Lez Zeppelin at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

by Steven Pisano

20190913-DSC08329(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Consider, if you will, the following partial description of an object in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which ended this past weekend:

Archtop with F-holes and Venetian cutaway; laminated maple body and neck, rosewood fingerboard; 23½ in. scale; natural finish with white & black double binding, set neck with mother-of-pearl split parallelogram inlays and white binding to fingerboard; mother-of-pearl Gibson headstock logo with crown inlay; two PAF humbucking pickups,...

Sounds pretty fancy, doesn't it? Maybe a rare piece of furniture from a Renaissance craftsman, or a priceless treasure from a European estate?

Hell no! This is how the catalog begins the description of the Gibson ES-350T (ca. 1958) that Chuck Berry strutted on stage with in the late 1950s and early 1960s, playing hits like "Johnny B. Goode."

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"The Love for Three Oranges" at Opera Philadelphia

by Steven Pisano

20190918-DSC03872(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Opera Philadelphia's recent production of Sergei Prokofiev's "The Love for Three Oranges" was a frothy, fun concoction, less an opera than a zany musical comedy. Its source story had its origins in the commedia dell'arte, which Prokofiev, writing in the early 1920s, spiced up with a fair dose of absurdist surrealism.

In a nutshell, there is a handsome young Prince who mopes around in bed, his malaise brought on by reading too much serious poetry. The doctors in the court of the King of Clubs, the Prince's father, prescribe that he can only be cured by laughter. But though many in the kingdom try, none can make this sourpuss chuckle, until one day the witch Fata Morgana, who is involved sideways in a plot to kill the Prince, is knocked over and shows her underwear, which of course makes the Prince break out into an uproarious peal of laughter which finally breaks his grumpy mood. Pissed off at being laughed at, though, Fata Morgana curses the Prince to fall in love with three oranges.

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New York Philharmonic Plays ‘Close Encounters & Psycho’

by Nick Stubblefield

Close encounters jpeg

The New York Philharmonic delighted enthusiastic crowds at Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall two weeks ago with the return of its popular “Art of the Score” series, in which classic films are presented with live orchestral accompaniment. This year's "Art of the Score" featured John Williams’ music for Stephen Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Bernard Herrmann’s score for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. The scores are starkly different — Close Encounters is grandiose, Psycho intimate and cerebral - but each has firmly cemented its place in American popular culture.  

Close Encounters calls for a large orchestra, including a massive battery of percussion that includes tuned metal, tam-tam, anvil, and tuned logs. It also features choral music (performed here by Musica Sacra), which heightened the film’s drama by juxtaposing tone clusters and heavy vibrato with calm and airy long tones. Musica Sacra's dynamic performance underlined the human qualities that have made this film resonate with audiences for decades. 

The Philharmonic’s percussionists injected the performance with adrenaline. Sections of murmuring, dissonant strings were punctured by thunderous percussion hits and slams. Among all of the rich and layered performances, principal tubist Alan Baer may have had the greatest weight on his shoulders: namely, the famous five-note "doorbell" motif that the alien spaceships emit as communication. Fortunately, Baer rose to the occasion with sparkling tone and joyful exuberance. Each note rung out through the hall, showcasing the surprisingly decent acoustics of Geffen Hall.

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Lincoln Center Out of Doors (Americanafest): Yola and Patty Griffin

by Steven Pisano

20190810-DSC02386(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

The Lincoln Center Out of Doors season ends each year with the "Roots of American Music Weekend: Americanafest," sponsored by the Americana Music Association. Saturday night's concert featured Patty Griffin, a folk singer originally from Maine now living in Texas, and Yola, an emerging country-soul singer from Bristol, UK.

Griffin has been recording for over 20 years, and her 10th album, the self-released Patty Griffin, came out in March. For those unfamiliar with Griffin, the closest comparison I can make is Emmylou Harris, but that comparison only goes so far. There are strong undercurrents in Griffin's music that derive from traditional Irish and Scottish music, and even when her lyrics aren't overtly religious, there's a gospel truth to many of her songs. Indeed, she's been nominated four times for a Best Folk Album Grammy Award and has never won; she's won two Grammys in the Gospel category.

Griffin and her small but resourceful backing band played a long set that satisfied fans and won over new converts, on one of the most gorgeous nights of the summer. If only New York weather could always be like this! She got the crowd on her side early on with "Boys from Tralee" from the new album, about Irish immigrants who were able to find safe haven and a new life in America - a non-oblique reference to the immigration crisis on the U.S. southern border.

Other songs touched on her recent battle with breast cancer and other goings-on tangentially from her life, but Griffin is not a purely autobiographical singer like many folk singer-songwriters. Instead, she finds universal truth in her own experience, which is why people feel such an affinity for her music.

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