New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: July, 2019

Wildfire Klezmer and Reinvented Cumbias at Lincoln Center Out of Doors

Sometimes you have to light a fire under a musician to get them to elevate their game. Sunday afternoon on the Lincoln Center plaza, it was as if somebody, i.e. Mr. Sun, had taken a blowtorch – or a steam pipe, at least – to klezmer clarinetist Michael Winograd and his wryly named band the Honorable Mentshn. Onstage, Winograd is usually all business, generating thrills with his horn and his often sublimely catchy, subtly witty tunesmithing. This time, he was in rare form as a raconteur.

Maybe that was the heat…or maybe he was still riding the high of a return from his latest European tour. A heckler in the crowd suggested he take off his coat. “Dad, be quiet, I told you to stay in the car,” was Winograd’s response. Later, he alluded to how sardonic the title of his new album Kosher Style is: see, at a kosher-style restaurant, you can get a brisket sandwich with mustard and a pickle, but they also give you a piece of cheesecake at the end.

And this show was a feast, drawn mostly from the new record. Winograd was at the top of his game with his whirlwind trills, leaping and bounding through slashing chromatics and bracing minor keys with typically unwavering, crystalline, wind-tunnel focus, no matter how fast the music became. Trumpeter Ben Holmes had a similar, meticulously modulated resonance, often in tandem with trombonist Dan Blacksberg. The group’s bassist fingerpicked rather than using the traditional bow, while drummer Dave Licht switched from sticks to mallets and back, flickering his hardware, vaudeville style and then stomping with abandon through the colorful rhythms of one of the new numbers, Theme from David and Goliath.

Pianist Carmen Staaf got to employ her jazz chops most clearly in a moody, muted, especially plaintive take of Scenes From a Kosher Restaurant. The afternoon’s opening number, Bar Mitzvah Bulgar, was a blast right from the ridiculously catchy first few riffs. Likewise, the slower Dinner in Bay Ridge was a launching pad for a succession of brief, slashing solos from the horns, with a nifty interweave at the end. With its blend of gravitas and fire, It Pays to Buy the Best was a shout-out to Manischewitz, Winograd informed everyone They balanced out the somberness of a couple of slow horas with a boisterous diptych of wedding tunes to wind out the show.

This was part of the annual Heritage Sunday program assembled by the Center for Traditional Music and Dance. Over the last few years, it’s always been one of Lincoln Center Out of Doors‘ most consistently entertaining events, and this was no exception. A Puerto Rican bomba ensemble had opened the festivities. The afternoon closed with a serpentine and often hypnotic if somewhat abbreviated set by Inkarayku, who reinvent old cumbias and Andean panpipe tunes from what’s now Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Watching them bounce their way through their relentlessly catchy set in their matching purple ponchos while a series of circle dances spontaneously erupted in the crowd by the edge of the stage was a reminder of where the first wave of classic psychedelic cumbia bands like Los Destellos and Juaneco Y Su Combo got their inspiration. Inkarayku’s take on cumbia and ancient mountain melodies is more acoustic, although this particular edition of the band also featured a string synth player who doubled on traditional flute.

Singer/syndrum player Romina Cárnica Navarro delivered a lilting, catchy number in the original Quechua language; otherwise, when the tunes had lyrics, they were in Spanish. Frontwoman Naomi Sturm’s high harmonies were grounded by flute player Carlos Moises Ambia’s expressive, dramatic baritone while charanga player and lead guitarist Andres Jimenez’s spiky lines intertwined with acoustic guitarist Adam Negrin’s bright chordal work. Bassist Erico Benavente’s trebly groove kept the dancers twirling.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors continues tonight, July 31 at 7:30 PM out back in Damrosch Park with a group led by drummer Terri Lyne Carrington saluting the pioneering women of jazz and early rock. The eclectic lineup includes but is not limited to vintage Americana maven Rhiannon Giddens, Afro-Cuban singer Xiomara Laugart, legendary AACM singer/organist Amina Claudine Myers and formidable jazz vocalist/bandleader Charenée Wade.

An Oldschool Soul Show Offers a Break from a Scorching Summer at Lincoln Center Out of Doors

This has been a challenging year for summer outdoor concerts in New York, to say the least. It’s impossible to remember if events across the city parks were ever cancelled en masse as they were a couple of weekends ago because of the heat. If there was ever a July where the chickens came home to roost to crush the global warming deniers’ conspiracy theories, this was it.

So maybe it’s understandable that on the one deliciously cool night of the week, people would be slow to get out of reflex mode, holed up in front of their air conditioners while Lee Fields and the Expressions were playing a simmering set of mostly midtempo oldschool soul songs at Damrosch Park. At its peak Saturday evening, the space might have been at half capacity. And that’s not a fault of programming: anyone who remembers the huge crowds that Sharon Jones used to draw around town knows how popular 1960s-style soul music remains. Still, it was weird to see a Lincoln Center Out of Doors bill that wasn’t close to being sold out.

The synergy between the gritty-voiced sixtysomething frontman and his devoted backing band, at least a generation removed, is clear. They get a seasoned master of moving crowds and getting people to get down, and he gets a bunch of guys who totally get what he does. Over the years, they’ve been a rotating cast of characters, although their collective sonics are spot-on retro.

This particular bassist had tweaked his big Marshall stack and Fender Jazz model to get a perfect, late 60s style clicky attack and decay that fell away almost as fast. In tandem with the group’s nimble, precisely swinging drummer, it wasn’t quite as if Fields had Booker T & the MGs backing him – but it was close. The keyboardist switched between a smoky B3 organ sound and subtle, low-key, bubbling Rhodes piano. The two-man horn section – trumpet and tenor sax – added spicy staccato and looming ambience, while the group’s conguera provided extra texture as well as animated backing vocals. Guitarist Thomas Brenneck ran his vintage hollow-body through generous amounts of reverb, shifting expertly between expansive chords, plaintively lingering accents and a little chicken-scratch funk.

After awhile, two-chord soul vamps tend to blend into each other, but the band mixed them up. At one point Brenneck nicked the “if we ever get out of here” riff from Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run and then ran with it. Methodically and seamlessly, they shifted from the sly come-on Will I Get Off Easy, to the insistent, practically hypnotic Love Prisoner, to the indignantly forceful Wake Up. “I’m sick of all these lies!” Fields railed.

Getting a listless crowd to sing along proved to be as much of a slog for Fields as it was for the other artists on the bill. On one hand, watching Grupo Fantasma guitarist Adrian Quesada play similarly expert soul riffs behind a parade of oldschool and newschool Texas soul singers was impressive. On the other hand, not everybody crossing the stage seemed up for it. And while it’s admirable that he would assemble an album resurrecting several veteran Tejano soul stars from the 60 and 70s, doing it as a deal with the devil is something we should not encourage. We’ve all read the horror stories coming out of Amazon: the Dickensian working conditions, employees having to carry pee bottles because they don’t get bathroom breaks, and the relentless, Orwellian surveillance, everybody scrambling to beat the clock that keeps track of every single movement. Corporations like Amazon love the PR that comes from token attempts to support the arts and create an illusion of dedication to multiculturalism. But let’s not fall for it.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors continues tomorrow night, July 31 at Damrosch Park at 7:30 PM featuring a wildly diverse all-female lineup including but not limited to Americana soul songstress Courtney Marie Andrews, vintage Americana maven Rhiannon Giddens, Afro-Cuban singer Xiomara Laugart, legendary AACM singer/organist Amina Claudine Myers and formidable jazz vocalist/bandleader Charenée Wade.

Accordions From Literally Everywhere Around the World in Bryant Park This Week and Next

Last week’s kickoff of the annual Bryant Park accordion festival was a chance to revisit some favorites and make some new discoveries. Organizer Ariana Hellerman, who for years published the extremely useful summer concert and events calendar Ariana’s List, has booked every conceivable style of music that uses accordion (and ringers like the bandoneon, concertina and harmonium) into the series. With the rainout this week, next week’s installment begins on August 7 at 5:30 with a series of acts rotating around the park’s four corners and also the Sixth Avenue terrace. The lineup includes but is not limited to klezmer/Mediterranean shredder Ismail Butera, the wryly lyrical Susan Hwang, Mindra Sahadeo (the ringer here) on Indian harmonium and the bouncy, effervescent Nordic Smorgasbandet.

Last week’s lineup was typically eclectic. The irrepressible, timeless Phoebe Legere can still hit those operatic high notes, and engaged the crowd with her quirky sense of humor. She spent most of her show playing to various audience members, encouraging random people to ring the dinner bell on her accordion, and at one point, trailing a cop who was making his way through the crowd. Her funniest number made fun of the OKCupid dating service and had a spot-on punchline.

Romany song maven Eva Salina didn’t let being pregnant with her first child phase her a bit: “Gotta work til I can’t,” she grinned. Her first set of the evening was a little more low-key than usual, full of angst and longing for home and alienated anomie. Singing mostly in Romanes, relying on a forceful low register, she covered both older traditional tunes from Serbia and the Romany diaspora as well as a couple of numbers from the catalog of tragic heroine Vida Pavlovic. Eva’s longtime accordionist Peter Stan supplied his usual chromatic fireworks with lightning trills, uneasy close harmonies and turbulent rivers of minor-key arpeggios.

Foncho Castellar drew the biggest dancing crowd, no great surprise since the Colombian expat played so many oldschool cumbias. His two-man percussion section, on guiro and conga, kept a tightly swinging beat going as Castellar began with a brightly pulsing vallenato number. Then he kicked out the cumbia jams, and picked up the pace even further with some merengue toward the end.

In two hours at the park, you can either catch full half-hour sets from as many as four acts, or wander around and sample everybody. From this perspective, the evening’s coda – one of the most sublime sets by anyone who’s ever played this festival – was a slinky, rapturously microtonal set of bellydance themes by the Egyptian-born Nabawy. Rocking a formidable, sleek black quartertone model, he started out with a stark chromatic dance in the western minor scale and then brought in the Arabic tonalities. For a drum, he plugged his phone into the PA and ran a couple of loops of traditional beats. A concertgoer went up to him to thank him for playing: the fast-fingered guy wasn’t satisfied with the electroacoustic element. “I’ve got to get some kind of drum,” he mused, shaking his head. It was hard to argue with thirty nonstop minutes of the otherworldly torrents he’d fired off; then again, he has a long background playing for dancers. Let’s hope he comes back.

Rapturous, Diverse, Ambitious String Jazz Sounds at Miho Hazama’s Jazz Composition Salon

Over the last fourteen months, composer/pianist Miho Hazama has programmed an ambitious series of concerts at the Jazz Gallery showcasing new works by some of the jazz world’s best big band composers. Thursday night’s program was a pretty radical shift, featuring compositions for string quartet – often bolstered by Hazama’s own piano plus percussion and alto sax – from the books of three imaginative, individualistic up-and-coming tunesmiths. One of them was Hazama herself.

Like the similarly colorful, imagistic Maria Schneider, Hazama is best known as a composer and conductor. This show was a welcome opportunity to catch her flexing her chops on the keys. The night’s opening suite by Nathan Parker Smith had some almost maddenly tricky, punchy rhythms, which she handled seamlessly. Her closing nunber, the simply titled Fugue, from her 2015 Time River album, was more chordally challenging, with a succession of cleverly intertwined voicings from the entire group

The strings – violinists Tomoko Akaboshi and Maria Im, cellist Marta Bagratuni and violist Matt Consul – bristled with uneasy close harmonies, fierce microtones and slashing, incisive, cellular motives alongside Hazama and drummer Lee Fish throughout Smith’s suite. The opening movement came across as something akin to the Sirius Quartet covering Rasputina, and came full circle at the end. In between, there were unexpectedly shimmery, atmospheric passages and cycling interludes closer to indie classical than jazz: of all the pieces on the bill, this was the most acerbic and bracingly acidic.

Ethan Helm played lyrical, kinetic, brightly spiraling alto sax over the strings and drums in his own four-part suite, inspired by his first trip to Amsterdam. In case you might be wondering, there was no reggae involved: these particular memories came across in what some people might consider to be shockingly sharp focus. Echo effects recalling light playing off the canals; a stark tableau inspired by van Gogh’s Yellow House, featuring some especially poignant violin from Im; and a restless, bustling, constantly shifting portrait of the red light district numbered among many highlights.

The most unselfconsciously gorgeous piece on the bill was the New York premiere of Hazama’s Chimera, featuring the full ensemble. True to the title, it was an Escher-like, multifacted, interlocking web of voices, spiced with biting chromatic descents and a series of false endings. Hazama’s colors, from murky lows to starry highs, often both at once a la Gil Evans, were typical. Watching her play them against each other, whether with fiery vigor or pointillistic elegance, was a revelation..

The next big band event at the Jazz Gallery is August 9-10, with pianist Manuel Valera‘s New Cuban Express featuring Camila Meza on vocals. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is $25.

Spot-On Oldschool C&W, Flashy Guitar Picking and a Williamsburg Gig From the Shootouts

Akron, Ohio band The Shootouts hit a bullseye with their spot-on, retro mix of honkytonk, hard country, Bakersfield twang and a little rockabilly. These guys really kill it with their flashy guitar chops and clever, aphoristic lyrics that sound straight out of Nashville or Bakersfield circa 1963. Their album Quick Draw – streaming at Soundcloud – is like being time-warped back to a bar playing the cool country radio station in either of those cities at that time. They’re at Skinny Dennis on August 10 at 10 PM.

The first track is Cleaning House, an aphoristic, period-perfect early 60s style rockabilly tune with choogling guitar and keening pedal steel from lead player Brian Poston over the loping groove of bassist Ryan McDermott and drummer Dylan Gomez. Frontman Ryan Humbert begins I’d Rather Be Lonely as a vivid, forlorn Don Gibson-style ballad, then drifts toward Flatlanders hillbilly hippie territory. Then the band pick it up with the ripsnorting, rapidfire If I Could, which sounds like Buck Owens’ Buckaroos covering an early 50s Ernest Tubb hit.

California to Ohio has weirdly anachronistic, 1950s lyrical references set to easygoing teens Americana rock. The album’s instrumental title track has a tasty, rambunctiously twangy conversation between guitar and steel: among current bands, the Bakersfield Breakers come to mind.

They bring it down with the delicate, Buddy Holly-flavored acoustic tune Must Be Love, then take the angst and emotionsl desolation to redline with the hushed, lushly orchestrated If We Quit Now: these guys can be as haunting as they are funny.

Who Needs Rock n Roll speaks for a generation who’ve turned to Americana in the decades since the grunts of grunge and the autistic atonalities of indie rock took over the mainstream. The band stick with a western swing vibe with the grimly amusing Alimony, then shift to vintage honkytonk for the sad barstool ballad Lonely Never Lets Me Down.

Reckless Abandon, a brisk, twangy Bakersfield shuffle, is next. After that, Radio Jesus is a more subtle take on what what the Stones did with Faraway Eyes. The album’s closing cut is a downcast ballad, Losing Faith in Being Faithful. If a lot of these songs had been recorded as 45 RPM singles fifty-odd years ago, it’s a fair bet they would have sold a whole slew of them. You’re going to see this album on a whole lot of “best of” lists at the end of the year.

Edgy Focus and Tunefulness From All-Female Jazz Supergroup Lioness

Lioness are the perpetually swinging Posi-Tone Records‘ all-female supergroup. It’s unusual for any of the few remaining record labels, such as they exist at all in 2019, to be championing women, let alone women in jazz. But Posi-Tone has an enviable track record of doing just that, including a bunch of recordings by Alexa Tarantino, Amanda Monaco, Lauren Sevian – all three of them members of Lioness – and several others. The sextet got their start during a Flushing Town Hall residency by Monaco; their debut album Pride and Joy is streaming at their music page. The rest of the group includes tenor saxophonist Jenny Hill, organist Akiko Tsuruga and the increasingly ubiquitous Allison Miller on drums.

Sevian, Tarantino and Jenny Hill team up for some jaunty go-go blues in the album’s catchy opening number, Mad Time, by Miller. Hill’s composition Sunny Day Pal is a balmy cha-cha, its summery sonics enhanced by the organ in tandem with Monaco’s lingering, purposeful guitar. Jelly, written by Monaco and her sister, has Miller swinging leisurely behind its tight stroll and warmly bluesy horns, a neat trick.

Down For the Count. a Sevian tune, is full of surprise tempo and thematic shifts, the composer’s baritone sax bobbing and weaving and then handing off to Tarantino’s blithe alto. The covers here are all written by women as well. Melba Liston’s punchy You Don’t Say, from 1958 is reharmonized for three saxes instead of the original trombones, a carefree shuffle with solos all around. The group’s take of Aretha’s Think is even shorter than the original and makes you think about what it actually is before the group hit the chorus head-on. Ida Lupino, by Carla Bley, has a delectably allusive, sparse interweave of voices over Miller’s steady beat.

The simmering take of Meilana Gillard’s Ethiopian-tinged Identity is the strongest of the covers, a long launching pad for Sevian to take flight. Monaco clusters and spirals around the wistful Mocha Spice, by one of the alltime great postbop guitarists, the late Emily Remler. Tarantino’s briskly shuffling Hurry Up and Wait is the album’s high point, Sevian grittily unveiling the song’s bluesy architecture.

Hill glistens and flutters as Sweety, a syncopated soul number by Monaco, gets underway. Tsuruga is represented here by the album’s final and most epic cut, Funky Girl, a sly Jimmy Smith-style swing tune with more blustery horns than he typically worked with on an album date, along with a gritty Monaco solo. It’s a clinic in tight, thoughtful playing; no wasted notes, something as rare in jazz as all-female supergroups.

Lioness are at 55 Bar tomorrow night, July 27 starting at 6 PM.

Uneasily Echoey Spacerock and Post-Velvets Psychedelia from the Abyssmals

The first thing you notice about the Abyssmals‘ new record The Abyssmals Present Gospels, Hymns and Other Trash – streaming at Bandcamp – is how how much reverb is on it. But it’s not a cheesy slapback effect: it’s more trebly. Just to be clear: the upstate New York five-piece are not a gospel group. Their retro sound oozes through dark garage rock, primitive psychedelia and the occasional dip into the surf. Brian Jonestown Massacre are the obvious reference point; some of the shorter, punchier tracks bring to mind the unhinged R&B of the Pretty Things right around the time they’d discovered LSD.

The first track, Enter…the Abyssmals is a dark surf song; in less than a minute, the downward cascades of tremolo-picking have kicked in and it’s obvious this record is going to some shadowy places. The second cut, Sleepwalker starts out with drummer Nick Nigro’s muted ba-bump Cramps beat, then the envelopingly opiated post-Velvets ambience takes over.

Death Row Messiah is all about cool contrasts: cheap Vox amp jangle versus resonance, the peaks driven not by the guitars of Jarpon Reyes and Bob Forget, but by Boris Cahrenger’s emphatic bass. Muffy Reyes’ organ bleeds with the two guitars into a deep-sky pool in the slowly swaying Mansion of Happenings. Then the band pick up the pace with For All of Time, post-Rubber Soul verse rising to gritty powerpop chorus.

Imagine the Pretty Things taking a stab at go-go music and you get See You Go, with its burbly bass and roller-rink organ. Spare, dissociative acoustic phrases punctuate the gritty, riff-driven spacerock of Nobody Cool. A slinky McCartney-ish bass hook propels the hypnotic No Sleep Til Low Beat, while the droning organ and subtly oscillating guitars of Good Faith bring to mind the Black Angels. The album winds up with its longest track and most obvious Velvets homage, Kiss, Kiss Abyss. In case you’re wondering how this band managed to form in a backwater place like Poughkeepsie, keep in mind that musicians like this would still be flocking to New York and creating a scene if housing was affordable here.

Counterintuitive, Macabre Rachmaninoff?

The live recording of Vladimir Jurowski conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra in Rachmaninoiff’s legendary Symphony No. 1 is hardly a definitive performance…but the album’s opening number is, What a treat it was to discover their version of The Isle of the Dead, streaming at Spotify. It’s astonishingly energetic, dynamic and vivid. Most orchestras play it very close to the vest, as they might do with, say, Death and Transfiguration. Yet Jurowski’s take on it is a revelation, unfolding layer upon layer of color so often subsumed in moody armospherics in interpretations by other ensembles.

You can almost feel the strain and the reach of the ferryman’s oars as the low strings dig into the macabre opening theme, in restless 5/4 time. The swirl of the woodwinds as the sway rises to a stormy crescendo is just as sharply defined. Likewise, the descent to distant bass and a lone horn in the distance after the deluge subsides.

There’s great timbral richness as the brass joinis the cellos in the angst-ridden, stairstepping crescendo of the second movement. The subtle echo effects of cellos against a lone horn amid the waves are just as meticulously focused. Taken as an integral work, this is a clinic in how to build a haunting tableau from the simplest ideas: Twin Peaks, Russian style, 1909

For something approaching the ur-text of the Symphony No. 1, try Leonard Slatkin’s recording with the St. Louis Symphony. That one’s a confident tour of the young composer’s brash, sometimes uproariously funny symphonic debut  – which was played exactly once, viciously panned by the critics and only resurrected after the composer’s death. This one’s a little ragged in places – the chase scene in the first movement, for instance – and yet, there’s a certain charm and poignancy in that all-too-human frailty. And it’s an audacious piece of music: name another symphony where the composer uses a slur as a main theme! Diehard Rachmaninovians will probably want to hear this as a point of comparison, but there are other options for those seeking to relish it for the first time.

High-Voltage Intensity and a Stunning Surprise from Cellist Kian Soltani and Pianist Julio Elizalde at Lincoln Center

“We’re going to do the slow movement from the Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata in G minor,” pianist Julio Elizalde told the crowd at the Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center last night. This was the encore. It wasn’t on the program, at least formally. A murmur went through the audience: had the general public know this was going to happen, his debut duo performance with cellist Kian Soltani at this year’s Mostly Mozart Festival probably would have sold out the moment tickets went onsale.

It was at this point where Soltani, who’d played with a stunningly straighttforward, emotionally piercing approach for the previous hour, decided to turn his vibrato loose. Yet the result turned out to be less full-blown angst than persistent, haunting resonance, punctuted by twin peaks where he dug in and went for the windswept poignancy and several bittersweetly elegant exchanges with Elizalde’s eerily floating, perfectly articulated pointillisms.

That all this wasn’t anticlimactic speaks to how compellingly the two had performed the material that was officially on the bill. There were two particular pièces de résistance. The first comprised a triptych from Reza Vali‘s Persian Folk Songs collection. The Austrian-born Soltani explained how this material dovetailed with his dual immersion in both western classical and traditional Iranian music, as a child of expatriates. The wary introduction approximated an opening improvisation, followed by a lost-love ballad, each awash in aching, Arabic-tinged chromatics. To balance thie plaintiveness, the two leapt into a final love-drunk tableau with jaunty, trickily rhythmic abandon.

Soltani’s own solo performance of his Persian Fire Dance, also drawing on folk themes from his heritage, was arguably even more compelling and required considerably more extended technique, from wispy harmonics to a prelude to the mighty coda where he tapped out a beat, essentially playing between the raindrops. In between, he built and then fanned the flames as the firestorm’s waves rose higher and higher.

The two opened with a comfortable, glitteringly faithful take of the Romanticisms of a trio of Schumann Fantasiestucke pieces. Elizalde negotiated the lickety-split cascades of Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise Brillante, No. 3 with steely focus and a slithery legato, while Soltani attacked the obstacle course of David Popper’s Hungarian Rhapsody with similar aplomb and even more vigor, through innunerable, thorny thickets of staccato sixteenth notes. A sold-out audience had to catch their breath afterward.

A Far Cry Revel in the Rich Sonics of This Year’s Indoor Naumburg Concerts at Temple Emanu-El

After innumerable years in Central Park, the annual summer Naumburg free concert series has moved indoors to Temple Emanu-El while their namesake bandshell is finally renovated. Evertbody who plays this year’s inaugural series of indoor shows seems to agree that the space is as sonically sublime as it is architecturally celestial. That feeling was echoed, literally, by several members of string orchestra A Far Cry, who played the most recent concert there last week.

Over the years, the programming has featured a rotatintg cast of ensembles; this was the Boston-based group’s second appearance. They opened elegantly with Georg Muffat’s 1701 tour of baroque European dances, the Concerto Grosso No. 12; the party reallly started with the group’s arrangement of Caroline Shaw’s Entr’acte. A clever series of variations on cell-like phrases, the orchestra parsed its tricky syncopation, playful stops-and-starts and the sudden unease of a swooping series of intertwining microtonal phrases with a lithe, graceful aplomb.

Composer Lembit Beecher introduced the Manhattan premiere of his suite Conference of the Birds as an update on an ancient Persian fable about a flock in search of a leader. It seemed to be more of a commentary on how groups all too often leave the outliers behind, than a parable on the virtues of democracy. In the high-ceilinged space, a troubled, muted mass flutter midway through the piece really packed a punch as the echoes began to pulse. Beecher’s meticulous web shifted from delicate, searching birdsong figures, to tense swells that never quite soared carefree. It brought to mind Kayhan Kalhor’s even more anthemic portrait, Ascending Bird.

Likewise, the icing on this sonic cake, Tschaikovsky’s Serenade in C had more of the precision and determined focus of a string quartet than fullscale orchestral grandeur. The group zeroed in on the inner architecture of one of the most iconic works in the High Romantic repertoire, a guided tour of how much fun the composer must have had writing it.

The Naumburg concerts continue at Temple Emanu-El – on Fifth Ave. just north of 65th Street – on July 30 at 7 PM with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s playing works by Anna Clyne, Florence Pryce, Samuel Barber and others. It’s a big space, with more seats than you typically find outside in the park, but getting there early is still a good idea.