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Category: classical music

A Magical, Deviously Dynamic, Cutting-Edge Debut Album From Violinist Sarah Bernstein’s Veer Quartet

Violinist Sarah Bernstein inhabits one of the most magically otherworldly and distinctive sound worlds around. She’s the rare composer who can write catchy, riff-based microtonal music, and she’s also a rapturous improviser. One of the most enjoyable concerts anyone at this blog has been at over the past few years was an afternoon with her intricate Veer Quartet in an East Village community garden in the fall of 2019.

Shortly thereafter, she recorded her debut album with the group: of all the releases which were derailed by the 2020 plandemic, this is arguably the best and is up at Bandcamp. It’s more chromatically focused than microtonal, and it’s the high point among Bernstein’s many and often somewhat more jazz-oriented albums. She and her bandmates – violinist Sana Nagano. violist Leonor Falcon and cellist Nick Jozwiak – are playing the album release show this Halloween at 8 PM at the Zurcher Gallery at 33 Bleecker St. off Lafayette. Cover is $20. And Nagano has a show with her louder but similarly otherworldly Atomic Pigeons band on Sept 28 at 8 PM at Mama Tried in Gowanus.

The quartet open the first number on the new record. Frames No.1 with an irresistibly goofy joke, then Jozwiak racewalks a bassline, Falcon climbs and descends with an uneasy calm. The group coalesce, first with stabbing unison motives that expand into spacious washes, gracefully dancing pizzicato and another couple of ridiculous jokes juxtaposed with bracing glissandos and rhythmic accents. All string quartets should be this diversely funny – and not just when they’re playing Beethoven.

There’s a sense of longing and loss in the second cut, News Cycle Progression, a diptych which begins lingering and resonant and shifts to a series of increasingly agitated, incisive flickers; Bernstein makes a palimpsest out of them at the end.

The group open the album’s big epic, Clay Myth as a ballad without words, Bernstein’s wistful melody over a hazy vamp from the rest of the ensemble. An enigmatic, blues-tinged solo from Jozwiak over circular pizzicato eventually cedes for a tantalizingly acerbic variation on the opening theme. The quartet take it out with a bouncy, tightly ornamented, increasingly biting folk-tinged violin theme and a couple of unexpected detours.

Bernstein interpolates stabbing riffage within an uneasy, steadily crescendoing theme in World Warrior, then the individual voices square off. With its paint-peeling, slithery breaks it’s the closest thing to violin metal here.

The ensemble open Nightmorning with a stern heroic theme, Bernstein quickly disassembling and scattering it to the wind across a vast, mostly vacant lot. A shivery, cello-fueled return, simmering fires bobbing up among slides and misty microtonal harmonies follow in turn, with striking hints of a cheery swing jazz tune. Ligeti’s most haunting work from the 1950s comes to mind: it’s the most adventurous and gripping piece here.

There’s a similarly somber, circling, Bartokian sensibility as well as a furtive Bernard Herrmann passage in the final cut, Hidden, a hauntingly insistent coda. Barring the unforeseen, you’ll see this on the best albums of 2022 page here at the end of the year.

The East Coast Chamber Orchestra Provide a Lush, Sweeping Coda to This Year’s Naumburg Bandshell Concerts

Yesterday evening was this year’s final installment of the newly resumed and increasingly popular Naumburg Bandshell concerts. Needless to say, it’s been heartwarming to see attendance continuing to grow like it has in the last couple of weeks, although considering how this city was deprived of live music for the better part of the past two years, that turnout is hardly a surprise.

Self-directed string ensemble the East Coast Chamber Orchestra opened their own return to the bandshell with Adolphus Hailstork’s Sonata di Chiesa, a series of variations on allusively gospel-tinged themes. The orchestra quickly shifted from a stern march to a triumphant hymnal swirl with violin and cello front and center in majestic, restrained interplay which grew more carefree. A lively, buoyant dance interlude gave way to what might be termed a balmy southern soul pastorale which resonated in the early evening mugginess hanging over the park.

Slowly and methodically, the ensemble brought the theme down to the cellos out of a Dvorakian wariness, then rose with more than a hint of stately plainchant that grew more lush and windswept. The orchestra took it out with a return to a triumphant waltz.

Next on the bill was a triptych bookending a pair of rare Peruvian renaissance songs around a Josquin lost-love canon, arranged for strings by Maureen Nelson. Matching sumptuous sweep with an icepick precision from the violins, these fifteenth-century pieces reflected European grace more than any discernible indigenous influences.

The orchestra wound up the evening with a vigorous, richly dynamic, Mahlerian arrangement of Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14, “Death and the Maiden.” A stiletto grace underpinned the initial heroic theme: the first of the series of blustering riffs from the cellos, before the false ending, packed a visceral wallop. The effect was much the same again after the group returned from a comfortably lulling counterpoint.

It didn’t take long for the orchestra to bring that anthemic edge back after the initial ballad theme in the andante second movement, where the heroine is reassured that she shouldn’t fear the reaper.

Awash in wistful lushness, the third movement rose to a High Romantic angst that a mere four strings couldn’t have hoped to match. Impressively, the coda was as balletesque as it was symphonic. They encored with an unhurried arrangement of the Bach chorale Schmucke Dich, o Liebe Seele, raising it to a plushness considerably beyond the spare version which is a staple of the organ repertoire.

One issue that needs to be resolved for next year, which wasn’t a significant problem earlier this summer, was when a Parks Department truck with a shrieking backup alarm interrupted the end of the Peruvian baroque suite…and then returned during one of the concert’s quietest moments. Stupidity? Sadism? There are two ways to deal with that issue. It couldn’t hurt for the organizers (and the New York Philharmonic, whose Central Park shows have been just as rudely interrupted) to get the word out to those behind the wheel. A simpler solution would involve a pair of wire cutters.

Playful and Pensively Picturesque Themes with the Knights at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park

Last night at the Naumburg Bandshell was the second performance of the summer by irrepressible, shapeshifting orchestra the Knights. It wasn’t as deviously thematic as their first night here last month, where they paired Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata with Janacek’s String Quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata.” In a more general sense, yesterday evening’s theme was pastiches, both musical and visual.

The group opened with the world premiere of a collaboration between several of their members, Keeping On, whose genesis dates back a few years to when they were messing around with a famous Beethoven riff during practice.

Fast forward to the 2020 lockdown: conductor Colin Jacobsen pondered what John Adams might have done with it, then emailed his sketch to members of the orchestra – which disgraced Governor Andrew Cuomo had infamously put on ice – and asked for their contributions. Several sent theirs back; horn player Mike Atkinson wove them together into a contiguous whole. The famous, fateful riff eventually revealed itself midway through; otherwise, it was a characteristically entertaining little work, from its insistent, minimalist intro to a series of briskly crescendoing phrases making their way around the orchestra, Carl Nielsen style, then bells from the percussion section and hip-hop-influenced vocal harmonies from violinist Christina Courtin and flutist Alex Sopp! An insider orchestral joke that translates to general audiences, who would have thought?

Violin soloist Lara St. John then joined them for the New York premiere of Avner Dorman‘s Violin Concerto No. 2, Nigunim, based on a series of traditional Jewish melodies. The opening Adagio Religioso rose from a hazy theme in the hauntingly chromatic freygische mode to a brief, somber stateliness, then St. John immediately slashed her way through her first cadenza. The pregnant pause afterward was a striking setup for the otherworldly drift and then the undulatingly acidic dance afterward, St. John’s razorwire waltz sailing overhead.

Her fleeting, ghostly incisions flitted over a mist as the second movement got underway, the orchestra almost imperceptibly returning to the astringency and chromatic bite of the previous interlude. Their leap into a suspensefully pulsing klezmer dance was irresistibly fun; St. John led the procession back to disquieting close harmonies and strangely celestial harmonics radiating throughout the string section, up to a jaunty coda.

She and a handful of the string players then surprised the crowd by literally dancing through a lightning-fast, wryly harmonically-infused jam on a traditional klezmer dance.

After the intermission, they concluded with an insightfully picturesque take of Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony. A Bach-like somberness pervaded the anthemic, initial andante movement, underscoring how much that rugged coastline had impacted a 20-year-old urban Jewish classical rockstar. The brief, massed stilletto passages from the brass were all the more impressive considering that this was an outdoor show, although by half past eight the temperature had dropped to a perfect mid-seventies calm.

The luscious textural contrast between the midrange brass and strings fell away for a ragged run through the goofy country dance that introduced movement two: a moment of sarcasm, maybe? Whatever the case, it worked with the crowd.

The somber lushness of the adagio third movement was inescapable: it’s one thing to credit the young composer for his balance of brass, winds and strings throughout moody and occasionally portentous, martial themes, but the orchestra nailed them, one by one. The succession of Mozartean motives and punchy Germanic phrases on the way out – and deftly executed melismas from the strings – wound it up with a characteristic ebullience.

The final Naumburg Bandshell concert in Central Park this summer is on August 2 at 7:30 PM with self-conducted string ensemble the East Coast Chamber Orchestra playing works by Adolphus Hailstork, Peruvian themes arranged by Maureen Nelson and the group’s arrangement of Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, “Death and the Maiden.” Take the 72nd St. entrance; get there an hour early, at least, if you want a seat.

A Far Cry Bring Their String-Driven Elegance Back to Central Park Under Friendlier Skies

A little over a year ago, A Far Cry played the first Naumburg Concert since 2019, to relaunch the annual series of Central Park performances which had run uninterrupted for 114 years until the 2020 lockdown. This blog joked at the time that the chamber orchestra stormed back into action – something of an understatement. In a decade of covering concerts in all sorts of thunderous and near-thunderous conditions, that was, shall we say, the most immersive of them all. After awhile, the hundred or so of us who stuck around for the whole thing would break out laughing when yet another thunderclap exploded overhead, and what felt like a bucket of summer rain would be dumped on us.

Tuesday night, the group picked up where they left off under similarly ominous skies with an alternately lilting and lulling series of imaginatively voiced string orchestra arrangements of Bartok’s Lullabies For Children. The ensemble had the most fun with the bouncy, minor-key Hungarian folk-flavored numbers, ornamenting them with plucky pizzicato and acerbic accidentals. Interspersed among them were traditional tunes from the Canary Islands and Japan arranged by A Far Cry violinist Alex Fortes, along with a cantabile miniature by Emily Irons

Next up was Franghiz Ali-Zadeh‘s Shyshtar: Metamorphoses for String Orchestra, in an arrangement expanded beyond the original version for twelve cellos. Tectonically shifting, persistent unease drifted through an allusive chromaticism reflective of the composer’s Azeri heritage. A strutting Bartokian edge gave way to hazy suspense that grew more surrealistically foreboding with a series of gentle downward glissandos. They took it out by digging in for a buoyantly wary march. Maybe it wasn’t the optimal segue, but what a gorgeously bracing piece of music!

Fortes also contributed a new arrangement of the famously mystical, hymnal third movement from Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135, which the group approached steadily, soberly, and a little on the fast side. With its lushness and sweep, it left the crowd breathless. Fortes has arranged the whole quartet; hopefully we’ll get to hear all of it someday.

By the time the intermission was over, the skies had cleared for a similarly sweeping take of Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings. There seemed to be extra deliciousness from the low strings in the cheerful sway of the first movement; likewise, the waltzing second movement was steely and robust, the third especially vivace, yet with an uneasy undercurrent. The group resisted any temptation to simply roll with the lullaby quality of the fourth movement, opting for symphonic grandeur, then dancing through the conclusion. The final piece on the bill was Castles, a baroque-tinged piece with a carefree chorale by one of the ensemble’s own, bassist Karl Doty.

This year’s series of Naumburg Bandshell concerts continues on July 26 at 7:30 PM with perennial favorites the Knights and colorful violinist Lara St. John playing Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony plus works by Avner Dorman. Enter at 72nd St.; get there early (like, an hour, at least) if you want a seat.

A Haunting, Picturesque Portrait of an Iconic Black Sea Port by Ukrainian Pianist Vadim Neselovskyi

Over the past ten years, Ukrainian pianist Vadim Neselovskyi has built a career out of writing brooding, evocative songs without words that draw equally on jazz, the High Romantic classical tradition and 21st century composition. He takes the inspiration for his new solo album Odesa: A Musical Walk Through a Legendary City – streaming at Bandcamp – from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. It’s a colorful, picturesque, and aptly stormy portrait of the pianist’s home turf.

He opens his salute to the city’s railway station with a turbulent, stygian lefthand, rising to a bouncing but emphatic drive with hints of Tschaikovsky and a bustling minor-key folk dance. As the train moves out of the city, the ride calms and the tormented mood lifts on the wings of Neselovskyi’s righthand accents. Ultimately, the message is hopeful: you can’t keep this train off the rails for long.

Winter in Odesa is a steady, icy stroll, Neselovskyi’s glistening melody rising and falling canonically. Potemkin Stairs, inspired by the famous city landmark, has a thorny, intricate, frequently crosshanded melody, its rippling variations echoing late 70s art-rock as well as Herbie Hancock’s Rockit. Neselovskyi fires off lightning upper-register clusters over a strutting lefthand in Acacia Trees, drawing on a famous movie theme by Odessan composer Isaac Dunaevsky.

There’s similarly rapidfire articulacy but also lingering disquiet in Waltz of Odesa Conservatory, a shout-out to Neselovskyi’s teenage alma mater. October 1941 is an outright chilling tableau that commemorates the massacre of Jews there at the hands of the Nazis: machine gun fire. civilians falling left and right and after a pregnant pause, a stunned wisp of what could be a playground song. It’s one of the most harrowing pieces of music released in recent months.

He lifts the mood with Jewish Dance, a diptych with a bright, allusively chromatic intro that grows more glittery, percussive and North African-flavored. It brings to mind the work of Lebanese composer Tarek Yamani.

My First Rock Concert is Neselovskyi’s playfully contrapuntal, incisively kinetic tribute to defiant Russian rock songwriter Victor Tsoy and his new wave hit Blood Type (and also Jimi Hendrix, maybe).

As he winds up the album, Neselovskyi references Mussorgsky with a couple of brief, grimly bounding interludes, the second to introduce the final cut, The Renaissance of Odesa, a pensive, muted pavane that offers (very, very) guarded hope for the future once the twin nightmare of the Putin invasion and the Zelensky dystopia is over.

Neselovskyi starts a European tour at the end of the month. Those interested in how he plays similarly moody but more postbop-influenced material can catch him as part of drummer Christian Finger‘s trio tomorrow, July 3 at the Blue Note with sets at half past noon and 2:30 PM; cover is $15.

An Elegant Party in Central Park with the Handel and Haydn Society at the Naumburg Bandshell

Every year, a new generation of classical music fans discovers the annual series of free Naumburg Bandshell concerts in Central Park, which ran uninterrupted for 114 years until the disaster of 2020. Judging from the crowd last night, there’s no shortage of younger supporters to continue the tradition where all the seats fill up as much as an hour before the concert.

This time out was a deep dive into the baroque, with violinist Aisslinn Nosky leading period instrument ensemble the Handel and Haydn Society through an intricate and intuitive performance of what was essentially party music for the ruling classes of Europe right around the time the formerly Dutch colony across the pond was starting to get restless. If Woody Allen had been a figure from around the turn of the 18th century, this is probably what he would have been listening to (and maybe playing – clarinetists abounded in those days).

The ensemble opened with Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in D Major, with a bit of a hush and what seemed like a striking emphasis on steely pedalpoint as much as the equally insistent exchanges of contrapuntal voicings. The crowd immediately responded after the first movement. Likewise, the lushly emphatic bowing in the second movement, which the group quickly turned into a lively dance with a Vivaldiesque series of flurries on the way out.

That boisterous energy set the stage for the rest of the night. The group followed with 18th century British composer Charles Avison’s Scarlatti-inspired Concerto Grosso No. 5 in D Minor, digging into the stately rhythm of the first movement with gusto and an inspired bluster when the score permitted. Nosky shifted from sharp-toothed articulation to an elegant legato sway in the second movement and the waltzing conclusion.

The piece de resistance was Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in A minor, RV 356, a romp where Nosky rose from a practically conspiratorial, sotto-voce understatement to an incisive precision matched by a welcome, raw attack echoed by the group’s low strings (and a couple of planes passing overhead to bolster the low end). Was the second movement just hazy ambience? Hardly. The group held those resonant notes for dear life, 1711-style, at least until bursting out on the wings of Nosky’s fugal attack.

Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso after Corelli, Op. 5, No. 5 in G Minor, from 1727, got a matter-of-fact, energetic sway and contrasting lushness (as well as a vividly plaintive interlude) before the sprightly country dance in the second movement.

After the intermission, the group flipped the script with Corelli and his Concerto Grosso in B-flat Major, Op. 6, No. 11, a gently emphatic pavane introducing tightly choreographed scurrying and a second movement where the pregnant pauses early on took the audience completely by surprise.

Harpsichordist Ian Watson was called on for his most prominent role of the night in Handel’s Concerto Grosso in F Major, Op. 6, No. 9. The strings maintained a bouncy tenacity through the composer’s endlessly permutating volleys and then surprisingly poignant exchanges before the lively, contrastingly stately waltzes afterward

The final piece on the bill was Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso in D Minor, La Follia, after Corelli, Op. 5, No.12, Nosky foreshadowing the low strings’ intense response (and drawing a spontaneous burst of applause from the crowd) with her rapidfire work in the opening movement. Through the tradeoffs between lulls and liveliness, it was the most sophisticated piece of the night, and the crowd roared their appreciation.

This year’s Naumburg Bandshell concert series continues on July 12 at 7:30 PM with chamber orchestra A Far Cry playing an innovative program of string arrangements of Bartok miniatures plus works by Dvorak, Beethoven, Franghiz Ali-Zadeh and Karl Doty. Take the 2 or 3 to 72nd St., walk east and get there early if you want a seat.

Max Richter Playfully Reinvents an Iconic Vivaldi Suite – Again

A decade after reinterpreting Vivaldi on his playfully innovative Recomposed album with the Britten Sinfonia and violinist Daniel Hope, keyboardist Max Richter has opted to revisit lucrative territory with his latest project The New Four Seasons. Violinist Elena Urioste and the Chineke Orchestra join the composer, who unobtrusively plays a vintage Moog synth as well as sprightly harpsichord on the new vinyl record, streaming at Spotify.

Is this art-rock? The avant garde? Modern classical? Ambient music? A little, or sometimes a lot of all of those labels come into play here. Spring is reconstituted in four parts, the other seasons in three. Frequently, Richter’s cuisinarted baroque barely resembles the original. All the same, it’s playful, sometimes affectingly pensive music and draws the listener into his allusive treasure hunt.

Birdsong-like strings chatter and flutter over a somber loop from the basses as Spring begins, shifting to a steady, often hypnotic pavane. Richter lets the composer’s hushed anticipatory riffs from Summer resonate; from there, he makes a striding march out of it and then brings it down to a suspenseful summer-evening pulse. The conclusion, with Urioste going lickety-split, is a visceral thrill.

The goofy quasi-flamenco syncopation of the intro to Autumn borders on the ridiculous, but Urioste’s quicksilver volleys quickly take charge. Richter’s shift to sheer luxuriance is a welcome contrast, as is the stately harpsichord movement and the kinetic conclusion. 

Winter is where Richter reaches furthest into the avant garde, notably with the microtonal introduction kicking off a memorably blustery, symphonic sweep. Urioste’s wary lyricism and then her precise run through the closing labyrinth take centerstage as the suite winds up. 

Where can you hear Vivaldi around New York this summer? Tonight, June 28 at 7:30 PM at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park, where Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, led by violinist Aisslinn Nosky play works by Corelli, Vivaldi, Geminiani, Handel and Charles Avison. Get there early if you want a seat.

A Haunter of the New York City Subway Emerges From the Underground

It was past eleven on a raw, gloomy, pretty desolate Thursday night on the Lower East Side of New York in the fall of 2014. Waiting impatiently for the F train, a daily New York music blog owner leaned against a pole on the Second Avenue subway platform after a show by My Brighest Diamond. Across the way, a petite, black-clad woman wearing raccoon-eye mascara played instrumentals on an accordion.

The concert had been underwhelming. Shara Nova’s crystalline voice had soared as high as anyone could have wanted, but the band was a lot more stripped-down, compared to the symphonic lineup she’d had at an outdoor festival the year before. And the swirl and lushness of that performance was conspicuously absent. To the publicist who hooked up that show, this is a mea culpa, eight years late.

But the best was yet to come that night. Stationed in her usual spot on the platform, Melissa Elledge slowly worked her way into an absolutely chilling, gorgeously rubato take of Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1. And then followed it with an even more spacious, haunting version of Gymnopedie No. 2! For those who have no idea how beautiful Satie sounds on accordion, fast forward to 2:30 of this video of Elledge in her element, five years later. In a split second, that whole night was redeemed.

Elledge also plays the occasional above-ground show, and she’s doing an official outdoor performance on the water behind Battery Park tomorrow, June 21 starting at 4:30. As a bonus, you can catch a more theatrically-inclined, accordion-wielding artist, Mary Spencer Knapp, beforehand starting at around 2 if you have some time in the middle of the day.

Elledge has recorded with groups including folk noir band Thee Shambels but not much as a solo artist. Her Bandcamp page has a single, For Beethoven, with Love and Distortion, a wry rearrangement of a famous theme which she jams out on the platform a lot and is too funny to spoil.

She also has a Soundcloud page. The first track is a steady, ominously pulsing, uber-gothic solo accordion version of Clint Mansell’s Luz Aeterna, from the Requiem For a Dream score. She echoes that ambience a little later on with Radiohead’s Exit Music For a Film.

The rest of the page is eclectic to the extreme, and a lot of fun. Most of this is live. Elledge takes Duke Elington’s Shout ‘Em, Aunt Tillie and basically makes noir cabaret out of it – at least until a train rumbles into the station. She fires off a strutting backing track to the Coolio hit Gangsta’s Paradise, along with a cleverly reharmonized standard that she calls You Must Take the A Train…It Doesn’t Stop Here, Though. That’s a reference to how, for years, the F was constantly rerouted at night, away from Elledge’s regular busking space. Little did we know how that was just a part of a slow lead-up to the divide-and-conquer of 2020.

Elledge comes out of a classical piano background, so the Soundcloud tracks also include a Romantically-tinged take of Philip Glass’ Wichita Vortex Sutra, complete with a voiceover of the Allen Ginsberg text. And if you have the time, there’s an irresistibly fun and unexpectedly tight accordion orchestra version of Terry Riley’s In C, with Elledge leading the ensemble.

The Knights Make History With Beethoven and Janacek at the Naumburg Bandshell

Last night at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park was a welcome return for one of New York’s most enduring cosmopolitan traditions. This was a particularly clever installment. It’s been done before: pairing Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata with Janacek’s String Quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata.” A Naumburg Concert favorite, chamber orchestra the Knights worked several levels of meta with new symphonic arrangements of both: the former a chart by violinist Colin Jacobsen, the latter a collaboration between his brother Eric and Knights horn player Mike Atkinson.

Orchestral scores for both works go back as far as Tschaikovsky, who did it with Beethoven. Likewise, there have been plenty of programs pairing both of the original pieces. But yesterday evening’s concert might have been the first time two orchestral versions of both have been played on the same bill. It turned out to be as colorful as expected, considering the ensemble’s penchant for surprise.

They opened with a Colin Jacobsen piece, playfully titled Kreutzings, rising from dizzyingly dissociative layers through jaunty microtonal glissandos from around the ensemble, to a coyly contrapuntal waltz. Flickers of each of the night’s main composers bubbled to the surface occasionally as the strings joined in precise, steady eighth notes while winding their way out.

Jacobsen, celebrating his birthday, served as soloist in the Beethoven. Crisp, elegant cheer interchanged with a little suspense and a bustling freshness that veered toward the raw side in the opening movement, confirming how well this material lends itself to orchestral sweep and majesty. Jacobsen quickly went for silkiness and ran with it amid anxious Vivaldiesque counterpoint. The restless thicket of low strings toward the end was a particularly juicy moment for the orchestra to sink their teeth into.

As if by design, a passing airplane introduced the andante second movement, bubbly woodwinds picking up the pace considerably before Jacobsen took over with a fine-toothed staccato. The bristling energy never dissipated, through lushness and a coyly pulsing bounce beneath the violinist’s spirals, flurries and animated pizzicato. Interestingly, the finale was on the spare and restrained side, despite the velocity: an urbane party that earned a contrastingly raucous standing ovation.

After the intermission, the ensemble tackled Anna Clyne’s Stride. Echoing the concert’s opening number, fleeting hints of Beethoven percolated amid tense close harmonies and microtones over a striding tempo flecked with rather suspenseful lulls and a long trajectory up to an anthemic, Dvorakian coda. Clyne doesn’t usually go for fullscale High Romantic: turns out she excels at it. This was a revelation.

Janacek’s first quartet follows the drama and familial mischegas of the Tolstoy tale, giving us an extra level of meta. Furtive Balkan chromatics quickly receded for an aching lushness and unexpected pageantry in the opening movement, only to reappear in a tensely gripping, Bernard Herrmann vein. Giving the anxious conversation in the third movement to the woodwinds paid magnificently poignant dividends on the way to an equally memorable stampede out. The ensemble encored with flutist Alex Sopp leading the group through a lickety-split, buoyant arrangement of a Taraf de Haidoucks Romany dance tune.

For those who missed the concert, the Knights managed to record the Beethoven and Janacek in February 2020, just under the wire before the fateful events that would crush the world a few weeks later. The next Naumburg Bandshell concert is on June 28 at 7:30 PM with the Handel and Haydn Society, led by violinist Aisslinn Nosky, playing works by Corelli, Vivaldi, Geminiani, Handel and Charles Avison.

Danny Holt Tackles the Fiery, Lyrical Music of a Legendary David Bowie Pianist

Many years ago, this blog’s owner had what turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see David Bowie in concert. As far as bucket-list shows go, this was at the very top.

It was a huge disappointment. The long-since-razed Roseland Ballroom in midtown Manhattan had notoriously bad, boomy sound. The Thin White Duke didn’t play guitar, the setlist was mostly forgettable 1990s material, and he had that awful, florid guitarist who played with him in his even more forgettable Tin Machine project.

One of the few upsides to the concert was that it was the first time that Bowie had performed with pianist Mike Garson since the 1970s. And Garson seemed to be jumping out of his shoes to be playing the gig, firing off one elegant, rapidfire cascade after another. Fast forward to 2022: Garson is making a rare Manhattan small-club appearance at Mezzrow on June 19 at 7:30 PM with Don Falzone on bass and Billy Mintz on drums. Cover is $25 cash at the door, but this could be an instance where you might want to make a reservation in advance.

One Garson album that fans need to hear actually doesn’t have Garson on it. He came up with the material while improvising on a Yamaha Disclavier (the digitally-empowered precursor to the Steinway Spirio). Pianist Danny Holt plays those transcriptions on his latest release, Piano Music of Mike Garson, streaming at Spotify. Most of them could be considered preludes, or suites of them.

Holt opens dramatically with the aptly titled Homage to Chopin and Godowsky, a look back at the kind of daunting, lyrical rivulets and meticulously articulated chords Garson wowed the crowd with at that Roseland show all those years ago. The second track, a Bowie homage, is a fondly Asian-tinged fugue of sorts.

There are fifteen other pieces on the album, spanning a characteristically wide swath of styles. Rampaging art-rock gives way to thorny Ligeti-esque interludes, labyrinthine passages that could be Schumann or Janacek, insistently rhythmic moments that come across as High Romantic Steve Reich, and a warmly inviting nocturne or two..

Needless to say, Garson’s skills creating this kind of intensity out of thin air are undiminished, and Holt deserves equal credit for having both the good taste and chops to deliver Garsons’s icepick lefthand and intricately harmonized two-handed passages with equal flair and precision.