Songs About "The Song of Songs" at YIVO

by Steven Pisano

20181206-DSC05028(All photos by Steven Pisano)

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research was established in 1925 in Poland, with support from leading intellectuals of the time such as Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein. It moved to New York in 1940 during the outbreak of World War II. YIVO houses the largest collection of materials on Eastern European Jews in the world. But, more than just an exemplary research institution, YIVO also runs many entertaining programs that feature classes, seminars and performances of music, theater, and art.

Last Thursday night, YIVO presented a musical program entitled Sweet Is Thy Voice: "The Song of Songs" in Concert as part of its Sidney Krum Young Artists Concert Series. Singers Lucy Fitz Gibbon, Marie Marquis, Kristin Gornstein, and Jonathan Woody were accompanied by Miki Sawada (piano), Matheus Souza (violin), Colin Brookes (viola), Clare Monfredo (cello), and Ian Rosenbaum (percussion).

The program's name comes from "The Song of Songs," or "Shir hashirim": an unusual book in the Bible because it is not about God or laws, but about love - both romantic and erotic. Both Jews and Christians have long extolled its beauty.

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"Greek" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

by Steven Pisano

20181204-DSC02063(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

The composer Mark-Anthony Turnage made his mark in London almost 20 years ago with his second opera, which was based on the Sean O'Casey play about Word War I, The Silver Tassie. He came more immediately to the attention of New York opera lovers five years ago with the splashy and sensationalistic Anna Nicole, based on the colorful true story of Anna Nicole Smith.

But Turnage's first opera, Greek, based on Steven Berkoff's play of the same name (which itself was based on the Sophocles drama) has never been seen in New York. Until now. The production now playing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the Next Wave Festival (with one cast change) is the same Scottish Opera production that played earlier this year in Glasgow, and before that at the Edinburgh Festival, to glowing reviews.

It is always interesting to see the early work of artists who have gone on to produce larger and more mature works, and Greek is no exception. Written in 1988 during the years of Margaret Thatcher's tumultuous governance in Britain, there is a strong political undercurrent to the story, and thirty years on, none of it sounds dated in today's tedentious political climate.

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"The Good Swimmer" at BAM Fisher

by Steven Pisano

"The Good Swimmer" at BAM Fisher(All photos by Steven Pisano)

Back in 2008, Heidi Rodewald was nominated for a Tony and won an Obie for her musical "Passing Strange," which was eventually turned into a film by Spike Lee. She has collaborated many times with singer/songwriter Stew. Writer Donna Di Novelli is known for her fascination with "found text" as the basis for her lyrics written for various music-theater projects.

Together, Rodewald and Novelli have written the new song cycle "The Good Swimmer," which is currently playing at BAM Fisher through Saturday as part of the 2018 Next Wave Festival. First seen as a sneak peek back in 2016 at the Prototype Festival, "The Good Swimmer" isn't a work of theater per se. There is a band on stage throughout (including Rodewald on electric bass) that includes electric guitars, drums, keyboards, cello, trumpet, and violin. On a scrim above the band, there are projections and videos, including images from old lifeguard manuals and the roiling ocean. Throughout, a group of seven lifeguards move around behind the band and occasionally gather into tableaus, without directly conveying the lyrics being sung.

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Michel Camilo Trio at the Blue Note NYC

by Nick Stubblefield

Camilo_FOM_2018

When you’re off to see an artist perform for the fifth time, it’s reasonable to keep your expectations in check. If it’s jazz pianist Michel Camilo and his trio, however, you can bet those expectations will be met and surpassed. The trio burned up the Blue Note NYC this past weekend with another set of tunes from Camilo’s extensive repertoire of original compositions. Camilo’s piano abilities are a well-documented tour de force and his infectious energy is ferocious, so keeping up with Camilo is a bit of an endurance trial. Luckily for the audience, bassist Ricky Rodriguez and percussionist Mark Walker more than held their own on a set that crossed genres and styles but always maintained Camilo’s signature exuberance.

The late-night set kicked off with a tune that epitomizes Camilo’s compositional and playing style — the high-octane “On the Other Hand,” from the album of the same name. The Caribbean-influenced tune sports rapid-fire, physics-defying repeat notes in the right hand while the left hammers a grooving counter-rhythm. 

Camilo followed up with “Mongo’s Blues,” a work he dedicated to the late Cuban jazz percussionist Mongo Santamaria.  A punctuated, syncopated ostinato in the left hand and a restrained, bluesy melody open the number, then the piece’s dynamics and rhythmic entropy intensify to the bursting point, then give way to a thunderous drum break from the polished percussionist Mark Walker.

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