Piazzola: Fuga y Misterio from María De Buenos Aires
Bach: The Art of Fugue
Tielman-Susato: Three dances
Brahms: Hungarian Dance No 5
Justin Hines: There is a Hole in the Bucket
Summer is over or almost over, depending on if you consider Labor Day or September 21 the official change of season, but in any case, I am ready to say "Vive l'automne", with its golden lights, cool temperatures, colorful foliage and, finally, the beginning of the new cultural season. New York City was not, of course, completely music-deprived during the past couple of months, with the popular outdoors concerts in July and the acclaimed Mostly Mozart Festival in August.
More adventurous - or simply luckier - music fans on the Upper West Side could also find solace in various informal, occasionally unexpected and always free, treats such as Susan Keser, the gracious violinist steadily enchanting visitors and locals in her Central Park corner, the bluesy saxophonist worrisomely sounding on his last breath by the Metropolitan Museum, the young violinist expertly working her hula hoop around her hips while playing a pared-down version of "Imagine" near Strawberry Fields, or the groovy jazz band spontaneous enlivening the south-western corner of Broadway and W. 86th Street some weekend afternoons.
Now that we're slowly getting back to business as usual, I could not but be thrilled at the prospect of enjoying a free concert today at the atypical time of 11:00 am by the unusual band Classical Jam in the Lincoln Center's David Rubinstein Atrium as part of the Meet the Artist Saturday series. Constituted of seasoned musicians playing the flute, percussion, violin, viola and cello, Classical Jam was promising an eclectic program reflecting the different personal backgrounds and interests of its members, and I happily joined the eager crowd to watch them walk (or rather play) the talk.
It all started with the vibrant notes of Piazzola's Fuga y Misterio, which sounded pleasantly bright and lively in a space that was probably not designed with live music in mind. Smartly combining classical rigor and Argentine sensuality, it immediately caught and kept the attention of adults and children alike.
After leading the audience into a Fugue-related singing exercise, the fearless ensemble took everybody back in time - and across the pond - from Piazzola's Fuga to Bach's The Art of Fugue. But that was not all. Not contenting themselves with churning out an impeccable, totally engrossing version of it, they eventually turned it into a smoking hot jazz tune, which proved once more the timelessness of Bach's music.
The next number was three short Renaissance dances from the Italian composer Tielman-Susato, which flawlessly transported us into yet another time, another place.
The atmosphere turned downright oriental with Natasha's Dream, an engaging work during which percussionist Justin Hines masterfully demonstrated the possibilities of his fancy tambourine and violinist Jennifer Choi clearly stood out with a short but high-flying solo turn.
Brahms' infectious Hungarian Dance No 5 has long been a staple in concert halls, but hearing it while watching The Great Dictator's sequence in which the barber Charlie Chaplin takes care of a worried-looking customer certainly put a different spin to it. Violist Cyrus Biroukhim had the difficult task of cueing his band mates and making sure that the live music matched the action of the screen, but it all worked out brilliantly.
One of Classical Jam's mottos is to bring music "from the street to the concert hall," and we all got to witness how seriously they take this laudable mission when three empty plastic buckets appeared upside down on the stage for Justin Hines' own composition: There is a Hole in the Bucket. Well, even if there was, that did not stop us from enjoying a truly virtuosic bucket-centered jam during which the composer and bucket player ended up using everything around him, including sheet music stands and the soles of his colleagues' shoes. Nothing could stop the bucket man!
To wrap up this totally fun hour, the musicians got back to their respective instruments and performed a choro dance by Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth, whose energetic rhythms took us full circle back to South America, where it had all started. I couldn't have hoped for a better kick-off of the weekend, and the season.