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Club Free Time Blog

Big Winners


Gail Wein
October 01, 2018

The largest cash prize in chamber music is the recently instituted ‘M-Prize Competition’ at the University of Michigan. Last year, the grand prize winner, to the tune of $150k, was the group Russian Renaissance, an eclectic combination of Russian string instruments (balalaika, domra and the insanely large contrabass balalaika) and button accordion. They say they perform “high caliber traditional folk music through a modern lens,” and the best way to find out what that sounds like is to head over to Washington Irving High School’s auditorium on October 13 for the Peoples’ Symphony presentation of this unusual and highly accomplished young group.

If you find you love the sound of the accordion in Russian Renaissance, you’re in luck, because Young Concert Artists has selected its first ever accordionist for its roster this year. Hanzhi Wang makes her New York debut at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall on October 22, which is also the concert that opens Young Concert Artists’ New York season. Ms. Wang is joined by the Zora String Quartet for music from Mozart to Piazzolla.

In addition to these instruments seldom heard on the classical concert stage, there are a number of A-List artists coming to town this month. The Czech Philharmonic brings an outstanding program and performers to Carnegie Hall on October 27. Semyon Bychkov conducts an all-Dvorak program, including the Cello Concerto with Alisa Weilerstein as soloist. Heartthrob tenor Jonas Kaufman brings an evening of operetta to Carnegie, accompanied by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s on October 5. The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble performs at 92Y on October 16, and the chamber choir Stile Antico performs music from Renaissance England, including works by William Byrd and John Dowland. The concert on October 13 is presented by Miller Theatre, but takes place at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. The Morgan Library & Museum celebrates the 350th birthday of François Couperin on October 16.  Les Talens Lyriques perform works by the French Baroque composer, including music composed for the court of Louis XIV.


Another Opening, Another Show


Gail Wein
August 29, 2018

Reach into the back of your closet and pull out your fancy hat and your (faux) fur coat – it’s time to get ready for the glamour of season opening galas. You don’t actually need a tux or an evening gown to attend these glitzy opening night performances - just a ticket in hand – though I promise you the people-watching will be first-rate.

First up is New York Philharmonic’s opening night on September 20, featuring the Phil’s new music director, Jaap Van Zweden. Van Zweden conducts the young phenom pianist Daniil Trifonov and the orchestra in Ravel’s Piano Concerto. Also on the program, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (which is reported to have caused a riot at its premiere 100 years ago) and the world premiere of a work by the atmospheric composer Ashley Fure, commissioned by the NY Phil. Just a few days later, another caravan of limos will pull up to Lincoln Center Plaza as celebs arrive for the glitz of Metropolitan Opera’s opening night on September 24. Fiery-hot mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča and tenor Roberto Alagna star in Saint-Saëns’s epic Samson et Dalila.

Carnegie Hall always brings in big-name artists for their opening night, and this year – October 3 – is no exception. Superstar soprano Renee Fleming and Broadway diva Audra McDonald join the San Francisco Symphony, led by Michael Tilson Thomas. The program features Gershwin’s An American in Paris and songs and arias from opera and musical theater.

Some other performing arts series present their first performance of the season with much less fanfare, though the artists and programs are definitely notable. On September 14 at St. Paul’s Chapel, New York Baroque Incorporated with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street presents music by three of the Bach family. On September 15, mezzo-soprano Julia Bullock opens the Met Live Arts season with "History's Persistent Voice”, a recital featuring traditional slave songs and words by Black American artists from the southeastern United States, set to original compositions by Tania León, Courtney Bryan, Jessie Montgomery, and Allison Loggins-Hull.

The first of Miller Theater’s Composer Portrait series highlights the composer Missy Mazzoli with the New York premiere of her chamber opera Proving Up on September 26 and 28. The work is set in post-Civil War Nebraska and relates a harrowing tale of one family's pursuit of the American Dream.

If you crave an appetizer to these richly-programmed season openers, consider taking in the pianist Taka Kigawa at his annual late-summer appearance at Le Poisson Rouge (August 27), in which he’ll deliver riveting performances of music by Matthew Aucoin, Luciano Berio and Beat Furrer. Or, head to Roulette in Brooklyn for the annual Resonant Bodies Festival (September 11, 12 and 13). The Festival showcases mainly female singers performing contemporary music, blending classical, avant-garde and indie-folk genres. This year’s festival features Helga Davis, Lucy Dhagrae, Kiera Duffy, Caroline Shaw and more.


Summer = Festivals


Gail Wein
July 08, 2018

Summer is synonymous with festivals and outdoor concerts. This season, longtime favorite festivals bring us programs worth leaving the beach for.

A mainstay of the summer in New York City, going on for over a half-century, is Lincoln Center?s Mostly Mozart Festival, July 12-August 12. Highlights include Festival Orchestra performances and late night intimate concerts with glittering views of the skyline in the Rose Studio. Don?t miss the prelude recitals, which begin an hour prior to the orchestra performances ? short programs showcasing complementary chamber works by top-notch performers.

A program I am especially keen on at Mostly Mozart, on July 24 and 25, features the Festival Orchestra with pianist Emanuel Ax playing Mozart?s Piano Concerto K. 453, alongside Gershwin?s An American in Paris and Bernstein?s Candide. You?ll also get to hear an instrument that is rarely seen on the concert stage: the glass harmonica, played by Friedrich Heinrich Kern and Philipp Marguerre. Kern and Marguerre get another turn at this unusual instrument at the pre-concert recitals on those two evenings. And on July 25, you?re in for a late-night treat when Emanuel Ax and the glass harmonica virtuosos take their talents to the Rose Studio. I have to admit that the idea of a prelude recital, followed by an orchestra concert and then an intimate late-night performance, all on the same evening, really thrills me. I?m also looking forward to the Mark Morris Dance Group (August 9-12), fabulous modern dance works with live music by Brahms and Schubert performed by pianist Inon Barnatan, Ariel Quartet and a bevy of top-notch singers including Thomas Cooley and Jennifer Zetlan.

Across town at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, the International Keyboard Institute and Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary season with its typically excellent roster of pianists, with performances every single night from July 15 to July 29. Some of my favorites are Steven Mayer (July 21), Vladimir Feltsman (July 22) and Alon Goldstein with the Fine Arts Quartet on July 19.

In August, a brand-new music festival comes our way ? Classical Bridge ? which brings us concerts every evening from August 4-10. The opening concert looks especially interesting, chamber works by Mendelssohn, Kreisler and Prokofiev with violinist Ivry Gitlis, pianist Klara Min, and clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein, to name a few.

Another fairly new festival, this one for contemporary music lovers, is TIME SPANS. Five concerts August 14-18 at the DiMenna Center feature performances by notable new music performing artists Talea Ensemble, JACK Quartet, Alarm Will Sound and more.

Carnegie Hall is pretty quiet this time of year, except for the exuberant sounds of the exceptionally talented teens who make up the National Youth Orchestra. Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the group in works by Sibelius and Gershwin and a world premiere by Ted Hearne on July 19. And on August 27, the brilliant pianist Taka Kigawa brings some intriguing sounds to an otherwise quiet late-summer evening at Le Poisson Rouge.

What summertime list of concerts would be complete without a mention of some free outdoor gigs by such high-quality groups as A Far Cry on July 10, The Knights on July 17, and Orchestra of St. Luke?s on July 31.

Stay cool and enjoy the music!


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