A misplaced program caused me to omit last month my review of the Poné Ensemble’s April 3 concert, at New Paltz United Methodist Church. I love this brave little group’s recent music program, the next of which will bring them to the Arts Society of Kingston this fall. As always, the performances at this concert were first rate, which figures since most of the players are members of the Hudson Valley Philharmonic. I particularly enjoyed being introduced to the music of Dennis Bathory-Kitsz, whose brief “Clouds of Endless Summer” featured flowing counterpoint which immediately grabbed my attention and held it. I found Joshua Groffman’s “Miniatures for Horn and Bassoon” (Nick Caluori and Jeffrey Marchand) a little bland, but the playing injected interest. There were no surprises music by the better-known Benjamin Britten, Lowell Liebermann (a substantial Trio for Flute, Cello, and Piano”), and Peter Schickele, but the music was all excellent. People who think they are afraid of 20th or 21st century music should give the Poné Ensemble a try.
At the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra’s May 22 concert (Quimby Theater, SUNY Ulster), a discrete note announced the abrupt end of Nathan Madsen’s period as Music Director. (“A change in Madsen’s circumstances has brought an end to his tenure with the orchestra.”) If you are curious you can just look his name up on Google and you will not enjoy the story you find. As a musician, Madsen rescued the WCO from the disastrous work of his predecessor and brought some ambitious projects to his work, and I’m grateful to him for that. The May 22 concert was mostly a celebration of the work of Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, who performed some of their typical folk music delights, mostly with the orchestra. Guest conductor Gwen Gould, known for her work in Columbia County, added Copland’s little-known “Outdoor Overture” to the program. If it’s typical of her work, she should be a leading contender for the music directorship of the orchestra. The Copland was crisp and energetic, the orchestra sounding its very best. Gould also led the accompaniments for Jay and Molly very well. The brief cameo by the Strawberry Hill Fiddlers was also very entertaining, the music less elaborately arranged, and thus better, than some performances by the group I’ve heard. No profundities here but it was an emjoyable and well-attended, afternoon.
Saugerties Pro Musica concluded its 2015-16 season on April 8 with a repeat appearance by the oddly-named di.vi.sion Piano Trio. (Program notes say the trio was founded as part of di.vi.sion, whatever that is.) These are substantial musicians and they brought us a substantial program including two recent compositions, one from this year. Haydn’s “Gypsy Rondo” Trio, in G Major, is the most popular of his trios today and it’s a charmer, although it would be fun to hear some of the others more often. The ensemble’s playing was also charming, graceful and well balanced, with nice execution of grace notes in the second movement and amusing emphases in the third. Benjamin Yarmolinsky’s Violin Sonata (dated both 1987 and 2001) opens with a Bloch-like Hebraic slow movement, then goes on to a couple of semi-pops movements, reasonably engaging. Anthony Gatto’s “Hope is Wanting to Pull Clouds,” the brand new piece, is seven minutes of repetitious simple episodes surrounding silences. It was curiously affecting and left me wanting to hear more from this composer. The program ended with a great 20th century masterpiece, Shostakovich’s Trio No. 2. The performance here was excellent but seemed a bit too civilized for this tragic, wrenching music until the very end, which became downright frightening. An interesting interpretation! I look forward to the 2016-17 season, which will begin in September with the return of the great pianist Inesa Sinkevyich, this time with cellist Rebecca Hartke.
Piano Plus concluded its 2016 season on May 28 at the Olive Free Library. Like all the pianists in this series, Mei-Hsuan Huang, who came all the way from Iowa, is an excellent player. Unfortunately, we got off on the wrong foot with each other. She played Mozart’s Sonata in F, K. 332, with rhythmic flexibility which I thought would be appropriate for Chopin but not for Mozart. She also skipped all of the marked repeats, denying us the opportunity to hear how she would handle the same music again. (In a successful performance, the player will not only change approach somewhat but also change the actual notes with ornaments and embellishments.) In four works by Rachmaninov, Huang’s pianism worked beautifully with the romantic music, demonstrating the same flexibility which I didn’t like in Mozart but which was completely appropriate for this music, as were her tonal weight and technical fluency. Violinist Matthew Woodard (the “Plus”) joined Huang for a tantalizing sample of Britten’s Suite, Op. 6, a piece I haven’t heard live in its entirety since Charles Libove and Nina Lugovoy played it at Maverick. Huang showed her sensitivity to Chopin’s idiom in two Nocturnes and the Ballade No. 1 by adopting elements of 19th century playing style, including having the left hand lead the right in the first of the Nocturnes and using more rhythmic flexibility, again very appropriate for this music. Composer George Tsontakis certainly knows how to get interesting musicians to play for this brief spring series! And yes, the new cork flooring in the library’s large room does improve the acoustics somewhat.
The major June classical music highlight in our area is the Hudson Valley Chamber Music Circle series of three concerts, starting on June 4 with the legendary Emerson String Quartet. Better call (845-339-7907) right away in hope of snagging any remaining tickets. Aston Magna starts its series of four concerts, early music and period instruments, on June 18, also at Bard. This is a superb series which seldom attracts the audience it deserves. This year the concerts will take place at the Bitó Conservatory Building at Bard, which has fewer seats than Olin Auditorium, so you may want to reserve tickets early at 888-492-1283 or www.astonmagna.org.
Ars Choralis will be warming up the Maverick Concert Hall with “Música Hispánica: Then and Now, featuring Ariel Ramírez’s Misa Criolla on June 18 at 7 p.m. and June 19 at 4 p.m. Tickets are now available at DIG in Saugerties, Mother Earth’s Storehouse in Kingston and Golden Notebook and Catskill Art & Office Supply in Woodstock, or at www.arschoralis.org ($18, half price for students 18 and younger). Elizabeth Mitchell & Family kick off the Maverick Young People’s Concerts on June 25 at 11 a.m., and the Maverick Concerts series begins the next day, June 26, at 4 p.m. with the Escher String Quartet in music of Beethoven, Bartók, and Dvorák. Not too early to start marking your calendars!