3 Fall 2015 Weekend Concerts – Reviewed by Leonard Lehrman

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October 9, 2015 by Admin

For months we’d been planning our Boston trip Oct. 2-4, 2015 to see friends and commemorate the 75th anniversary of Harvard Radio WHRB where I’d been Chief Producer in 1968-70.  But at a rehearsal Tuesday night, Sep. 29, it was discovered that due to miscommunication my score had never been sent to the performers slated to play a piece of mine in Garden City, Long Island Saturday night, and the piece would have to be cancelled unless I conducted it.  So we cancelled Boston and stayed home, enjoying three concerts we’d have otherwise been out of town for.

First was the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center’s newly re-named David Geffen Hall, Thursday, October 1, premiering Marc Neikrug’s Canta-Concerto with soloist Sasha Cooke, sandwiched in between Johannes Brahms’s “Tragic” Overture and his Piano Concerto #2 with pianist Emanuel Ax.  In remarks before the premiere, Alan Gilbert made a lame pun about concerti which he would love to but “can’t-uh” play.  Even worse, though, was composer Neikrug denigrating the one piece in the literature which preceded his effort: Reinhold Glière’s ravishing Concerto for Voice, op. 82, from 1943.  (“Since he’s dead, I can say it’s not very good.”)  There are many beautiful recordings of that piece, dating back to the Soviet era, though the best is probably Anna Netrebko’s–unfortunately of just the first of the two movements on YouTube, recorded in concert with Valery Gergiev at the Maryinsky in 2003.

Neikrug’s voice concerto is for mezzo, and in four movements, following the tempo pattern of moderate-fast-slow-fast mirroring that of the Brahms Second Concerto; it thus made sense to program that work on the second half.  The new piece does not limit itself to “ah”s in the manner of Glière or Sergei Rachmaninoff in his haunting Vocalise of 1915.  (Watch Kiri Te Kanawa sing that on YouTube.)  Rather the American composer chose to set syllables like “Mayana” in the first movement and “badupeh” in the jazzy finale.  Gilbert dubbed it “proto-language,” but was corrected by the composer who accurately labeled it “very much nonsense.”  Still, the middle movements, with their wailing and varied percussion and Mahlerian/Bergian brooding, bade one take them seriously. Though unlikely to become a repertory item like the Glière or the Rachmaninoff, the piece, the composer, and the capable vocal interpreter all certainly merit respect.

Emanuel Ax

The Brahms Concerto, on the other hand, one of the great symphonies for piano and orchestra, will always be in the repertoire.  The main theme from the slow movement is echoed in Leonard Bernstein’s Ohio from Wonderful Town (as well as Just a Little Favor from my Superspy!see http://youtu.be/PSagHfVYi_k) as is the lyric theme from the last movement in “The Sweetest Sounds” from Richard Rodgers’ No Strings.  My piano teacher Olga Heifetz always wanted me to play it – esp. after she came home from a performance that frustrated her, sat down at the piano and tore through it, in the process tearing a ligament that put her left arm in a cast for weeks!  Brahms has always been one of my favorite composers, and we recently posted a whole recital of his music at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLmhHI8m9j-XvGN9HyftjWLroYirOsxSPs, but the leggiero double-thirds in the last movement of this concerto have always defeated me. Ax delivered them impeccably, in a reading that while not extremely passionate was scrupulously accurate (I followed the score), adding only an extraneous roll to two chords in movement 2.

Saturday, October 3, at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, the Long Island Composers Alliance (founded 1972) presented its second concert with woodwind quintet on an astronomy theme, with “live planetarium shows projected on the state of the art JetBlue Sky Theater Planetarium.”  The first one, two years ago at the Vanderbilt Planetarium in Centerport, opened and closed with works by Vincent Persichetti and Gary Schocker, sandwiching pieces by 8 Long Island composers: Herbert Deutsch, Jane Leslie, Julie Mandel, George Cork Maul, Dana Richardson, Marga Richter, concert manager Laurence Dresner, and this writer.  The composers on this year’s program included 7 of the previous 8, plus a new concert manager: Murray Cohen.  The performers (Ray Furuta, flute; Terry Keevil, oboe; David Gazaille, clarinet; Amr Selim, horn; Jessica Kunttu, bassoon) were all excellent. Jane Leslie and I conducted our pieces, as did Cork Maul, from his synthesizer. Percussionist Chris Graham participated as conductor in the Richter and on marimba in a number of the other pieces. Herb Deutsch quasi-apologized for not actually having written a piece, and concluded the program with an improvisation involving theremin, Moog, Korg, and an echo chamber that fell over and became inoperative halfway through. Still, his demonstration of those instruments, including the random “arpeggiator,” to interested audience members, after the concert, more than redeemed him. The programme did not list the names of the video artists, nor bios of any of the composers, misspelling the names of three of them. And an authorized mix of sound and video for home consumption will not be forthcoming for some time, if ever. Helene Williams, however, managed to video the introductions to and performances of works by a number of the composers who expressed satisfaction with them. Two of them are posted here:

Moon Intro – https://youtu.be/tCAHY3FHjT8

Leonard Lehrman: The Waning Moon

Star Clusters Intro – https://youtu.be/qxp0kDOzFVM

Julie Mandel: Star Clusters

Visit Long Island Composers Alliance at http://www.licamusic.org/.

Sunday, Oct. 4 was the Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall debut of Russian soprano Anastasiya Roytman, not, oddly, in Russian repertoire, but in two of the great Romantic German cycles: Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and Mahler’s Rückert Lieder, accompanied by pianist Abdiel Vazquez, who added a few tremolos not in the original Wagner piano part, and also soloed in a piano arrangement of the final Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.  Clarinetist Julian Milkis joined them in two trios in English by Alexey Shor and four “Laughs Only” by Stefania de Kenessey, revised for this occasion with clarinet replacing violin.  It would have been nice to have had the English texts along with the translations of the German ones, but even without them, the seductiveness of the Shor was apparent, and amusing, as the tall Roytman towered over the short Milkis.  The trio indulged themselves rapturously and scattingly in an encore of Gershwin’s Summertime.  Roytman’s vocal range is prodigious, but her voice is best supported in the middle. She sang difficult music from operas by Jerrold Morgulas, both in Moscow and as part of my lecture on Musical Dybbuks this past Spring.

We look forward to hearing her sing the US premiere of my setting of Pushkin’s Winter Morning at Queens College November 22nd.


Leonard Lehrman  will conduct his Metropolitan Philharmonic Chorus in Songs of Conscience concerts at Long Island’s Freeport Memorial Library Oct. 18 and Bryant Library in Roslyn Nov. 1, featuring premieres of works by Herbert Rothgarber, Thomas Smith, and Marc Blitzstein, and songs by Earl Robinson, Elie Siegmeister, and Leonard Lehrman, along with excerpts from Alexander Dargomyzhsky’s opera Rusalka in its English translation by Emily & Leonard Lehrman. The entire opera will receive its English-language premiere Nov. 22 in the Choral Room at Queens College.

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