Sunday, December 4, 2016

AICF - In Support Of Israel's Talent Network

dsc00064An astounding display of musical talent was offered to guests and supporters at the festive 77th America-Israel Cultural Foundation Gala last Tuesday evening, held at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater under the auspices of Israel’s Consul General in New York, Dani Dayan. (Photo: Ilona Oltuski -Prize ceremony David Stern for Ivry Gitlis )
Honoring the memory of Vera Stern, the musical program unified three generations of virtuosi, all of whom had received support from AICF at the start of their careers. The partaking artists were friends, colleagues, students or protégés of the influential music power couple Vera and Isaac Stern, and included world-renowned performers Itzhak Perlman and Yefim Bronfman. The Sterns’ three children, David, Michael and Shira, guided audiences through the program, which was compiled according to Vera’s musical taste spanning works by Prokofiev, Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart, Bloch, Chopin, Bach and Brahms; the trio of siblings shared personal remarks and historic memories in between performances by ensembles of interchanging sizes and configurations.
After saving Carnegie Hall and inspiring its development as one of the premier music institutions under his presidency, Isaac, the great performer and educator and the ever-energetic Vera, left their cultural legacy and a remarkable imprint that still holds its impact on today’s classical music scene.
Vera became involved with AICF in 1960, realizing the dire need for support for local talent in Israel. Through AICF’s dual corresponding activities in Tel Aviv and New York, American patrons are able to actively support music and art education in Israel, making it possible to train aspiring talent “chuz la aretz,” outside of Israel, ultimately introducing new artists to international audiences, while helping them to forge the networks careers are built upon.
In turn, some of its great artists return for performances in Israel, keeping the cultural exchange fluid.
Although the opportunities to develop their talents and continue to build careers abroad represent an ideal for many capable Israeli musicians, the musical import of Israel’s talent - many of Russian heritage - to the US and Europe has also created a bit of a newly exiled generation. Less obvious perhaps in a profession that requires so much touring, but Israeli talent still aims to prove career-worthy outside of their native borders, which of course in Israel’s case spans a comparatively minuscule region, creating a difficult scenario for a performer.
Given its small population, the amount of talent emerging in Israel is quite impressive, and many of the artists serve as Israel’s “ambassadors,” taking on the responsibility of presenting Israel’s strong embrace of international culture, while others rather distance themselves from being labeled.
Under the leadership of its New York director, David Homan, AICF has expanded its outreach into all creative areas, including dance, fine art, theater, and to the media and production side of curating and performance, which made this year’s inaugural ‘Vera Stern King Solomon Award’ especially meaningful.dsc00068
Photo; Ilona Oltuski  Alon Goldstein ( piano) Vadim Guzman ( violin)
The prize was presented by Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, to media expert, producer, and President and CEO of WNET, Neal Shapiro, to reward visionary programming in support of the arts. The other award this evening, the ‘William A. Schwarz Aviv Award’ named for AICF’s previous longtime president William Schwarz, was presented by Vera Stern’s son, David, to a much-beloved figure of the music world, the violinist and perpetual enfant terrible, Ivry Gitlis, who embraced the audience saying: “Je vous aime le plus (you are my very favorite),” bringing the evening’s sentimental touch into the foreground.
The opening work of the evening, Prokofiev’s Overture on Jewish Themes, op.34 provided an early ample outlook on the caliber of the evening’s performers, with Alexander Fiterstein (clarinet), Vadim Gluzman and Itamar Zorman (violins), Shmuel Katz (viola), and Yefim Bronfman at the piano.dsc00077 Other highlights included a perceptive rendering of Ernest Bloch’s From Jewish Life – Baal Shem: Nigun by pianist Alon Goldstein with Vadim Guzman, a velvety performance by soprano Rinat Shaham in Bach’s Erbarme Dich from St. Matthew Passion, with a trio accompaniment by Itzhak Perlman (violin), Amit Peled (cello) and Alon Goldstein, as well as the scorching finale of Brahm’s Piano Quintet in F minor with Yefim Bronfman, Itzhak Perlman, Vadim Guzman, Shmuel Katz, and Amit Peled, closing with another Opus 34.dsc00088
Pianist Tomer Gewirtzman represented the new generation of young Israeli artists. As winner of the Young Concert Artists International Auditions, Gewirtzman makes his New York recital debut on December 13th at Merkin Hall. He received the Audience Price at the AICF Aviv Competition in 2013.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Collected Counsel – Steven Isserlis revisits Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians

Steven Isserlis meets the pearls of wisdom in Robert Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians, originally meant to accompany the master’s renowned 1848 piano suite, Album for the Young, with directness and allure. Isserlis relates guidance from his vast experience as a performer, educator and writer/broadcaster, which, while closely based on Schumann’s precious aphorisms, adds his own didactic playfulness. His revised suggestions and bonus chapter, which outline his personal interpretations on Schumann’s original work in a light-hearted and humorous tone, avoid the trap of haughty weightiness while managing to address high-minded ideals with the seriousness of the matter at heart.
With recommendations like the importance “to stay true to one’s convictions, courageous in facing adversity and to never lose the love for music itself,” Isserlis keeps the conversation simple, real and encouraging, counterbalancing much of the anxiety-provoking frenzy that generally dominates the competitive scenes typical of music institutions.
With many contradicting opinions on the subject available, Isserlis does not underestimate the importance of putting things into perspective, especially when it comes to overzealous practice habits: “Genuine technical command allows us to play the music we’re performing without having to think about the [technical] difficulties; it gives us the freedom to listen to ourselves. The point of scales and exercises, ultimately, is to help our fingers/voices acquire the precision they need in order to produce the interpretation we hear in our heads/hearts.”
With his don’ts striking wit more often than his dos, he may just prevent another generation’s disastrous misconstruction of the craft: “…Don’t turn your performance into a lecture-recital! How many times does one play Bach, for instance and we hear from their playing what they’ve learned about double-dotting, ornamentation, etc.; and we also hear that they know when the music is changing key, because they take time over every modulation. The music will modulate whether you point it out or not…Ideally there should be no sense that you’ve made decisions in advance – more the impression that you are (re)creating as you perform. That way, the music you play will always sound alive – and new.”
Intrigued by the composer’s musical genius, Isserlis, an acclaimed British cellist, has devoted much of his illustrious career up to this point to Schumann’s oeuvre, making him a recipient of the Schumann Prize of the City of Zwieckau, where Schumann was born. The cellist’s chamber cycles have been staged internationally and include programs about varied aspects of the fascinating composer’s life and work, revealing a keen understanding and personal kinship to the fantastical world of the master’s imagination, musical idealism and purity.
Especially noteworthy are Isserlis’ efforts in ‘recovering’ the masters’ lesser-known works as part of a vehement effort to promote Schumann. In 2010, Schumann’s bicentenary, he wrote Grammophone (with Philistines in mind):
“Schumann's music is curiously alive today. One cannot pigeonhole him (perhaps that's why critics have difficulties); he is too experimental, too close to the edge of the known sound world. Harmonically, rhythmically, emotionally he is way ahead of his time – outside of time, in fact, looking simultaneously into the past and the future…In short, he is a genius, unlike any other, one who can lead us into worlds undreamed of by anyone else. Every time I work on his music (as I am now doing for my upcoming residence at the Cheltenham festival), I marvel afresh, not just at the power of his imagination, but also at the brilliance of his mind. It is so exciting to follow his thought patterns as he moulds formal conventions into new, half-hidden shapes: miracle after miracle,” he offers, explaining his ongoing fascination with Schumann, the man his work.
“This bicentenary is the chance for more of us to engage with him (concert promoters, record companies and performers permitting). Far be it from me to be fanatical – but if you catch anyone being condescending about any aspect of Schumann's music or personality this year, please feel free to gently, but firmly, shoot them. For their own good.”

Isserlis’ examining of the master’s directions on how to implement artistic goals into routine principals could open up a slew of possible reflections on the creative process. He presents thoughtful critique on the role of the musician within society, the tradition of music education and the goal of music performance to a higher end, leaving room for a more in-depth evaluation of the creative experience of young musicians. While Isserlis could clearly analyze such matters in a wider context, he rather chooses here – in tune with Schumann’s inflections – to adhere to the more concrete approach, giving comprised, practical ‘how-to’ directions, and addressing the nascent musician in this intimate discourse.
Bestowed with a direct lineal heritage of musical tradition, as well as a code of ethics, by his great mentors Jane Cowan, Sándor Végh, György Kurtág and Ferenc Rados, each of whom inspired Isserlis the musician and helped shape Isserlis the cellist in their own personal manner, Isserlis the educator is in turn consistently reaching out to the next generation. About the teachers in his life he has said: “I think I am right in saying that all four of these unique visionaries, different as they were/are, shared a basic set of musical values. In every lesson I took or observed with any of them, there was an over-riding goal: to help the student realize the composer’s vision. It hardly needs saying that none of them were interested in career for its own sake – in treating music like a competitive sport, in fact, which alas is the case in all too many institutions around the world today. These sages followed their musical ideals, and tried to help others do the same; what is the point in being a musician if one is not an idealist?” (Quoted from his 2014 speech at the Prussia Cove Chamber Music Festival).
One of the fascinating discoveries of Isserlis’ mentorship may lie in his recognition that disciplined timing is everything. A set routine – a crucial element for the fostering of inspiration – builds a central aspect of his illustrated children books: Why Beethoven Threw the Stew and its sequel, Why Handel Waggled his Wig, both published by Faber and Faber in 2001 and 2006 respectively. Implementing good habits from the beginning, Isserlis describes the minutely detailed daily schedule of Tchaikovsky, for example, explaining the importance of making time for the mundane to the process of achieving the sublime: “Tchaikovsky will work from 9.30 until one o’clock. After that will come lunch, the main meal of the day, and then a walk of exactly two hours. (An hour and fifty-five minutes isn’t enough. Tchaikovsky is sure that he needs precisely two hours for the sake of his health.) He has to be alone for this, because he’s still composing in his head. The only problem is that the local children know that he’s a soft touch, because he loves children, and also because he loves to give his money away; so they will probably ambush him and beg for coins until he gives in and they run off, satisfied.” (Quoted from Why Handel Wagged his Wig).
Isserlis delivers his commentary with a particular ‘soft touch,’ always reflective of the joy he takes in passing his love for music and Schumann on to the next generation.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

ASPECT Foundation for Music and Art – classical concerts building on cultural and communal context

From its 2011 beginnings in London’s bustling concert scene, the classical music series ASPECT embraced presentations that integrate classical music programs in a specific cultural framework. With its syllabus of accompanying talks surrounding its traditional classical music programs, examining everything from composers’ lives and the historic relevance of their works, to connections between musical expression, art and poetry, the not-for-profit foundation became widely frequented, especially within London’s large community of actively engaged amateur musicians.
A brainchild of Russian-American culture devotee and former pianist Irina Knaster, the series has now – parallel to Irina’s move to New York – found a new musical home at Columbia University’s Italian Academy. ( Photo credit: Andy Filimon - Irina Knaster surrounded by collaborating artists )
The series’ New York debut on October 5th featured a sold out one-off concert, exploring little known links between Mozart and Bach, whose works were performed by stellar artists. Violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky, cellist Sergey Antonov, violist Dov Scheindlin and pianist extraordinaire Ignat Solzhenitsyn collaborated in various combinations with remarks interjected by Yale’s renowned professor, musicologist Paul Berry to the evening’s thematic: “Bach and Mozart, a lasting influence.” Clearly caught up in his calling, his elucidations might have fared better with a little less lecturing from the page, but his remarks were informative and thoughtful; if perhaps a little too academic for most of the audience members’ tastes. Any disappointment, though, was more than made up for by the stellar musicians who performed with great excellence and passion. Also delightful was the socially openhanded reception in the venue’s substantial foyer following the concert; many of the attending audience members knew some of the musicians, the organizers, or each other, and the crowd’s chemistry and enjoyment clearly evidenced the value of one of ASEPCT’s attractions: a cohesive, active community of musical people and fans of the artists. The attendance of Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s famed mother Bella Davidovich, renowned as one of Russia’s iconic pianists and teachers, was a special bonus, and it did not take long for her to become surrounded by a flock of former students and admirers.( Photo credit: Andy Filimon, violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky and Paul Berry)
An important facet of the series’ inspiration though lies in its alliance with musicians who are not necessarily favored by mainstream audiences. Says Knaster: “Many of the greatest musicians are not interested in or just not invested enough to create a huge PR following around them, but they are the true ‘bread and butter’ musicians, dedicated to music for the sake of music. They devote every minute of their time and effort to their work, learning new repertoire, teaching and well, playing with musicians they enjoy working with already, not necessarily looking out for opportunities that will further their own careers. For me, those are the real kind of artists who deserve support and these are the kind of artists that should be featured in the series.” Knaster’s criterion for choosing performers for her series is neither following in-demand “young and sexy” performers, nor is she exclusively looking for artists who are hugely renowned. She says, “even though artists that have an interesting following are geared to bring along some attractive collaborations, every concert is different. Sometimes programming is conceived around a specific artist; sometimes artists bring a whole concept or a specific presentation along.” Thematic choices of the series have been open ended themes, like “Composers on Composers,” Musical Capitals,” “Great Muses,” or” Words on Music,” with performers touching on a specific angle.
Sometimes it’s either the charismatic speaker who can have an enlightening impact, or the artist who connects particularly well with the audience. Thanks to the great support of the foundation’s sponsorship, Knaster has presented twenty-seven London concerts, pamphlets of each she collects in a big folder that she affectionately refers to as her ‘bible,’ flipping through the pages reminiscing, and a little bit in awe. She has received some positive press, including an article in The Strad, which she feels impacts her audiences less than it does her artists. “It’s a lot of trial and error that makes the series grow, and apparently the more parts there are to an event, the more there is that can go wrong,” she says. It is a risk, however, that the petite yet vigorous young woman, who admits to being somewhat of a perfectionist, is willing to take. “When it all comes together, it’s exhilarating,” she explains, “one of my favorite ones was actually the last concert in London; it just worked perfectly.”
She refers to a concert that centered on the love triangle of Shostakovich, Rostropovich and Britten, presented by BBC’s Lain Burnside, a concert she feels had exactly the right balance of instruction, music and personal input, and also benefitted from being presented in the amazing venue, she found after trying other locations for the series concerts: Notting Hill’s recently renovated 20th Century Theatre, which fit the ideal audience of 200 that Knaster had in mind. That last London evening was also enhanced by the presence of a former classmate of Rostropovich, equipped with old photos of him with Britten. “It was just special in every aspect, but projects are likely to take on a life of their own,” says Knaster.
Clearly the orchestration of every detail becomes much more important in an overall experience that focuses on music, but does not end there. “In the concert hall, people come to listen to the music, often holding their coat on their lap and then are getting up and leave without talking about their experience much, nor connecting with others. Here, you check your coat at the wardrobe, and you hopefully come away with an all-around meaningful encounter.”
Bringing the audience and the artists together, it seems the reception does fulfill an important objective, perhaps by balancing the emotional impact of the music, perhaps by affirming that audience members have become individual members of this newly-created social environment, or perhaps just by allowing that audiences continue to nourish and nosh.
While Knaster counts on the help of some of her former London collaborators, especially that of her former Art Professor, Patrick Bade, as well as longtime friend and BBC producer Misha Donat, getting started in New York brings a whole slew of new players onto her team.
Knaster’s versatile experiences are certainly a plus in her new endeavor. In addition to her education as a pianist, Knaster absolved a master’s program in art history and studied law, working as a corporate lawyer for an American company in Russia for many years during Russia’s phase of opening to the Western World. For personal advice, she has turned to New York’s legendary Edna Landau, co-founder of IMG and former personal manager of piano prodigy Evgeny Kissin. Edna, whose experience and endless knowledge of everything musical in the city, currently disperses career advice to conservatory students and musical talent throughout the country and knows just about every musician.
It looks like even if all the kinks haven’t been ironed out before Aspect’s next concert, it won’t take another twenty-seven concerts to land Knaster’s programing in the public eye as a local institution. New Yorkers may not be able to rely on a community of amateurs as huge and engaged as that which London has to offer, but the New York music scene is quick to pick up on refined programming and solid performers, and not one to dismiss socially accommodating presentations. With political worlds separating society increasingly, perhaps New York needs an active music community more than ever.
ASPECT’s next concert, titled “Romantic Vienna,” will take place on January 26th and will present works by the Austrian capital’s musical pillars that frame either end of the Romantic Movement: Schubert and Brahms. It will feature Arnaud Sussmann, violin, Paul Neubauer, viola, Rafael Figueroa, cello and Vsevolod Dvorkin, piano, emceed with an illustrated talk by BBC broadcaster Stephen Johnson. You can read more about this event and about the ASPECT Foundation at www.aspectfoundation.net.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra opens the 92Y season with two life-affirming works: a premiere by George Tsontakis and Mozart’s Concerto No 23, in A major with pianist Jeremy Denk.

Opening night of this season at the 92Y featured its two rather contrasting highlights in the first half of the evening: George Tsontakis’ New York premiere of O MIKROS, O MEGAS, and Mozart’s Concerto No.23 in A major with pianist extraordinaire, MacArthur Fellow Jeremy Denk, performing as soloist with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO).
Photos: Ilona Oltuski
In its 58th season, the SPCO certainly may be regarded as a very remarkable chamber ensemble of its kind, consisting of a virtuoso cast of musicians of vast versatility primarily performing without a conductor. The ensemble is devoted to a broad spectrum of repertoire, possessing a dynamic and much-lauded interest in innovative contemporary works (to date, the SPCO has commissioned 146 new works).
This affinity shone in Tsontakis’ adventurous four-part composition, which the composer himself described as: “…a reflection on recent world circumstances including the tumbling world, loss of friends and [his] own personal advancement into the foothills of an ageless maturity.” The American-born Greek composer is currently composer-in-residence at the Bard Conservatory and Aspen Music Festival, and has formerly been affiliated with Oxford Philomusica, Albany Symphony and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
The virulent showcased piece, the title of which while announced personally by Tsontakis sounded vaguely more like an antioxidant remedy than a contemporary composition, offered a vibrant sonic spectrum of all strings within a life-affirming cosmic cycle. The title is in fact loosely inspired by the opening lines of Axion Esti, by contemporary Greek poet Odysseus Elytis: “Attos O Kosmos, O Mikros, O Megas,” (This tiny world, this enormous world).
Says Tsontakis: “It is to me that within the quietest and most inwardly moments of the work, the world seems to fully impose its power and enormity. At the same time, the figurative ‘flip-side’ of my work’s title could well be ‘This tiny fleeting life, this huge eternal life…’ There are faster movements among the four and imploding episodes, but the heart and largeness of the work are made manifest in the second and last. All movements end quietly, and the last with my most preferred ending, an [open ended] ‘dot dot dot’ figure…”
SPCO has previously collaborated with the composer on three of his works’ world premieres, earning a 2005 international Grawemeyer Award and Grammy nomination. It is this kind of artistic continuum – a special mark of the ensemble and fundamental criteria of its creative outlook, as well as a pursuit of mutual growth with its associated artists – that has inspired many musicians, and has in turn had a significant impact on the ensemble’s advancement. Artistic partners of the ensemble throughout the years have included renowned soloists like Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Christian Zacharias, Joshua Bell and Dawn Upshaw.
Among the current flock of collaborating artistic partners are Martin Fröst, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Thomas Zehetmayer and Jeremy Denk, who, in a most sparkling interaction brought out the full range of Mozart’s concerto to the stage – very different from Tsontakis’ piece, yet equal in energy and power.
The intense and gratifying interface between the pianist and the ensemble’s own Alexander Fiterstein is particularly worthy of note; Denk often leaned in sideways to listen closely to the essential clarinet part. The musicians know each other well. Since 2014 the pianist partners with SPCO in collaborative performances. Named one of the best of 2012 by The New Yorker,  his debut recording for Nonesuch paired old and new masterworks; Beethoven's Piano Sonata No.32, Op.111, with Gyŏrgy Ligeti’s Études.
This juxta-positioning tends to not only highlight the immense differences between two worlds,  but brings out many new sounding idioms in the traditional pieces, while giving gravity to the new. It seem to lend the listener a different perspective and outlook, leading to a deeper understanding of both - a comparative listening course.
As was felt in the evening's performance, there were connecting elements but also keen differences, sharpening the ear and mind. What comes before matters, setting  up a different mood for what is to follow; programming matters. And if what follows is as lively and refined as it was here, that also impacts how one feels about what had come before - making this a complete experience.

Touring nationally and internationally, SPCO has recently fortified its local presence with its own Ordway Concert Hall, but the orchestra’s dedication to community outreach, evidenced by its educational and family-oriented programming and notably affordable ticket subscriptions, has also motivated the organization to program accessible concerts in venues throughout the various neighborhoods of the Twin cities’ metropolitan area. Rather than investing in a grandiose orchestral format requiring highly-funded conductor posts, under the leadership of Managing Director and President Jon Limbacher, SPCO invests into its instrumental performers and nourishes wider audiences, “expanding accessibility even further by inviting children and students to attend unlimited SPCO concerts for free.” This, of course, is an approach shared by the 92Y with its many benefits and special offers like the “Majors for Minors” program, which allows for kids and teens aged 8-18 to attend concerts for free with only one adult ticket purchase.
It has been five years since SPCO performed at New York’s Carnegie Hall, and the orchestra was welcomed to the 92Y enthusiastically by a sold out hall; only  few audience members left after intermission before the Schubert Symphony, No.2 in B-flat major, which while proficiently performed, did not live up fully to the elated exhilaration of the evening’s first half.


Monday, September 19, 2016

In HBO’s ‘The Night Of,’ Composer Jeff Russo Scores Emotions into Vision

With haunting anticipation, Jeff Russo’s opening theme for HBO’s eight-part summer series The Night Of widens with each of its deliberate, rhythmic reiterations. Musical sustenance and orchestral tonal layers are gradually added to the cello’s persevering melodic lines, giving a voice to the dark mood that will escort the inner turmoil of its central characters throughout the show’s unhurriedly evolving plot: musical drama unfolding at the vanguard of cinematography.
PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED ON BLOG CRITICS

Russo’s score is geared not only to enhance the cinematic frames, as do many film scores, composed afterwards to fit the screen’s visual fabric. An original composition in its own right, it was actually written before the film, as Russo explains: “The musical development of the film really started with the main theme, which I wrote first and sent to Steve.” Steve Zaillian, director and writer/producer of The Night Of, is best known for his work on Schindler’s List. Together with Richard Price of HBO’s The Wire, Russo and Zaillian developed the series loosely based on the BBC series Criminal Justice.
jeff-russ-powerRusso, a self-taught musician and founding member of the rock band Tonic, has become a much sought-after collaborator in creating original film scores, a genre he took to immediately after working with Wendy Melvoin, a former Prince collaborator. The first time he tried his hand at writing a film score was in 2005, when he composed for the short filmVesting by Mason Bendewald.
Since the Emmy nomination for his elegant score for season one of the FX series Fargo, Russo has become a household name in the industry. Currently his soundtracks are featured on several recent projects in production or on air, among them CBS’s American Gothic. But it seems that on the production of The Night Of, things went a little bit differently than they usually do.
For the first time in his orchestral recordings, Russo introduced the so-called “European” orchestral set-up, which he continued for American Gothic. “That idea was born from wanting melodies to happen on the left and right side of the stereo spectrum, enveloping the listener,” he says. The set-up meshes effectively with the intimate atmosphere surrounding The Night Of’s characters and moods.
What also seems quite an exceptional circumstance, and a deviation from the usual process of show development, is that the music became a profoundly integral part of the show’s narrative, influencing the film’s atmospheric pace from the beginning. “My first pass at that piece is what you actually hear in the main title of the show. They cut the picture to fit the music, which is actually quite rare,” Russo says, explaining that “[a]s the themes progressed, the atmosphere of the show was taken from those themes, and the underscore was derived from most of these recordings.”
Used sparingly, the soundtrack’s thrums symbolize the unsettling, slow reality of prison life, or everyday life itself, supporting visually obscured camera angles that leave room for subtle perception, rather than head-on shots that create a glaring cinematographic reality. “Using silence as score can help make the music way more effective, especially in long pieces,” Russo says. The score excels in its atmospheric overtones, echoing the mysterious and questionable multifaceted layers of justice and reality that The Night Of observes.
The cello, one of Russo’s favorite instruments, recurs in a stirring tone of voice reflecting the humanity of the show’s emotionally complex characters. Sometimes a character is accompanied by an associated instrument upon entering a scene. For example, the cello’s melodic sound accompanies the initially naïve-appearing Pakistani-American college student Naz, played by Riz Ahmed, whose one night out on the town in New York City leaves him on trial for the brutal murder of a young woman.
More high-pitched, the violin is the instrument chosen to mark the entrance of Naz’s trial lawyer, John Stone, played with high intensity by John Turturro. Though it was a passion part intended for the late James Gandolfini, Turturro makes it his own.
While the film is suggestive in its take on societal injustices like racial discrimination, the devastating conditions of prison life, and the slow-moving wheels of the justice system, it does not offer solutions. Open-ended even in its trial conclusion, The Night Of relies on its characters’ humanity for plot development.
More than Naz, whose inner turmoil leaves him to appear more hardened with each episode, it is those around him, like Stone, whose character growth we latch onto as viewers, feeling the impact of his empathy for Naz and his perception of his client’s innocence vicariously as viewers. With extraordinary emotional depth and charisma surpassing his own character’s limitations and grievances, Stone argues that justice is a perspective of our emotions and our humanity; he feels compelled to fight for Naz’s innocence the moment he laid eyes on him: “At the end it’s about how you feel about this man,” says Stone in his concluding argument, pleading for empathy from the jury.
Emotions run high in The Night Of, making it the kind of special collaboration Russo can best relate to: “I am an emotional guy myself,” he explains. “The whole film is edited around the beats of the music. Sometimes music is a vehicle to cover up visual scenes in the film that did not work. This was not at all the case here,” he says.
“I was inspired by the narrative and the exceptional creativity of the film’s maker, [and] I always feel that music is the emotional center or heart of any narrative. In the case of The Night Of, it was important for the producers that the music not comment on the narrative but simply support and be omnipresent, as if to be looking down from the scene from above. I could feel that [approach] was necessary from my first viewing of the show.”
The result is a show that flawlessly weaves together its visual and audial components, which speaks to the mutual inspiration of the collaborative experience that was its creation.
The Night Of play the theme song

Friday, September 2, 2016

A Retrospective: MOSTLY MOZART 50 Years - Making the most of Mozart's genre bending spell

Capture by Tony Leonardo Cimino
An integral part of the ever mounting - and at times interlacing - culture cycles initiated by Lincoln Center, the festival, now middle-aged, expands its efforts to rejuvenate and expand its communal presence. Exploring the impacts of varied programs and settings in different social contexts, the festival creates diverse concert experiences, with broader accessibility and intimate immersion in music its goals.
Keeping with tradition, today’s Mostly Mozart avoids fixating on preconceived definitions or micromanaging its contextual relevance. It’s a continuous balancing act between established repertoire and innovation.
Instead, there is Mozart – programs densely packed with featured works across his vast opus of instrumental, choral and operatic works, performed by the festival’s own Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra under its artistic director Louis Langrée, with famed soloists and guest ensembles – and then there is everything else.
Over the years the festival has extended its realm from early Baroque to new commissions – 50 presented here by International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the dynamic ensemble in residence – with one premiere each year, perhaps to make up for times when contemporary music had no place at Lincoln Center. Many of ICE’s micro-concerts, dispersed throughout the campus and the duration of the festival, set out to engage new audiences with free, public appearances.
The festival’s muse transcends genres freely without limiting each experience to a rigid context, casting a vote of confidence for each of its artistic productions and impressive artists. With programs buzzing with fluid formats, its curator, Lincoln Center’s 'Ehrenkranz Artistic Director',  Jane Moss, often succeeds in engaging with Mozart as trendsetter of an ever-evolving brand.
This article by Ilona Oltuski has been previously published by BLOGCRITICS on 9-2-16
PR for Mozart: souvenir buttons from the library’s collection, courtesy of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
Under the title “Mozart Forever,” an exhibit at the Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center accompanied the Mostly Mozart festival’s 50th anniversary, running the length of its five week-long season from July 22 through August 27. Showcasing highlights from the festival’s history, the exhibit attests to its huge popularity and early knack for free-spirited ambiance– always without neckties – since its inaugural inception in 1966 as “Midsummer Serenades: A Mozart Festival” by Lincoln Center’s William W.Lockwood Jr. The festival was coined “Mostly Mozart” in 1970.
The goal was to fill the summertime vacancy, attracting new audiences to classical music with concerts held in informal atmospheres, and offering high entertainment value at ticket prices as low as $3.
“Air-conditioning had been the ultimate game changer, making concerts during the summer season possible for the first time,” explains Gerard Schwarz, the orchestra’s first director, now director emeritus. “Here was a chance to fill the Philharmonic Hall, home of the New York Philharmonic, while its musicians went on tour, performed in parks or took their personal vacation time off.”
Harking back to the festival’s initial success, Schwarz added: “Mozart’s symphonic works were not performed much at the time, partially due to the fact that every great guest orchestra that came to town wanted to show off their full orchestra, not required in Mozart. The same was true for season programs of the New York Philharmonic – instead of using only 35-40 players in a Mozart program, they wanted to engage all of their 80-90 players, sometimes even 100 or more in a great Mahler 5th Symphony. So here was a great chance to dive into these neglected works.”
Since 1968, works by Haydn (hence the term “mostly”) and then by Handel, Schubert and Beethoven were added to the repertoire to attract more accomplished soloists and visiting guest conductors to the festival. Some of its differing forms of presentation, including popular midnight concerts and pre-concert recitals, were in place early on in the festival’s history. But despite varying presentations and additions, the festival’s repertoire maintained a focus on the wide range of Mozart’s vocal and instrumental oeuvre.
Poster ad from the library’s exhibit
Entering the Lincoln Center arena as Vice President of programming in 1992, and now Ehrenkranz Artistic Director, Jane Moss relieved Lockwood, the festival’s original founding director, bringing new aspirations along. “She always had an extraordinary vision,” says Schwarz, who had been brought in as the festival orchestra’s first full-time Artistic Director in 1982. For 20 years his mission was to craft for the orchestra a consistent musical point of view. Established in 1973, the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra consisted mainly of freelance musicians from the New York Chamber Orchestra.
“The musical goal at the time had been to enjoy traditional masterpieces on a high artistic level, not to challenge the status quo,” says Schwarz. “That was what I was hired for, and what’s wrong with a really great performance of a traditional masterpiece? At the time, no one looked for avant-garde, but we did want to expand beyond performing all Mozart concerti and symphonies into performing works by composers who influenced Mozart, like Johann Christian Bach (son of Johann Sebastian), who wrote the first concerti that Mozart orchestrated, and in turn, show works by artists who had been influenced by his work, like Tchaikovsky in his first concerto.”
Under Schwarz’s orchestral leadership, the festival expanded its name recognition and added to its long list of prominent performers, including, according to Schwarz, “Zukerman, Perlman, Mintz, Starker, Bronfman, Ax, Watts, Emerson String Quartet, Joshua Bell, and Cecilia Bartoli,” who “had her debut” at Mostly Mozart. The orchestra’s performance schedule also broadened beyond the summer festival, growing to include visiting tours around the United States and abroad.
From the library exhibit: Al Hirschfeld sketch of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra with Gerard Schwarz conducting 
In Salzburg, the epicenter of everything Mozart, the answer to the quest for contemporary programs required a separate response to the traditional festival spectacle: its contemporary music festival “Dialogues,” initiated in 2006. New Yorkers, by contrast, consistent with the city’s diverse canon, enjoy their Mozart fare in a conglomerate of sundry collectives, old and new. Today, contemporary music does not faze New York’s traditional classical music loyalists; it has been accepted as part of our broad artistic curriculum, begrudgingly by some, but by others with open arms, among them fervent critics and the festival’s curator, Jane Moss.
Schwarz, who has worked on Mostly Mozart with Moss for 10 years, describes Moss’s aspirations: “Replacing Lockwood at Mostly Mozart, Moss had a very broad vision and was more interested in cutting-edge new music. She originally had made the case for a new platform, ‘The Lincoln Center Festival,’ at Avery Fisher Hall (renamed in 1976) for its upcoming renovation in 1993.” Instead of executing her vision at the reign of the new festival, though, it was famed critic and arts administrator John Rockwell who took on the new festival’s leadership until 1998, followed by its former executive director Niguel Redden, who built the Lincoln Center Festival into a showcase of diverse performances of international theater, circus, and music, with artists and productions from more than 50 countries.
Louis Langrée speaks at “Meet the Musicians of the Mozart Festival Orchestra” at David Rubinstein Atrium. Photo: Ilona Oltuski
Moss, besides curating further themed initiatives like the White Light Festival, which made use of Lincoln Center’s entire complex, and other seasonal and recurring programs like Lincoln Center Outdoors, was left to revitalize Mostly Mozart, steering it towards a new and bolder brand. Following Schwarz as the orchestra’s director was Louis Langrée, who has now served as the Renée and Robert Belfer Music Director for 14 seasons.
During the festival’s free public conversation at the David Rubinstein Atrium, “Meet the Musicians of the Mozart Festival Orchestra,” audiences had an interesting opportunity to familiarize themselves with the vision of the festival’s impresario and the orchestra’s tirelessly cheery and engaging leader: “It is here, at Mostly Mozart, so many people have experienced classical music for the first time,” says Langrée, thoughtful in his charming French accent. “That’s a lot of responsibility, and at the same time a great source of delight. One never gets to perform so much of Mozart’s works at once during the concert season calendar, and it allows one to go deeper here and to discover new layers. At the same time Mozart was such a central figure of Western music; his great imagination that transcended through all musical genres made him an inspiration for the next generations.”
Moss took those thoughts a step further, claiming, with no resistance, Mozart as the innovator: an ideal fulcrum for exploring new musical horizons. “Mozart was a contemporary composer in his time. He would definitely want us to be looking at the new.”
Coming to Lincoln Center from the world of theater, Moss composed a particular coalition of genres, platforms and scenery with dramatic inclinations, each informing the others.
Photo: Jane Moss during Meet the Musicians podium discussion by Ilona Oltuski
She is not afraid to label productions more for their entertainment value than for highbrow artistic purpose; the arias-potpourri of Mostly Mozart’s opening night gala including selections from Mozart’s operas and entitled “The Illuminated Heart” is a good example.
With its great collective of performers and clever incorporation of screened images onto the stage, the gala was an introductory forum into famed Mozart melodies that was welcoming and highly entertaining if abbreviated, hardly allowing for the full, dramatic expansion of any complete version; two examples of Mozart’s fully-staged works, however, were shown during the festival’s season. 
Opera Arias Potpourri: ‘The Illuminated Heart,’ Photo by llona Oltuski
For many soloists who have made their debuts at Mostly Mozart, the festival is known as a springboard for international careers. This season’s free orchestral opening performance at Damrosch Park featured Simone Porter performing Mozart’s serene Violin Concerto No. 3.
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Louis Langrée, conductor, Simone Porter, violin (Mostly Mozart debut) Photographed Friday, July 22, 2016 at 7:30 PM at Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center, New York, NY. Photograph: © 2016 Richard Termine
In response to the premise that we are spoiled with star appearances but often unenthused by the anonymity of the great halls, one of Mostly Mozart’s most popular series, the intimate “A Little Night Music,” has lately taken on a sexy magnetism, attracting mostly young and charismatic individual performers to appear at Lincoln Center’s own Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse. After having performed Mozart’s clarinet concerto at David Geffen Hall, exciting European clarinet star Martin Fröst, flown in with stellar piano accompanist Roland Pöntinen directly from the Verbier Festival, played for enthralled audiences who were seated cabaret-style, his alluring sounds and lithe, pied piper-like gesticulations entertaining the audience members as they sipped their wine.
Photo: Eman Hassan for the New York TImes: Clarinetist Martin Froest and Pianist Roland Pontien at Stanley H.Kaplan Penthouse - A little Night Music
Also at the Penthouse, profound Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan, renowned recently as “artist-in-association” with the New York Philharmonic, made use of the attentive if short-spanned concentration of this late night session, presenting his thoughtful “New Suite,” a selection of short pieces ranging from Handel, Bach, Rameau and Couperin to Ravel, Thomas Adès, Ligeti and Barber, played through in a continuous flow during one sitting.
The New York Philharmonic recently featured Barnatan, among other artists, in a trendy concert presentation at an intimate downtown venue. Moss’s use of Lincoln Center’s Penthouse as a cool, elegant alternative is a notable, perhaps ingenious tactic for bringing the personal staging and downtown vibe of these salon-style shows home.
At the other end of the spectrum, astounding by its sheer size, stands the display of populist egalitarianism in the premiere of David Lang’s “the public domain” for 1,000 voices, performed by an amateur chorus picked from all of New York City’s boroughs. Unlike New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini, who penned a gleaming review of the momentous choral performance, while watching from the balcony above the imposing gathering I failed to pick up on the intensity of this work by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer. In fact I could hardly hear the choral group’s many murmuring voices emerging through the hazy and steaming hot plaza.
Performance of 'the public domain' by David Lang. Photo by Ilona Oltuski, with an excerpt of the original score
Performance of ‘the public domain’ by David Lang. Photo by Ilona Oltuski, with an excerpt of the original score
I did, however, find the piece’s context fascinating. According to Lang: “All the texts are internet search engine auto-completions of the sentence ‘One thing we all have is our…’ which gave me a list of sometimes very personal statements, from people all around the world. I didn’t use all of them. I took out those that referred to specific people, that insulted or praised a person or group, that said anything – good or bad – about a particular religion or nationality or gender, that endorsed or disparaged a particular commercial product or activity, that were pornographic. My interest was to make a text that would seem in some way universal, a list of attributes we might all agree on, that could feel in some way universal.”
The well-organized spectacle, under the direction of choreographer Annie B. Parson and conductor Simon Halsey, is worth mentioning, as it filled the entire Josie Robertson Plaza in stands around the fountain. The atmosphere was dominated by the emotional excitement of its partaking members and viewers alike. It reminded me of the citywide Make Music events such as Make Music New York, promoting the inclusive spirit inherent in all music making and embodying a sentiment we all seem to crave, a desire to bridge our differences with our common humanity in these volatile times of social and political ambiguity and isolation.
Mostly Mozart’s increasingly open-ended curatorial vision and shifting dimensions have raised the bar of its narrative, with the new and old illuminating each other’s perspectives. Programming for multiple tastes also makes the festival easily approachable, and there is something playful about its outstretched musical and physical territorial reach. This year’s events took place in 11 different locations within Lincoln Center’s campus, with some of the events grouped to allow for sequential visits and provide an immersive effect through interrelating spatial and sonic experiences.
David Geffen Hall’s more intimate ceiling and thrust stage set up for Mostly Mozart Festival. Photo from Mostly Mozart Festival on Facebook by Ruby Lan
Lincoln Center’s setting for the festival’s smaller orchestral lineup at David Geffen Hall was altered in the 2005 season to include a temporary thrust stage over its first 11 rows, giving it a more intimate presence and making it possible for audiences to surround the orchestra. Additionally, while resembling a design feature that may be found at an airport lounge, an added ceiling structure helps to maintain the warmth of the sound, and also provides additional lighting for a softer glow during performances.
For the first time, Lincoln Center’s Public Library, under its prolific artistic producer Evan Leslie, collaborated with the festival on three occasions, coming up with fun ways to enlighten audiences. An entertaining and free Pub Quiz of “Mostly Mozart Trivia” was held at the David Rubinstein Atrium in collaboration with ICE, effortlessly engaging audiences in entertaining and educational activity.
Members of ICE at David Rubinstein Atrium, Photo by Ilona Oltuski
Leslie also hosted an interview with pianist Emanuel Ax at the library. A beloved New York musical figure and a festival fixture for many years, Ax shared excerpts of his favorite playlist ranging from opera to jazz, all drawn from a collection of the library’s treasure trove of recordings. The musical interludes were spiced up with personal anecdotes from Ax’s extensive performance career. One of the musical qualities most revered by the pianist, “the directness in music making,” came through in his own refined performance at David Geffen Hall with the eminent Emerson String Quartet of works by Purcell, Schubert and Dvořák.
The festival’s own orchestral ensemble was featured in various collectives during the season, most convincingly in smaller ensembles, but also in a truly tremendous configuration under the baton of Louis Langrée, performing the lively Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20 in D-minor in a remarkable collaboration with pianist Leif Ove Andsnes at Alice Tully Hall. Andsnes’s collaboration in Webern’s arrangement of Bach’s “Ricarcar” with a trio of musicians from the orchestra was remarkable.
Photo: Robert Altman for the New York Times, Leif Ove Andsnes (piano) with Ruggero Allifranchini (left) Ilya Finkelshteyn and Shmuel Katz at Alice Tully Hall
The generally energetic and stylistically convincing performance of the full orchestra, however, varied. In one performance at David Geffen Hall under the baton of guest conductor Matthew Halls, the orchestra’s coherence and tempi, despite joining forces with the velvety singing tone of violinist Joshua Bell, were less successful.
The author with violinist Joshua Bell. Photo by Heidi Frederick
My personal, selective listening perspective of the season’s vast catalog came to an end with “Mozart Dances” at the David B. Koch Theater. The reprise of a 2007 New York performance of the work, presenting a brilliant fusion of classical and modern dance by choreographer Mark Morris set to three Mozart pieces, had everything one could wish for: expressivity, sarcasm, eccentrics and genuine character; but most of all, the performance showed a requisite sensitivity for the underlying musical structures in Mozart, structures not easy to translate into dance.
In a public discussion between the music director and choreographer, it became obvious how the ideal rhythmic interpretation and fluctuations in tempo vary between the contexts of a music ensemble and a dance troupe. Morris used abrupt angles and ornamentations to draw a swift, often humorous aesthetic vernacular from his dancers’ bodies. He often juxtaposed graceful classical ballet movement with anti-classical positions, like en croix demi-pliés, or matched elongated grand battements with abrupt exits in which the performers stomped off the stage. The dancers’ caprice and playfulness was wholly reflected in the music, yet there was also a tangible intimacy to the score which remained inherent in the dance. Langrée adapted the execution of the score in complete coherence with the choreography with radiant support from pianist Garrick Ohlsson in both concerti (No. 11 in F major, K. 413 and No. 27 in B-flat-minor, K. 595), but especially impressive in unison with pianist Inon Barnatan in the majestic Sonata in D major, K. 448 for two pianos, performed in between the concerti.
Mark Morris Dance Group in “Mozart Dances.” Photo by Richard Termine
Over its 50 years, the Mostly Mozart Festival has built a large following, enjoyed an international reputation and presented A-list performers, all while tending to the shifting expectations of trendy New Yorkers. Under Moss and its current music director Louis Langrée, it genially circumvents the self-imposed restriction of its catchy name. One may insist on the purity of Mozart and balk at the increasing blurring of the festival’s programmatic lines, but one may also argue that Lincoln Center’s curators’ separate visions and means inspire a flow of different, invigorating productions that ultimately benefit audiences by presenting a broad range of work. It’s no secret that the festival’s growth into an internationally renowned urban cultural summit derives from its ability to keep its traditional integrity while freely allowing for conceptual expansion.

For more information about the drawing by Tony Leonardo Cimino please contact him at http://tonyleonardocimino.com/

Friday, August 5, 2016

Guest Post by Roland Colton, author of "Forever Gentleman," offering a free copy here!

WRITING MUSIC INTO FICTION
By Roland Colton
As an amateur pianist with a passion for classical music who also loves to read great fiction, I have often lamented the dearth of novels in this genre. Several years ago, a story began to form in my mind that centered upon a gifted young pianist in Victorian England. It took me a while to put pen to paper as the task of writing a novel seemed utterly daunting. But once I had written several key scenes, I found myself carried away in an unexpected creative surge that ultimately culminated in the completion of a manuscript entitled Forever Gentleman. After sending out queries, I was delighted to receive a book contract from an east coast publisher last fall and the book was released to the public just three weeks ago.
My intention was to write a story that would appeal to those who love classical music, and particularly to pianists. However, the book is much more than a novel about music; it is also a mystery, a romance, teeming with suspense, intrigue, mistaken identities and unexpected twists and turns. My novel takes readers back in time to nineteenth-century London, a city of beauty and brilliance, and a city steeped in filth and despair. The protagonist, Nathan Sinclair, a struggling architect and gift pianist, lives in both worlds, mingling in high society while dwelling in suffocating debt and poverty.
One of the challenges I faced in writing the book, was to depict with words, the music that accompanies the story. To better accomplish this task, I attempted to learn and play compositions that taxed my ability as an amateur pianist. In the opening chapter of the book, Nathan performs Chopin’s Quatrième Ballade, a work I had never seriously considered learning, but nevertheless was one of my favorites. Working from the back forward (as I was taught to do in my youth), I gained increased respect and awe for pianists able to master that brilliant composition. Delving deeply into this and many other works helped me to better put into words the music that appears in the book.
Another challenge was to dramatize the age of musical and artistic enlightenment and the deluge of creativity that existed during the nineteenth century. In my opinion, there is no better way to travel back in time than to hear music from a bygone era. I wanted readers to relive this age of creativity and experience the music in a contemporary context, not as a distant voice from centuries past. Writing this novel also gave me an opportunity to create scenes that I, as a classical music enthusiast, would dearly love to see take place in a book or movie. One of those scenes is every amateur pianist’s dream, but one, unfortunately, which I dare not share, for fear of spoiling the surprise.
The setting of my story also coincides with the development of the modern-day piano, revolutionary in its day, when craftsmen had developed a rim-bending process that was said to give pianos a remarkable sound and character. We experience the moment through Nathan’s eyes when he first encounters the extraordinary Steinway concert grand--winner of the Grand Gold Medal of Honor at the Paris Exhibition. We observe Nathan as he caresses the stunning rosewood finish and imagine the musical vibrations the instrument will create, before he finally raises his hands above the keyboard to play Liszt’s Concert Etude in D-flat major.
Finally, I endeavored to document, in my story, the dexterity, dynamics and beauty of compositions well known today and others that have disappeared from today’s repertoire. In doing so, I attempted to select words and phrases that would re-create, in some small way, the challenges of performing the music as well as how the music stirs the listener’s ear. Writing music into fiction has helped me gain an even greater appreciation for the brilliance, imagination and creativity of the prodigious composers from the past.
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Roland Colton is a trial attorney, classical pianist, and author of the historical novel, Forever Gentleman.  For more information about Colton and his work, visit www.rolandcolton.com.

FOR A FREE GIVE AWAY OF "FOREVER GENTLEMAN" CONTACT ILONA@GETCLASSICAL.ORG