Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mostly Mozart Festival - Mozart & Brahms - 07/26/15

Conductor: Louis Langrée
Mozart: Symphony No. 34 in C Major, K. 338
Brahms: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor

Another summer weekend in New York City, another couple of hours whiled away in line for another free concert, in vastly different circumstances from the previous weekend though. Last Saturday morning, as a gentle breeze was efficiently keeping the Upper West Side cool, I patiently waite in front of the Avery Fisher Hall for about three hours with a couple of New Yorker magazines and a pauper's breakfast for the opportunity to score premium seats for the preview concert of the Mostly Mozart Festival that very evening. And for the fourth year in a row, patience proved to a be conquering virtue.
The crowd-pleasing program included, of course, a work by the man himself with his Symphony No. 34, and then what has to be one of my favorite works in the entire classical music repertoire, Brahms' Symphony No. 4. So after the de rigueur stop at the L'Arte del Gelato cart located right on Lincoln Plaza and the leisurely enjoyment of our refreshing treats with a sweeping view over the Hearst Plaza, my friend Angie and I took our seats in the packed to the rafters (and on the stage) Avery Fisher Hall for the unofficial opening concert 49th Mostly Mozart Festival.

After the usual welcome speeches, Louis Langrée, MMF's iconic and beloved music director and main conductor, and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra went right down to business with Mozart's spirited and elegant Symphony No. 34. The compellingly breezy rendition by the orchestra, which even benefited from a swift insightful comment by maestro Langrée right after the unfinished minuet, was a fitting tribute to the young 24-year-old composer, who by all accounts was just hitting his stride at the time.
The MMF preview concert is an early and short affair, so after a quick pause, conductor and orchestra whole-heartedly switched from quintessential Classical to full-blown Romanticism with Brahms' magnificent final symphony. Serenely opening with the hypnotic, famously unaccompanied principal theme, the first movement rapidly became awash with lush melodies and high drama. And so the journey went on, richly expressive but still fundamentally austere, all the way to the no-holds-barred, Bach-inspired grand Finale which gave way to a thunderous ovation. According to a quick and informal show of hands during the introductions, there were a few people new to classical music in the audience. If this stunning performance of this stunning piece did not convince them of its merits, I am afraid nothing will.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

MoMA's Summergarden - Saygun, Farrin & Grey - 07/20/15

Isabel Hagen: Viola
Issei Herr: Cello
Nikita Morozov: Violin
Isabel Ong: Violin
Ahmed Adnan Saygun: String Quartet No. 3, Op. 43
Suzanne Farrin: Undecim
Mark Grey: Sparrow's Echo

Back to real life, where after happily making it through the dry and clean summer heat of provençal mountains I have been unhappily putting up with the muggy and polluted summer heat of the Big Apple, last Sunday I grabbed a portion of my Sunday edition of The New York Times and plenty of fluids before going line up outside MoMA for close to an hour, and then wait for another hour in its beautiful sculpture garden, in order to be able to partake in the museum's beloved Summergarden Sunday evening concert series in the best conditions possible.
French vacation oblige, I had to miss the first performance offered by members or alumni of The New Juilliard Ensemble two weeks before (Life can be so hard!), so last Sunday I made a point of attending the second and last one, which was going to focus on "new music for string quartet". And I was definitely not the only one who had resolved to spending the last steamy hours of the week listening to chamber music premieres in the museum's little corner of heaven. By the time 8 p.m. came around, the whole place was packed with hordes of buzzing locals and visitors on the ground, and numerous chirping birds in the trees.

Coming all the way from Turkey for its US premiere, Ahmed Adnan Saygun's String Quartet No. 3 opened the concert with assertive confidence. Sweetly dedicated to his Hungarian wife and clearly influenced by Bartok, with whom the composer shared a keen interest in folk music, the substantial work unfolded with boundless energy, vibrant colors, a bit of expressionism here and a touch of Romanticism there, as well as some discreetly oriental sounds. As it was, it did give new music a very good name, with just enough complexity to satisfy the more adventurous spirits, but still enough traditionally attractive components for the whole audience to be easily taken in. Moreover, the four young string players on the stage threw themselves into the performance with commitment and gusto. There was really nothing not to love.
After a brief pause, we became acquainted with two shorter and more recent works by American composers, each of which was having its New York premiere on Sunday. Consisting of ten uninterrupted movements that tirelessly explored the various possibilities of string instruments as if they had memories, Suzanne Farrin's "Undecim" was intriguing and engaging, erupting with unexpected sounds, some more appealing that others, while still forming an impressively cohesive whole, the eleventh piece of the title.
The last number of the evening, on the other hand, was pure unadulterated fun. Inspired by Mary Doria Russell's apparently dense science-fiction novel The Sparrow, Mark Grey's "Sparrow's Echo" boldly opened with a highly virtuosic violin solo, which Nikita Morozov impeccably nailed, and generally offered a breathlessly bracing score for the enterprising musicians to play with, which they did with remarkable technique and communicative enthusiasm. The Northern Californian pony-tailed composer, who came onstage once the performance was over, looked about just as genuine and accessible as his music. It was decidedly a cool night in the hot city.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Ensemble Allegria - "Promenade dans un jardin baroque" - 07/05/15

Florence Bruggey: Soprano
Laurence Girard: Violin
Solveig Gernert: Cello
Bach: Siciliano
Caccini: Amarilli
Giordani: Caro mio ben
Scarlatti: O cessate de piagarmi
Pergolesi: Se tu m'ami
Bach: Sinfonia da cantata No. 156 (Arioso)
Handel: 3 airs from Neun deutsche Arien
No. 6: Meine Seele hört im Sehen, HWV 207
No. 4: Süsse Stille, sanfte Quelle,
HWV 205 No. 5: Singe, Seele, Gott zum Preise HWV 206
Bréval: Duet for violin and cello (Allegro)
Pergolesi: Excerpts from "Stabat Mater"
No. 4: Quae moerebat et dolebat
No. 6: Vidit sum dulcem natum
No. 2: Cujus animan gementem
Bréval: Duet for violin and cello (Adagio)
Purcell: "When I am laid in earth" from Dido and Aeneas
Purcell: "Fairest Isle" from King Arthur
Handel: "Lascia ch'io pianga" from Rinaldo
Carissimi: "Vittoria, Vittoria, mio core!"

After an extremely busy Saturday night filled with traditional and modernized Mozart in Dieulefit's Parc de la Baume, my mom and I got another live music fix on Sunday evening in the Saint-Pierre Church of the nearby village of Comps. Standing proudly on top of its hill, the tiny Roman church hosts extremely popular free concerts performed by small ensembles all year long. And if I had had any doubts about that claim, they would have been quickly dispersed at the sight of an eager crowd of countless regulars and a few newcomers packing the small space to the rafters for the promised "Stroll in a Baroque garden".
The program was a well-balanced Baroque affair, in which four set of arias (Italian, German, Latin and opera excerpts) would be interspersed by instrumental works. Not a bad way to ease into a hot summery Sunday evening.

Blazingly kicking off the performance with a siciliano by Bach, local duo Laurence Girard at the violin and Solveig Gernert at the cello brilliantly demonstrated their virtuosic skills, which were also put to good use for the Arioso of Bach's Sinfonia da cantata No. 156, as well as for two movements of a violin and cello duet by lesser-known but worth-knowing Jean-Baptiste Bréval, which immediately seduced the audience with their pretty melodic lines.
In between those instrumental interludes the musicians were joined by special guest soprano Florence Bruggey, first with four Italian arias by master composers of the genre, which were the perfect opportunity for her to display her strong, wide-ranging voice for a clearly articulated, vividly colored performance.
She did not rest on her laurels long. Next she effortlessly switched to the harsher German language for three pieces from Handel's intimate collection of nine arias, for which he exceptionally returned to his native tongue. Meditatively expressing the goodness of God in all his creation, the texts were serene and intricate, the singing delicately lyrical and subtly organic for maximum impact.
Pergolesi's Stabat Mater became even more popular after his death, which in fact happened shortly after the completion of the composition, and Florence Bruggey expertly handled the sacred Latin text. Although the first excerpt sounded unusually perky for such a disheartening subject matter, the singer powerfully carried across Mary's profound suffering during the crucifixion.
The last set of arias started with the agonizingly sad "When I am laid in earth" from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, followed by the immaculately beautiful "Fairest Isle" from Purcell's King Arthur and the intensely plaintive "Lascia ch'io pianga" from Handel's Rinaldo. Carissimi's "Vittoria, Vittoria, mio core!" ended the official program on a resoundingly victorious note.

The ovation being long and loud, the three ladies treated us to a repeat performance of Pergolesi's exquisite "Se tu m'ami", an ever-delicious bonbon for the short drive back to Dieulefit.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Saoû chante Mozart - Antoine Hervé - Mozart la Nuit - 07/04/15

Antoine Hervé: Piano
Isabelle Poinloup: Soprano
Véronique Wilmart: Keyboard - Electronics

The theme of the 26th "Saoû chante Mozart" festival being "Mozart's modernity", it only made sense that some adventurous musicians would take a few works from the Viennese composer's œuvre and play around with them a bit. And what better musician than highly regarded jazz composer and pianist Antoine Hervé to take on this challenging but exciting endeavor? Especially as he had brought with him his two frequent music partners soprano Isabelle Poinloup and electronics player Véronique Wilmart.
So after the unquestionably classical concert with Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble that had officially opened the festival earlier in the evening, and a pleasant break at a nearby café, friends, family and I were back in Dieulefit's Parc de la Baume as night was leisurely falling and the air blissfully cooling off for a new foray into Mozartian territory, this time with a unique cocktail of classical, jazzy and electronic sounds... and some decidedly tireless crickets.

Mozart famously accomplished wonders with the piano in his times, and on Saturday night Antoine Hervé, who happens to be blessed with a boundless explorative spirit and impressive technical chops, proved himself to be quite the debonair virtuoso of our times. In fact, we originally thought that we would gladly spend the evening listening to him alone, but as Isabelle Poinloup joined in we quickly realized what we would have missed, and that would have been an awful lot indeed.
Beside the incongruous and unnecessary shorts-jacket-ponytails look and forced acting, her voice was bright and attractive, with the right amount of smokiness when needed, endlessly versatile and always unperturbedly focused. Whether nonchalantly be-bopping or intensely belting out, she turned out to be the vibrantly vital element of the trio and seemed to be having a lot of fun in the process.
My natural distrust of electronics when it comes to music was not swayed by the obviously competent and totally game Véronique Wilmart. Although she did manage to create brazenly innovative sounds, their lack of relatable quality or intrinsic musical value made this more modern component of the group an occasionally perky gimmick and, as far as I am concerned, not much else.
The last song of the concert, a captivating bluesy take on Lacrimosa from the Requiem, beautifully summarized and wrapped up the intriguing experiment, which concluded on a strongly satisfying note before the park eventually returned to its naturally dark and quiet state.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Saoû chante Mozart - Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble - Mozart la Nuit - 07/04/15

Conductor: Florian Cousin
Mozart: Serenade for Orchestra No. 6 in D Major, K. 239, Serenata notturna (Maestoso/ Minuetto Rondo)
Mozart: "Deh per questo istante solo" from La Clemenza di Tito
Claire Delgado-Boge: Soprano
Mozart: Divertimento in F Major, K. 138
Mozart: Ergo interest... Quaere superna, K. 143
Claire Delgado-Boge: Soprano
Mozart: "Al chiaror di que bei rai" from Ascanio in Alba
Claire Delgado-Boge: Soprano
Mozart: Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525
Mozart: "L'ho perduta, me meschina" from Le Nozze di Figaro
Claire Delgado-Boge: Soprano

Since last year I did not enjoy any vacation abroad, I had figured that I'd make up for it this year by celebrating my double heritage with some live music. Therefore, my July 4th was spent in the Parc de la Baume, Dieulefit, Drôme provençale, France, where I attended the opening of the local "Saoû chante Mozart" festival with an all-Mozart concert by Les musiciens du Louvre Grenoble, which incidentally also provided me with a timely foretaste of the "Mostly Mozart" festival that will kick off in New York City at the end of July. After all, one can never hear too much Mozart.
My week of French vacation before the concert had been filled with many activities, among which stood out visits to family and friends, the eclectic collections of the stately musée des Beaux-Arts and the ultra-modern musée des Confluences in my native Lyon, Provence’s natural visual feasts with the Sénanque Abbey and its lavender fields, the brightly colored, hill-perched village of Roussillon and its ochre queries, as well as the Renaissance-focused sound and vision show in the blissfully refreshing "Carrières de lumières" in Les-Baux-de-Provence. The highlight, however, had to be seamlessly channeling Paul Cézanne as I was finally getting around to hiking up (and down) his beloved Mont Sainte-Victoire to the Croix de Provence. In short, I was more than ready for some guilt-free dolce far niente with loads of sleep, food, drinks and music.
So there I was, sitting between my mom and stepdad, with a few friends nearby, waiting for some live music as the sun was slowly setting behind the huge trees of the beautiful park. Although it would be amplified, we quickly realized that the music would still have to compete with some seriously assertive crickets and the occasional happy screams from kids having fun in the nearby public pool. But our concert champêtre sounded simply too promising to start nit-picking.

The Serenade for Orchestra No. 6 in D Major is a serenata notturna that was originally conceived for nighttime. On Saturday evening, its first two movements were performed way before night fell, but its grand opening and subsequent lightly elegant lines were much appreciated just the same. In order to prove that while the music playing was of a remarkable caliber, we were also in for some irreverent summery fun, the reduced orchestra had some of its musicians come up with short solos, including a quick excerpt of La Marseillaise by the first violin (So much for the American national holiday).
The next instrumental work was Divertimento in F Major, K 138, whose complexity did not prevent from sparkling with wit and sophistication under the committed conducting of the young maestro Florian Cousin.
Lo and behold, Mozart’s ever-popular "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" had never been performed at the festival previously. This injustice, however, was quickly fixed on Saturday evening as it received a royal – and brisk – treatment from the fired-up orchestra as if to make up for lost time.
But the concert was not all about instruments, but about the voice as well. Accordingly, soprano Claire Delgado-Boge had been invited to sing a couple of opera arias and beautifully accomplished her mission. From Sesto’s guilt-ridden "Deh per questo istante solo" from La Clemenza di Tito to Venus’ lovely "Al chiaror di que bei rai" from Ascanio in Alba to Barbarina’s deliciously tragic/comic "L'ho perduta, me meschina" of Le Nozze di Figaro, she had total control over her highly melodic voice and was a true delight to listen to.

No encores were planned, but heeding our enthusiastic ovation, the orchestra happily threw themselves into another – more typical – rendition of the first movement of "Eine kleine Nachtmusik", just because you cannot go wrong with that.