Classical Feed

Bulgarian Pianist Tania Stavreva Brings "Kaleidoscope Rhythms" to Tenri Cultural Institute

by Nick Stubblefield


Great music and art from all corners of the globe can be found in New York all year round -- so much so that deciding which event to attend next can be overwhelming. Bulgarian-born pianist Tania Stavreva solved that dilemma for me on Saturday when she invited me to a program she dubbed "Kaleidoscope Rhythms" at the Tenri Cultural Institute.  

Located in Greenwich Village, the Tenri Cultural Institute serves the surrounding community by, among other functions, providing performance space for local musicians. The clean, white minimalist room is visually and acoustically appealing, with the relative proximity to the Steinway grand enhancing the clarity of sound. 

Stavreva jump-started a program of mostly Bulgarian compositions, opening with her own, "Rhythmic Movement." Her piece referenced motifs and ideas from the second number, also titled "Rhythmic Movement" by Pancho Vladigerov. Both works drove forward with a calculated energy: dense harmonies overlapped in rapid succession, relentless from beginning to end. It was also brief, lasting only a couple of minutes. In fact, the entire program was a refreshingly succinct Bulgarian sampler platter, clocking in at just over one hour. 

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"You Us We All" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

by Steven Pisano


(All photographs by Steven Pisano.)

Shara Worden has done it again. Best known as the lead singer of My Brightest Diamond, Worden brought her new faux opera You Us We All last weekend to the BAM Harvey Theater. Based on the frivolous court masques of the seventeenth-century, You Us We All fuses ideals from the Baroque and the modern day, in a way that's both varied and eccentric.

The opera, which was directed by Andrew Ondrejcak, showed its quirky face from the time upon one’s entrance into the theater -- its narrative does not “begin,” but instead gives the feeling that it's already been happening and is only continuing for an audience to participate in. Its set is modest, having only a fairly vacant (but shiny) stage with lucite chairs placed in a disheveled manner, a screen with the words “Thee” and “Nd.” written on it, and a man in his underwear and a white ruff laying face down on the ground. (He is "Time", a humorous drunkard played by Carlos Soto.) Its futuristic appearance, characterized by a multitude of images on a display which resembled a Mac computer monitor, gives no hint to a specific location -- instead presenting the illusion of a place in which no time or space passes. Thus, location is less specific than metaphysical, a "place" in which all human emotion is centralized.

The five performers were meant to embody five ideals: Love (Martin Gerke), Death (Bernhard Landauer), Hope (Worden), Virtue (Helga Davis), and Time (Carlos Soto). But the names were mostly arbitrary. The songs each sang did little to illustrate his or her nature. The great delight of the show was Ms. Worden herself: her voice is a glorious and supple instrument that stimulates the pleasure center of the brain like an intravenous blast of endorphins.  When she sang a series of coyly couched songs to pop icons such as Beyonce, Britney Spears, and Mariah Carey—eliciting simultaneous smiles and groans from the audience—there was nothing to be got from them, except mild amusement.

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"Hagoromo" at Brooklyn Academy of Music

by Steven Pisano

Hagormo at BAM(All photos by Ross Karre Arts Documentation.)

Part theater, part dance, part chamber opera, Hagoromo, which played last week to sold-out houses at BAM’s Harvey Theater, is based on a centuries-old Japanese legend that is a staple of Noh theater. It is a slim story about grand themes, partly about the ephemerality of beauty and art, and partly about the spirituality of the mortal versus the eternal.

Developed by America Opera Projects and directed by David Michalek, the production gathers together dancers, musicians, singers, and puppeteers to form a multi-art whole. At the center of it all is retired New York City Ballet (NYCB) principal dancer Wendy Whelan as the tennin. The work was created by Michalek specifically for her (they are married). The fisherman was performed by another NYCB principal dancer alum, Jock Soto.

But, dance aficionados expecting City Ballet fireworks from two such eminent ballet luminaries as Whelan and Soto, could not help but be a little disappointed by a production adhering closer to Noh traditions than to the flights of Balanchine. There was much graceful movement to be sure, but little of what could be described as dancing, even at the climax of the story when the tennin performs her celebrated celestial dance for the simple fisherman.

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New York Philharmonic Plays Bernstein's "On the Waterfront"

by Nick Stubblefield


The themes and motifs from many famous film scores are undeniably and inextricably linked to much of our pop culture. It's hard not to hum the "da-dums" from Jaws when swimming, or the triumphant trumpets from the Superman theme when playing in the backyard as a kid.

That said, the film score so often goes unnoticed, even in beloved films. And generally, this makes sense. The score's purpose first and foremost is not to draw attention to itself, but to highlight the emotion and atmosphere of the action onscreen.

When the New York Philharmonic performs a film score live along with a film, you can imagine that these dynamics must change, considerably. Especially when it's former Phil Music Director Leonard Bernstein's only film score, On the Waterfront, which they performed this past week at Lincoln Center to a packed house as part of their "The Art of the Score" series. Film composer David Newman guest conducted.

Attending a live film score performance is a bit like attending two simultaneous events, and requires a bit of open-mindedness to fully enjoy. Once adjustments are made though, it definitely works. First and foremost, accept that the newly-renamed David Geffen Hall was designed for live music, and not for playing films. As such, the film sound from the speakers reverberated and bounced around the hall, making the clarity of dialogue a bit of an issue at times. Secondly, the balance of sound is not that of a film -- the orchestra would often play at a much higher volume than the film sound, drowning out any dialogue. These small issues, however, were far outweighed by the joyful benefits that only a live concert experience can deliver. 

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