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Category: classical music

A Stormy, Thrilling Carnegie Hall Return For Kariné Poghosyan

Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall, pianist Kariné Poghosyan picked where she left off after a meticulously intuitive and thunderously applauded performance of Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky there in November, 2019. That New Yorkers had to wait so long for a reprise is a crime. Undeterred by the past almost three years, she delivered a similar amount of fireworks and detailed insights to another packed house and several ovations.

The material drew from her latest album, understatedly titled Folk Themes: she is a fierce and articulate exponent of music from her Armenian heritage. Poghosyan’s well-chronicled, dazzling technical prowess is matched by a remarkable attention to content: her performances are akin to a jazz singer who takes the lyrics line by line for maximum emotional impact, not to mention unexpected mirth.

One of the evening’s early highlights was a tender and spacious but playful version of Komitas’ Shushiki, which contrasted with an alternately thunderous and suspenseful version of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Waltz No. 6.

Four lyric pieces by Grieg rounded out the first half of the concert: the alternately hopeful and foreboding To the Spring, the deliciously phantasmagorical March of the Gnomes, the angst-fueled, Rachmaninovian Minuet for Vanished Days, and a rewardingly lithe, understated take of Wedding at Troldhaugen.

There was majesty to match the requisite shreddy intensity in her performance of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12. Yet she found a coy flirtatiousness in how she held back her phrasing, particularly before the lithely dancing music-box interlude, whose dynamics she worked with a similarly dynamic charm. As she played, she would look up, completely overjoyed, leaving no doubt that this was a love song with a happy ending.

By contrast, his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 was much more stately and somber. In the beginning, moments of triumph were subsumed in an pervasive pensiveness, Poghosyan exercising considerable restraint with the lefthand and the rhythmic drive while opting for glitter and gleam. Still, she found a swinging passage where she was literally bouncing on the piano bench in the seconds before throwing caution to the wind and driving it to a careening coda.

Liszt’s Rhapsodie Espagnole fell somewhere in between. This time out, Poghosyan had picked an irridescent green gown instead of the red Trans Am of an outfit she’d worn at the 2019 concert – and she didn’t give the crowd the big bicep flex this time around.

The encores were arguably the highlight of the night. The first was a briskly kinetic, crystalline romp through Babajanian’s gorgeously chromatic Dance of Vagharshapat. The second which has become a signature piece in her repertoire, was an opulent, ecstatic, pointillistically pristine rendition of Kachaturian’s Toccata.

Poghosyan’s next concert in the tri-state area is on March 12 at 2 PM where she joins the Wallingford Symphony Orchestra on a program including works by Prokofiev plus Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Tix are $30.

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Organist Gail Archer Delivers a Breathtaking Concert For Peace at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Thursday night at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Gail Archer played what might have been the first organ concert there in almost three years. That’s a crime: the church has some of the richest natural reverb of any building in town, and the Kilgen organ there is a treasure which deserves to be unleashed in all its glory. Archer excels on that instrument, and made an auspicious return with a profoundly relevant program dedicated to peace between Russia and Ukraine, in solidarity with the citizens of both nations.

Lately, Archer has made a career out of exploring specific organ traditions from cultures which aren’t typically associated with the instrument. While even the typical, small European city can be full of old organs, they are conspicuously absent from the remaining churches in Russia and Ukraine. Archer drew her program from material from her two albums featuring repertoire from both countries.

She opened with an electric, aptly majestic take of Glazunov’s Prelude and Fugue in D minor, Op. 98, making maximum use of the church’s upper-midrange brass and reed stops. Cached within her cyclotron swirl was a steady forward drive which as she recorded it came across more sternly than the triumph she channeled here.

Next on the bill were a couple of preludes by Rachmaninoff nemesis César Cui. His Prelude in G minor had echoes of Mendlessohn balanced by a rather opaque chromatic edge. Archer’s take of his Prelude in Ab major proved to be another opportunity for her to revel in the vast range in the available registers, this time a little further down the scale.

She flawlessly executed the rapidfire phrasing and torrential crescendos of 20th century composer Sergei Slonimsky’s Toccata. The last of the Russian pieces was another 20th century work, Alexander Shaversaschvili’s Prelude and Fugue: again, Archer’s registrations were a feast of dynamic contrasts, through a judicious processional, more muted phantasmagoria and a determined if persistently uneasy drive forward into a fullscale conflagration.

Turning to Ukraine, Archer focused on 20th century and contemporary composers before closing with the High Romantic. The Piece in Five Movements, by Tadeusz Machl showcased the organ’s many colors, from close harmonies in uneasy counterpoint, to more spare and distantly mysterious, to a more insistent, melodically spiky radiance and a stormy interlude fueled by challenging pedal figures.

Archer couldn’t resist unleashing every breath of portentous intensity in Mykola Kolessa’s defiantly disquieted Passacaglia, through some subtle rhythmic shifts. Likewise, the Chaconne, by 21st century composer Svitlana Ostrova came across as a radiant if dissociative mashup of familiar classical tropes and modernist acerbity, with some spine-tingling cascades.

Archer closed the program with Iwan Kryschanowskij’s epically symphonic Fantasie, ranging from a simmering blue-flame fugue, to a long climb with more than an echo of the macabre. A dip to more restrained, swirling resonance was no less intense; Archer worked briskly from there up to a deliciously descending false ending and a surprisingly understated coda.

The next concert at St. Pat’s, on March 9 at 7 PM, is a reprise of the annual series of Irish folk music performances which were interrupted by the lockdown. This one is dedicated to the memory of Mick Moloney, who died suddenly last year and had been a fixture of those shows.

Stunning, Haunting New Compositions by One of New York’s Most Adventurous Bassists

Good bass players are like good singers: they get enlisted for a wider range of projects than most musicians. Bassist Max Johnson is probably as well known for his work in Americana as he is with jazz. He’s playing the latter, leading an intriguing trio with tenor saxophonist Neta Ranaan and drummer Jason Nazary on Jan 28 at 7:30 PM at the Django; cover is $25.

But Johnson has another side, as a composer of new classical music. On his latest album When the Streets Were Quiet – a reference to The Trial, by Kafka – he appears only as a conductor, leading a chamber ensemble of violinist Lauren Cauley, violist Carrie Frey, cellist Maria Hadge, clarinetist Lucy Hatem and pianist Fifi Zhang.

The opening number on the album – streaming at New Focus Recordings – is Minerva, for clarinet, violin, cello and piano. After a spacious introductory reference to Messiaen’s Quartet For the End of Time, the ensemble work a simple, increasingly emphatic, steadily acidic counterpoint. Quartet for the Beginning of Time, maybe?

Johnson switches out piano for viola for the quartet on the title track. Hatem’s clarinet moves broodingly over an uneasy, close-harmonied, organ-like sustain from the strings. A couple of shivers and subtle swells further indicate that trouble is brewing. Frey leads the strings deeper into otherworldly microtonal territory, as minutely modulated tremolo effects signal the clarinet’s mournful return and a solemn, slowly drifting procession out. Franz Kafka would be proud to have inspired music this spellbinding.

Next up is Johnson’s String Trio for violin, viola and cello. The more somber, sustained moments of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 spring to mind, Cauley leading a slow but ineluctable upward trajectory toward horror. Hadge leads the group into more calming terrain, with distant echoes of what could be a Britfolk ballad mingled within the unease. The trio take their time moving between a jaunty bounce and portentous swells on the way out.

Hatem, Frey and Zhang play the final piece, Echoes of a Memory, again echoing Messiaen at his sparest. Pianissimo highs against stygian lows give way to a cautious, icy pavane of sorts, part Federico Mompou, part Bernard Herrmann. This doesn’t sound anything like what Johnson will likely be playing with the jazz trio on the 28th but it’s often transcendent. Is it fair to be talking about one of the best albums of the year when we’re not even done with January yet?

Mike O’Mara’s Last Playlist

Presuming that he is still alive, Mike O’Mara is a versatile pianist and an awardwinning choral composer. In 2017, he wrote and staged a prescient, dystopic musical comedy.

One of the recent songs on his youtube channel is titled Memento Mori. Clearly, you’d get the impression this is a pretty sharp, sober guy.

So why did he take the Moderna shot?

Unless he’s already answered that question somewhere, we may never know. Lioness of Judah reports that yesterday, O’Mara tweeted out a goodbye message.

Over the last several months, he had chronicled his crippling neurodegeneration in the wake of taking the lethal Covid injection. So it’s no surprise that he calls his final 2022 playlist  “Playing While Dying,” Scroll down on his homepage: solo on piano with occasional roughhewn vocals, he takes his time with some Handel, then picks up the pace with some energetic, barrelhouse-infused cabaret tunes like Through with Love, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, and Nice Work If You Can Get It.

The web abounds with accounts of sudden death from the Covid injections. This blog has related several and will continue to. What has been cruelly overlooked is the tortuous injuries suffered by those who took the shot (torture seems to be a major part of the ultimate game plan).

One recent survey indicates that 90% of those who took the deadly injection were coerced. They took it under duress, afraid that they’d lose their jobs or their college educations. One friend of this blog took it because she was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to go to the library. No joke.

The vast majority of those people weren’t covidian Nazis. They just wanted to live normal lives.

Some of them fell victim to fear porn. Others succumbed to the torture of the lockdowns which Janet Ossebaard has chronicled. Some might even have bought into the myth of asymptomatic transmission and thought that they were being good citizens.

These unfortunate victims didn’t comply because they wanted to ruin our lives. They complied because they were afraid that theirs would be ruined if they didn’t. Little did they know the opposite would happen. They didn’t deserve that. Everybody makes mistakes. Nobody deserves to die because they mistakenly believed that they could comply themselves out of the New Abnormal.

Let’s hope that Mike O’Mara is still with us and able to get on a protocol to flush the deadly toxins from the Moderna shot out of his system.

A Revealing Collection of Rare Polish Organ Music and a Concert for Peace by Gail Archer

Organist Gail Archer gets around. She has an unbounded curiosity for repertoire from around the globe and likes to explore it thematically, country by country. This makes sense especially in light of the vast and sometimes confounding variation in the design of pipe organs from various cultures…meaning that just about every individual instrument presents its own unique challenges.

One of Archer’s most colorful albums, drolly titled An American Idyll, is a salute to the composer-performers who were stars of the organ demimonde in the Eastern United States in the 19th century. Her two most recent albums have focused on rare organ works from Russia and Ukraine, each a country where church organs are a relative rarity. Her latest album Cantius – streaming at Spotify – is a fascinating and often riveting collection of rarely heard works by Polish composers. Archer’s next performance is a free concert for peace on Jan 19 at 7 PM at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, featuring both Russian and Ukrainian works. She plays the cathedral’s mighty Kilgen organ magnificently – if you are in New York and this is your thing, you do not want to miss this one.

Archer takes the album title from St. John Cantius Church, whose sleek, French-voiced 1926 Casavant organ she plays here. She opens with late 19th century composer Mieczyslaw Surzynski’s Improvisation on a Polish Hymn, a pleasant processional which gives her the chance to pull out some juicy upper-midrange stops and engage in a little baroque minimalism. Likewise, the brief Pastorale in F# Minor, by another 19th century composer, Wincenty Rychling begins with a stern hymnal focus but becomes more of a stroll.

20th century Polish-American composer Felix Borowski is represented by his Meditation-Elegie, an attractively workmanlike take on Louis Vierne, which Archer plays with increasingly steely grace. Contemporary composer Pawel Lukaszewski contributes his Triptych for Organ, Archer having fun with the brooding, Messiaenic suspense and  fugal crescendo of the fleeting first movement. She then lingers in the opaque resonance of the Offertorium and brings it full circle with mystical, steadily paced minimalism.

The real find here is a Henryk Gorecki rarity, his Kantata for Organ. Epic, sustained, wide-angle close-harmonied chords dominate the introduction. Then Archer wafts up from the murky lows to oddly incisive syncopation in the second movement, concluding with a rather fervent rhythmic attack that distantly echoes Jehan Alain. Did John Zorn hear this and have an epiphany which would inform his organ improvisations?

20th century composer Felix Nowowiejski’s single-movement Symphony No. 8 is more of a grande pièce symphonique, Archer patiently and dynamically negotiating its Widor-esque shifts from pensive resonance to a more emphatic attack and a mighty, majestic forward drive that opts for suspense over a fullscale anthem. It’s a High Romantic throwback and a real treat.

Grazyna Bacewicz is another standout Polish composer who is not known for organ music, but her Esquisse for Organ is exquisite: first evoking Messiaen in the gloomy introductory pavane and then Vierne in the coyly ebullient water nymphet ballet afterward. Archer winds up the album with a final 20th century work, Tadeusz Paciorkiewicz’s Tryptychon for Organ The steady quasi-march of an introduction reminds of Naji Hakim’s more energetic material, while the Meditation has more of an allusive early 20th century feel – and is considerably more emphatic than you would expect. Archer delivers the concluding Toccata with eerily puffing staccato but also a warm, triumphant pace in its more majestic moments.

Composer and Holocaust Survivor Inna Zhvanetskaya Escapes German Death Squad…For Now

Individualistic composer and Holocaust survivor Inna Zhvanetskaya has gone into hiding after a German court ordered her to be forcibly institutionalized and murdered via lethal Covid injection. LifeSite News reports that her lawyer, Holger Fischer was able to get the lethal injection order suspended, but she remains in danger of being seized by the health gestapo. At this time, she remains in an undisclosed location after being rescued by freedom fighters.

The pretext of the court order is that the 85-year-old, Ukrainian-born Zhvanetskaya needs to be hospitalized for her own protection. For whatever reason, the complaint filed with the court contained many false statements, misstating her age and incorrectly characterizing her as morbidly obese. According to a report by the Lioness of Judah Substack, Zhvanetskaya is also accused of being “Completely caught up in her compositions and so busy with music that it is impossible to have a meaningful conversation with her.”

Perish the thought.

In a conversation with a Report24 correspondent, the famously introverted composer thanked him for his support by singing him one of her pieces. “It’s like when Dad was at the front and Mom had to flee with me and my brother,” she explained, equating her flight from German authorities to her experiences in Ukraine running from the Nazis.

Zhvanetskaya’s music is deceptively simple, otherworldly and often outright haunting, with echoes of Erik Satie and Jewish folk traditions.

Update – Amy Sukwan has a searing piece on this just out.

A Playful, Entertaining, Dynamic New Album of Genre-Busting String Music From the PubliQuartet

You could debate whether the PubliQuartet’s latest album What Is American – streaming at Bandcamp – is punk classical, or the avant garde, or string jazz, or oldtimey string band music. You’d be right on all counts. The foursome of violinists Curtis Stewart and Nick Revel, violist Jannina Norpoth and cellist Hamilton Berry have a great time reinventing an iconic classical quartet, a couple of famous jazz numbers, and unveil a handful of world premieres that defy category. The central theme is exploring the many threads that make up what we might call American music. While it’s a lot of fun and eclectic to the extreme, the group also don’t shy away from themes of segregation or discrimination: again, highly relevant in the wake of the March 2020 global takeover attempt.

The group intersperse their own miniatures in between several of the pieces, taking turns narrating an Oliver Wendell Holmes text. “Down, down with the traitor” – powerful words for 2023!

The first work on the album is improvisations on Dvořák’s “American” String Quartet, No. 12, Op. 96. Movement one sets the stage: this is punk classical. spiked with slashes, slow drifting tones and percussive extended technique within a straightforward proto-Gershwin march. While the group blend several unembellished themes from the original, their reinterpretation is more brief.

They put a lively pizzicato swing beat to the lento second movement, when they’re not adding flitting, ghostly harmonics to the rustic oldtime gospel theme. Interestingly, the molto vivace third movement is a lot more circumspect and spacious in places. The quartet punch in hard with a march on the final movement, then back away with a hazy, contrapuntal chorale over loopy, jagged harmonics: if they recorded this live, it’s all the more impressive how they handled this polyrhythmic maze.

The ensemble build Rhiannon Giddens‘ At the Purchaser’s Option from stark oldtime blues-flavored trip-hop to a mighty anthem. Likewise, they turn Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose into shivery indie classical and jaunty ragtime, with a voiceover by A’Lelia Bundles. In a diptych of Ornette Coleman’s Law Years, they veer from anthemic intensity to flickering disquiet and jaggedly dissociative blues.

The opening movement of the world premiere of Vijay Iyer‘s relatively brief string quartet Dig the Say is Carry the Ball. a jauntily swaying, riffy theme over hypnotic, rhythmic pedalpoint. The second movement, This Thing Together is equally hypnotic, but in a hazily drifting way. Movement three, Up From the Ground is bouncy and has handclaps; the final movement, To Live Tomorrow wraps it up with a jaggedly opaque edge. Iyer’s milieu may be jazz, and a lot more expansive than this, but this is a triumph of tight, genre-resistant tunesmithing.

Another world premiere, Roscoe Mitchell’s CARDS 11-11-2020 is the most ambient, minimalist and astringent work here, punctuated by echo effects and plucky pizzicato before an unexpectedly lively, acerbic coda.

The ensemble wind up the record with a medley of four covers from the worlds of soul and blues. They reinvent Tina Turner’s Black Coffee as a quasi-spiritual in 6/8 time, then bring a biting blues edge and slithery extended technique to They Say I’m Different, by Betty Davis. The driftiest, most sepulchral piece here is Alice Coltrane’s Er Ra, although the group can’t resist rising with a triumphant if whispery lattice of harmonics. They close by digging triumphantly into a determinedly swinging take of Ida Cox’s Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues.

The PubliQuartet don’t have any New York gigs coming up, but Giddens is playing an intriguing show on Jan 12 at 7 PM at the Rogers Auditorium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she’s joined by pianist Howard Watkins and a cast of singers in a salute to the thirty thousand slaves who escaped captivity prior to the Civil War. You can get in for $35.

Fearless and Entertaining Words From a Leader of the New School of Music Writing

It was no surprise to watch how the groupthink that captured the corporate media and most of social media in 2020 extended to the world of music writing as well. So it was a great pleasure to read today’s piece by self-described “apostate music journalist” Saby Reyes-Kulkarni, one of the most thoughtful and entertaining voices in this demimonde. In a world which has largely been co-opted by Gates Foundation and CIA money, his Substack is a welcome oasis of sanity and intelligence. His latest piece (which sends a very generous shout out to this blog) involves an immersively beautiful album by Renaissance choir Anonymous 4...and how he’s decided to go public as a freedom fighter.

“My daughter was born two weeks before Christmas, and I’m being 100% sincere when I tell her that she’s the greatest Christmas gift I’ve ever gotten. I felt very connected with Christmas as a kid myself, but having my own child enter the world at this time of year has forever punctuated this point on the calendar as a herald of light, of new life and the wonder of all that’s to come. I still feel that way even though I’m well into that stretch of parenting where you get past the glow of baby-hood and you start to navigate what feel like treacherous waters. As she shows the first stirrings of a genuine despair within her spirit — an inner turmoil I didn’t expect would take root until her teen years — it’s much like the winter solstice in reverse, as I prepare for the individual darkness within her to emerge and grow and spill over into the outer world (as it does with all people).

Nevertheless, I feel a boost these days, like a cool breeze of good tidings blowing my way… a tide that can uplift the vessel of my life, my family, my home, and my community. The feeling, oddly enough, is quite strong even though it has a newborn kind of quality to it.

Since covid upended life for much of the human population in the spring of 2020 — an experience, I should mention, that was overwhelmingly positive for me on balance — it’s nevertheless become clear that humanity is now faced with confronting a malevolence that exists on a scale I never would’ve been able to imagine. I mean, I was able to imagine it, I just couldn’t comprehend it — certainly not as something I would have to find a way to contend with.

We have, I’m convinced, arrived at an inflection point in history where science fiction is no longer fiction. The dystopian horrors we’ve envisioned for decades via movies and books have manifested in earnest, having crossed the line from fantasy into reality. That worst that we imagined is here, no longer something we can keep projecting into some fuzzy “not-too-distant” point down the road.”

Click here to read the rest.

In Memoriam: Stanley Drucker

Stanley Drucker, credited by the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest career of any classical clarinetist, died at his daughter’s home outside San Diego on December 19. He was 93.

Born in Brooklyn in 1929, Drucker was playing chamber music professionally by the time he was in his teens. After symphony orchestra positions in Indianapolis and Buffalo, Drucker joined the New York Philharmonic in 1948, at 19. He was appointed Principal Clarinetist in 1960 by Leonard Bernstein and held that position through 2009.

After his retirement from the orchestra, Drucker continued playing. At a 2014 performance of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, which he played from memory, his legendary technique and crystalline tone were undiminished, even after more than ten thousand concerts.

Throughout his career, Drucker championed contemporary composers; his best-known release on album is a 1980 recording of John Corigliano’s clarinet concerto with the Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta. A fan of the Benny Goodman swing he grew up listening to, Drucker was also an accomplished jazz player.

Drucker is survived by several grandchildren as well as his clarinetist wife Naomi, his daughter Rosanne, and his son Lee Rocker, the bassist and co-founder of second-wave rockabilly legends the Stray Cats.

The Philharmonic has released a slideshow which includes highlights from throughout Drucker’s legendary career.

A Messiah For the Age

There was a point early during the second half of this past evening’s sold-out performance of Handel’s Messiah by the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra where the music suddenly reached a visceral, bristling ferocity in what seemed to be seconds flat. On one hand, everyone who’s ever paid attention during what was for decades an iconic New York holiday ritual knows that all the action – including that famous chorus – takes place during part two. There’s also no denying the dynamic contrasts in any inspired rendition of this famous mass.

Up to that point, it had been a faithfully understated spectacle. Conductor Andrew Megill put a smallish-sized (under thirty-piece) choir and orchestra through their paces with a brisk efficiency well suited to the church’s confines: Trinity is a historic throwback to long before the advent of the megachurch.

But this also seemed to be a especially liturgically-focused performance, something that may surprise concertgoers from outside New York, where this very specifically Christian celebration has been woven into the fabric of diversely secular lives. When tenor Brian Giebler addressed the issue of evildoers and intoned from Psalms how “He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn; the Lord shall have them in derision,” the bite in his voice delivered a visceral chill.

Maybe Giebler is just a strong and expressive interpreter…or maybe he was also reaching for something extra, like the spirit of the age. It was a striking setup to that famous chorus, the choir percolating their way through it with a steady aplomb.

Getting there, and also from there, also had its moments, even if you had to watch carefully for them sometimes. Other singers brought vivid personality to their roles, notably bass Joe Chappel’s rock-solid, calm determination, baritone Thomas McCargar’s reflective dynamism, soprano Madeline Healey’s steadfast presence and Meg Dudley’s unselfconscious plaintiveness. As a whole, the choir were calmly poised and precise, as were the instrumentalists, although it was refreshing to hear percussionist Daniel Mallon whip up a winter storm with his timpani in the rare moment where he could cut loose with the kind of abandon that larger ensembles sometimes get carried away with

Having seen several far heftier groups perform this music over the years, this was a welcome return to a more historically-based experience. May there be many more – and without the threat of evildoers looming in the state house, or the Mayor’s office, or at the door with a QR code reader.