Sunday, 24 April 2011


The Met has revived for the first time the John Cox production of Richard Strauss’ Capriccio first seen in 1998 with Kiri Te Kanawa as the Countess.  The production brings the period forward from the eighteenth century to the 1920’s.   There is a sumptuous and elegant set designed by Mauro Pagono with costumes and interior design by Robert Perdiziola.  I think Capriccio is an opera which actually benefits from being performed in a 20th century setting rather than the original one, as, apart from some period pastiche for dancers and singers who perform during the action, the music  belongs, with Strauss, in the 20th century and it fits the production so well that occasional period references in the libretto can easily be ignored.

Capriccio can be looked at in two ways:  as a comedy of manners which requires attention be given to the text and as musical theatre which creates a unique situation or mood as only opera can.   In this case a mood coloured by Strauss’ distinctive musical voice.

 The Met does not use surtitles.  Instead there is a small screen on the back of each seat which displays the words and translations.  I discovered this year, that in some seats, I can no longer read the screens, although sometimes the screen a row in front is readable.  I doubt if a special pair of bifocal glasses for the Met would be justified.  These screens are multilingual and the person in front of me, whose screen was legible to me, chose to read the German version.  I couldn’t follow the text but was very happy to hear the music and enjoy the general atmosphere, in the same way I experienced opera before surtitles.

My beloved companion had a different problem, the woman in front of her allowed her hair to fall down over the back of her seat obscuring the screen.   What is the correct etiquette here?  Is one permitted to throw the hair back over the seat or re-arrange its fall?  Remember that a whispered request would create a small disturbance for others; and might well lead to a regrettable altercation.

Renee Fleming sings the Countess in this production.  I have now heard her in La traviata, Thaïs, and Rosenkavalier;  and feel that her voice is best heard in Strauss. “Creamy” is a bit of a cliché but is the best description I can come up with for her lower register.   I doubt if I will ever hear the Strauss soprano roles better sung.

La Roche, a theatre director, was the English bass Peter Rose who we have heard with Opera Australia as Baron Ochs and Osmin.  It was a pleasure to hear him in a role which seemed to suit him so well; and which contains extended passages, including La Roche’s famous defence of the theatre, which he enhanced with beautiful singing.

Flamand was Joseph Kiaser,who I have heard as Tamino at the Met and who is clearly developing a great international career.  Olivier was sung by Russell Braun, who I failed to identify until reminded by a program note that he was Chou En-lai in Nixon in China which I saw in the HD transmission.

Although all the singing was close to perfect, I was impressed with English mezzo Sarah Connolly as Clarion.  At times she seemed to outsing Ms. Fleming a little; and it maybe that Ms. Fleming needed to preserve her voice for the great final scene which she sang so brilliantly.  It may be poor memory on my part, but I had the impression that the final monolog in which the Countess is faced with a decision between poet and composer – words and music – was somewhat detached and ironic; but Ms. Fleming brought an emotional intensity to it which was quite thrilling.
Capriccio by Richard Strauss, Metropolitan Opera New York, April 19, 2011

Friday, 22 April 2011

Taka Kigawa at Le Poisson Rouge

I had read some reviews of concerts at Le Poisson Rouge, a new venue, founded by musicians, in Bleeker Street, New York.  It is “dedicated to the fusion of popular and art cultures in music, film, theater, dance, and fine art, the venue's mission is to revive the symbiotic relationship between art and revelry; to establish a creative asylum for both artists and audiences.”  Its programming is varied but includes classical and contemporary music performed by established artists. 

I was eager to find out how music worked in an alternative venue, obviously at some distance from the formality of a concert hall.  As it happened, the first opportunity for me to experience the venue was the result of terrible events, a concert given to benefit the victims of the earthquake and Tsunami that occurred on March 11th in Japan, by pianist Taka Kigawa.   The concert also introduced me to the music of a number of contemporary Japanese composers. 

I don’t know much about night clubs or cabarets but Le Poisson Rouge is definitely some such place: there are no tickets to be collected, people wait in line to be identified and marked by a rubber stamp on the hand and to be fitted with a robust paper bracelet before admission is granted.  After this processing, I passed down steps, worn hollow in the centre by the ceaseless tread of drunken feet; and by the light of a flickering lamp above the door I made my way into a large very dark room with a small stage in one corner and a bar along the far wall.

Through the gloom one could dimly catch a glimpse of bodies seated in strange fantastic poses, bowed shoulders, bent knees, heads thrown back, and chins pointing upward, with here and there a dark, lack-lustre eye turned upon the newcomer.  Most sat at long tables in front of the stage, behind which were tall tables surrounded by bar stools, yet to be occupied.  I found a seat with a good view of the stage and the piano in a raised area furnished with settees and coffee tables.  Soon all the seats were occupied and latecomers had to stand - this was a first-come, first-served partially seated event.
 Mr. Kigawa grew up in Nagano currently lives in New York.  He studied at Shinsyu University, Tokyo Gakugei University  and The Juilliard School in New York. 
The venue works very well for music.  Although drinks and food are served during the performance I was only aware of this activity when consciously paying attention to it.  The audience is as quiet as you would wish.  And the atmosphere of the place adds an exciting new element to a recital.
There is a small stage and the Yamaha piano, while perfectly adequate, is not a concert grand.  I enjoyed Mr. Kigawa’s playing and  would like to have the opportunity to hear him play in a more formal setting on a larger piano.
The program included Joule by Dai Fujikura (b.1977) a student of Pierre Boulez.  Haiku for Pierre Boulez by Toshio Hosokawa (b.1955), atardecer/a…retraced by Hiroya Miura (b.1975) and Crystalline by Karen Tanaka (b.1961 ).   The pieces were short and overall characterised by the spare piano sounds which I associate with serial music; but, unexpectedly, Haiku for Pierre Boulez  which included some striking lyrical passages,  was the least Boulezian of the group.  For me, it was an brief introduction to some composers I didn’t know, and it wouldn’t be reasonable to complain I didn’t hear any individual voice.
We also heard from a more familiar Japanese name, Toru Takemitsu, Rain Tree Sketch II (In memorium of Olivier Messiaen).
The generous program also included more familiar works from Mr. Kigawa’s repertoire:
Chopin’s Ballade in F minor  Op. 52 and Prelude in C-sharp minor Op. 45
Debussy’s Images, Book I
Ravel’s Pavane pour une Infante defunte
Stravinsky’s: Trois Mouvements de Petrouchka.

Altogether, Mr.Kigawa played for over two hours without a break; and even added some encores, ending with a peaceful rendition of Bach’s C major prelude which somehow reflected the sad events which led to the concert being given.

A Benefit Concert for Japan at Le Poisson Rouge, 2 April 2011

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Making Music: Christopher Rouse

Making Music: Christopher Rouse, a concert in Zankel Hall gave me the opportunity to learn something of a major American composer and his work.  Christopher Rouse ( b. 1949 ) is best known for his orchestral works, which I have not heard.  I began with the four chamber works on this program which included a commentary by the composer taking the form of interviews with Jeremy Geffen, director of artistic planning at Carnegie Hall.  Many of his orchestral works are on CD, including some recordings by Alan Gilbert and Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
First was a short work for percussion, Ku-Ka-Ilimoku (1978 ) “scored for four percussionists on a vast array of instruments”.  It is inspired by Hawaiian music and legend: Ku is a Hawaiian god. Mr. Rouse said it was a reaction to the “swish – ping” school of percussion writing which prevailed at the time its writing.  He said that, for him, the whole purpose of percussion was to beat the heck out of it; and this he proceeded to do.  I know little of percussion music of either school, but I can say that this piece had a great deal of rhythmic drive and that it was very loud.
The next piece was more complex but also contained a good deal of loud percussion.  Rotae Passionis (1982).  It is intented to present a view of the crucifixion in harmony that of with Northern Renaissance painters like Hieronymus Bosch.  Its music is also in the German tradition, as it was written as a tribute to Carl Orff, who died during its compostion.  Mr. Rouse admires Orff’s music and based this piece upon the “Wheel of Fate” from Carmina Burana.  It begins with a motive quoted from Orff.
It is scored for Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Cello, Percussion (2) and Piano; though this doesn’t give an accurate idea of the sound as the instruments often play alone and the piano is introduced late.  The first passage, Circular Lament – The Agony in the Garden, is followed by representations of the 14 Stations of the Cross.   The players are directed that each of these 14 sections have a duration of precisely 20 seconds.  Each section is separated from the next by a mighty blow from a Mahler hammer.  The final section Parallel Wheel –Christ Asleep had a more lyrical tone.   I am unfamiliar with the religious and musical traditions which inform this piece, and I found it abrasive and, again, very loud in parts.  I hoped that the passages for string trio towards the end of the piece were an indication of what was to come in the second half, and it proved to be so.
Not all of it was loud however and softer passages were disturbed by the by the subway noise which is an unfortuanate feature of Zankel Hall.  The Hall opened in 2003.   It is a very attractive modern Hall which lies beneath Carnegie Hall itself and virtually in the subway.  The noise is not trivial, I rate it at plus 10 on the Verbruggen scale of concert hall railway intrusion.  It is remarkable that the Hall came to be built in this location without adequate insulation.
After the intermission, the Calder String Quartet played Mr. Rouse’s String Quartet No. 3 (2009).  This was his first chamber work since Compline, the work following on this program, and only the second since his second string quartet composed in 1988.    It was first performed in New Haven last June by the Calder Quartet.
The quartet was intended to be difficult to play.  It the parts are written in rhythmic but not melodic unison.  I imagine that, as a listener, I would hear rhythmic unison in percussive instruments, but here, even with the knowledge that the quartet was playing in unison, I didn’t hear the music as such. 
In his discussion of this piece, Mr. Rouse mentioned an aspect of composition that had never occurred to me.  The complexity of this quartet required the Calder Quartet, which was familiar with his music, having played his first and second quartets, to work for about 200 hours to learn it.  Orchestras do not have 200 hours or anything like it in which to rehearse new music so, if a composer wants his music played at all by an orchestra, it has to be written so that an orchestra can play it after two or three rehearsals.  (This does not mean that the music must be easy).  I guess this must be correct;  and it might be worth investigating whether say, Beethoven’s quartets are more difficult in this sense than his symphonies.
The quartet itself presented the usual problems of trying to get some understanding of music on a first hearing.  Although I didn’t hear it as rhythmic unison, my overall impression was of a work of great tension and intensity.  There is a lot of sliding about with glissandi adding to the prevailing air of anxiety.
The final work in the program was Compline (1996), which was commissioned to be played with and by the same ensemble as Ravel’s Introduction and allegro for flute, clarinet, harp and string quartet.
Compline has a kind of program: Mr. Rouse explained that it relates to a trip he made to Rome, in which the busy activity of sightseeing was replaced by the spiritual atmosphere invoked by visits to the various Roman churches.  I found it to be the most accessable work on the program and will seek it out again.  There is a recording of it which also includes the first and second string quartets.

Making Music: Christopher Rouse; Zankel Hall 15 April 2011.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

More from Russia: The St. Petersburg Philharmonic

The St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, which is on a 35 day tour of the United States arrived at Carnegie Hall on April 14.

The program describes it as Russia’s oldest symphonic ensemble, founded in 1882, although it suffered some name changes in Soviet times. The conductor was Yuri Temikanov, who has been the orchestra’s artistic director and principal conductor since 1988. He conducted with broad sweeping movements of his arms, rather like the traffic cop I had watched at intersection on Sixth Avenue earlier in the day. After the intermission he arrived on the podium and commenced while much of the audience was still finding its seats: tardiness must not be acceptable in St. Petersburg.

The first piece on the program was Rimsky-Korsakov's Prelude to Legend of the invisible City of Kitezh, which is very short – about 5 minutes. I don’t think I had ever heard it. It begins as a Russian forest murmurs developing into a robust folk melody. It was a pity it was so short; Rimsky-Korsakov had a distinctive musical voice and it would be nice if we heard more of it than frequent iterations of Sheherazade.

Next was the Cello Concerto No.1 of Shostakovich, in which the soloist was American cellist Alisa Weilerstein. There are two types of cellist in my opinion: attack cellists and sweet and beautiful tone cellists. Ms. Weilerstein is definitely an attack cellist, who played with great energy and vigour. She was matched at times by the orchestra, which played some passages louder than I think I had ever heard in accompaniment of a soloist. My categorisation of cellists is not an adverse judgment of either genus and in this performance there was some beautiful lyrical playing in the second movement leading into more attack work in the cadenza.

After the intermission, the orchestra played Brahms symphony No.4. During the break, I was able to walk past the stage and look at the music stands. The orchestra played from scores which might have been published before the communist revolution. The paper was yellow, and many of the parts had been ripped and repaired with sticky tape,  itself warped with age. In some cases, the paper had completely disintegrated and pages were replaced with photocopies.

The performance was absorbing, although some passages particularly in the brass and timpani were very loud. I think this was intended, although perhaps not to the extent I heard, which may have resulted from the fact that an orchestra playing in Carnegie Hall is in a sound shell behind a proscenium which gives an excellent acoustic but which may play tricks with orchestras which are not familiar with it.

For an encore, the orchestra played one of Elgar’s Enigma Variations; not very Russian, but the string playing was so good that I wished they could have played the whole piece.

Complaint about audience behaviour #2: when I was in kindergarten circa 1951, our teacher Miss Lydon taught us many things about good manners, one of which was that you must not turn the pages of the program at a concert as this makes a noise, which will annoy other people. The woman seated on my right had never heard of this rule. During the Brahms and Elgar she was engaged in speed-reading the mass-market paperback edition of Emperor Norton's Ghost (a Fremont Jones Mystery) by Dianne Day. This involved much rustling from page turning and adjusting. A person who preferred to hear Brahms through the swish and crackle of a vinyl record might have enjoyed it.

St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, 15 April 2011

Thursday, 14 April 2011


I decided to go to the concert given by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at Alice Tully Hall on April 12 because they had included the Shostakovich Piano Quintet in the program. This work has been a favourite of mine since I first heard it on my first visit the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville. Hearing it was an important part of the experience which made me pay a lot more attention to chamber music than I had previously. I vividly recall Michael Kieran Harvey who played the piano part with a manic enthusiasm staring fixedly at the string players urging them on to greater heights.

Andre-Michel Schub, the pianist at the Alice Tully Hall has a completely different style. Much of the time his playing was cool and precise as if he were playing a Bach transcription, or a Shostakovich prelude for that matter. He and the string players were appropriately vigorous in the Scherzo, but overall the performance lacked the excitement I sought. However, there was much interest in looking at the quintet in a different light. I particularly enjoyed some exquisitely delicate string playing in the second movement.

A new string sextet Seraphim Canticles by Russian born composer Lera Auerbach (b. 1973) followed the quintet. Lera Auerbach is a person of remarkable accomplishment.

According to the concert program, she has composed nearly a hundred works including chamber music, concertos, symphonies and opera and ballet. She is also an accomplished pianist. And she is a writer and poet having published two novels and five books of poetry and prose. She has the unusual distinction of being one of the last of many artists to defect from the former Soviet Union, which she did in 1991 (the year of its dissolution) while on a concert tour of the United States.

Seraphim Canticles is a fascinating work in which, except for a short period towards the end when the strings come together, each instrument follows a separate path. The paths are somehow integrated into an overall sound which varies from a great intensity to almost inaudible quiet.

Some of the quiet passages were accompanied by some very loud coughing from more than one member of the audience. I usually ignore these manifestations of disease by people who should have remained home in bed and concentrate on the music; but this time the interruption to serenely quiet passages in the music was so crass and insensitive that I thought Ms. Auerbach could be the victim of sabotage by former agents of the KGB.

After the intermission a differently constituted sextet played Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence. It was a most enjoyable performance of this well known work. I have noted the players below. The only one of them I knew of was the great violist Paul Neubauer who has visited the Townsville festival more than once. I have a fond memory of hearing him play Joan Tower’s piece for solo viola Wild Purple one morning to a tiny audience in the Sacred Heart Cathedral. He has recorded this work for Naxos.

It was a great pleasure to hear him in a number of prominent passages for viola in Souvenir de Florence. The stage of the Alice Tully Hall looks too large for the small number of musicians gathered in the centre, but the acoustic is very clear and the voices of the individual instruments are clearly audible.

Shostakovich: Andre-Michael Schub piano; Erin Keefe and Shmuel Ashkenasi violins Yura Li viola Nicolas Altstaedt cello;

Auerbach: Yura Lee and Erin Keefe violins, Paul Neubauer and Yura Li violas, Fred Sherry and Nicolas Altstaedt cello;

Tchaikovsky: Shmuel Ashkenasi and Yura Lee violins, Paul Neubauer and Yura Li violas, Nicolas Altstaedt and Fred Sherry cello.

Russian Voices; CMS at Alice Tully Hall, 12 April 2011

Wednesday, 13 April 2011


To the New York City opera for Monodramas, which is a performance of three otherwise unrelated works for soprano and orchestra:

La Machine de l’Être by contemporary New York composer John Zorn;

Arnold Schoenberg’s Erwartung; and

Neither, a setting of a Samuel Beckett text by Morton Feldman.

The show was directed and designed by Michael Counts, who works on “large-scale immersive installations and theatrical productions, often in unconventional spaces”.

The performance began about a quarter of an hour before the advertised starting time with the appearance of a man and a woman, both formally dressed, who stood in front of the curtain surveying the audience. They didn’t interact with one another: distancing themselves from experiencing a crystallized totality both in the social world and in the self. I’m not quite sure, but the man might have been doing the party trick of rolling back his eyes in a scary way so only the whites were visible. They were there until about twenty minutes after the advertised starting time as “patrons were being seated”; or so it was said. I suspect the audience was in fact experiencing an immersion in Erwartung by design.

John Zorn’s description of La Machine de l’Être is – “ there is no text, no plot, and no stage directions whatsoever”. The title is taken from the name a drawing by Antonin Artaud and Mr. Zorn hopes it’s stage presentation will be inspired by his works, which this one was.

As the work is only ten minutes long and as the production provided much distraction, I couldn’t form any opinion about Mr. Zorn’s music. The soprano part, as the description suggests, is wordless vocalising, and was sung by Anu Komosi from Finland. The singing was a highlight of all three performances. I imagine that each part, in it’s own way, involved some extraordinary feats of technique and memory and each of the singers was amazingly good.

When the curtain eventually rose for the first piece, the alienated couple entered the stage to find a crowd of people dressed in burkhas or the like. The couple disrobed one, to reveal Anu Komosi, and another to reveal a man in bright red suit with wires attached. Surely it would not be too long before this man was lifted into the air: and so he was.

It is a known fact that people who levitate do not have wires attached. Magritte knew this and never drew in the wires. My complaint is that stage magic is not magic if you can see the working parts. I also have a problem with the distraction caused by actors and dancers holding poses for lengthy periods of time. I can’t help wondering if the pose is painful to hold, and the diversion was compounded during Neither when the same man in a another suit was left, hanging in mid air, in a stylised pose, for what seemed like about half an hour.

The composer’s request for reference to the work of Antonin Artaud was honoured. Cut out speech bubbles appeared from the floor and as they hovered over the performers Artaud’s images were projected onto them.

Next was an Entr’acte in which to the sound of amplified forest murmurs, mainly crickets chirping, some ninja or buraku puppeteers joined the hooded ones, one of whom was disrobed to reveal Kara Shay Thomson the protagonist of Erwartung. There was a speech bubble over her head and some very attractive images of trees and leaves by video artist Jennifer Steinkamp were projected.

Erwartung was the best known work on the program, but I don’t recall having heard it before. The score is rich and interesting and the mood similar to that of Verklärte Nacht. It concerns the varying emotions of a woman who searches for her lover and then stumbles across his dead body. It may be carping to say that it is now over 100 years old. It draws on Freud’s outmoded emotional world of hysteria and alienation, which led to a dead end. The less sophisticated passions of nineteenth century opera have survived better. Since I would have preferred to hear and concentrate on the music, I may not be the best judge of the production, which was a distraction to me. It was only partly descriptive. Some symbolism, which I did not unravel, may have been involved. For example, the lover, alive and dead was duplicated. One lover must have been a contortionist from the remarkable way in which he rose from the dead.

For me the highlight of the night was the final piece on the program Morton Feldman’s Neither. I only discovered Morton Feldman’s work a couple of years ago when I heard a performance of his Rothko Chapel in Melbourne. That is a remarkable piece but Neither even more so, if only because it is longer. The music is very difficult to describe; if I said it was translucent it would convey very little, but it the best word that comes to mind. In harmony with the text by Samuel Beckett, it seems to be going nowhere, hovering somewhere in space, until close to the end when it develops a sense of menace leading to the final words “unspeakable home”.

The collaboration between Feldman and Beckett must be the most unusual in opera: assuming Neither is, in fact, an opera. Beckett simply supplied the text. At the time he wrote it, it is said that he had heard none of Feldman’s music. Although Feldman began composing before he had received the text, the work is accordingly more like the setting of a poem than a collaboration between composer and librettist. Some of the text is sung in syllables very high in the soprano’s range, so that it is not intelligable as a text at all. At times the soprano has passages of pure vocalisation as well as the sung text. I have not found any comment by Beckett on the fate of his text. As he could be very particular with stage directions in his plays, it would be interesting to know if he approved of such a free treatment of his text in the completed work.

The soprano part was beautifully sung by Cyndia Sieden.

The setting was a bright space of changing colours with ( as well as the suspended man mentioned above ) many mirrored cubes which rose and fell. This was an effective visual expression of the whole piece, which might be called an inconclusive introspection.

Monodramas: New York City Opera, Friday 8 April 2011.

Saturday, 9 April 2011


If there is anything better than an exciting performance by a great string quartet it’s hearing them play from about five feet away. I had this wonderful opportunity at the concert given by the JACK Quartet - Ari Streisfeld and Christopher Otto, violins, John Pickford Richards, viola, and Kevin McFarland, cello, in the Greene Space at WQXR Thursday night.

Without the internet, which shows its value in all kinds of ways, it is unlikely that I would have heard of either the JACK Quartet or the Greene Space.

I only found out why the quartet is named JACK at the concert; but it is obvious enough and spelled out on the group’s website. JACK is an acronym made up from the players’ names: John, Ari, Chris and Kevin. The history of the name is more complicated. The players met and first played together as students at Eastman School of Music. Before they constituted themselves as JACK, they played a string quartet by Helmut Lachenmann: Grido, (scream in Italian), which is also an acronym for the then members of the Arditti Quartet, (including Australian violinist Graeme Jennings) for whom it was written. So they took the JACK acronym as their name.

The concert was presented by Bill McGlaughlin of WQXR who managed to be both unobtrusive and very knowledgeable in his explanations. Various radio announcers and lecturers I can think of would benefit from listening carefully to his work.

The first piece was Death Valley Junction by Missy Mazzoli, who was present and introduced the work, which is descriptive of a location of that name which Ms. Mazzoli happened upon during a car journey. The settlement comprised a restaurant, hotel and unexpectedly a theatre, Amargosa Opera House, where Marta Becket (b.1924), a dancer, performed ballet and mime. Death Valley Junction is an imaginative piece in the tradition of descriptive works like Small Town and Knoxville: Summer of 1915. It includes a passage inspired by the dancing of Marta Becket and ends with a memorable solo passage for the cello.

Mr. McGlaughlin asked the quartet to play the last 90 seconds of the work a second time. He mentioned that the conductor Lukas Foss often played new music twice when introducing it at a concert. I wish more performers would do this. Musicians who learn and play new music have a huge advantage over their audience. I often get no idea what a new work is about on one hearing and then it is gone forever. Sometimes, but not always, it’s possible to find a recording of the music but often there is none. The music must make some kind of impression to motivate the search – and, as with the piece by Xenakis which concluded this concert recordings can sometimes convey only a little of what is heard in performance.

Next, the quartet played violinist Ari Streisfeld's arrangements of three motets by Carlo Gesualdo (1566–1613).   Mr. McGlaughlin read the words for which the pieces were originally a setting before each was played, and at the conclusion asked the players to demonstrate some features of the arrangements which he said might be better described as orchestrations. There seems to be a new interest adaptations and arrangements of early music by contemporary composers, which brings welcome new light to the pre classical period. But Mr. McGlaughlin mentioned with approval a remark by Neville Marriner, assigning original instrument movement to a “brown sandals and granola” set. How any body who has heard the tone and colour of a good performances on original instruments could say this is beyond me.

The great highlight of the concert was the last work performed Tetras by Iannis Xenaxis (1922-2001). Thanks to the innovative programming of Roger Benedict, director of the Sydney Symphony’s fellowship program, I was not completely ignorant of Xenaxis’ music. Composers have now escaped the clutches of the serialist police and we can  listen to a great variety of interesting and involving new music. However, having learned that Xenakis used mathematical models including stochastic processes and other incomprehensible techniques in his work, I can’t help approaching him with fear and trepidation.

But this was swept away by hearing Tetras played with overwhelming energy and precision. Emerson like, Christopher Otto had replace Ari Streisfeld as first violin. The players almost shredded their bows, which were dripping with strands of hair at the end. No recording or hi fi system could reproduce the effect or of hearing this music seated five feet away from these outstanding musicians.

At the time of writing, this concert was available on streaming video at the WQXR website.

JACK quartet at The Greene Space WQXR, 7 April 2011.

Thursday, 7 April 2011


It was pouring with rain when I emerged from the subway at Houston Street; fortunately only a block from WQXR where I was headed for a free mid – day concert by members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. I had seen the Greene Space at WQXR on streaming video which, apart from giving an idea that the space is quite small, gave no real indication of what the venue was like. It is surrounded by windows onto the street so that passersby can look in.

There is no fixed seating: portable chairs surrounded the small stage, which was overlooked by a radio control room. It holds 200 – 250 people. The notices advising of maximum occupation over which things become illegal and unsafe mentioned two possible configurations. The space was full

Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor was played by Wu Han, piano; Arnaud Sussmann, violin; Lily Francis, viola and Nicholas Canellakis, cello. It was a lively and passionate performance. To my mind chamber music takes on extra excitement in a small space like this where I was very close to the musicians. Some of the texture that can be heard from strings is lost even in a small hall.

CMS of Lincoln Center at The Greene Space New York 6 April 2011