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With Strings Attached: San Francisco Choral Artists & The Alexander String Quartet

foghorn classics logoThis album is the creative fruit of a unique Bay Area collaboration between San Francisco Choral Artists (Magen Solomon, Artistic Director) and The Alexander String Quartet. My own recent experience with a like-sized chamber choir (24 voices) and string quartet acquainted me with the expressive possibilities of this intimate ensemble. Especially in the resonance of a church (in this album’s case, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Belvedere, CA), the strings are not overwhelmed by the choir, but rather find their own space to complement the sometimes dense vocal texture.

The first sound we hear on this album is the wizened voice of Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti reciting from his “Challenges to Young Poets”:

Birds-song is not made by machine.
Give your poem wings to fly to the treetops.

Alexander String Quartet

Alexander String Quartet

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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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