Aase Nordmo Løvberg sings "Dich, teure halle" from Wagner's TANNHAUSER.
Above: the cast of BalaSole Dance Company's MIXTUS in their opening number @ Ailey Citigroup Theater. Photo by Travis Magee
Saturday August 13th, 2016 - On a day when it felt like the world was about to melt, it was so pleasing to settle in at the cool cavern of the Ailey Citigroup Theater and watch a dozen young dance artists going thru their paces as Roberto Villanueva's BalaSole Dance Company presented MIXTUS, a program of solos.
Maintaining their unique place in the Gotham dance scene, these BalaSole presentations provide dancers from every genre with the opportunity to present solo danceworks in a theatrical setting, with expert lighting and sound. Over the years, I have seen a number of impressive works and interpreters at BalaSole; tonight's dancer-collective was a strong group, upholding the Company's standards of talent and diversity.
After choosing the participating soloists for each BalaSole presentation, Roberto creates the ensemble works danced by the entire cast which open and close the show. This time around, these group works, entitled Chapter 65/16, were danced to music by Rodrigo Leão that started jazzy, turned klezmer-ish, and then sent a violin sailing high over a restless beat. All of the evening's participating dancers appeared, first in a diagonal (nicely lit) and then in stylized unison motifs, breaking down into smaller groups along the way.
Alexis Julian opened the series of solos with Convergent Unease. Max Richter's darkish score, commencing with piano chords, underscored the deeply pensive nature of the solo. Ms. Julian, in a black halter-top and short gossamer black skirt, brought a soaring extension and a good feeling for lyricism to her dancing; plus: she has gorgeous hair. The yearning quality of the music was well-matched by the dancer's emotionally weighted movement; the evening's off to a fine start.
Clad in a black jacket and fitted trousers, the slender and lovely Laurie Déziel performed her restless solo Falling Away From You with haltingly expressive candor. Spoken words from Dramatic Play by D. M. Larsen tell an all-too-familiar story: as all of us romantics have done - sometimes often - the dancer has gone on a journey to find happiness only to realize that she has left her true happiness behind. It's a classic case of not knowing what you've got til it's gone, and Ms. Déziel's depiction of tremulous regret surely hit home.
Music by Peter Holman gave a Renaissance air to the solo Seven Tears, choreographed by Jamar Roberts for dancer Megan Cubides. Ms. Cubides' smoothly flowing style and her pliant physique reflected an ideal meshing of music and movement. The dancer might consider adding a sheer skirt to her costume, to reflect the timeless feeling of the music; but as it stands now, Seven Tears is a beautiful piece and was beautifully danced.
DaJuan Harris, in his solo When We're Silent, employed a collage of spoken words in a powerful statement about the current sorry state of things at a time when people are maligned and bullied for being different. Idle chatter about financial matters reminds us of the abyss-like gap between profuse wealth and bleak poverty. While the voices overlap, the dancer steps out of his jeans and then sits quietly as an innocent song is heard and the light fades. Kudos to Mr. Harris for bringing his vulnerability to the fore.
The beauteous Nuria Martin Fandos, in her solo El cant des Ocells (The Song of the Birds), is first seen in a pool of light; she wears a colorful skirt and her luxuriant hair and lovely eyes create a poetic vision. The vocal music of Maria del Mar Bonet sends Ms. Fandos on a dance of self-exploration, sensuous and bewitching, before returning to her illuminated starting place. Bellissima!
Benches are placed/piled on the stage for Alexandria Johnson's solo Lady In The Water, a piece with a theatrical flavor danced in classic A-B-A form to music by Benjamin Clementine. The dynamic Ms. Johnson at first moves in a large-scale, extroverted manner, but as the music shifts she becomes introspective. Wearing a white turban, the dancer turns her red wrap-around skirt inside-out to reveal herself all in white as an angelic voice is heard. Things then revert to the more open feeling of the opening movement. In Lady in The Water, dancer, music, and concept have the feel of an operatic soliloquy, underscoring Ms. Johnson's diva-like - yet still vitally human - presence.
Davonna Batt has set her solo Here, Before to music of Trentemøller. To a heavy beat, the lithe blonde Ms. Batt commences a questing dance filled with lyrical tension. The object of her search is unknown to us, but even as the music becomes more relaxed the dancer's underlying restlessness pervades the atmosphere. A low, crouching sideways "crab-walk" in one quirky movement motif to remember. The music deepens in resonance, with the clear soundings of bells hovering in the air, and then there's a sonic effect of stuttering. The choreography takes on a more fluid aspect, but the mystique of both the dancer and her dance remain to the end.
Vanessa Calderon boldly presents 3'30" DK 4' using music by Tom Waits. In stilettos and a black cocktail dress, the dancer approaches an empty chair on the stage; she steps out of her dress and, in the briefest of bikinis, seems about to perform a lap dance. But something makes her wary; she pulls her dress back on, and suddenly what promised to be provocative instead becomes nightmarish. The dancer emits a violent scream and writhes on the floor, hand in crotch. The atmosphere turns demented; more blood-curdling screams are heard. We cannot imagine what has terrorized her. Ms. Calderon's powerful performance was unsettling and impressive.
Nika Antuanette's solo The Itch utilized a score by The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble. Commencing in a square of light to jittery music, Ms. Antuanette revealed a mastery of physical nuance: even her back is expressive. Later, her entire body trembles before collapsing; she then crosses the space in a slow-motion diagonal crawl. Ms. Antuanette's choice of music was a treat, and so was her dancing.
Three Gotham-based dancers of Filipino heritage - Bennyroyce Royon, Norbert de la Cruz III, and Roberto Villanueva - share a gift for compelling beauty of movement, and I always look forward to seeing Roberto perform the final solo in each of his BalaSole presentations.
Above: Roberto Villanueva
Tonight his solo, BLANKie, was danced to music of Ólafur Arnalds, and yet again Roberto made a captivating impression. Clad in white briefs and a black tank-top, the dancer rises in silence and begins the simplest of moves and gestures, pensive and expressive. To piano music and the sound of distant thunder, he weaves a simple, sensuous, beautifully articulated dance. The music grows more expansive, as does the scope of the movement. As the solos moves to its end, Roberto dances with his shadow.
Each BalaSole program features two or three Emerging or Re-Emerging Artists; they do not perform solos, but appear in the opening and closing ensemble works.
Tonight, these dancers were Aliyah Caldwell...
... and Shawn Lawrence. Their persuasive dancing and easy stage manner shone in featured passages at the start and end of the evening; it would be good to see them in solos...or in a fully-styled duet.
A word of praise for lighting designer and stage manager Serena Wong, and thanks again to Roberto Villanueva for providing this valuable opportunity to encounter dancers we might not otherwise get to know.
All photos by Travis Magee.
August 14, 2016 | Permalink
Above: pianist Richard Goode, by Steve Riskind Photography
Tuesday August 9th, 2016 - Tonight's program at Mostly Mozart featured Mozart's first and final symphonies book-ending the composer's Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, with Richard Goode as soloist; Louis Langrée was on the podium. The performance was being broadcast live on WQXR, and also being filmed for future telecast in the Live From Lincoln Center series.
In 1764, young Wolfgang Mozart penned his Symphony No. 1 in E flat major. His father criticized the piece as being too basic, and pointed out some theoretical errors. Still, for the work of an eight-year-old, it's pretty impressive. Among its felicities is the charming introduction of the pianoforte in the Andante, and some nice writing for the horns.
The stagehands at Geffen Hall are miracle-workers, and they whisked the pianoforte away and rolled out the Steinway in the twinkling of an eye. There was a slight delay as the seating for the violinists hadn't left room for Mr. Goode's entrance and had to be re-touched.
The pianist appeared to a warm welcome and gave a really lovely performance of the piano concerto #12 in A-major, K414. Mr. Goode used a score, unobtrusively, and despite a momentary blurring of notes here and there, he played with unaffected lyricism, allowing us to savour the concerto's theme-rich Molto allegro. In the Andante which follows, the pianist's feeling for delicacy of expression was much appreciated, and the shift to a minor-key interlude was congenially underlined. The concluding Rondeau found pianist and orchestra graciously simpatico, and the large audience cheered Mr. Goode lovingly as he took his bows.
Following the interval, the performance of Mozart's final symphony, No. 41 (“Jupiter”), was thoroughly enjoyable. Composed in 1788, there seem to be no surviving records of this symphony's premiere. The composer did not give this work the designation 'Jupiter', rather it may have been Mozart's son Franz Xavier who suggested the nickname much later. However the tradition came about, the C-major symphony reflects perfectly on the divine nobility of the Roman god Jupiter, particularly in its outer movements.
Tonight this masterwork unfolded in Maestro Langrée's big-hearted interpretation. Mozart, at his creative peak, summons forth unique harmonies along the way, and unexpected turns of phrase and tempo. As the Mostly Mozart players dove into the symphony's Molto allegro finale - one of music's enduring perfections - we are borne along in a state of joy. The references to DON GIOVANNI gave me a smile, and when the symphony ends with the same rhythmic statement that Mozart later used to end his ZAUBERFLÖTE, I was ever so glad to be there.
August 10, 2016 | Permalink
Above: violinist Sean Lee
Chamber Music Society's "live" video of their March 2016 performance of Schubert's Rondo for Violin and Strings (D. 438) has popped up on their Facebook page, and I am delighted to share it here: LINK.
I had the good fortune to be present at this concert, the memory of which stands out as a highlight among the Society's presentations in recent seasons - although, to be honest, everything they offer seems to end up being a highlight. With Sean Lee as featured soloist and an excellent ensemble consisting of Benjamin Beilman and Kristin Lee (violins), Richard O'Neill (viola), and Nick Canellakis (cello) - all favorite musicians of mine - the level of the music-making was stratospheric.
On October 18th, 2016, Chamber Music Society will open their 2016-2017 season with a program entitled Travels with Mendelssohn; my soprano-friend Lisette Oropesa will make her CMS debut that night, singing Schubert's Shepherd on the Rock and songs by Felix Mendelssohn. Opening night tickets may be purchased here.
August 09, 2016 | Permalink
Above: clarinetist Martin Fröst, soloist at tonight's Mostly Mozart concert
Friday August 5th, 2016 - The Estonian conductor Paavo Järvi, who was named 2015 Gramophone Artist of the Year, was on the podium at David Geffen Hall this evening as the Mostly Mozart Festival offered music by Pärt, Mozart, and Beethoven. In his performance of the Mozart clarinet concerto, Martin Fröst played with heavenly radiance; following the interval, Maestro Järvi and the Mostly Mozart orchestra sustained the evening's magic with a briskly beautiful Beethoven 4th.
Geffen Hall had a different look tonight: stage seating had been added, and a cluster of overhead lighting was installed to illuminate the orchestra in its more forward position. The spiritual quality of the opening Pärt settled the audience immediately, and the sensational subtleties of Mr. Fröst's playing maintained a church-like hush. Unfortunately, one cellphone went off loudly just before the concerto began; and - inexcusably - another sounded during one of the most profound passages of the concerto's adagio. The urge to kill was barely suppressed.
In tonight's programming, Arvo Pärt’s La Sindone was an unusual prelude for the masterworks to come. This is the Estonian composer's meditation on the 'Shroud of Turin'; it was composed in 2005 and premiered at Turin in 2006. The authenticity of the Shroud has never been officially declared by the Catholic Church; it has been described as a “mirror of the gospel”, and as a “distinguished relic” by Pope John Paul II. The church continues to encourage devotion to the Shroud, which has been venerated by the faithful for centuries. It is now kept under bulletproof glass in an air-tight, environment-controlled case at the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, where it is guarded by cameras, drones, and police.
While numerous tests of the ancient cloth have indicated that it is a fake dating from Medieval times, the Shroud maintains its centuries-old mystique; and one can imagine a composer of Pärt’s sensitivity reacting to being in the artifact's presence.
The work opens with downcast strings: a weeping motif. Chimes sound, and the music goes deeper, offset by crystalline bells and a delicately-struck triangle. The strings re-emerge on high, gradually descending in halting rhythms; a sense of gloom prevails. Suddenly the music turns grandiose, with sonorous brass joining in. There are trumpet calls, and intriguing sounds from the xylophone. The brass players continue fanfare-like bursts until a single chime reverberates and the strings fall to a hush. This evocative piece certainly cast a spell tonight, and was very finely played.
One of Mozart's most familiar and beloved works, the Clarinet Concerto, K. 622, was written in October 1791, shortly before Mozart's death: one of his last completed works. I imagine I am not the only person who first heard the poignant strains of the adagio's main theme in the film OUT OF AFRICA. In one of that movie's most memorable scenes, Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen have brought a gramophone on safari, and they set it up in a jungle clearing where curious baboons are drawn to the music: "Think of it: never a man-made sound... and then - Mozart!", says Finch Hatton.
Listening to the concerto tonight, I could only think what I so often think when listening to Mozart: "What if he had lived another 30 or 40 years?" One can only imagine what music he might have created.
That theme from the adagio, which deeply touches the heart still - a hundred hearings on - was tonight but one of many splendid passages in Martin Fröst's rendering of the concerto, ideally supported by Maestro Järvi and the Mostly Mozart Orchestra. That the tall, blonde Mr. Fröst's playing entranced the audience is something of an under-statement: his performance was transportive. In addition to his musicality and ravishing tone, Mr. Fröst's physicality and his dance-like movements in response to Mozart's amazing writing must have intrigued dance critic Alastair Macaulay, who was sitting in front of us.
Maestro Järvi's loving shaping of the concerto's orchestral introduction signaled that we were in for something special, and from the soloist's first entrance, this Mozart masterwork soared.
Mr. Fröst is a miraculous musician in every way: his splendid fluency in scale passages and coloratura; his seamless, fascinating legato; the tonal colourings he is able to produce, and - most thrillingly - his vast dynamic range, all combined for a musical experience that was spellbinding. No wonder the NY Times' James Oestreich has said of Fröst that his playing "...exhibited a virtuosity and a musicianship unsurpassed by any clarinetist — perhaps any instrumentalist — in my memory."
In a performance brimming with captivating turns of phrase, the clarinetist continually displayed his uncanny ability to hone the tone down to the most exquisite pianississimo level whilst keeping the notes magically alive as he spun them into the hall. You just sit there listening in a state of awed disbelief. A particular state of grace was achieved at the end of the adagio as the orchestra faded to silence and Mr. Fröst lingered on his final note for a few heavenly seconds.
A rip-roaring standing ovation greeted the clarinetist, who treated us to a fantastical klezmer-style encore, which he mentioned was created by his brother Göran. Martin Fröst's playing here - from soulful to snazzy - evoked another round of ardent applause and cheers.
One might have expected that the program's concluding symphony would be something of an after-thought following Mr. Fröst's spectacular triumph; instead, the conducting and playing gave the Beethoven its own special glow.
Above: Maestro Paavo Järvi, photo by Julia Bayer
The 4th symphony is currently my favorite from among Beethoven's nine. Composed in mid-1806, and first performed at a private concert in March of 1807, this marvelous piece seems to have provided the composer with a much-needed respite from his labors on the 5th symphony. Though over-shadowed for many music-lovers by the grander symphonies that followed, the 4th is a complete delight in its own right, and Maestro Järvi and the Mostly Mozart players gave a thoroughly enjoyable rendering of it tonight.
Watching Paavo Järvi conduct is a pleasure in its own right. He draws the music from the players as a conjurer would: his gestures vary from air-stabbing cues to caressive summonings. After indicating to a player or group, "It's yours!", he will trust them to take over and let the music flow. This kind of rapport induces the musicians to maintain a very high level of playing.
The numerous solo bits for the various wind players over the course of the Beethoven 4th were vividly voiced tonight, and I must mention the truly lovely playing of Jon Manasse in the clarinet solo of the symphony's adagio; Mr. Manasse upheld the high standard of clarinet artistry which Mr. Fröst had established in the Mozart, which is saying a lot.
By the time Maestro Järvi had set the 4th's final allegro ma non troppo on its merry dash, all seemed right with the world. During one of those lovely little pauses that Beethoven could so charmingly throw in, the conductor glanced at the audience over his shoulder, as if to say: "Isn't this music a joy?" Yes, Maestro...yes, yes, yes!
This concert then was a first-class celebration of Mostly Mozart's 50th anniversary, and a night of music-making that will linger in the memory as time and the universe move swiftly onward.
August 06, 2016 | Permalink
Read a Dance Informa article about the outstanding ballet choreographer Claudia Schreier. It's an honor for me to be quoted in the article, alongside the inimitable Damian Woetzel, and award-winning composer Jeff Beal, who collaborated with Claudia for her 2015 ballet ALMOST MORNING.
Claudia is presently at Vail, where her latest ballet premieres on August 8th, 2016. Following this, she has a calendar-full of creativity, stretching months into the future, including some exciting opportunities that can't be announced yet.
A lovely lunchtime companion, Claudia is also a wonderful concert-going comrade: we always find music and musicians to love at Gotham's great halls: Tully, Geffen, Carnegie, or Merkin.
Above: from Claudia's ballet ANOMIE, set to music of César Franck
August 02, 2016 | Permalink