Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Adrienne Haan – channels dynamite energy and freethinking zest into Cabaret and American Art Song

“I love to bring music and the passion it contains close to people. That means to cast a spell on someone, it means to forget reality for a brief moment, dispensing with your senses…” says German-born Adrienne Haan, who graduated in 1999 from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
And she does indeed cast a spell on her audiences, vividly portraying a host of characters with a sexy routine that combines a high-caliber voice with brisk buoyancy and perfect diction in German, French, and English. Once in a while, when the thematic programming demands it, she can throw in a Yiddish song as well, especially effective while exploring a favorite era of hers: The nascence of German Cabaret and Art Song, and its heroes like Marlene Dietrich, Kurt Weill, and Bert Brecht. Her latest cabaret show, The Streets of Berlin, which offers homage to the the German spirit of the 20s and 30s and all its tumultuous sociopolitical and cultural influences, builds on repertoire from on her 2010 CD: Berlin, mon amour, including work for orchestra and voice by composers ranging from Misha Spoliansky to Kurt Weill, arranged and directed by award-winning movie productions, Heinz Walter Florin. The disc is available in both English and German.
The recording was co-produced by Das Beste, a German publisher with whom Haan had collaborated previously on her first CD release in 2007. Haan also took part in several broadcasts for WDR (a German TV/Radio Station).
Haan, who lives in Bonn, Germany but spends a large part of the year in New York, has successfully launched a solo career, building on her many experiences and the broad scope of her cultural and musical understanding.
The actress and singer’s repertoire choices suggests the sheer limitlessness of her vocal and theatrical range; she broadened her education in song-interpretation with instruction from the Juilliard School, allowing her to engage in projects as varied as Shakespeare plays, musical theatre like Cabaret and Evita, and dramas like O’Neill’s Anna Christie among others. It is, however, the cheeky character role of the fresh and brazen cabaret singer in which Haan, who holds dual citizenship in both Germany and the French-speaking country of Luxembourg, has found an ideal niche to bring her radiant self-confidence and dramatic energy as a soloist to the stage. When she sings, her crisp soprano voice is stirred by jazzy roars with some added French ‘sparrow voice’ inflections à la Edith Piaf.
While many members of Haan’s audience fall effortlessly for her signature provocative charm and the allure of her blonde Fräulein look, it is her ardent commitment to evoking an intimate understanding of that interim era, between World War I and II, which draws in much of her audience. Haan keenly represents the fresh outlook of today’s young generation, existing between a history of destruction and a probing quest towards a truly liberal, democratic society; Haan’s awareness of issues such as woman’s rights, sexual revolution, and ethnic and religious equality consistently lies at the heart of her artistic pursuit, which is thought-provoking while it remains entertaining. As an artist, she has a gift for making things personal:
“As long as people are listening, I will tell stories. Because that’s exactly what I do, when I am on stage: I sing, but I am always telling new stories. They are stories of joy and suffering, fun stories about the ‘joie de vivre,’ hope, lust, sexuality, and seduction. You will find a combination of all these things in From Berlin to Broadway.” The cabaret’s issues touched on in The Streets of Berlin still bare essential truths today, and Haan is fascinated with the cabaret’s omnipresent relevance and its genre-bending method of describing the human sentiment: “Within those melodies and lyrics lays the sort of dark humor that enabled people to assimilate the pain caused by war, loss and death, but also share the humor, joy and sorrow of emotions expressed in love and human relationships.”
The Berlin Wall fell when Haan was 11 years old, and a new sense of global re-unification opened borders; with the fall, Berlin’s problems of financial insecurity and political instability re-immerged. Haan stresses the recession’s impact on Berlin’s Weimar Republic pre-World War II and the threat of impending Nazism, tracing the creative mindset that it produced, born into desperate times, and reaching into today’s global cultural centers. Extracting the most personal of stories, Haan makes sure to continue the fight against discrimination, persecution, and small-mindedness beyond borders. With great affection and resilience, whether she performs at the embassies in Germany or Luxembourg, at the smallest of assemblies, or widely broadcasted, Haan has the personality and the wit to bring her voice across.  (All photos courtesy of the artist)

You can catch Adrienne Haan at the National Arts Club on Wednesday June 18th at 8 pm.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Cellist Yoed Nir- Living the musician’s dream

(Photo credit: David Duenias)

“I am a world musician,” says Yoed Nir, the Israeli cellist whose distinctive cello tracks have captured the attention of diverse audiences, effortlessly crossing musical genres and continents. “If I had to compare my work with that of another artist, I think it would come closest to that of the amazing Zoë Keating,” he says thoughtful, yet equally hesitant to identify with any singular artist. The most cohesive factor in his work is that it is so versatile, fresh, and spontaneous, yet bares his own, personal signature.
Quitting his desirable post with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra after only a couple of months, the classically trained cellist recognized early on that his talent was meant to be honed as an individual emersion into many directions, perceptible on upcoming album, The Next Dream, set to be released on June 17th. The record was mastered by Alan Silverman and recorded at Celloman studios New York City.  (Pre-order at http://goo.gl/xO8sLX )
Lush melodic scores, serve as musical soundtracks to the stuff that dreams are made out of, and inspire the imagination of the listener with thematic fusions of Eastern and Western musical traditions.
 Photo credit: Sonya Kitchell                                     
This album closely follows his debut recording Suspended Hours(cover photo by Sonya Kitchell, mastered by Steve Fallone at Sterling Sound), which was released in February 2013, and which Nir presented on tour and at SubCulture New York this February.  “When I was doing the promotional performances for my first album, I realized I had another one in me. I am influenced by Bartók, Shostakovich, Mahler but also by Brazilian music and Jimi Hendrix – my music is accumulative of all these different languages, in an evocative, scenic way a film score is created in.”
Both of his albums feature his electric cello compositions, but The Next Dream adds some arrangements for voice to its layers of cello; on the first track, there are lyrical lines from the biblical “Song of Songs,” sung by singer/songwriter Sonya Kitchell. Track 5 features violin and voice without lyrics by Kishi Bashi, who, like Nir, toured with Regina Spector. In future recordings, Nir says he wants to elaborate on the voice and cello collaboration and feature different singers on each track. Both his recordings so far reflect on the sum of Nir’s instrumental mastery, the first one recorded during many road trips, in New York, Paris, and Israel, the second one in a New York studio. 
 Photo: With Regina Spektor live on the Tonight Show with David Letterman
Together, the two recordings draw a map of Nir’s development from his classical roots to his varied collaborations with artists across the board of musical genres.Nir’s work has been in demand worldwide and has appeared in over 600 recordings. His performance with the iconic Judy Collins at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, broadcasted on PBS, was nominated for a 2013 New York Emmy, and the number of collaborators who request Nir’s exciting and highly skilled arrangements, layers and overdub string sections and accompaniments, include a wide range of artists including Rufus Wainwright, Paul Banks, Diane Birch, and Kishi Bashi. His collaboration with Yael Naim on her 2008 album received the French Ministry of Culture’s Album of the Year award in the World Music Category, and Nir has appeared in numerous television broadcasts, including The Today Show, The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien (NBC), The Late Show with David Letterman (CBS), Good Morning America (ABC), and Later with Jools Holland (BBC).
                                                                                                                                               on tour with Regina Spektor

With Judy Collins live at the Metropolitan Museum, New York
Nir’s unique ease of varying stylistic approaches in classical/non-classical mixed programs have been key in New York performances like his latest Barge Music recital, combining diverging poles like Paul Hindemith and Jimi Hendrix with his own compositions for electric cello: “I am not a regular, 9-5 kind of guy,” he says. “I realized ten years ago, playing with an orchestra is simply not for me, I am a ‘session musician,’ and love being in a studio, and creating arrangements. I record many cello-tracks, and together they can have a singular or very polyphonic ensemble sound. On both of Yael Naim’s last recordings, for example, all the strings you hear, and it sounds quite orchestral, are my own, unique signature sound. Artists, especially singers, usually send me their tracks and I add my own input. I record track by track and they mix it, depending on what kind of balance they want to achieve. Most of my work can be done from anywhere, and when on tour, I often just record in the hotel room. For my own work, everything centers on creating different sounds for the cello, which I fell in love with as a small child.”
One of his latest projectsis a recording with Judy Collins, at AVATR Studios in New York, for the song called Stars in my eyes, to be performed by the legendary singer for the soundtrack of the upcoming film called Helpless. Nir created an entire arrangement of orchestral sound of his multiple recorded cello tracks, ready for the mix, right there in the studio.
 Another one of Nir’s recent collaborations is “Parlor Music,” a disc to be released in 2015 by Anzic Records, which was co-founded by composer/arranger/pianist Lev-Ari and Anat Cohen. The project will showcase Cohen’s virtuosity as a jazz clarinetist/saxophonist, and for the first time, Lev-Ari himself will play piano on recording, and lead all of his own compositions. “When I was planning for my recording, I wanted each of the cello chairs to have their own, distinct voice,” Lev-Ari says, indicating that Nir’s tracks seem to have accomplished his vision fully; he raves: “Yoed is not only a first-rate instrumentalist, able to bring beauty and substance to any composition…he also is a creative force, able to compose and improvise; a rare and powerful combination.”
“Nothing is really natural,” says Nir, “everything matters, every detail, even how you sit. The performance is just a final result, in that it contains the technique in the broadest sense, musical, spiritual, even interpretation is part of the technique. In order to sound natural, you have to build everything up and constantly analyze, and just after many years there are those moments of joy, that magic that attracts every artist who pursues that road.”
These days, Nir’s composition process happens very fast and freely. The creation of each track does not take longer than a few hours: “I never come back and change things around. That’s how I work; I spontaneously bring all my ideas with me, and then take them down, without restrictions or boundaries. I believe that’s a very powerful tool, but of course that did not happen out of the blue. There was a long learning experience, and I did my share of over thinking, but I found myself limited in creating then – it was not quite me. It’s the most difficult thing to find it in you, what you have to say as an artist. The first part is knowing that you want to express yourself, the second – endless – part is to search and find what exactly that is. Now I am at a point where I’ve found myself in my music. It’s all there – all you have to do is listen.” 
photo: David Duenias
In his master classes, Nir demonstrates his theories about thinking out of the “classical musician box,” discussing his techniques of playing different styles, improvisation, and experimenting creatively. Besides pointing out specifics about his beloved instrument – the cello – like movement, intonation, vibrato, good sound, and bow changes, he addresses general points of interests relevant to every musician, like getting gigs, promoting yourself, and finding your inner producer. Sounds like an interesting music lesson for fans as well!
For inquiries visit Yoed Nir’s website:  www.yoednir.com

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The joyous spirit of sound – cellist Ani Aznavoorian

I know the price of Silence When on the threshold of sound, It congeals in the contour of emptiness Blends with the beating heart.   

(Part of the poem “Insomnia” – by Lera Auerbach)

Painting by Lera Auerbach

Cellist Ani Aznavoorian and pianist/composer, all around artistically creative tour de force, Lera Auerbach were roommates during their mutual years at Julliard. Perhaps it is this personal familiarity that connects two exceptional musicians, or perhaps it is their immensely harmonious musical affinity that forges a special bond; either way, the fact remains that when both young women join in recital or collaborate as composer and soloist, sparks ignite, which comes as no surprise. (Photo credit: Lisa Mazzucco)

“We always had a strong connection and liked each other’s company,” says Aznavoorian, who recently traveled from Santa Barbara for a recital in New York. She has studied with Aldo Parisot and was the youngest cellist to win Juilliard’s concerto competition during her first year there. Since then, Aznavoorian has performed internationally with many renowned orchestras and musicians. Yet, Aznavoorian and Auerbach’s live performance of Auerbach’s 24 Preludes for cello and piano, which she composed at age 26 in 1999 and set as a ballet choreographed by John Neumaier, at Hamburg, Germany’s Staatsoper 11 years ago, has been “their biggest thing together” to date, according to Aznavoorian.

That at least was true until Auerbach’s new concerto Dreammusik, written for Camerata Pacifica and Ani Aznavoorian, received its premiere on March 7th of this year at the Colburn School Zipper Auditorium in Los Angeles by Aznavoorian and members of the renowned West Coast chamber music ensemble.

It was a 2010 performance of 24 Preludes that inspired Sandra Svoboda, a longstanding fan of Aznavoorian’s dynamic performance style and the Camerata Pacifica’s novel programming, to commission a new composition by Auerbach, to be performed by the much-loved cellist, who has held Camerata Pacifica’s first cellist chair for five years. The commission was intended to recreate for the ensemble and Aznavoorian the invigorating spirit of 24 Preludes, which was described as having “bristled with muscular vigor and ferocity,” and marked as “a definitive performance of a remarkable addition to the chamber repertoire.” 

The March 2013 release of Celloquy, a collaborative recording of Aznavoorian and Auerbach on the Cedille label featuring 24 Preludes along with Sonata, composed in 2002, and Postlude, a work from 2006, coupled with further live performances of 24 Preludes kept the work’s momentum, leaving its characteristic mood fresh in the minds of audiences. The piece itself is momentum; the cyclic composition of the 24 miniature works – one in each key signature, based on a tradition of Prelude writings from Bach to Shostakovich – spans the broad emotional range of Auerbach’s dramatic but intensely lyrical writing. The tonal center belonging to its traditional predecessors is virtually frayed apart by chromaticism and huddles of musical structures, keeping its dramatic energy alive.

The new concerto for the cellist and small chamber ensemble, long awaited by Aznavoorian and Camerata Pacifica, came as an unexpected surprise to Aznavoorian when it finally arrived: “The piece was quite different from what I thought it might be. Lera’s works I have previously played have been quite virtuosic and full of gesture, but Dreammusik is more about texture and color, and almost lulls the audience into- an appropriately- dreamlike state. Unlike the traditional concerto writing with separate movements, it is an approx. 35-minute work without pause, so the scope and structure of it are two very complex aspects. It is dark and brooding, and tremendously beautiful,” says Aznavoorian. When it came time for Aznavoorian to premiere Dreammusik with nine members of Camerata Pacifica, much to the cellist’s relief, Auerbach was present and extremely helpful during the rehearsal process. It was, after all, the first time the cellist had had the opportunity to hear the full piece as a whole; a complex moment, certainly, even for an intuitive and sensitive musician like Aznavoorian, whose most pervasive passion is chamber music. “I love everything about it, most of all the music, but also the whole process of rehearsing together and then being on stage together with friends. I sometimes laugh hysterically and say to myself – I can’t believe this is my job!” Indeed, watching Aznavoorian’s ways with her cello, one realizes instantly the great joy she feels connecting with her instrument. Her cello has been made for her by a craftsman close to her heart – her father Peter Aznavoorian. Of Armenian descent and based in Chicago, he followed a calling late in life, and became a violin maker: “He knows more about the instruments than anyone I know and he is very specific in his ways. My cello has the letter ‘A’ carved in its scroll, my father says it stands for Aznavoorian, but for me it stands for Ani – it’s mine,” she laughs, shaking her curly hair. Observing her in performance, it’s easy to sense that she has made that instrument fully her own, willing it to express finely nuanced shades of color, a subtle, warm tone, and a brilliant, natural technique.

Aznavoorian’s career has taken many different paths, and includes teaching, which she enjoys wholeheartedly. But, like so many young mothers, she struggles a bit with finding the right balance between her family life and career. “It is difficult to stay visible,” she says.  With one small son, Alexander, aged two and a half, and with one more child on the way, the artist has had to cut down on her traveling performances. (Photo credit: Lisa Mazzucco)
While she came to New York twice a month before having kids, she now only comes four times a year, often to perform with the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players, whose one-of-a-kind program she appreciates. Brought up with music from age three, it has remained a key ingredient in her life, turning her into the imaginative and reliable musical partner that her many artistic collaborators, among them Auerbach, recognize her to be.

Auerbach, born in the Urals, had defected from the Soviet Union to pursue the wider shores of her vigorous and seemingly endless creative energy, successively adding different artistic mediums to her prodigious pianism. For about five years now, this creativity has also translated into a growing oeuvre of paintings and sculptures. In connection with her new concerto for Aznavoorian, Auerbach painted a Chagall-reminiscent dreamscape, which she offered for auction, donating half of the proceeds to further Camerata Pacifica’s programs. Enamored, with the vivacious work - a perfect relic of her memorable experience with the concerto commissioned for her - Aznavoorian and her husband decided to purchase it. The work announces the concerto on the Camerata Pacifica poster, dominated by a deep oceanic blue terrain, complete with floating cello and other fish; the original oil and sepia-on-canvas painting, which measures about 40 x 30 inches wide, is currently being framed for Aznavoorian.   

Concerning the meaning of the concerto itself, though, Auerbach remains adamantly silent. In an interview with Daniel Kepl leading up to the concerto’s premiere, she said: “I want the audience to know it for themselves. I think words from the composer can become quite dangerous when it comes to music. It’s a beautiful invitation for the audience to explore their own imagination.”

That does seem appropriate when dealing with dreams – and music: a very personal and transient dimension, existing in a world of its own.