The desert blooms in wondrous ways with all manner of flora and fauna in Momix’ Opus Cactus, conceived by Moses Pendleton. The company members, self-described as “illusionists” are as athletic as Olympians. During the performance they appear as giant saguaros, tumbleweeds, fire dancers and a four-person, slithering Gila monster, with all these figures emerging from an ingenious use of costumes, lighting, and the human body. Mostly it’s about the suppleness of the dancers (though some argue that this isn’t exactly dance) and their staggering physicality. Very creative costumes and lighting also contribute.
Amy E. Gustafson, an Important New Pianist, at Florence Gould Hall, Playing an Exceptional 9-foot Yamaha
One of the gratifying trends in recent piano recitals has been the interest in Debussy’s most ambitious piano compositions, above all Book II of his Préludes. In the past few years I’ve reviewed penetrating, deeply considered realizations of these subtle and complex sound-poems by Ian Hobson and Stephen Porter, which were among the most significant piano recitals I heard at the time. Marc-André Hamelin also included a characteristically brilliant and subtlety tinted and shaded reading of Images, Book I. It was a rich season for Debussy.
I don’t know how many in the audience had ever heard anything like it, a symphony dragging itself to a conclusion like a wounded beast over shrieking strings, bass drum rolls gone mad, brass, cymbals and tam tam flashing like jaws and teeth. And then, there was that set of hall-flattening final chords, like crates dropped on the stage, followed by silence for five seconds, broken only by a quiet “Jesus!” under someone’s breath. Welcome to the Rachmaninoff First Symphony!
As well-written program notes remind us here, Georges Bizet was an unlucky man. Chain-smoking killed him at 36. He died thinking Carmen a failure. And his Symphony in C went unknown and unheard until Felix Weingartner unearthed it eighty years later at a 1935 concert in Basel. None of this gets in the way of the fact that the piece is memorable from beginning to end, even if similarities to Gounod’s symphony are a bit on the suspicious side. Bizet’s own symphonic effort was catalysed by the experience of transcribing Gounod’s work for two pianos. At times one can hardly tell the two pieces apart.
The thirty-sixth celebration of Bloomsday at Symphony Space, originally conceived by SS ‘s late founder, Isaiah Sheffer, was a fitting tribute to Ulysses and its author, James Joyce. With a projection of Joyce’s face looking down on either side of the stage, the audience reveled in panel discussions; music including a beautiful rendition of Love’s Old Sweet Song, as discussed by Molly Bloom in the book and a “Whirlwind Tour through all 18 Episodes.” This Joyce fest offered something for even the most die-hard fan.
ome months ago New Yorkers enjoyed an opportunity to hear a gifted young American pianist, Thomas Nickell play Mozart’s Concerto in A Major, K. 414 and a new concerto by a living English composer, David Matthews, supported by a splendid chamber orchestra in the best English tradition, The Orchestra of the Swan, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, conducted by its founder, David Curtis. They received an especially warm response from their sold-out hall, and they have every reason to come back. This will occur in early June 2018. Meanwhile you can listen to David Curtis talk about chamber orchestras, The Orchestra of the Swan in particular, and English music, which, I believe has been rather neglected on these shores in recent years.
I was tempted to preface this review of this rarely performed oratorio by Sir Edward Elgar with a harangue about the neglect of British music in this country, but I was pleasantly surprised to look over the upcoming Tanglewood schedule, and to find that British music and Sir Edward will be rather well served this summer