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Caramoor Summer Music Festival Kicks Off 70th Anniversary Season

by Robert Leeper

Peter Oundjian at the Venetian Theater
Peter Oundjian and The Orchestra of St. Luke's at the Venetian Theater

A standard orchestra program pairs a short piece by a contemporary composer with a large scale Romantic symphony. Often, the short piece is a dense tone poem or an academic exploration. But Christopher Theofanidis’s Making Up for Lost Time, which opened last Saturday's season-opening program at Caramoor, the bucolic Westchester estate, went for more pleasant summertime fare.

Theofanidis’s piece was the first of three world premieres this summer at Caramoor, which is celebrating their 70th anniversary season. Though not a virtuosic showpiece, there were impressive subtle rhythmic shifts and luminous passages performed by the Orchestra of St .Luke’s, who are themselves celebrating their 40th Anniversary season. Perhaps aware of his place on the program, Theofandis steered clear of epic themes and gestures. Instead, his piece looked inward, examining how time is perceived within a piece of music: how a listener hears it, and how that sense of time can be manipulated.

The work featured cascading arpeggios and a genial sparkle in the high hat, both of which become rhythmically displaced, leaving the audience pleasantly disoriented. This gave way to a pastoral second movement that seemed to draw heavily on the widely spaced chords and fiddle-inspired dance music of Aaron Copland. 

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"Joan of Arc at the Stake" at New York Philharmonic

by Steven Pisano

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Photo by Chris Lee.

Oratorios are a tricky business. On the one hand, it can seem unsettling for a symphony orchestra to present an oratorio, which has a great deal of purely spoken dialogue not accompanied by music. And yet, because the drama is usually more suggestive than explicit, there is often not enough “action” for an opera company to produce it without it seeming skimpily staged. (Peter Sellars' St. Matthew Passion with the Berlin Phil was a rare exception to the rule.)

The New York Philharmonic’s final production of the season is Swiss composer Arthur Honegger’s 1930s oratorio, Joan of Arc at the Stake (Jeanne d'Arc au Bûcher). This week's four performances have all been sold out for some time, presumably thanks to the presence of Academy Award-winning actor Marion Cotillard in the title role. Cotillard is spellbinding as Joan, the young “Maid of Orleans” who led France to victory in an important battle of the Hundred Years’ War, only to be captured and burned alive at the stake. Watching Cotillard's performance on Wednesday, I knew I was in the presence of something very special.

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Highline Chamber Ensemble at SubCulture

by Nick Stubblefield

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Singer Karen Marie with the Highline Chamber Ensemble 

The Highline Chamber Ensemble, which typically performs in lofts, bars, and studios throughout NYC, played to a packed SubCulture on Tuesday with a dynamite show that crossed genres from tango, to musicals, to jazz standards. In the process, they made me throw away all of my preconceptions of what a chamber music concert is supposed to be. 

The group brands themselves a "conductorless orchestra," with a full string section, piano, and drum kit. They opened with a lush, jazzy mashup of the standard "Nature Boy" with RJD2's "A Beautiful Mine," better known as the noir-ish trip-hop theme from the TV show "Mad Men." It was a strikingly effective blend, both harmonically and in terms of mood. It was performed by Karen Marie, a powerful songstress with major stage presence and vocal qualities reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald. Marie also fronted the group for a lush arrangement of Billie Holiday's "Crazy He Calls Me." 

All of the ensemble members are classically-trained, which became apparent in Astor Piazzolla's "Four Seasons of Buenos Aires." The work, inspired by Vivaldi's Four Seasons, incorporates elements of the tango; the ensemble played with both great precision and furious energy. Violinists Bela Horvath and David Lisker alternated as featured soloists, each delivering confident and awe-inspiring performances. 

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New York Philharmonic's Free Memorial Day Concert at St. John the Divine

New York Philharmonic, St. John Divine

I will never forget the first time I attended the New York Philharmonic's annual free Memorial Day Concert at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It was 2001, and Kurt Masur - who began the tradition in 1992 as a gift to the people of New York - led the Phil in Sofia Gubaidulina's dark and eerie Two Paths (1998), featuring NY Phil violists Cynthia Phelps and Rebecca Young. That was followed by the most astonishing performance of Bruckner's 4th symphony that I have ever heard, with Bruckner's grand crescendos echoing throughout the imposing, inspiring interior.

It took me 14 years, but I finally returned to the Cathedral last night for the free Memorial Day concert, the 24th annual. Music Director Alan Gilbert led the Phil in an intense, almost severe program that included Beethoven's Egmont Overture and Shostakovich's 10th Symphony: a work of "concentrated fury" which he wrote in the wake of Stalin's death in 1953. Sitting relatively close to the stage, it was difficult to appreciate the full grandeur of the Cathedral's interior, but the sound was much less muddy than the last time, when I sat towards the back. The Phil, who've recently returned from a three week European tour, sounded sharp and on their game.

Last night's concert marked the unofficial kickoff of the Phil's summer season, which moves outdoors in a couple of weeks with the 50th(!) annual free Parks Concerts in all five boroughs. More info on the Phil's website

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