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Music

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]

The Saint Thomas Choir of Men & Boys: Haydn’s The Creation

November 14, 2016

From the very first opening bars of the "Chaos" overture, Hyde set the tone for the evening: conducting with gentlemanly authoritativeness, Hyde led the Orchestra of St. Luke's – who were all in exceptionally fine form – in a performance of expansive energy and optimism. Theologically, God's working material for his creation may have been unfathomably chaotic and formless, but in this particular artistic account of creation, Haydn's description of chaos is so informed by elegance, wit and bravura that the primordial chaos seems to have been imbued with goodness. [more]

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November 14, 2016

Gordon created the role of Gertrude Stein with mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe in mind. Blythe’s monumental presence, thanks to a towering, charismatic, forceful voice, is meant to arrest and command attention. Blythe captures Stein’s complicated personality – her genius, her stalwartness, her humor and her occasional, brutal judgments about the artistic quality of her bon mots. [more]

Lavender Songs: A Queer Weimar Berlin Cabaret

November 6, 2016

"Lavender Songs: A Queer Cabaret in Weimar Berlin" has the mature and slim Mr. Lawrence in drag virtually for the entire length of the performance. In a dirty-blonde curled wig, his face garishly made up, twirling a red and purple boa, and wearing a sleeveless sequined black dress, Lawrence is like an Otto Dix painting come to life. [more]

John Zorn: Composer Portraits

November 3, 2016

In the first concert of the 2016-2017 Composer Portraits season at Columbia University School of the Arts' Miller Theatre, current music of American composer John Zorn (b. 1953), including five premieres, was presented and enthusiastically received. More accurately: Zorn's music-making – his understanding of individual composing and collegial collaborating as interconnected projects – was exuberantly celebrated. [more]

Cox and Box & Trial by Jury

October 31, 2016

Introducing what he dubbed a pair of “Comedies of Crime,” NYGASP’s artistic director Albert Bergeret offered what he said was a first of a new series for the company: intimate performances of works by Sir Arthur Sullivan in the jewel box Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater performed to one piano, rather than to the usual full orchestra. In addition, the cast of "Trial by Jury" was comprised of the NYGASP’s Wand’ring Minstrels, a quintet of singers made up from the company, rather than using the full chorus, while the production of "Cox and Box" featured a newly edited version by singer/director David Macaluso. The new format for these delightfully entertaining productions had their advantages and disadvantages. [more]

The New York Pops: The Musical World of Lerner and Loewe

October 18, 2016

Music Director/Conductor Steven Reineke chose three fine singers, Colin Donnell, Laura Osnes and Nathan Gunn, to animate the Lerner and Loewe songbook, along with the terrific choir, Essential Voices USA (Judith Clurman, Music Director). They, plus the lusty sounding New York Pops, brought songs from "Camelot," "Paint Your Wagon," "Gigi," "Brigadoon" and, the biggest hit, "My Fair Lady" to life. [more]

New York Pops Underground (Feinstein’s/54 Below)

September 25, 2016

Hosted by the always charming Steven Reineke, the fundraising event, New York Pops Underground, featured two terrific Broadway stars, Montego Glover and Tony Yazbeck, whose performances clearly loosened the purse strings of a standing-room-only Feinstein’s/54 Below crowd. [more]

Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble: Verdi’s La Traviata & Chansons de Baudelaire

September 19, 2016

The performance of Verdi's "La Traviata" featuring Bonnie Frauenthal as Violetta and Jose Heredia as Alfredo Germont was wonderful in many ways. Frauenthal sang and acted her complex role compellingly: she is a confident singer, capable of both womanly sturdiness and subtle virtuosity, and she inhabited the dense narrative of Violetta's story credibly and compellingly. Heredia's youthful and earnest Alfredo was also convincing; his deep love of Violetta and grief at her death were poignantly believable. Interestingly, as an actor, Heredia stuck so literally to the movement of Alfredo's character in Piave's libretto that Alfredo's subservience to his father was maddening: the son's filial weakness undercut the manliness of his love for Violetta. Both Frauenthal and Heredia sang with integrity; they held nothing back from full commitment to either their roles or their audience. [more]

Aleko & Pagliacci (New York City Opera)

September 12, 2016

While the New York City Opera’s staging of "Aleko" could not be called a major rediscovery, it was an admirable attempt to offer a non-standard repertory work that had probably not been seen by any of its New York audience. The real surprise was the thrilling and commanding performance of "Pagliacci" which bodes well for NYCO’s future life and health at Lincoln Center. In addition, the New York City Opera Chorus, under the direction of William Hobbs, gave persuasive performances in both operas, another feather in the City Opera’s cap. [more]

PRISM Quartet Color Theory: Sō Percussion and PARTCH

July 7, 2016

Over the last several years, PRISM and two colleague chamber groups, Sō Percussion on the one hand and PARTCH on the other, have been engaged in the “Color Theory” project, and presented two separate concerts. Taking as their model early modern visual artists' examination of pigment mixes through the insights of Isaac Newton's discovery of color theory and prisms, the four saxophonists and composers with whom they collaborate have been using “color theory as a framework to explore the spectra that make up instrumental sound.” The results were exhilarating. [more]

Florencia en el Amazonas

June 29, 2016

This production had two brilliant design/directoral conceits that worked hand in glove with the musical elements to tell the story. The first involved twelve dancers from Ballet Hispanico’s BHdos all in white body suits from head to toe, undulating virtually continuously down stage in front of the ship, representing the river and its secrets. With indefatigably choreographed by Nicholas Villeneuve and breathtakingly lit by Barry Steele, they, indeed, became a living part of the scenery, even interacting with the characters on the ship. [more]

C4: Choral Composer/Conductor Collective: Organic – New Works for Choir and Organ

June 28, 2016

C4 has always been driven by certain core values and goals; the particular repertoire “cornerstones” being emphasized this season, as indicated in the concert's program notes, were important but infrequently performed works, beauty, and the nurturing of new composers' voices. This concert contained all these features in both recent works and four premieres. [more]

SONOS Chamber Orchestra (May 24, 2016)

June 6, 2016

In the program notes and in informal remarks to the audience, Ochsner encouraged the audience to listen to all the works as music inspired by nature; this theme proved to be a useful organizing device for the concert. It was both literal – stars, storms, forest transformations and water events – and allusive: the vocabulary of nature works as well for human psychology as for meteorology. The size and composition of the 36-member chamber orchestra made both intimacy and grandeur possible. [more]
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