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.
Gil Shohat's "The Scream," inspired by the Munch painting of the same name, was paired with a short composition of her own, "The Dark Side of the Sun": an improvisation using an extended technique in which the strings inside the piano are plucked, sounding like an autoharp. These juxtapositions created a nice continuity, and allowed certain shorter works a little more breathing room.
Each of the Bulgarian works was distinct from one another, yet there were certainly common threads linking the material. Several works, for example, featured asymmetrical rhythms, in which sets of two notes are played against sets of three notes. There were also similarities within the melodic material -- much of it drawn from Bulgarian folk-songs. I found the mood of many of the works mysterious, but strangely comforting. (The program also included the United States Premiere of Nimrod Borenstein's "Ostinato Etude" Op. 66.)
The evening ended with an encore performance of Stavreva's opener. She played with a comforting self-assurance and great attention to melodic and harmonic balance. Her musicality, attention to detail, and a poised overall presentation made for an entertaining and satisfying experience.