Thursday, October 31, 2013

Juilliard at Holy Trinity: Couperin and Telemann

Yesterday afternoon, Juilliard students performed the first of their one-hour Baroque chamber music recitals at Holy Trinity Church on Central Park West.  This concert featured works by several composers of the early eighteenth century who emphasized the traditions of French music of that period.  These included the Overture and Chaconne from Alcyone (1706) by Marin Marais, the Overture and Chaconne from Deuxieme recreation de musique, Op. 8 (1737) by Jean-Marie Leclair, Sonade, La Piemontoise from Les Nations (1726) by François Couperin, La Magnafique by Louis-Nicolas Clérambault and selections from the Paris Quartet No. 6 in E minor from Nouveaux Quatours (1738) by Georg Philipp Telemann.

Recitals such as this offer an excellent opportunity for those with an interest in music to hear works by composers who, however famous they may have been in their own time, are little heard today.  There is a great deal more to the Baroque tradition than the compositions of Bach, Handel and Vivaldi, great though these may be.  Although written in the same century that Mozart and Haydn were active, most Baroque pieces are now largely forgotten and rarely performed.  This is unfortunate, not only because they are highly enjoyable in themselves, but also because they provide a key to better understand the works of the great composers who immediately followed and who built on their predecessors' efforts.

The works in yesterday's recital were performed on original instruments.  Although the violin, viola and cello remain basically unchanged, there are other instruments, such as the oboe, that have undergone great changes since the Baroque period and still others, such as the viola da gamba and the theorbo that have fallen out of use altogether.  I was particularly fascinated to hear the sound of the theorbo which was developed in the late sixteenth century and is basically a large bass lute with an extended neck.  I was also surprised to discover that the viola da gamba is not one instrument but an entire family of stringed instruments that differ substantially from the violin family however much they may resemble the modern cello.  It was only when I saw violas da gamba of radically different size used in two separate pieces at yesterday's recital that I was alerted to this fact.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Saidenberg Faculty Recital: Seymour Lipkin

Yesterday evening I arrived outside Juilliard more than an hour early to join the waiting line for pianist Seymour Lipkin's recital at Paul Hall.  This was a rare chance to hear the celebrated master in an SRO performance that included Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 17 in D, K. 576, Schubert's Piano Sonata in A, D. 959, George Perle's Short Sonata and Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111.

All these pieces are extremely complex and would present great challenges to any pianist attempting them.  Mozart's sonata was his last and contains such technical difficulties that there has been controversy among scholars as to whether or not the work could really have been one of the series intended for the daughter of William II, King of Prussia, to whom Mozart had promised "six easy sonatas."  The Schubert was written in the final months of the composer's short life and has often been described as "turbulent." In the second movement there are extreme harmonic shifts as Schubert made use of the music to confront his own mortality.  Finally, the Beethoven is again a valedictory work that represents the composer's ultimate achievement in the sonata form.  It is also one of the few he wrote with only two movements rather than the customary three.

In yesterday's recital, Mr. Lipkin triumphed over the difficulties posed by his material to present readings that must be considered as close to definitive as are possible.  The pianist, a member of the faculties of both Juilliard and the Curtis Institute, has long familiarity with these works.  He has recorded not only the complete cycle of Beethoven sonatas but also the composer's five concertos, ten violin sonatas and five cello sonatas as well.  In addition, Mr. Lipkin has recently performed the complete cycle Schubert's sonatas.

Mr. Lipkin's appearance did not proceed without drama.  In the first half, after a brief pause while playing the second movement of the Schubert sonata, the pianist apologized to the audience and announced that he needed the music for that piece.  He went backstage to retrieve the score and then continued on.  In the second half, during the final movement of the Beethoven, the recital was interrupted by a fire alarm and everyone was forced to leave the building for several minutes.  Undeterred, both audience and pianist returned and Mr. Lipkin replayed the second movement in its entirety.  In spite of these inconveniences, this was a major performance by an artist who must be considered one of the greatest living pianists.  Again and again, he demonstrated his mastery of the keyboard  and provided a new level of insight to the audience.  He well deserved the standing ovation he received at the recital's end.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Met Museum: Julia Margaret Cameron

In portraits taken by Henry Herschel Hay and Charles Somers-Cocks, the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron appears the quintessential Victorian matron.  Middle aged and a bit dowdy, she seems to embody perfectly the respectability and propriety of the British upper class in the late nineteenth century.  This stuffy image is only reinforced when looking at certain of her works in which she reverently attempts to recreate scenes from Tennyson and Shakespeare, a type of staged photography that today seems totally contrived and is difficult to take seriously.  One comes away with the impression of a kindly grandmother who took up photography merely as a fashionable hobby.

The current exhibit at the Met Museum succeeds very well in showing another side to Ms. Cameron.  First of all, her background was not so tediously correct as her demure portraits might suggest.  As one wall text states:
"Julia Margaret Pattle was born in Calcutta in 1815, the fourth of ten children of Adeline de l’Etang and James Pattle, an official in the East India Company whose riotous life earned him the nicknames 'Jim Blazes' and 'the biggest liar in India.' Perhaps from him she inherited a strong will and a disregard for convention."
More importantly, Ms. Cameron was a pioneer in the creation of a photographic style that went far beyond the Victorian convention of staged photographs as it attempted to raise photography to the level of other visual arts.  When given her first camera as a present at age 48, photography was less than a quarter century old and still practiced exclusively by men. Nevertheless, in spite of the restrictions imposed by age and gender, Ms. Cameron showed a great deal of innovation in approaching her craft.  Under the influence of her mentor David Wilkie Wynfield, she anticipated the Photo Secession and the work of Alfred Stieglitz by several decades in her use of soft focus (sometimes even slightly out of focus) and long exposures to achieve a more expressive body of work.  In fact, Stieglitz later reproduced many of her photos in Camera Work.

Many of the photos on display are portraits of Ms. Cameron's notable friends, neighbors and acquaintances.  These include Tennyson, Carlyle, Julia Jackson (mother of Virginia Woolf), the violinist Joseph Joachim and John Herschel (who collaborated with Talbot in the invention of photography).  To me, though, the most interesting photograph shown is that entitled After Perugino / The Annunciation.  This is a tableau where two female figures are placed opposite one another with a bouquet of lilies between them.  While the flowers are in sharp focus, the two figures, even though on the same plane as the flowers, are not themselves sharp.  I assume Ms. Cameron here deliberately used a long exposure with the knowledge that the figures' movements during the time shutter was open would make them seem slightly out of focus to the viewer.  The result is visually arresting.

The exhibit continues through January 5, 2014.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Omega Ensemble Performs Debussy, Shostakovich and Arensky

Yesterday afternoon's performance by the Omega Ensemble was a free chamber music recital at the Park Avenue Christian Church that featured music by Claude Debussy, Dmitri Shostakovich and Anton Arensky.  The talented performers, in order of appearance, were Euntaek Kim (piano), Siwoo Kim (violin), Brook Speltz (cello), Andrew Janss (cello) and Molly Carr (viola) who gamely played with a broken leg.  In addition, fourteen year old Gwyneth Campbell, performing as a "Next Generation Artist," played the prelude from Debussy's Pour le Piano to begin the proceedings.

This was the second time in the space of the week that I had the opportunity to hear Debussy's Violin Sonata.  I have already posted about having heard Miranda Cuckson, accompanied by Yegor Shevtsov, play the piece on Thursday evening at Mannes.  I found it very interesting to compare the two performances and in general thought the Omega musicians held their own very well against their more experienced counterparts.

The next piece on the program was Shostakovich's Cello Sonata in D minor which the composer had written in 1934 while experiencing official censure over his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk.  As a result of this censure, Shostakovich was desperately seeking a new musical identity that would allow him to continue composing without interference from Soviet authorities.  The style of the sonata is accordingly more moderate than that of previous works.  In particular, the largo has a lyrical quality that contrasts strongly with the overwrought mood found in much of Shostakovich's other music, most especially in several of his symphonies.

The final piece was Arensky's String Quartet No. 2 in A minor.  The quartet was unusual in that it featured two cellos rather than two violins, thus giving the music a deeper and more sonorous tone.  The slow second movement, Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky, was one of Arensky's most popular works and was later adapted by the composer into an arrangement for string orchestra.  It was originally conceived as a tribute to the recently deceased Tchaikovsky and contains wonderfully melodic passages derived from one of that composer's Songs for Children, Op. 54.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

NY Philharmonic Performs Ravel and Mussorgsky

Yesterday afternoon's performance by the NY Philharmonic was the first of this season's Saturday matinee series in which members of the orchestra perform a chamber piece in the first half followed by a full orchestral work in the second.

This season's chamber music focus is on French composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the concert began with the String Quartet in F (1903) by Maurice Ravel.  This is a fairly early piece which Ravel wrote while still a student of Fauré to whom it is dedicated.  Ironically, Fauré did not think very highly of the work and actually referred to the final movement as "stunted, badly balanced, in fact a failure." The work was composed only ten years after Debussy had written his own quartet and comparisons are often drawn between the two, especially since both use fundamentally the same structure.  Ravel, however, saw his quartet as an early example of neoclassicism and fundamentally different from what Debussy had attempted.  According to Ravel:
"Stravinsky is often considered the leader of neoclassicism, but don't forget that my String Quartet was already conceived in terms of four-part counterpoint, whereas Debussy's Quartet is purely harmonic in conception."
The quartet was performed by Sheryl Staples (violin), Michelle Kim (violin), Cynthia Phelps (viola) and Carter Brey (cello).

The second half of the program consisted of Pictures at an Exhibition that was originally composed for piano by Modest Mussorgsky in 1874 and subsequently arranged for orchestra by Ravel in 1922.  The work is essentially a tone poem that was inspired by a posthumous exhibit of drawings by Victor Hartman, a close friend of Mussorgsky's who had died the year before. The listener follows a "Promenade" theme as he moves from a musical description of one drawing to the next.  This is an extremely popular piece of music and a specialty of conductor Charles Dutoit who has previously performed it with this orchestra.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Josef Breitenbach at Gitterman

Josef Breitenbach (1896 - 1984) was one of the survivors of the turmoil that shook Europe in the first half of the twentieth century.  As both a Communist (he took part in the 1918 coup d'etat that attempted to establish a Soviet republic in Bavaria) and a Jew, he was forced to flee German in 1933 only three years after opening his first photo studio in Munich.  To escape, he tricked the storm troopers who had come to arrest him into thinking he was under the protection of former Chancellor Franz von Papen whose portrait he had taken the year before. Safe for the time being in Paris, Breitenbach formed the friendships he is best remembered for today among Breton, Man Ray and other Surrealists as well as with Brassai and Henri Cartier-Bresson.  After only six years in Paris, Breitenbach was interned by the French before finally escaping to New York City in 1942 where he remained for the remainder of his life.

Despite the brevity of his stay in Paris, Breitenbach's photography was heavily influenced by the surrealists and their techniques are clearly evident in the photos shown at the current exhibit at the Gitterman Gallery.  For example, there are three portraits entitled Patricia (1942) lined side by side on one wall.  Although all three are the same photo, each print is different due to the application of the Sabatier Effect which is notoriously difficult to replicate from one print to the next (which is why in my own work I "solarize" the negative rather than the print).  Another print, entitled Solarized Nude (1933), is much darker and the effect more pronounced because the light was switched on earlier in the developing process.  A portrait from 1936, appropriately enough of Max Ernst and his wife, achieves a surrealist effect by superimposing on the faces of the subjects the reflections seen in the glass windowpane in front of them.

Other influences besides the surrealist are also evident.  A Woman and Conscience (1945) not only makes use of a double exposure but also employs a texture screen to create an effect reminiscent of that achieved by Pictorialists such as William Mortensen.  On the other hand, 6e Rue de la Grande Chaumiere, Paris (1938) is a masterpiece of low light photogra- phy in the style of Brassai's own night photos of Paris.

Probably the best print on exhibit is Sculpture Gallery (1935) in which natural light from an overhead skylight illuminates the draped folds of an unfinished sculpture while its creator stands to the side.  One wishes Breitenbach's famous double portrait of Breitenbach's best friend Dr Riegler and the nude J. Grenowere was also there to be seen.

The exhibit continues through November 2, 2013.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Mannes Faculty Recital: Miranda Cuckson

Yesterday evening's violin recital by Mannes faculty member Miranda Cuckson and pianist Yegor Shevtsov, two extremely accomplished musicians, was a well balanced program of classic and contemporary works.

The first half began with the Sonate pour violon et piano (1917) by Claude Debussy.  This was the last work Debussy composed, one of an intended series of six sonatas of which only three had been completed by the time of his death in 1918.  An interesting note in the program states:
"It is thought that at the time of writing, Debussy was under medication which caused to [sic] him to feel dizzy - precipitating the swirling, giddy rhythms and gestures of the piece."
This was followed by Sonata (1996) by Steven Mackey who began to compose concert music while still living in northern California and playing electric guitar.  He is now chair of the Music Department at Princeton University.  The sonata is determinedly modernist and demanding.  Of this work, the composer writes:
"There are two features which deserve special mention.  First, the violin part makes occasional use of microtones - notes in between the familiar equal tempered tones.  Second, the two movements are highly asymmetrical.  The first is about two minutes long and the second is closer to 18 minutes."
The second half began with Fantasy-Variations (1962) by Donald Martino for solo violin. This was a complex work which contained every possible difficulty to test the musicianship of the performer.  The composer himself was a clarinetist who played as a jazz musician in New York City before taking professorships at several Ivy League universities.

The final piece on the program was the Sonata in C minor, Op. 30, No. 2 (1802) by Ludwig van Beethoven.  The sonata was written at roughly the same time as the Second Symphony and the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus.  Composed the same year Beethoven, in a letter to his brothers, set forth the famous Heiligenstadt Testament in which he recorded his suicidal thoughts on learning of his impending deafness, the work anticipates the "heroic" works of the composer's middle period in its powerfully emotional tone.

Miranda Cuckson is a graduate of the Juilliard School where she studied under Robert Mann, Dorothy DeLay, Felix Galimir, and Shirley Givens.  In addition, she studied chamber music with Fred Sherry and members of the Juilliard String Quartet.  She is also the founder and artistic director of the non-profit organization Nunc.

Yegor Shevtsov is from the Lviv in the Ukraine where he studied both piano and dance. Later he obtained a degree in economics while a George Soros International Scholar.  After having moved to New York, he earned a DMA from the Manhattan School of Music where he is now a faculty member.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Weill: ACJW Ensemble Performs Dvorak

The recital given Monday evening at Weill Recital Hall by the ACJW Ensemble must stand as one of the shortest on record at any major venue.  It was a very brief affair that contained only about  50 minutes of music; it consisted of only one full length piece and that only a half hour long.  One could joke that it took longer to read the program than it did to listen to it.

Luckily, the full length piece was one of the most rewarding in the chamber music repertoire.  If Antonin Dvorak is known today primarily for his symphonies, it is in his chamber music that his greatest achievement lies.  The String Quintet in G, Op. 77 (1875) is a masterpiece for string instruments written early in his career and well worth hearing whenever the opportunity presents itself.  The poco andante overwhelms the listener with its rich romanticism.  The program notes by Clara Lyon rightly remark on the movement's "sustained lyricism... reminiscent of a long forgotten lullaby."  This performance also restored the work's original second movement, the intermezzo nocturno, which Dvorak had cut while making revisions in 1888 and later published as the Nocturne in B, Op. 40.

The other two pieces on the program, not counting three minutes of fanfare, were each about ten minutes long.  When introducing the Four Madrigals (1603) by Claudio Monteverdi, the trumpet player Thomas Bergeron referred to them as "four of the most beautiful love songs ever written."  It probably never occurred to him that they would have sounded much more romantic if played on the instruments for which they had originally been written rather than in an arrangement for a brass quintet that included a trombone and a tuba.  The remaining piece, entitled Speaking Tree, was composed by Andy Akiho and commissioned by the ACJW.  Though written for a large ensemble - including a string quartet, a brass quintet and a bass - it was most notable for the percussive sound effects created through the use of a toy piano, a xylophone and a leafy branch dragged across the face of a drum.  Ian Sullivan was especially adept in handling the percussion.  The composer himself spoke briefly onstage and appeared a genuinely affable and down to earth person.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Juilliard Faculty Recital: Ernest Barretta and Yoheved Kaplinsky

Yesterday evening's one hour faculty recital at  by Ernest Barretta and Yoheved Kaplinsky, chair of the Juilliard Piano Department, was another standing room only event at Paul Hall which was again packed with an enthusiastic audience.  It was also the second evening in a row I had an opportunity to experience great piano music of the twentieth century, first at Mannes and this time at Juilliard.  The recital consisted of two works, both of them for two pianos and the second for percussion as well.

The first piece was the Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos, Op. 17 (1901) by Sergei Rachmaninoff.  This piece was performed on one occasion by the composer and Vladimir Horowitz at the same party in 1940 where they premiered the two-piano version of Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances about which I recently posted.  The work, written immediately after the Second Piano Concerto, is most famous as a symptom of Rachmaninoff's recovery from the long three-year depression he suffered after the disastrous failure of his First Symphony.  The suite's third movement, the Romance: Andantino, is one of the most lyrical expressions of Russian romanticism ever composed.

The program closed with the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (1937) by Béla Bartók and actually featured two percussionists, Jonathan Haas and Pablo Rieppi, working with seven instruments that included everything from a gong to a xylophone to a snare drum. Though it must have sounded quite discordant when it was premiered by the composer and his wife in 1938, it won wide acclaim and has become a standard of the chamber repertoire.  I had already heard Friday evening at Mannes a performance of the composers Sonatina (1915) and Ostinato (1926) and found it interesting to compare them to this later work.

The sonata's second movement is characteristic of Bartók's "Night Music," Though it's difficult to find a succinct definition of the term, the Wikipedia article sums up its dark essence very well:
"From an audience point of view 'Night Music consists of those works or passages which convey to the listener the sounds of nature at night'. This is quite subjective and self-referential. Mostly, subjective and far-fetched descriptions are available: 'quiet, blurred cluster-chords and imitations of the twittering of birds and croaking of nocturnal creatures', 'In an atmosphere of hushed expectancy, a tapestry is woven of the tiny sounds of nocturnal animals and insects.' More concrete is 'Eerie dissonances providing a backdrop to sounds of nature and lonely melodies.'"
Even now Bartok's music can sound wild and disturbing, a mixture of Western harmonic devices and primitive Eastern European rhythms that are capable of eliciting from the audience a wide range of emotional responses.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Mannes: Contrasting Piano Sonorities

Yesterday evening the Mannes Piano Department presented the last in its current series of student recitals.  Entitled From Rachmaninoff to Rzewski: Contrasting Piano Sonorities of the 20 - 21 Centuries, it represented a broad range of works for solo piano.  What was most remarkable, despite the program's scholarly title, was how thoroughly enjoyable these pieces were to hear.  Too often listeners, put off by such esoteric terms as "atonal" and "polyrhythmic," approach contemporary music as purely academic exercises that are too dry and abstract to be capable of entertaining an audience.  That simply is not so, especially not in the case of these works.

The program began with Presto in E minor and Adagio sostenuto in D flat from Moments Musicaux, Op. 16, by Sergei Rachmaninoff as performed by Azamat Sydykov.  There followed Aaron Copland's Piano Variations performed by Thomas Weaver; Don Juan's Serenade from Karol Szymanovski's Masques, Op. 34, performed by Hanna Yukho; Barcarolles No. 1, "Graceful," by Ned Rorem performed by Shuang Yu; Sonatina (1915) and Ostinato (1926) by Bela Bartok performed by Lora Ahmad; Vers la flamme by Alexander Scriabin performed by Vladislav Boguinia; and L'isle joyeuse by Claude Debussy performed by Mina Koike.

The second half began with Five Pieces for Piano by Leon Kirchner performed by Kyle Walker.  This was followed by Mirror Etude No. 1 by Henry Martin performed by Annie Wong; Paraphrase from a theme by Paul Dvoyrin, Op. 108 by Nikolai Kapustin performed by Catalin Dima; and finally North American Ballads by Frederic Rzewski (Down by the Riverside was performed by Kyle Walker and Which Side are You On was performed by Daniel Colalillo).

It's amazing to me what a wealth of talent such a relatively small school as Mannes possesses in this one department.  These pianists performed more as seasoned professionals than as students still learning.  Tonight I was especially impressed by Thomas Weaver's performance of the Copland piece on which he demonstrated extraordinary dexterity.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Carnegie Hall: Beijing Symphony Orchestra

I went yesterday evening to hear the Beijing Symphony Orchestra more out of curiosity than for any other reason.  Tickets were readily available at steep discounts; I picked mine up for only $2.  This performance was not produced by Carnegie Hall and was not part of its regular series of concerts but was instead  labeled an "Attila Glatz Production."  Apparently, the orchestra itself rented the hall for the evening in an attempt to impress America with China's new found cultural prowess.  An article in the Wall Street Journal quoted Jindong Cai, the orchestra director at Stanford who will conduct the Beijing Symphony next season:
“China wants to export its culture to the world.  Part of this is the economic boom, so the government has more money. And in China, leaders are not just political figures, but they want to be viewed as cultural ones as well.”
The first half consisted of two pieces by Guo Wenjing entitled Lotus Overture and Chou Kong Shan.  The latter piece, translated as Sorrowful Desolate Mountain, was actually a concerto for bamboo flute (dizi).  The soloist was Tang Jun Qiao who displayed a remarkable mastery of the instrument. Hearing these two pieces was actually the part of the concert I enjoyed most as it gave me the rare opportunity to hear Chinese music written for orchestra.  The music itself was hard to define.  It seemed impressionist in some parts but always retained a distinctly Asian character.

The second half of the program, excerpts from Suites 1 and 2 of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64, was a distinct disappointment.  Even beforehand I had thought Prokofiev a curious choice for an Asian orchestra making its New York debut and had wondered how well the composer's sense of irony would translate.  Although the playing was meticulous and technically flawless, the orchestra seemed to have no feel for the music.  It was as though they were simply playing notes one after the other.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Robert Rauschenberg at Pace MacGill

The great difficulty in writing about the current exhibit at Pace MacGill's 57th Street location, Robert Rauschenberg and Photography, is that Rauschenberg was not primarily a photographer.  Even the term "multimedia artist" is insufficient to describe the complexity of Rauschenberg's vision.  Although often referred to as a precursor of pop art, Rauschenberg's true importance lies in his use of an incredible variety of materials, including found objects, with which to rethink the very nature of artistic expression.  In this, he most closely resembles that great iconoclast Marcel Duchamp whose Fountain first raised the question in 1917.  As the press release states:
"Using his own photographs as well as appropriated material, he [Rauschenberg] screened, transferred, and recycled images, using juxtaposition and obfuscation to create frames within frames, moving with energized fluidity between two and three-dimensional pieces, truly a post-modern artist in his laying bare of seams, interruptions and process."
For Rauschenberg, photography was by no means an end in itself.  It was instead a source of materials that could be used in creating collages and mixed media works much as old newspapers could be so incorporated.  It was by thus deconstructing the photographic process that Rauschenberg found his greatest application for it.  To see an exhibit of Rauschenberg's photographic work hung by itself is therefore somewhat a subversion of the artist's intent.  It sets up an artificial milieu where the photographs become works of art in themselves rather than materials to be used in creating art.

Certainly, as examples of a photographer's oeuvre, the works are not that impressive as they do not demonstrate the skills one would normally associate with fine art photography. Certain works, such as those from the Photem Series, seem no more than amateurish collages of snapshots.  Other pieces, particularly those reproduced as black & white inkjet prints, show a discerning eye but lack the skillful execution that would set them apart as great photographs.  For example, N.Y.C. Street (1951), Captiva Island, Florida (1971) and Vancouver (1980) show a great deal of wit in capturing ironic juxtapositions within the same scene.  But as such they rarely rise above the level of an artistic punch line.  Most curious of all are Portfolio I and Portfolio II, both from 1952.  Printed by the artist on silver gelatin paper in the 1990's, they mock the traditional concept of the photographic portfolio through the lack of any continuity among the images shown.  Though there may be for the artist a connection among these awkward subjects, it is not apparent to the viewer.

The exhibit continues through November 2, 2013.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Carnegie Hall: Valery Gergiev Conducts Rachmaninoff

There are no better performances of the Russian repertoire than those of the Mariinsky Orchestra when conducted by Valery Gergiev.  Last evening's all Rachmaninoff program at Carnegie Hall was no exception.  It was a remarkable reading of two of the greatest pieces written by the last of the Russian romantic composers.

The first piece was the Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 (1909).  Rachmaninoff himself considered this the best of his four piano concertos.  The music has an unmistakably Russian character, and the dense orchestration provided the Mariinsky players an opportunity to display their talents to the fullest.  I was startled to find in the program notes that Rachmaninoff explicitly linked the structure of his work to The Philosophy of Composition by Edgar Allan Poe.  (The composer would later use Poe's poem The Bells as the basis for a choral symphony of the same name.)  Rachmaninoff wrote:
"Each piece is built up around a climax: The whole stream of tones must be so calculated, and the content and form of each so clearly graduated, that the climax seems to be completely natural... It must come as a liberation from the last material obstacle..."
Rachmaninoff had composed this concerto on the occasion of his first American tour in order to demonstrate to his audiences his abilities as a virtuoso pianist.  Accordingly, the work presents challenges to even the most skilled musician.  The soloist yesterday, Denis Matsuev, was fully up to the task and handled even the most difficult passages brilliantly. Afterwards, he performed two long encores to close the first half - Rachmaninoff's Etude-Tableau in A minor and an improvisation by the pianist.

The second half consisted of only one piece, the Symphonic Dances, Op. 45 (1940).  I posted last week about having heard in recital the composer's two-piano arrangement of this same work.  Hearing once again the full orchestral version came as something of a revelation.  I had never appreciated before how totally lush is Rachmaninoff's orchestration.  It fairly swirls about the listener very much like a dance in motion.  And there are such great touches throughout, such as the plaintive saxophone in the first movement and the ringing bells in the last.  This work has always been one of my favorite pieces by Rachmaninoff and I've gone to hear it in concert on any number of occasions.  Of all these, the performance by Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra was undoubtedly the best.  It was absolutely thrilling to hear.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Carnegie Hall: James Levine Conducts Rossini, Mozart and Beethoven

Yesterday afternoon's performance by the Met Opera Orchestra was a long one, over two and a half hours of music by a variety of composers.  It opened with maestro James Levine conducting Verdi's powerful overture to I vespri Siciliani.  Though confined to a wheelchair, Mr. Levine has lost none of his ability or stamina as a conductor. From within a specially constructed box like podium, he presides with complete authority over the orchestra he built over decades into one of the foremost in the world. Each work he leads is carefully thought out and perfectly articulated by the orchestra.

The next piece on the program was Variations for Orchestra (1955) by Elliott Carter. Growing up, Carter was a protege of Charles Ives, whose Concord Sonata I heard for the first time on Friday evening.  Later, Carter himself became a proponent of atonal music.  The program quotes Carter's own words on this piece:
“In this work I was interested in adopting a more dynamic and changeable approach: The general characteristics of the form are maintained—one pattern of material out of which a diversity of characters come, but the principle of variation is often applied even within the scope of each short piece. In some, great changes of character and theme occur; in others, contrasting themes and characters answer each other back and forth or are heard simultaneously."
The first half of the program ended with the performance of a little heard work by Rossini entitled Giovanna d'Arco (1832) that he wrote after he had given up composing operas at age 37.  It is a solo cantata that could really be an excerpt from an unwritten opera.  It was composed for Olympe Pélissier whom Rossini later married.  Though the program refers to Pélissier as an "artists' model and socialite," she must also have been an exceptionally fine singer to have sung so demanding a piece of music.  Mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato, who will be appearing later this season at the Met in Rossini's La Cerentola, was completely convincing in her portrayal of Joan.

The second half began with Ms. DiDonato singing two arias from La clemenza di Tito, the opera seria written by Mozart in 1791 for the coronation of Leopold II of Austria.  Although not Mozart's best opera, it does contain two affecting arias sung by the conspirators as they await death.  What is most interesting about these two arias is that each was written for a different character.  The aria Deh, per questo istante solo was written for the character Sesto, a role originally intended to be sung by a castrato, while the aria Non piu di fiori was written for the character Vitellia.  It is a tribute to Ms. DiDonato's versatility to that she was able so effortlessly to switch roles.

The program closed with a striking interpretation of Beethoven's Symphony #7, Op. 92.  This is one of the composer's best known works.  Wagner famously referred to it as "apotheosis of the danceand Beethoven himself referred to it as "one of my best works."

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Juilliard Faculty Recital: Laura Goldberg and Victoria Mushkatkol

Yesterday evening's faculty recital at Paul Hall consisted of three major works for violin and piano in an hour long program.

The first piece was the last violin sonata Mozart wrote, the Sonata No. 35 in A, K. 526.  This is not part of any set nor is it a commissioned work.   In Mozart's catalog (the Köchel listing), it immediately precedes the composer's great opera Don Giovanni.  What sets this piece apart from other sonatas is the extremely demanding keyboard part that rises far above the level of simple accompaniment.  It's been suggested Mozart intended the piano part for himself when composing the work.

Following the Mozart was Schumann's Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105 written in 1851 and premiered by Clara Schumann and Ferdinand David in 1852.  Schumann wrote he was not pleased with this piece.  Perhaps its mood was too dark for him when in a period when his mental collapse was so close at hand.  At times the music conveys to the listener a sensation of anxiety and stress.

The final piece on the program was Stravinsky's Suite Italienne.  This was the 1933 arrangement for violin and piano on which the composer collaborated with Samuel Dushkin.  The music was taken from Stravinsky's Pulcinella ballet that had premiered at the Paris Opera in 1920.  It had been commissioned by Diaghilev and had had choreography by Massine and sets by Picasso.  The suite's five movements were: Introduzione, Serenata, Tarantella, Gavotta con due Variazioni and Minuetto e Finale.

Violinist Laura Goldberg is a graduate of Juilliard and a founding member of the Cassatt Quartet.  Pianist Victoria Mushkatkol is a graduate of the Petersburg Conservatory where she studied under Vladimir Nielsen.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Mannes: Ives' Concord Sonata

Charles Ives was an unusual man and lived a life quite different from that of most composers.  He was born in Connecticut, the son of a Civil War army bandleader, and was educated at Yale.  Long before Schoenberg's twelve tone school had emerged in Europe, Ives was already experimenting with compositions that employed polytonality, polyrhythm, tone clusters and quarter tones.  In 1906 he composed Central Park in the Dark, sometimes referred to as "the first radical musical work of the twentieth century."  As his music was not well received during his lifetime and rarely performed, Ives supported himself by working in the insurance industry.  In this, he was remarkably successful as an executive and an actuary.  His innovations in devising insurance strategies for the wealthy became the basis for today's methods of estate planning.  It was only late in life that Ives began to receive recognition as a composer.

Ives published the Concord Sonata in 1915 and revised it in 1947 after he had largely given up composing.  It is an extremely long and difficult piece for solo piano that makes use of any number of experimental techniques, including the use of a wooden 2x4 in the second movement that was pressed against the keyboard in order to create a tone cluster.  The work consists of four sections, each named after a major figure of the American transcendental tradition.  The movements are titled: Emerson, Hawthorne, The Alcotts and Thoreau. In Essays Before a Sonata, Ives wrote that is intention was an "impression of the spirit of transcendentalism that is associated in the minds of many with Concord, Massachusetts of over a half century ago."

In its continuing series of recitals, the Mannes Piano Department presented Ives' sonata yesterday evening as the only piece on the program.  Each movement was performed by a different student.  In order of appearance, these were Azamat Sydykov, Yekwon Sunwoo, Iryna Arbatska and Teng Fu.  All were so adept that they made playing this daunting work seem effortless.  In addition, the Department Chair, Pavlina Dokovska, provided a thoughtful and literate introduction to the work in which she discussed both the composer and his oeuvre. Before the beginning of each movement, she read an appropriate selection from Essays Before a Sonata that provided a context with which to better understand and appreciate the piece.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Irving Penn at Pace MacGill

The current exhibit, Irving Penn: On Assignment, at Pace MacGill's space on West 25th Street is a retrospective of the work Irving Penn completed while on assignment for Condé Nast.  It was the editorial photographs that Penn shot for Vogue over an almost seventy year period that formed the core of his work.  As Vince Aletti writes on one of the exhibit's wall texts:
"If Irving Penn never did another thing in his career but make pictures for the pages of Vogue, his place in photography's pantheon would still be assured.  From the beginning, in 1943, it was clear that Penn saw the magazine as a practical framework, not a limitation.  Encouraged by Alexander Liberman, Vogue's brilliant art director and a lifelong mentor, he challenged himself and the medium; he was inspired and relentlessly inventive."
The connection to Liberman is crucial.  As another of the exhibit's wall texts states:
"No one person in this 'system' was more important to Penn that his dear friend and collaborator, Alexander Liberman.  Beginning in 1943, Liberman expressed a deep belief in Penn, his work, and its originality.  Liberman nurtured Penn and, for decades, the two men conjured up scores of assignments together."
The photos shown at Pace MacGill are divided into several groups.  There are the location shoots from the Worlds in a Small Room series that include Morocco, Dahomey and Cuzco.  The most affecting of the location work is that shot in San Francisco in 1967 when Penn photographed the rock groups, the hippie families and the Hell's Angels.  There are also a great number of portraits, the most notable of which are the "corner" portraits - including those of Salvador Dali, Marcel Duchamp, John O'Hara, Igor Stravinsky and Truman Capote - shot in a claustrophobic space in Penn's studio.  The sitters' reactions to the confined angular nook bring out their true personalities for the camera.  There are also a few examples of Penn's fashion work from 1950 - 51 featuring his wife Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn.

The bulk of the black & white photos on display are silver gelatin prints, many of them vintage prints.  Penn was a master printer and these represent a tour de force of technique.  It is amazing to see in Girl in a Manta (Cuzco, 1948) the gradations Penn is able to achieve in the various shades of black in which all detail is preserved.  The exceptions to the silver gelatin work are several platinum palladium prints mounted to aluminum.  Penn was famous for his rediscovery of this process which allows for a much greater range of tonal values, and these prints are extremely well executed examples of his achievement.

One interesting artifact shown at the exhibit is one of two identical albums into which Penn glued frames cut from contact sheets.  He kept one album and regularly sent the other to Liberman as it was updated so that the two men could discuss by telephone, with the albums open before them, the photos from assignments that would work best in a published article.

The exhibit continues through October 26, 2013.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Met Opera: Valery Gergiev Conducts Eugene Onegin

What lies at the heart of the opera Eugene Onegin is the title character's lack of self knowledge.  His tragedy that he is unable to fathom the emptiness that lies beneath his world weary cynicism and false sophistication.  In the opening act, Onegin is the big city visitor from St. Petersburg who feels out of place in the countryside and bored in the company of the easygoing Larin family and their neighbors.  Throughout the first act, his snobbery is set against Tatiana's warmhearted naïveté which he is unable to appreciate and can only look down upon.  In the second act, he is unable to see how childish is his behavior in inciting his friend Lenski to a fatal duel.  The tension builds as the audience waits for the moment in the final act when Onegin's pretensions are finally stripped away and he is at last faced with the total futility of his life.  The climax arrives when Tatiania rejects Onegin's letter in the same way he had once rejected hers.

Tchaikovsky, originally reluctant to adapt Pushkin's work, soon saw the opera as an opportunity to brilliantly orchestrate the conflicts existing among the characters and within Onegin himself.  As the program notes:
"The letter scene, Tatiania's nocturnal outburst in which we see her gradually transformed from hesitant young girl to headstrong woman, is the dramatic, emotional, and musical crucible of the entire score, and Tchaikovsky's use of highly expressive motifs throughout the opera builds on it...  Onegin's futile declaration in Act III reproduces themes from Tatiania's impetuous midnight reverie, with even more forceful results.
"Affective memories of that crucial scene emerge elsewhere too... So, just as the first act ends with Tatiania, Lenski dominates the final scene of the second act, with a farewell that is filled with motifs from Tatiania's letter scene."
Last evening's performance of Eugene Onegin was an almost perfect realization of Tchaikovsky's vision.  Valery Gergiev is perhaps the best living conductor of the Russian repertoire, and he brought the score vividly to life.  Anna Trebetko, as Tatiania, was wonderful throughout, most especially in the difficult second scene of the first act when alone on stage she undergoes her metamorphosis.  Mariusz Kwiecien handled the title role masterfully and was most effective in his aria rejecting Tatiania's love at the close of the first act.  Piotr Beczala, as Lenski, gave an excellent performance of the crucial aria immediately preceding the duel at the end of the second act.

This was a new production.  Its architect, Deborah Warner, showed a great deal of insight in an interview contained within the program in relating the opera's characters to those found in the plays of Chekhov (who was actually a friend of the composer and an admirer of Onegin; at one point the two even discussed collaborating on an opera).   According to Ms.Warner:
"What matters most to me here is the pursuit of truth.  Onegin is on a par with Chekhov.  It is absolutely the same territory.  You want to believe these people are living and breathing and feeling utterly honestly, truthfully."
Ms. Warner showed her deep understanding of Tchaikovsky's intentions by designing a handsome set that did full justice to his work.  This was the type of grand production the Met successfully staged so often in the past, before it sought to become "relevant," and would be best advised to put on more frequently in the future.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Met Opera Database

Opera fanatics obsessed with seeking out little known facts can find a wealth of information by going to the Met Opera database and then clicking on the dull sounding "Repertory Report."  Not only is this a full listing of every opera ever performed at the Met, but it also shows the frequency with which each was staged as well as its first and last appearance.

There are few surprises at the top of the list.  That perennial favorite La Bohème, shown now almost every season, leads with 1,245 performances beginning in 1900.  German opera first appears at #12 with Lohengrin totaling 618 performances beginning in 1883.  What I consider the greatest opera of all, Don Giovanni, appears on the list at #15 with 538 performances also beginning in 1883.  (1883 must have been an exciting year to have attended the Met.  Aside from Lohengrin and Don Giovanni, La Traviata, Rigoletto, Faust, Il Trovatore, Lucia di Lammermoor and Il Barbiere di Siviglia all premiered that same year.)

It is at the bottom of the list that the most surprises are to be found among operas with the fewest performances on record.  Though some are important works only recently added to the repertory (such as Maria Stuarda which premiered last year and has so far a history of only 8 performances), who would have guessed that La Wally would have been shown only 4 times and all the way back in 1909 at that?  And then there are the intriguing titles about which one can only wonder - The Dance in Place Congo (5 performances in 1918), In the Pasha's Garden (3 performances in 1935) and The Pipe of Desire (3 performances in 1910). My favorite title is The Bat which had 12 performances in the years 1936 - 38 when Bela Lugosi films ruled the cinema.  Could there have been a connection?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Met Opera: Norma

Yesterday evening, the Met put on its 150th performance of NormaVincenzo Bellini's masterpiece of bel canto opera.  According to the program, it first entered the Met's repertory in 1890 when it was sung by "Wagner specialist" Lilli Lehmann.  This was during the six-season period when the Met enforced an all German language repertory under Leopold Damrosch and later Edmund Stanton.  Accordingly, at its premiere Norma was actually sung  in German!  Then it was left unperformed from 1892 to 1927 when it was reintroduced by Tullio Serafin who also conducted the famous Maria Callas studio recording in 1954.  Ms. Callas herself sang the role at the Met five times in 1956.  Other famous sopranos to have taken on the part at the Met include Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballé and Renata Scotto.

The list of singers who have undertaken the role is significant because the greatest problem with any staging of the work is the scarcity of vocal artists who are able to do justice to the title character.  Bellini originally wrote the part for Giuditta Pasta, generally considered one of the greatest singers of the nineteenth century.  According to an article in the program written by Philip Gossett:
"She [Pasta] was one of the few artists who successfully made the transition from the highly florid but more classical style of Rossini to the declamatory and passionate singing demanded by his successors in the 1830s.  Whatever these composers might ask of her, she could do it, and Bellini tailored to her multiple skills the role of the druid priestess..."
It was then something of a triumph that Sondra Radvanovsky, known primarily for her Verdi interpretations, should have given such a stunning performance as Norma.  From the great aria Casta diva on, she was in full command of the role and drew continuous applause from the audience.  In her performance, she was well assisted by other members of the cast - Kate Aldrich as Adalgisa, Alexsandrs Antonenko as Pollione and James Morris as Oroveso.  The conducting by Riccardo Frizza was commendable and the production by John Copley was dignified and unobtrusive.  All in all, this was an evening well spent.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Mannes: Piano Duos

The Mannes Piano Department continued its series of recitals yesterday evening with performances for two pianos of two works that in their orchestral versions are among the best known of the twentieth century.

2013 marks the centenary of the first performance of the ballet Le Sacre du printemps and of the infamous riot that broke out at its premiere at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris on May 29, 1913.  Just how shocking this music must have sounded one hundred years ago can be deduced from the reception accorded it by its conductor.  According to Wikipedia:
"Monteux's first reaction to The Rite, after hearing Stravinsky play a piano version, was to leave the room and find a quiet corner. Although he would perform his duties with conscientious professionalism, he never came to enjoy the work; nearly fifty years after the premiere he told enquirers that he detested it."
If this was the reaction of a professional musician, one can only imagine the feelings aroused in the general public upon its first exposure to the piece.

What I had not previously known was that Stravinsky also authored a piano version of his work in order to rehearse the dancers as they mastered Nijinsky's difficult choreography.  In fact, the piano arrangement was published some months before the ballet opened and provided a first glimpse of the revolutionary music it contained.  It was this version for four hands that was expertly performed last evening (but on two pianos) by students David Mamedov and Shulin Guo.  Although necessarily not as overwhelming as the full orchestral version, the piano arrangement was still incredibly powerful and conveyed very well the dissonant essence of Stravinsky's music.

The second piece on the program was Symphonic Dances, Op. 45 (1940) by Sergei Rachmaninoff.  This was his last work and certainly one of his greatest achievements.  Many sources refer to it as a summation of all he had accomplished as a composer.  Originally entitled Fantastic Dances, it is among Rachmaninoff's most accessible works.  As the Wikipedia article states:
"The Dances combine energetic rhythmic sections, reminiscent of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, with some of the composer's lushest harmonies."
At the same time he composed the orchestral version of Dances, Rachmaninoff also prepared an arrangement for two pianos.  This version was premiered by the composer in 1942 when he played it with Vladimir Horowitz at a private party in Beverly Hills.  Last evening it was performed by students Gvantsa Zangaladze and Azamat Sydykov.  Although the setting may have been less glamorous than at its premiere, hearing it was still just as rewarding an experience.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Juilliard Faculty Recital: Bart Feller

Last evening's event at Paul Hall was not a solo recital but a chamber ensemble performance by three talented musicians.  Flutist Bart Feller, a graduate of Curtis Institute, is not only a Juilliard faculty member but also principal flute for the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra and the now defunct New York City Opera.  Stacey Shames is the solo harpist of Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and a member of the Aureole Trio.  Rebecca Young is Associate Principal Viola of the New York Philharmonic.

The program began dramatically as harpist and violist stood on a darkened stage while the flutist began playing Claude Debussy's Syrinx while still offstage.  Mr. Feller moved onstage as the lights went up and all three musicians went without pause to the first movement of the Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp.  This is the second time I've heard this piece in a week.  I've already posted about having heard Carol Wincenc perform it with Nancy Allen and Cynthia Phelps on Monday evening and discussed then the importance Debussy attached to reasserting the tradition of French classical music.  Having heard the same work played by two groups of such excellent musicians helped deepen my understanding of Debussy's accomplishment.

The third piece in this short recital (only 35 minutes) was the world premiere of a work also for flute, viola and harp entitled Three New Hampshire Postcards by Christopher Weiss.  In its own way it too was Impressionistic as it summoned up three compelling scenes of New England: Backyard Creek, December Sky, 2 A.M. and Like Soft Rain upon Leaves.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Mannes: Piano Fantasies

Yesterday evening, Mannes students continued their exploration of the piano repertoire with a performance of four fantasies, three of them from the Romantic period and one a twentieth century work.

The program opened with Felix Mendelssohn's Fantasie in F sharp minor, Sonate ecossaise, Op. 28 (1833) performed by Ariela Bohrod, a first year undergraduate student making her performance debut at Mannes.  Like Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, the piece was in three movements, each faster than the preceding.  As an article by John Palmer notes:
"The F sharp minor Fantasia is generally considered one of the best examples of Mendelssohn's virtuoso works for the piano. It has all the marks of the composer's later "Scottish" works, including chords with open fifths, open harmonies, pedaling that creates a fuzzy effect, and powerful, dissonant crescendos."
The second piece was the Fantasy in F minor, Op. 49 (1841) by Frederic Chopin and was performed by Gvantsa Zangaladze, a first year graduate student who was also making her performance debut at Mannes.  In contrast to the Mendelssohn, this was a much moodier work that began with a slowness almost funereal in character.

The final piece in the first half of the program was entitled Etude Fantasy (1976) and was written by John Corigliano, the New York City composer most famous for his opera, The Ghosts of Versailles.  The work consists of five movements: For the Left Hand Alone, Legato, Fifths to Thirds, Ornaments and Melody.  It was obviously an extremely difficult piece for any pianist, but Daniel Feng played it brilliantly.

The second half consisted of a single work, the great Fantasy in C, Op. 17 (1836) by Robert Schumann.  This is one of the most famous works in the piano repertoire and Schumann's masterpiece for solo piano as well as a heartfelt profession of love for Clara Schumann.  It was dedicated to Franz Liszt who, the Wikipedia article notes, was "one of the few pianists capable of meeting the then-unparalleled demands of the Fantasie, particularly the second movement coda's rapid skips in opposite directions simultaneously."  Yesterday evening, Yekwon Sunwoo gave a performance that did full justice to the work.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Carnegie Hall Cancels Opening Night

For the first time in its 122 year history, Carnegie Hall was forced to close because of a labor strike according to an announcement on its website.  The opening night performance, which was to have featured the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, was canceled on short notice and will not be rescheduled.  The orchestra. which only recently emerged from bankruptcy, instead gave a free concert at Verizon Hall in Philadelphia.

The strike was called by the stagehands' union.  According to an article in the New York Times:
"They are among the highest-paid performers at Carnegie Hall, even though they do not play a note: they are the stagehands of Local 1, whose average total compensation of more than $400,000 a year is more than some of the hall’s top executives earn. Little happens on Carnegie’s stages without them."
The timing of the strike was not accidental.  As Chairman of the Board Sanford I. Weill noted: "This is our most important day for Carnegie Hall, our biggest fund-raising day, and it’s the first time in 122 years that we don’t have a performance on opening night." In an attempt to save something of the evening, the scheduled black tie dinner which was to have followed the concert was still held at the Waldorf Astoria though at an earlier hour.

Negotiations to end the strike are ongoing.  A concert by the American Symphony Orchestra went on yesterday evening as planned.  According to an article on Reuters, "A union leader told Reuters he was optimistic the two sides could reach a permanent deal by Friday."  In the meantime, those holding tickets to events at Carnegie Hall are best advised to consult the venue's website on a daily basis to learn the status of future performances.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

George Tice at Nailya Alexander

If I were ever asked to recommend a photographer worth collecting, my first choice would be George Tice.  Certainly, if I had $3,000 to spend, I myself would purchase Country Road, Lancaster, PA (1961), an 8x10 silver gelatin print.  I clearly remember thirty years ago when I  attended Making the Fine Print at Parsons - pretty much every NYC photographer serious about working in the darkroom showed up at that seminar sooner or later - Mr. Tice explained to us that he had had that particular negative for several years before realizing how best to print it.  It was only when he had completely burned in the sides of the print, he told us, that the photograph achieved its full level of drama.  It was later reprinted in the prestigious Time-Life Library of Photography in the early 1970's.

The current exhibit at the Nailya Alexander Gallery is a must see for anyone seriously interested in black & white darkroom technique.  The photographs themselves are a retrospective of the entire course of Mr. Tice's career from the mid 1950's to the present.  Although not all are vintage prints, every one is a superb example of photographic technique.  Included among them are several palladium and platinum/palladium prints, most notably the huge (89.8 x 66 cm) From the Chrysler Building, NY (1978) that I assume, due to its great size, was made from a digital negative.  As one of a limited edition of only fifteen, this print represents an excellent investment at $20,000.

The majority of the photographer's subjects are urban scenes, and he has a particular affinity for New Jersey, a locale not often explored by fine arts photographers.  These photographs include Telephone Booth, 3 a.m., Rahway, NJ (1974), Petit's Mobil Station, Cherry Hill, NJ (1974) and White Castle, Route #1, Rahway, NJ (1973).  While most other photographers' depictions of these same subjects might never rise above the mundane, Mr. Tice's artistry instead elevates them to the level of poetry.  (Quite possibly the only other New Jersey resident to have managed a comparable feat is Bruce Springsteen.)

George Tice was Edward Steichen's last exhibition printer.  When years ago I attended the Parson's seminar, I was fortunate enough to see a limited edition portfolio, authorized by Steichen's widow, of the great master's portraits on which Mr. Tice was then working.  The effect of such great photography when so perfectly printed was totally breathtaking and a worthy tribute to Steichen's genius.

The exhibit continues through November 5, 2013.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Saidenberg Faculty Recital: Carol Wincenc

The programming for Monday evening's recital at Sharp Theater was among the most ambitious I've encountered for any performance this season.  It would take several paragraphs simply to list all the outstanding musicians who played with Carol Wincenc on the pieces she chose.

The program began with Hans Werner Henze's I Sentimenti di Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1982).  The Bach work on which the piece is based is a fantasy for keyboard and violin written in 1787.  Henze freely adapted Bach for a chamber ensemble that in this performance featured two string quartets, a bass, harp and flute.

The Henze was followed by a playful piece by Alfred Schnittke entitled Moz-Art a la Mozart (1990) for eight flutes and harp.  The work is actually one of four that Schnittke composed over a fourteen year period based an incomplete fragment, K416d/446, that Mozart composed in 1783 to accompany a pantomime, Masquerade at the Redoute, in which he acted and danced with friends and family during an intermission at Carnival.  The only parts which survive from the original work are the first violin part and a few sketches. From this Schnittke reassembled the components into a "polystylistic" work.  An amusing innovation was to have one performer after another leave the stage toward the end of the piece until finally only the piccolo player remained onstage at the conclusion.  This performance marked the work's U.S. premier.

The first half ended with Debussy's classic Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp (1916) performed by Ms. Wincenc, Cynthia Phelps and Nancy Allen.  Written in the midst of World War I, the piece was clearly intended to reassert the importance of French music against the incursions of German composers, most especially Wagner who years after his death still exerted tremendous influence on the development of European music.  The work's impressionist character makes reference to the French classical period and stands in strong contrast to the atonal new music then being promulgated in Germany.

After intermission came the world premiere of a work by composer Yuko Uebayashi for flute and string quartet entitled Misericordia (2013).  For me, this graceful work - an airy fantasy that conveyed the hint of a Japanese melody - was the highlight of the recital.  Its intent was described by Ms. Uebayashi as follows:
"My idea was to put the flute and four strings on a palette and mix them together to make many kinds of sound.  At times I could hear the sound of the flute in counterpoint with the strings coming to me just like a pale light.  I also had in mind to create the effect of the flute and the strings playing with and against one another, as though they were smiling at each other."
The recital concluded on a light note with Daniel Paget's One Hundred Roses, an arrangement of Neapolitan songs originally written "around the turn of the 20th century" for voice and piano and here transcribed for flute and chamber ensemble.