MetLiveArts Presents Arvo Pärt's Kanon Pokajanen

by Nick Stubblefield

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Before even setting foot into the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Saturday night, I knew I was in for a one-of-a-kind concert experience. An eerie blue light, visible from the street, emanated through the large glass panels of the Temple of Dendur, flooding into the museum's backyard, Central Park. It was suddenly apparent that the long pilgrimage from Brooklyn had been well worth the trip.

Inside the hall, even more stunning vistas greeted me. The temple, usually seen by visitors during daylight, now glowed with warm orange light, the museum walls awash in blue.  The contrast suggested hints of fire and ice. Part of the audience sat in a U-shaped formation around the temple's archway, while the rest lined the outer perimeter of the room. The scene was meditative and spiritual -- and the music had not even started. 

The Westminster Williamson Voices processioned into the center, and with little delay began the opening ode to Arvo Pärt's Kanon Pokajanen, the work that would comprise the whole of the program, without interruption. The singers, all members of Rider University's Westminster Choir College, quickly established a confident, powerful presence with spacious, forte harmonies. Acoustics are a critical factor in any performance, live or recorded, but for the Kanon - a work for large, unaccompanied choir - they were a defining aspect of the presentation. The space itself, presumably designed without attention to acoustics, acted as an uncredited audio engineer for the ensemble, dialing in plenty of reverb without blurring the voices. 

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John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey at the Café Caryle

2016_11_22_Carlyle_05(Photo: David Andrako)

I had the privilege of returning to the legendary Café Carlyle Tuesday night for another exquisite evening of dinner and music, this time with guitarist John Pizzarelli and vocalist Jessica Molaskey. Remarkably, this year marks the husband-wife duo's 10th annual appearance at the Carlyle, remarking that their daughter - who was only eight years old when they debuted - was in the audience, home on break from college. 

Sitting at a small table less than five feet from the stage, it was impossible not to be completely transfixed by the performance, despite the occasional clang of glasses and silverware. Molaskey grabbed our attention right away with her gutting opener, Jason Robert's Brown's "Hope", written on the day after the election:

"I come to sing a song about hope.
In spite of everything ridiculous and sad,
Though I’m beyond belief depressed, confused and mad,
Well – I got dressed.
I underestimated how much that would take."

But soon, things took a more lighthearted turn, with Pizzarelli and Molaskey bantering back and forth about their 20 years of professional and personal partnership. Pizzarelli was dazzling on guitar, switching back and forth between his custom Moll archtop (electric) and flattop (acoustic) while singing new and old standards by everyone from Yip Harburg ("Look to the Rainbow") to Dave Frishberg ("Slappin' the Cakes on Me"). Molaskey, who's currently finishing up an album of Joni Mitchell covers, delivered heartfelt versions of Mitchell's classics "Help Me" and "A Case of You." But, the highlight of the evening was the Ellington classic "Perdido", with Pizzarelli playing the rapid fire opening riff along with new lyrics penned by Molaskey. I can't think of a more enjoyable, elegant way to kick off the holiday season.

John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey appear at the Café Carlyle through December 1, with nightly shows Tuesday through Saturday. Tickets and more information available at the reservation desk or online. And, gentlemen, don't forget your jackets. 

More pics on the photo page.


White Light Festival: Jeremy Denk at Alice Tully Hall

 

White Light Festival Jeremy Denk-001In an age when the concert recital feels a bit like a quaint relic of the past, how can musicians grab our attention? Some opt for marathon performances, such as Paul Jacobs' 18 hour survey of Bach's complete organ music, or Konstantin Lifschitz's 2007 performance of both books of The Well Tempered Clavier (7 hours, including a 2 hour dinner break.) Others, such as pianist Pierre Laurent-Aimard, juxtapose classical works with modern ones. (Haydn and Stockhausen, anyone?) Still, no matter how well-meaning the performers, such performances can come off as little more than mere stunts. 

Earlier this year, the thoughtful and prodigiously talented pianist Jeremy Denk was inspired to assemble a new recital program, "From Medieval to Modern," in which he attempts to survey the entire canon of western music in a single evening. Speaking from the stage Wednesday night at Alice Tully Hall, where he closed out the seventh edition of the White Light Festival, Denk emphasized that his intention wasn't to deliver a lecture, but to tell a story - albeit one with unexpected resonance caused by recent current events.

"I didn't realize how sobering a recital about history would be at this very moment," he said, to strained laughter.

Denk's program, which lasted about 80 minutes, was as peculiar for what it included (transcriptions of medieval works by Guillaume Du Fay, Jean de Ockeghem, et.al.) as for what it didn't (Schubert, Ravel, Rachmaninoff). But, it did largely succeed at it's central goal of depicting the full arc of musical composition over the past 700 years, in ways that were both affirming and revelatory. It was unlike anything I've ever experienced.

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Classical Thursdays Presents Pianist Francesca Khalifa

by Nick Stubblefield

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Classical Thursdays, a new concert series hosted in Bedford-Stuyvesant, presented its penultimate show of the year last week with pianist Francesca Khalifa, who performed a well-rounded program of Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, and Debussy to an enthusiastic crowd at the Brooklyn Center for the Arts. The nine-part series features skilled artists from around the world in various chamber configurations, nearly all featuring the piano. Khalifa, a recent winner of the Ferrara International Piano Festival, also serves as the Artistic Director for the Classical Thursdays series.

A trio of pieces from J.S. Bach started the night. The sonatina from Actus Tragicus and Sheep may safely graze from the Cantata No. 208 established Khalifa's elegant touch and thoughtful restraint, while the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor offered something more meaty: a piece rich in dense textures and dissonances. There's little bombast in any of Bach's music -- they often satisfy at the cerebral level with subtle details, so it's all the more vital that the pianist show such attention to those details. 

The first half of the program closed with Beethoven's Sonata in E Major, Op. 109. In typical Beethoven fashion, the work meanders through intense mood swings, starting melodically and calm before reaching sad and angry crescendos. Playing Beethoven can feel at times like taming a wild beast, but Khalifa had fun with it, playing confidently. 

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