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Archive for the ‘Sam’s Concert Reviews’ Category

sibelius

Sculpture of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, whose ‘Finlandia’ is one of classical music’s most beloved compositions.

by Sam Juliano

The Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra have been performing for seventy-six years in the affluent Bergen County, New Jersey town that bears its name.  Their annual concert schedule usually allows for three full venues, which are usually organized by way of form, common instrument, composer or theme.  The concert of Friday, November 7 brought together two famed organ compositions – Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and Camille Saint-Saens’ Symphony No. 3, also referred to as the “Organ” Symphony.  Completing the classical quartet that comprised the concert were two renowned nationalistic works: Finlandia by Jean Sibelius and The Moldau (Vltava from Ma vlast).  While no classical music lover attends these local venues because they are expecting the polish, expertise and experience of the New York Philharmonic, they usually are able to revel in the passion and commitment of an ensemble that includes talented music students from local high schools and orchestral free lancers who are thrilled to secure such opportunities.

The idea of nationalism has been subverted in recent years, as the intended spirit has been hijacked by fanatics, who equate patriotism with terrorist acts against innocents.  Yet as he grew up Sibelius lived in a Finland controlled by Russia.  He also lived in a time when his countrymen were expected to speak Swedish.  Sibelius dodged these resented influences to attend a Finnish School, where he later developed an appreciation of his country’s rich literary tradition, which many years later he turned to when he wanted to write music to express his opposition to the Russianization of his country.  The patriotic poem, “The Melting of the Ice on the Ulea River” served as an inspiration for a four-episode tone poem, which eventually came to be known as Finlandia.  One of the most stirring compositions in the classical repertoire, this “tone poem for orchestra” has long been regarded as the unofficial Finnish national anthem, and it debuted at the Paris World Exhibition of 1900, where it was performed by the Helsinki Philharmonic.  The piece opens with repeated brass turbulence which projects a measure of foreboding.  Ridgewood’s players were fully up to this provocative opening statement, which segues into a benign calm before the storm, and then on to a brisk and energetic passage in celebratory mode before the rapturous and expansive main theme makes its appearance – a theme of incredible emotional power that would rouse even those in a coma with its hymn like coda that beckons it’s listeners to offer their undivided attention and reverence. You don’t have to be Finnish to be moved to tears.  One of western music’s most renowned melodies then yields to a comparatively bombastic passage which encores the rapturous hymn at the start, but it is clear what passage has won its listener’s hearts. (more…)

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Louis Langree and Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra in Avery Fisher Hall

by Sam Juliano

     The dynamic Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and the vibrant veteran French conductor Louis Langree performed an all-Mozart venue on the evening of Saturday, August 14 to a wildly enthusiastic sold-out crowd at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall.  Langree and Finnish pianist Antti Siirala performed three of the composer’s most beloved works with Symphony No. 25 in G minor, Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K.466, and Symphony No. 40 in G minor K.550 to a crowd largely composed of summer tourists and festival faithful at the renowned concert hall standing across the courtyard from the Metropolitan Opera House and the New York State Theatre.

     Siirala received four curtain calls for his spirited reading of the piano concerto, one of the greatest of all classical compositions.  In 1784, at the peak of his fame in Vienna as composer and pianist, Mozart composed no fewer than six immortal piano concertos for his insatiable public, one of the most “spoiled” audiences in history, at least rivaling  J.S. Bach’s Sunday morning congregations at St. Thomas’ Church.  Mozart, buoyed by the success of his piano work, decided to embark on a new concerto, more personal in expression than any of its predecessors.  The first Mozart concerto written in a minor key is assessed by musicologist C. M. Girdlestone in his classic study of the concertos as a work to stir the soul, specifically the emotions: “the story here becomes more stirring and more full of color, and there enters into it a sense of adventure and heroism, hitherto unexperienced.”  The work includes a mysterious, sycopated throb of violin opening, and segues into the timbre of menacing bass, eventually giving way to the piano as a lonely protagonist with a plantive new theme.  Throughout this musically dazzling opening movement Mozart preserves a sense of antagonism between piano and orchestra, avoiding blended ensemble writing for them.  The cadenza that concludes this movement was not written by Mozart (who never wrote one) but by Beethoven, who added it years after Mozart’s death. (more…)

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july nyc 004

by Sam Juliano

     The final evening of the eleven day ‘Summertime Classics’ series at Avery Fisher Hall concluded on Friday, July 10, when the New York Philharmonic, under the guidance of guest conductor (and host) Bramwell Tovey, performed some venerated French classics, including Ravel’s Bolero and choice selections from both Bizet’s Carmen and Saint-Saens’s Samson and Delilah.  The sell-out crowd roared their approval for the show’s soprano, Denyce Graves, especially after she flawlessly negotiated one of opera’s most beautiful and difficult arias, “Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix” from Samson.  Earlier, the pretty soprano, wearing a yellow satin dress, performed the famed “Habanera’ and ‘Seguidilla’ from Carmen, after the orchestra rendered a vibrant reading of the beloved ‘March of the Toreodors.’  After the intermission, the New York Philharmonic swung into dazzling form with outstanding readings of Bolero and Berlioz’s La Corsaire Overture. (more…)

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movies and more june 002

by Sam Juliano

    Jean Sibelius’s most popular work is his Symphony No. 2 in D Major, a four-movement masterpiece that at the very least vies with the composer’s nationalistic Finlandia amongst the Finnish composer’s pantheon.  Yet, not until the final “Allegretto moderato” coda does the work evince the same kind of melodic invention and wide appeal that characterized the earlier work.  The composition of the Second marked the culmination of the composer’s early romantic period, a time he was under the thrall of Tchaikovsky, and the flowing melodic line of the work’s denouement, which is actually a series of repeating fragments strung together, provides listeners with one of classical music’s most exquisite (and signature) passages. 

     Concert goers had to wait till the closing minutes to avail themselves of such invigorating sublimity, after hearing a first half that included two works composed by music director/conductor Lorin Maazel in the late 90’s and a brief acknowledgement by New York Philharmonic chairman Paul B. Guenther, who introduced five musicians who are slated to retire at the end of the month after long tenures.  Guenther took an apparently unprovoked poke at the Borough of Brooklyn, stating that it “used to be a hotbed of classical music” in announcing that several of the retirees were born and raised there.  That kind of demeaning cultural elitism is what often prevents this kind of music from reaching those who reside in less ‘privleged’ sections of the city.  A few catcalls from the crowd sent Guenther a clear message. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

With the melancholy strains of Beethoven’s “Pathetique Sonata” circulating the grand lobby of Avery Fisher Hall for a Sunday matinee classical concert, patrons were primed for an afternoon of somber listening from the visiting Texas Chorale as part of the “Distinguished Concerts Orchestra International” touring schedule.  The Sunday venue, dubbed “The Music of Haydn and Mozart” was conducted by the popular Brad Bouley with Cynthia Douglas as the featured soprano, Erin Elizabeth Smith as mezzo-soprano, Steven Sanders as tenor and Noel Bouley as bass.

     Haydn’s “Mass No. 9 in C major” actually dates from 1796 and the Napoleonic Wars.  Purportedly, while Haydn was writing the music, the invading French army reached the Austrian city of Graz.  In Vienna, there was said to be a general mobilization of the citizenry and a widespread sense of great urgency about the need to keep the French out of the capital.  In reaction to what was going on around him, Haydn gave this mass a martial air, with beating drums that have led to its being known as Paukenmesse (or Timpani Mass) and with blaring trumpets that bring the sounds of war to the prayer for piece in the sublime concluding section, the “Agnes Dei.”  The spirited Texas ensemble gave exalted readings of the Gloria (“Gloria in excelsis Deo”) and the powerful Benedictus (“lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us”)  The mass includes the lengthy “Credo” and the glorious “sanctus” and the choral group was rarely off-key and most effective at transcribing a Haydn work that is almost always overshadowed on concert lineups with his far more auspicious later works like his masterpiece The Creation (Die Schopfung).  While the mass is a rigidly constructed piece with perfect choral precision, it lacks the lyrical power and scope of Haydn’s greater choral works.  Still, it’s a work of considerable inspiration and compelling musical ardor, that no doubt commanded mesmerizing effect in churches. (more…)

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georg_friedrich_handel      

by Sam Juliano

     German Soprano Christine Schafer, an agile and articulate Handel interpreter dazzled an appreciative Avery Fisher Hall sell-out audience on Thursday evening with the rendering of arias from Giulio Cersare and Alcina in an all-Handel venue conducted by the esteemed Nicholas McGegan, guiding the New York Philhamonic.  Ms. Schafer left and returned to the stage eight times to acknowledge a boisterous throng, who were clearly enraptured by her pitch-perfect delivery and fortitude in bringing some of the most beautiful music ever written to the hallowed hamlet of Lincoln Center.  Three colorful bouquets were handed to Ms. Schafer, who gleamed with radiance, with Maestro McGegan beaming at her side.  Three second-half arias, “Di, cor mio” and “Ombre pallide” from Alcina and “Se pieta di me non senti” from Giulio Cesare were delivered with remarkable aplomb and precision, fully realizing the ethereal beauty of  baroque melodies.  Schafer is presently regarded as a world-famous Handel interpreter, and she recently recorded a CD with selections from Alcina, which is scheduled for release here next month. (more…)

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 philharmonic

by Sam Juliano

Pianist Vladimir Feltsman bolted out onto the stage six times after Monday night’s all-Prokofiev venue at Avery Fisher Hall to acknowledge a cheering sold-out throng, who were wildly enthusiastic over his work on the”Piano Concerto No. 2.”  The rhapsodic and galvanizing  virtuoso turn dazzled concert goers with it’s breathtaking perpetual motion and march-like intensity in a work that is probably three times as difficult to negotiate as Sergei Rachmaninoff’s beloved “Second Piano Concerto,” a perennial concert favorite.  Feltsman, who left Russia in 1987, and became an American citizen in 1987, beamed as he was handed a bouquet of flowers, while being flanked by London Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra conductor Valery Gergiev, the world’s foremost Prokofiev interpreter.  It is purportedly a rule that any pianist who successfully negotiates this (one of most difficult of all piano concertos) is entitled to win delirious applause.      (more…)

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sam-1 

by Sam Juliano

1939 was a landmark year in American culture, arts and politics.  The depression was ending and the country was seemingly infused with fresh optimism, even as Europe was darkened by the invasion of Poland by Hitler on September 1st of that year.  Undaunted, Americans vowed to stay focused to domestic concerns, having had their fill of being pulled into overseas conflicts.  The famous 1939 World’s Fair, which promised a bright, modern future, showcased it’s “World of Tomorrow,” built atop a wasteland in Flushing Meadows, Queens.  American literature had a stellar year with Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, du Maurier’s Rebecca, Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider, and Chandler’s The Big Sleep, while classical composers like Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson reached their zenith at during this period.  American musical theatre blossomed too, with the pre-eminence of Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and George Gershwin.  Kern wrote what is widely considered his greatest song “All The Things You Are” for a show released in spring of that year.     

But there is no art form more connected to 1939 in it’s definitive excellence than that of the cinema.  The year is widely considered the greatest of all-time, and timeless classics like Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Wuthering Heights, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Stagecoach, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Stagecoach, Ninotchka, and Babes in Arms, among others, remain ensconced in our national consciousness, as part of an output which will probably never be equaled.       (more…)

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wilson-2 

by Sam Juliano

Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson performed at the newly-renovated Wellmont on Sunday night in front of a packed crowd.  His band, recently called “the best touring rock musicians in the world” by Paul McCartney, helped breathe life into both popular songs from the 60’s and Wilson’s new album, That Lucky Old Sun.  Wilson, who made a comeback after a lengthy bout with drugs, obesity and manic depression that nearly cost him his life, sat behind a keyboard, and performed a number of vocals, along with colleague Jeff Foskett, who superbly emulates the singing voice of Brian from the early years.  Foskett’s spirited reading of the best song the Beach Boys ever wrote, Wouldn’t It Be Nice, is front of a swirling psychedelic screen of colors and moving images, was one of the concert’s finest moments.     

Wilson, who received a thunderous ovation from both middle-aged and young rock fans, quickly announced that he was going to devote the first half of the program to early Beach Boys favorites like Surfer Girl, Fun Fun Fun, I Get Around, God Only Knows, California Girls, In My Room, Sloop John B, and their biggest hit of all, Good Vibrations, and the second half to the new album.  Utilizing an array of performers (many were Montclair locals) which included a small string section at the back of the stage, Wilson effectively had others bring back that special sound that originated in a Hawthorne, California living room and was afterwards synonymous with Pacific beaches.  Indeed, Wilson is arguably the greatest composer of American popular music during the rock era, (Paul Simon, Neil Young and a few others would contend for that designation) and the Beach Boys, which included two of his brothers in the five person band, are often referred to as the greatest of all American rock bands, with good reason.   (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

     The New York Philharmonic and conductor Lorin Maazel performed a rare encore at the conclusion of a mid-week concert that included a beloved work by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and the fifth of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.  The five-minute “replay” of multiple variations that comprise the closing of the last movement of the “Suite No. 3 in G major, Op 55) written in 1884 by the adored Russian composer, was apparently granted as a result of repeated standing ovations, by an unusually ebullient Maazel.  In actuality, due to its brevity, breath and popularity, Tchaikovsky himself set the concert tradition in the 1880’s of having this Andante con moto movement performed as a separate piece.  There’s no question that the near-sellout audience in Avery Fisher Hall appreciated the full orchestra’s complicity in bringing this staple of the concert hall, a work of evocative orchestration and gorgeous melodies, to incomparable excellence.  Excluding his six symphonies, the “Suite 3” ranks with the “Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat,” the violin concerto and the “Romeo and Juliet Overture” among Tchaikovsky’s most popular works.  The piece was inevitably played after intermission, allowing for the most fervent audience reaction as the final work performed. (more…)

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