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A Quartet of Concertmasters Join Sejong Soloists at Zankel Hall

Sejong Soloists 30th Anniversary Concert, Zankel Hall, 5/22/24It's not unheard of for concertmasters of major orchestras to take a brief leave from their positions to perform as soloists, or even fill in for other orchestras in need (see Cleveland and, until recently, Boston.) Which is understandable, given the prodigious talent these violinists exhibit on a nightly basis, often at the expense of a solo career. But, to have four prominent concertmasters performing together on the same stage? Unheard of. 

But, that's exactly what took place on May 22, when the concertmasters of the Met Orchestra (David Chan), NY Philharmonic (Frank Huang), Montreal Symphony Orchestra (Andrew Wan) and the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra (Daniel Cho) joined forces with the chamber orchestra Sejong Soloists for their 30th anniversary concert at Zankel Hall. It made slightly more sense to have such a starry collection of violinists when I learned that all four performed with the Sejong Soloists earlier in their careers, and studied at Juilliard with Sejong founder Hyo Kang.

But, what does one do with four concertmasters? The repertoire of music featuring four violin soloists is - well, nonexistent. So, naturally, Sejong commissioned a new work for the occasion: Texu Kim's with/out for four violins, strings and percussion. (In recent years, Sejong has commissioned more than a dozen new works, including Tod Machover's Overstory Overture (2023) and August Read Thomas' saxophone concerto Haemosu's Celestial Chariot Ride (2024). with/out, which Kim says is about the alienation pervasive in contemporary society, featured evocative names for each of its three movements: "lonesome and fluorescent" was soft and plaintive; "subdued and imploding" felt anxious and Bartòk-creepy, while "festive!!" was bright and cheerful, with the four soloists digging in. (Kim must not be a fan of capital letters.) 

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The Knights Perform New and Classic(al) Music at Zankel Hall

The Knights, Zankel Hall, 5/16/24

Zankel Hall was abuzz Thursday night where The Knights performed their final concert of the season as part of their new Carnegie Hall residency. Never content to just be a chamber orchestra, The Knights and their founder brothers, Colin and Eric, offered a little something for everyone: from (Jessie) Montgomery, to Mozart, to a searching new work for cello and orchestra by Anna Clyne, played with deep expression by Karen Ouzounian. But, what l’ll remember most was Gabriel Kahane appearing under his multiple guises: first as composer of the brilliant new piano concerto “Heirloom” written for and played by his father, Jeffrey Kahane. Then, picking up a guitar, Gabriel turned Zankel into “a Bushwick basement rock show” (his words) by performing “Where Are the Arms” and, later, “Little Love”. I’m sure Gabriel would say this kind of cross-genre mastery is no big deal - look at Terence Blanchard or Bryce Dessner - but even those guys never tried to pull off both things in the same concert. Impressive.

If you missed it, The Knights will be around this summer as the house band at the Naumburg Concerts in Central Park, along with appearances Caramoor and Tanglewood. And, they return to Carnegie next season with three more concerts that feature pianist Aaron Diehl and singer songwriter Aiofe O’Donovan

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The NY Philharmonic Performs John Williams' "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" in Concert at David Geffen Hall

E.T. at the New York Philharmonic, David Geffen Hall
Last year, The Late Show host Steven Colbert did an interview with director Steven Spielberg and composer John Williams from Spielberg's office in L.A., where they reflected on their more-than five decade collaboration. 

Colbert: “Is there a favorite score that you’ve done for Steven?”

Williams: “Probably E.T., at least in totality.”

Colbert: “Is there a reason why that one has a special place in your heart?”

Williams: “I think it's the development of the music in structure with the story. If you remember the scene when the bicycles take off, prior to that you would hear two or three notes of the theme, and that’s all. And the next time you may hear three or four notes, and it’s beginning to form in your memory. And then as the bicycles take off, you hear all twelve notes of the theme, and the melody is realized and finished...Something has been made aurally that has created that very moment (of resolution).”

Sound familiar?

When I first saw E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) in the movie theater, I was about the same age as Elliott, the film's red-hoodied protagonist (played by Henry Thomas). As such, it was hard not to feel personally connected to the story of a boy who befriends a stranded alien and helps him return home. But when the film reached its highly-emotional climax, I remember being surprised by my uncontrollable crying, a waterworks unlike any I'd ever experienced at the movies. I couldn't understand why this simple, almost silly sci-fi story had gotten so under my skin. 

In that same interview with Colbert, Spielberg explained what we now all know to be the case. "I've always said: I can get the audience to the brink of crying, but Johnny's music makes the tears fall. He takes it the rest of the way."

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