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Category: concert

Whirlwind Violin Metal at a Favorite Uptown Spot Tonight

“Your prism is just a prison,” Stratospheerius frontman/violinist Joe Deninzon sings on the band’s latest single, Prism – streaming at Bandcamp – which they recorded live at the Progstock festival in New Jersey in 2019 . It’s surprisingly mellow for such a ferocious band, who dance through the tricky rhythms of this characteristically ambitious blend of 70s stadium rock and artsy metal with Andalucian violin flourishes. They survived the lockdown intact and are back tonight, May 12 at 11 PM at a favorite Manhattan spot, Shrine. The Harlem venue is a scruffy little place which is not known for being particularly organized. Considering the location, it’s highly unlikely that there are any apartheid door restrictions.

The band have another single from the Progstock show, Game of Chicken, which is also up at Bandcamp. Moving through clustering minor-key riffs, the band build to a ferocious guitar/violin duel on the way out. “Drowning in the false alarmers…Chicken Little is hungry for you, on your way to your alley of doom,” Deninzon sings: a prophetic statement from right around the time the Gates Foundation and Johns Hopkins were staging Event 201, the final rehearsal for the 2020 plandemic.

A third single, Cognitive Dissonance, could be the Alan Parsons Project at their heaviest and most complicated.

The last time this blog was in the house at a Stratospheerius show, it was in late May, 2018 at Gold Sounds in Bushwick on a killer twinbill with another tyrannosaurus of a band, Book of Harmony. Tragically, there is no field recording of the show in the archive here, although Book of Harmony did have the presence of mind to put several songs from a Drom show earlier that year up at youtube. Their band’s lone album is still up at Soundcloud: serendipitously, the oceanic first track is titled Echoes of Freedom. Less serendipitously, the band did not survive the lockdown.

That album features the band’s original singer, Leah Martin. By the time the group reached Bushwick, they had a new singer, an Asian woman with a dramatic intensity that may have been influenced by pansori or kabuki theatre. Bandleader/lead guitarist Anupam Shobhakar is also an accomplished sarod player and has a background in Indian music, which translated less in terms of riffage than long, labyrinthine, rhythmically impossible tone poems that seemed to go on for fifteen minutes at a clip.

If memory serves right, Stratospheerius headlined (the master concert list here isn’t clear on that). Deninzon was a whirlwind onstage, leaping down into the crowd and firing off lightning, Romany-flavored cascades of notes while the band pounced and roared behind him. The metal intensity grew as the show went on, the guitarist’s flurries of tapping entwined with Deninzon’s shivery, supersonic volleys. The crowd grew slowly, to the point where Deninzon actually had to dodge audience members as he spun across the floor in front of the stage. He may have to stay put at Shrine where there is less room for those kind of shenanigans.

A Rare Gem From the Golden Age of Jazz Returns to a Favorite Outdoor Midtown Spot This Week

In more normal times, during the warmer months there’s been a long-running weekday series of solo jazz piano performances on the back terrace at Bryant Park, right behind the library. Typically, there are two sets starting at about half past noon. The quality of the musicians is all over the place. Many are relative unknowns, and some of them can be quite good, bringing Asian and latin influences to the music.

Over the years, a few big names have performed here, as have a lot of hacks who have weaseled their way into the good graces of whoever programs these things around town. Because the piano is an electric model, it can have a humbling effect on world-class performers. Interestingly enough, one of the pianists who has figured out how to make it sing is an unlikely candidate: Bertha Hope. She’s playing there every day for the rest of this week through Friday the sixth.

Hope’s thing is songs without words. She’s in her eighties now, still vital, and plays with an unhurried, uncluttered style. She typically plays chords and riffs in the lefthand rather than walking the bass. Her sound draws more on ragtime than blues or swing. As you would expect from someone with her experience, there’s both warmth and a casual gravitas in her songs. This blog most recently caught one of her park shows on a hazy Friday afternoon in July of 2019, where the heat didn’t wear her down and she seemed determined to take advantage of every minute of time she’d been given onstage. Casually and methodically, she made her way through a mix of originals and a few early swing tunes going back to the 30s.

Hope got her start in the 1950s alongside her pianist husband Elmo, who died young in the following decade. She eventually made her way east from her native Los Angeles, put out a respectable number of albums and earlier in this century was rediscovered as one of the attractions at a wildly popular weekly Harlem musicians union jam session. Her records, if you can find them, are worth a listen; she is underrepresented on the web. If the undeservedly obscure fringes of jazz are your thing and you have some time to spend in midtown this week, you will be rewarded if you listen closely.

Some Takeaways and Tunes From Yesterday’s Defeat the Mandates Rally in LA

In early March 2020, if someone had told you that the crowd at a daylong outdoor concert in Los Angeles would have saved their wildest applause for the truckers, doctors and cops onstage, you would have figured that the music must have been pretty lame, right?

It wasn’t. But at yesterday’s Defeat the Mandates Rally at Grand Park in downtown LA, the rockstars were the dudes from the Freedom Convoy, the physicians from the Front Line Critical Care Coalition, and an energetic group of cops and firemen who’d been fired, or whose jobs were imperiled by Governor Gavin Newsom’s Covid shot orders.

What was most apparent was how much the crowd skewed female – and how mainstream, and LA-diverse they turned out to be as the Highwire‘s camera panned the park. Mama bear has been poked and she doesn’t want her kids in any genetic engineering experiment. One particular sign in the crowd spoke for everybody: “There’s a new variant spreading around the world, it’s called freedom and I hope you catch it.”

You may have heard about the ten bills currently on the table, in one place or another, in the California legislature. Word on the street is that they’ve been masterminded by State Senator Richard Pan, a shill for big pharma since he was first elected. He’s on the way out, so this last-gasp batch of Orwellian proposals runs the gamut from the codification and prosecution of thoughtcrime, to weaponizing law enforcement to carry out health department orders. The way that bill works, money earmarked for police gets diverted to the health gestapo if the cops stand down. Recipe for murder and mayhem? Hey, nobody’s taking the shot anymore, so Klaus the Louse and Bill Gates have to go to plan B.

And that’s not working either. The cracks in the oligarchs’ united front, which was never as united as many thought, are showing. And that’s in stark contrast to the energy and discipline of the left coast freedom movement. Amy Bohn, tireless leader of Parents For the Educational Rights of Kids, a.k.a. PERK, has been on the front lines of the fight and made an early appearance. Her group has all kinds of useful resources, including a concise guide to stopping this tarnish on the Golden State. “If you negotiate with tyranny, you’re not going to get anywhere,” she warned.

It was another tireless activist, bestselling author Naomi Wolf of Daily Clout, who drew the most thunderous roars of applause. If you’re open to the idea that these days, we may be getting some help in mysterious ways that we don’t quite yet understand, you should read her latest Substack – it will blow your mind. Expertly sussing out her audience, she spoke to the collective wrath of the mom contingent, relating how her crew are currently digging through the latest Pfizer document dump and have found all sorts of incriminating evidence of fraud.

Just as dynamic and perceptive a presence as Wolf was ten-year-old New York activist Jayla, who offered plenty of common sense in her moment in the spotlight: “How am I supposed to enjoy my childhood when I can’t go anywhere?” she asked. She thought it was equally implausible that kids shouldn’t be allowed to join the fight, considering that it’s their future which is most at stake. Echoing her later on were a very popular crew of LA-area high school kids who’d been booted from classrooms for random acts of self-preservation.

FLCCC doctors Richard Urso and Ryan Cole were the first to specifically call out the World Economic Forum, underscoring how what was widely considered conspiracy theory in 2020 is now accepted as gospel truth. Cole, always a sage presence, was especially amped: “I prefer dangerous freedom to peaceful slavery,” he enthused. He also was the first on the program to acknowledge openly that what Sage Hana calls “OG Covid” has been extinct since 2020. Dr. Robert Malone seconded that without actually speaking the forbidden word.

Filmmaker Mikki Willis proudly announced that his 2020 documentary Plandemic has become the most-watched film in the history of the internet (Plandemic 3 is coming on the Fourth of July, and in the meantime you can get a free audio download of his new book). Willis shared that his brother died of AZT poisoning in 1994, and three months later his mom died from the effects of chemotherapy. The second that Willis mentioned AZT pusherman Anthony Fauci, the crowd spontaneously burst into Dr. Paul Alexander’s, “Lock him up!” chant. The colorful, philosophical Alexander – who refused to take a multimillion dollar Pfizer deal to just shut up and go away – energized the troops with a characteristically uproarious appearance a little later on.

Journalist Lara Logan emceed the latter half of the bill and spoke eloquently to the impact of divide-and-conquer schemes. Dr. Bob Sears underscored how much “Our country has been discriminating against people of a certain medical persuasion for decades now.” He’s been fighting pharma-funded mandates and the marginalization of the vaxx-injured for a quarter of a century: one suspects there were others in the crowd with as much experience.

The most entertaining and utterly fearless of the several political candidates on the bill was Dr. Michael Huang, who as he tells it is the one remaining doctor in the state who writes medical exemptions to lockdown and jab orders. “I am the Chinese version of Del Bigtree,” the affable family physician boasted. Having successfully treated two thousand patients for Covid, then helping over a thousand school kids “come off face masks,” as he put it, he’s running for state Senate to represent the district situated around the park. He deserves our support.

Bigtree, whose weekly news program The Highwire now has three times the viewership of every nightly tv news show, was as much of a firebrand as he was at the January rally in Washington. “Senator Richard Pan wants to kill your children,” he asserted, “We will not recognize any leader again who will not stand for freedom.” Words of wisdom for any candidate running this fall. Ultimately, Bigtree said, the only thing in this moment that we have to fear is fear itself.

Attorney Leigh Dundas, longtime crusader against sex trafficking and leader of Freedom Fighter Nation, was also on fire. “Two years ago, on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento, I said we are on a bullet train to Auschwitz if we do not course correct. Well, we did not course correct.” She also asserted that “The Third Reich will not rise on my watch….the Third Reich wasn’t over when World War II ended. The Third Reich ended when we put the criminals on trial and then put them to death.”

There’s more to unpack and a lot of takeaways here – as historic a moment as this was, this blog doesn’t recommend spending eight straight hours in front of a screen even if you’re getting paid for it. The Highwire has archived the whole thing if you’re feeling ambitious.

Carina Powers, founder of Latinos For Medical Freedom reminded that in California alone, that demographic numbers almost sixteen million, most of them Mexican-American. It would be wise for the movement as a whole to reach out and embrace this population. Inflammatory rhetoric about border closures is not a way to win the support of millions of America’s most unselfconsciously patriotic people.

It was stunning to watch the elegant, articulate Dr. Christine Parks completely drop her guard for once: “It’s time to stop the fucking gaslighting and it’s time to stop the mandates!”

Best joke of the afternoon was from Kevin Sorbo, who deadpanned that “If you want to get rid of Covid, tell the Clintons that Covid has something on them.”

A close second came from actress Leigh-Allyn Baker, who via uplink explained that “I’m just your average, run-of-the-mill. everyday domestic terrorist…I mean mom.”

Oh yeah – there was intermittent music, most of it acoustic or semi-acoustic. Protest song maven Five Times August – whose hit Silent War topped the list of best songs of 2021 here – debuted a defiant, catchy, Tom Petty-esque new tune, Fight For You. And he got the crowd singing along to his bestselling hit Sad Little Man, a corrosive portrait of Fauci: “I released this song in November…in an ideal world it would be irrelevant by now.”

Former Mighty Mighty Bosstones frontman Dicky Barrett offered a message of unity, then turned the stage over to his guitarist bud Grant Ellman of roots reggae band Prezence, who delivered one of the night’s smartest, most aphoristic numbers. “We’re dying to get better,” was the chorus.

There were also low-key cameos by theatrical rap-rock band Sonic Universe and cinematic disco loopmusic violinist Dpak, as well as a couple of moments where it was obvious that rap duo Hi-Rez and Jimmy Levy were lipsynching. Dudes, you are perfectly competent at what you do, you don’t need that backing track. Just let it flow. By the way, Hi-Rez, that was ballsy of you to propose to your girlfriend onstage. The two of you won’t forget this day, ever.

There were many, many others on the bill. In the interest of brevity, too many to enumerate. Marines facing discharge over the Covid shots, heartwrenching survivors of Covid vaxx injury and ubiquitous Constitutional scholar and Arizona sheriff Dr. Richard Mack.among them.

And did anybody notice, toward the end of the night, how The Hill’s Kim Iversen was trying to play both sides of the issue? Changing jerseys, but leaving the old one on underneath just in case? In insisting that there were still good journalists in the corporate media, and that she always stuck to the facts, she never once enumerated what those facts were. Her closing ad-lib spoke volumes: “Party at my house! Just kidding. Don’t show up at my house!”

Springtime Blossoms in Boston With a Concert of Vivid World Premieres

Last night at the Multicultural Art Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Juventas New Music Ensemble played eight verdant world premieres celebrating the Frederick Law Olmsted bicentennial. In a spot-on example of post-March 2020 programming, the bill was titled Lungs of the City. It was a breath of fresh air on many levels.

A subset of the ensemble – which comprised flutist Wei Zhao, clarinetist Wolcott Humphrey, horn player Anne Howarth, violinist Ryan Shannon, cellist Minjin Chung, violist Lu Yu and percussionist Thomas Schmidt – went off script to open with a sober arrangement the Ukrainian national anthem. With the stark cello introduction, it seemed like more of an elegy than a celebration of solidarity. Such are the times we live in.

The first piece on the program was The Forest and the Architect, by Christina Rusnak. The Portland, Oregon tableau began with elegantly cheerful passages spotted with moments of more somber reflection, moody clarinet over a gently emphatic march and a visceral sense of relief. Burred woodwind timbres and a dancing, enigmatic, circular theme quickly gave way to a lush pastorale and then a dance kicked off by woody flute tones. A terse interweave with lower pitches developed to mingle with the initial theme: this music breathed, deeply.

Ryan Suleiman‘s still, meditative Piece of Mind was inspired by Olmsted’s Brookline home workshop, as well as the Japanese concept of a park coexisting with nature rather than being imposed on its milieu. Subtly breathtaking long tones and circular breathing from the wind players were first punctuated by momentary sprouts in the ether, then the group slowly unfolded a calm series of harmonies. Like a muezzin, Chung’s cello sounded a bracing trill before the whole group returned to calmly shifting tectonic sheets.

That work’s minimalism was echoed more playfully by Libby Meyer‘s diptych Beauty of the Fields. Butterfly weed was brought to life by minutely oscillating overtones from Schmidt’s vibraphone behind a minimalistically balmy flute theme sailing on the breeze. With echoey percussion through a buzzy haze, evocations of muted insect activity and birdsong, her portrait of milkweed just might have involved somebody plucking a ripe stalk and blowing it on an unsuspecting neighbor.

Ayumi Okada‘s tantalizingly brief partita Golden Hour Walk at Fort Tryon Park traced the Washington Heights composer’s 2021 winter solstice stroll through her favorite spots there just as the sun was about to go down over the Hudson. It was characteristically evocative, beginning as a wistful pavane and growing more animated, with Carl Nielsen-esque echo phrases bouncing from voice to voice. Baroque inflections, elegantly intertwined horn and flute, and colorfully squirrelly pizzicato rose to a lushness that contrasted with shivery strings and silken flute lines. The final sunset theme became a gently wafting, Dvorakian singalong.

Composer Justin Ralls related that prior to creating parks, Olmsted worked as an undercover journalist chronicling the horrors of slavery in the American south, and that those experiences informed the democratic aspect of his designs. Ralls’ Olmsted 200: Theme and Variations reflected the bustle of the landscape assembled around Seattle’s Lincoln Reservoir. Somewhat akin to Peer Gynt taking a stroll in the garden, the group’s long tones coalesced from echoes of a familiar, sunny morning theme to a rather triumphant, steady, circular pulse fueled by the highs. Tight polyrhythmic counterpoint receded to a reflective, echoing quiet signaled by Schmidt’s lingering vibes.

The most unselfconsciously catchy piece on the bill was Michael-Thomas Foumai’s Indian-flavored mini-suite Olmsted Gardens. Anticipatory sprouts of melody pushed up, to a cheery carnatic flute theme followed by a deliciously coy, suspenseful interlude with film noir bongos, furtive individual voicings having devious fun in the shadows. The group took it out with an anthemic return to the initial dance.

Also on the bill were an unhurried, warmly crescendoing Oliver Caplan ballad without words, and a similarly fond summer pageant by Nell Shaw Cohen bookended around a cautious dance.

Those who missed the concert can catch the video of the entire performance here. Juventas New Music Ensemble’s next scheduled concert is June 5 at 6 PM at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts. Tickets are $18, ages 4-12 get in for $12.

Elegant, Intricate, Psychedelic Cumbias and Tropical Sounds on the Upper West Side

Saturday evening on the Upper West Side, banks of grey clouds were moving in fast and ominous. But in the community garden on 89th west of Amsterdam, tucked in cozily under a tent, Inti & the Moon played a colorful, upbeat, intricately individualistic mix of tropical sounds with tinges of psychedelia and jazz.

There is no Inti in the band. Inti is the Incan sun god: so, the band cover all the bases. They did all that in a mix of originals and imaginative covers. Bandleader/guitarist Geo Suquillo played spiky thickets of fingerpicking, flinging shards of chords into the mix. Frontwoman Noel Wippler shifted from a simmering, ripe, oldschool soul-infused delivery to a wounded wail in the night’s biggest crescendos, in both Spanish and Portuguese. Alto saxophonist Xavier del Castillo began the night playing brooding resonance on the band’s first number, then shifted to alto flute on a few songs, including a bossa tune where he played both.

This group’s cumbias are more relaxed and slinky than the briskly pulsing chicha-style versions that some of the bands around town – at least the ones playing before the lockdown – typically gravitate toward. It was the bass player’s birthday, and he was clearly in a good mood, adding deft harmonic accents against low open strings, plus fleeting hammer-ons and slides. The drummer brought a jazz sophistication, whether subtly riding the rims, or working his way into a 5/4 groove on a biting minor key number which for a second seemed to be a Caribbean take on Take Five.

Suquillo saved his most sparkling solo for a bright, merengue-flavored tune, then took it unexpectedly dark and vampy after a long solo. Del Castillo’s plaintive phrasing pulled the song further into the shadows before a tantalizingly brief guitar/sax duel. The biggest hit with the crowd was Wippler singing an impassioned take of Los Hijos del Sol’s classic Carinito, over an animated but restrained backdrop. There were a couple of other popular covers in the mix, one possibly from the Yma Sumac catalog, but done with much less fanfare. The band approached a familiar Jobim theme with a similar elegance and encored with a stately Brazilian ballad.

With November looming, there isn’t much in the way of live music that’s been publicly announced which is open to all New Yorkers without apartheid restrictions. However, Inti & the Moon have been staples of the free outdoor concert circuit since the late teens, so it’s hardly a stretch to think they might try to squeeze in another park appearance like this before winter gets here.

New York’s Great Champion of Undeservedly Obscure Classical Repertoire Shares These Treasures at Her Magical Salon Series

Pianist and impresario Yelena Grinberg is New York’s greatest advocate for undiscovered and unorthodox classical repertoire. Her Upper West Side salons, founded in the Fall of 2013 as a monthly soiree, have since expanded to two thematic programs per month, and have become legendary. The Russian music site Etazhi calls them “Musical Salons for the Guinness Book.”

Grinberg graciously took some time away from her rigorous schedule of playing and teaching to give New York Music Daily the inside scoop into a New York phenomenon.

New York Music Daily: You’ve archived the programs going all the way back to Salon #1, where you played rarely-heard music by Charles-Valentine Alkan. Ever since I talked to you, I’ve been listening nonstop to his music. It’s mind-blowing. Now, I have a pretty decent exposure to lesser-known repertoire, and I have my favorite niches too, and I have vague memories of hearing one of Alkan’s organ works once. But hearing his piano music, thanks to you, has been life-changing. He sounds like nobody I’ve ever head before: Chopin and Beethoven mashed up with otherworldly old Jewish melodies, but also a rhythmic sensibility that reminds me of Hovhaness. And from a hundred years earlier! I owe you huge for this! I can’t imagine how much fun it must have been for you to play that program!

Yelena Grinberg: It was a fascinating undertaking to do all the research and perform Alkan’s unjustly neglected music. I was struck by the transcendental difficulty of the keyboard writing as well as the originality and the richness of his musical ideas. I programmed his demonic Grand Duo Concertante in F# minor, whose second movement, is entitled L’enfer  – “Hell”- for a good reason! I also played his epic Sonate de concert in E Major for cello and piano, which is among the most devilishly difficult works in the entire Romantic chamber music repertoire.

For my solo Alkan-inspired program, I performed selections from his evocative 24 Preludes, Esquisses, his enchanting Barcarolle and one of his last wild works, Toccatina. At some point in the future, I would love to program his never-heard Piano Trio.

NYMD: And he’s just one example of the innumerable lesser-known but amazing composers whose work you’ve championed. How did you discover Alkan and what drew you to his music?

YG: I can’t recall if there was one particular inspiration. I do recall that I came across an Alkan CD by Raymond Lewenthal and Marc-Andre Hamelin in the Fall of 2013, when I first began my salons, it marked the 200th anniversary Alkan’s birth, so I made him the focal composer for that season.

NYMD: Long before it became all the rage to resurrect forgotten treasures by, say, black composers, you were unearthing material that hadn’t been played in New York, maybe anywhere in the world, in a hundred years or more. I am amazed by your dedication to the cause. It must take an enormous amount of energy and sleuthing. What is your motivation, what drives you? Is this because you want to be the queen of niche, or that you’re sick of standard repertoire, or that you get bored fast? Or that you’re rewriting history to set the record straight?

YG: I was getting weary of overplayed standard repertoire and wanted to program music that was hard to find and fresh to the ear. Luckily I learn very quickly, which enables me to cover a lot of new repertoire in a short span of time. I typically build each season’s programs around the  anniversary of a celebrated or an unjustly neglected composer’s birth, for example, Charles-Valentin Alkan or Carl Czerny. I like to balance out the program with a work that everyone loves, like Franck’s Violin Sonata, along with lesser-known repertoire.

NYMD: At your salons, you always like to share insights on the material on the program . You seem completely immersed in the lore of classical music, with all the colorful characters and endless drama. With you, it’s a big epic movie. Most artists just get up and play but you seem to have as much fun engaging with the history of the music as the music itself. Is this just a performance shtick – look, Yelena is the pianist who always finds the great stories! – or do you have a more ambitious agenda here?

YG: I especially like to engage with the audience in a lecture-performance format, and I love the Q&A afterward. The majority of the people who come to my salons are not musicians, so they bring their individual interests and professional backgrounds to the conversation. The guests often tell me they appreciate the commentary, the history, they may not know a certain musical term but they enjoy the historical background and find the listening experience richer as a result.

Over the years, I’ve had some fascinating visitors at the salon such as Ruth Slenczynska, the last living pupil of Rachmaninoff, who attended my solo Alkan program back in 2013.

NYMD: As I understand it, your salons started exactly the same way a lot of regular classical series started: friends getting together to read chamber music. That’s how ICE started, how Kettle Corn New Music evolved. At what point did you realize that you were doing something that nobody else was? Was there a moment where you realized that in your own unique way, you were making New York music history?

YG: Initially, I did not expect that my salons would blossom into a regular concert series, and that I would showcase 230-plus salon programs up to this point. The initial salons were attended mostly by a handful of family members and close friends, and by word of mouth, they grew to a much larger audience over the years. I didn’t know how frequently I would end up doing these concerts. I was excited to recreate the refined, European style “hausmusik”, which is how much of this music was meant to be enjoyed in its original conception.

NYMD: Can we talk about where you find your material? For example, your most recent sold-out event featured duo works for piano and guitar. Can I ask you, are you also a fan of classical guitar? How much of this repertoire actually exists? And of the material you discovered, how much of it turned out to be worth playing? Obviously, you discovered a lot!

YG: For the lesser-known repertoire I do more extensive research to see which libraries or stores have it, and a lot of what I find comes from Europe. Thankfully, I have close connections to the music librarians at Columbia University, the Juilliard library, and the Brooklyn College library, who have been very helpful over the years in obtaining rare editions for my research and performance.

Initially, I chose the topic or the focal composer for the entire season. Then, I thoroughly research all the solo and chamber music repertoire by that composer and think of creative interconnections with the composers who were in his or her close circle of friends, pupils, and fellow composers. For instance, this year I am presenting a series inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven’s belated 250th birthday, and have programmed works by such lesser-known composers as C.P.E. Bach, Ferdinand Ries, Ignaz Moscheles and Fanny Hensel Mendelssohn.

This summer, I presented an Enchanting Evening for Guitar and Piano – the first time I featured a guitar in my series. Turns out, there is very little music originally written for piano and guitar, and a lot of it obviously shines the spotlight on the piano. Aside from rarities like Hummel’s Potpourri for Guitar and Piano and Tedesco’s Fantasia, the majority of other works are arrangements or transcriptions. It turned out to be a kaleidoscopic program and everybody loved it. I designed it to cover 250 years – from Vivaldi to Piazzolla.

In the past, I’ve programmed music by seldom-represented women composers such as Clara Schumann, Fanny Hensel Mendelssohn, Amy Beach, Cecile Chaminade, Ethel Smythe and Pauline Viardot.

And over the last few years, every February, I present an Aquarian Genius program featuring three composers born under the sign of Aquarius, namely Mozart, Mendelssohn and Schubert.

NYMD: That makes sense, if anybody understands Aquarian genius, it’s probably you, considering you have the same birthday as Mendelssohn!

YG: Thank you! I’m truly honored to share my birthday with Felix Mendelssohn.

NYMD: OK. Have you ever tried to come up with a program that didn’t get off the drawing board because enough material for it didn’t exist?

YG: I never had that quandary. When I come up with a program, it’s partly analytical and partly intuitive. I do these concerts so frequently, so my mind has to stay focused. I do very extensive research, and I always find enough repertoire to make for what, I hope, is a satisfying salon program.

NYMD: How about commissioning contemporary artists? I don’t see a lot of 20th century, let alone 21st century material on your programs. You’ve played Satie, and Piazzolla, but not much that’s more current. Is that just not your thing?

YG:  My area of interest lies in the music from the Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras. I prefer to play the music that I find intellectually stimulating and emotionally rewarding, that speaks to me and challenges me. That’s not to say that I’m not open to including some works from the 20th century. For instance, I will be including Gyorgy Kurtag’s atmospheric Three Pieces for violin and piano, from 1979, at my November 7 and 10 salons.

My salons are meant to be a throwback to the music of the Enlightenment so it makes sense that the material relates to that time period. I think there’s a certain joy for people to be able to anticipate the sound of a piece from a particular era, even if they don’t know that specific work. There’s a lot to be said for historical context.

NYMD: Let’s talk about your collaborators. You have a duo project with an absolutely brilliant violinist, Emilie-Anne Gendron of the Momenta Quartet. She’s pretty high-profile. Where do you find all these people to play with? Or is this just being part of the classical scene here and having a good sense of who might be a good fit for a particular bill?

YG: It’s a combination of those factors. Either a musician is recommended to me, or it is someone I’ve known and collaborated with from my years at Columbia University and Juilliard. I also consider who might be a good fit for a particular program. Interpersonal chemistry is key. In a sense, playing chamber music together is like being in a relationship. Emilie and I have been playing together since 2003, since we were both students at the Barnard-Columbia-Juilliard program.

NYMD: Can we talk about you as an artist, start at square one and work forward? You were born in Moscow, started playing piano at an early age. Your mom plays, right?

YG: Yes, my mother was my first piano teacher. She went to the Gnessin Institute, and I began my professional music study at Moscow’s Gnessin School for Gifted Children at age 5.

NYMD: You had famous teachers at the Gnessin school. You were a sixth grader when you came here. Did you have your sights on being a famous pianist, or were you just a kid who liked playing?

YG: I was studying professionally, and that was probably going to be my professional path, but of course I didn’t know how my life would ultimately play out. I always had great intellectual curiosity, I wanted to expand my horizons and was very social. I knew music would always be my path but I was not sure of what I would do more of, teaching versus performing. Today, I combine both, along with coordinating my salon series…which is nearly a full-time job in and of itself [laughing].

For a long time I was fascinated by biology. I was very keen on becoming a biologist, but between the lab work and music, I chose the latter, which was my true calling. But my love of science definitely informs my salon programming. I’ve adopted a scientific approach to the way I conduct the research for the repertoire and the way that I select my programs, pair the works thematically, etcetera. This intellectually rigorous approach appeals to me much more to me than a purely emotional one.

NYMD: Can we talk about the difference between music education in Russia, and here? Was there anything that struck you immediately when you first got here?

YG: I would say that teachers’ expectations were much higher in Russia, coaches were to be obeyed and greatly admired. In US, the emphasis is much more of consumer-oriented. For instance, a student can request that he or she wants to play the Moonlight Sonata, even though they may not be at that level.. In Russia, teachers typically get more respect, and students are much more obedient. But a lot of that has to do with the political landscape – freedom of speech, for example, which we did not have in Russia.

NYMD: Obviously, you never stopped playing, but I see your undergraduate degree from Columbia is not in music but in English literature. You’re a Shakespeare scholar. Was this a departure from your career path, or were there other reasons involved?

YG: I always enjoyed Shakespeare – the brilliance of his writing, his razor-sharp wit, the wonderful paradoxes in his language, and the universality and timelessness of the characters in his plays. Obviously, English isn’t my first language, but I always enjoyed the subtlety and the witty banter in Shakespeare. Which you find in the music of Haydn, for example, or Schumann: the use of extra-musical narrative, the different fictional characters which remind me a lot of the Shakespearean world, Mendelssohn, of course – the way the music feeds off literature and poetry, and vice versa. I was always drawn much more to Schumann as opposed to Chopin, for example, because of the literary richness and multifaceted humor in Schumann’s music which appeals to my personality. In fact, my doctoral dissertation at Juilliard was on Late Schumann.

NYMD: Have you ever merged those two passions? Say, a Shakespeare-themed program?

YG: I have not yet… but that’s a great idea!

NYMD: Since your Columbia days, you’ve done all the usual career-track things that every other classical pianist wants to do. You studied with even more famous pianists – Richard Goode among them – and you got your doctorate from Juilliard. You played competitions and did well, you played Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and all the usual places. But you followed your own muse, off the beaten path. Was this something that just evolved or did you have a plan?

YG: The way it’s happened with the salons, I guess my path in life has always been kind of off the beaten path. I don’t concertize too much like a lot of other musicians and my home base is here in New York. I strive for balance between stability and variety. I enjoy having my own enterprise, and not having anyone to report to. And I love that I can program whatever composers that suit me for my salons. That would be much different if I had to fill a thousand seats. In an intimate salon setting, I can afford to exercise my creative license when it comes to programming,, etcetera. Luckily in New York, there are a lot of intellectually sophisticated, open-minded individuals who are drawn to the lesser-known repertoire that I present, and they enjoy coming to my salons for the enlightenment and novelty.

NYMD: As you know, I love getting a scoop, covering artists who are underrepresented in the media. I have a thing for rugged individualists. But I also have a larger agenda and that’s much more ambitious – and goes against the current corporate zeitgeist. I’ve always advocated for live performance because it gets people off their screens, back into reality, where real communities are born. I get the sense that the raison d’etre behind your salons dovetails with my agenda, at least to some extent. Am I on to something here?

YG: In a sense, yes. My salons hark back to the old tradition of “hausmusik” since the day of the Enlightenment. I wanted to revive this old and elegant tradition of music-making and thereby create a community on the Upper West Side and beyond, that would go against the current trend of increased robotization and commercialization in our society. The salons enable a lively and stimulating dialogue between the performer and the audience, in an intimate setting that, I think, is highly precious during this day and age.

NYMD: How much, if any audio exists from your salons? Is there an archive? Where can we hear it, or when will we be able to?

YG: Yes, I audio-record each salon for my own personal archive.

NYMD: You are aware that hundreds of years from now, your audio and sheet music libraries will be referred to as the “Grinberg Collection” and will be both a resource and a record of a major achievement in music history, right?

YG: You are too kind.. Should that ever happen, I would be very honored, indeed.

NYMD: Can I ask you, what’s your musical fallback? You have such a wide range of musical interests, wider than just about anybody I know. Who do you play just for you? When nobody else is listening, or for your family, or loved ones? What sets your synapses on fire more than anything else?

YG: Undoubtedly, it would be Bach. I’ve always had a special affinity for Bach’s music, which is sublime and transcendent. That’s not to say I don’t love Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, just to name a few, but Bach for me is No. 1. In the early stages of the lockdown I just kept playing Bach. His music is inspiring, empowering, and therapeutic like that of no other composer. I typically perform an all-Bach program every January. In 2016, I presented an Italian Bach program, featuring his Italian-style works, in 2018, I performed all his French Suites; in 2019, all English Suites, and in 2021, showcased seldom-heard Preludes, Fugues and Fantasies, which I entitled Rare Bach. And I am hoping to get to perform his complete Partitas in January 2022!

NYMD: What do you think the future holds for your salon?

YG: It’s so hard to even think of the future right now. I hope that my salons will continue to bring joy and meaning to people’s lives, and that more people get to discover them!

Yelena Grinberg’s next salon (No. 239), entitled The Leuzer Sonata, is Sunday, November 7 at 5 PM, repeating on Wednesday, November 10 at 6:30 PM. showcasing a colorful program where she’ll be joined by violinist Emilie-Anne Gendron. They’ll be playing Bach’s Sonata No. 2 in A Major for violin and keyboard, BWV 1015, Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in A minor, Kurtag’s Three Pieces for violin and piano, and the piece de resisteance is Beetehoven’s iconic “Kreutzer” Sonata No. 9 in A Major for piano and violin. This not-to-be-missed salon is a short walk from the 1/2/3 train at 96th St. To learn more and to register, email her.

How to Sneak In to See Yo La Tengo

Many years ago, before blogs existed, a future daily New York music blog owner and a friend went to Central Park Summerstage to see Anoushka Shankar. It was a late-season afterwork show, and by the time the two got there, the space was sold out.

Big surprise. Shankar had played Carnegie Hall with her famous dad a couple of years previously, and although she was still in her teens at that point, she blew everybody away with her sitar work.

Undeterred, the intrepid concertgoers walked around the back, jumped the wire fence and crawled on their bellies through the shrubbery until they were about fifty feet from the rear of the stage. Shaded from the indian summer sun, they got to enjoy a tranceworthy qawwali ensemble – if memory serves right, they were called Kamkars – and then Shankar, who proved as adept at more western-oriented material as the ragas she played so beautifully.

Last Friday, a daily New York music blog owner went to Central Park Summerstage to check out the Yo La Tengo show. Having seen them several times over the years, the issue of getting in or not wasn’t a big deal. If that had been an issue, would it have been possible to go through the thicket out back, just like in the old days?

Yes!

The vegetation has grown in much thicker since then, but there’s nothing but chicken wire between you, the trees and the shrubs. Considering that it was after eight at night, and that you never know what’s lurking in the park after dark, the optimal choice at that point seemed to be to leave the greenery and head for the rear embankment and the bandshell, where all but the show’s quietest moments were plenty audible.

Seeing how the Patti Smith concert there last month not only didn’t sell out, but that the younger contingent there walked out in droves during her set, was weird enough. It gets weirder.

Like Smith, Yo La Tengo had originally been scheduled for the wide expanse of the Rumsey Playfield immediately to the south and east, but had been moved to the much smaller Summerstage arena. Standing at the entrance were a couple of women trying to lure random people into the space. For a free concert.

A little context: Yo La Tengo might be the most popular indie rock band in the world. Sure, their crowd has greyed over the years, but they still sell out wherever they play…or used to play, anyway.

“Hi!” a young woman in a blue skirt chirped from underneath her muzzle as she approached, aggressively, like a 34th Street hustler trying to score a fiver for Save the Children. “Are you here for the show?”

Blog owner was taken off guard. A sheepish grin. “Uh, maybe…”

“We have [inaudible – opening band] and Yo La Tengo, they’re just going on. I just need to see your ID and your [proof of lethal injection].”

“I’m going to live to see next year instead,” blog owner replied and walked off. Yeah, that’s snarky. But how do you respond? Kevin Jenkins says he doesn’t do “low-frequency conversations” and walks away: words of wisdom.

What’s happened at the Central Park free concerts is part of a much bigger referendum. Don’t engage with the monster: without your energy to feed off, it shrivels and dies.

Yo La Tengo’s jams are legendary. Where was the big stoner picnic crowd out back? Maybe a half a dozen small gaggles on the slope, if that. Friday night, Central Park smelled like the inside of a bong, but this wasn’t where the smoke was coming from.

The benches by the bandshell? Deserted. A couple leapt onto the empty stage and danced for a bit. From time to time, a few fearless souls would take a walk up the steps up behind the shell, only to be shooed off by a security guard hidden out of view.

Maybe this is a function of not being able to watch Ira Kaplan’s volcanic fingers on the fretboard, or spinning the knobs on his pedalboard, but Yo La Tengo seemed on the quiet side. Georgia Hubley sang one of the shorter, sparse numbers and wasn’t very high in the mix. Kaplan moved to keys for a brief, no-nonsense take of the Stereolab soundalike Autumn Sweater. They closed with a deliciously extended, feedback-laced noisefest version of I Heard You Looking, the missing link between the Velvets at their most crazed, and New Order.

They encored with a lickety-split, practically hardcore AC/DC cover which included a mystery second guitarist. Then Kaplan’s mom came up to the mic and sang something as the band tentatively tried to pull themselves together. And that was it.

For anyone worried that these shows are the last ones that Smith or Yo La Tengo will ever play, good news. A loophole in the DiBozo administration’s lethal injection scheme exempts touring musicians and their entourages. All this is based on science, of course. Won’t it be beautiful to see both of these acts play again somewhere, someday in this city after all this madness is over.

Entertaining, Mesmerizing Solo Soprano Sax? Check Out Sam Newsome on the 9th

It’s hard to imagine anything more difficult than playing a solo show on a chordless instrument. Sure, there are buskers…but it’s rare to see someone sticking around to watch an entire solo “set.”. On the other hand, the prospect of watching soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome play a solo show is enticing to the extreme. He has three solo live albums out and all of them are worth hearing. And if his East Village duo show with guitarist Elliott Sharp last weekend is any indication, his upcoming gig on Oct 9 at 2 PM at the Urban Meadow park at the corner of President and Van Brunt in Red Hook is going to be off the hook.

You could take the B61 bus and get out just down the block from the Jalopy, but it might be even faster to take the F to Carroll, exit at the front of the downtown train, take First Place straight to the pedestrian bridge over the BQE, then make a U-turn at the base of the bridge, go another block on Summit and then hang a left on Columbia. That’s about ten minutes from the subway.

It’s funny how, ten years ago, Newsome was regarded as the rising star for straight-ahead postbop jazz on the soprano. Then all of a sudden he started turning up at places like the late, great Spectrum and took a deep plunge into the avant garde. It was then that his mind-blowing extended technique really came to the surface. For example, at the East Village gig, he got his horn to resonate with a low digeridoo buzz, or a keening wail like an Indian shennai or a Bulgarian zurla, shedding otherworldly overtones and duotones. And while Sharp was playing through his usual arsenal of effects, Newsome was completely unamplified. What had he done to his reeds, or his valves, or both? Who knows – but it was raw magic.

There were all kinds of irresistibly amusing moments, when Newsome would pick up a rack of wind chimes, or two, slinging them over the body of the horn as he blew looming duotones for background. Then there was the point where Sharp, who’d been tapping out tensely frenetic sequences, fired off a phrase of about twenty notes. Newsome paused and played the whole paragraph back to him, and suddenly the dialogue shifted from jaunty banter to a serious joust. Musicians engaging each other with short. singalong riffs is the oldest cliche in the book, but this seemed to be a philosophical discussion between two sages. What they were philosophizing about wasn’t entirely clear, but it was deep.

Meanwhile, Sharp maintained his edge throughout about fifty minutes of close interplay, whether opaquely ambient, squirrelly, skronky, or lingering in a couple of brief, overcast A minor interludes. Newsome got plaintive in response to the first one, then expansive on the second, drawing out similarly thoughtful flurries from the guitarist. There were plenty of other points in the improvisation that were funny, and formidable, and fleeting; you can expect the same at the Red Hook show.

Yo La Tengo Return to Central Park on the First of the Month: Are You Game?

Yo La Tengo are playing Central Park Summerstage on Oct 1 at around 8:30 PM. In a normal world, that’s cause for celebration, if you’re a fan of crazed, noisy psychedelic guitar jams, or the quieter, more reflective post-Velvets sound the band have turned more and more to since the turn of the century.

But this year this city’s creepy, homicidal mayor has thrust us into the New Abnormal, where proof of a lethal injection is required for entry. So that means we have to listen from outside. It’s not such a big deal:  if you’ve seen any number of shows here, chances are there was probably some instance where you didn’t get to the arena early enough to get in. Obviously, it would be fun to be able to watch Ira Kaplan’s guitar-torturing, but there’s still plenty of room on the slope out back, the sound carries well, and if you want you can catch a glimpse of the band from the sidewalk on the east side near the entrance. This blog was there for Patti Smith last weekend and while it would have been more fun to be able to hear what she said to the audience, the songs came through loud and clear.

The last time Yo La Tengo played the park, it was on a muggy Monday night in July of 2017. Kaplan sized up the capacity crowd and reflected with just the hint of contempt about free concerts he’d attended here as a kid: “Sha Na Na. Pure Prairie League. Mahavishnu Orchestra.” And then launched into a sarcastic bit of the Ace Frehley novelty hit New York Groove.

That didn’t last long. The show was a characteristic mix of paint-peeling squall over hypnotic, practically mantra-like vamps, and spare, reflective, airy songs that matched the hazy atmosphere. Kaplan’s antics are a little more subdued than they were back in the 90s, but there were plenty of beautifully ugly interludes where he’d go to his knees, shaking and bending at the neck of his guitar, sticking it into his amp or just leaving it to feed there. There was at least one point where he left the guitar feeding and then picked up another, and then resumed the song. Meanwhile, drummer Georgia Hubley kept a supple, swinging beat while James McNew played his simple, catchy, endlessly circling bass riffs for minutes on end without once falling back on a loop pedal.

The steady, hypnotic storm began with Pass the Hatchet and continued with From a Motel 6. Kaplan reminded what a purist, catchy pop tunesmith he can be with a relatively undisturbed. loping version of All Your Secrets. Then he switched to keys for a Stereolab-ish take of Autumn Sweater. Did McNew switch to guitar on that one? All these years later, it’s impossible to remember all the details.

The quiet part of the show went on for what seemed like more than half an hour, with the wistful Nowhere Near and then Black Flowers, which Hubley sang from behind the keyboard. Almost mercifully, Kaplan brought the energy up slowly with I’ll Be Around, which sounded like the Stones’ Moonlight Mile on crank.

Hubley and McNew harmonized on Before We Run, then the trio buzzed and burned through Sugarcube, the closest thing to Sonic Youth in the set. After that, they took their time raising Ohm from a drony nocturne into a feral feedback fest. They closed with I Heard You Looking, Kaplan’s sparks and sputters and firestorm of raw noise going on for more than twenty minutes, the two guitarists from the awful opening act invited up but obviously in awe and not adding much to the jam.

The game plan for this blog that night was to get a field recording and use that as a reference. Sadly, the recorder, which was literally being held together with rubberbands, picked that evening to flatline. And after standing through an interminable opening set and then Yo La Tengo, this blog’s owner assumed the show was over and left.

Other blogs mention an encore and a jokey appearance on the mic by Kaplan’s mom. Don’t discount those kind of shenanigans, if the PA is really loud on the first.

Patti Smith Plays Prophetic Powerpop in Central Park

Have you seen the anti-discrimination signs? They’re popping up in the windows of small businesses all over town. Even on the conformist-AF Upper West Side.

“We shall live again,” Patti Smith intoned to start her Central Park show last night. And encored with People Have the Power. There’s a sea change going on.

Smith’s show had been moved abruptly from the expansive Rumsey Playfield lawn to the much smaller Summerstage arena space. Set time had also been changed: she hit the stage sometime after 8. Likewise, if Antibalas played the park on Saturday, the time and venue had been changed as well. Apologies to readers of the live music calendar here who might have been led astray – some of those listings date back to when those shows were first announced.

Constantly flipping the script is a hallmark of abusive relationships, whether between a couple, parents and children, or on a societal scale. You do the math.

There was another odd kind of arithmetic at play here. Before the lockdown, Smith would routinely sell out a weeklong year-end stand at Bowery Ballroom, at outrageous prices. This show was free. Yet the arena never reached capacity. What’s more, a steady trickle of concertgoers slowly – s l o w l y – being let in by security was matched by twice as many people traipsing out, beginning at the start of the show. And although the party on the slope out behind the space was much more lively, much of Smith’s diehard fanbase had clearly stayed away.

That’s because proof of being part of a lethal injection campaign, which completely stalled out several weeks ago, was required for entry. Europeans come out in the millions to protest fascist takeovers. Australians bust through police barricades. Americans just stand firm and wait it out.

Smith’s set went on for short of an hour. Opening with Ghost Dance was characteristic of this ageless sage, who shows no sign of slowing down. This was the powerpop set: rather than pouncing on the syncopation on the chorus of Pissing in a River, she and the band motored through the changes with a lingering burn.

Although there were quiet moments – it was impossible to hear any of Smith’s poetry, or her remarks to the crowd from outside the space – most of the material was backbeat rock hits, starting with Dancing Barefoot and continuing with Because the Night. Lenny Kaye limited his lead guitar pyrotechnics to a couple of blue-flame solos, moving around edgily against a resonating string, raga style. Speaking of ragas, the night’s longest interlude was a mostly acoustic, Indian-flavored jam which ended with Smith roaring that “The future is NOW!”

Bassist Tony Shanahan’s soaring, melodic lines were serendipitously high in the mix, most enjoyably in his reggae leads in Ain’t It Strange. From there on, it was all rock, beginning with a stripped-down cover of the Stones’ I’m Free wrapped around a verse of Take a Walk on the Wild Side – subtext, anyone? An assertive bit of Horses set up a steady, resolute G-l-o-r-i-a. And soon afterward, it was over. “Patti Smith! A full moon!” a pretty blonde woman enthused to a bearded man on the hill behind the space. “She picked the right night!” he grinned back. Both were off by a day – the full moon is tonight.