Thursday night, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra put on a concert of works by Astor Piazzolla, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, and Manuel de Falla. They added also an opening work titled "Fanfare to Flora," to celebrate the life and music of Eastman School of Music Dean Douglas Lowry, who died earlier this month.
The headline work may have been Copland's Suite from Appalachian Spring, but the star performance came from Juliana Athayde, violin, for Piazzolla's "Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas" ("The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires"), arranged by Leonid Desyatnikov.
How often do we see a composer's name followed by "arr." for "arranged by?" Often enough that I have a running question in my head asking, "Just how much 'arranged by?'" According to the program notes, while each one of the four pieces was written by Piazzolla, an Argentinean, it was Russian composer Desyatnikov who posthumously unified them into "The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires" and wrote the playful variations on Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" into each season. Athayde and the RPO not only perfectly timed and phrased these little joking references to Vivaldi, but also revealed with sparkle in their eyes, looking straight at the audience, what I have often heard to be the musicians' own witty personalities.
Athayde, first violin of the RPO, grew up in a family steeped in classical and jazz, and her RPO profile says her iPod ranges from Bach to Bartók to Ellington and Coltrane. There simply is no appropriately classical way to describe Athayde's performance last night. It has to be said: Athayde brought her game. Athayde was in her element, intimately surrounded by 23 stringed instruments of the RPO, and Rachleff brought the same sensitivity he previously gave to guest violinist Augustin Hadelich at the RPO in 2010.
The Barber piece was the Overture to School for Scandal, Op. 5, which was nicely done. The RPO string section is particularly adept at works of this composer and style.
However, I wasn't sold on the Copland. It is a well-known and often-played piece, which creates a challenge in and of itself. One particular point was the rounds of the Shaker "Simple Gifts." I was looking for an execution that would peal the bells of country churches across a New England landscape, but it came across as a bit monochromatic. The performance didn't quite catch the mood of which this work is capable.
[Editor's Note: Due to unforeseen circumstances the critic had to leave the concert prior to the performance of the Falla piece.]
The RPO will repeat the program Saturday, October 26, at 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St. Tickets cost $15-$82. For more information call 454-2100 or visit www.RPO.org.
Ed Roland's Sweet Tea Project rolled into town Tuesday, October 15, not to steep, not to brew, not to percolate, but to rock the joint like a diesel-powered Dixie-fied deep fryer. The man's music is instantly recognizable, thanks to seven No. 1 hits and more than 10 million albums sold worldwide with his band, Collective Soul -- and so is his voice. What's new and not something you would necessarily pin on Roland is the instrumentation behind Sweet Tea Project's sound. It's pure Americana; not too honky, not too tonky, with just the right amount of dirt, dust, and twang. You can thank the exquisite application of lap steel and the banjo, an instrument which admittedly isn't often known for its exquisite application.
The band filled the newly revamped Richmond's to the walls on Tuesday. It was hot and sticky, sweet and sweaty as the steam heat from the eager bodies shoe-horned in to dig the scene, mingled with that of the fry cook cranking out those hot wings. The band plowed through material off its debut "Devils 'n' Darlins" with a Man in Black detour and a Collective Soul encore. The five-piece band seemed right at home playing authentic barroom rock 'n' roll in an actual beer joint, with the crowd piled in almost nose to nose with the band. We'll be talking about this one for a while. What a great show.
Is it adios to Audio Influx? With the exit of key members Chris "Hollywood" English and MDot Coop, you've got to wonder. But everyone in the band's camp says no. A new drummer has already been rehearsing with the remaining players. Now I'm not saying the band should hang it up, but those are some big shoes to fill. Anyhow, it was a farewell gig of sorts at a packed Dinosaur Friday night, where the band jammed its hip-hop-soul for the kids. The band was incredibly tight with a soulful vocal tag team attack over its thick groove 'n' grind.
Slid over to Richmond's once again for North Carolina hard-rockers Blanco Diablo. This band is loud with a borderline ferocity that threatened to blow the lid off the joint. Digging this band in this size joint was like watching a Panzer park in a phone booth. I'd seen the trio once before and it seems like it has moved in a slightly more metal direction, at least in its guitar attack. Ain't nothin' wrong with that.
Here's the thing about classical music: whether or not it features your favorite composer, a live performance of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra is always worth the ticket price. Hidgon -- who is that? Bartók -- inaccessible? Brahms -- a bit melancholy? And, who is guest conductor Bernhard Gueller? My response is simple: get yourself to Saturday night's repeat concert and all your questions will be answered.
Let me start with the question you didn't ask, which is: How was pianist Jonathan Biss on Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15. Biss played as if he had four hands, equally capable of featuring an SATB line. Pianists refer to this as "voicing," and it's the idea that every note has its place relative to the melody, which is generally found in the high notes of the right hand. Arguably, every concert pianist should be able to at least voice the melody and the bass line running in the lower notes of the left hand. In truth, it isn't a simple skill and many a pianist falls down on just these two parts of the four parts of notes running around two hands.
In order to achieve this magnificent four-part voicing, Biss not only has to be able to play, but also to hear. A certain amount is technique, but an equal part is listening. He also has an outstanding ability to end a phrase. I am often disappointed by the arc of a romantic line that fails to exhale the final note or notes of the phrase. We don't get this gift that often from pianists, especially those performing piano concertos with orchestra, because it is high art for the pianist to be able hear that relationship between each note as it starts to fall away and then to be able to technically deliver just the perfect amount of pressure upon the keys at just the right moment to deliver the romantic expression.
This Brahms piano concerto was written over the course of 11 years, according to the program notes, starting as a sonata for two pianos. Brahms himself was at the piano when it debuted and at subsequent performances. There were many a passage for solo piano in this piano concerto, and Biss consistently delivered on his own and with the orchestra.
Gueller and the RPO also delivered the Bartók Concerto for Orchestra in the authentic style of the composer. Moody, disquieting, bordering on eerie. As compared to the heart-given phrasing of Brahms, Bartók has always felt to me a composer who was unable to exist in a major key. In the fourth movement, even when it was a little lighter with some pretty, vibrant passages, Gueller brought out that droll and harsh Bartók attack. According to the program notes, this bit I seized upon was actually taken by Bartók from a Shostakovich symphony, which Bartók intensely disliked and was, in fact, then mocking with his own notes.
American composer Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962) wrote "City Scape" as "a metropolitan sound picture written in orchestral tones." It was indeed quite vivid, reminding me of 1950's reels, featuring bright, shiny cars and women in white gloves walking with purpose, the pulse of big steel captured in tall smokestacks on the horizon. "SkyLine" is just one of three movements from the work, and it is unfortunate with so few women composers on this year's programs that we could not hear the entire work.
The RPO will repeat this program Saturday, October 19, 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St. $15-$82. 454-2100, RPO.org.
Bless her heart, Candye Kane is giving the big C the big fight. Clearly in pain and looking a bit tired, the still ever-beautiful performer sang the pain (hers and mine) away Wednesday, October 9, at Abilene. It was the best I'd ever heard her sing as her band -- starring the incredible Laura Chavez on guitar -- bopped the swingin' blues. Not long on self-pity or hand-wringing, Kane's set was both emotional and inspiring. She bemoaned her weight loss and waxed nostalgic for her 300-pound frame of yore. But I'm here to tell you, the big broad was still there in all her randy, raunchy, Rubenesque, rocking glory.
The faithful readers of my rants have been known to give me shit when I bounce around from venue to venue like a pinball. So this week, though there were multiple events on my radar ("Machete Kills" will have to wait until next week sometime), I decided to hit one show and dig it from load-in to load-out. It was So Last Year's CD release show Friday night at Lovin' Cup, with guests Adam Clark and Joe Percy. It was a night of song-centric wonderment from all three artists.
Percy, of Sans Ego fame, took the stage with his guitar and his uncle -- that would be Paul Morabito of the Moovies and Chesterfield Kings fame -- on bass. Percy established his musicality and quirk by opening with Ween's fun and falsetto'd "Freedom of 76" before launching into an otherwise totally original set. His guitar gently wept, and though electric, he played it Push Star/Velvets style with a decidedly acoustic strum and attack. Morabito held the bottom end Longhorn-style and plodded about in a more of a freeform counterpoint than actual support. It twisted and mingled well with Percy's gentle lyricism.
Reminding me of Ryan Adams sans the nicotine, Adam Clark took the stage with a set of music that can be viewed two ways. If he were an acoustic artist, the set would have seemed ramped and amped up. If he were an electric artist, then it would have come off reserved. Not knowing his plugged or unplugged roots, I had to focus on the music at hand. It was lovelorn lyrically with a percussive attack from the two acoustic guitars parked up front. It was quiet and the band had a little trouble getting the preoccupied crowd to turn an ear, but the audience eventually came around. Good music will do that.
The star of the show, however, was Logan Van Epps, whose So Last Year was there to celebrate the release of its CD, "It's Later Than You Think." Manning the piano from center stage, Van Epps led his full band through some interesting, un-brandable pop. His voice is mighty flexible, though he spent most of the time flexing its upper register, its beauty only matched by the introduction of an abbreviated string section about halfway through the band's short set.
I've determined, especially after Friday night's show, that the Montage Music Hall needs lots of bodies in it to make it sound right and absorb some of that immense boom and swell. And there's nothing other than laziness that keeps would-be rockers from peeling their eyeballs off the boob tube and putting themselves in front of some good ol' loud 'n' heavy.
For Instance, as I rolled up, AFR was brandishing its set like something a Viking might use to disembowel an opponent. There was no 0; the band hit the ground at 60, cranking the intensity incrementally until the climax at the end of its brief set. People Can Be More Awesome followed with interesting percussive additives to music that sounded a lot heavier than I expected from a band that I figured more for indie rock. Who knows, maybe this is the next wave to fall under that category. It was interesting at the very least.
A Beautiful Ending made its debut with a quick set of intensity that hovered in the twilight. Singer Lisa Canarvis' voice is as penetrating as her gaze. It was not the least bit shrill, but it capably cut through and rode the band's seriously pounding sonic swirl. There was a sense of elegance to its largess. I liked it, I liked it.
Like a cross between Hasil Adkins and those bearded, square-dancing hillbillies that Bugs Bunny had to deal with, Filthy Still rocked a three-quarters-full Abilene Saturday night with an unparalleled redneck fury. Straight outta Providence, Rhode Island, the band was reminiscent of Hank III in attitude, but much more raw and to the bone. With its utility man swapping back and forth between resonator and banjo, it was pure Appalachian punk-grass stomp 'n' holler.
Following that hootenanny was Denver's Reno Divorce, a band that collectively blasts out four-barreled rock music a la the Cadillac Tramps or Social Distortion. It was slick, tight, and loud, with a cocky lyrical swagger and come-on riding shotgun with its Les Paul attack.