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February 2013

January 2013

Budapest Festival Orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall

Budapest Festival Orchestra, Avery Fisher Hall, 1/20/13

The Budapest Festival Orchestra—30 years old this year and still led by its ebullient co-founder, Ivan Fischer—is Hungary's leading cultural export and one of the most celebrated orchestras in the world. They got that way not through strict adherence to established performance practice, but by taking a fresh approach to hidebound classics while championing other works long since forgotten. Not to mention, they like to have fun as well.

Case in point: At Avery Fisher Hall last Sunday, the BFO had already launched into Shostakovich's Jazz Suite No. 2 (1950) when Fischer bounded onstage, conducting as he made his way to the podium. (When was the last time you saw that at a "classical" concert?) After the crowd calmed down, we were treated to a mixture of Straussian marches, polkas, and waltzes—a far cry from the Shostakovich of bombastic symphonies and somber string quartets. Perfect way to start a Sunday afternoon.

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Ear Heart Music: Claremont Trio and Trio Kavak

by Gabriel Furtado trio kavak, roulette, ear heart music

Curating concerts is all about framing pieces and performers in a way that gives the whole evening a sense of continuity. In the new-music world, this can often prove easier said than done, but Ear Heart Music’s Tuesday night concert at Roulette decided to spin a curatorial narrative around music’s connection to visual art, and to great effect.

This was immediately felt during the short yet rewarding opening set by Trio Kavak. The trio, featuring Ear Heart's director Amelia Lukas on flute, Nathan Schram on viola, and Kathryn Andrews on harp, was joined onstage by Kevork Mourad, a visual artist who contributed idiosyncratic, spontaneous paintings. While the trio performed each piece, Mourad would paint abstractly and then digitally manipulate the work, always in a way that was integral to the piece of music.

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PROTOTYPE Festival: David T. Little's Soldier Songs

by Andreas Hager

SOLDIER_SONGS_mainimage_574_322_c1

Stories of love and betrayal may be the usual opera diet, but sometimes you run across something completely different. Performed as part of the PROTOTYPE Festival, composer/librettist David T. Little’s Soldier Songs draws on rather unusual source material: Compiled from Little's interviews with veterans, the opera explores the defining experiences of being a soldier. While the festival focused on chamber-sized works, this presentation at Pace University’s Schimmel Center proved that small forces can create hefty explosions.

Yuval Sharon’s production sounds deceptively simple on paper: two actors on a relatively small stage, strewn with sand. But a metamorphosis soon takes place, with a tent rising from the floor, before gradually transforming into a menacing set piece. The audience is inundated with one searing image after another, whisked first into a smoky darkness, than pummeled with blinding light—it was as terrifyingly close to being on a battlefield as one could hope for.

The production team certainly deserves their laurels, with sets and costumes by Chisato Uno, animation design by Corey Michael Smithson, and lighting design by Christopher Kuhl.

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The Oberlin Orchestra at Carnegie Hall

by Michael Cirigliano II

Oberlin Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, Feast of Music 2013

Capping off a week of performances that brought their jazz, new music, and Baroque ensembles to four of New York City’s prized venues, the Oberlin Conservatory of Music imported its prestigious orchestra to Carnegie Hall for a varied program that included contributions from two of the school’s most famous alumni, pianist Jeremy Denk and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Christopher Rouse.

Conductor Raphael Jiménez was wise to showcase the divergent talents of his ensemble on the program’s first half, programming both the high camp of Ravel’s La Valse and the Viennese delicacy of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21. After a tentative and shadowy opening in the Ravel, the orchestra’s rich colors slowly began to emerge, led by a glossy violin section that displayed impeccable intonation that endured even as the composer continued to process his stately waltz through the fractured machine of a postwar Cubist landscape.

Denk was superb throughout the Mozart, fleetingly moving across the expanse of the keyboard with incredible precision and accuracy. More importantly, Denk made sure to keep the forward motion of the phrasing intact, aggressively picking up the pace when the orchestra began to lag behind during the first and third movements. The famous theme of the central Andante was gracefully introduced by the first violins, delivering a set of robust colors before handing the material over to the soloist’s right hand.

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