Classical Feed

"The Love for Three Oranges" at Opera Philadelphia

by Steven Pisano

20190918-DSC03872(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Opera Philadelphia's recent production of Sergei Prokofiev's "The Love for Three Oranges" was a frothy, fun concoction, less an opera than a zany musical comedy. Its source story had its origins in the commedia dell'arte, which Prokofiev, writing in the early 1920s, spiced up with a fair dose of absurdist surrealism.

In a nutshell, there is a handsome young Prince who mopes around in bed, his malaise brought on by reading too much serious poetry. The doctors in the court of the King of Clubs, the Prince's father, prescribe that he can only be cured by laughter. But though many in the kingdom try, none can make this sourpuss chuckle, until one day the witch Fata Morgana, who is involved sideways in a plot to kill the Prince, is knocked over and shows her underwear, which of course makes the Prince break out into an uproarious peal of laughter which finally breaks his grumpy mood. Pissed off at being laughed at, though, Fata Morgana curses the Prince to fall in love with three oranges.

Continue reading ""The Love for Three Oranges" at Opera Philadelphia" »


New York Philharmonic Plays ‘Close Encounters & Psycho’

by Nick Stubblefield

Close encounters jpeg

The New York Philharmonic delighted enthusiastic crowds at Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall two weeks ago with the return of its popular “Art of the Score” series, in which classic films are presented with live orchestral accompaniment. This year's "Art of the Score" featured John Williams’ music for Stephen Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Bernard Herrmann’s score for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. The scores are starkly different — Close Encounters is grandiose, Psycho intimate and cerebral - but each has firmly cemented its place in American popular culture.  

Close Encounters calls for a large orchestra, including a massive battery of percussion that includes tuned metal, tam-tam, anvil, and tuned logs. It also features choral music (performed here by Musica Sacra), which heightened the film’s drama by juxtaposing tone clusters and heavy vibrato with calm and airy long tones. Musica Sacra's dynamic performance underlined the human qualities that have made this film resonate with audiences for decades. 

The Philharmonic’s percussionists injected the performance with adrenaline. Sections of murmuring, dissonant strings were punctured by thunderous percussion hits and slams. Among all of the rich and layered performances, principal tubist Alan Baer may have had the greatest weight on his shoulders: namely, the famous five-note "doorbell" motif that the alien spaceships emit as communication. Fortunately, Baer rose to the occasion with sparkling tone and joyful exuberance. Each note rung out through the hall, showcasing the surprisingly decent acoustics of Geffen Hall.

Continue reading "New York Philharmonic Plays ‘Close Encounters & Psycho’ " »


2019 NYC Summer Music Preview

Celebrate Brooklyn 2018 It's up in the mid-80's today in NYC, which has got me thinking about my favorite time of year: summer, when all sorts of amazing music heads outdoors. In addition to some of our old faves - Celebrate Brooklyn, Summerstage, Warm Up - there are some exciting new additions this summer, such as Industry City's new Summer Series. Sadly, there are also several casualties this year, including Williamsburg's Northside Festival and Panorama. R.I.P.

Below are some highlights; check out our Summertime list on the right for updates throughout the summer. 

Celebrate Brooklyn: (June 4-August 10) My personal favorite of all the free NYC music festivals - and not just because it's walking distance from my apartment - Celebrate Brooklyn returns to the Prospect Park bandshell for it's 41st season with an eclectic lineup including R&B, Latin, indie, and roots music, most of it free. Highlights include a blockbuster opening night with Patti LaBelle (6/4), a double bill with Liz Phair and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (6/29), bluegrass supergroup I'm With Her (Aiofe O'Donovan, Sarah Jarosz, and Sara Watkins, 7/18) and Canadian stalwarts Broken Social Scene (7/25). Benefit shows include The National with Courtney Barnett (6/12&13), Father John Misty with Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (6/19) and Mac DeMarco (8/6).

SummerStage (June 1-September 24): SummerStage gets a facelift this summer with a (long overdue) $5.5 million renovation to Rumsey Playfield, including a new stage, sound system, lighting and raised bleacher seating. Lineup includes Durand Jones and the Invitations (who we caught twice at SXSW in March, 6/1) Parquet Courts (6/8), Big Freedia (6/13) and Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane and Matt Garrison with Brandee Younger (6/15).

Rite of Music Summer Festival (June 1 - Sept. 7) Governor's Ball has long since outgrown it's original home on Governor's Island, but you can still take the ferry to see live music once a month this summer with this free new music festival, now in it's 9th year. Performers include Ensemble Connect (6/1), Sandbox Percussion (7/6), Go: Organic Orchestra and Brooklyn Raga Massive (8/10), and Sirius Quartet (9/7); performances take place at 1 and 3pm. 

Met Opera Summer Recital Series (June 10-19): It's not the same as when they used to do full operas in the parks, but if you want the Met experience on the cheap, go check out one of these free recitals, which take place in all five boroughs. Among the top flight singers are Ying Fang, Nathan Gunn, Leah Hawkins, and Joseph Lim.

NY Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks (June 11-16): Music Director Jaap van Zweden is sticking around this summer to lead the parks concerts in all five boroughs, with a program including Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 and Copland's "Hoe-Down" from Rodeo. Followed by fireworks, of course.

Continue reading "2019 NYC Summer Music Preview" »


A Thousand Thoughts: Kronos Quartet with Sam Green at The Town Hall

"The string quartet repertoire was probably changed more by (Kronos Quartet) than by any other group." - Philip Glass

WSHB1522-by-Waleed-ShahWhat is a string quartet? That seems to have been the essential question on Sam Green and Joe Bini's mind when they set out to make the documentary film A Thousand Thoughts, about the pioneering, peerless Kronos Quartet. The film, which received its New York premiere last night at The Town Hall, reminds us how Kronos has spent the past half-century upending just about every convention associated with the string quartet. Instead of tuxedos or concert black, they've typically worn the colorful, trendy outfits of a rock band (though they've toned it down considerably in recent years.) Instead of being marooned to classical radio or stuffy recital halls, they appeared on Sesame Street and at experimental music festivals. And, instead of playing the core repertoire by Haydn, Beethoven or Schubert, Kronos almost exclusively plays music by living composers, with more than 1,000 commissions to date, including their ongoing Fifty for the Future project with Carnegie Hall. 

When Green pitched the project to Kronos founder and Artistic Director David Harrington (whom I met at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville four years ago) he called it a "live documentary", in which Kronos would perform live and Green would provide running commentary to the film. (Green's other projects include The Love Song of R Buckminster Fuller, featuring live accompaniment by Yo La Tengo.) Harrington signed on immediately; Thursday's performance was the 18th since the film's premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2018. 

Green was given full access to Kronos' extensive archives, housed in their San Francisco rehearsal studio, and the film is largely a pastiche of his never-before-seen findings: video and audio recordings, photographs, old clippings of reviews (yikes!). It also includes interviews with composers, managers, musicians - and, of course, the four members of Kronos: Harrington, John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello).

Continue reading "A Thousand Thoughts: Kronos Quartet with Sam Green at The Town Hall" »