Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Diaphenous "Daphnis"

“Vive la France” was the title for this weekend’s pair of concerts featuring the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The program was made up of two rarely heard works and one staple of the Impressionist repertoire. This concert marked a return visit for guest conductor Jun Märkl, who was last on the ASO podium in November 2017. The 57-year old German-born conductor has impressed audiences here in the past and his return was highly anticipated.  For the complete review, go here:  https://bachtrack.com/review-markl-schmidt-daphnis-vieuxtemps-atlanta-october-2018

Friday, September 28, 2018

Max Richter, who bear a passing resemblance to Kiefer Sutherland

Music from Infra

Minimalist, repetitive, boring; Minimalist, repetitive, boring; Minimalist, repetitive, boring; Minimalist, repetitive, boring; Minimalist, repetitive, boring; Minimalist, repetitive, boring; Minimalist, repetitive, boring; Minimalist, repetitive, boring.

Music from The Blue Notebooks

Pretentious, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Pretentious, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Pretentious, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Pretentious, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Pretentious, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Pretentious, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Pretentious, minimalist, repetitive, boring.

Encore: Music from "The Leftovers"

Depressing, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Depressing, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Depressing, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Depressing, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Depressing, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Depressing, minimalist, repetitive, boring

60 bucks and 2 hours- gone.

Moszkowski who?

The Atlanta Chamber Players’ (ACP) concerts are always a place to go to hear something new, off the beaten path, and intriguing.  Last evening’s concert at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church (look up Dunstan; quite a man) was no exception.  The special guest for the evening was the extraordinary violinist, Andres Cardenes, who was featured about a year ago also.

The program began with Mozart’s 1784-Violin Sonata No. 32, K. 454.  Cardenes and was accompanied by Elizabeth Pridgen, ACP Artistic Director.  If you have either of these two artists, you know you will get big, polished, musical performances with technical wizardry to be heard in every piece.  These two are a matched set and it worked beautifully.  As elegant as the Mozart was, the real potboiler was the next work. 

Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925) was an extremely popular composer in the late 1800’s.  Known mostly for salon music, he was considered the equal of Chopin, Rubinstein, and Liszt. He had a decent income, but because of some unwise currency investments, he lost most of his money.  In his final years, he was a pauper, dogged by ill health, and barely remembered for his music.  Some of his students took up his cause in an order to raise money for him, but he died even before he could use it to pay his mounting debts.  Today, Moszkowski is even more of a faded memory, and, in spite of occasional interest, he remains a musical footnote.  In its wise programming decision, the ACP gave the Atlanta audience an opportunity to reassess this late Romantic composer.  But, alas, it is hyper-everything.  His 1903- Suite for 2 Violins and Piano, Op. 71 has soaring climaxes, arpeggios galore, a waltz, flowing melodies, and heart-tugging double stops.  It is overwhelmingly thick and intense, displaying many of the characteristics that turned composers such as Debussy, Ravel, and Schoenberg away from romanticism.  Maybe it’s that Moszkowsi’s intensity is simply too much for the modern ear; it was a tough slog to get through.  I thought I needed an intermission, a latte, and a cigarette (and I don't smoke) about halfway through. It was good to hear as an academic exercise, but its schmaltz was over-the-top and tiring.  The good news is that it was played impeccably by Cardenes and Pridgen, who were joined by violinist Helen Hwaya Kim.  One intriguing part of this group was the contrast in the sound produced by Cardenes’ and Kim’s instruments.  Cardenes’ has a dark, somber, polished tone, while Kim’s is bright, emphasizing mid-range tones.  This added a bit of color beyond what Moszkowski likely anticipated. 

Brahms 1861 Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25 was the final work on the program.  Cellist Charae Krueger and violist Yinzi Kong joined Cardenes, Kim, and Pridgen for this monumental work.  It’s playing time ranges from about 32 minutes to about 38.  It is symphonic sounding- in fact, Arnold Schoenberg orchestrated in 1937 for the LA Philharmonic.  It is loaded with Brahmsian melody, development, and dark colorings.  While Brahms remains a staple of the concert hall, some would criticize his music for being excessive and intense, some of the same criticisms that could be leveled against Moszkowki.  Yet Brahms has several things in his favor- his music yearns, not with a backward glance, but with a look forward.  Even passage leads to the next, one necessarily leads to another.  The final movement is breathtaking for the audience and the musicians.  It is reminiscent of a Hungarian czardas, and it moves at breakneck speed.  It includes passages of rapid bowing and pizzicati.   Here again, the power of Pridgen’s piano and Cardenes violin playing were the driving forces for the entire work, but especially in this final movement.  The richness of Krueger and Kong’s low strings brought fullness to the music also.  All of the quartet members were technically brilliant and the performance was exhilarating. 

Thanks to the ACP for hosting Mr. Cardenes and for programming the Moskowski. Top flight musicians and intriguing programs are what make the ACP so valuable in Atlanta.  It was disappointing that the turnout was not greater, but the diversity of the small group was impressive.  This was another great evening of wonderful chamber music. 

By the way, check out this photo of a young Brahms.  +


Last evening’s concert with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was special in so many ways. Simulcast live on YouTube, it marked the return to the podium of popular former Assistant Conductor Mei-Ann Chen, and featured an appearance by superstar pianist Lang Lang. One other thing made the evening special for me: I was able to sit on stage right, a bit above and behind the orchestra – a great opportunity to listen to orchestra and soloist up close and personal. For the complete review, click here:  https://bachtrack.com/review-lang-lang-mozart-chen-atlanta-symphony-september-2018

Monday, September 24, 2018

A fresh coat of paint..

At the season opener of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, patrons were greeted with chic new black lobby walls and fresh full-color photos of the orchestra's musicians. Now that the adjacent Alliance Theater remodel is nearly complete, the Woodruff Arts Center may be turning its attention to sprucing up the nearly six-decade-old Symphony Hall. Unfortunately, the program for the opening concert was not as fresh as the new lobby paint. It featured two works by two flamboyantly Romantic Russian composers; both are extremely popular, as evidenced by a nearly full house.. For the complete review, go here:

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Bravo, Einaudi, Bravo!

Ludovico Einaudi presented an intense two hour and a quarter concert last evening at Atlanta Symphony Hall. For nearly half of the concert, Maestro Einaudi played solo piano and for the remainder, he was joined by electric violin and cello, percussion, synthesizer, and bass guitar. Einaudi is one of the most listened-to composer/pianists of the digital age. His music is stylistically minimalist, which he uses to create beautiful and touching melodies. He is criticized by some classical critics, but there is no doubt that he produces music that appeals to a wide-range, especially younger, of people. Einaudi eschews, labels for his music, but grants that it features elements of world, classical, jazz, rock, pop, New Age, etc. But categories aside, Einaudi mesmerized the audience in Atlanta.

The staging was minimal (if you pardon the pun), including some electric candles, and various background colors. But the most affecting part of the staging was the video graphics that were perfectly suited to the music being played, and they included color blocks, faux hieroglyphics, photos of natural objects, modified with different filters. And his sound engineer made make the most of Symphony Hall’s treacherous acoustics. Often, with amplified music, the sound becomes muddy and loud; here the sound was crisp and the bass was solid. The skill of the engineer managed to cover many of the Hall’s acoustical flaws.

There was no printed playlist so the audience just focused on the music and not titles. Einaudi’s music is most effective when it is not driven by the percussion; there were about five pieces that were heavily influenced by a drum. The amplified violin and cello were beautifully played and were blended nicely with the piano. It is interesting that Einaudi performs with his back to the audience, but that did not seem to interfere with his connection to his fans.

There is no doubt the most effective portion of the program was a half-hour long piano solo by Mr. Einaudi. His music is not particularly complex, and it is very tonal. His melodies are unsurpassed, and he has an immense, but very well controlled dynamic range. During this long solo interlude, the audience was totally silent. In fact, I cannot remember a time in Symphony Hall when 1200 people were so silent and quiet in their seats. With only a single overhead light focusing on the piano, Mr. Einaudi managed to cause people to wipe away tears as they listened.

This was grand music making, and Einaudi is a skilled interpreter of his own music. He is worth seeing and hearing. It is quite an experience.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

More accolades for Stephen Mulligan...

The Los Angeles Philharmonic has this week announced the four 2018/2019 Dudamel Fellowship recipients. The four young international conductors will be invited to develop their conducting craft and enrich their musical experience through personal mentorship by Principal Conductor Gustavo Dudamel – plus participation in the LA Phi’s orchestral, education and community programs. The 2018-2019 Dudamel Fellowship Program recipients are: Nuno Coelho (Portugal) Stephen Mulligan (America) Elena Schwarz (Switzerland/Australia) Jesús Uzcátegui (Venezuela) “The most important and fulfilling part of my work is to mentor extraordinary young people … ” the 37-year-old Venezuelan-born Maestro has said. “On behalf of the LA Phil, I welcome these four outstanding young conductors into the program and look forward to helping them become their best, as both musicians and people,” he has said. “Over the past nine years, alumni of this program have gone on to accomplish amazing things in their careers, and I have no doubt this exceptional group will go on to do the same.”