Stirring Performance by New York Polyphony

New York Polyphony’s concert “Faith and Reason” was all that we hoped for, and more!  Presenting them in Redford’s Church of the Assumption was spot-on.  The precious old stone church has cathedral-like resonance, and the voices rang out and floated in the air.  The vocal blend was miraculous, while each of the four singularly beautiful voices remained distinctive and strong throughout.  It is clear why New York Polyphony enjoys a reputation as one of the finest vocal chamber ensembles in the world.

The program’s juxtaposition of ancient music with contemporary composition was brilliant. Thomas Tallis’s 16th-century Mass for Four Voices was flanked by short works of Andrew Smith (b. 1970) and Gabriel Jackson (b. 1962), Kyrie and Ite Missa est, respectively, both composed especially for New York Polyphony. The second half was devoted to Gregory Brown’s Missa Charles Darwin, commissioned by New York Polyphony. Using the traditional structure of the Latin mass as framework, Brown set excerpts of Darwin’s writings. It is a very successful, thought-provoking work, not least because the texts, while beautiful and poetic in and of themselves, are very pertinent to our concerns today about the environment. The concert concluded with Three American Folk Hymns arranged by Gregory Brown.  We had a great turnout of 150 – ran out of programs and cookies;-)

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A Precious Gem on the Contemporary Chamber Music Scene

We were delighted to welcome Emerald Trio back for their second residency (the first having been in 2015, when they recorded Big Green Apple, their debut disc of all-new works composed especially for them, released last year to glowing reviews). This residency was all about breaking in a new pianist and work-shopping a new piece commissioned by Hill and Hollow Music for Emerald Trio. Composer-pianist James Sheppard wrote (pretty much on-site at Harvey House) a collection of five Adirondack-inspired miniatures that captured many moods and conjured many colorful images: “Adirondack Run,” “Saranac Shimmers,” “Alone Mountain,” “Farmers’ Duet,” and “Night Time Whiskey.” The premiere performance was enthusiastically received – the audience loved it!  We know that it will be programmed a lot on future Emerald Trio concerts.

Other works performed also deserve a mention. True to their mission, the Emeralds champion under-exposed worthy composers from the past. They played a beautiful suite by Mel (née Mélanie) Bonis (1858-1937), a little known contemporary of Ravel. A protégée of César Franck, Bonis published over 300 works as “Mel” Bonis because women composers were not taken seriously in that period.  The Trio also played works by T.O. Sterrett (b. 1953), Howard Cass (b. 1989), and Alessandro Annunziata (b. 1968), demonstrating their commitment to contemporary chamber music and building the repertoire for their ensemble’s instrumentation of flute, violin/viola, and piano.  It was a well-designed program, beautifully played, and thoroughly enjoyed!

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Extraordinary Young Talent: Meadowmount Students Enchant and Inspire

We were privileged to be host for an off-campus concert by advanced students of the renowned Meadowmount School of Music. The program began with Weilu Zhang playing two movements of the Sonata for Solo Violin in A minor, BWV 1003 by J.S. Bach.  Then followed the exquisite Ravel Trio in A Minor with Liam Kaplan, piano; Nanao Yamada, violin; and Jeremy Tai, cello.  After intermission Jeremy Tai performed a movement Kodaly’s wildly virtuosic Sonata for Solo Cello, Op. 8.  The concert’s glorious culmination was Schumann’s Quartet for Piano and Strings, Op. 47, with Matthew Harikian, piano; Weilu Zhang; violin; Aaron Rosengaus, viola; and Luiz Venturelli, cello.

Founded in the Adirondacks in 1944 by the legendary Russian violinist and pedagogue Ivan Galamian, the school soon became – and continues to be today – a pre-eminent summer program for young musicians training for a professional career in music. Meadowmount offers a bucolic environment with a balance between the enjoyment of nature and the pursuit of high art.  Individual instruction in the solo repertoire, participation in weekly master classes, guest artist master classes, and involvement in a chamber group coached by both the piano and string faculties provide for a tremendous amount of growth.   Alumni of Meadowmount have won every major competition worldwide, and are among the very best of international soloists and chamber musicians, concertmasters and principal players of the world’s leading orchestras, and the distinguished artist-teachers in every major university and conservatory.  Among hundreds of distinguished artists who attended Meadowmount in their youth are Joshua Bell, Lynn Harrell, Soovin Kim, Jaime Laredo, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Arnold Steinhardt, Pinchas Zuckerman.

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Mélange Extraordinaire: Jonathan Aceto and McLean Mix

Classical violinist Jonathan Aceto brought out his ZETA electric violin for a great turnout at Weatherwatch Farm.  He played two fascinating contemporary works for MIDI violin, background tape, and visuals: the hair-raising SAMPLER: Everything Goes When the Whistle Blows by Salvatore Martirano, inspired by the 1985 terrorist hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship; and the otherworldly Desert Voices by Priscilla McLean, with a slideshow of photos of the Sonoran Desert, where many of the sounds on the background tape were recorded. In between, an aural  “palate cleanser,” Jonathan played the “Sarabande” from J.S. Bach’s unaccompanied Suite No. 3 in C with Grand Canyon reverb.

But to get everyone primed for the concert beforehand, the McLeans had created an interactive installation that utilized world music, sounds of nature, intriguing experimental techniques, and projected images. Small groups of 3 to 5 entered into a darkened room to experience, create, and manipulate music and sounds. Later, to round out the evening was a screening of Rainforest Images II, the evocative music-video by Barton and Priscilla McLean based on their adventures in Borneo, Malaysia, and Costa Rica.  All the while there was plentiful eating and drinking – all good fun, punctuated with many beautiful, uplifting moments.

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Lise de la Salle, High Priestess of the Piano

The extraordinary French pianist Lise de la Salle offered “Bach Unlimited,” her current signature solo recital program, conceived as a profound and shining tribute to the timeless genius of J.S. Bach.  The concert begins with Bach’s Italian Concerto and moves through three centuries of great composers deeply inspired by Bach.  Anchors are Liszt’s Fantasy & Fugue on the Theme B-A-C-H and the Bach/Busoni Chaconne, interspersed with pithy shorter works: Roussel’s Prélude et Fugue, Poulenc’s Valse-improvisation sur le nom de B-A-C-H, Kempff’s arrangement of Bach’s Sicilienne in G Minor, and Liszt’s arrangement of Bach’s Prélude and Fugue in A Minor.  Lise’s friend, composer Thomas Enhco contributed three brief works inspired by Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

The outstanding performance demonstrated not only Lise’s powerful virtuosity, but also her extreme delicacy and touching devotion to this music.  She is capable of creating a tsunami of sound, yet courageous enough also to dare a barely heard pianississimo.  Not a single passage or note is trivial every scale, roulade, and arpeggio meaningful.  Multiple lines and fast passage work are heard with astonishing clarity, while arching melodies unfold with sublime spaciousness.  Lise de la Salle has it all, and the audience recognized it!

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3-Day Groove Fest at the Fire Hall with Tim Collins USA Jazz Group

From his now-home in Germany, vibes virtuoso Tim Collins coordinated the latest incarnation of his USA Jazz Group, with Robinson Morse on double bass and Gabe Jarrett on drums – both of Vermont – forming a rock-solid earthy and warm rhythm team.   As featured special artist on guitar and vocals (really smooth delivery on both) Davy Mooney blew in from the South, where he currently divides his time between New Orleans and Texas.

The quartet converged in Saranac for a run of three shows at the Fire Hall, which was transformed into a funky little jazz club such as might be found in Alphabet City in the East Village.   The guys did a mellow mix of standards and originals by Tim Collins and Davy Mooney, with periodic bursts of energy and fireworks – overall a perfect balance of cool and hot.  Goldilocks would say “just right.”  All shows were well attended; standing room only at both Saturday and Sunday shows.

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Rhythm Future Quartet Delights and Wows!

We are so happy the word got around and weather cooperated. The hall was full with well over 150, and many new faces in the audience, too.  How lucky we are to experience a live show by Rhythm Future Quartet at the zenith of their fame and popularity, which is sure to escalate even higher.  They played a couple of Django Reinhardt classics and some standards by Cole Porter and Oscar Pettiford, interspersed with originals from their recording Travels and their soon-to-be-released recording Rhythm Future Quartet and Friends. Each player contributed at least one original composition, underscoring an amazing level of talent and creativity in the ensemble. The audience roared with appreciation after every song and finally demanded an encore, which turned out to be a very cool cover of “Come Together” by the Beatles. Fabulous show!

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Lavrova-Primakov Piano Duo Astonishes and Entertains

The living room of Weatherwatch Farm was crammed full of keen listeners, many of whom had heard the Lavrova-Primakov Piano Duo before.  This was the Duo’s fourth visit (combination retreat and concert) and they presented yet another completely new and challenging program.  With each visit they grow their repertoire; by now it is extensive.  Their February 24 program included Danse macabre, Op. 40 of Saint-Saëns, Night on Bald Mountain of Modest Mussorgsky, Andante and Allegro Brillant, Op. 92 of Felix Mendelsson, and Blue Danube Fantasy of Greg Anderson.

photo by Jim Dawson

There is something charming and wonderful about the intimacy that a house concert offers, and folks seem willing to endure some discomfort.  All seats are not created equal!  We had a motley assortment of chairs – some rather rickety – dragged out from every corner of this rambling old house.  A few friends even sat on the stairs, but at least they were compensated by having a view down upon those glorious fingers going a mile a minute up and down the keyboard.  Natalia and Vassily played the difficult program beautifully with dazzling technical brilliance, eliciting a great many colors, myriad moods, and above all, intense drama. Everyone loved it!

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Heart- and Mind-Opening Music & Stories with Journey West

It was an incredibly moving weekend with the superb world music ensemble Journey West. Spending time together, learning about personal histories of band members from the Middle East, and experiencing their wonderful music was shocking, touching, and ultimately uplifting. Seven guys on violins, saxophone, clarinet, flute, penny whistle, mandolin, guitar, oud, bass, accordion, and all manner of percussion took the audience on an exotic voyage, performing music from the Middle East, Balkans, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and ultimately arriving in North America.  It was particularly meaningful, in that these concerts were for the benefit of Plattsburgh Cares, a nonprofit organization providing humanitarian aid for asylum seekers and refugees traveling through our community on their way to Canada, and UNHCN, the United Nations Refugee Fund. Two excellent concerts were well attended and $3000± was made for the good cause.

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Catharsis: Soovin Kim & Gloria Chien Violin-Piano Concert

Violinist Soovin Kim and pianist Gloria Chien gave an extraordinary duo recital on October 8.  Of course we knew this was going to be a wonderful concert, but it surpassed all expectations.  Those lucky enough to be present were witness to a perfect musical union of prodigious technique, profound intellect, deep wells of emotion, and the power to communicate.  Transcendent perfection.  It is mind-blowing to consider that mere humans, through art, can create and share such a euphoric experience.  Add to this the personal relationship, the long history of friendship in our community.  We feel an overwhelming deep happiness for Soovin that he has found an ideal partner in Gloria.  She is truly his musical and artistic match, and their deep love for the music and one another radiates from them.  The duo played Robert Schumann Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano in A minor, Op. 105; Charles Ives Sonata for Violin and Piano, No. 2; Richard Strauss Sonata for Violin and Piano in E-flat Major, Op. 18; and four short charming works by Fritz Kreisler.  The church was full – and the music and love soared to the heavens.

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