Category Archives: Concert Reviews

Tod und Verklärung: The Aeolus Quartet Plays New York

Alice Tully Hall; Monday, May 4, 2015

BOYCE Alcyone (World Premiere)

SCHOENBERG Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) for String Sextet

SCHUBERT String Quartet No. 14, “Death and the Maiden”

We purchase and consume our music in the smallest of units, the “song.” What does it mean, then, to develop four of these “songs” together, or even to develop an entire concert built around the same theme?

The Aeolus Quartet presented three programmatic works this month under the theme of “Death and Transfiguration.” While the title itself (an homage to Richard Strauss) was perhaps a bit of a cliché, the three works together formed a well-balanced program; each of the three works had a strict (or loose) association with transformation.

The first piece retold the Greek myth of Alcyone, a commission by Douglas BoyceAlcyone‘s timbral effects captured the scratching and the swooping of the birds and the waves, a piece that was in constant motion from beginning to end.

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“Bach and Before, Ives and After”–Life Magazine (1949) defines highbrow taste

The Amor Artis Chorus and Orchestra

Chiaroscuro: Songs of Savonarola

April 17, 2015 at 8:00 PM

Ryan James Brandau, conductor

Holly Druckman, assistant conductor

St. Michael’s Church, New York City

There’s always been a deep and abiding connection between the motets of the sixteenth century and the newer serial music of the twentieth. Perhaps both periods rested at the cusp of great change, when composers faced new problems amid the respective rise and fall of tonality. But on a more emotional level, both musics are unafraid to channel the infernal–an apocalyptic musical language that had once existed in the sixteenth century, then rested inert for centuries until it was rediscovered at the twilight of the romantic era.

Amor Artis, led by conductor Ryan James Brandau, linked the past and the present through a series of carefully chosen motets. The songs either recited from or echoed the ecclesiastical texts of Giromalo Savonarola, a fearsome heretic whose apocalyptic sermons called for a restoration of Christian morality in a city driven mad by hedonistic fascination with pagan Rome. Savonarola briefly wrested Florence from the Medicis before the art-burning friar himself was hanged and burned in the Piazza della Signoria. (The program simplifies Savonarola as just another wronged martyr of the corrupt Papacy, though Savonarola’s supposed ‘martyrdom’ is hardly the most meaningful event through which one can understand the friar’s contentious history.) Continue reading

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Masterwork: Aeolus Quartet Plays Bartók 6

Hungarian militiamen parade alongside a German tank in Budapest, 1944. Source: Wikimedia

Hungarian militiamen parade alongside a German tank in Budapest, 1944. Source: Wikimedia

MASTERWORK: The Aeolus Quartet Performs Bartók’s 6th String Quartet Thursday, April 16, 2015 Bruno Walter Auditorium, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center

Quartets by Haydn or Mozart are straightforward affairs.These works can be difficult to play and interpret, but at least we know both the composers and the musical tradition that they represent. Move even a bit east of Vienna, though, and the familiar rhythms of the West become choppy and asymmetrical, strange Magyar harmonies matched with even stranger accents and beats. The Aeolus Quartet (currently in residence at Juilliard) discussed their own struggles with the Hungarian tradition in Bartók’s melancholy Quartet No. 6 this past Thursday at Lincoln Center’s Public Library for the Performing Arts. Inspired by a performance in Cleveland that matched Bartók chamber works with songs by a Hungarian folk ensemble, the Aeolus Quartet emphasized the dissonant elements–quarter-tones, Bartók pizzicatti, and quasi chitarra plucking–that distinguish Bartók from his blue-blooded Viennese contemporaries.  Continue reading


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Balm for the Broken: Rachael Yamagata at Lincoln Hall

Rachael Yamagata, The Dove & Wolf, Hemming

Lincoln Hall

Concert date: Oct. 10, 2014

On the ten-year anniversary of her first album, Happenstance, singer-songwriter Rachael Yamagata proves that she still retains her trademark grit and soulfulness. Since she made a name for herself a decade ago on the alternative-rock scene with Happenstance, Yamagata has recorded two other studio albums and several EPs. Despite her growing fame in the last ten years, Yamagata continues to embrace the raw edginess that her contemporaries (think Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson) shed during their metamorphoses into queens of pop.

On Friday, October 10th, Rachael Yamagata performed a sold-out show at Lincoln Hall. Returning to Chicago, where she had—according to her Twitter—lived in nine different apartments, Yamagata was charismatic and at ease on stage. She opened with a new song, “Over,” which she jokingly remarked needed to be renamed as it could be easily confused with her 2008 single, “Over and Over.” The number showcased her sultry vocals and trademark balm-for-the-broken lyrics.

Another new song she performed, temporarily entitled “Tightrope Walker” and less aesthetically familiar than “Over,” was inspired by the remarkable balancing act she witnessed in a tightrope walker. She revealed that the combination of tension and ease, strength and powerlessness in such a performer reflected the struggles she faced in her life and career.

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Review: Juilliard415 Plays Beethoven

Peter Jay Sharp Theater; Sunday, January 18, 2015 at 5 p.m.

Monica Huggett, violin and director; Chloe Fedor, violin

All-Beethoven Program:

BEETHOVEN Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus, Op. 43
BEETHOVEN Romance No. 2 in F Major
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 4

Juilliard415 hurtled out of its Baroque sanctuary to present an all-Beethoven program from the early 19th century, which featured a whole new menagerie of instruments for the period ensemble. The violins may have looked more modern than medieval, but the performance as a whole sounded quite different from the anodyne Beethoven that rides the airwaves today.

The group performs differently with each piece of music, and can be followed best through its bows. Juilliard415’s October production of Zelenka’s “Missa Dei Patris” with the Yale Schola Cantorum featured bows only a bit more evolved than the top example in the picture below. (They really did look like archery bows, too–at least back then).


Photo: Oliver Webber,

The Beethoven bows were like the one in the middle of the photo above, some time after François-Xavier Tourte’s revolutionary new design hit the market. These new bows projected more to fill the bigger concert halls of Tourte’s day, and actually bent backwards rather than forwards to increase the surface tension of the horsehair. The final bow, with an even more pronounced bend, is what a violinist uses today.

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