Because we never seem to do anything by half, the last few weeks have featured more concerts than we’ve been to in months.
Back in October 2013, we saw a Kandinsky exhibition at the Neue Gallerie. In writing about it I linked to this site, which depicts works inspired by Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition suite. Fast forward to January 2017, and we find ourselves at a fascinating concert given by the pianist, Mikhail Rudy, and featuring an animation of those same pictures (as you can see in the video clip in the linked page). I love the Pictures music, and the video was the perfect accompaniment. The second half of the concert was an animation of Chagall’s ceiling for the Paris Opera, set to a series of shorter pieces. There’s an interesting article about the ceiling here, and some footage of Rudy playing this suite on YouTube.
Next up was an organ concert given by the avant-garde musician John Zorn, and you may deduce my enthusiasm for this when I say that it started with a short piece for two flutes and vibraphone which was the high point of the evening. From the perspective of a non-organist, Zorn is somewhat fascinating to watch – he had weights which he placed on various keys to create an endlessly sustained sound (usually on the very lowest notes, which are experienced more as a vibration than as a pitch), and then he gradually pulls out various stops as he plays other notes and chords over the top. It’s all done very slowly and deliberately, and with somewhat more ceremony than in the average organ recital. In terms of the music, he played for around 40 minutes (so we heard, anyway – we left way before the end!) without cessation or much in the way of apparent structure – certain moments were marked by eardrum-melting volume and extreme dissonance, but otherwise it wasn’t all that interesting.
In complete contrast, early February found us at Lincoln Centre to see the Julliard school’s singers and orchestra of period instruments in a concert performance of Handel’s opera Agrippina. I had booked a ticked ages ago and was really looking forward to it – I love Handel’s music but am sadly unfamiliar with his operatic output. Tom had declined to accompany me, however when we met the conductor at a party given by a friend of ours the previous week he was more than happy to accept the offer of a spare ticket. It turned out to be a fantastic evening – the orchestra was superb, the singers excellent, and despite being a concert performance there was enough in the way of acting to convey the various characters. (For those of my readers unfamiliar with the plot of Agrippina, I recommend you take a look at the synopsis, it’s a wonderfully twisty tale of politics, desire and intrigue.) It was joyous and energetic and didn’t take itself too seriously – I loved it. We were also very happy to be invited to the after-party, in the penthouse apartment of the Julliard’s building, where we had fun chatting with some of the musicians and enjoying the view!
And, finally (at least for now), it was back to the St Bart’s organ for another very non-standard performance – a live improvisation to a silent movie, Buster Keaton’s The General. These are a specialty of our friend Jason, we’ve seen two of his previous concerts, and this one did not disappoint!