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WOWing Us All at The Apollo Theater This Last Weekend

(L to R) Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Esperanza Spalding

When the Apollo Theater had announced that it would be holding the next Southbank Centre’s Women of the World Festival recently, it almost seem too good an idea to be believed.

Idee dee DSC02609 copyn its all too-short a time — from Friday, May 4th, to Sunday, May 7th — it provided everything from the WOW Teen Summit featuring a talk by Oscar-nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe to a day of free panels, workshops, and performances celebrating empowerment and activism. Yet that’s what it did — offering a range of activities that brought together disparate age groups and communities in Harlem to celebrate its community of women.

esper DSC02614 copyIn doing so, it served a set of needs that haven’t been so fulfilled before, rich in creativity and solid in enthusiasm. But of all the events presented at The Apollo  during the Southbank Centre’s WOW Fest, the Abbey Lincoln Tribute held Saturday night was one of the most memorable music performances heard and seen in that august and history-rich performance hall. In a far too-brisk two hours or so, premiere jazz vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves and Esperanza Spalding covered the catalogue of this innovative singer and songwriter. Under the musical direction of noted drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, the evening provided an incredible forum to hear some the finest female voices on any stage, a recollection of a singer/songwriter/actress who shouldn’t be forgotten and a reminder of how she had merge art and activism to fashion an incredibly full life in her 80 years.

By stepping into the Apollo last Saturday to hear the Abbey Lincoln tribute, the audience was transported into a world of fierce and unrelenting passion and aural art. The seamless bonding of these three performers — Bridgewater, Reeves and Spalding — made for a momentous event. 

diane DSC02597 copyThis trio both celebrated and re-energized the songs of a legendary singer who had transformed classic jazz vocals into something richer both of her time and yet timeless. Lincoln had a way to restructuring the framework of jazz tunes to pivot between classic song structures and an avant gardism at the same time.

While Bridgewater was the big gospel-fied power vocalist, Reeves shaded her renditions of Lincoln’s songs with a mellifluous flow up and down the scales, a testing of range and tonality. Spalding offered the alluring sexuality of a singer reminiscent of Billy Holiday’s own sultriness.

That evening made this remarkable weekend all the more remarkable and historic. It will be far too long to wait another year for the next WOW fest. A hurrah for WOW.


Bruckner's Middle Symphonies at Carnegie Hall

The extraordinary Anton Bruckner symphony cycle at Carnegie Hall, with the Staatskapelle Berlin under the admirable direction of the renowned Daniel Barenboim, continued impressively with the fourth concert, which was presented on the evening of Monday, January 23rd.

Barenboim and the ensemble beautifully sustained the high level of musicianship they had achieved on the first three nights of the cycle, opening with a luminous performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's lovely penultimate piano concerto, the No. 26 (the "Coronation"), with the maestro conducting from the piano. However, the most sublime music yet heard in the series was the eloquent account of the ensuing, grand Symphony No. 4, the "Romantic"—heard here in the revised, 1878-1880 version—one of Bruckner's most purely accessible essays in the genre. The enthusiasm in the applause following this surpassed that of the previous programs, and understandably so.

The next evening opened with a charming reading of the appealing Sinfonia concertante in E-flat Major for Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn, and Orchestra, controversially attributed to Mozart, with Gregor Witt on oboe, Matthias Glander on clarinet, Mathias Baier on bassoon, and Radovan Vlatković on French horn, each one very fine. The second half of the program was a study in extreme contrast, featuring the titanic Symphony No. 5. From a technical viewpoint this was the most remarkable accomplishment thus far in the cycle, if only for the realization of the awesome finale. Fittingly, Barenboim and the musicians drew enormous applause.

A pinnacle amongst the Mozart works in this series was achieved on the following evening with a dazzling account of the exquisite Piano Concerto No. 22, with Barenboim again conducting from the piano. This was one of the finest presentations of the composer's piano concertos that I have ever heard in the concert hall and the soloist was in supreme form. The astonishing lucidity of the Mozart was even more strikingly equaled in the performance of the challenging Symphony No. 6, heard in an elegant and confident reading that, one hopes, presages further delights to be encountered in the final three concerts of the cycle. The musicians were once again robustly applauded.

Staatskapelle Berlin Brings Mozart and Bruckner to Life

Daniel Barenboim

The heightened expectations aroused by the excellent earlier concerts in the Anton Bruckner symphony cycle at Carnegie Hall, presented by the sterling Staatskapelle Berlin under the accomplished direction of the esteemed Daniel Barenboim, were amply fulfilled on the evening of Friday, January 27th. Each program thus far had featured a wonderful concert work by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and this one opened with a superb account of the extraordinary Sinfonia concertante in E-flat Major, with admirable soloists Wolfram Brandl on violin and Yulia Deyneka on the viola. 

The series may have reached its peak in sublimity, however, with the gripping performance of the popular Symphony No. 7 that followed. The applause was fittingly rapturous. But, another summit was scaled the following evening with a stunning realization of the equally grand but even more challenging Symphony No. 8—heard here in the Robert Haas edition —which garnered another thunderous ovation.

The final program in the cycle, presented on the next day, opened with a glittering account of another lovely Mozart piano concerto, the 23rd. The concert concluded awesomely with a powerful version of the towering, unfinished Symphony No. 9. The applause surpassed that of all the previous evenings and members of the audience handed Barenboim individual red, long-stemmed roses in appreciation of a landmark series, purportedly the first complete cycle of the canonical Bruckner symphonies in New York history. It was exceedingly edifying as well as an enormous pleasure to be able to attend all these performances led by a living legend.

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Mostly Mozart Fest Celebrates Classics at Lincoln Center

Martin Fröst

The first week of this year’s Mostly Mozart Festival featured at least one fine evening of music, on Friday, July 29th, at the superb Alice Tully Hall, promising pleasures to come. (The program had been played the night before and then was repeated the following evening.)

The delights of this festival include excellent pre-concert recitals as a bonus — in this case, the main program was preceded by an accomplished performance of the extraordinary Piano Quartet in E-flat major of Mozart, the second of his two essays in that genre. The musicians included Ruggero Allifranchini — the concertmaster of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra — on violin, Shmuel Katz on viola, and Ilya Finkelshteyn on cello, but most remarkable was the sensitive playing of the celebrated Leif Ove Andsnes on piano, the soloist for the concert proper.
A wonderful chamber arrangement by George Benjamin — last year’s composer-in-residence for the festival — of a Canon & Fugue from Johann Sebastian Bach’s great swan song, The Art of the Fugue, opened the program played by the Festival Orchestra under the able direction of Louis Langrée, who stressed the focus on counterpoint in Mozart’s oeuvrein remarks before the performance. Andsnes returned to the stage for a sterling account of the beautiful Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20. Determined applause elicited a splendid encore, a lesser-known but inspired Nocturne by Frédéric Chopin — the Op. 15, No. 1 — for whom Mozart was an exemplar.
The second half of the program opened with the magnificent Anton Webern orchestration of the Ricercare from Bach’s The Musical Offering — this was played at a slower tempo than I have usually heard, which reduced some of the excitement even if it produced a more elevated effect, an approach which was handsomely redeemed in the magisterial conclusion. The evening concluded impressively, with a confident reading of Mozart’s exquisite, late Symphony No. 38, the “Prague”, which displayed the composer’s employment of counterpoint as the result of his studies of Bach in the last decade of his life.
The second week of this year’s Mostly Mozart Festival delivered another rewarding evening of music of the Classical era on Wednesday, August 3rd, in Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, repeating the program of the previous evening.
A superb pre-concert recital featured the impressive Martin Helmchen, the soloist for the main program, in a dazzling account of the extraordinary Mozart Sonata in F major, K. 333, confidently handling the variegated moods of the first movement, the elevated introspection of the second, and the virtuosity of the third.
The concert proper again displayed the skills of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, here under the effective baton of Thierry Fischer, music director of the Utah Symphony, in his festival debut. (He was replacing the previously scheduled Andrés Orozco-Estrada who could not appear due to a back problem.) An able rendition of the Symphony No. 59 (the “Fire” Symphony) of Franz Joseph Haydn was punctuated by multiple delights, especially amongst the horns.
Helmchen returned to the stage for an assured reading of the great Piano Concerto No. 25 of Mozart, playing a cadenza by Martin Hecker. The evening closed with another Mozart masterwork, the Symphony No. 40, heard here in a credible reading.
Comparable in excellence was the music presented on the evening of Saturday, August 6th at Geffen, also repeating the music of the previous evening. The pre-concert recital featured the young and handsome pianist, Andrew Tyson, in sterling performances of Frédéric Chopin’s wonderful Ballade in A-flat major, Op. 47 and Ludwig van Beethoven’s marvelous Piano Sonata No.26, the “Les Adieux”, written to memorialize the departure of the composer’s student and  great patron, Archduke Rudolph, who fled Vienna during Napoleon’s siege.
The concert proper was again given by the Festival Orchestra, here under the fine direction of the esteemed Estonian conductor, Paavo Järvi, opening with La Sindone, a powerful work by his renowned countryman, Arvo Pärt, a meditation on the Shroud of Turin which was written for the 2006 Winter Olympics in that city. The celebrated virtuoso, Martin Fröst, then took the stage, beautifully rendering Mozart’s ever-popular Clarinet Concerto, with the soloist playing his own cadenzas.
The highlight of the evening, however, was the encore given after a rapturous ovation, delightful klezmer music arranged by the clarinetist’s brother, Göran Fröst. The program closed with Beethoven’s superb Symphony No. 4, where Järvi and the musicians really came into their own, in an exquisitely modulated account.
Mostly Mozart Festival
Jul 22 - Aug 27, 2016

Alice Tully Hall
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
Damrosch Park, New York City, NY

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