Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Celebrates George Crumb at 90

by Steven Pisano and Pete Matthews

47599683842_4ca55646b5_o(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

The American composer George Crumb turns 90 later this year, but the Chamber Music  Society of Lincoln Center started the birthday celebration early with a two-part program spanning his entire musical career. Crumb and his wife Elizabeth (his high school sweetheart) were on hand both nights to listen, and they generously greeted a steady stream of young musicians (percussionists in particular) who were thrilled to meet the esteemed composer. 

Crumb has long been a unique voice among American composers, having emerged from outside the traditional conservatory system, which at the time was producing monolithic atonal, abstract music. By contrast, Crumb's music is both challenging and deeply felt, spiritual and dynamic. Often employing extended techniques - prepared pianos, amplified instruments - his musical imagination seems boundless. 

A survey of the Alice Tully Hall stage made it clear that Crumb does not write music for orchestras. While he occasionally has written works involving violins, flutes, and other instruments, he primarily has written for piano and percussion. Lots and lots of percussion! The stage looked like a big junkyard filled with various xylophones, marimbas, kettle drums, hammers, cow bells, bass drums, cymbals, wind chimes, and all sorts of other strange-looking unknown instruments. One of my favorites was the wind machine, a canvas chamber with a wind-up handle that mimics the sound of the wind.

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New York Woodwind Quintet at the Tenri Cultural Center

2On any given night in New York, there are literally dozens - hundreds - of music events competing for your attention. Most of which are well above grade. But, you could do far worse than the recital I heard last Friday at the Tenri Cultural Institute, a multi-use space dedicated to Japanese culture tucked into 13th Street, adjacent to the New School's Mannes School of Music. The New York Woodwind Quintet, now in it's 70th (!) season, consists of veteran wind players Charles Neidich (clarinet), William Purvis (horn), Marc Goldberg (bassoon), Stephen Taylor (oboe), and Carol Wincenc (flute), all of whom have been with the group for at least three decades. 

The first half of Friday's program featured a pair of 20th century works which put the range and expertise of these veteran players on full display. John Harbison's Quintet for Winds (1978) is bright, flavor-forward music that ranged from a tender and emotional Romanza to an Allegro finale that had an almost cartoonish quality, full of squeaks and squawks. By contrast, György Kurtág's Woodwind Quintet (1959) was spare and uncompromising, leaving you with a haunting sense of unease. Goldberg, who performed the work for Kurtág at Marlboro 20 years ago, told the audience that the composer spent a full week with he and his fellow musicians preparing this 8 minute piece. 

After intermission, the quintet was joined by pianist Bryan Wagorn - who among other roles is Associate Conductor of the Metropolitan Opera - to perform the Brahms Piano Quartet, Op. 25, arranged by the quintet's founding flutist, Samuel Baron. At first, I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of winds playing this driving, propulsive music, which has long been one of my favorite pieces of chamber music. But, once I embraced the arrangement on its own terms, I appreciated the clean lines of the winds, which paired surprisingly well with Wagorn's spot-on piano and brought out colors and textures I'd never heard before. "As winds," Neidich told us beforehand, "we don't have the same balance issues (as strings.)" The concluding Rondo didn't pack quite the same visceral punch as I've grown accustomed to, but the players did pick up the pace over the final few bars, generating a loud and well-deserved ovation. 

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HereNowHear Piano Duo Closes Kettle Corn New Music’s 6th Season

by Nick Stubblefield


HereNowHear, the dynamic new-music piano duo of Andrew Zhou and Ryan McCullough, closed out Kettle Corn New Music’s sixth season at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music this past weekend. The young performers delighted a youthful and engaged crowd with contemporary classical and experimental works from established composers such as George Crumb, Steven Stucky and Luciano Berio, alongside brand new works from Kettle Corn personnel Emily Cooley and Loren Loiacono. Kettle Corn New Music, founded in 2012 in New York City, curates contemporary classical concerts while fostering an informal listening environment.  The audience helped itself to beer, wine, and a bag of complimentary kettle corn as fresh as the music itself.

Cooley (b. 1990) opened the night’s program with Phoria (2015) for piano 4-hands. Cooley explained that "phoria" is a misalignment of the eyes: an analogy that became clear as Zhou and McCullough’s hands appeared to chase each other down the keyboard during passages that were not quite in alignment. Delicate chime-like chords in the high register gave way to playful melodies and polyrhythmic chord patterns. 

Walter Zimmermann (b.1949) closed out the first half of the program with As a Wife Has A Cow: A Love Story, based on a text by Gertrude Stein. Extended techniques abounded as the performers strummed, muted, and tapped on the strings and frame of the piano, creating a wide variety of delightful and sometimes haunting timbres. 

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