Sunday, March 29, 2009

Singing places surge in me

Jeff Hamburg and "Home for Passover," a profile for The Courier-Post, March 29, 2009.

The online version of the article includes several samples of Jeff's music. I didn't see any labels on them, but the excerpts are from "Zey...," "Hebraische-Melodien," "Hear O Heavens, Give Ear O Earth," and the Second String Quartet Hashkivenu. Also, the documentary "Home for Passover" will be shown on the Dutch television channel IDTV. Many thanks to Jeff, his family, and the staff of Muziek Centrum Nederland for their kind assistance in writing the article.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Greatness with brushes

Network for New Music's "Visions of America," previewed for the Bulletin, March 27, 2009. The concert is April 3 and will be performed in the rotunda at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, with the musicians flanked by the works that inspired Richard Brodhead and David Laganella's works.

Mr. Laganella is also director for Chamber Music Now!, a group I've heard about but haven't yet had a chance to hear in person. I hope to write about CMN!'s next project, a series of concerts held in the city's Eastern State Penitentiary, in some fashion.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A crushing triumph, a glorious defeat

Curtis Opera Theatre's Wozzeck, reviewed for The Bulletin, March 17, 2009.

A stirring, stunning production - highly recommended. It runs about 90 minutes, and the time just flies by. There's one last performance tomorrow evening at 7:30.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Er ist der Mann

Today on Phawker, an interview with tenor Jason Collins, who plays the Drum Major in Curtis Opera Theater's presentation of Wozzeck. He appears, along with fellow Curtis alum Shuler Hensley, in performances tonight, Sunday and Wednesday.

Yesterday's Paperboy is also attracting some attention. One important thing to address: yes, PW did cover a similar topic on its cover last year, and I made it pretty clear that I feel CP did a better job of it this year. There's an important difference between approaching a subject head-on and sideswiping it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

iPhones of the rich and famous

It's currently Beer Week in Philadelphia, and though I've been trying to restrain myself for the sake of my health and finances, I couldn't hold myself back from an event at Tria (highly recommended) featuring Dogfish Head brewery and its founder, Sam Calagione. With my long-held interests in both beer and journalism, and the brewery's prominent feature in the New Yorker last November, I knew I had to meet Sam and ask him what the writer of that feature, Burkhard Bilger, was like.

With a friend in tow, I did end up meeting Sam, who regaled me with stories of Mr. Bilger's preparation and in-depth research. They've become good friends since the profile was published. When discussion turned to my own writing, I mentioned my interest in classical and new music, to which Sam replied, "Oh, man, you've gotta hear this guy I've been listening to." He pulled out his iPhone, flipped through it, and showed me an album labeled "nico muhly," a composer who has himself been the subject of a New Yorker profile.

He asked me if I'd heard of him, and I said I had; in fact, I interviewed him last year for Phawker, attended (and enjoyed) his concert at First Unitarian, and had previously transcribed an interview with him for another site. Could it be there's some strange affinity between people who have been featured in the New Yorker? Does Nico Muhly drink Dogfish Head beer? Was Sam serious when he told me he'd trade "good beer for some good music"? Stay tuned.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Critic-in-residence, part 2

In following up my last review, I find I have less to say about Mariza's performance at Verizon Hall last night; this is partly because the concert was so universally stunning, and also because it was sung almost entirely in Portuguese. Though the latter fact makes it somewhat difficult for me to differentiate much of last night's program, I nevertheless found her singing - finely-grained, limber, and heartbreakingly expressive throughout - truly rapturous. From her first number, it seemed she had a smoky, sub-mezzo, almost-contralto voice, making the power and clarity at the top of her range all the more surprising. She exhibited a fond, intimate chemistry with her backing band and had a stage presence that occupied a curious spot between languorous lounge singer and supremely poised flamenco dancer.

Near the end of several songs, the accompaniment stopped, and Mariza delivered an almost-whispered soliloquy - a lean-in moment for me and the rest of the audience - before letting loose with a ringing declamation near the top of her range. This capacity for dynamic contrast and flexibility, and the reactions it elicited in the audience, characterized the evening.

Her tremendously able band featured a fantastic Portuguese guitarist (that is to say, a player of the Portuguese guitar, rather than a guitarist from Portugal; her entire band hails from there) who, I was amazed to learn, is not yet of drinking age in the US, as well as very fine contributors on acoustic guitar, bass, drums and a pianist who occasionally chimed in on trumpet. Their blend and unity of attack, especially in up-tempo numbers, was impressive, as were solo turns by the aforementioned youngster Angelo Braz Freire and acoustic guitarist Diogo Clemente. The drummer, identified as Hugo Antonia E Silva Carreira Marques in the program but called "Mister Vicky," took a few overly technical solos that were more appropriate for a Rush or Metallica show, but his timekeeping and shorter fills were solid without being flashy.

The only tune sung in English came during the encore, as Mariza took on Arthur Hamilton's "Cry Me A River." She brought a resolute air to a dolorous number, with playful phrasing and unimpeachable English. After an evening of heart-on-sleeve songs, though, the stripped-down closer was even more honest, with Mariza and two of her guitarists dispensing with amplification and the guitarists singing a few bars each. Obrigado a todos.


I knew I'd be attending concerts on back-to-back nights this weekend and briefly considered holing up in the coat-check area. In truth, though, I wasn't assigned to review either of this weekend's performances; I attended Bang on a Can All-Stars on Saturday after interviewing guest artist and composer Glenn Kotche, and my tickets to Portuguese fado artist Mariza came from a friend who won them and was unable to attend. Both were a treat, though I felt the All-Stars were poorly served by the Perelman Theater's audio setup.

In the program's first half, which featured works by Bang on a Can's three founding composers (David Lang, Julia Wolfe, and Michael Gordon), the sound mix favored guitar and drums to the detriment of the other instruments. One had to strain to hear cellist Caroline Stinson and bassist Robert Black during loud, raucous numbers and quiet, ruminative ones alike. Of the three first-half pieces, I liked Gordon's "For Madeline" (I'm guessing on the spelling; the piece's title was announced from the stage) best. Keening slides from clarinet, cello and guitar glided over a tense, oscillating pulse in the piano and marimba, eventually giving way to a radiant but frantic "B" section. Wolfe's "Lick" was a fun, disjointed romp with a tidy, thoughtful finish akin to turning down the volume knob on a stereo. Lang's "Sunray" had a promising start with chiming, delicate patterns tinged with dissonance, but the close was a tad bombastic.

The second half featured Kotche in a few takeoffs on Steve Reich's music and in two of Kotche's own compositions. His "Clapping Music Variations" was hard to parse; a backing electronic track seemed to play Reich's original "Clapping Music" along with other sounds as Kotche and All-Stars drummer David Cossin played new spin on the source material on their kits and, later, on Indonesian percussion. The altered riffs disappointingly lacked the tension and pared-down focus of Reich's original, but Cossin's transcription of "Music for Pieces of Wood" compensated -- a booming, visceral ride through mutating polyrhythms. I was enthralled.

Kotche's charts were more subtle but still captivating. "Snap" attained the soul-inspired groove that Kotche sought, with parts of it sounding like a playful, amped-up tango and others filled with nudging, insistent pulses. His transcription of "Mobile," the title composition from his 2006 album, was more Reichian than Staxian, with shifting, swapping patterns criss-crossing the ensembles and a fine-grained sense of voicing and orchestration. Some of the kalimba-based riffs were stuck firmly in my head for the remainder of the evening -- a good sign of a catchy piece and, in this case, a successful one.

A write-up of Mariza will come later this afternoon.