International flavor with Czech tradition

SubCulture, the intimate downtown performance venue, has established itself as an outlet for world-class performances. They have programmed these performances in collaboration with the greater Institutions of the classical world like the 92Y, and the New York Philharmonic.

Yesterday’s evening with the Smetana Trio, jointly presented by SubCulture and the 92Y, brought musical mastery and international flavor to the local scene at Subculture, with their world-class representation of a wide variety of Czech composers.

The foremost Czech chamber ensemble, supported by the Czech Center New York, currently on cross-country tour, was founded in 1934 by the legendary Czech pianist Josef Páleníček.  The trio’s longstanding traditions were palpably present, showcasing each of the strong individualities of each performer: pianist Jitka Čechová, violinist Jiří Vodička and cellist Jan Páleníček.

Especially soulful in the second half of the program, the trio portrayed the work of its namesake, composer Bedřich Smetana’s Piano Trio in G minor, Op.15, with all its characteristics of hauntingly beautiful melodies, halting rhythmic climaxes and propelling drama.

While it always seems difficult to establish a specifically national idiom within the abstract realms of musical language, the trio’s intention to familiarize its intimately addressable audience with works bearing its own national cultural flavor, seemed convincing.

The program included works by composers as varied as Josef Suk, Bohuslav Martinů and a New York premiere by Roman Haas.  Amazingly, one felt something overall connected in the music. Perhaps it’s a bit of a cliché in our times of leveling all and equalizing ideals, but it was invigorating to acknowledge that – like in a Milan Kundera novel – different heritages bring different characteristics to art’s exploration of the great themes of existence.

Pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine – modernist Cuban idiom and Russian virtuosity in New York

“It is that level of greatness that is intoxicating, connecting with great art and with the meaning behind it all…rarely achieved, but always strived for. It is that energy, which comes from the music itself, these sounds that embody a message…as a performer you are in the ocean, with the movement of the music, and when the wave rises – and you catch it – it raises you – and your audience. It’s magic, and all about that energy that is in the sound, just like ultrasound has the power to heal; music can change everything on a molecular level. But on stage you are in the moment, you can never play the same exact way again, but you have that energy and what you do with it – like in real life – is up to you in that instant.”

Sivan Magen – fresh sounding promise of David’s harp

While there are an astounding number of harpists around, who, as Sivan shares, are flocking somewhat regularly (every three years) to worldwide harp conventions by the hundreds, a harp performance these days, whether solo or in a chamber music setting, is still quite the rarity.

Pianist Lily Maisky and Cellist Mischa Maisky – musicality in the genes

“It is important to know one’s strength and weaknesses and I feel I have the gift to listen to others and have the flexibility to adept to different styles and performance situations and I find the dialogue on stage utmost exciting. Every chamber music partner has the potential to inspire a different kind of collaboration and to explore and present the repertoire in a different way,” she explains.

Donal Fox – Playing With the Classical Imperative

Donal sees improvisation in the foreground of the creative process. “The more I read about the history, it was clear to me that improvising was part of what a great musician had to do. Mozart was improvising. Beethoven was improvising! He may have written the score down later on for his great patrons or the publisher, but his composition process is based on improvisation, and this is the real genesis of creativity,” he explains in our meeting on the eve of his recent Jazz at Lincoln Center duo performance with the virtuosic vibraphonist Warren Wolf. “Whether it is the great classics, or whether it’s jazz, they come from the same creative place. In most classical music, the melody and harmonic structure dominate, while the rhythm comes more to the forefront in jazz. Many classical composers, for example Stravinsky, have been influenced by jazz, the musical language that is the African-American cultural language of the melting pot fusion, and,” he continues, “that reminds me of something: a very young Mick Jagger said on a talk show interview, before he became Mr. Rolling Stones: ‘I am really trying to be James Brown – this is how it comes out.’” Fox says, endearingly: “In this sense, I am trying to improvise like Beethoven – what comes out is Fox.”

Pianist Roman Rabinovich – balance of mind, hands, and heart

There is darkness, and then the evocative, abstract sound of a narrative piano and cello piece setting the tone and interacting with the screen’s wide-angle focus on New York City by night. The camera zooms in on a young painter, wrestling with artistic perfection in differently crafted self-portraits. Reality, vision, and self-doubt infuse the main [...]

Thriving on the efforts of its musical community: the Manchester Music Festival

When recently taking over the chair of the artistic committee, Telscher followed Mary Miller, whose own pianistic background and passionate engagement for the festival made her an advocate for finding and bringing great pianists to the festival. Says Telscher,”I had big shoes to fill, Mary did a fantastic job! The biggest challenge is that the costs of presenting can never be fully paid through ticket sales alone, and people have to understand that we have to pay living wages for the artists, which don’t just cover the performances, but endless hours of preparation.”

Making of a Modern Musician

“Due to the shrinking market for traditional classical music, its “graying” audience and overall lack of funding for costly productions, the generation of the great impresarios and dedicated press coverage has vanished. Because of all this, the solo-piano virtuoso is all but dead,” she commented. “However,” she continued, “where there is crisis – there is opportunity.”

Mostly Martha – The Progetto Martha Argerich in Lugano

“Martha needs to play concerts, at least a good amount of them; she can never be without music,” says Piccardi, who seems to know this from a place in his heart that understands her. He adds: “chamber music is like a life elixir for her,” and when one sees her in action, one has to believe him. Her playing has remains unchanged: her tone is natural, highly imaginative, and brilliant, and it is exciting to watch her pour all of herself into the piano.

Adrienne Haan – channels dynamite energy and freethinking zest into Cabaret and American Art Song

“Within those melodies and lyrics lays the sort of dark humor that enabled people to assimilate the pain caused by war, loss and death, but also share the humor, joy and sorrow of emotions expressed in love and human relationships.”