Previous month:
January 2019
Next month:
March 2019

February 2019

Desmond Child in Lincoln Center's "American Songbook" Series

by Steven Pisano

46416736614_0158b46e53_o(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

He may not be a household name, but few songwriters have enjoyed the enormous success that Desmond Child has had over the last 40-plus years. Child has had a hand in writing several dozen top Billboard and Grammy award-winning hits with artists such as Bon Jovi ("You Give Love a Bad Name," "Livin' on a Prayer"), Kiss ("I Was Made for Loving You"), Joan Jett ("I Hate Myself for Loving You"), Ricky Martin ("Livin' La Vida Loca"), Cher ("We All Sleep Alone"), Aerosmith ("Dude Looks Like a Lady"), and many others, including glam rock, country, and teen pop stars. In 2008, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

But while Child has made a career as a professional songwriter and producer (he produced Barbra Streisand's latest album), he started out as a performer with a group called Rouge, playing NYC clubs like Reno Sweeney's back in the 1970s. At that time, his girlfriend was Maria Vidal, who went by the nickname Gina (after her resemblance to the famous Italian movie star). Later, he would come out to her that he was actually gay, and he went on to a 30-year relationship with his husband Curtis Shaw, but this relationship with his Gina is what later inspired the characters in "Livin' on a Prayer." (The original demo of this arena rock classic, just Child on piano, can be heard here.)

On Saturday night, Child returned to performing with a knockout show at the Appel Room as part of Lincoln Center's "American Songbook" showcase. His hair was pulled back into a pigtail, with the sides shaved close. His face was dominated by a beard and glasses, and he wore pendant earrings. He was helped out musically by an excellent band, including 21-year-old Justin Benlolo on guitar and singers Tabitha Fair and Tony award-winning Lena Hall (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Kinky Boots), who joined Child for several duets.

Continue reading "Desmond Child in Lincoln Center's "American Songbook" Series" »


Yuja Wang at Carnegie Hall, with Igudesman and Joo

by Steven Pisano

46195656155_8d242657e5_o(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

The pianist Yuja Wang has been wowing audiences worldwide for over a decade. Her exuberant virtuoso technique has always been one of her hallmarks. So it seemed an intriguing idea for her to perform at Zankel Hall earlier this week with the musical comedy duo Aleksey Igudesman and Hyung-ki Joo.

Igudesman, a violinist, and Joo, a pianist, first met as 12-year-old music students at the Yehudi Menuhin School in England. Much later they decided to perform together, following in the footsteps of classical musicians such as Victor Borge and PDQ Bach (Peter Schickele), and have been performing their act now for about 15 years, often with some leading orchestras. Their You Tube channel has over 50,000 subscribers. 

Yuja Wang is known for her flashy fingering technique on the piano. But what earned her as much attention early on, and still does partly, is her penchant for wearing very, very short dresses, and for showing off eye-catching swaths of skin. She is not a demure and sober musician like the younger Daniil Trifonov. She is a showwoman of the highest order and clearly loves to dazzle her audiences, with her costumes as well as her playing.

Continue reading "Yuja Wang at Carnegie Hall, with Igudesman and Joo" »


Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time" at the Crypt Sessions

by Steven Pisano

Crypt Sessions - Quartet for the End of Time photo  credit Andrew Ousley 06(Photo by Andrew Ousley/Unison Media.)

Last week, the Crypt Sessions, a series of concerts curated by Andrew Ousley in the burial crypt underlying the Church of the Intercession, presented Olivier Messiaen's twentieth-century masterpiece, the "Quartet for the End of Time" (Quatuor pour la fin du temps). Featured were Jay Campbell on cello, Stefan Jackiw on violin, Yoonah Kim on clarinet, and Orion Weiss on piano.

The story of how the French composer came to compose and then first perform his most famous piece is one of the most harrowing and memorable in musical history. Messiaen was in his early 30s at the start of World War II. By then, he was already an accomplished composer and teacher, having started his formal music studies at the Paris Conservatoire at age 11, having earlier self-taught himself the piano. Because of his poor eyesight, when he was drafted into the French army he was assigned to a non-combatant role. Nevertheless, in May 1940, as France was succumbing to the Nazi invasion, he was captured at Verdun and taken to a war camp in a town near the border of Germany and Poland.

There at Stalag VIII-A, he discovered other French musicians who had also been captured and imprisoned--a violinist, a cellist, and a clarinetist. This was not a death camp; nevertheless, the conditions were said to be overcrowded and austere. A Nazi guard helped Messiaen obtain pencils and paper on which he could compose his work. This same guard also helped him obtain instruments, and later had a hand in seeing the composer released the following year.

Continue reading "Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time" at the Crypt Sessions" »


Robert Ashley's "Improvement (Don Leaves Linda)" at The Kitchen

by Steven Pisano

20190209-DSC01732(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

The composer Robert Ashley's opera Improvement (Don Leaves Linda) is an interesting case as an opera because it was not conceived traditionally as a work of theater with music, to be presented live on a stage, but as a sonic production, to be presented as a recording. There are characters, yes. There is a story (of sorts), yes. But the beauty of the work--and the beauty is often quite extraordinary--is in the sound, particularly of the voices.

In the new production of this late 1980s work now playing at The Kitchen, produced by Mimi Johnson, Ashley's widow, the central defining voice is the smooth, sinewy instrument of Gelsey Bell, who has been a notable presence on the new music scene for many years. She is perfectly cast to deliver Linda's low-key West Coast-inflected torrent of words about her life. Bell has appeared in other Ashley works before, including the TV opera Perfect Lives (with the group Varispeed, which has championed Ashley's work on several fronts) and one of his last works, Crash.

Continue reading "Robert Ashley's "Improvement (Don Leaves Linda)" at The Kitchen" »