Something electrifying was in the air at the slightly overheated underground space at SubCulture on January 13th. The audience was brimming with press, concert-organizers, and artists, including the New York Philharmonic’s Maestro Alan Gilbert and Artistic Director of the 92nd Street Y Hanna Arie-Gaifman, co-producers of the contemporary music concert series CONTACT! at SubCulture. Having only opened a couple of months ago, the venue, co-owned by Steve and Marc Kaplan, buzzed tangibly with excitement.
And rightfully so; with the participation of stellar pianist Yefim Bronfman, this season’s Philharmonic’s Mary and James G.Wallach Artist-in-Residence program, and members of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, notable interest in the evening’s program and its sound musicianship was as good as guaranteed.
The evening’s performance of three 20-minute works by contemporary composers was emceed by Marc Neikrug, the composer of the first presented work entitled Passions, Reflected for Solo Piano, which was written 2008. Passions received its (somewhat delayed) world premiere at this event, performed by Mr. Bronfman at the piano with his full gusto and profound, virtuosic artistry he is widely cherished for. He perceptibly managed to bring out the vastly diverse characteristics of each of the twelve small abstract episodes comprising the work, while still giving it enough balance to exist as a whole, greater than its sum of its parts. The coherence of the work’s partitions was pointed out by the composer as one of the important aspects of the piece, having been inspired by similar composite cycles found in works like Schumann’s Kreisleriana with segments that – unlike Chopin’s Etudes or Debussy Préludes, which could stand on their own – cannot be separated from each other in performance. Mr. Neikrug, longime collaborative partner of violinist Pinchas Zuckerman, has composed Passions, Reflected for Solo Piano specifically for Mr. Bronfman.
An artist of the highest integrity, Mr. Bronfman has recently stated in an interview with Zinta Lundborg:”..I like to be able to get into the composer’smind as much as I can in every way possible. I don’t like eccentricity…it’s not interesting,” an ambition, he clearly mastered in his performance.
After the bombastic finale of the unnerving, escalating runs of the piece, which left Bronfman as well as the audience a bit breathless, the performer spontaneously loosened up the somewhat muffled atmosphere amongst the audience members with a humorous remark on the fact that the venue’s bar was regrettably closed during performance, hinting at the idea that it’s ok to integrate art and entertainment. Until now, there has been an air of ambivalence surrounding the move to assimilate high-caliber artistic presentations into fashionably popular and intimate venues like Subculture, but it seems that lately, that ambivalent attitude has given way to the alluring prospect of formulating alternative communal experiences in these venues. It certainly doesn’t hurt that audiences appear to be attracted to new artistic experiences outside that of the traditional concert hall: a marketable factor that remains rather significant for smaller productions, which now have institutions like the New York Phil and the 92nd Street Y paying attention, despite the sizeable limitation in ticket sales compared to their home venues.
Both institutions’ involvement with this performance of this season’s Contact! at Subculture series sold out the event’s 120-person space. Funding was helped by generous support of private benefactors Linda and Stewart Nelson.
With Mr. Bronfman, this season’s artist-in-residence at the New York Philharmonic, the production gained a most significant impetus in that he not only has the personality and the knack for thinking ‘outside of the box,’ as his pianistic stunt to benefit New York’s Food Bank at Grand Central Terminal proved in 2007. Already for quite some years now, Mr. Bronfman, world-renowned for his big concert stage performances with an emphasis on esteemed romantic masterworks, has increasingly devoted his attention to contemporary works and for that has been extensively lauded by Neikrug.
Poul Ruders’ String Quartet No.4 had been performed previously at a private event at the Morgan Library in 2013, but here for the first time publicly, in New York. The work constitutes the first composition for String Quartet within his large oeuvre. It was performed admirably by New York Philharmonic violinists Fiona Simon and Sharon Yamada, violist Robert Reinhardt, and cellist Eileen Moon. The composer himself had pointed out in the program notes: “…it is in five movements and is about nothing but itself.” It was one of the works co-commissioned in 2013 by the Royal Philharmonic Society and the Britten-Pears Foundation in honor of Benjamin Britten’s centennial.
For his second performance of the evening, Mr. Bronfman shared the bill with two other, eloquent members of the New York Philharmonic, violinist Qaun Ge and cellist Maria Kitsopoulus, in sparkling interaction. The three performed Trio No. 1 for Violin, Cello and Piano by French composer Marc-André Dalbavie, leaving the audience perhaps not with the most memorable work of the evening, but with the most optimistic and elated outlook. This work, premiered by Mr. Bronfman in 2008 at Carnegie Hall, builds on an intriguing simplicity of musical motives, most perceptibly its scale patterns, which build intensely in momentum during the course of the single movement work. This is the second performance of the composers work by the Philharmonic, whose work Melodia was commissioned for CONTACT!’s inaugural program in 2009.
Not surprisingly, audience members congregated around the bar area after the show, up-close and personal, to congratulate the artists, who were happy to interact without the usually necessary Green Room list.