Thursday, May 4, 2017

NOW Ensemble - Greenstein, Ludwig-Leone, Burke/Pinkerton, Crowell & Dancigers - 04/30/17

Judd Greenstein: Folk Music 
Ellis Ludwig-Leone: Simple Machine 
Patrick Burke/Emily Pinkerton: Rounder Songs 
Emily Pinkerton: Banjo and vocals 
David Crowell: Waiting in the Rain for Snow 
Mark Dancigers: Cloudbank 

After a mesmerizing performance of Philip Glass’ Madrigal Opera at Williamsburg’s National Sawdust on Saturday evening, I was doing my best to keep my momentum going for the additional not-to-be-missed musical adventures I had planned. I kind of succeeded, and eventually headed uptown on Sunday afternoon, all the way to Inwood’s small and lovely Our Saviour’s Atonement Lutheran Church for one of Carnegie Hall’s invariably exciting, popular and free Neighborhood Concerts.
This one would feature the iconoclastic NOW Ensemble, whose stated raison d’être has been to "bring an indie-rock attitude to contemporary classical music" for the past 10 years. This sounds like a particularly laudable and, maybe even most importantly, fun mission, and it probably also explains the unusual make-up of the group, which includes a piano, a double bass, a flute, a clarinet and an electric guitar. That's what I can walking the talk.

The opening number, Judd Greenstein’s "Folk Music", which was inspired by Tanglewood and the Berkshires area, spontaneously provided an invigorating breath of fresh air that had a subtle Zen quality to it. Bringing to mind a relaxing road trip into the countryside and focusing on the simple, although not simplistic, joys of life, the good-naturedly attractive music kept on flowing organically and peacefully.
Ellis Ludwig-Leone’s "Simple Machine", on the other hand, was not so simple. The piece got going with a lot of fits and starts from all the instruments, making ingenious use of their respective sounds. So there was not a lot to hang on to melodically, but things eventually settled a bit and we were able to happily cruise all the way to a pleasantly low-key ending.
The longest work of the afternoon was Patrick Burke/Emily Pinkerton’s Rounder Songs, which was also having its New York premiere on Sunday afternoon. For the occasion, banjo player and singer Emily Pinkerton joined the NOW Ensemble for five ballads that oozed a distinctive Appalachian flavor, paid tribute to folk legends, and celebrated the successful marriage of traditional folk songs and post-minimalist classical music, positively proving that the two musical forms are not as far apart as they might originally seem.
Still in Nature’s realm, David Crowell’s compelling "Waiting in the Rain for Snow" immediately stood out for its catchy, guitar-driven opening chords, sustained pulse and bright lyricism. The guitar and piano collaborated closely to provide plenty of staying power while the woodwinds freely fluttered around, all of which cleverly evoked a sense of on-going transformation that could neither be figured out not stopped. The audience fully enjoyed the thrilling ride though.
The concert concluded with "Cloudbank" by NOW Ensemble’s guitarist Mark Dancigers. Opening like a playful conversation among five distinctly colorful and downright assertive participants, Cloudbank suddenly took a flamboyant melodic break led by the flute before returning to its animated discussion that ended the concert on a lively note.

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