Ted Hearne‘s “Katrina Ballads” documents Hurricane Katrina with texts taken from newscasts and quotes, accompanied by video. We were lucky enough to experience this at (where else?) a super-packed LPR, where we stood for all 80 minutes of the show.
So much to love about this music. It was emotional without being sentimental. It was honest–text was quoted verbatim–however, the specific choices of quotes, and more importantly, the music, clearly expressed a point of view. (If you want to know what that is, you can pick up the record here.) The “Katrina Ballads” engages the listener in the turmoil that transpired as a result of Katrina, telling a story with so many nuanced emotions. Sadness and disappointment are expressed, as in ‘Ashley Nelson,’ performed by the sensual Rene Marie. Sarcastic moments include ‘Brownie, You’re Doing a Heck of a Job,’ sung by Hearne in bad-ass James Brown style, and Barbara’s Bush’s quote about everyone coming to Houston is sung in a saccharine-toned swinging, folksy tune. A series of video projections, created by Bill Morrison, was composed of Katrina footage and complimented the music exceptionally well. When a quote by a famous person was being sung, the actual footage of it being said would be projected, which was very effective in providing clarity.
The ensemble was excellent, handling the rhythmic complexity like a well-rehearsed band (this is a good thing: they felt the rhythm and truly knew the music, they weren’t just a tight shouldered ensemble following a score). All the singers gave beautiful performances, notably Isaiah Robinson in his solo of the ballad based on Kanye West stating that ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people.’ That boy can hit high notes like none other!
There are great performances to be seen everywhere…hell, we are in New York after all. But this wasn’t just good music or a good performance, it was moving. In his Times review, Kozinn wrote that ‘The contrast between the disc and the live performance was extraordinary: the fastidiously produced recording, though it delivered some of the work’s punch, left me cold. But the concert reading had a tough edge and a wildness of spirit that suited the music, and the subject.’ We have yet to hear the work outside the concert, but our opinion will probably remain the same, that the “Katrina Ballads” is the first meaningful piece of new music we’ve heard in a while and its honesty shines through. And it sounds really awesome.
Ted Hearne’s “Katrina Ballads” can be purchased on New Amsterdam’s website: https://www.newamsterdamrecords.com/#Album/Katrina_Ballads
Who: JACK Quartet
Where: The Stone
Wore: Black tank with cummerbund trim, vintage baby blue ruffled Versace skirt, white and silver wingtips
It was our first time at The Stone tonight, which we missed before we turned around and spotted the 2×8 inch window graphic on the door that marked its name. We were lucky our intern, Yoobin Whang, saved us a seat in what felt like a one hundred-degree room. (Remember form/FIGURE? If you weren’t there, it was super hot and packed in, much like this concert, except during the winter.) The seats were not only sold out, but the remainder of any available space was occupied as well: people who could not secure a seat stood in available spots to hear the JACK Quartet work their magic. For the Webern, the quartet asked that the AC be turned off ‘for just this piece.’ It was worth sitting through the heat: JACK performed the Webern with such precision and clarity in their ideas, creating an atmosphere that was almost palpable. Mad props to the door guy who turned the air back on as soon as the group relaxed to signal that it was okay to applaud now. The Hosokawa was beautiful, with colors that felt natural and organic (like Whole Foods! Sorry, that came to mind instantly. Next thought is the second floor of Fairway.) The group did justice to the luminous Glass String Quartet, providing excellent contrast between sections and emotions.
We regret that we didn’t snag the Xenakis CD that was for sale at the door! We’ll just have to get one here.
Is classical music really dead? Mark Morris doesn’t think so. In fact Mark is so crazy about classical music, that he started one of the only large dance companies in the U.S. that insists on bringing their own musicians on tour to perform with them live. Surely an expensive and risky endeavor, Mark has stated in many interviews that this is an essential element needed to make his works feel alive. This is just one of the many reasons why we at NCP love the Mark Morris Dance Group (http://markmorrisdancegroup.org/), and tonight was no exception…
Sitting down in the first ring of Daniel Koch Theatre at Lincoln Center for the Mostly Mozart Festival, my first thought was, “I’m so freakin’ tired. How am I ever going to sit through a two-hour Handel oratorio without passing out?” Little did we realize that we were in for an awesome sensory overload. It takes a special kind of artist to make a Handel Oratorio seem modern, but Mark Morris more than manages to do so with his choreographed work set to Handel’s “L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato.” Choreographed in 1988 and inspired by paintings by Blake, and poems by Milton, this work of art has many muses. However, its Mark’s vision of life, beauty, and fun that shine the brightest throughout this grand piece.
With fantastic pastel leos, tea-length dresses, and cut-off tops, this work reminds me one of giant human kaleidoscope circa 1988 (credit going to costume designer Christine Van Loon). With inter-changing colors and a series of frames for the set-design, the setting at times almost appears digital. The oratorio is comprised of four singers, a pit orchestra, and an outstanding choir. Having heard rumors that the Mostly Mozart Festival orchestral musicians were not always the tightest group, this was certainly not the case tonight. My personal favorite was the choir, and lyric soprano Lisa Saffer. Lisa’s crystal clear voice was the perfect imitation of a flute and a bird in the “Sweet Bird” section (that song is hard!).
There are supposedly 32 little stories within this work, but what I picked up on was Mark’s ability to translate the music into perfectly compatible physical movements. While this sounds like an easy thing to do, Mark demonstrates the breadth of this skills by playing with this concept throughout the work. In the one of the movements, the featured dancer is the perfect embodiment of a bird, with spirit fingers to match the tiniest trills in the flute and voice. Equally stunning were the representations of flocks of geese, where the company of dancers appeared at first to fly together, and then without warning the second half of the flock separates off and assumes flying another direction. Mark mimics the layers of music by adding lines and layers of dancers. The effect is something like swimming in a pool of colors. In another movement, Mark shows his silly side with gender-bending roles of women carrying men, and better yet bottom smacking circles of boys which I think was part of an Accompagnato (but I cant be sure because I was distracted by bum-smacking – plus it was dark in there!). Who doesn’t love a choreographer that can make you laugh and feel like you’re watching something profound at the same time?
In any case, this is the perfect work to introduce someone new to the Mark Morris Dance Group, or to make you fall back in love with his works. “L’Allegro, il Penseroso” is stellar on every level, with beautiful music, exciting choreography, and stunning visuals. This show will run tomorrow and Saturday night (August 5-7) at Lincoln Center, so if you have a chance…this is NCP tested, approved, and recommended.
If there was a list of classical musicians who’d be fun to dance with, Gil Shaham and Pablo Heras-Casado would make the top ten of that very selective and short list. At Tuesday night’s Mostly Mozart concert at Avery Fisher Hall, Heras-Casado led the very energetic and engaging Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra through a performance of Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto (1938) with the energy one would expect from a young conductor. His gestures were bouncy, animated, outwardly expressive–a perfect match to Shaham, who engaged the audience with his ultra-extroverted performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, K. 219. The second movement Adagio felt a bit rushed, as if to say, ‘Let’s get to the fun stuff again!’ And indeed, Shaham performed the third movement with playfulness and virtuosity of the first. We did not expect what came after the Mozart was finished…
Dubbed by Shaham a ‘Turkish-dance-not-by-Mozart,’ both Heras-Casado and Shaham just let it rip (we can just imagine Heras-Casado telling the orchestra, ‘I’m gonna to this stompy thang here and make my curls bounce, just go with it’). Complete with blue and bent notes, improvised-sounding phrases, and a driving rhythm, this music brought out laughs, and afterwards, a standing ovation, from the audience.
This audience clapped between every movement (who wouldn’t appreciate a little ‘Go you!’ during a performance? ). According to Allan Kozinn, this shows that ‘this was an easy crowd to please.’ At least we know that the seats were not filled by only music students and industry people. This also showed how little often people go to concerts at all. If this was someone’s first concert experience, it was a great one: Shaham and Heras-Casado, and the Mostly Mozart orchestra not only played, but performed, traditional repertoire with skill and emotion. This is the type of performance that would make people come back.
We left at intermission. The orchestra was to perform Beethoven’s Second Symphony, but we felt we got the meat of the program. Not to say that Beethoven is excess bun, but when you’ve heard several performances and recordings of something, sometimes you just want to go get a drink already. (We know, ‘But each performance is different!’ Okay.)
It seems the Mostly Mozart Festival really knows its audience, which seems to be one that does not listen to classical music regularly. This was a smartly programmed concert, with a non-stereotypical classical composer (people 99% of the time instantly think Beethoven or Mozart) alongside pieces to be found on ‘Mozart for Munchkins’ or ‘Beethoven at Brunch.’ That, plus the engaged performers, a conductor who is alive, and Shaham’s encore that showed classical music’s ability to be fun and trivial, contribute to this concert’s success. Heras-Casado+Shaham=a good time.
Join us for a performance of Messiaen’s historic two-piano work and CD party celebrating the release of Marilyn and Sarah’s VISIONS DE L’AMEN (Bridge 9324).
* Stereophile Magazine: ” … never on record with this sense of clarity, commitment and power. Both the performance and the recording are stunning.” — Daniel Buckley, Stereophile Magazine
* See what the New York Times has to say:
MARILYN NONKEN AND SARAH ROTHENBERG, PIANOS
OLIVIER MESSIAEN: VISIONS DE L’AMEN (1943)
(Le) Poisson Rouge
2 August 2010, 7 PM (Doors open at 6:30, no reserved seating)
Tickets $15 in advance/$20 at the door