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On the Transmigration of Jazz and Modernity: John Adams at the Lincoln Center Festival

John Adams conducted the Orchestra of The Juilliard School and the Royal Academy of Music in three works that showcased the expressiveness and energy of this precocious Anglo-American ensemble. I just love the upbeat communal vibe of these types of off-season concerts. The musicians were visibly reveling in the program, and savored the opportunity to follow the baton of one of the few composers who successfully embrace modern culture as source material for large-scale program music. Although the concert was billed as a ‘preview’ for yesterday’s concert in London (July 16, 2012), the event pointed to nothing but it’s own dedicated participants, imbuing the present moment with an astonishing grasp of some very dense orchestral textures.

John Adams conducting - Photo by Lambert Orkis

John Adams conducting – Photo by Lambert Orkis

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Thresholds – the healing power of music

Saturday night at St. Paul the Apostle on Manhattan’s west side, the Schola Cantorum on Hudson (SCH) brought the audience their season’s final concert, Thresholds, based on the theme of healing.  As artistic director and founder Dr. Deborah Simpkin King states in the program, this “theme was chosen in honor and commemoration of those lost, and those left suddenly and unexpectedly behind, by the terrorist attacks of ten years ago… it was our feeling that our national grieving had only barely gotten underway when war engulfed national attention, thereby short-circuiting the healing process.”  To restore this process, the ensemble performed works based on texts that highlight the transitory nature of life’s events, and of life itself, from a wide range of cultures: pre-Colombian New World, medieval Europe, and the Himalayas.

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De Profundis: The Deep End – Yale in New York closes season with music for low instruments

Bassoon, trombone, tuba, double bass, cello – in many musical textures, low voices are employed as a harmonic foundation, while a violin or soprano steals the spotlight and carries a melody.  On April 1st at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall, Yale students, alumni and faculty demonstrated what instruments with low registers can do on their own.  From the Baroque era to our own new century, composers have employed bass and tenor voices to create music ranging from jocose to somber, crafting melodies which test the limits of these instruments’ ranges, and even dispensing with melodies altogether in a profusion of experimental timbres.  It must be a great privilege for students and recent alumni to perform with such accomplished faculty as bassoonist Frank Morelli, but also the ultimate incentive for musical discipline and maturity, which were on full display, though without detracting from the festive, sometimes tongue-in-cheek atmosphere of this exclusive club of musical characters.

De Profundis: Gubaidulina's Bassoon Concerto - Photo by Dana Astmann

De Profundis: Gubaidulina’s Bassoon Concerto – Photo by Dana Astmann

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Jean-Guihen Queyras and Ensemble Resonanz, reconciling the classical and modern in Amsterdam

Jean-Guihen Queyras and Ensemble Resonanz lit up the Ij Haven last night in Amsterdam’s Muzikgebouw aan’t Ij. There was a twinkling view of the harbor through this great glass house, and the Ensemble matched this crystalline vision with a lush dynamic ebb and flow in the treatment of the four pieces programmed. With floors of naked cedarwood, red plush seats, blue light glowing through the latticed walls, and lighting and tech equipment exposed at the ceiling, the concert hall has the feel of Zankel (at Carnegie Hall, Ed.), but more spacious. Throughout the evening, the respect of the audience was astonishing; not a cough was to be heard until the general applause, so that diminuendos in the music and the space between movements enjoyed a profound and utter silence.

Jean-Guihen Queyras

Jean-Guihen Queyras - Photo by Marco Borggreve

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WANTED: a labyrinth, an abstraction, an escape from the spiritual void in the post-empire age

Three composers – each aiming to create modern music in which form has been replaced by “structures” – are featured on this Aurora CD of piano music performed by Håkon Austbø. When does one listen to atonal music? In the morning while sipping coffee over a NY Times detailing the latest fabricated Iranian “threat”? Perhaps while running on the treadmill at the gym and looking up at Anderson Cooper reporting on the latest school shooting? Maybe at the checkout line at Wholefoods with a basket full of organic beet juice? The answer to all of these is yes: as we are continuously mesmerized by the last gasps of an unraveling empire, these various incarnations of serial piano music are the medicines to free us, and deliver us back to a spiritual tabula rasa, an unpolluted universe of pure sensory potential.

Håkon Austbø  - Photo Edwin Roelofs

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Arvo Pärt Spans the Millenial Divide with Timeless Gems (Naxos)

Pärt Piano Music by Naxos features pianist Ralph van Raat interpreting the Estonian composer’s music spanning over four decades. This retrospective takes us on a stylistic journey that is truly millennial in scope, while remaining reverent in spirit.

The first of the Zwei Sonatinen, Op. 1 (1958), shares much of the language of Pärt’s elder contemporary, Shostakovich, with acrobatic melodies supported by harmonies that become only occasionally dissonant, and then only through linear voice-leading. Ralph van Raat plays the allegro passages with a digital precision characteristic of post-war piano music. He imbues the largo passages, though, with a touching impressionistic quality. The second sonatina (1959) is quite another animal, with a jazzy improvisatory feel, recalling the dizzying flights of Oscar Peterson.

Arvo Pärt - Photograph by K. Kikkas

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