings a bell?) who is apparently a Birdland regular. And they played. Four-hands. A movement of Ravel's Mother Goose suite. He was sightreading. She hadn't practiced. And you know what? It was fantastic. More fun was had in that room in those four minutes than at the entire Renee Rosnes show I had seen the previous week.

Please someone tell me the name of this bassist!

The combo came back on after that -- I should take this opportunity to mention that the combo she had behind her was AMAZING. Though I'm pretty sure the trio was hired for the occasion, they knew the charts well, looking up and smiling at each other as if they were....having fun? GASP! Gonçalves's solos were the perfect character foils to Bertault's; where her solos were restricted by the technical capabilities of the human voice (even a voice as agile as Bertault's has its limits) his picked up slack, and vice versa. The bassist, whose name I couldn't catch from the stage (I think I might have heard Eduardo? Google produced no results for me) had a smirk on his face that showed he knew EXACTLY what he was doing the whole time. And the drummer, John Hadfield, was equally at home in jazz and bossa styles -- Bertault is a self-professed Brazilian music obsessor -- and his playing had the perfect balance of reliability and pizzazz.

Speaking of Brazilian music, she kicked her combo off AGAIN and brought on guitarist Diego Figueiredo, with whom she did the Carmen Miranda Radio Days bossa classic Tico-Tico no Fubá. Bertault and Figueiredo were doing a show at Birdland the next night -- I seriously considered canceling my plans and going, their rendition was so fantastic.

The moral of the story is, next time Camille Bertault is in NYC, get your butt on out to see her. Whether she's solo with a pianist or guitarist, or with a larger group, she's incredibly fun to watch, not to mention a fabulous singer. Besides which, you basically get three shows for the price of one!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

[15] Talea Ensemble presents "Lacunae" at The Flea | #1Summer50Concerts

Yes, the lights were actually that shade of purple

WHO: Matthew Gold, percussion; Ted Moore, composer and performer
WHAT: iNSIDE OUT series: Lacunae
WHERE: The Flea Theater
WHEN: June 9, 2019, 4:00pm

You know when you're sitting in a seminar and the professor asks a really good, thought-provoking question? And then everyone just sits there silently, staring wide-eyed at each other, hoping someone will speak up?

Yeah, I hate that -- not enough to actually break the silence, but definitely enough to stew silently in hatred.

Now that I think about it, I may be part of the problem. But that's beside the point for now.

Anyway, I thought I had escaped that awkward, awkward feeling for at least a couple months. But then I went to this concert -- which, mind you, I ended up really enjoying. But seminar-style discussion is awkward enough with people you know, let alone with a group of strangers.

Anyway, I've never seen the full Talea Ensemble live, but from what I've gathered they are one of the more community-minded New York classical contemporary ensembles -- in a world where so many people hate new music for "the way it sounds," Talea is trying to foster a culture of informed and engaged contemporary music consumption.

The iNSIDE Out series always comes with a theme -- this one had to do with lacunae, or empty spaces. It's an interesting concept in music; many of my teachers have insisted that rests are actually misnamed, as they are simply times to get ready for the next moment of playing.

I happen to completely disagree with that notion. Think about music without empty spaces -- isn't that just an unmeasured, mono-timbre wave of pitch? But that's getting into semantics.

This was probably the most interactive concert I'd ever been to: word associations, Mad Libs, seminar discussions, and more. As my date so eloquently put it: "I thought we were going to a concert, not group therapy."
The Lilliputian drumset is in the middle

Though the format of the concert was a little bit weird, the music was super interesting. All of the pieces were scored for percussion and live electronics, but, as I discovered, that can mean a whole range of things. One piece was scored for vibraphone with echo effect; another for miniature drumset (not a drumset with fewer instruments, but a drumset that looks like a fixture for a hamster's cage). The most fascinating piece was scored for cymbal and feedback loop. The performer basically held a microphone at variable distances from the cymbal (which had an attachment that kept it constantly vibrating ever so slightly), creating "pitch" of sorts. Was it always the most pleasant sound? No. But was it interesting? A thousand times yes.

The concert portion of this performance was certainly worth going to. Talea percussionist Matthew Gold crashed, banged, and boomed with enthusiasm, though never recklessly so. The compositions were innovative in a vein that I had never really explored before. That being said, the discussion could have used a little bit more thought -- maybe a round of introductions first? There were only six of us, it wouldn't have been that hard: "Hi, I'm Emery, I'm a college student, and I like music."

Saturday, June 15, 2019

[14] Roomful of Teeth performs Bryce Dessner's "Triptych" at Brooklyn Academy of Music | #1Summer50Concerts

WHO: Roomful of Teeth and friends
WHAT: Triptych (Eyes of One on Another) by Bryce Dessner
WHERE: Peter Jay Sharp Theater, Brooklyn Academy of Music
WHEN: June 8, 2019 at 7:30pm

"In america,
I place my ring
on your c*ck
where it belongs"
-- Essex Hemphill, from American Wedding

Like, how am I supposed to react to that? Especially when that phrase repeats for ten minutes straight?

When I realized that Dessner's Triptych was a "new way" of looking at the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe, I knew I was in for some graphic material. But oddly enough, it didn't bother me. The graphic nature was attenuated by the music that accompanied -- the experience altogether read less as glorification of sexuality and more as an earnest snapshot of the life of another.

Roomful of Teeth occupies a singular niche in the music world: they are the crossover of all types of music. A bold statement, I know, but if you listen closely they really do have a twinge of just about any style you can think of. In this performance alone, they were all over the map: early music (side bar: how amazing would it be if Roomful of Teeth did Monteverdi????), gospel, rock and roll, contemporary classical, spoken word, you name it.

Does someone want to explain to me why Brooklyn has all the best
concert venues? Look at those chandeliers!

And because Roomful of Teeth is a group of young people at the top of their field, they collaborate with a bunch of other young people at the top of their fields. Accompanying Roomful's always impeccable singing were a chamber orchestra conducted by Roomful founder and music director Brad Wells and beautiful lights, set, and video by leading designers in the avant-garde theater world.

A couple of auxiliary vocal soloists joined Roomful of Teeth for this performance. Mezzo-soprano Alicia Hall Moran walked the line between opera and gospel perfectly, her singing passionate and soulful. But the tenor soloist, Isaiah Robinson, takes the cake for this performance. "Tenor" doesn't even begin to describe what he is. I think he's gospel trained, but imagine if you took your average gospel tenor and then eliminated any trace of shouting in the higher registers. He was reaching D's, E's, even an F and a G at one point without any trouble or effort -- I know sopranos who can't do that.

This is one of those pieces that I would advise against listening to if it's ever recorded -- the piece is nothing without the full experience. Without the accompanying video, the stark choreography (complete with iPad-music stands on wheels), the sometimes-blinding lighting design, you would lose much of the effect. I think they're continuing to tour the piece for the next couple months -- catch it if you can!

Friday, June 14, 2019

[13] Cavalieri's "Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo" at Saint Peter's Church | #1Summer50Concerts

Very Authentic™

WHO: Choir and Period Orchestra of Saint Peter's
WHAT: Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo by Emilio de' Cavalieri
WHEN: June 8, 2019, 4:00pm

My religion of choice is music.

I know it's a little weird to think of music as a religion, but in my mind it makes perfect sense. I love music unconditionally. Music is often my first thought when I wake up in the morning, and my last thought when I go to sleep. I follow music to great lengths, even when it wrongs me and almost leaves me stranded in Riverdale after a concert because did you know NYC express buses cost $6.25 a pop?

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, religion.

My preferred place of worship for the Church of the Holy Harmonies™ is, naturally, the concert hall. But, sometimes I find myself engaging in religious crossover, so to speak. And that's how I found myself at Saint Peter's for their annual Memorial Vespers service.

What is a memorial vespers? I didn't really know then, and quite frankly I don't really know now. Here's what I do know: I walked into the sanctuary at 4:02pm, after I stupidly chose to climb the stairs at the 53rd/Lex E train station instead of taking the escalator, and we immediately launched into a hymn -- not the Cavalieri itself, mind you, but the thing that was like "okay God, it's Cavalieri time" I guess? At least, that's my agnostic view of it.

No one really performs this Cavalieri, but it has a crucial role in music history as the "first" of so many things: first opera, first sacred opera, first explanation of figured bass notation, the list goes on and on, as I found out by reading the 30 pages of program notes at the back of the 60-page church bulletin.

For what this performance was, I was absolutely blown away. Often, church choirs do a great job of contributing to the worship service, but don't really satisfy beyond that. Cantor Bálint Karosi, a doctoral candidate in composition at Yale, must be a miracle worker, because the mostly-amateur choir sounded fabulous -- prepared, confident, and like they were having the time of their lives.

I'm not really sure what this space is supposed to be -- it's vaguely octagonal at the top, but then
pares down to...a diamond? A square? I don't know, it kinda looks like a sci-fi escape pod.

The professional section leaders from the choir sang most of the solos, but they hired out for a few extra singers to round out the cast. Baritone Anicet Castel (Corpo) and soprano Nola Richardson (Anima) sang and bickered convincingly as the dueling desires of the soul and the body; soaring tenor Elliot Encarnación (Intelletto) set the scene perfectly as an omniscient, intellectual character. The smaller parts of virtues and concepts were all well-sung by members of the choir.

But the highlight came in the form of Filipino-American tenor Enrico Lagasca. I briefly heard Lagasca sing earlier this year in TENET and The Sebastians' performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion. He only had a couple small parts in addition to his role in the choir, but when he sang those three or four lines (he was, like, third Nazarene or Pilate after he's eaten but before he's crucified Jesus or something like that), my eyes widened, my ears perked up, and I whispered a big fat "holy SH*T" to the friend sitting next to me. Lagasca, despite his small role in this Cavalieri, gave a performance to remember, his rich bass commanding the attention of the audience without a second thought. He's still pretty young -- I truly can't wait until he (inevitably) makes it big and we can go see him as the headliner on concerts.

The orchestra was mostly area freelancers; they sounded extremely well-polished under Karosi, who conducted from the harpsichord. The continuo team, despite being distributed all over the stage, played like a well-oiled machine, and the Italian wind- and viol-consorts provided impressive variety in color. Violinist Isabelle Seula Lee opened the work with an impressive solo from the top of the choir risers, as if an angel coming down from heaven (at least that's what I assume it's supposed to represent? don't quote me on that).

Overall, big fat yes to this concert. Saint Peter's is programming music that other people don't program, and it's not only expanding the minds of church-goers, but appealing to the musical community as well. Keep on the lookout for their season next year -- I'm expecting great things.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

[12] Stefan Jackiw, Yoonah Kim, Zlatomir Fung, and Conrad Tao play Quartet for the End of Time at Bargemusic | #1Summer50Concerts

Note: that boat is not Bargemusic

WHO: Stefan Jackiw, violin; Yoonah Kim, clarinet; Zlatomir Fung, cello; Conrad Tao, piano
WHAT: Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time), by Olivier Messiaen
WHERE: Bargemusic
WHEN: June 7, 2019, 7:00pm

I would like to start by saying that Conrad Tao showed up to his own concert in knee-length black capri-chinos, which is probably the biggest power move I've ever witnessed.

And now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Bargemusic is another one of these intimate Brooklyn concert venues that makes you go "awwwwww." Right outside of the joggers-with-strollers haven that is Brooklyn Bridge Park, just down the street from the snaking lines at competing pizzerias Juliana's and Grimaldi's, is a beautiful dock with possibly the most phenomenal, up-close view of the bridges on either side of the East River (pictured above). Tethered to the dock is usually a smattering of party boats, but this Friday night all of the party boats were off loaded with drunken twenty-somethings. Tonight there was only a small white boat with an abandoned ceiling deck and a dent on every surface. That, friends, is Bargemusic.

Inside, visitors find a single, wood-paneled room with a folding table at the front for ticket sales. We slipped in behind a few tourists who were very confused at the fact that the upper deck wasn't used for concertizing (because, after all, grand pianos love nothing more than humidity and unpredictable rain-storms), and took our seats.

I don't usually go crazy for front-row seats -- as I've mentioned in a couple of my previous reviews, I like to hear the sound after it's had a chance to blend in the room. But for some reason, it seemed right for this concert.

Twinning + twin bridges

The musicians were screwing around off to the side of the stage, the only place at Bargemusic that could even mildly be construed as a "backstage area." I use quotation marks because it essentially looks like a mudroom, but without a door or walls -- a couple coat hangers and a couple benches, and the staircase (okay, it's actually like one stair) up to the stage.

For those of you who don't know, Messiaen was drafted into the French army in WWII; he was captured at Verdun and taken to a prisoner of war camp in Germany. Luckily, he had already made something of a name for himself in the musical world, so the army gave him special treatment -- he was given a composition studio with a piano. He wrote the Quatuor entirely at the camp, and it was premiered by him and three of his fellow prisoners outdoors on a rainy January evening.

This is a piece that tests not only every facet of your technique -- how fast you can play, how slow you can play, how in-between you can play -- but first and foremost how much soul and anguish you can impart into your playing. There is nothing uplifting about the Quatuor; even the most beautiful moments are sodden with dissonance and pain.

I can barely put into words the performance that these four phenomenal musicians put forth. At the end of the concerts, my friends and I could do nothing more than look at each other, tears in our eyes, and say, "Wow."

The quartet imparted every bit of distraught passion that Messiaen wrote into the score -- and then some -- into that hour-ish of playing. They were perfectly zoned into each other the whole time, even when they weren't playing. Yoonah Kim's solo clarinet movement (Abyss of the Birds) was extreme in the most wonderful of ways. The infamously long pianissisimo (very very soft) to fortissisimo (very very loud) notes lasted upwards of 30 seconds (thanks to circular breathing -- pushing air out of your mouth while taking more air in through your nose), starting so imperceptibly that I thought her instrument had broken right in front of us on stage.

The leap-of-faith climax-to-meditation moment about two minutes from the end of Zlatomir Fung's solo movement was possibly the most delicate moment of music I have heard so far this summer, save for the congruent moment in Stefan Jackiw's movement -- it's a tie. And all the while, Conrad Tao, without a solo movement for himself, in turn accompanied dutifully and tastefully and shone in his own right, his smart touch ekeing every last timbre out of Bargemusic's Steinway.

I wish I could do justice to this performance with words. But I can't. All I can say is that somehow, everything felt right. The waves sloshing against the dock, the boat rocking at what seemed to be choreographed moments (and I say that as someone who gets violently seasick), even the EDM track that was wafting through the window from afar as the final notes of the final movement sounded. June 7th, 2019, from 7pm to 8:10pm, was a perfect moment.

EDIT: Don't believe me? Cellist Zlatomir Fung just won the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition.

Monday, June 10, 2019

[11] NY Philharmonic premieres David Lang's "prisoner of the state" at David Geffen Hall | #1Summer50Concerts

WHO: New York Philharmonic; Jaap van Zweden, conductor; vocal soloists; tenors and basses of the Concert Chorale of New York (Donald Nally, choirmaster)
WHAT: prisoner of the state, by David Lang (world premiere)
WHERE: David Geffen Hall
WHEN: June 6, 2019, 7:30pm

I'm not going to lie, prisoner of the state was gritty, gritty, gritty. Like, I just sat here for half an hour trying to think of an opening joke for this post. And I couldn't think of one. Because there was not a single uplifting moment in this 70-minute opera.

The stage of David Geffen was surrounded by a chain-link fence laced with barbed wire. The orchestra players wore all-black with optional black skull caps (the horn section looked particularly good in their matching hats). In the front was a faux-stone stage (with two trap doors, only clearly visible from directly above, which of course I was because I got seats on the side of the stage in the third tier because I am CHEAP), and in back, behind the fence from most vantage points, was a cell-block-looking stage that was unequivocally too small for the forty-some men of the choir.

The chorus processed out in yellow jumpsuits, wrist chains, and possibly the most convincing dirt-makeup I've ever seen. Granted, a couple of them still had perfectly coiffed hair that didn't exactly shout "prison," but the aesthetic was there.

David Lang's music exists in a strange quantum state (to the extent I understand what that means -- physicists, comment below and let me know if I'm an idiot). The way his music sounds and feels, one thinks it's simultaneously racing forward and dawdling. Many of the orchestral figures were frantic and exceedingly precise; yet, there was so much repetition that forward motion was quasi-nonexistent.

prisoner of the state was Lang's take on Beethoven's Fidelio, a convoluted plot that, without any subplots, essentially concerns itself with a political prisoner (Fidelio), who is to be killed by gradual starvation, and his devoted wife, who dresses as a guard to sneak her way into the prison and reveal the twisted reasons for her husbands unfair detainment. It's a happy ending: Fidelio is freed, his opponent is detained, joy, triumph, yay!

Lang essentially strips the two-hour-plus Fidelio of all its subplots, casting a modern light on the main story line. The characters are all deranged in one way or another, and each gets an aria to explain his or her affliction. The dehumanized "assistant" (the character of the wife) sings of how she once was a woman, but is no longer; the power-hungry "governor" sings of his obsession with fear over love; the sadistic guard sings of his willingness to do anything for wealth; the prisoner (congruent to Beethoven's Fidelio) sings of the solitary confinement that has driven him to the brink of extinction.

Thing I did not mention: my job got me into a press rehearsal a couple days before the
actual performance. It was us and a bunch of classical music "influencers" -- I didn't know those existed

French soprano Julie Mathevet, who played the assistant, was perfect in her character. Mathevet portrayed not an ounce of emotion until the (seemingly uplifting) end, very clearly on purpose. The governor, played by British tenor Alan Oke (who really really channeled the Patrick-Stewart-circa-Macbeth look for this role), almost struck like a Herod-type character: obsessive, whiny, and opinionated. MET regular Eric Owens (the guard) struck a perfect balance between capitulating and strong-willed. But the prize for most convincing goes to Jarrett Ott, the prisoner of the state himself (oh, THAT'S why they called it that!), whose bloody makeup and languid appearance did not compromise his operatic presence one bit.

The Concert Chorale sounded tremendous -- they beefed up their ranks significantly for this one. On the roster were are few names I recognized from spectating around the NYC and New Haven concert scenes. And holy crap, did they have tenors. High Bb's for days. Even with the choreography, which mostly included stomping and walking, the music was forceful, stark, and effective.

Lang has a knack for social commentary. I was fortunate enough to sing a piece of his earlier this year which sets the pre-sentencing speech of Eugene Debs, who was convicted under the Sedition Act for his anti-WWI speeches. To quote Lang himself: "I was mad, so I wrote this." And that seemed to be more or less the case for prisoner as well -- except in this case he had control over his own libretto. At what would be an otherwise happy ending, Lang throws in the caveat that technically we *are* still prisoners in the world, and that the only difference in a real prison is that you can see the chains. Nice.

All else aside, this was a tremendous performance. And even if you didn't get to see it, I'm certain it's going to come back. This is the kind of thing that was far too much work to truly only last for one weekend. My guess is that this production will make its way around the major symphony orchestras and opera houses and eventually get recorded. Good thing, too; it's catchy as hell and it's going to be stuck in my head until I can get my hands on a recording.

I hummed this at a concert two days later, and a lady who was sitting in front of me
turned around and said, "Is that prisoner of the state?" I think I've found my people <3

[10] Renee Rosnes Quartet at The Village Vanguard | #1Summer50Concerts

Image result for village vanguard

WHO: Renee Rosnes Quartet
WHERE: The Village Vanguard
WHEN: June 5, 2019, 8:30pm

We're one-fifth of the way there guys! Woohoo!

I get a certain satisfaction out of jazz that I simply don't find in classical music. Don't get me wrong, classical music is still my bread and butter, but like, bread and butter doesn't have a whole lot of vitamins and minerals. And I get those vitamins and minerals from jazz.

I love spontaneity. I love music that turns out different every time. I love music that has no "right" way.

So, when judging jazz players, I cherish spontaneity over all else. I want to see them looking at their group-mates, taking cues, and going with the flow.

Renee Rosnes did not deliver.

Rosnes is best known as a composer, but for some reason this set was primarily (if not all -- she didn't announce every piece) arrangements of swing-era hits. It seemed like a safe play, really too safe for a venue like the Vanguard, where modern jazz attracts the biggest audiences. There was nothing "out there," nothing of particular note; just canned arrangements of Fats Waller and contemporaries.

Note: the New Masada Quartet sold out soon after it went on sale. Renee Rosnes didn't even come close.

In a small group setting, each member is personally responsible for keeping the music moving forward -- if one member starts to hesitate, the whole group stalls. It felt like Rosnes was placing the burden of moving the music forward on her bassist (Peter Washington -- he had a terrified expression on his face the entire time, and you could tell which charts he did and didn't know) and her drummer (Carl Allen -- he was on top his music, and his riffs were well-played, if not necessarily the most creative). That got a little bit better towards the end, I will concede.

So you may have noticed that I've only mentioned three of the four quartet members so far, and that's because I wanted to save the best for last. Rosnes's quartet, instead of employing a more conventional saxophone or trumpet, rounds out the quartet with a vibraphone player -- one of few non-vibraphonist-led ensembles that I know of that does this.

Vibes player Steve Nelson wholly upstaged the headliner. His solos were passionate without being cerebral -- you could tell that Nelson was flying by intuition rather than thinking his riffs through, and I would have it no other way. When the rest of the group was ambling along in what seemed like an endless loop of the same eight-bar chord progression, played the same way for the umpteenth time, Nelson's imaginative soloing provided something memorable above a sea of meh. And you could hear him singing (grunting?) along, which was totally endearing.

The thing is, I don't think Renee Rosnes is bad. In the wake of this gig, I listened to a couple of her albums; they were exactly what you would expect if a classically trained pianist wrote jazz, but not in the bad way. She's won Juno awards (think Grammy, but Canadian) for her compositions, and I totally see why. It seemed to me like she was sort of nonchalantly dialing it in for just another set at the Vanguard, and that she didn't really care that much, which in my opinion is kind of unfair to the audience. That said, she did have another show to play that night.

If you want to see Renee Rosnes, perhaps see her under a different leader -- she's playing with the Ron Carter Quartet at Blue Note in a few weeks (July 9-14). If you really want to see Renee Rosnes as headliner, make sure you know what's on the set: arrangements or originals. If it's originals, go; if it's arrangements, skip it.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

[9] Laura Kaminsky's "As One" at Merkin Hall @ Kaufman Center | #1Summer50Concerts

The full credits list
WHO: Briana Elyse Hunter, mezzo-soprano (Hannah After); Jorell Williams, baritone (Hannah Before)
WHAT: As One, by Laura Kaminsky
WHERE: Merkin Hall at the Kaufman Music Center
WHEN: June 4, 2019, 8:00pm

This is going to be a hard one to write. And I think I just need to get something off my chest real quick: I am not here to provide an evaluation of the subject matter expressed in this opera. I will be doing my best to evaluate the work objectively as an art form. This opera concerns itself with struggles that I am not qualified to comment on, and the last thing I want or intend to do is invalidate those struggles and the people who have endured them. I am not commenting on the message this opera conveys (I happen to agree with that message wholeheartedly); I am commenting on how the message is conveyed.

I was super excited when I heard about As One. The concept was fabulous, in my opinion: using two singers to chronicle a trans woman's struggle and eventual transition. I really truly think that music and text together are more powerful than either one in isolation.

The performances, by baritone Jorell Williams and mezzo Brianna Elyse Hunter, were fabulous. Williams's sheepish, yet confident acting (backed up by one hell of a voice) conveyed the internal struggle that the opera meant to convey. Hunter's intrepid final scene showed a newfound, in-plain-sight joie de vivre.

I really quite enjoyed the music of this opera as well. It was sort of a mishmash of American classical music: the pointed repetition of Reich and Glass, the ninth chords of Whitacre, the plaintive solo lines of Barber. The quartet that played the score was accurate, expressive, and always sensitive to the vocalists on stage. The set design, while minimal, was exactly as much as was needed.

The place where I feel like this opera fell flat was in the libretto. The opera was structured as a series of vignettes, and it seemed like at times the libretto did not connect one scene to the next. For instance, when Hannah decides she needs to get away from the society she knows, she decides to go to Norway; rather than showing a thought process, she just kind of sings, "Norway!" and then...she's there? A little bit discontinuous, in my opinion. Also, the libretto seemed to be very cookie-cutter -- I think about half of the sentences started with "I feel," especially towards the end of the opera. I think that the characters would have had more dimension if the libretto explained not only what they feel, but how they feel it.

Overall, not my favorite experience. There's a recording coming out soon, I might recommend listening to that; however, I wasn't so keen on this performance. It wasn't *bad* per se, but I think it could have used some fine-tuning.

Friday, June 7, 2019

[8] The MET Orchestra and Isabel Leonard perform Debussy, Dutilleux, and Ravel | #1Summer50Concerts

Image result for carnegie hall

WHAT: DEBUSSY La mer; DUTILLEUX Le temps l'horloge; RAVEL Shéhérazade; RAVEL Suite No. 2 from Daphnis and Chloé
WHERE: Carnegie Hall
WHEN: June 3, 2019, 7:30pm

This past March, I was lucky enough to go see Richard Wagner's Die Walküre at the Metropolitan Opera. For those of you who don't know, Wagner operas are often all-day affairs, especially at the Met where intermissions are 30 minutes long. The show started at noon; I eventually walked out of the opera house at 5:10pm. The first thing that ran through my head after five hours of watching ladies in breastplates and horns howl their hearts out (yes, really):

"Gee, I want to go see another opera tonight!"

The fact that I had to be awake and singing in New Haven (about a 2hr train ride) at 9am the next day notwithstanding, I bought my standing room ticket for the 8:30pm showing of Mozart's La clemenza di Tito, hiked to the top of the Metropolitan Opera House (what is it with me and concerts that require climbing?) and stood at the top for the full two hours. And I loved every second of it.

Yeah, you could say I'm obsessed. Or you could say that I'm a passionate young adult who is invigorated by the intellectual stimulation that opera lends its listeners.

You know, I just read over that again. Let's just go with obsessed.

The most reliable part of the Metropolitan Opera is the orchestra. No matter if it's Mozart or Bartók, the MET orchestra always has their act together, whether they're in hour six of a Wagner or are playing the second show in a double-header.

Unlike most other American opera houses, the MET ends their season early (their last production was in the first week of May or so) because the MET orchestra gives a three-concert series to finish Carnegie Hall's year. Usually, at least one of the concerts has something to do with opera -- usually, they'll invite a couple of MET regulars to sing with the orchestra.

For this concert, the soloist was soprano Isabel Leonard, coming hot off of her recent smash success in Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites (think French Revolution, but also nuns, and then everyone dies). I had the opportunity to see her as Mélisande in Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande (think love affair, and then everyone dies) earlier this year, and my opinion was pretty ambivalent -- her performance was perfectly fine, but was overshadowed by the sub-par performance of tenor Paul Appleby as Pelléas and the stellar performance of baritone Kyle Ketelsen as Golaud.

I'm sure some French pop star has ripped off the name of that last Dutilleux song...

I think she must have been having a bad night at that performance, because she knocked this one out of the park. Her voice floated easily above the orchestra -- not quite unmoored, but certainly well-lodged in the fantasy realm that French music craves. Gossamer, never heavy, and simply sublime, even in a highly technical passage like at the end of the Dutilleux. The start of her Ravel was also tremendous -- strong, but also supple and soft.

The orchestra's La mer was admittedly mediocre -- it felt like none of the players were taking the responsibility to make the music that Yannick was so expressively conducting. It almost seemed that the orchestra didn't know how to be in the limelight, a common ailment with opera orchestras, though not one that usually plagues the MET.

Luckily, that was just a fluke. Behind Leonard, they were able to spend the next two pieces recalibrating, and their Daphnis and Chloe was absolutely stunning. Special recognition to principal flautist Chelsea Knox, whose solos in both Ravel pieces were about as close to perfect as one can get. Also, she was like 23 when she won the principal spot with the MET orchestra. Feel inadequate yet?

If you haven't been to the MET, go. Standing room tickets are $20, and other tickets occasionally start at $35. And while you're there, I have a game that I like to play, developed with one of my best friends from school. The hoity-toity people at the MET like to spectate the in-house restaurant, which serves one course at each intermission. Stand one or two levels up on the terraces that overlook the restaurant, then try to come up with a backstory for each person. There are only so many business-people you can go through before you decide which of the necktie-wearing old people in the restaurant is the next Walter White.