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White Light Festival: Jeremy Denk at Alice Tully Hall


White Light Festival Jeremy Denk-001In an age when the concert recital feels a bit like a quaint relic of the past, how can musicians grab our attention? Some opt for marathon performances, such as Paul Jacobs' 18 hour survey of Bach's complete organ music, or Konstantin Lifschitz's 2007 performance of both books of The Well Tempered Clavier (7 hours, including a 2 hour dinner break.) Others, such as pianist Pierre Laurent-Aimard, juxtapose classical works with modern ones. (Haydn and Stockhausen, anyone?) Still, no matter how well-meaning the performers, such performances can come off as little more than mere stunts. 

Earlier this year, the thoughtful and prodigiously talented pianist Jeremy Denk was inspired to assemble a new recital program, "From Medieval to Modern," in which he attempts to survey the entire canon of western music in a single evening. Speaking from the stage Wednesday night at Alice Tully Hall, where he closed out the seventh edition of the White Light Festival, Denk emphasized that his intention wasn't to deliver a lecture, but to tell a story - albeit one with unexpected resonance caused by recent current events.

"I didn't realize how sobering a recital about history would be at this very moment," he said, to strained laughter.

Denk's program, which lasted about 80 minutes, was as peculiar for what it included (transcriptions of medieval works by Guillaume Du Fay, Jean de Ockeghem, as for what it didn't (Schubert, Ravel, Rachmaninoff). But, it did largely succeed at it's central goal of depicting the full arc of musical composition over the past 700 years, in ways that were both affirming and revelatory. It was unlike anything I've ever experienced.

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Classical Thursdays Presents Pianist Francesca Khalifa

by Nick Stubblefield


Classical Thursdays, a new concert series hosted in Bedford-Stuyvesant, presented its penultimate show of the year last week with pianist Francesca Khalifa, who performed a well-rounded program of Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, and Debussy to an enthusiastic crowd at the Brooklyn Center for the Arts. The nine-part series features skilled artists from around the world in various chamber configurations, nearly all featuring the piano. Khalifa, a recent winner of the Ferrara International Piano Festival, also serves as the Artistic Director for the Classical Thursdays series.

A trio of pieces from J.S. Bach started the night. The sonatina from Actus Tragicus and Sheep may safely graze from the Cantata No. 208 established Khalifa's elegant touch and thoughtful restraint, while the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor offered something more meaty: a piece rich in dense textures and dissonances. There's little bombast in any of Bach's music -- they often satisfy at the cerebral level with subtle details, so it's all the more vital that the pianist show such attention to those details. 

The first half of the program closed with Beethoven's Sonata in E Major, Op. 109. In typical Beethoven fashion, the work meanders through intense mood swings, starting melodically and calm before reaching sad and angry crescendos. Playing Beethoven can feel at times like taming a wild beast, but Khalifa had fun with it, playing confidently. 

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Preview: Simon Rattle's Final New York Concert with the Berlin Philharmonic

Simon Rattle Berlin Philharmonic Carnegie HallFor music lovers, one of the supreme privileges of living in New York has been the near-annual visits of Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic over the past decade, during which they've wowed us with their stunning artistry in cycles of symphonies by Brahms, Schumann and Beethoven, as well as an impressive string of theatrical presentations. That journey comes to a close tonight at Carnegie Hall, when Rattle - who's had quite the Autumn in New York - leads the Berliners one final time as their music director in a program that pairs works from the Second Viennese School with Brahms' 2nd symphony. In a week that has left many New Yorkers worried for the future, this should be a genuine cause for celebration.

There are a scant few tickets left available, or tune in to WQXR tonight at 8pm for a live broadcast of the concert.  

PUBLIQuartet at the Met Cloisters

by Hayley Douglas


(Photo by The Juilliard School)

Last Saturday was a perfect fall day to visit The Met's Cloisters, situated within Fort Tryon Park on the northern end of Manhattan.  A beautiful walk above the Hudson River brought me to the complex of reconstructed medieval buildings, where I picked up my tickets and had time to walk around the galleries prior to an afternoon concert by the PUBLIQuartet in the Fuentidueña Chapel.

The PUBLIQuartet are serving as The Met's Quartet-in-Residence this season, during which they will perform seven concerts throughout the Met's various spaces. Their program at the Cloisters was part of their ongoing MIND|THE|GAP series, which seeks to build connections between traditional, modern and contemporary music. Here, the starting off point was the music of J.S. Bach, interspersed with contemporary works by Eugene Birman and Alfred Schnittke, as well as group improvisations that incorporated elements of rock and jazz.

It seemed that many of the audience members were confused by what they were listening to - a few even chose to leave at intermission - but the novelty of what the PUBLIQuartet was doing left most of us wanting more. Prior to each piece, a member spoke about the music and what it meant to them, providing valuable insight for this experimental format.

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