Classical Feed

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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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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NYO2 with Esperanza Spalding at Carnegie Hall

NY02 with Esperanza Spalding - Carnegie Hall - Feast of Music Jul 20  2017  8-13 PMFor five years now, the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America (or NYO-USA for short) has been providing teenagers the opportunity to hone their music skills with professional musicians, culminating in a performance at Carnegie Hall and an international tour. Last year, Carnegie's Weill Music Institute expanded the initiative with a new program for even younger musicians, called NYO2. Made up of kids aged 14-17 from a diverse set of backgrounds - often from communities without classical music training opportunities - the fellows spent three weeks in residence at Purchase College in Westchester where they rehearsed with musicians from some of the top orchestras in the country, including more than a dozen from the Philadelphia Orchestra

The program culminated Thursday night with a performance at Carnegie Hall that featured the Philadelphia musicians playing alongside their younger counterparts. For the first part, they were joined onstage by the ebullient Esperanza Spalding, here playing electric bass. Spalding, who in her younger days was the concertmaster of her local community orchestra, performed several of her own compositions, along with a cover of Wayne Shorter's "Endangered Species", to which she added her own lyrics. In between songs, she gushed about how amazing the kids were in rehearsal, and tried her best to get the audience to start a dance party with the rocking "Good Lava" from last year's Emily's D+Evolution

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A Berkshires Bounty: Opening Weekend at Tanglewood

Tanglewood - Feast of Music Jul 9  2017  3-33 PMLENOX, MA - I've been going to Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's longtime home in the Berkshires, almost every summer now for the past two-and-a-half decades. Those that have been to Tanglewood know that it is a special place, where the mix of manicured lawns, mountain vistas, and world class musicians make it one of the most satisfying places to experience music (not to mention some pretty elaborate picnics) in the world.

But, in all of those years, I've never made it up for the official opening weekend, which typically falls right after the 4th of July. Usually, these early concerts lean towards the pedestrian, featuring a flashy soloist performing under some second-tier conductor. (Tanglewood has actually been open since mid-June, mostly with a mix of pop and jazz concerts for the baby boomer set, including an annual appearance by local resident James Taylor.) 

This year, however, I was enticed by the early arrival of BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, who has expanded his presence at Tanglewood this year to some 10 concerts over four weeks. (11, if you count his participation in the Boston Pops' annual John Williams Film Night on August 19.) A promising development, to be sure, but with Nelsons about to take on the additional role of Kapellmeister (music director) of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, it remains to be seen if the trend will continue beyond this summer. 

Regardless, Tanglewood has always been about more than whomever's on the podium any given night. In addition to some two dozen concerts by the BSO in the 5,100 seat Koussevitzky Music Shed, a parade of world class soloists and chamber ensembles can be heard in the more intimate Ozawa Hall on most evenings. Then, there's the Tanglewood Music Center - Tanglewood's real raison d'être - which provides advanced training and performance opportunities for some of the world's top young musicians. In past summers, I've seen the TMC fellows perform everything from Wagner and Mozart operas under James Levine, to the U.S. premiere of George Benjamin's Written on Skin, in addition to chamber music and orchestral concerts. No matter where you turn, there always seems to be some kind of music happening at Tanglewood.

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