Paik & Beethoven - 09/29/17


Paik & Beethoven - 09/29/17

Conductor: Dongmin Kim
Nathan: Omaggio a Gesualdo for String Orchestra
Saint-Saëns: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 28 (Arr. Yoomi Paick) 
     Ken Hamao: Violin
Shostakovich: Prelude and Scherzo, Op. 11
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58 (Arr. Yoomi Paick) 
     HaeSun Paik: Piano

Fresh from my fabulous “Bach + Glass” double bill at the Miller Theater up Broadway 24 hours earlier, on Friday night I was even closer to home in the Upper West Side’s Advent Lutheran Church for the season opening concert by the New York Classical Players, who in seven short years have become an indispensable part of New York City’s classical music scene. True to their stated mission, they were kicking off yet another compelling season of free concerts of high-quality classical music that will take them to numerous locations in New York City, New Jersey and… Arkansas as well.

The program featured their usual mix of tried and true classics such as Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 starring HaeSun Paik, a seasoned pianist of uncommon talent and sensitivity, as well as a nicely eclectic first set consisting of an exciting American premiere, a popular French piece and an interesting Russian curiosity. No wonder the cozy church was packed and buzzing with excitement.

We started with Eric Nathan’s “Omaggio a Gesualdo for String Orchestra”, whose string version was recently commissioned by the New York Classical Players’ very own music director and maestro Dongmin Kim. An inventive tribute to the Italian madrigal master in general and his “text painting” method in particular, this delectable little treat offered a clever combination of Renaissance and contemporary music, accomplishing the no small feat of making dissonances sound more intriguing than grating, in only six minutes.

Back to the more traditional repertoire, Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso” clearly does not need any introduction, and the version for violin and string orchestra by Yoomi Paick we heard on Friday kept all the elegance, wildness and insouciance of the original showpiece. Soloist Ken Hamao handled the tricky challenges with plenty of aplomb and savoir-faire, and the orchestra came through tight and committed, with just the right amount of playfulness. This infectious melodic feast hadn’t been on my radar for years, and this performance made me realize what I has been missing.

Next was a quick and fun foray into the beginning of Dmitri Shostakovich's œuvre with his “Prelude and Scherzo” from his Petrograd Conservatory student days. Essentially a miniature octet for strings inspired by Mendelssohn’s famous early work, the prelude oozed subtly lyrical melancholy while the scherzo distinguished itself by its relentlessly driven feistiness. Shostakovich The Modernist was born.

After this delightful assortment of amuse-bouches and a well-deserved break, we moved on to the plat de resistance in the form of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, whose string version had been arranged by Yoomi Paick. Unusually enough for a piano concerto,  HaeSun Paik actually got to begin playing the piece alone with a few understated yet eloquent notes, but the orchestra wasted almost no time joining in and they all made beautiful music together, the orchestra's occasional abruptness quickly tempered by the soloist’s gentleness. Although the composition exudes a generally reserved mood, it is Beethoven’s most expansive piano concerto, all the way to a grand finale that exploded with virtuosic fireworks. Another season has started well.

Written by Isabelle Dejean (September 29, 2017)


Tchaikovsky & Vivaldi - 10/01/16


Tchaikovsky & Vivaldi - 10/01/16

Conductor: Dongmin Kim
Tchaikovsky: Souvenirs de Florence, Op. 70
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons – Clara-Jumi Kang, violin

As if getting back to reality with a full work week ahead of me after being a shamelessly self-indulgent lady of leisure in Amsterdam and Berlin for two glorious weeks were not brutal enough, I also had to contend with a dreadful combination of persistent jet lag and a nasty cold.

Consequently, the past week was pretty much a long blur that ended not one minute too soon.
But there was also a bright light looming ahead as the New York Classical Players were opening their new season of free high-quality concerts on Saturday night with two of the most rightfully popular works in classical music: Piotr Tchaikovsky's Romantic Souvenirs of Florence, in a new version specifically written for the NYCP, and Antonio Vivaldi's Baroque The Four Seasons, starring former child prodigy Clara-Jumi Kang, in the welcoming concert hall of the W83 cultural center, which happens to be located walking distance from my apartment.

So after taking all necessary precautions to keep the cough under control and, most importantly, out of earshot, I was finally able to enjoy being back in New York City by taking advantage of one of the perks that brought me to this maddening place in the first place: Timeless classics superbly played by highly talented musicians in an easily accessible location. And suddenly life was good again.

Written for a string sextet by Tchaikovsky in Russia after an extended stay in Italy, the original score of Souvenirs of Florence has been performed by larger string orchestras as is, an endeavor that unsurprisingly often lends imperfect results due to balance issues. To remedy this situation, teacher and composer Yoomi Paick came up with an updated version of it whose goal is to allow each musician to more or less equally contribute to the performance in their own way while still forming a harmonious whole together.

From what we heard on Saturday night, her laudable mission has been smashingly accomplished as the NYCP confidently delivered the beautifully textured, meticulously detailed, and intensely lyrical performance the piece deserves. Chances are Tchaikovsky would have whole-heartedly approved. The audience sure did.

As summer is now officially gone and fall has completely taken over, Vivaldi's The Four Seasons reminded us of nature’s unalterable rhythm, each of the various times of year being brilliantly highlighted with its own characteristics. To make them even more exciting, the NYCP was joined by German and South Korean violinist Clara-Jumi Kang, who so far has been spending most of her young life collecting top prizes at international competitions and dazzling audiences all over the world. Now it was our turn to experience her incredible skills for ourselves.

With all the right elements in place, it was no surprise that the inherently colorful seasons were particularly vibrant, opening with birds merrily chirping away at nature's rebirth in the spring. Summer is perhaps my favorite Season by Vivaldi, and it certainly was on Saturday when its mighty storm powerfully exploded in countless virtuosic fireworks. Fall glowed with bright shades and harvest celebrations, peasants' revelries and hunting rituals, before winter came around with a fierce wind, a cozy fire, freezing rain and unforgiving ice.

The composition being a structurally perfect and immediately attractive masterpiece, audiences have been warmly responding to it for four centuries by now, and their enthusiasm is not likely to abate anytime soon. Another case in point was this past weekend, when the technically flawless and irresistibly engaging performance by the NYCP and Kang turned out to be a big hit with virtually everybody in the hall.

For all its sparkles and joie de vivre, The Four Seasons is still a challenging work to perform, so we barely dared to hope for anything else. But our indefatigable soloist was obviously up for more and concluded the evening with a stupendous Largo from Sonata No. 3 by Bach. The season has started well.

Written by Isabelle Dejean (October 4, 2016)