Classical Feed

Daniil Trifonov at Carnegie Hall

by Steven Pisano

Daniil Trifonov Carnegie HallIn the Playbill for his solo concert at Carnegie Hall, the portrait of Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov taken by celebrity photographer Dario Acosta shows a groomed young man, hair slicked down, short beard well-manicured, his steady gaze a study in relaxed intensity. And maybe Mr. Trifonov actually looks like this if you come across him anywhere but on stage. But seat him at a piano, and what you will see is a quietly simmering wild man. His hair explodes off the top of his head as he jumps up from his bench like a rock and roll guitarist reeling off a lick. Then he leans over like a hunchbacked drunk, practically kissing the keys. He stretches back like a cat, smiling, almost laughing with joy. Then just as suddenly, he grimaces as if the music hurts. At all times, he looks as if the music is running through him like a high-watt electric current straight to the piano keys.

On Saturday night, Trifonov presented a program called Hommage a Chopin, performing Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 35 alongside works inspired by Chopin, including pieces by Frederic Mompou, Robert Schumann, Edvard Grieg, Samuel Barber, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Sergei Rachmaninoff. At 26, Trifonov has quickly earned a reputation as one of the finest pianists of his generation. His recording last year of Franz Liszt's Transcendental Etudes (Deutsche Grammophon) was named by the New York Times as one of the best classical recordings of the year, while Gramophone magazine named him the 2016 Artist of the Year.

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Mischa Maisky and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Kick of 92Y Season

by Robert Leeper

Orpheus and Mischa Maisky The 92Y’s season kicked off last Thursday with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra — best known for their conductor-less performances — performing with cellist Mischa Maisky. Schubert’s beloved “Arpeggione” Sonata, arranged for cello and string orchestra by Dobrinka Tabakova, was bookended by Anton Arensky’s Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky, and Tchaikovsky’s own Serenade for Strings.

Beginning life as as the slow movement of Arensky’s String Quartet No. 2, the variations on Tchaikovsky’s “Legend” from his Sixteen Children’s Songs were composed the year after Tchaikovsky’s death as a tribute to the late composer. Arensky's seven variations and coda all stay fairly close to the hymn-like theme. Particularly notable was the the fifth variation (Andante), which was given an exceptionally beautiful rendition.

Tchiakovsky's Serenade for Strings is written in Neo-Classical mode, and Orpheus delivered with Mozartian transparency and articulation. In the stately introduction, the noble theme was a given a warm reading and there was buoyancy and character in the main allegro section. The gracious Valse was sunny and light, while the Élégie was robust and evocative before teasing out bits of Russian flair tucked into the niceties of the finale.

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"We Shall Not Be Moved" at the Apollo Theater

by Steven Pisano

"We Shall Not Be Moved" at the Apollo Theater(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

"We Shall Not Be Moved," which played at the Apollo Theater this week following its world premiere at Opera Philadelphia last month, is an urban opera that riffs on the history of the radical political group MOVE. Established in Philadelphia the early 1970s by John Africa (born Vincent Leaphart), MOVE is vividly remembered for several violent confrontations with the police - including a 1985 firefight that killed 11 MOVE members (including 5 children) and which destroyed over 60 houses.

Against this intensely violent background, composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and director Bill T. Jones have written a contemporary story of urban struggle. Five teenagers, who have veered in and out of trouble, find their school has been closed, so they squat in an abandoned house in West Philadelphia - which just so happens to be the former MOVE headquarters from the 1980s. The house is populated by peaceful ghosts dressed in gray sweatsuits who dance through the house and try to guide the teens.

But the teens have also caught the eye of Glenda, the local beat cop. She wonders why they are not in school during the day, and eventually their interactions escalate until one day the police officer accidentally discharges her gun and shoots one of the kids. The young people grab her gun, then hold her captive, not knowing exactly what to do now that everything has suddenly spun out of control.

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Matthew Aucoin's "Crossing" at BAM

by Steven Pisano

"Crossing" at BAM(All photos by Steven Pisano)

The Civil War may have ended more than 150 years ago, yet in many ways our country has never fully recovered. The recent protests over removing Confederate statues from public locations have shown just how shallow - and how hurting - the wounds from that episode in our history still are. To be sure, we've come a long way since the 1860s, but we are still a nation divided. Not Blue and Gray any longer, but Blue and Red.

If opera is generally thought to be drama writ large, then the Civil War could be considered the greatest opera in American history, with brother killing brother hand-to-hand, and thousands of soldiers dying in a single day. So it's interesting that the young composer Matthew Aucoin, in his 2015 opera Crossing, explores a more intimate side of the war through Walt Whitman's diary, in which he writes about volunteering as a wartime nurse tending to wounded Union soldiers. But while the setting is small, the themes in Aucoin's opera are timeless--love, faith, betrayal, life, death, transcendence.

Aucoin, 27, composes music of a very high caliber, writes his own literate librettos, and is one of the most respected young conductor/composers in the country. (Crossing, Aucoin's third opera, was written when he was only 25.) First performed at American Repertory Theater in Boston (Aucoin studied poetry at Harvard), Crossing is having its New York premiere this week at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the annual Next Wave Festival.

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