Classical Feed

The New York Choral Society Rings in the Holidays at Alice Tully Hall

by Nick Stubblefield


With all the mayhem of travel, madness of scheduling, and the commercialism that has come to define modern-day Christmas-time, feeling "in the spirit" can seem like an insurmountable task for a busy New Yorker. Fortunately, if you let it, the concert hall can serve as a more-than-welcome respite from it all, a sanctuary safe from all the noise, and a place to feed the soul. When you get right down to it, the holidays are a time for unity, and that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from the shared experiences with family and friends. For many, there's also the spiritual and religious element to the holidays. The New York Choral Society set out this past holiday season to embrace that familial quality in a religious context using the most universal and inclusive instrument of any -- the human voice. 

The New York Choral Society, often abbreviated NYChoral, is a New York mainstay. Founded in 1959, they've graced stages at almost every major venue in Manhattan, and performed a diverse set of repertoire from Mendelssohn to Arvo Pärt. The holiday show packed the modern, warm, and cavernous Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, a venue well-suited in size for NYChoral. Choir members, just like the audience, came from various backgrounds and ages. They conveyed a sense of welcome and community -- something akin to what you might see in a mid-sized church.

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Today: Make Music Winter 2016

Mmw2015_logoAs New Yorkers finish up their shopping and start thinking about heading home for the holidays, they'll be surrounded by music all day today as part of the 6th annual Make Music Winter, marking the shortest day of the year. Featured artists performing throughout the five boroughs include members of Antibalas, singers Onome and Jascha Hoffman, all-women Brazilian drumline Fogo Azul, keyboardist Karl Larson, conductors Thomas McCargar and Malcolm Merriweather, composers Lainie Fefferman, Jascha Narveson, Cameron Britt, Ravi Kittappa and P. Spadine, and others. 

The full schedule is available on the Make Music Winter website. Our recommended itinerary for the day is below.

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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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