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C4, The Choral Composer/Conductor Collective: Electric – Choral Works with electrified ensemble

June 25, 2017

C4’s last concert of the season was a typical C4 concert. The concert had one intermission; in both halves of the concert, there were one or two pieces that were new to C4 and one or two that they’d performed before. In this concert, there were also three premieres. Some pieces were a cappella; some were accompanied by a somewhat unexpected set of instruments, in this case, electronic … hence this concert’s name, “Electric: Choral works with electrified ensemble.” Almost all of the composers featured were either current or former C4 members; singers conducted each others’ works. Individual singers moved easily between solo parts and “just” being a section member. The extensive program notes were, as always, extremely useful. [more]

Angels in America (New York City Opera)

June 23, 2017

By eliminating most of the extended fantasy elements of the play, they reduced the storyline to the domestic turbulence of two couples and a deservedly ugly portrait of Roy Cohn. Add in a visit by the iconic Bethesda Fountain Angel (here totally generic) and some very dramatic, brass-heavy music and you have this intriguing production by New York City Opera that succeeds as an opera as long as one is not familiar with the source material. What seemed heavy going and existential in the original comes across on a much more human level in the opera. [more]

Heartbeat Opera: Butterfly

June 9, 2017

The artistic team responsible for this "Butterfly" made radical decisions and changes. Puccini’s original three acts of linear story – love and “wedding,” waiting, betrayal and death – are reorganized and abbreviated into three scenes of waiting, remembered love, and then betrayal. Some minor characters in the original opera are eliminated to create a caste of just five singing characters. The entire orchestra is reduced to a chamber orchestra of just six musicians, the Cantata Profana. The adaptation of Puccini’s orchestral score for this small chamber group by Daniel Schlosberg is remarkable: unexpectedly, its absolute faithfulness to Puccini’s musical intent at almost every turn made up for the diminished number of musicians. [more]

92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series: “From Camelot to California: The Worlds of Lerner and Loewe”

June 7, 2017

The show’s writer and host, Rob Berman, introduced many of the songs and, essentially, gave us the story of Lerner and Loewe’s difficult, on-again, off-again partnership. Referring to them, at one point, as an “odd couple,” Berman explained that the composer Frederick (or “Fritz”) Loewe was an “old world” European, and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner a “New York sophisticate,” who was educated in England. Berman also claimed that the common denominator for all of their musicals was a kind of “idealism,” making the pair “dreamers.” [more]

The New York Virtuoso Singers: Morton Gould/ASCAP Young Composer Award Recipients

May 28, 2017

From the beginning, one core component of Rosenbaum’s mission has been the cultivation of a contemporary American repertoire and the regular commission of new works. Rosenbaum is, in fact, an enthusiastic champion of young composers. This May concert, consisting of ten new works, reflected this focus … and was a wonderful celebration of young talent and achievement. [more]

St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys: Glory Be to Thee O Lord: Songs of Faith, Hope and Love

May 20, 2017

But the concert didn’t have the satisfaction of a big blockbuster – such as Haydn’s Creation, with which the season began – or of two or three masterworks. Music of the Anglican tradition is the bone and blood of St. Thomas’ work: it’s the music in which the choir excels. The formal musical curriculum in which St. Thomas students are immersed serves them well in any musical endeavor or style, but the Anglican vocabulary is the one these young musicians are most comfortable with. In this particular concert, the music of non-Anglican-tradition composers was well presented, demonstrating the skills of the singers, both young and old, but wasn’t thrilling. [more]

Composer Portraits Series: Klas Torstensson

May 6, 2017

"Elliott loves bebop" is a much more satisfying piece than either "Sonerna" or "No slash" on their own. It would be no matter what. But the experience of having listened to the two quartets one after the other immediately before the octet immeasurably enriched the experience of hearing the octet: the octet’s complexities were more intelligible and the patterns of their interconnections were more clear. Without compromising or simplifying the work’s density, its meanings were more accessible. [more]

The New York Pops 34th Birthday Gala: “Something Wonderful”

May 3, 2017

The sensational highlight of the concert was a medley from "South Pacific." “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right out of My Hair” had the luminous Ashley Park euphorically performing that showstopper. Ms. Park was filling in for the previously announced and indisposed Laura Osnes. Female members of The Camp Broadway Kids Ensemble, who were dressed in colorful outfits and sailor caps, wonderfully joined Park. This thrilling production number was representative of Cynthia Thole’s vigorous direction and choreography. [more]

Babes in Toyland (MasterVoices)

May 1, 2017

Victor Herbert’s 1903 operetta "Babes in Toyland" was presented by MasterVoices (formerly The Collegiate Chorale), in a splendid concert production, to celebrate its 75th anniversary. Music director and artistic director, Ted Sperling superbly conducted the dynamic Orchestra of St. Luke's, and the terrific MasterVoices choral group, that appeared onstage with them. [more]

Alam Khan: Maestro Ali Akbar Khan Birthday Celebration

April 17, 2017

Thanking his packed audience at Le Poisson Rouge for coming to hear him play, Alam Khan described his music on this evening as a tribute to his father, Ali Akbar Khan, whose ninety-fifth birthday it would have been. But it was more than an ancestral honoring: it was a tribute to a rich centuries-old tradition of Hindustani classical music. [more]

Vespers of 1610 (Handel + Haydn Society Orchestra and Chorus)

April 17, 2017

"Vespers of 1610" is a big and oddly sprawling work. It makes no liturgical sense, and, in terms of texts, has little programmatic unity beyond a consistent Marian devotion. But it is a coherent whole of musical and spiritual experience. It gives the impression of limitlessness, as though there were no end to what Monteverdi could have kept on telling us, precisely because the sacredness and meaning of God’s sacred words are infinite. [more]

World Music Institute: Salif Keita

April 9, 2017

Over the course of Salif Keita’s recent appearance at The Town Hall there was a story whose shape reflected both Keita’s identity and his music. At 7:00 p.m., there was a question-and-answer session with Keita, musician and writer Banning Eyre of www.afropop.org, and translator Isabelle Dupuis. By the end of the evening, audience and performers were inseparably merged; singing and dancing had become one, and Keita had made us all his own. Far from needing any explanation or translation, the music of Salif Keita is entirely universal. [more]

La Campana Sommersa (New York City Opera)

April 8, 2017

This production was a co-effort with Fondazione Teatro Lirico di Cagliari whose orchestra joined forces with the New York City Opera Orchestra under the baton of Ira Levin who brought out every bit of color in the music. Maestro Levin was sensitive to the needs of the singers, knowing just how to mold the orchestra’s sounds so that their voices soared over the often over-orchestrated score (not helped by the wrong-headed scrim used in the forest scenes). [more]

Glass @ 80: Philip Glass & Foday Musa Suso

March 24, 2017

Beginning in the 1980s, Glass and Suso collaborated on several projects. Genet’s difficult, demanding, essentially un-actable and relentlessly fracturing play, "The Screens," elicited from Glass and Suso unexpectedly warm and affirming music. The setting for Genet’s play – the wretchedness of the French Algerian War – calls for music that is both European and African, but to imagine Glass’ contribution as “the European one” and Suso’s as its African opposite is to misunderstand the creative relationship. [more]

Otello (LoftOpera)

March 20, 2017

LoftOpera is a feisty little company that operates around Brooklyn, especially Bushwick. They are giving" Otello" in LightSpace Studios, a disco on Flushing Avenue about the size of a high school gymnasium. There’s a small orchestra (27, about half the size Rossini wrote for), kept under tight but lyrical control by the company’s maestro, Sean Kelly. The singers do not appear to be looking at him for cues while they are enthusiastically playing out the story, but they only got lost once at Saturday night’s performance. [more]

The New York Pops: “Life is a Cabaret: The Songs of Kander and Ebb”

March 14, 2017

“It looks like when you got your Kennedy Center Honor!” exclaimed Mr. Reineke, as a spotlight shone on John Kander, who was attending the concert from a first tier box at Carnegie Hall. He grinned to a thunderous reaction. Sitting with him, was Susan Stroman, who has directed several Kander and Ebb productions. Near the end of the show, at Reineke’s instigation, the house lights went up, and the orchestra and the audience joined in for “Happy Birthday” to Kander. [more]

Composer Portraits Series: Misato Mochizuki

March 11, 2017

Neither a “Western composer” nor a “Japanese composer,” Mochizuki hasn’t sought to manufacture some sort of mix-and-match blend. She doesn’t borrow or build add-ons. Instead, seeking inspiration in nature on the one hand and in human projects as diverse as photography, genetics and cooking on the other, she produces music that is about both being and story. Embedded within every piece one beginning after another, her stories unfold from each; then she builds them into each other. Though she incorporates elements of theater in the use of lighting and musicians’ movements around the stage, her music is fundamentally unpretentious and unfussy; her writing is equally straight-forward and optimistically fresh. [more]

Composer Portraits Series: Beat Furrer featuring Either/Or

February 16, 2017

This is serious work. Without defiance of traditional or conservative contemporary classical music simply for mere defiance’s haughty sake, Furrer is developing his own particular vocabulary. And successful performance of Furrer’s music requires serious musicians. The musicians of Either/Or are a good match for this composer. Their technical skills are superb, marked by both muscular stamina and virtuosic creativity; equally important, their willingness to take performance risks is grounded in intellectual and artistic integrity. [more]

New York Polyphony: Palestrina’s “Marcellus Mass”

February 4, 2017

The second work of the evening was the world premiere of Ivan Moody’s Vespers Sequence. In careful, clear program notes, Moody described his goals in his compositions in general and in this new Vespers Sequence in particular: he seeks to “bring the concepts and principles underlying Orthodox spirituality … into dialogue with modernity” … in the “creation of a specifically Orthodox para-liturgical repertoire that brings together liturgy and concert.” Moody collaborated closely with New York Polyphony in conceiving and then finalizing this work; although the sacred texts and many of the originating aesthetic impulses of the work are ancient, the overall feel, in this premiere performance, was of something vital and contemporary. [more]

92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series: “Get Happy: Harold Arlen’s Early Years”

February 4, 2017

The show began with Arlen’s first hit, “Get Happy,” 1930, and ended with his 1939 score for the MGM film, "The Wizard of Oz." The first half of the evening was devoted to Arlen’s stand-alone popular tunes, his songs written for the Cotton Club Revues (1932-1934), and musical numbers for early sound movies. Blackhurst recounted how Arlen (born Hyman Arluck of Buffalo, New York), was a child prodigy singing in his father’s choir when he was seven, forming his own bands in his late teens, and occasionally appearing as a vocalist with them on records in his twenties. [more]

Love for Sale

January 26, 2017

The concept of Love for Sale, though not particularly original, is not a bad one, except for one very important factor: Ms. Burke is not up to either the singing or acting demands of Love for Sale, a voyage from innocence to jaded sophistication as told in mostly dark, melodramatic songs, ironically influenced by the American films that flooded Europe in the twenties and thirties. It’s an extraordinarily difficult repertoire that constantly threatens to be silly expressions of impossibly colorful and desperate characters. [more]

Candide (New York City Opera)

January 10, 2017

Linda Lavin, padded and badly bewigged, comes across more like a Jewish yenta than the victim of the vagaries of Eastern European warfare. She has only one song, “Easily Assimilated,” a silly attempt at seduction, which is a shame. This character had several numbers in the original, including one that actually referred to why she is “missing the half of my backside.” Lavin is a star, but is ill-used here. [more]

The Mikado Reimagined (NYGASP)

January 5, 2017

In keeping with Sullivan having been hit over the head, the cast is clothed in a motley collection: a combination of late Victorian and Japanese styles. Some are in all Japanese, some in all Victorian, most are in a combination of the two. Even the Victorian costumes have baroque additions to make them look exotic. The women all wear Victorian gowns with bustles open in the back just as though they had not finished dressing. The concept while colorful is quite a mess with every possible variation on stage at the same time. [more]

The Tallis Scholars: “A Renaissance Christmas”

December 27, 2016

It was a Tallis-perfect performance. Palestrina has long been one of the most sure-fire dazzling jewels in the Tallis Scholars' treasury. In writing sacred music, Palestrina made his particular kind of beauty – elegance, intellect, decorous sensuality – a kind of theology of mediation, a meeting place for the human and the divine. The Tallis precision of diction and tone and their ability to reveal every rhythmic and melodic nuance in the music they sing make Palestrina marvelous. The bright acoustic features of St. Mary the Virgin provide a wash of light on the singing. [more]

Life is for Living: Conversations with Coward

December 24, 2016

Green’s dry delivery is in the Coward manner, crisp, almost spoken to the music, with impeccable diction. Shrubsole’s accompaniment supports him without ever getting in the way. The most famous song is probably “I Went to a Marvelous Party,” and there are five songs from Coward’s last all-original Broadway musical "Sail Away." However, there are also unfamiliar songs from "After the Ball" (“Something on a Tray”) and" Pacific 1860" (“I Saw No Shadow”), London shows that never made it to Broadway. In addition is “London Pride,” recently heard in the rediscovered post-war musical, "Hoi Polloi." Stand-alone songs include the poignant “There’s No More to Say about Love” and “I Travel Alone.” [more]

Richard Holbrook: “Always December”

December 20, 2016

“The Little Drummer Boy” was an emotionally shattering highlight of Richard Holbrook: "Always December." Mr. Holbrook’s performance of this perennial was revelatory due to the intensity he brought to it. This was performed in tandem with the equally moving “Some Children See Him.” [more]

The New York Pops: “Make the Season Bright”

December 19, 2016

The beautiful wreath and garlands hanging above the stage were festively lit up for the wonderful finale, the “Jingle Jangle Sing-Along.” All of the performers appeared and encouraged the audience to join in for convivial group singing of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” and “Jingle Bells.” [more]

Boubacar Traore

December 16, 2016

For those who could not understand the lyrics of Traore's songs – he sang in Mali's French – each song was an experience of four interconnected musical sounds: the calabash thump and click rhythms, the harmonica, the amplified acoustic guitar, and Traore's voice. The songs' lyrics – love songs, folk tales, celebrations, imprecations – added particular locations and stories to what, all together, was a full, rich exploration of human experience through the lens of the blues, of hard-won wisdom and infinite empathy for joy and anguish, for hope and despair. [more]

American Classical Orchestra: Johann Sebastian Bach

December 15, 2016

The consistency – the from-the-very-beginning wholeness – of Bach's genius was clear in this chronological arrangement. The kinds of writing techniques and subjects – the sequences and suspensions, chromaticisms and counterpoint intricacies – that Bach transformed from craft common to hundreds of composers to art unique to only a few became, over the years, Bach's vehicles for examinations of all aspects of being human. In this single program, Crawford's choice of music from almost all major liturgical seasons enabled his singers to present grief and joy, despair and hope, prayer and praise. And this they did marvelously. [more]

Da Capo Chamber Players: Milton Babbitt Centennial Da Capo

December 3, 2016

Joined by percussionist John Ferrari and conductor Jeffrey Means, the five members of the Da Capo Chamber Players – Curtis Macomber/violin, Chris Gross/cello, Patricia Spencer/flute, Meighan Stoops/clarinet and Steven Beck/piano – recently presented a concert inspired by the vibrant, important music of Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) on the occasion of the centennial of his birth. One piece was written by Babbitt himself, but all the other pieces, ranging in date from 1981 to 2013, were written by contemporary composers who at one point or another had studied with Babbitt at either Princeton or Juilliard. [more]

The Dessoff Choirs: We Remember

November 15, 2016

Performed the evening before the American election, the theme and purpose of the concert – remembrance of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., two “outstanding stewards of humanity,” in Merriweather's words, whose lives were cut short by violence – embodied for musicians and audience alike art's core purposes. Art locates, grounds and inspires us; it gives us vocabularies for understanding ourselves. In the case of the works on this program, the American music of remembrance, contained in pieces by Steven Stucky and David Hurd, reminds us that moral and political conscience transcends individual lives and is strong within us all, even when our heroes are slain; and Mozart's "Requiem" calls up the universality of hope for salvation and pleadings for peace. [more]

The New York Pops: “Concert for Courage”

November 15, 2016

Music director Steven Reineke led a perfectly respectable concert with the help of The Soldiers’ Chorus of The U.S. Army Field Band (First Lieutenant Alexandra Borza, Associate Bandmaster), a robust ensemble that proved itself song after song, including several songs in which soloists emerged to sing as in Barry Manilow’s “Let Freedom Ring” and the Toby Keith/Chuck Cannon “American Soldier.” [more]
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