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February 2018

Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall

by Nick Stubblefield and FoM
Vienna Philharmonic Carnegie Hall 22318DSC04588Every year around this time, the Vienna Philharmonic makes their annual trip to NYC for a weekend of concerts.  And, every year, I have the same conversation I have with myself: Haven't I had enough? Is it too much of a good thing? Should I just skip them this time and come back refreshed next year?
And, then, there's a tug that happens that eventually finds me right back in my plush seat at Carnegie Hall, ready to hear this gold standard of world orchestras do their thing one more time. After all, "a thing of beauty is a joy forever." And, in today's world, it's best not to take anything for granted.
Whenever Vienna comes to town, you can feel the difference. There's a buzz in the halls and stairs. People are dressed to the nines, speaking multiple languages. And, when the orchestra finally takes the stage - all at once, European-style - the applause is knowing, familiar. This most exclusive of fan clubs - one which I am ridiculously privileged to be a member of - knows exactly what's about to happen. And, they can't wait.
On Friday night, the bill of fare was Brahms, standard fare for this orchestra hailing from the town where the composer lived and worked. What was a bit surprising was who was leading: Gustavo Dudamel, the wild-haired, rockstar conductor of the LA Phil and Simón Bolívar Orchestra from his native Venezuela. (Uniquely, the Vienna Phil has no permanent music director, only a roster of regular guest conductors.) I wasn't always a fan of Duda's when he first burst on the scene a decade ago, wary that he might be more hype than substance. I've long since been converted: he is the real deal, as much a master of the standard repertoire as he is of Bernstein's "Mambo." As if to drive the point home, Duda conducted the entire program from memory. 
Friday's concert - which was recorded courtesy of WQXR - opened with the "Academic Festival Overture" and the "Haydn" Variations: both sunny showcases for this orchestra's peerless power and precision. The string players flew up and down in their seats, the bass rumbled underneath my chair. Aside from some occasional wobbling in the horns, the playing was flawless: always in unison, both in timing and loudness. This orchestra is so together, it's hard to believe you're hearing them live. 

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Guitarist Dan Lippel at Le Poisson Rouge

by Steven Pisano

Dan Lippel at Le Poisson Rouge(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Kettle Corn New Music continues to present some of the most interesting and varied programs in the city, at venues as wide-ranging as the DiMenna Center, the Donnell Library, and Le Poisson Rouge, which is where I saw guitarist Dan Lippel last week.

Honestly, I was a little hesitant about seeing a show featuring just one man playing guitar all night. I can listen to solos pretty much endlessly on piano, saxophone, trumpet, violin, or cello. But guitars (and also drums) usually make me start daydreaming. Even some rock god slashing his axe at ear-exploding decibels has a tendency to make me numb.

So imagine my surprise when Lippel grabbed me from the very first pluck of a string and kept me mesmerized throughout the night, and at the end, wanting even more. Lippel isn't loud, flashy, pedantic, or boring. What he is is an amazing master of his instrument. And I guess I've been living under a rock, because when I checked out his website after the show, my head started spinning with all the accolades he's garnered, and the list of contemporary composers who have written compositions just for him is long and jaw-dropping.

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"Soundtrack '63" at the Apollo Theater

by Steven Pisano

"Soundtrack '63" at the Apollo Theater

(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

On Saturday night, the Apollo Theater presented "Soundtrack '63," a production of Soul Science Lab based in Brooklyn. Using a rich gumbo of archive film footage, photographic slide shows, and live musical performances, the show explored black history in this country from the forced transport of slaves in the 18th century, through the Civil Rights movement of the Fifties and Sixties, to today's Black Lives Matter and "I Can't Breathe" protests.

Soul Science's creative director Chen Lo believes that it is vitally important to keep black history fresh in young people's minds according to the Ashanti principle of sankofa--"Seek the past to understand the present and build for the future." For Lo and musical director Asante Amin, this means remembering important landmarks in black history, and the best way to remember them is through music. A 13-musician orchestra and a quartet of knockout singers--Keisha Gumbs, Moses Gardner, Karyn Porter, and Matthew Thomas--kept the stage electric with first-rate music throughout the night.

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