Maverick Concerts season equals summer, but it didn’t have to be so damn emphatic! Hot last Saturday night for Kenny Barron’s solo piano gig, stifling hot for Trio con Brio Copenhagen on Sunday afternoon. Thank goodness for the Big Ass Fans (that’s the real brand name) which keep the air moving and the climate tolerable inside the hall. Not everybody got to be inside the hall for Barron, who had one of the largest audiences in recent Maverick memory, the hall completely filled, the outdoor area about half full. Barron is a jazz master (officially certified) and as eclectic a performer as you’ll ever hear. He’s rhapsodic a good deal of the time, but sometimes gets into a dynamic rhythmic groove which I found irresistible. And it was great fun to hear him slide into Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t.” Maverick needs a new microphone, if only so I can understand people like Barron announcing what they’re playing.
Sunday afternoon was a return concert by a Maverick favorite ensemble. Apparently Trio con Brio Copenhagen’s performance the previous night at Bard College, bad scheduling etiquette, had no influence on its draw at Maverick, and neither did the mid-nineties heat. Per Nørgard’s”Spell,” from 1973, uses simple materials (a beginning student could play most of it until near the end) and repeats them in a rather obsessive-compulsive way, but to mesmerizing effect. TcB’s playing of Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio, Op. 70, No. 1, was about as fine a version of that piece as I’ve ever heard, vigorous and energetic with powerful accents, appropriately creepy in the second movement, and with very good balance. At intermission I bought the ensemble’s recording of Beethoven Trios including that one, something I almost never do. After intermission, the ensemble took on the daunting (to me, anyway) task of playing the Tchaikovsky Trio well enough to keep my attention on it. I have never liked this piece and I still don’t. The first movement, passionate but somewhat repetitious, does hold my interest pretty well. But I find the half-hour-long second movement wears me out and by the end of it I’m looking forward to the relief of the conclusion. TcB’s vigorous and dedicated performance was effective, more than the music deserves, and left me wondering why such fine musicians feel compelled to play this piece. (They’ve recorded it, too.)
Next Friday the “Maverick Prodigies” series (one a year) presents Jake Sorgen and Friends at 8 p.m. All I can get about the music is this quote from Maverick’s website: “Improviser, composer, musician grew up in Woodstock and has emerged as a dynamic, inventive voice in the musical, theatrical and dance worlds.” If you’re feeling adventurous, tickets are only ten bucks, free for people under 16. Saturday, July 7, 8 p.m., Jazz at the Maverick presents the Bill Charlap Trio. Charlap has been very popular in previous Maverick appearances. This one focuses on the Leonard Bernstein centenary; the second half will be all-Bernstein. Sunday, July 8, 4 p.m., the Escher String Quartet returns with one of Maverick’s “Americans in Paris” series, with music of Ned Rorem (the American), Schumann, and Ravel. On Saturday, July 14, at 11 a.m., pianist Katya Grineva offers one of Maverick’s Young People’s Concerts. That evening at 8, Imani Winds is joined by pianist Andrew Russo for a sort of hybrid jazz/classical program “Celebrating the World of Josephine Baker,” with music of Valerie Coleman (an Imani member), Paquito D’Rivera, Gershwin, and Poulenc (his delightful Sextuor for piano and winds). Sunday, July 15, the Dover Quartet joins with baritone Andrew Garland for Samuel Barber’s “Dover Beach” and Rorem’s “Mourning Scene from Samuel;” the Quartet also plays music of Haydn and Dvorák. More information on all of this is at the newly-redesigned www.maverickconcerts.org.
At the end of last year’s Aston Magna series, its music director Daniel Stepner announced to the audience that the series was leaving Bard College. No surprise. The college had been providing virtually no publicity or support and the audiences had been dismally small. Was there in fact any audience for this superb series of period instrument performances? This season Aston Magna decided to try out new venues in our general area. The first, and closest to Woodstock, took place on June 22 at a venue not noted for live music at all, Time & Space Ltd. in Hudson. The result was a triumph, a near-sellout with at least three times as many people as I saw at any Bard concert last year. The opening performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 was superb, even though I thought the harpsichordist played his lengthy solo with too much rhythmic freedom. Maybe he was trying to make it sound improvisatory, but I didn’t think it worked. I found Alex Burtzos’s “The Hourglass Equation,” a new piece written for antique instruments, of only mild interest in itself, but it was intriguing to hear new music for old instruments. The Telemann Sonata was just fine, and soprano Dominique Labelle shed her usual glory on two Handel German Arias and Bach’s cantata “Ich habe genug.” I hope Aston Magna will be coming back to Time & Space next year; to catch its remaining concerts you have to check out the venues at www.astonmagna.org.
Conflicts kept me away from two of the three Ulster Chamber Series concerts at Bard, but I caught the first, on June 2, with the Jasper String Quartet (coming to Maverick in August), flutist Carol Wincenc, pianists Blair McMillen and Joan Tower, and a few more colleagues in an 80th birthday tribute to Tower, one of America’s most prominent and successful composers. The performances of six of Tower’s works were all unqualified successes. As a long-term, dedicated teacher at Bard, Tower included music by two of her students, Christopher Beroes-Haigis and Corey Chang, and she even played piano for the Berois-Haigis piece. Neither of the students is ready to rival their teacher quite yet, but Chang seems to be an outstanding pianist. This was a memorable evening and even gave us a preview of a Tower piece (“Wild Summer”) that hasn’t had its official premiere yet.
The Woodstock Chamber Orchestra completed its 2017-18 season on June 9 at Quimby Theater, SUNY Ulster, under its music director Jonathan Handman. Copland’s “Four Dance Episodes from ‘Rodeo’” were crisp and energetic, with good string sound and a temporarily weak trumpet (who was fine later on in the evening). I enjoyed the lively playing of Slavonic Dances by Dvorák, Hungarian Dances by Brahms, and Romanian Folk Dances by Bartók. The bluegrass band Uncommon Ground proved its merit in a couple of unaccompanied pieces. I liked those better than Conni Ellisor’s “Whiskey Before Breakfast,” a “concerto” (actually medley) of bluegrass tunes with what seems to me superfluous orchestral accompaniment. When this ensemble returns next fall, it will be, as I’ve suggested in the past, the Woodstock Symphony Orchestra. Watch for news on this very interesting development.
On Sunday, June 3, I got to hear one of the all-too-rare performances of the excellent Poné Ensemble, at its usual venue, New Paltz United Methodist Church. A Trio for Flute, Oboe, and Piano by Alec Templeton was a pleasant, well-scored, neo-classical diversion. Rudolf Escher’s Sonata for Clarinet Solo was lively and ingenious, with a plaintive finale and very expressive playing from Larry Tietze. I would love to hear more of Ruth Schoenthal’s “Fragments from a Woman’s Diary;” the six selections played by pianist Ruthanne Schempf were intriguing and very well played. Bohuslav Martinu’s Duo No. 2 for violin and cello was the only music on this program I’d heard before. Carole Cowan and Susan Seligman had a real blast playing it. The concert ended with its newest music, the 2008 Woodwind Quintet by Jim Lahti, a lively, ingenious work in three movements with lots of color and rhythmic life. I’d be interested in hearing more of Lahti’s music. He was there to enjoy the applause. Check on the occasional Poné performances at www.poneensemble.org. The next one is scheduled for Kingston in September.
Ars Choralis celebrated the Bernstein centenary with a pair of performances in June at two Woodstock venues. I caught the June 10 concert at the Woodstock Jewish Congregation. Much of this concert didn’t involve the chorus but it was all Bernstein and I liked almost all of it. The excerpts from “Mass: A Theater Piece” reminded me of how adventurous this much-scorned work actually is, and Erica Pickhardt’s playing of the cello solo “Meditation” was beautiful and dramatic. The various songs from “Wonderful Town” and “On the Town” were all delightful. The excerpts from “Trouble in Tahiti” were bound to get me; it’s my favorite Bernstein. The second half was made up of numbers from “West Side Story,” “I Hate Music,” “West Side Story,” and Bernstein’s “Peter Pan,” which is currently being performed at Bard. I’d never heard Bernstein’s “An Antiwar Song,” and Nicole Minielli sang it beautifully. The concert ended with the famous concluding chorus from “Candide,” “Make Our Garden Grow,” one of the most beautiful things Bernstein ever wrote. Fine chorus, excellent pianist (Kristen Tuttman, as usual, coaxing expressiveness out of an electronic instrument). Barbara Pickhardt can be proud of this one. Ars Choralis will be back in October; check www.arschoralis.org for details.
PianoSummer kicks off at SUNY New Paltz on July 9 with the traditional Faculty Gala, a concert by the teachers who lead this festival including director Vladimir Feltsman. I’ve written a detailed preview of this series for Alm@nac so I won’t repeat myself here. But do check this series for its many delights, including student recitals, master classes, and concerts, all in the air-conditioned splendor of Studley Theatre. The guest recital by Marc-André Hamelin on July 21 is bound to sell out so grab tickets while you can at www.suny.newpaltz/piano. See you there!