Saturday, September 20, 2014

Gregg Kallor: Piano Music - 09/16/14

Greg Kallor: Excerpts from A Single Noon
A Single Noon
Broken Sentences
Straphanger's Lurch
Espresso Nirvana
Ginastera: Dance of the Old Shepherd
Bartok: Bulgarian Dance No 6
Rachmaninoff: Prelude Op. 32, No 12
Scriabin: Feuillet d'album
Greg Kallor: Untitled
Greg Kallor: Ballerina gone bad
Greg Kallor: The good kind of crazy

After an exhilarating Mahlerian feast uptown on Monday night, 24 hours later I was heading down Broadway to the historic neighborhood of NoHo for a more sedate evening of piano music at Subculture. That’s where the house's newly appointed composer-in-residence, Gregg Kallor, would help celebrate the first anniversary of the cool underground music and performing arts venue. For the occasion, the seats were placed almost full circle around the piano, the dimmed lights emphasized the cozy atmosphere of the intimate space and the mood was decidedly casual, as if everybody was ready to enjoy an informal get-together with old friends and new music.

Living in New York City has often been described as a constant and priceless source of inspiration for artists of all kinds, and Gregg Kallor seems to agree with that statement too if we are to believe the excerpts from his recent solo recording A single Noon that opened the concert and were the hands-down highlight of the performance.
Inconspicuously starting the concert with a nonchalant stride, the title track was soft and understated, like those oases of peace and quiet that are typically so hard to find in an urban environment, and all the more savored for it. This was a bit unexpected for the opening of a tribute to the Big Apple, but it set a clean canvas for the colorful turbulence to come.
And sure enough, "Broken Sentences" and its rebellious spikes of energy rowdily exploded and threw us right into the hustle and bustle of downtown during rush hour before we knew it. Welcome to real city life!
As Kallor explained it himself, "Straphanger's Lurch" is about his refusal to hold on to the poles in the subway cars, which naturally prompts all sorts of disasters, each of which was funnier than the next, as soon as the conductor hit the brakes. Accordingly, a feeling of instability, but also excitement, permeated the piece and made it the most whimsical nugget of the set.
Then, we were back to a calmer state of mind with "Found", which conjured up a pensive mood that extended leisurely, almost as if time, this precious New York commodity, had become irrelevant.
"Espresso Nirvana", his self-confessed "ode to caffeine", was predictably fast-paced, quirky fun, but also had some downbeat times. Granted, they never lasted long, and then we were off to another delirious jaunt.
If Gregg Kallor The Composer was clearly inspired, Gregg Kallor The Pianist was equally apt at impeccably mixing sharp classical exactness with debonair jazz coolness. It is probably a safe bet to assume that A Single Noon was premiered at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall in 2011 primarily due to its solidly classical pedigree, but this totally engrossing "tableau of life in New York City" could easily headline The Village Vanguard too.
Although it felt like the main course had been served before the hors d'œuvres, the evening winding down nicely with, among other goodies, some familiar names, such as Bartok with a vivacious rendition of his Bulgarian Dance No 6 as well as Rachmaninoff and a wistfully melancholic Prelude Op. 32, No 12. Those were a couple of pieces that Kallor "wished he had written" and his informed approach to those old favorites made us appreciate his technique and their appeal even more.
He had also composed three short works especially for Subculture, which we got to hear ahead of the rest of the world. The first one was still untitled and had a wandering feel to it; it was followed by a "Ballerina gone bad", although her badness was still attractive, if uneven, while "The good kind of crazy" oozed positive vibes and was dedicated to the well-deserving staff at Subculture.

The enthusiastic ovation earned us a memorable encore, which started as a ballad before taking a dramatic turn for the better and compellingly concluding a very busy hour. Happy Anniversary, Subculture!

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