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Preview: John Adams' "Scheherazade.2" at the NY Philharmonic

Leila Josefowicz and John Adams
If what I heard Monday night at the David Rubinstein Atrium is to be believed, everyone needs to run out and pick up a ticket for one of the NY Phil's subscription concerts this week. Because, after a somewhat pedestrian all-Russian first half, Alan Gilbert will lead the Phil in the world premiere of John AdamsScheherezade.2 with violinist Leila Josefowicz, a longtime proponent of Adams's music. The 45 minute work, which Adams calls "a dramatic symphony for violin and orchestra," is significantly larger in scope than either of Adams' previous works for violin and orchestra: the Violin Concerto (1993) and The Dharma at Big Sur (2oo3). Indeed, the work is so big, it will take up the entire second half of the program.

"You have to be very, very prestigious," Adams writes in the program notes, "like Beethoven's Emperor concerto or a Brahms piano concerto to take over the larger spot in the program. But, that's what I wanted to write."

Inspired by the classic tale of the Persian queen who saves her life by telling her murderous king one story each night for 1,000 nights - the ".2" refers to Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic poem of the same name - Adams spoke about wanting to illuminate the darker, more sinister aspects of the story, in which he sees modern-day parallels in the way women are abused and oppressed around the world, particularly in the Middle East. Adams sent his first draft to Josefowicz on New Year's Day 2013, and the two have been working on it together ever since. "Collaboration," Adams said, "is the cruelest thing two people can do to each other, outside a double axe murder-suicide."

Josefowicz - who, remarkably, says that she's memorized her solo part - said that Scheherezade.2 is "such a big journey, such a huge range of emotions to try to pull off. I will never see music quite the same way again." (Josefowicz opened Monday's event with a typically tight performance of Adams' Road Movies with pianist John Novacek). For someone who has already contributed more to the modern orchestral canon than almost any other living composer, this sounds as if it might just be Adams' ultimate achievement.

More pics from Monday's discussion here. Tickets and info on this week's concerts - which take place at Avery Fisher Hall tomorrow, Friday and Saturday - here.


"Meredith Monk and Friends" at Zankel Hall

by Steven Pisano

Meredith Monk at Zankel HallOne thing is clear: Meredith Monk has a lot of friends—musicians who have both directly and indirectly been influenced by her work. And she has written a lot of music. So, it was only fitting that Monk, who is this season's Debs Composer's Chair at Carnegie Hall, was the subject of Sunday afternoon's “Meredith Monk and Friends” at Zankel Hall, celebrating her 50-year career (so far) as one of today's most widely admired musicians. 

This marathon concert lasted four-and-a-half hours, and hardly scratched the surface of her output. 1970’s “Dungeon” was performed with frenetic fury by John Zorn on a squawking, screeching, caterwauling saxophone while Cyro Baptista thumped methodically on a big bass drum. Other works were as current as the delicate a cappella “Cellular Songs,” which Monk and her famed Vocal Ensemble have been working on for the last several weeks. At age 70, Monk is clearly not content to simply rehash the past, but continues to look ever forward.

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Jason Vieaux and Yolanda Kondonassis at 92Y

by Robert Leeper

JasonVieaux_YolandaKondonassis_byLauraWatiloBlake

The first question that may come to mind when considering the possibility of a guitar/harp duo is: is there any actual repertoire for that? Answer: not really—but anyone curious about the pairing need only look as far as guitarist Jason Vieaux and harpist Yolanda Kondonassis’ performance at the 92nd Street Y last week.

The two faculty members at the esteemed Cleveland Institute of Music are on a mission to present new repertoire for this unusual instrumentation and, on a greater level, challenge the view in popular culture of both instruments. Despite becoming a core tenant of the orchestra, the harp still largely exists in our collective imaginations as the chosen instrument of painted cherubs and Harpo Marx. The guitar, meanwhile, tends to be associated with the likes of Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix, rather than Andres Segovia.

Despite the program being designed to demonstrate just how sympathetic the two stringed instruments can be to each other, each performer also played a solo piece—Vieaux played Roland Dyens' arrangement of A Felicidade by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Kondonassis played Carlos Salzedo's Chanson dans la nuit. Displaying an expert's control of the harp's cloudy resonance in favor of discernible melodic outlines in Maximo Diego Pujol’s Suite Magica, she brought a special tone and touch, explicating the rhythmic vitality of the work.

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