Pianist Yalin Chi, assisted by the newly renovated piano at Saugerties United Methodist Church, opened her program there on February 21 with beautiful, luminous sound and gorgeous relaxation in Rachmaninov’s song “Dreams,” as transcribed by Earl Wild. Her playing of Bach’s “Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue” was a bit pedally for me but her propulsive Fugue was very impressive. Scriabin’s music is always challenging, but Chi had no trouble with his Sonata No. 4, taking the Prestissimo second movement at a very fast tempo and making it float. I’m used to a more massive, powerful reading of Brahms’s Sonata No. 3 (in the Artur Rubinstein manner) than Chi provided, but her less volatile interpretation made its points and the way she made the second movement into a nocturne was completely convincing.
For all the virtues of this program, though, the moment I have taken away from it was Chi’s encore: Schumann’s “Träumerei,” more “Dreams.” We’ve all heard this piece many times. I cannot remember hearing it played more beautifully, with great intimacy and tenderness. This was the playing of a great artist and I’m lucky I heard it. The series continues on Sunday, March 20, as the Boston Trio plays trios of Brahms and Mendelssohn; more information on this series is always at www.saugertiespromusica.org.
The Ulster Chamber Series began its three-concert 2016 series with the venerable Manhattan String Quartet, at the Church of the Holy Cross in Kingston on Sunday, February 7. This ensemble plays Mozart, his Quartet in B Flat, K. 458, as if the music was fresh and new, with excellent balance and a particularly poignant reading of the second movement. Charles Ives’s String Quartet No. 1 gives little indication of the great revolutionary he would eventually develop into, but the ensemble gave a good performance of this unimportant music. In Brahms’s String Quartet No. 3, Op. 67, the Manhattans immediately caught the essential syncopation (always a major element in Brahms) and played the second movement with great intensity. There was nothing revolutionary about this concert, just a lot of satisfaction. The series continues March 20 with the Hermitage Piano Trio in trios of Schubert, Brahms (No. 3), and Tchaikovsky. Make sure you have a good lunch; that Tchaikovsky Trio lasts almost an hour! More info at www.ulsterchamberseries.org.
Rhinebeck Chamber Music Society offers yet another trio concert on Sunday, March 13, by the Weiss Kaplan Stumpf Trio. The program includes works of Jalbert, Brahms (No. 2), and Schumann. Look up www.rhinebeckmusic.org.
Bard College’s Haydn Project, a series of free noon concerts, got underway last November. But the first Tuesday noon I could manage to get to one was February 23, when an ad hoc string quartet played Haydn’s “The Seven Last Words of Christ.” This isn’t even Haydn’s original version of the music, which he first wrote for orchestra and later transformed into an oratorio. But the quartet version is genuine Haydn, and if you ever needed proof of Haydn’s genius (I don’t!), his ability to write a series of compelling adagios like these would be all you need. My gratitude to Bard players Laurie Smukler and Yezu Woo (violins), Marka Gustavsson (viola), and Robert Martin (cello), and to poet Robert Kelly who wrote a series of new poems for this event and who read them so expressively. The next two events are March 8 (two string quartets and a trio) and April 19 (a trio, a quartet, and 3 partsongs). All you have to do is find the Bitó Conservatory Building and walk in, no tickets or admission price. Among other interesting Bard events coming in March are an opera double-bill on the Friday March 4, and Sunday, March 6 including Oliver Knussen’s “Higglety Pigglety Pop!” after Maurice Sendak; a jazz improvisation master class and performance on Wednesday, March 9 including Woodstocker Marilyn Crispell; and a contemporary music concert in the Music Alive! series on March 12 (all at Bitó). Bard information is easy to find at www.bard.edu/news/events.
The Woodstock Chamber Orchestra’s concert at SUNY Ulster on February 14 was redeemed by the glorious playing of Horoko Sakurazawa in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24. This was really ideal Mozart-playing, beautiful in sound, capturing the difficult combination of impulse and relaxation, and perfectly executed. The orchestra must have been inspired by Sakurazawa because its playing was the best of the entire concert. It opened with the Adagio from Khachaturian’s “Spartacus,” sentimental junk which sounds even worse when it’s somewhat out of tune. After intermission the cellos were sour in Rachmaninov’s “Vocalise” and soprano Kimberly Kahan’s singing wasn’t much better in tune. Her basic sound has improved since the last time I heard her, but she didn’t have enough breath to sing the long phrases. Some of the playing in Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” was impressive, like the pizzicatos near the opening, and to Music Director Nathan Madsen’s credit, he did his best to shape a real interpretation of this over-exposed piece. Some deficiencies in the playing didn’t help his case, though. Maybe not the WCO’s best concert ever but the Mozart made it worthwhile. The orchestra returns to SUNY Ulster in May; follow it at www.wco-online.com.
The Olive Library has two music events in March. On Saturday, the 12th, at 2 p.m., Piano Plus begins its new season with pianist Rami Sarieddne and a secret “plus” guest. This series, curated by composer George Tsontakis, has provided some outstanding performances in the past. On Saturday, March 25, also 2 p.m., the all-woman early music ensemble SIREN Baroque returns to play a program entitled “Playful Mysteries,” works of Bach, Couperin, Purcell and Gemiani played on authentic period instruments. Information at www.olivefreelibrary.org.
The Hudson Valley Philharmonic has a spectacular lined up for Saturday, March 19, at the Bardavon in Poughkeepsie. The program, entitled “Aurora Borealis,” features the new work “Borealis” by John Estacio, presented with projections by José Francisco Salgado, who will join Music Director Randall Craig Fleisher for the pre-concert talk. The program also includes Jennifer Higdon’s “Blue Cathedral,” Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella” Suite, and Brahms’s Second Symphony. Information on this and on the Met Live in HD series is at www.bardavon.org.
Speaking of opera, you can still catch the second performance of “We’ve Got Our Eye on You” by SUNY New Paltz’s Nkeiru Okoye, described as “Monty Python-esque,” at the college’s Studley Theatre on Saturday, March 5, at 8 p.m. After the performance I’ll be moderating a panel discussion and you can ask questions.
It’s too early to start giving details here about this summer’s Phoenicia Festival of the Voice (find all you want at www.phoeniciavoicefest.org), but I attended the press conference announcing the season and I’m looking forward not only to the opera but also the opening Beatles concert and the closing concert of Gaelic music. For that matter, the Maverick Concerts season is also available at www.maverickconcerts.org/schedule.