January 2013

In the stillness of the night: The music of Jürg Frey at Willow Place Auditorium

The atmosphere of the venue complemented the music, the cold air and plain white walls serving as an appropriate backdrop for Frey’s quiescent works. Music like this is of course best heard with as little ambient noise as possible. Nonetheless, the music often seamlessly assimilated the inevitable noise which abounds in NYC. The sounds of traffic, a mysterious stomping noise, voices from people passing in the street, were in this performance all wrapped into the texture of the music, not necessarily feeling intrusive…

Amber Youell of Morningside Opera

Amber Youell of Morningside Opera

New York City is full of surprises, like the event I attended last Saturday afternoon at Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village. I always know to expect a good show from Morningside Opera, but I had no idea how entertaining a lecture recital on the history of the art form could be.

MO company member Amber Youell (who recently received her PhD in musicology from Columbia University) schooled us with a slide show and recruited fellow MO members Brittany Palmer, Michael Shaw, and Brett Umlauf to sing some fantastic musical examples.

Some highlights for me included Amber’s comparisons of the various eras of opera to modern day cultural phenomena: Opera Seria was compared to the superhero genre (think castrati, whose, er, natural state had been altered to secure phenomenally powerful voices), Opera Buffa was compared to the sitcom (Seinfeld), and the 19th century to sweeping epic films (LOTR).

Amber also pointed out that, until Wagner came on the scene, going to an opera was quite a different experience than it is today. There was a much more relaxed atmosphere during the performance (her analogy was to a ball game), with people eating and even chatting during the less eventful stretches of music, and paying closer attention during the vocal gymnastics of the arias. What struck me when she said this was how much her lecture recital resembled parts of this description. Throughout the lecture, even during the singing, people were being served brunch, drinking wine and coffee, and exuberantly reacting to what was happening on the stage.

Check out my first review on bachtrack!

Dutch composer Simeon ten Holt passed away last November, and groups all over have been honoring his memory by performing what is perhaps his most well known composition, Canto Ostinato. Composed of repeating musical cells, the piece is of an indeterminate length (anywhere from one to four hours depending on how many times the performers decide to repeat the cells), and is written for the unusual combination of six keyboard instruments…