Tuesday October 6th, 2015 - Aparna Ramaswamy in her Joyce debut presenting They Rose at Dawn. This extended solo work is performed in sections, with instrumental interludes provided by an excellent ensemble of vocalist(s), violin, flute and drums.
I had my first taste of Bharatantyam in 2009 when Hari Krishnan's InDance performed an unforgettable evening of classic/contemporary fusion works at Joyce SoHo (oh, how I miss that intimate venue!); since then, Hari has been back and I always try to catch his work here in Gotham. There have been other individual numbers of Indian dance on various mixed programmes and they always impress; so I was very glad of an opportunity to see Aparna Ramaswamy this evening.
With her musicians seated seated onstage, Ms. Ramaswamy, clad in fiery orange and yellow, dances in a central patch of light. There are no sets or backdrops. She has the technique and the personal allure to hold the audience in her grasp in this 75-minute show.
This style of dance is both powerful and subtle: the footwork is demanding and can be quite emphatic whilst the arms and hands - even to the fingertips - speak to us in a swiftly articulated dialect. To the finessed movements of the neck and head, which Ms. Ramaswamy has mastered to perfection, the dancer adds provocative glances and the occasional smile of satisfaction.
The four danced sections of the production each have a theme, commencing with Om Kara Karini which honors Devi, the Divine Mother. Varnam - the longest dance - tells a tale of the passionate attraction of two lovers, with evocative erotic undercurrents. Two Scenes from the Mullai Tinai finds elements of divinity within the physical world and is set at evening during the season of rain. Finally, Nalinakanthi: a celebration of life.
Ms. Ramaswarmy's command of the stage and her deep sense of commitment to the dance forms created a hypnotic atmosphere. All this, however, was compromised to an extent by the fact that the music was played at a deafening decibel level; instead of beckoning us into an exotic world, this unrelenting sonic assault proved off-putting. For me, had the music been toned down by half - or better yet, performed acoustically - the evening would have truly enchanted. As it was, the dancing more than compensated for the headache-inducing volume.
Saturday October 3rd, 2015 - Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and pianist Emmanuel Ax appeared with The New York Philharmonic in this concert in which Marc Neikrug's Canta-Concerto (a New York Philharmonic commission in its world premiere performances) was book-ended by two masterworks by Johannes Brahms.
Brahms' Tragic Overture opened the evening; composed in 1880, this melodious work doesn't sound particularly 'tragic' to us today, but rather seems a mixture of solemnity and gently restrained hope. The horns and trombones were particularly mellifluous in their richly-hued theme; Maestro Gilbert moved the overture along confidently, avoiding sentimentality.
Alan Gilbert spoke briefly with composer Marc Neikrug prior to the performance of the Canta-Concerto. These amiable little chats are harmless, but for me I'd rather get on with the music and let that do the talking. At least Mr. Neikrug did not amble on and on as Esa-Pekka Salonen had done the week before.
Sasha Cooke then appeared, in a gem-spangled black frock, and gave a simply spectacular performance of the Canta-Concerto; this work is set in four movements, with pauses in between: an opening arioso (that seemed to me to have a Russian feel); a scherzo-like interlude, an expressive cavatina, and what might be called a jazz-cabaletta.
There are no texts; the composer has invented his own language of sounds and the singer is called upon to communicate with the listener by vocal colour alone; this Ms. Cooke did with resplendent surety. Her voice, with its uniquely feminine timbre, was employed - much as a painter employs the hues from his palette - to create an emotionally-charged atmosphere in what is essentially abstract music.
The orchestra meanwhile has its part to play, yet it is always to the voice that we are drawn. Following what seemed to be a recitar cantando element in the opening movement - where one of the 'words' Ms. Cooke was singing somehow evoked for me a choral passage from EUGEN ONEGIN - a violent percussion attack leads the singer into the intense second movement. The somberly expressive third movement, with lamenting strings, found Ms. Cooke un-spooling the tone in a poignant legato. Dynamics were skillfully varied in this doleful vocalise, which rises to a high conclusion. Jazzy vamping and a touch of skat were deliciously set forth in the concluding 'cabaletta', with Ms. Cooke's body English amplifying a dance-like feeling in the rhythms, and an interjection from the marimba bringing in an added texture.
A singer in a class by herself, Sasha Cooke made the most of every note and 'word' in this unusual piece, holding the audience in the palm of her hand. It's always a delight to hear her.
Following the interval, the audience gave an affectionate welcome to Emanuel Ax (above). The esteemed pianist impressed us earlier this year playing the Chopin 2nd with The Philharmonic; tonight he and Alan Gilbert brought us a lustrous performance of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 (composed in 1881) with the artists of the orchestra on splendid form.
Philip Myers' sonorous horn intoned the opening motif, answered from the keyboard by Mr. Ax. The pianist goes - almost at once - into an extended cadenza where Mr. Ax's nimble virtuosity was at its most polished. The pianist's clarity in agile passages was admirable, leading us onward to the heart of the matter: the great, ardent Andante which opens with its poignantly lyrical cello theme. In this Andante, as it progressed, Maestro Gilbert summoned up a most congenial orchestral blend, with the piano as a glowing thread in the sonic tapestry. A solo statement from Anthony McGill's mellow clarinet was a moment to savor, before the conductor crafted a beautifully tapered final passage in which all the voices meshed to perfection. Then, after only the slightest of pauses, Gilbert and Ax sailed into the lively Allegro grazioso and brought the evening to a triumphant end.
The audience lavished cheers and applause on Mr. Ax who - in a lovely gesture - crossed the podium to embrace cellist Carter Brey whilst Maestro Gilbert looked on benevolently. This was a great performance in every regard.