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Ruben & Clay’s Christmas Show

December 12, 2018

Except for “Santa Baby” and “The Little Drummer Boy,” virtually every Christmas song in existence is wonderfully performed during the pleasant holiday extravaganza, Ruben & Clay's Christmas Show (aka Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show).  Even the now controversial "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is heard though revised lyrics. [more]

Experiments in Opera: Modularias

December 7, 2018

Though vastly different from each other, all four operas dealt either directly or indirectly with time, with the ways in which the past -- personal, historical, mythic -- influences the present. Each work, though short, provided a compelling immersion in a very particular and individual moment. [more]

Step into the Sun

December 2, 2018

Pink’s “Perfect” was the exhilarating finale of singer Christopher Caswell’s vivacious cabaret act, "Step into the Sun." Fourteen eclectic, mostly unconventional numbers were performed in 75 easygoing minutes with depth, humor and virtuosity. Interspersed with the musical portions was his expertly crafted biographical patter delivered with skillful comic timing and emotional resonance.  It all added up to an entertaining theatrical self-portrait. [more]

The New York Pops – Song and Dance:  The Best of Broadway

November 22, 2018

The New York Theatre Ballet performed the lovely, all-female, “Come to Me, Bend to Me” from that musical, a sweet look at pre-wedding preparations in the ancient village of Brigadoon.  That troupe began with two excerpts from de Mille’s groundbreaking “Dream Ballet” from "Oklahoma!" and her “Hornpipe” from another Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, "Carousel" (1945), its fishermen bouncing about while on the hunt for female companionship. [more]

Dada at the Movies: Guy Livingston, piano

November 12, 2018

The whole evening was an experience of two interconnected worlds. The first was the historical world of Dadaism, exhibited in music, words and visual images. The second was Livingston’s dexterous and inspiring explication of that first world’s coherence. For both experts in Dadaism and newcomers to that important moment between the two world wars, Livingston’s presentation captured the essence of Dadaist artists’ experiments and assertions. [more]

The Yeomen of the Guard

October 30, 2018

As for cast standouts, Greenwood excelled both musically and dramatically. His ringing, expressive vocals and crisp diction made him an audience favorite. And he created an effective character shift when the assertive and seemingly self-adoring Fairfax shaves his beard to become a rather diffident novice yeoman. Another notable turn came from David Auxier as the austere, thoughtful Sir Richard Cholmondeley, the Tower lieutenant. (Auxier also served as choreographer, providing a few athletic dance moves of the sort not always seen in Gilbert & Sullivan productions.) In terms of musicality, Benke’s Phoebe had a warm, winning, almost musical-theater sound, while Watson Chase prompted goose bumps with her vibrant top notes. The production’s orchestra sounded rich and full from overture to Act II finale. [more]

Aynur, with special guest Kinan Azmeh (September 30, 2018)

October 14, 2018

Each song – some traditional folk ballads and some national calls to history and identity – became, in Aynur’s hands, an individual work of art, intricately structured and elegantly paced. Aynur combined subtle artistry with intimate, fresh connection to both her colleague musicians and her audience. Singing in Kurdish and seamlessly incorporating Western contemporary motifs, Aynur conveyed accounts of human events – hope and fear, joy and grief, wisdom, innocence, experiment and embrace – that were clear and compelling, even for audience members who couldn’t understand her words. [more]

The Crossing: Of Arms and the Man

October 14, 2018

Nally’s extensive program notes provided insights on the program, whose title comes from the opening line of Virgil’s "Aeneid," “Arma virumque cano” … “I sing of arms and the man.” Nally juxtaposes the Roman epic with Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s 1976 “call to poets” and notes the presence of rage as a human impulse that links Aeneas’ war stories with the contemporary United States. Various choral pieces in the program by contemporary composers as diverse as David Lang, Gabriel Jackson, Suzanne Giraud and Sebastian Currier addressed themes such as grief, awe, reverence, hope and anger. The pieces were typically a cappella, but three marvelous cellists – Alexander Hersh, Arlen Hlusko and Thomas Mesa – provided linking music between works. [more]

Because I Could Not Stop: An Encounter with Emily Dickinson

September 28, 2018

Stranger still is the choice of Angelica Page to play Dickinson who looks rather too healthy to be the famously thin and sallow-faced writer known from the one famous photograph. She makes Dickinson sarcastic, arrogant, cynical, self-important and haughty which goes against the voice of the woman in the poems. At times she has been given arty stage directions like posing by a mantelpiece or sleeping on the ground next to what we assume is alongside of her father’s grave. [more]

Richard Holbrook: It’s Time for a Love Song: The Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner

September 27, 2018

Holbrook’s enduring youthful presence, twinkling charm and commanding vocal authority make him the ideal vessel to channel Lerner’s monumental achievements. Through his concisely informative commentary that is perfectly interlaced with 25 songs, we learn Lerner’s biographical essence. Wit, Harvard, Broadway, Hollywood, eight marriages, triumphs, flops and death at the age of 67 in 1986 are all crisply detailed during 80 fast-paced minutes.  The presentation is a model of the tributary concert with its wide-ranging array of rarities, never before heard selections in addition to classics. The dramatic lighting and polished sound design coordinated by Rocky Noel added to the show’s depth. [more]

New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival 2018: Inspirations and Purposes

August 31, 2018

The Festival’s sole lecture-presentation proved useful in revealing how one composer viewed the intersections of science and art in his own composing: trumpeter Skye van Duuren, now a trumpeter and PhD candidate in Composition in the College-Conservatory at the University of Cincinnati spoke on “Bridging Worlds: Creating Fixed Media Microtonal Music with Acoustic Instruments” and then presented the third movement of his Manifestations. Emphasizing the development of his “microtonal language … with traditional chromatic scale as a baseline … and gradations of 5 cents in octaves that each have 240 ‘notes,’ van Duuren discussed the use of Melodyne software to increase the microtones of acoustic instruments. [more]

New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival 2018: Excellence

August 31, 2018

In the very first concert, one of the finest – and also longest – pieces of the Festival was Marie-Helene Bernard’s BOA Sr (1.5, i.e. Concert 1, piece 5). In 2010, Bernard read the obituary of an old woman living in the Andaman Archipelago in the Bay of Bengal; she was the last person alive to speak the Bo language, and at the end of her life, with no one left to talk to, she spoke to the birds. This fixed media requiem piece uses fragments of an anthropologist’s recordings of the old woman’s voice with electronic musical sounds. From its beginning, this work evokes the past by preserving the voices of its ghosts; humanness is stretched out into something cosmically airy. It is a mysterious and gorgeous work, a modern anthropological moment turned into a myth of simultaneous loss and eternity. [more]

New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival 2018: Overview

August 31, 2018

This year, the Festival site was the Abrons Arts Center; the three performance venues in the facility – the Experimental Theater, the  Playhouse and the Underground Theater – were all used. In the spacious Center, performers, composers and audience socialized and exchanged ideas and personal news throughout the week. Though the Festival composers came from many countries all over the world, the “community” of electroacoustic music is quite small; performers often know each other and each others’colleagues and friends, knowledgeable audiences and strong supporters … an exceptionally eclectic and vibrant group, all interested in music that both affirms and expands the core questions about music that composers, performers and listeners have been exploring for centuries. [more]

International Contemporary Ensemble: “Grand Pianola Music”

August 24, 2018

After intermission, German-born and now San Francisco based conductor Christian Reif led the International Contemporary Ensemble together with Quince Vocal Ensemble (Amanda DeBoer Bartlett/soprano, Liz Pearse/soprano and Kayleigh Butcher/mezzo-soprano – in a first-rate performance of John Adams’ 1982 "Grand Pianola Music."  This expansive, generously accessible and affirming work was conducted with comprehensive control and artistic integrity by Reif; the organic, clean connection between the conductor and the musicians elicited rich feeling and nuance from Adams’ music. [more]

C4: The Choral Composer/Conductor Collective Presents “Water Music”

June 22, 2018

One special feature of this concert was also a mark of C4’s maturity and clout as a musical organization with a well-deserved reputation for excellence: they sponsor the IGNITE commissioning competition. In the 2017-2018 season, C4 received over 300 submissions; from these, 20 finalists were chosen, and from these, three winners were chosen. C4 member Martha Sullivan wrote about the selection process in the typically informative program notes. “Tonight, after careful rehearsal, we share the winners … They showed us works they had already created, and we responded by asking each composer to create something new, something that would be born here and now, with C4 and you are privileged to witness this birth.” [more]

All I Want Is One Night

June 16, 2018

Part of 59E59’s Brits Off-Broadway 2018 festival, Jessica Walker’s "All I Want is One Night" takes place in an odd combination of cabaret and antique shop.  Theater B in the 59E59 Theaters complex has been done over as an intimate café with moody lighting by Kate Ashton and extraordinary period perfect costumes (uncredited).  It is 1980 in Haut de Cagnes and Suzy Solidor (Walker) in her dotage is about to be painted by Lindstrom (Alexandra Mathie who plays multiple characters in Solidor’s life quite convincingly) and is being cared for by a much younger lady, Giselle (Rachel Austin who also plays Daisy, later in the play). [more]

Tosca Opdam

June 15, 2018

Opdam’s de Raaff playing, in contrast, was marvelous. The composer took his inspiration from Willem de Kooning’s 1977 painting, "North Atlantic Light." De Raaff and Opdam both captured the drama and movement of both white spaces and high-energy brush strokes in de Kooning’s painting. The inclusion of a tossed-about boat in the center of the painting evokes a sense of floating in simultaneous, coexisting, sea-and-sky pairings; in the middle of de Raaff’s 14-minute piece, a gentle central section of quasi-contemplative calm summoned up the feel of the boat’s suspension. [more]

92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series: “Frank Loesser: Lyricist”

June 7, 2018

Artistic director, writer, arranger and host David Loud was at lectern off to the side onstage and passionately delivered his erudite and informative commentary at length. Mr. Loud grew up with musical theater aficionado parents and he was raised with devotion to the form and he fondly reminisced about them. His mother’s favorite show was "Where's Charley?" and his father’s was "Guys and Dolls." [more]

Tchaikovsky: None but the Lonely Heart

June 4, 2018

The letters alternate with the musical portions played by Ji on piano, Ari Evan on cello and Stephanie Zyzak on violin in various combinations which are beautiful but it is never clear in what way the selections relate to Madame von Meck except for the Piano Trio in A minor, op. 50, which Tchaikovsky reveals at the beginning of the second act that he is writing for her. It is not stated whether the two excerpts from The Nutcracker, for violin and piano, and for solo piano were created for her. [more]

Brokeback Mountain

June 3, 2018

While "Brokeback Mountain" impresses in its sincerity, it does not move which is a serious problem considering the romantic and tragic plot. Director Jacopo Spirei’s cast is in fine form as singers though the music and its libretto fail to fulfill this story’s potential. Daniel Okulitch and Glenn Seven Allen as the two doomed lovers make indelible impressions of men in a repressed society which does not allow them freedom of expression - even though they are not given the kind of music that can move the heart to tears. Brokeback Mountain which is fine as far as it goes offers the same disappointment of many new modern operas in that its writing falls short of its high-reaching intentions. [more]

C4: The Choral Composer/Conductor Collective presents New Music with NY Composers Circle

May 31, 2018

The nine pieces on this program differed tremendously from each other in style, tone and effect. However, two important qualities unified all the performances. First, the composers all caused their music to emerge from their chosen texts: they did not impose sound arbitrarily unto the words. The organic coherence of word and musical sound resulted from both the composers’ innate gifts and their consummate skill. Competent choral composition is difficult; really successful choral compositions are very rare. Second, the music was superbly performed: not merely does C4 sing well, but because the C4 singers are all themselves composers, they inhabit each work’s intentions with particularly keen intelligence. [more]

Tanya Tagaq (World Music Institute)

May 29, 2018

Tagaq makes music with her whole body: it is an act as fundamental as consuming, excreting, orgasm and birthing. She can make any sound – whisper and howl, caress, growl and grunt – and use it to summon, condemn, invoke or bless. Tagaq’s fellow musicians stretch out their own instruments and created sounds to meet hers in developing a constantly changing, expanding music-world. [more]

Repast Baroque Ensemble: Bohemian Fantasy

May 16, 2018

The program opened and closed with pieces for all five musicians together. Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704) and Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (1620/23-1680) both made the quartet of stringed instruments and the harpsichord into a coherent unit, even as the harpsichord is so much less loud. It is as though the harpsichord provides a ground on which the string instruments provide alternately close and extended stitched lines. [more]

Master-Pieces, A Chamber Opera

May 7, 2018

However, it’s not what we normally think of as an opera. And the performance, characterized by both moving strengths and disconcerting weaknesses, unfolded, awkwardly and interestingly … and then, at the end, quite powerfully … as a not-opera. Typically, operas’ drama lies in their plots; as audiences, when we’re moved, it’s because we’ve witnessed something dramatic. But in this performance of Kotik’s "Master-Pieces," the dynamic and moving intensity of the work’s conclusion lay in the fact that the work’s fundamental plotlessness – the libretto is essentially a series of poetic extractions from a 1936 lecture on aesthetics, ontology and existentialism – was transformed into a very personal drama in which the audience cannot avoid a shift from witness to participation. [more]

If Not Now …? Chamber Music of Timothy Brown

May 6, 2018

Brown called his concert, "If Not Now …?" implying, for himself and us, then, when? Removed by more than a decade from the kinds of composing in which he’s now typically engaged, the pieces presented in this concert were fondly remembered by some members of the audience – Brown’s friends and colleagues of long standing – and greeted with delight by other listeners who’d never heard them before. Whether or not Brown returns to composing either non-choral chamber music or more lengthy pieces such as those performed in this concert, the evening was a happy occasion to hear music that’s been unheard for many years. [more]

Composer Portraits Series: Frederic Rzewski

April 30, 2018

As a composer, Rzewski is no doubt best known for his astonishing 1975 piano work, "The People United Will Never Be Defeated." It will take another century of listening and assessment to know for sure whether comparisons made between "The People United" on the one hand and Bach’s "Goldberg Variations" and Beethoven’s "Diabelli Variations" on the other will maintain their legitimacy. This Composer Portrait concert won’t solve the historical piano quandary: this evening excluded piano music, focusing instead on two string quartets, the first dating from the composer’s adolescence and the second from just this year. But this concert did provide an opportunity to consider important themes in Rzewski’s more than sixty years of music making. [more]

Da Capo Chamber Players: Celebrating Charles Wuorinen’s 80th Year

April 19, 2018

The Da Capo Chamber Players’ recent concert at Merkin Concert Hall, billed as a celebration for composer Charles Wuorinen’s eightieth year, was an intimate, unexpectedly informal event. The five-member Da Capo group was joined by one additional musician. The small audience consisted primarily of Da Capo players’ friends, Wuorinen’s friends, colleague musicians and composers, and friends of friends; the evening had a low-keyed New York City feel to it, a sense of purposeful and convivial gathering for the happy consideration and presentation of one remarkable composer’s music. [more]

Bob O’Hare: Unfinished Business …a love story

April 18, 2018

The white-haired O’Hare’s appealing tenor voice with its regional cadences is expressive. His instrument is in the realm of a tuneful storyteller who mines laughs and emotions with vocal flourishes and marvelous phrasing.  His lack of mobility becomes a facet of his mature everyman persona as he conveys the aura of a wounded though happy warrior ready for another round. [more]

The National Chorale: Angela Rice’s “Thy Will Be Done”

April 9, 2018

"Thy Will Be Done" retains many of the core features of an oratorio, especially in its use of alternating solo arias and choruses to develop the basic story and in its development of choral music to reflect plot, universal human response, prayer and praise. In addition, as a twenty-first century American piece, "Thy Will Be Done" benefits from some vocal strategies imported from operetta and musicals. Ultimately, however, no matter what musical genre the work derives its core ancestry from, its most important feature is its generous accessibility. [more]

Symphonie Fantastique

April 8, 2018

Twist’s “Creator’s Note” in the program alludes to Wassily Kandinsky’s musical metaphorical paintings and Twist’s youthful attraction to the possibility of using abstract puppetry in combination with music.  The five-part Symphonie, subtitled “Episode in the life of an Artist,” called to him for its color and storyline which vaguely guide his creation although only the changing moods, rhythms and colors of the score seem be the inspiration for the series of moving abstract images that were mostly treats for the eyes, if not the mind—seductive, clever, dreamy, sensually involving, but more a vacation for conscious thought than an intellectual challenge. [more]

C4: Choral Composer/Conductor Collective: Devotion

April 7, 2018

The evening’s works were loosely organized around the theme of devotion, a big conceptual basket into which works about reverence, affection, awe and loves of all sorts could deftly and effectively be fit. Although the concert’s texts ranged from ancient to contemporary, from sacred to profane, from unknown to known authorship, the considered objects of affection included peace, nature, mystery, creativity, divinity – all love’s siblings – and love itself. [more]
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