Preview: Francesca Khalifa and Levi Vutipadadorn on Classical Thursdays

by Nick Stubblefield

Classical thursdays

A church in Bedford-Stuyvesant might not seem like the first place you'd expect to hear classical music, but that's where you can find the Brooklyn Center for the Arts, home to the Classical Thursdays concert series that kicks off its second season tonight with a pair of Mozart Concertos featuring string players from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. According to co-founders (and piano soloists) Francesca Khalifa and Levi Vutipadadorn, Classical Thursdays serves the Bed-Stuy community at large with low ($7) ticket prices and an intimate, welcoming space that encourages locals to congregate and interact with each other, both through the music and at a reception following each concert.

"We aim to provide an empowering and safe space where people of all ages, backgrounds, and socioeconomic status can come together," says Khalifa. "We believe that classical music is a universal endowment, and we aim to pass the care and passion for it to a community that is going through this delicate transformation process."

Khalifa and Vutipadadorn say that the community has responded positively to to the series. 

"While walking through the neighborhood and spreading the word about Classical Thursdays, we've had countless interactions with members of the community who are both shocked and excited to hear that there's classical music being offered in Bed-Stuy. Many tell us they've spent their entire lives in this area, and are greatly appreciative of our efforts. There's one instance in particular that sticks out, where a woman said to us, 'I know what you're trying to do here and our community desperately needs this, you're doing a great thing and we thank you!'"

Tonight's concert is at the Brooklyn Center for the Arts, located at 28 Madison Street in Bed-Stuy. Doors at 7p, concert at 7.30. Tickets available at the door or online. More info below.

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"Elizabeth Cree" at Opera Philadelphia

by Steven Pisano


"Elizabeth Cree" at Opera Philadelphia(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

PHILADELPHIA, PA - "Elizabeth Cree," the new chamber opera by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell playing through Saturday at Opera Philadelphia, is the rare opera that feels way too short. I wanted it to fill the stage for at least an hour longer. Everything about this production is top-rate.

Based upon the lurid Peter Ackroyd novel, The Trial of Elizabeth Cree, the story revolves around the trial of a fictional music hall performer for the murder of her husband, John Cree (Troy Cook), a playwright and critic. When John first introduces himself - as a critic - to Elizabeth one night following a performance, she immediately tells him, "I forgive you."

In the murky darkness of the opening scene, we see a shrouded body twisting on a noose in the rafters, so we know how Elizabeth's story will end. But there are lots of other murders too, and who committed them - or why - is less clear.

Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack is the powerhouse lead. Whether singing an aria of her own or just standing there silently while others sing to her, Mack commands attention in a performance that is likely to lead to larger stages. (Indeed, it already has.) Alternately dressed as an ingenue, as a man who prowls London in the night, or as a proper Victorian wife in a splendid home with servants, Mack handles all the different aspects of the mercurial Elizabeth with complete mastery.

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Kendrick Scott Oracle Plays The Jazz Standard

by Nick Stubblefield


Kendrick Scott Oracle played to an intimate but enthusiastic crowd at the Jazz Standard last Wednesday. Scott, a well-known drummer from various outfits around NYC, shined brightest at the helm of his own group as he dazzled with originals and covers at a show peppered with poignancy.

The night commenced with a sincere, unhurried moment of tenderness when Scott dedicated the group's first tune, “Home,” to his native Houston, the Texas city ravaged by Hurricane Harvey only days before. The warm resonance from the upright bass, the breath of the saxophone, the crisp, twinkling highs on the piano, and the smooth phrasing of the jazz guitar enveloped the audience in a sonic hug. These clearly weren't guys who'd met that evening shedding scales at your local jazz jam – these were guys who had meticulously crafted the sound they wanted right from the group's inception. From a listener's perspective, that's tremendously rewarding. The opener was filled with modern, highly-accessible harmonies. While lead melodic instruments held long notes, Scott kept an insistent momentum, delicate but with confident rhythmic patterns underneath.

Up next, a fast swing piece composed by trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis. It was fun, filled to the brim with percussive punctuation, and a showcase for the group's versatility.  It was also the only straight-ahead swing tune of the night. That gave way to “Apollo,” a rich and lush composition in the group's signature style – clear, simple melodies atop frenetic rhythmic undercurrents.

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Birds and Music with Pierre-Laurent Aimard at Tanglewood

Pierre-Laurent Aimard - Tanglewood at Mass Audubon Pleasant Valley - Feast of Music Jul 27  2017 Jul 27  2017  7-07 AM Jul 27  2017  7-010LENOX, MA - In the summer of 1949, Aaron Copland invited Olivier Messiaen, who at that time was little-known in the U.S., to be a composer-in-residence at Tanglewood, which was just then entering its second decade. During his time in the Berkshires, Messiaen composed, taught the TMC fellows, and worked with Leonard Bernstein on preparations for the premiere of his Turangalîla-Symphonie later that fall. (Lenny's holding the score in this pic, with Messiaen looking on a bit nervously from the left.) Messiaen would return to Tanglewood a second time more than a quarter-century later for another performance of Turangalila, this time with Seiji Ozawa conducting.

Beyond music, it isn't clear what Messiaen did in the Berkshires, though it's likely he spent a fair amount of time watching and listening to birds, as was his lifelong habit. For Messiaen, birds represented a form of purity in music, which at the time was at risk of losing its soul at the hands of total serialism - of which Messiaen himself was an early proponent. It was around that same time that Messiaen had begun to transcribe birdsong and incorporate it into his music, capturing its chirping rhythms and often-brusque timbre more precisely than anyone before him.

Last year, in his final season as artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival, the multi-faceted pianist and educator Pierre-Laurent Aimard designed a unique program in which he performed Messiaen's mammoth Catalogue d'oiseaux (Catalogue of the Birds, 1958) over the course of an entire day, in locations both indoors and out. For Aimard, who was a friend and student of Messiaen's for more than 20 years, this was more than a mere stunt: each of the thirteen pieces, some lasting nearly half-an-hour, were written to capture a bird and its landscape at specific times of the day. 

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