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“The performers were top-notch”

“The homey church where these concerts take place, nestled on West 66th Street in the shadow of Lincoln Center, is an intimate and acoustically vibrant place for chamber music”   more... 

Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, January 7, 2014

Reviews

“A finely forthright, fluent and expressive account of Haydn’s Divertimento in E-flat major opened this programme of miscellaneous chamber music in a series known for adventurous programming.”  more... 

Dennis Rooney, Strad Magazine, October, 2013

“...the group’s efforts proved illuminating ...Brown played a lovely, subtly virtuosic cadenza for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 by Jens Nygaard, the ensemble’s founder, who died in 2001, but whose fascination with rarities continues to drive its programming”  more... 

Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, September 27, 2011

“Mr. Nygaard’s cadenza flowed down Mozart lanes and paths, each with beautiful backgrounds. And at the very end, Mr. Nygaard brought forth that martial major theme, like an unexpected gift.”  more... 

Harry Rolnick, ConcertoNet.com, September 26, 2011

“This concert was another fine performance of unusual repertory, brilliantly played by little-known musicians. The last of a series of twenty inventive programs that started in September 2010, this concert was planned to end on a high note and it didn’t disappoint.”  more... 

Stan Metzger, Seen and Heard International, May 24, 2011

“The audience returns week after week confident that successive concerts will equal or excel their predecessors.”  more... 

Stan Metzger, Seen and Heard International, March 28, 2011

“This was an all-around exceptional performance of unusual repertory by fearless virtuosi who, although able to attract a devoted audience that filled every seat (even for a 2 p.m. performance), are owed and deserve more publicity and attention than they are currently receiving.”  more... 

Stan Metzger, Seen and Heard International, November 8, 2010

“to my mind their success is obviously due to the quality of the players and performances as well as the intelligent and uncompromising selection of repertoire”  more... 

Stan Metzger, Seen and Heard International, September 13, 2010

“the sounds, especially in this church auditorium, resonated with good-natured Dvorák cheer, and the last measures were spine-tingling.”  more... 

Harry Rolnick, ConcertoNet.com, January 4, 2010

“...every concert is inspiring. The artists are first-rate, the music is never routine”  more... 

Harry Rolnick, ConcertoNet.com, October 19, 2009

“...an expansive chamber music series in his memory. “A Living Tribute to Jens Nygaard”...and its repertory is grounded in Nygaard’s taste for overlooked composers and neglected scores by composers we think we know well.”  more... 

Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, September 22, 2009

“the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players have once again outdone themselves with two concerts yesterday. The players were excellent, yes. But their choice of program was singularly original...all four pieces had moments of unexpected brilliance.”  more... 

Harry Rolnick, ConcertoNet.com, September 21, 2009

“the music is often surprising, never less than entertaining”  more... 

Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, January 6, 2009

“simply phenomenal”  more... 

Harry Rolnick, ConcertoNet.com, September 8, 2008

“the rarities glittered like jewels”  more... 

Fred Kirshnit, The New York Sun, July 16, 2008

“At Jupiter... the familiar receives a rare treatment. One of the most powerful concerts that I have ever experienced was their September 11, 2001, memorial, which featured a complete performance of the Mozart Requiem”  more... 

Fred Kirshnit, The New York Sun, April 30, 2008

“Sweets not withstanding, the real nourishment at Good Shepherd-Faith was the music. The Jupiter players do afternoon and evening concerts on 20 Mondays a year, and in tribute to Jens Nygaard, who founded the Jupiter Symphony in 1979 and died in 2001, they offer both familiar and nonstandard repertory. This year’s brochure lists August Klughardt, Bernhard Henrik Crusell, Woldemar Bargiel and other barely known composers alongside Tchaikovsky and Schumann. Most major classical organizations shy away from such material, fearing it will intimidate listeners, but for Mei Ying…manager of the Jupiter, it can engage them even further.”  more... 

Ben Sisario, The New York Times, January 18, 2008

“The Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players would be a welcome addition to the New York music scene regardless of repertoire because of the consistently high quality of their presentations. But what makes them a particular treat is that they tend to concentrate on rarities. On Monday at the Good Shepherd Church, the team offered that most rare of rarities, a popular work re-created in its original version...”  more... 

Fred Kirshnit, The New York Sun, January 9, 2008

“...a world-class performance...a flawless concert...All the tenderness and melodic sweetness were brought forth with technical and musical perfection. The players were in complete accord with the music and with each other...there is nothing but praise to be given this ensemble, to their musical sense, understanding, technical prowess, and above all, their mastery of the literature.”  more... 

Joanne Moryl, Heritage Villager, Friday, June 1, 2007

“Those in the know just keep coming back.”  more... 

Fred Kirshnit, The New York Sun, November 24, 2006

“at the Jupiter concerts, there is always so much about which to be enthusiastic.”  more... 

Fred Kirshnit, The New York Sun, September 27, 2006

“The players clearly relished their mission. At this long journey’s end, when the opening aria returned, Berlinsky had tears in his eyes—and I can assure you he wasn’t the only one....”

Andrew Farach-Colton, The Strad, June, 2006

“This was music-making of a very high order.”

“If we chart on a graph musical quality versus ticket price, few venues in town could match this one.”  more...

Fred Kirshnit, The New York Sun, March 29, 2006

“Lovingly and expertly played by a quartet plus second viola, this was truly impressive music-making. The Allegro was remarkably wellblended and the Prestissimo a very exciting illustration of that Viennese fantasy of how “Gypsy” music is supposed to sound.”

“When an entire neighborhood was leveled to make room for Lincoln Center, this church was the only building to survive. Now, 45 years on, it houses musical performances that are the legitimate rival of the colossus all around it.” 

Fred Kirshnit, The New York Sun, February 8, 2006

“The Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players’ concerts at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church offer an attractive alternative to the slicker productions nearby at Lincoln Center. The musicians are young and vigorous, and they throw themselves into their performances with an abandon that catches the music’s inner fire.” 

Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, September 14, 2005

 “It is one of the city’s cultural jewels.”   more...

Adam Baer, The New York Sun, December 4, 2002

“The Jupiter Orchestra Is a Lively Survivor”  more...

Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, January 26, 2002

 

The New York Times
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Oldies Done in New Palettes
Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players Perform Transcriptions
By Anthony Tommasini

Given the plentitude of chamber music series in New York, it is easy to take low-visibility offerings for granted, despite the consistency, excellence and affordability of their programs. I had not been to a concert by the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players in a long while when I attended Monday afternoon’s program at Good Shepherd Church. I will not let so much time slip by again.

The performers were top-notch, including well-known artists like Cynthia Phelps, the principal violist of the New York Philharmonic, and the pianist Alon Goldstein. The imaginative program was devoted to transcriptions by composers of other composers’ pieces, including Franz Jakob Freystädtler’s transcription for piano, violin, viola and cello of Mozart’s great Quintet in E flat for Piano and Winds (K. 452). It was fascinating, and disorienting (in a good way), to hear this ingenious work in an unfamiliar instrumental guise.

The homey church where these concerts take place, nestled on West 66th Street in the shadow of Lincoln Center, is an intimate and acoustically vibrant place for chamber music, with seating for about 150 people. The place was packed for Monday’s program, the first of two performances that day.

The series is presented as a tribute to Jens Nygaard, the conductor and pianist, a beloved New York fixture, who died at 69 in 2001. An Arkansas farm boy, Nygaard went on to become an inspiring maverick. There were dark periods when he grappled with mental instability and was sometimes homeless. In 1979, he founded the Jupiter Symphony, which offered programs mixing rarities and staples. He was a probing musician who attracted excellent, if meagerly paid, players, as well as loyal audiences.

The orchestra could not go on without him. His companion, Mei Ying, organized the chamber music series in his memory and remains its manager. There are usually 20 programs per season, performed twice on Mondays.

This one opened with a novelty: the String Quintet in C minor by Emanuel Aloys Förster, an Austrian composer acquainted with Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. The quintet was performed in a transcription for wind quintet by Verne Reynolds, a respected horn player and composer who died in 2011.

Before the performance, one of the musicians, the Norwegian horn player Karl Kramer, spoke about the practice of transcription in classical music, explaining that that there could be several rationales. Often a composer adapts a work for different instruments just to hear it with other colorings, he said.

The Forster is a dark, elegant piece with a flowing, ornamented opening movement that anticipates the young Mendelssohn. The final movement, with its Mozartean theme and insistent accompaniment, is especially winning. The playing was splendid.

A lively performance of the transcription of the Mozart quintet came next. Mr. Goldstein, who was the fine pianist in that work, then played a scintillating account of Liszt’s Paraphrase on Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” which turns the well-known quartet from that opera into a fantastical piano piece.

The concert ended with Brahms’s Trio in A minor for clarinet, cello and piano, played in a version in which Brahms transcribed the clarinet part for viola. This score is essential to all clarinetists, who probably have mixed feelings about Brahms’s pushing them aside in this version. The impressive performers here — Mr. Goldstein, Ms. Phelps and the cellist David Requiro — reveled in the transcription. Nygaard would have been delighted.

A version of this review appeared in print on January 8, 2014, on page C5 of the New York editio with the headline: Oldies Done in New Palettes.

 
 

Strad Magazine
October, 2013
Review
By Dennis Rooney

Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players
Christ and St Stephen’s Church
17 June 2013

A finely forthright, fluent and expressive account of Haydn’s Divertimento in E-flat major opened this programme of miscellaneous chamber music in a series known for adventurous programming. A string quartet of violinists Misha Vitenson and Danbi Um, violist Ayane Kozasa and cellist Mihai Marica was joined by bassist Donald Palma and clarinettist Vadim Lando.

These same artists (minus the cellist) were joined by horn player Karl Kramer and bassoonist Gina Cuffari for Bruch’s Septet in E-flat major. A work written when the composer was eleven years old, it attests to his status as a musical prodigy, although he chose to suppress it during his lifetime. Understandably influenced by the septets of Beethoven and Schubert, as well as Mendelssohn’s Octet, it is a remarkably sophisticated and integrated work with a fine balance of form and expression. It was splendidly played.

Beethoven’s Third “Rasumovsky” Quartet op. 59 needs no introduction. The foursome of Vitenson and Um, Kozasa and Marica gave a generally excellent account, although I would have liked more gracefulness in the Andante con moto.

 
 

The New York Times
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
The Creations of Interpreters: Conductors as Composers
By Allan Kozinn

soprano Gina Cuffari and pianist Michael Brown, The New York Times
The soprano Gina Cuffari and the pianist Michael Brown at Good Shepherd-Faith Presbyterian Church (Photo by Ruby Washington/The New York Times)

Unlike pianists and violinists, conductors don’t start perfecting their technique as 5-year-olds. They usually start with an instrument and undertake the full rigors of musical training, including theory and composition studies, before they take up the baton for the first time. Some abandon composition early; some continue to compose throughout their conducting careers, hoping to leave a legacy that will survive them in ways that their performances will not.

The Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players, a group that revels in dusting off obscurities, devoted its program on Monday afternoon (and a repeat on Monday evening) at Good Shepherd-Faith Presbyterian Church to works by five composers who were best known during their lives (and in all but one case, thereafter as well) as conductors.

Most of the pieces offered are known through recordings, and the one score by a conductor whose music has eclipsed his reputation as an interpreter — Mahler’s Piano Quartet, a single youthful movement — has been turning up in concert more frequently lately, this year being the centenary of Mahler’s death. But the group’s efforts proved illuminating, if only because one of the scores, Felix Weingartner’s Octet (Op. 73), is a piece worth a fuller revival.

Weingartner, whose career was based mostly in Vienna, was among the first conductors to record plentifully, and collectors still prize his recordings of the Beethoven and Brahms symphonies. As its opus number suggests, the Octet is a mature work, composed in 1925, when Weingartner was in his early 60s.

Granted, the work pays little heed to the experimental approach to harmony that Schoenberg and his students were exploring at the time. But its 36 minutes are packed with richly lyrical themes, sumptuously scored in a late Romantic style, with occasional nods — well, O.K., full-scale salutes — to Brahms and Mahler.

Yet it also has an original spark, and its challenges for the performers — an ensemble that mirrors the woodwind, brass and string scoring of Schubert’s Octet — are ample. Most notably, it has a prominent, perilously chromatic horn line, which Karl Kramer played beautifully here, and its clarinet and bassoon writing is spirited and shapely.

A pair of songs by Toscanini — “Neurosi” (“Neurosis”) and “Son Gelosa!” (“I Am Jealous!”), both composed in 1885 — proved more charming than memorable, and Gina Cuffari, a soprano (though she is usually the group’s bassoonist), sang them with the right balance of gracefulness and passion.

Michael Brown was a supportive accompanist and held the spotlight ably in Mahler’s thoroughly Brahmsian quartet and in a vital, thoroughly Romantic (here the most prominent influences were Brahms and Dvorak) Piano Quintet that George Szell composed in 1911, when he was about 14.

Between those appealing, if derivative scores, Mr. Brown played a lovely, subtly virtuosic cadenza for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 by Jens Nygaard, the ensemble’s founder, who died in 2001, but whose fascination with rarities continues to drive its programming.

A version of this review appeared in print on September 28, 2011, on page C2 of the New York edition.

 
 

ConcertoNet.com
Monday, September  26, 2011
Baton Versus Pen
By Harry Rolnick


Michael Brown (© Coco T. Dawg)

Arturo Toscanini: Two Songs: “Nevrosi” & “Son Gelosa”; Felix Weingartner: Octet in G Major for clarinet, horn bassoon, two violins, viola, cello and piano, Opus 73; Gustav Mahler: Piano Quartet in A minor; Jens Nygaard: Cadenza, for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24, K. 491; George Szell: Piano Quartet in E Major

Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players: Vadim Lando (Clarinet), Gina Cuffari (Bassoon/Soprano), Karl Kramer (French horn), Misha Vittenson, Lisa Shihoten (Violins), Mark Holloway (Viola), Mihai Marica (Cello), Michael Brown (Piano)

The great surrealist novelist Flann O’Brien once wrote an essay proving beyond logical doubt that conductors not only didn’t need to read music or know the work they were conducting, but they didn’t need to know anything about music at all.

Most orchestral musicians would agree.

Okay, conductors not only understand music, but a rare few actually write music which stands the test of time. The obvious trio would be Mahler, Bernstein and Boulez. Yet, just as the comic wants to do tragedy, many a conductor feels his true path to greatness is creating rather than re-creating.

And the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players, in their quest to find little-known music, utilizing the best chamber players to attempt the unknown, offered a special opportunity yesterday, with two performances (their usual 2pm and 8pm) of music written by full-time conductors.

Three of the conductors worked in the early part of the 20th Century, and their works were certainly conservative, but often surprising. I speak especially of the first work, two songs written by the young Toscanini in 1885, Neurosis and I am jealous. One expected Verdi-like arias, but the dramatic soprano Gina Cuffari showed a Toscanini who obviously related more to German music. Both songs could have been written by Robert Schumann, both offered a passion and line which never touched Italy. And in the second song, several measures had a chromatic slip and slide which could only have been Wagnerian.

Her accompanist, Michael Brown, played in all five works, but his only solo–a cadenza written for pianist William Wolfram, by the founder of the Jupiter Symphony, Jens Nygaard–showed what a limpid, beautifully controlled artist he is. Mr. Nygaard’s cadenza flowed down Mozart lanes and paths, each with beautiful backgrounds. And at the very end, Mr. Nygaard brought forth that martial major theme, like an unexpected gift.


Karl Kramer, Gina Cuffari, Vadim Lando (© Coco T. Dawg)

We had two ensemble pieces, both showing the personalities of their conductor-composers.

Felix Weingartner considered himself a composer more than a conductor, but alas, nobody seems to have heard the 72 works preceding this Opus 73. Of course it is written beautifully, for low strings, piano and low winds, but the style could only be called hybrid.

The two middle movements were basically Brahms resurrected. The slow movement had some fine variations, the minuet wasn’t further advanced. But the opening movement had all the luscious flavor of the very late romantic era, more Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder than the advanced music written when he composed this, in 1925. The finale was a deliciously eccentric march theme, taking conservative liberties, though nothing more advanced than Richard Strauss.

George Szell’s Piano Quartet could have been written for his own enjoyment. It was Brahmsian, pure and simple, composed with total fluency, utter craftsmanship. One could almost hear the Maestro–who had apparently mastered every instrument in the orchestra–saying to his colleagues, “Well, do you want me to take the piano part? The violin? The viola? The cello?”

I save the best for last. Not the music, though. Mahler’s piano quartet, written in 1875, is predictably passionate, lyrical and the work of a fervent, almost demon-ridden composer.

The ominous first theme, though, was somewhere in my memory. And then I recalled that Martin Scorsese–a film director who will go to the ends of the earth for the right music–used the Mahler in his movie Shutter Island.

Gustav might have scorned being “used” for a mere “flicker” (as the movies were called in his time), but his thoughts sung in the Scorsese as much as in Visconti’s Death in Venice.

Mahler in that film was paired up with Feldman, Ligeti, Cage, Penderecki, John Adams, Dinah Washington and others to produce the emotion Scorsese needed for this thriller. I used to think that Kubrick and Mike Nichols were the masters in finding the perfect music for their films. But Scorsese, ever the perfectionist, has uncovered as much rare music as Jupiter Symphony itself.

 
 

Musical America
July, 2011
Critics’ Choice: New York. Not-So-New Music
By Dennis D. Rooney

Jens Nygaard, who founded and conducted the Jupiter Symphony beginning in 1979, died in 2001. He was a tireless exponent of under-appreciated repertory. In tribute to both his memory and his championship of the lesser-known, the Jupiter Chamber Players continue his legacy. Their venue is a nice Romanesque space easy to reach by bus and only a few blocks West of Carnegie Hall. Kopelman, the onetime leader of the Borodin Quartet, appears in a mostly Czech program that begins with the Clarinet Quartet in B flat, Op.21 No. 2 by Franz Krommer (1759-1831). Born Frantisek Kramár in Southern Moravia, Krommer Germanicized his name when he arrived in Vienna, the Imperial capital of the Hapsburg Empire. He was an elder contemporary of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert who outlived them all. Wind players prize his works; the Quartet showcases the clarinet with a graceful polish reminiscent of Weber. Mozart’s Adagio and Menuetto, K. 266, a little trio for two violins and contrabass, is subtitled Nachtmusik and represents an “honorary Czech” as Mozart enjoyed some of his greatest success in the Bohemian capital. Martinu’s Three Madrigals were composed for two celebrated New York musicians, Joseph and Lillian Fuchs, who played the premiere during Christmas week of 1947. Dvorak’s Quintet in G, Op. 77 for string quartet and contrabass, dates from 1875, when the composer had emerged from the Wagnerian shadow of his youth to embrace the Czech national style that would characterize all his subsequent works.

 
 

Seen and Heard International
Monday, May 24, 2011
Concert Review
By Stan Metzger

Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players: Adam Neiman (piano), Anton Barakhovsky (violin), Lisa Shihoten (violin), Paul Neubauer (viola), Maurycy Banaszek (viola), Suren Bagratuni (cello), David Requiro (cello), Kurt Muroki (double bass), Barry Crawford (flute), Vadim Lando (clarinet). Good Shepherd Church, New York City.

Johann Strauss II Emperor Waltz (transcribed by Arnold Schoenberg for piano, string quartet, flute and clarinet)
Richard Strauss Metamorphosen (reconstructed by Rudolf Leopold for 2 violins, 2 violas, 2 celli and double bass from a sketch for string septet found in 1990)
Brahms Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25

This concert was another fine performance of unusual repertory, brilliantly played by little-known musicians. The last of a series of twenty inventive programs that started in September 2010, this concert was planned to end on a high note and it didn’t disappoint.

The program opened with a Schoenberg transcription of a work by a composer who could be considered his exact opposite, Johann Strauss II. Schoenberg himself said the following:

“I don’t see why when other people are entertained I too should not sometimes be entertained…. It would be hypocritical of me to conceal the fact that I occasionally step down from my pedestal and enjoy light music.”

Schoenberg also implied that only light music that had some depth was worth bothering about. He seemed to have found something of interest in the “Emperor Waltz,” enough to make the effort to shrink a whole orchestral score into a work for six players. The end result is much more serious, and more amusing, than the original. These differences between the original and the transcription are subtle and mostly done “behind the scene”: changes in harmony, added counterpoint and instrumental color. This transcription emphasizes the bass instruments and transcribes some of the instrumentation to the flute, clarinet and piano. The result is a work that sounds as if it were written for an accordion or street band with its inebriated oom-pah-pah beat. The choice of solo instruments to replace a full orchestra section gives the work a fresh touch. The instrumentalists played the piece to the hilt, putting it through all of Strauss-Schoenberg’s musical peregrinations. They highlighted all the facets of the score that made the original such a popular work.

We are in a whole new world with Strauss’s Metamorphosen in a transcription by Rudolf Leopold. This is less a transcription than a reduction of players from twenty-three strings to six, and it results in a more intimate reading of a monumental work. Strauss originally referred to this piece as an “Adagio for about 11 strings,” and indeed it has much in common with Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings which came ten years earlier. They both are funereal in nature, bent on creating a somber musical environment. The Metamorphosen though reaches back towards Wagner and the Schoenberg of Verklärte Nacht and is considerably more difficult than Barber’s work. It’s easy to catch on to Barber’s poignant work with an opening main theme that hits you in the face and doesn’t do much else after that. Strauss’s goes on for twice as long, through varied key modulations, producing a deeper harmonic depth. It leads one through a dark landscape with only a few hopeful moments. I was mesmerized from start to finish, caught up in its passionate despair. This is not the Strauss who slowly leads you to the rapturous climaxes of his popular tone poems; to understand it the audience has to go with its sorrowful flow. The players maintained the work’s expressive and mournful mood to its bitter end.

A much more upbeat work concluded the program and the season: Brahms’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor Op. 25. This is perhaps Brahms’s most successful work, at least of his middle period, filled with delightful themes. (Interestingly, Schoenberg transcribed this piece for full orchestra.) The first movement alone has four astoundingly beautiful themes: the opening piano motif taken up immediately by the cello, the lyrical second played by the cello, the soaring third by the violin and viola and the rollicking fourth by the players in unison. This last theme, in the recapitulation, changes surprisingly from a jaunty to a melancholy one, modulating to the minor key as the movement ends on a quiet note. The second movement is a speedy Intermezzo with even an even speedier Trio section marked Animato. After a return to the original tempo, the movement ends with a flourish in the piano, again ending softly in a pp.

The Andante Brio opens with a classic Brahms-style theme, similar in spirit to the Academic Festival Overture. As the work’s slow movement, it doesn’t provide much peace, with stormy chords from the piano filling its central section. It seems that Brahms here, as in his first piano concerto, is writing the symphony he didn’t feel that he was yet capable of writing.

The final movement is the famous Rondo alla Zingarese with its rustic country dance rhythms and poignant middle section. The piano has a workout that requires tremendous dexterity. As would be typical of this country-band music, the piece builds up to a frenzy with Brahms concluding this masterpiece with the designation Molto Presto.

The work, rife with challenges on all levels, as well as the two preceding pieces, was handled admirably by all involved. The entire series presented exceptional performances of unusual repertory that deserves to be better known.

Note: Even though I could not see the pianist Adam Neiman play, I was aware of the fact that there wasn’t a page turner present, and he didn’t seem to be turning pages himself. An announcement was made that he was using an iPad 2. After the concert we spoke briefly, and he said that he was reading the score from the iPad using an app that costs $5. The iPad connected wirelessly to two remote pedals near the piano’s pedals (which cost an additional $110).

 
 

Seen and Heard International
Monday, March 28, 2011
Concert Review
By Stan Metzger

Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players: Roman Rabinovich (piano), Vadim Lando (clarinet), Karl Kramer (horn), Dmitri Berlinsky (violin), Inbal Segev (cello), Good Shepherd Church, New York City.

Weber Variations on a theme from “Silvana,” Op. 33
Robert
Kahn Serenade in F Minor, Op. 73
Mozart
Piano Trio in C Major, K. 548
Haydn
Divertimento a tré, Hob. IV:5
Schoenberg
Verklärte Nacht (“Transfigured Night”), Op. 4

This concert was one of twenty performances in a series at Good Shepherd Church that runs from September to May. In earlier reviews, I praised both the selection of repertory, always programmed to mix familiar names and works with the unfamiliar, as well as the musicians’ high level of technical and interpretive skills. Today’s concert was no exception.

The first work on the program was a set of variations for clarinet and piano by Carl Maria van Weber. Known today mainly for his opera Der Freischütz, Weber was prolific in all musical forms: choral music, songs, concerti, piano sonatas and orchestral suites. He is also considered one of the great composers for the clarinet, writing most of it for the virtuoso Heinrich Bärmann. Because of the prominence of the clarinet in works such as the overture to Der Freischütz, it might give the impression that Weber wrote much more music for clarinet than he actually did. Surprisingly, he wrote just six works for solo clarinet. The work performed here was a set of variations on a theme from Weber’s opera Silvana. The main theme begins with a clarinet playing a phrase that reminded me of the opening notes played by the clarinet and bassoon in Mozart’s “Voi Che Sapete” from The Marriage of Figaro. In fact, both works start with the same two notes and both are in the key of B-flat. Vadim Lando played the variations with élan where needed and a quiet sensuousness elsewhere. Roman Rabinovich’s accompaniment was always sensitive to the clarinet and vigorous in the piano’s two solo variations.

The next piece was a serenade for piano, clarinet and horn by the composer Robert Kahn (1865-1951). In his youth, Kahn met and befriended Brahms, and it is clear from this serenade that Brahms’s influence on him was substantial. In fact, Kahn outdid Brahms in writing trios for different configurations in an attempt to sell his scores to a broader range of players. For example, this serenade’s score was published in nine different combinations for piano, horn, viola, violin, clarinet and oboe. The work is full of late nineteenth-century angst and was played with passion by the musicians.

The first half of the concert concluded with a delightful performance of Mozart’s Piano Trio in C Major. Written in Mozart’s prime between the thirty-ninth symphony and the three last great symphonies, it is in some ways a throwback to the earlier trio style of Haydn. Both Haydn and Mozart wrote piano trios, but Haydn wrote “Piano trios” and Mozart normally wrote “piano Trios”. In the work performed here, however, Mozart ’s emphasis is clearly on the piano, with the other two instruments nearly relegated to obbligatto roles. Rabinovich took the lead in this trio, performing with zest and always keeping an eye on the violinist to assure they were in synch.

After the intermission, Karl Kramer gave a brief introduction to the next work on the program, Haydn’s Divertimento a tré for horn, violin and cello. He stated that the horn part, running through four octaves, was extremely difficult. He then asked the audience to wish him luck and proceeded to flawlessly play this technically challenging piece. At the high end of the instrument’s range it takes embouchure and tight control of air supply to produce the notes, and Kramer handled both aspects with confidence and ease. Since Haydn wrote this work at a relatively early age and never specified which type of horn to play, one could assume he wrote the work for a virtuoso. In his later symphonies he made more realistic demands on the horn players.

The major work on the program was left for last: Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, a programmatic work based on a poem by Richard Dehmel in a transcription by the pianist Edward Steuermann. Schoenberg wrote the piece for a sextet and later transcribed it for string orchestra, so it was quite an accomplishment for Steuermann to convert a work originally scored for six strings down to three. (But then again, Liszt transcribed Beethoven’s Ninth for solo piano!) Although this transcription doesn’t come near the dark, rich, murky quality of the original, it does have the advantage of allowing one to pick up inner voices not normally heard. The violinist, Dmitri Berlinsky, ravishingly imitated the doleful voices of the two programmatic characters. The final dialogue, played in the violin’s upper range, was piercingly beautiful. Although less music was given to the pianist and cellist, they handled their parts with discernment and empathy.

Given the quality of the playing, it is not surprising that the concert hall should have been filled on a Monday afternoon. The audience returns week after week confident that successive concerts will equal or excel their predecessors.

 
 

Seen and Heard International
Monday, November 8, 2010
Concert Review
By Stan Metzger

Reicha, Beethoven, Franck: Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players Series, Roman Rabinovich (piano), Nicholas Canellakis (cello), Vadim Lando (clarinet), Anton Barakhovsky (violin), Lisa Shihoten (violin), Dov Scheindlin (viola), Good Shepherd Church, New York City.

Antoine Reicha - Clarinet Quintet in B-Flat Major, Op. 89 (1808)
Ludwig van Beethoven - String Trio in C Minor, Op. 9 No. 3 (1797)
César Franck - Piano Trio in F-Sharp Minor, Op.1 No. 1 (1840)

In my review of the opening concert in this twenty-concert series, I asked the question, “Will future recitals by the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players hold up to this level of playing?” Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the intervening four concerts, but based on the one reviewed here, the answer is an unequivocal “Yes.” The same two attributes of the first concert that made it successful also informed this one: virtuosic performers and unhackneyed, innovative programming of undeservedly neglected repertory.

Virtuosi they are: the list of awards won and venues played by the members of the group are extensive enough to validate their skills. Both Mr. Rabinovich and Mr. Barakhovsky started as child prodigies and Mr. Scheindlin has earned his stripes as a member for five years of the Arditti Quartet.

This concert was subtitled “Radicals,” but could have been more aptly entitled “Descendants” or “Inheritors.” The line of influence runs from Beethoven through Reicha, a contemporary and friend, to Franck, Reicha’s student. As for being radical, certainly there was nothing of that nature in the Reicha Clarinet Quintet, as delightful as it was. The Beethoven Trio as performed here was instilled with a kind of fire that is not entirely appropriate to this early work. Sometimes playing a composer’s early compositions, with the foreknowledge of later works, makes the music appear more radical than it actually is. Beethoven had written a similar trio three years earlier (the 3rd Trio of the Opus 3 set) that, if played in this manner could equally have been called “radical.” Only the Franck composition might fall under the designation not so much in concept as in practice. The Piano Trio, Franck’s first published piece, certainly sounds ahead of its time with its cyclical theme structure: a method of unifying segments of a work by carrying the opening themes over to later movements, transforming them into other themes, only to return ab initio at the coda. This cyclical structure had been used, though, fifteen years earlier by Beethoven in his last group of quartets. If there was any part of the Franck Trio which was future-looking, it was the pianist’s score.

Mr. Rabinovich mentioned at the beginning of the Franck piece that it was “very difficult and complex.” A glance at the score makes one think not of so much of Beethoven’ s influence but that of Charles-Valentin Alkan’s. Alkan, nine years older than Franck, of whom he was both a friend and a colleague, wrote monumental works for piano. What makes the Franck piece even more difficult than some of Alkan’s compositions is that it allows the pianist no pause. Blocks of chords and arpeggios run continuously through every movement. There is some controversy as to the correct tempo of the first movement described as Andante con Moto but given a metronome marking of 69. The usual verbal description of this number would be at the high end of Adagio and Andante con Moto would normally be near the metronome marking of 100. The rare performances of this work have often followed the metronome marking, so a special award for bravery should be given to this group for playing the music as described by name and not by Franck’s probably incorrect metronome reading. This increase in tempo adds to the technical demands of the pianist in particular. Normally there would be a slow middle movement that would allow the pianist to relax a bit, but not here. Franck has written the middle movement as an Allegro Molto and the final movement, started without pause, as Allegro Maestro. At the conclusion of the piece, Franck, as if making up for the absence of a pause between the second and third movements, places a two measure pause after a false finish. This allowed enough time for the enthusiastic audience to mistakenly get to its feet with bravos before the real final two measures were played.

All the works on this program were confidently performed, giving the appearance of a simplicity which was not, in fact, the case. Mr. Rabinovich at twenty-four looks to be following the path of another virtuoso, the Alkan specialist, Marc-Andre Hamelin.

At the conclusion of the concert the musicians walked off the stage as fresh as they had looked when they came on. It was as if they had finished a marathon without even needing to catch their breath.

This was an all-around exceptional performance of unusual repertory by fearless virtuosi who, although able to attract a devoted audience that filled every seat (even for a 2 p.m. performance), are owed and deserve more publicity and attention than they are currently receiving.

 
 

Seen and Heard International
Monday, September 13, 2010
Concert Review
By Stan Metzger

Giuliani, Diabelli, Boccherini and Beethoven - Opening Concert of the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players: Jason Vieaux (guitar), Misha Vitenson (violin), Lisa Shihoten (violin), Dov Scheindlin (viola), David Requiro (cello), Barry Crawford (flutist), Vadim Lando (clarinet), Good Shephard Church, NewYork City.

Mauro Giuliani - Grand Overture in A Major, Op.61 (solo guitar)
Anton Diabelli - Third Grande Sérénade in A Major, Op.66 (flute, clarinet, guitar)
Luigi Boccherini - Guitar Quintet in G minor, G.450
Ludwig van Beethoven - String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Major (with Grosse Fuge)

In a city as large and diverse as New York, one wonders why there aren’t more live classical performances on any given day. A quick glance at Paris and London’s musical events calendar show them both as having over 40 concerts and operas scheduled next week. New York City for the same week has about 15. Granted, our government’s funding and support for the arts have never matched those of other countries, but even with the near collapse of the world economy there are dozens more musically active groups in Europe than in the US. A running joke here has been that at any hour of the day or night somewhere in Paris there is group performing the Four Seasons.

The Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players, which is now in its tenth season, must be doing something right to be successful enough to schedule 20 concerts, each one performed on a Monday afternoon and evening. I’ve been to lunchtime and mid-afternoon concerts at various churches over the years which are free or which ask for a donation, and they are never more than half-filled. It came as quite a surprise then, that the group’s first concert of the season appeared to be sold out. From the response to director Mei Ying’s welcoming speech, it also seemed that the audience has been coming back year after year. In many ways what they are doing would seem to contradict the things traditionally assumed to cause an early demise for classical music organizations: performing each concert at an inconvenient time (2:00 PM), charging for tickets, having the venue be a church with the audience seated on folding chairs. And finally, not catering to the lowest common denominator by programming popular pieces. No warhorses here: Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, no, his neglected, underperformed masterpiece, the Piano Trio in A minor, yes; Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, no, his Clarinet Quartet (I never knew one existed), yes. How many of us have heard compositions by Anton Diabelli, Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, Niels Wilhelm Gade, Johann Georg Lickl, or Chistian Frederik Emil Hornemann, just to name a few? Certainly, from one performance it would be difficult to generalize about the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players’ success given all the “wrong” things it’s doing; but to my mind their success is obviously due to the quality of the players and performances as well as the intelligent and uncompromising selection of repertoire. The Diabelli and Boccherini heard here are seldom performed.

The opening guitar solo by Jason Vieaux set the standard for the rest of the concert. Mr. Vieaux played the piece, which has overtones of Mozart and Beethoven overtures, with self-assurance and concentration, never once flinching at the voices and construction trucks outside that unfairly competed against his soft-spoken guitar. The piece is filled with fast-moving runs of triplets which Mr. Vieaux played with ease and tremendous flair.

Diabelli’s Grande Sérénade in A Major, Op.66 is no masterpiece and “grande” is perhaps a misnomer, but it is an engaging piece, delightfully performed. Although written for flute, viola and guitar, the viola part had been transcribed here for clarinet. The guitar rarely soloed and served more like a basso continuo than as an equal partner. I question some of the choices in tempo: both andantes marked cantabile were played a little too fast and I have no idea what tempo the composer wanted when marking the brief rondo as pastorale. Certainly, as lovely as it was, it did not evoke the rustic feelings felt in Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony for example. Nonetheless, the group seemed to draw from the work’s slight interior whatever substance it possessed and I can’t imagine a better performance of the piece.

The next item, Boccherini’s Guitar Quintet No. 6 in G minor [sic] is cousin to the better known Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D Major, the latter containing the famous Fandango. The opening movement of the 6th Quintet is a very bouncy, quite charming country dance in quarter time. Listening to it, I knew there was no way that this piece could be in a minor key, but not having absolute or good relative pitch I suspended my disbelief thinking that the performance was so good, which it was, that they were somehow able to make it sound as if it were in the major. The simple answer of course was that there was an error in the program notes: virtuosi these players might be, but not magicians. Slight liberties, once again, were taken with the tempo of the second movement which was played perhaps closer to Allegretto than the composer’s marked Andantino lento. The third movement, marked Tempo di Minuetto, is notable for its use of a fughetta as the main theme and for its real forays into minor keys, putting it in sharp contrast to the cheery final Allegretto. All in all, a delightful performance of an equally delightful piece of music.

But nothing in the first half of this concert prepared me for the final piece, Beethoven’s last string quartet with the Grosse Fuge, usually performed as a separate work, restored to its proper place as the quartet’s final movement. From the opening Adagio to the last towering, monumental movement, the performers held me captive. They played it as if for the first time and I heard it that way. This is not a piece that is easy to play. It’s a challenge for any chamber group to synchronize and then fine tune their individual contributions, but this was accomplished with tremendous energy and panache. The Grosse Fuge was performed as if by one person, so well integrated were the instruments and awe was the chief sensation I felt when at the end they lifted their bows from the strings. With no attempt to soften the raw edges or candy-coat the movement’s dissonance, it clearly sounded a good 75-100 years ahead of its time: aside from Charles Ives maybe, who was writing this kind of music even in the early years of the twentieth century. Will the future recitals by the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players hold up to this level of playing? I look forward to finding out.

 
 

ConcertoNet.com
Monday, January  4, 2010
The Voice of the Hedgehog
By Harry Rolnick

Cynthia Phelps, violaWolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Sonata in Bb Major for bassoon and cello, K. 292; Felice Giardini: Duet No. 2 for viola and bassoon; Carl Maria von Weber: Andante and Rondo Ungarese, Op. 35 (arranged by Mordechai Rechtman); Leos Janácek: Concertino; Antonin Dvorák: String Quartet No. 12 in F Major “American”

Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players: Sergey Ostrovsky, Robyn Bollinger (Violins), Cynthia Phelps (Viola), Joshua Roman (Cello), Frank Morelli (Bassoon), Einav Yarden (Piano), Vadim Lando (Clarinet), Alana Vegter (Horn)

Why concert agents should worry during the recession is beyond me. The recipe for success is simple.

First, bring together First Chair players from the NY Philharmonic, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra de la Suisse Romande, and the Seattle Symphony, along with international prize-winners. Second, put them in a resonant church concert hall. Third, entice an especially appreciative audience who wants to hear rare music played by rare artists.

And there you go. Guaranteed success!! Anyhow, success Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players style, which does it every two weeks, with concerts in the afternoon and evening.

This afternoon programmed Mozart and Weber. But who knew that Mozart wrote a sonata for bassoon and cello?? Who ever heard Weber’s delightful Hungarian variations for bassoon and viola?? And while Leos Janácek has been given a renaissance these past few years, his Concertino–actually a piece for flaura and fauna–is hardly ever performed.

The most unusual artist was the Orpheus bassoonist Frank Morelli, who I suppose, having little technical knowledge of his instrument, is one of the prime players of our day. The personable artist gave lie to Thomas Mann’s contention that the instrument is “weak in sound....burlesque.” No, this does not have French horn resonance, but Mr. Morelli turned it into a virtuoso solo instrument in three works.

The Mozart sonata (perhaps the beginning of a concerto) began almost Bach-like, since the cello played a kind of basso continuo role. But the third movement was a rollicking rondo, with all the trills and octave jumps imaginable.

Weber’s work was melodically and instrumentally more interesting (the solo viola was changed into a string trio), with a bumptious Hungarian theme.

Fascinating were the colors of Felice de Giardini’s Duet for Bassoon and Viola, since the timbres complemented each other. In this case, Cynthia Phelps–the NY Phil’s violist who recently performed Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante with the orchestra–provided the bounce to Mr. Morelli’s lyric playing.

Finishing the program was a vivacious Dvorák “American” String Quartet, with lovely playing by Ms. Phelps and first violin Sergey Ostovsky in the second movement. I always regret that few quartets play the second subject in strict tempo (as the composer indicates in my score), and this group went along with the crowd. But the sounds, especially in this church auditorium, resonated with good-natured Dvorák cheer, and the last measures were spine-tingling.

The best is last. Leos Janácek’s paean to pests and rodents. We don’t have to know that the first movement depicts a hedgehog trying to go down a blocked hole (though, without a theme, that makes sense). It isn’t essential to hear the second movement as a squirrel jumping from tree to tree (though the E flat clarinet obviously jumps with the piano). The third movement, with its wonderful bird-calls speaks literally for itself.

But in the finale, all our animals get together, and here the swirl of strings turned New York’s freezing exterior into a bucolic (and sometimes hectic) spring day inside the aptly-named Good Shepherd church.

I have personally loved the Concertino for many years, not least for its mammalian references. The wind, string and piano parts were played with such free-spirited feeling that I eschewed the coffee intermission go outside and relish our own squirrels, pigeons, the blustering wind and the remaining rays of the nurturing winter sun.

 
 

ConcertoNet.com
Monday, October  19, 2009
An Endearing Obsession
By Harry Rolnick

Ilya Itin, Dmitri BerlinskyAlexander Glazunov: Five Novelettes
Mikhail Glinka: Trio Pathétique
Dmitri Shostakovich: Piano Quintet

Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players: Ilya Itin (Piano), Dmitri Berlinsky, Erin Keefe (Violins), Maurycy Banaszek (Viola), Inbal Segev (Cello), Vadim Lando (Clarinet), Gina Cuffari (Bassoon)

Excluding the irritating, maniacal, childish, and psychotically obsessional scherzo from the Shostakovich Piano Quintet, the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Society [sic] offered yet another program of discovery and enlightenment.

That one despised movement, played with great glee by the artists here, does have its impish glee. But two hours after the concert, it was ringing in my ear, a tinnitus à la Russe, with no antidote in earshot.

Still, Jupiter can be forgiven, since every concert is inspiring. The artists are first-rate, the music is never routine, and the acoustics of Good Shepherd Church, while not for the purist who desires dry, clarified, test-tube sterilized sounds, has the resonance, almost a bathroom echo which gives the illusion that one is playing next to the artists themselves.

From the first of three Russian pieces, Glinka’s Trio Pathétique, the music was never routine. When played, as usual, with violin, cello and piano, this has an unoriginal salon feeling. When performed, for the original instruments–clarinet, bassoon and piano–Glinka’s color contrast is greater, the music brighter. Granted, except for a few dark measures, this early work from the “Father of Russian Music” could have been written by Weber, Cimarosa or Reicha. But Jupiter’s habitual clarinetist Vadim Lando, has such impeccable technique, seeming to make everything easy, that this early Glinka work was more interesting than usual. Bassoonist Gina Cuffari gave the contrast with as much ease. Pianist Ilya Itin gave it the easy phrasing which it deserved.

Pleasant as this was, the string quartet doing Glazunov’s early–and misnamed–Five Novelettes gave the sweep which this piece deserved. Not novelettes at all, but geographical places, it showed Glazunov at his best, a melodist who could imitate many musical styles.

In order, his entrancing movements encountered Spain (with a very Russian second theme); the “orient”, in this case one of the wild Scythian tribes, with the same theme that Borodin used in his Dances; a modal theme (think of Glazunov’s teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov in Russian Easter Overture), a waltz, and a plainly ersatz Hungarian finale.

Here, in contrast to the later work, the instruments had an airiness, a straightforward embrace of the different styles. Cellist Inbal Segev produced one the most beautiful solos in the third movement, but all four instruments gave that light touch to Glazunov’s time-space trip.

Of course the most substantial work was Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet, a work which ranges from the most agonizing probing to sarcasm (the obsessional scherzo) the enigmatic finale.

The splendid young Russian violinist Dmitri Berlinsky, residing now in Michigan, probably took note of the room’s acoustics, since he didn’t need to press hard on his strings to bring the Russian tone to the work. His solo in the long Intermezzo was the only time he used a greater weight in tone, but it only underlined his very sweet tone. Pianist Itin started the work with a masterful prelude, but the singularity of this performance was how closely the performers worked together for ensemble feel. Shostakovich is perhaps the only 20th Century composer for whom the fugue was natural, not an homage to an earlier time. And the players took on the melodies with an inevitable and ever increasing pulsation.

The finale was such a solid performance that the quiet finale came as a surprise even to those who know the work well. But that is typical for a weekly Monday series (2pm and 7.30pm) which unfailingly enthralls.

 
 

The New York Times
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
A Night Out for Neglected Chamber Pieces by 19th-Century Masters
By Allan Kozinn

Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players, The New York Times
Rachel Papo for The New York Times - The Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players, with Inga Kapouler on piano, Cynthia Phelps on viola and Vadim Lando on clarinet, in performance at the Good Shepherd Church in Manhattan on Monday.

The enterprising and sublimely idiosyncratic conductor Jens Nygaard died eight years ago this week, and since then the core members of the orchestra he founded, the Jupiter Symphony, have presented an expansive chamber music series in his memory. “A Living Tribute to Jens Nygaard” is printed on the programs over the ensemble’s name - now the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players - and its repertory is grounded in Nygaard’s taste for overlooked composers and neglected scores by composers we think we know well.

Three of the four works the group played on Monday afternoon at the Good Shepherd Church were by 19th-century composers everyone knows, but they were oddities all the same: the kinds of works that turn up on recordings but are rarely trotted out for state performances.

In the case of Schumann’s “Marchenerzählungen” (Op. 132), the music itself is as lyrical and driven as any of the composer’s chamber scores and requires no apology. Its rarity may have more to do with its odd scoring, for clarinet, viola and piano. Vadim Lando, the clarinetist, and Cynthia Phelps, the violist (borrowed from the New York Philharmonic), played their closely intertwined lines as a dialogue and a dance, with animated support from Inga Kapouler, the pianist.

Weber’s Flute Trio in G minor (Op. 63) may be more of an acquired taste. Though the flutist Barry Crawford, the cellist Ani Aznavoorian and Ms. Kapouler gave it an energetic, tightly focused reading, its gracefully tuneful flute lines and hard-driven piano and cello writing hung together awkwardly.

The surviving movement of Mahler’s Piano Quartet in A minor (1876) was a treat. Mahler was barely 16 when he composed it, but this quartet, built of themes with many of the melodic and rhythmic characteristics that turn up regularly in his later works, hints at his penchant for textural lushness.

Ms. Phelps, Ms. Aznavoorian and two violinists, Misha Vitenson and Lisa Shihoten, closed the concert with Hans Rott’s String Quartet in C minor. Rott was a student of Bruckner’s and a friend of Mahler’s who went mad at 22 and died at 25. Its first movement shows great promise, if you take its Romantic sentimentality in stride. But it is clearly a student work, with its models barely disguised: its scherzo is thoroughly Mendelssohnian, its Minuet (which lacks a trio) is Mozartean, and its finale channels Bach. The later Symphony in A offers a better hint of what Rott might have achieved but is not heard much either.

 
 

ConcertoNet.com
Monday, September  21, 2009
Dusting Off the Jewelry
By Harry Rolnick

Cynthia Phelps, violaRobert Schumann: Märchenerzählungen (Fairy Tales) for Clarinet, Viola and Piano, Op. 132; Carl Maria von Weber: Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano in G minor, J. 259/Op. 63; Gustav Mahler: Quartet for Piano and Strings in A minor; Hans Rott: String Quartet in C Minor

Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players: Misha Vitenson, Lisa Shihoten (Violins), Cynthia Phelps (Viola), Inga Kapouler (Piano), Ani Aznavoorian (Cello), Barry Crawford (Flute), Vadim Lando (Clarinet)

A friend once described Hans Rott as “a composer who died early so that Gustav Mahler could plunder his ideas.” While not exactly true, Hans Rott, an organist who died in an insane asylum at the age of 25, wrote one symphony which was rightly revered by Gustav Mahler. Rott had been a school companion of Mahler, a student of Bruckner, and a man who could well have overshadowed Mahler had he lived even ten years more.

Why this biography? Because the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players have once again outdone themselves with two concerts yesterday. The players were excellent, yes. But their choice of program was singularly original. It wasn’t that all four Central European composers died young (only Mahler lived to be 51), or that the works were relatively or completely unknown. The essential part was that all four pieces had moments of unexpected brilliance.

The Schumann and Weber are rare because their forces-clarinet-viola-piano, and flute-cello-piano-are hardly common. But each work was certainly worthwhile. The Schumann Fairy Tales was hardly Mickey Mouse music. From the beginning, this is dark music inspired by the Grimms, not Mr. Anderson. Less pleasant tunes than intricate interweavings of the three instruments, it was played with apt severity by the soloists. Clarinetist Vadim Lando danced his way through tuned ideally with New York Philharmonic principal violist Cynthia Phelps.

Perhaps it helps to know that Schumann was about to be placed in the insane asylum himself when this was composed, but those dark streaks he had in his brain incorporated themselves painlessly into all four inspired movements.

The Weber Trio started with equal darkness, a dramatic opening which promised great things. Instead, outside of the second movement, this was well-constructed pleasantness. That second movement, almost entirely for flutist Barry Crawford, was total charm. Nothing sophisticated, except in the playing, but the ländler folkish music was bright and solid. It shouldn’t take much effort to orchestrate this movement, as it could make a delicious encore work for any soloist.

After the intermission, the Jupiter Players gave the two rarest of works. The Mahler one-movement Piano Quartet had been hidden for decades, and even Donald Mitchell’s authoritative Mahler biography found no trace. Its discovery is more of historical than musical interest, though the 12-minute piece was never dull.

The Brahmsian sound did have a few measures of the authentic Mahler voice (out-of-kilter modulations and folk-like tunes), but the main Mahler imprimatur was the sudden change of moods. The strings and piano played with all the brio needed (violinist Misha Vitenson led the group with dashing élan), and the movement made its youthful point.

Onto Mr. Rott. I have been an ardent admirer of his single symphony (though never having heard it live). Rott, an organist like his teacher Anton Bruckner, was a born orchestrator, and his horns, his brass fanfares and his sudden consort moods were far more futuristic than early Mahler. This first hearing of the String Quartet was not initially so impressive, although it is obviously the work of a man whose voice would have been loud and clear.

The opening begins with a tragic drooping interval, that is transformed in a dozen ways throughout the movement. Just when you think this will be a conventional sonata form, Rott takes another direction, but it all hangs together. The Adagio has a theme which echoes Swan Lake, but this hardly detracts from the wonderful inner feelings of Rott, feelings which could well have inspired Mahler’s Adagietto several decades later.

The next two movements are awfully strange. A brilliant scherzo-and then, of all things, a Haydnesque minuet. This was not a minuet parody à la Prokofiev, but the real thing, give or take a few chords.

The finale had all the earmarks of Mahler: the grand theme, the diversions, and the recapitulation with even greater grandeur.

It was played with fierce dedication, like all which this wonderful concert series produces. More than that, they had discovered, in the final two pieces, two buried treasures, which, on the first day of Fall, showed an autumnal golden light.

 
 

The New York Times
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Revisiting the Rare, in Search of a Surprise
By Allan Kozinn

Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players, The New York Times

It may seem perilous for an ensemble to build its repertory mostly on rarities and forgotten works, particularly if the group at least implicitly promises that its discoveries are worth a listener’s attention. Often music sinks into oblivion for a reason. Can there really be enough obscure high-quality work to fill out a program just about every other week?

The Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players make a forceful argument that it is possible indeed. And having dropped in on the group’s concerts periodically over the last few years, I’m inclined to agree. That is not to say that everything these musicians play is a full-fledged masterpiece. But the music is often surprising, never less than entertaining.

Among the works on the group’s Monday afternoon program at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church were unusual glimpses of Glinka and Puccini. Glinka, best known for his seminal Russian operas “A Life for the Czar” and “Ruslan and Ludmila,” was heard here as an Italian opera fancier. His “Divertimento Brillante on Themes From Bellini’s ‘Sonnambula,’ ” for piano, string quartet and bass, reveled in the florid flightiness of Bellini’s style. The pianist, Adam Neiman, had the spotlight largely to himself: the piano line was the soaring diva here, with the strings providing big punctuating chords and, at times, dramatic heft.

You could think of Puccini’s Minuet for string quartet as another instance of his penchant for musical tourism: the same impulse that led him to evoke (however superficially) China in “Turandot,” Japan in “Madama Butterfly” and the American West in “La Fanciulla del West” carried him to 18th-century Vienna for this elegant trifle. It’s not quite Mozart, but you wouldn’t immediately identify it as Puccini.

The real finds here were two conservative but powerful 20th-century scores. You can hear inklings of Nino Rota’s film music in his Nonet (1959, revised 1976), but those are fleeting; this is unquestionably a concert work in a lively Neo-Classical style. Rota’s instrumentation is remarkable, not least in brisk, swirling passages that offer complete transparency even when the music is at its densest. Achieving that clarity is only partly Rota’s work; the performance was beautifully balanced and morphed naturally from high-spirited playfulness to dark chromaticism and back.

The other modern work was Vittorio Giannini’s Piano Quintet (1932), an excursion into full-throttle Romanticism that has its lugubrious stretches as well as a few acerbic, almost Shostakovich-like passages. The ensemble spared no energy here; the finale could hardly have been more thunderous.

A version of this article appeared in print on January 7, 2009, on page C9 of the New York edition.

 
 

ConcertoNet.com
Monday, September 8, 2008
Long Day’s Czerny Into Night
By Harry Rolnick

Lucille Chung, pianoLudwig von Beethoven: Trio, Opus 11 “Street Song”; Carl Czerny: Grande Sérénade Concertante, Op. 126; Johannes Brahms: String Quintet in F Minor (reconstructed by Sebastian H. Brown)

Lucille Chung (piano), Xiao-Dong Wang, Lisa Shihoten (violins), Dov Scheindlin (viola), David Requiro, Bronwyn Banerdt (cellos), Barry Crawford (flute), Vadim Lando (clarinet), Karl Kramer (French horn)

About 30 years ago, an iconoclastic conductor named Jens Nygaard started the Jupiter Symphony to present excellent professional musicians introducing some of the more neglected music of the 19th century. It was a revolutionary idea, he succeeded in his goal, but with his passing, the Jupiter Symphony scaled down its forces, and is still presenting rarities of the past.

The quality of the music varies. Like Leon Botstein, whose American Symphony Orchestra resurrects Late Romantic rarities, these players have a series of 20 performances in the 100-year-old church (the only building on West 66th Street still standing!!). And they are especially proud to introduce music by composers who aren’t even listed in Groves or Wikipedia.

Their three works for the opening concert of the season were not from rare composers, but I doubt that anybody had heard them in these arrangements. They did have the advantage of a roomy, resonant (sometimes too-resonant) church hall, and a group of the most international musicians who were, to a man or woman, simply phenomenal.

I speak especially of Lucille Chung, who I had last heard live in Hong Kong in 2000, but who now is one of the great interpreters of Scriabin and Ligeti. In the Beethoven Trio and a technically stormy piece by Czerny, she was not only perfect on the keys, but she gave color, impetus and—yes, let’s face it—brashness.

No reason not to. The first was Beethoven’s “street song” Trio, here with flute substituting for clarinet. In a way, this was more preferable. Clarinet and cello share much of the same range, and the color is muted for such an outgoing work. But flutist Barry Crawford, once in the original Jupiter orchestra, was delightful, especially in the last variations (based on a pennywhistle melody), with as much enthusiasm as Ms. Chung. Cellist David Requiro was a bit disappointing, playing a subtle and delicate cello (almost like a continuo) next to his edgy partners.

The Grande Sérénade Concertante was written by the greatest pianist of his day—until outdone by his own pupil Franz Liszt. Czerny’s was, like Alkan and the later Thalberg, an exhibitionist, but one with such joy in his own proficiency that profundity or depth would have been gratuitous.

The truth is that the piece could have been written for piano alone, with all the pyrotechnics and fireworks on the keyboard. And all taken by Ms. Chung in her stride. But the outgoing work had some whiz-bang clarinet solos by Vadim Lando and spotlessly clean horn playing by Karl Kramer. The result was a work which never outlived its fun, was a pleasure, and will soon be forgotten.

The second half was devoted to a familiar work by Brahms/not-Brahms, and which needs a history all its own.

Brahms had written a string quintet (with two cellos), which his friend Joachim said was “too muddy,” and which Brahms discarded after rewriting it for two pianos. Joachim liked that, but Clara Schumann didn’t like it and said he should make an orchestral version. Instead, Brahms discarded that, and wrote the Piano Quintet, which everybody liked. (The orchestral version was written a century later by Arnold Schoenberg.)

In the late 1940s, one Sebastian Brown, a musicologist who supposedly heard Eternal Voices commanding him to write the original Brahms, did just that. Not from scraps of the original, but from the Voices, from scholarship, and from the Piano Quintet. And that was (whew!) what was played yesterday.

The five players were wonderful, they played with vigor and strength, and the few solo parts (many given to violist Dov Scheindlin) were quite brilliant. Alas, the mystical Mr. Brown could well have left it alone. Compared to both the Piano Quintet and the Schoenberg work, this did seem muddy, fat, the Brahms lines blurred. Perhaps in a drier concert hall, it would have had a cleaner time of it. But here, the resonances which augmented the colors of diverse instruments in the first two pieces only smudged some of Brahms’ finer inspirations.

Still, it was worth hearing one time. So, too, should the 19 future concerts of Jupiter be this year, featuring works by Schlegel, Rufinatscha (the pride of the Tyrol Mountains), Sobeck, Gernsheim....and less obscure composers like Bach, Haydn, Puccini, and lots of Schubert.

If God is dead, at least these creative young musicians are showing that the Presbyterian Church still vibrates with life.

 
 

The New York Sun
Wednesday
, July 16, 2008
Rare Jewels From the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players
By Fred Kirshnit

If you Google the composer Vincenzo Gambaro, the search engine attempts to redirect you to Vincenzo Gambino, a Milanese doctor who has apparently discovered a miraculous cure for baldness. This gambit is understandable, as there is considerable doubt about the existence of Gambaro. His chimerical qualities, however, have not deterred the intrepid explorers of the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players, who presented his Quatuor Concertant for Four Winds as part of an excellent concert at the Church For All Nations on Monday evening.

Every summer, the players abandon their digs at the Church of the Good Shepherd, the only survivor of the renovation that created Lincoln Center, and hit the road for an air-conditioned environment. This season, the venue is three blocks west of Carnegie Hall.

So who is Vincenzo Gambaro? Is he a P.D.Q. Bach character, an invention, a fiction? The best historical guess is that he is the nom de plume of clarinetist and composer Giovanni Battista Gambaro, an Italian living in Paris in the early 19th century, whose specialties included a lot of music for military bands. Judging from this example, his music is lively, fresh, brash, and appealing.

The quartet (Barry Crawford, flute, Vadim Lando, clarinet, Karl Kramer-Johansen, horn, and Gina Cuffari, bassoon) was especially adept at bringing out the élan vital and, even more challenging, the humor of this piece. Good spirit abounded and interplay was remarkably precise. As a companion piece, the group — minus the horn — presented another rollicking work for winds, the Trio in G Major, Op. 47, No. 2 by Ignace Pleyel, a very well-known figure in Paris — the newly refurbished Salle Pleyel is roughly the equivalent of our Carnegie Hall — but certainly underplayed in America.

What do Bela Bartok, Zoltan Kodaly, Ernst von Dohnanyi, Leo Weiner, and Emmerich Kalman have in common? They all had the same composition teacher, a German named Hans Koessler who held sway at what is now called the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. The featured work of the evening was his String Sextet in F Minor.

Written in 1902, this piece of dripping Romanticism is really a full symphony for chamber group. The ensemble (Misha Keylin and Lisa Shihoten, violins, Robert Meyer and Kathryn Lockwood, violas, and Ani Aznavoorian and Caroline Stinson, cellos) presented it with an expansive sense of scope, big gestures, and superb blending. Every player had an opportunity to shine, as Koessler occasionally gives the melody to the second viola and thematic introductions to the second violin. A cousin of Max Reger, Koessler sometimes emulates his relative’s thick chamber textures, but the composer who kept coming to mind was the Arnold Schoenberg of “Transfigured Night,” realized just three years earlier in 1899. True, Koessler colors only inside the lines, but his sense of the febrile and his expertise in sonority elevates this piece to significant heights. Every now and then, a rarity in concert can inspire further study. I would certainly want to experience more of Koessler after hearing such a white-hot reading.

The familiar was also represented with a lovely flute quintet of Boccherini and the Adagio and Menuetto in B Flat Major, K. 266 of Mozart. The former was sprightly and warm, but the latter suffered from too quick a tempo. The Adagio was hurried to the point of a loss of elasticity, as if it were a tossed off middle section in a Baroque piece rather than a profound standalone work of Mozart, while the dance was hardly danceable at this advanced rate of speed. But this night, the rarities glittered like jewels.

 
 

The New York Sun
Wednesday
, April 30, 2008
Franz Berwald Gets His Due
By Fred Kirshnit

Who is the most unjustly neglected composer? A strong case can be made for Franz Berwald, whose Septet was performed this week at the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church by members of the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players. Berwald wrote four magnificent symphonies in the 1840s that were the equals of those by his contemporaries Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann, but his being Swedish left him out of the loop of German hegemony in musical matters.

The parallel career in American music is Charles Ives’s. Toiling in obscurity, both men wrote masterpieces that became increasingly radical as they got older. Both men were disappointed to hear so few performances of their works in their lifetimes. Both settled on careers in business. But Berwald, lacking the financial acumen of Ives, lost much more money than he made. Although he was praised by Franz Liszt as a card-carrying member of the “music of the future” crowd, Berwald lacked a champion. Ives had, albeit posthumously, an ardent advocate in Leonard Bernstein; no maestro has taken the same trouble with Berwald.

Fortuitously, groups such as the Jupiter still spend their precious time unearthing treasures like this charming chamber work. A relatively youthful endeavor, not as revolutionary as the later symphonies, it nonetheless is a major work of early Romanticism. Several of these musicians are former first-chair players from the groundbreaking and courageous Jupiter Symphony, created and led by Jens Nygaard. They have devoted much to the cause of musical archaeology.

The Septet is scored for strings and winds and has a remarkable bottom highlighted by bassoon and double bass. From the first chord it was clear that this was a rich sonic universe with considerable reverberation. Positively symphonic in its heft, it creates a naturalistic landscape through which pass noble and jolly melodies. Had this same piece been presented as the work of, say, the German Louis Spohr, it would undoubtedly have had more of a continuous performance history.

At Jupiter - or is it on Jupiter? - the familiar receives a rare treatment. One of the most powerful concerts that I have ever experienced was their September 11, 2001, memorial, which featured a complete performance of the Mozart Requiem, except that the group chose the string quartet version sans chorus. This current concert featured Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 11 in F major, but instead of a chamber orchestra, the Jupiterians accompanied pianist Seymour Lipkin with a string quartet augmented in key spots by double bass. The result was illuminating, what Ives would have called “not for the lily-eared.”

Mr. Lipkin is a superb practitioner who has at least as distinguished a career as a pedagogue than as an artist. He calls to mind Rudolf Serkin, clear and focused, steadfast in rhythm and meter, gentle but eloquent of touch. The unusual backup group allowed the piano to be that much crisper in tone, the sound complimentary but distinct. There was one moment in the opening Allegro where the soloist and the ensemble were not exactly together. The delineation of line in this version was so distinct that this minor peccadillo was magnified a bit. But the compensation for the listener was an overall performance of remarkable clarity.

On the unfamiliar scale, Franz Anton Hoffmeister is probably about an eight, known more to readers of musical biographies than to actual listeners. The group offered his lovely Trio in D for flute, cello, and piano. But Anselm Huttenbrenner is definitely a ten, and judging by his thick, dark, and mysterious String Quintet in C minor, he does not deserve such obscure status. With excellent performances like this one, perhaps his champion will emerge from the landscape of Jupiter.

 
 

The New York Times
Friday
, January 18, 2008
A Joyful Noise: Midday Music
By Ben Sisario

I HAD never seen anyone walk through a church so fast.

It was 2:42 on a Monday afternoon, and the last sweet note of a piece by the obscure 18th-century composer Amédée Rasetti had just rung out in the Good Shepherd-Faith Presbyterian Church near Lincoln Center. Almost as soon as the applause began, audience members began darting to one corner of the room, and it took a moment to see what everybody was after: doughnut holes!

My stomach had rumbled a bit through the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players’ lunchtime reading of the Rasetti piece, a lighthearted, Mozartean trio for piano, bassoon and flute. So I queued up and got my snack of tea and Munchkins, which really hit the spot.

The evening performance is the standard event in the classical calendar, when moneyed patrons patronize, premieres get their premieres, and reviewers review. But an equal, if humbler, part of the musical landscape is the weekday afternoon recital, when artists take to churches, corporate atriums and even big concert halls to play for lunching workers, retirees and all other daytime music lovers. And with tickets to evening events at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center typically exceeding $30, noontime shows have another attraction: They’re usually much cheaper, if not free.

In sheer range and quality these events rival their evening counterparts. Over two weeks of daytime concerts, I was entertained in some of the most beautiful houses of worship in New York by world-class professional musicians; saw the New York Philharmonic with the pleasant buzz of my morning coffee still lingering; and dodged palm trees and 9-to-5ers as part of a music-theater performance at the World Financial Center downtown.

Sweets not withstanding, the real nourishment at Good Shepherd-Faith was the music. The Jupiter players do afternoon and evening concerts on 20 Mondays a year, and in tribute to Jens Nygaard, who founded the Jupiter Symphony in 1979 and died in 2001, they offer both familiar and nonstandard repertory. This year’s brochure lists August Klughardt, Bernhard Henrik Crusell, Woldemar Bargiel and other barely known composers alongside Tchaikovsky and Schumann.

Most major classical organizations shy away from such material, fearing it will intimidate listeners, but for Mei Ying…manager of the Jupiter, it can engage them even further.

“I look at it as Music Appreciation 101,” she said. “Brahms, who is so huge to us today, has overshadowed so many wonderful composers that also worked in his time and were his friends and colleagues, people like Friedrich Gernsheim and Anselm Hüttenbrenner. We’ve done their pieces, and the audience gets to see not only that Brahms is alive, but that there were other people in his time who are alive.”

…American Express, Merrill Lynch and Brookfield Properties sponsor an extensive series at the World Financial Center…. Informal contexts like this have a higher threshold for noise than do formal concert halls. Inside the gorgeous Central Synagogue on Lexington Avenue…I was barely fazed by the honks and screeches coming in from the street. Sacred or profane, it all just seemed a part of the city.

At the same time, daytime concertgoers can be the best behaved of all. At Good Shepherd-Faith, where the Jupiter clientele is mostly retirees, all sat in rapt silence once the music began. I have never witnessed such decorum even at the Metropolitan Opera, where tickets cost up to 15 times as much.

At first I thought people might have fallen asleep, something I’ve seen plenty of times at the Met. (And at the Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall.) But every eye was focused on the musicians and every face was lost in thought. They were all there for the most important part of their day, the music. The free snacks were just the icing on the doughnut hole.

 
 

The New York Sun
Wednesday
, January 9, 2008
Both Sides of the Story
By Fred Kirshnit

The Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players would be a welcome addition to the New York music scene regardless of repertoire because of the consistently high quality of their presentations. But what makes them a particular treat is that they tend to concentrate on rarities. On Monday at the Good Shepherd Church, the team offered that most rare of rarities, a popular work re-created in its original version.

Igor Stravinsky composed “L’histoire du soldat” for whatever instruments he could muster in Switzerland during the Great War. Like Olivier Messiaens “Quartet for the End of Time,” written in prison camp during the next war to end all wars, the work is spare by design, partly due to the paucity of timbral choices at its creation but, more significantly, as an acoustical metaphor for brutality. Both works are concerned with the end of the world, Messiaen’s being inspiringly hopeful, due to his deep Catholic faith, and Stravinsky’s fatalistic with more than a touch of gallows humor.

Like Ravel’s Bolero, “L’histoire” was envisioned to include dancers, but how often is it ever performed that way? Jupiter factotum Mei Ying explained in her opening remarks that her musicians insisted on performing the piece respecting the wishes of the composer, and so she hired choreographer Takehiro Ueyama to dance with a partner, Jill Echo. I would not presume to judge the quality of this terpsichorean endeavor but, as a naïf, I found it fascinating, combining a smooth grace with impressive athleticism and contrasting fluid movement with marionette-like motions reminiscent of other of Stravinsky’s efforts. What I can state with confidence is how the inclusion of the dancing altered the audience’s perception of the music. Those of us who know it only from the suite have no sense of how the paroxysms of instrumental color truly shine when accompanying live kinesis.

The narrator can function alone or as one of a trio of thespians. Here, Thomas Buckner did a fine job of creating three distinct voices — four, really, as the devil alters his speech when in disguise. He tended to speak in pitch when the instrumental music was martial, but was often inaudible in the louder passages, a problem ameliorated by the issuance of the text in the program. As a total experience, these players created an engaging piece of theater.

The music itself was well played, with two of the instrumentalists deserving special mention. Vadim Lando is an exceptional clarinetist and handled his solos extremely expressively. Violinist Ilya Kaler is steeped in the Russian tradition and was suitably sardonic in his passagework, varying his tone when the soldier was playing and when Old Nick had his turn.

The work had its premiere under the great conductor Ernest Ansermet, but modern performances often miss a good bet by attempting to communicate without a leader. Just as the Berlin Philharmonic players did earlier this season, the Jupiterians dispensed with a guiding hand. Trumpeter Louis Hanzlik — a Brahmsian, no doubt — had some problems with articulation at the opening of the Royal March but made a quick recovery. Overall, this was solid playing, but not as tight as the Berliners had been just two months ago.

Bassoonist Frank Morelli anchored the rhythm section and was also featured in the first half of the program, performing in the delightful “London” Trio of Franz Joseph Haydn for flute, violin, and his instrument, and enjoying himself immensely in a circus-style pastiche by Amadeo Rasetti, the Trio for Piano, Flute and Bassoon from 1799.

This must be the year for “L’histoire du soldat” in New York, as Alan Alda will be directing it at the 92nd Street Y in April. Even a Stravinsky hater like me can appreciate its infectious rhythms and colorful writing.

 
 

The New York Sun
Thursd
ay, June 21, 2007
Rarities From Jupiter
By Fred Kirshnit

The Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players inaugurated their summer season on Monday evening at the St. James’ Church with a jaunty quartet by Conradin Kreutzer, one of two rarities on display.

The group is a living tribute to the memory of Jens Nygaard, the quixotic and heroic founder of the full-sized Jupiter Symphony and a frontline warrior against the scourge of philistinism on the New York music scene. Mr. Nygaard held his musicians and his audience to the highest of standards and never allowed the sensationalism of userunfriendly contemporary music to darken his door. Instead, he resurrected deserving pieces from the past.

The East Hall of the church is oddly shaped for musical performance, being much wider than it is deep, a little like Orchestra Hall in Chicago. The sound is clear, if not warm, for a small ensemble and the visual impact of a dozen Louis Comfort Tiffany illuminated panels is striking. A foursome led by former Jupiter principal clarinet, Vadim Lando, traversed Kreutzer’s Quartet in E flat major.

This was a rollicking rendition, notable for crisp rhythm and good humor. Especially intriguing was the middle Andante grazioso, with the woodwind line punctuated by the strumming alla Italienne of the viola.

More interesting and a shade better performed was the Fantasia concertante Op. 256 of Carl Czerny. Known as a pedagogue and the author of those torturous finger exercises for the piano, Czerny was a fine composer, and was the subject of a recent evening by the American Symphony Orchestra. Barry Crawford was the flutist for this dramatic work of Lisztian proportions. He and his mates navigated the crazyquilt of emotions expertly, one minute tragic, the next a harlequinade of slapstick humor. Pianist Inga Kapouler caught the spirit of exaggeration for effect with impressive result.

Less satisfying, however, was Mozart’s Trio No. 4 in E major, K. 542. Here Ms. Kapouler had a rough outing, losing rhythmic flow on several occasions and never quite finding the smooth phrasing necessary for this seemingly simple yet fiendishly difficult keyboard part. Violinist Xiao-Dong Wang, also a regular in the brilliant chamber group Concertante, was uncharacteristically hesitant in his phrasing and disappointingly uneven in his normally excellent singing line. Cellist Ani Aznavoorian provided steady grounding throughout.

But a bit of a mixed bag before intermission led to a rousing finish as the string players, now including Lisa Shihoten, violin, and Dov Scheindlin and Eric Nowlin, violas, jelled nicely in Antonín Dvorÿák’s mighty Quintet in E Flat Major, sometimes known as the viola quintet because of the addition of a second alto instrument. Here all was well. Mr. Wang was in beautiful voice, his long violin line eloquent. The dyad violists, with a little help from the cello, weaved a diaphanous magical spell, especially in the achingly exquisite Larghetto, generally considered the greatest movement in all of the Bohemian master’s prodigious output.

 
 

Heritage Villager
Frid
ay, June 1, 2007
Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players Presented a Flawless Concert
By Joanne Moryl

Vadim Lando clarinet
Roman Rabinovich piano
Dmitry Berlinsky violin
Lisa Shihoten violin
Dov Scheindlin viola
Bronwyn Banerdt cello

On Sunday, May 20, Heritage Villagers and friends were treated to a world-class performance by the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players, a remarkably accomplished group of musicians! They opened the program with the Overture on Hebrew Themes, a little-known work by Sergei Prokofiev that consisted of Jewish folk melodies and rhythms woven together into an interesting and highly evocative piece. The audience really liked it, and it was the perfect beginning of a flawless concert. Next came the Mozart Clarinet Quintet in A Major, understandably one of his most beloved works. Over years of concert going one has occasion to hear this piece many times, but never has this reviewer heard it played more beautifully. All the tenderness and melodic sweetness were brought forth with technical and musical perfection – especially in the clarinet, where there was a mellowness of tone and a sensitivity to phrase that are rare, and that cause one to think: “Yes! That is the way Mozart must have meant it.” The players were in complete accord with the music and with each other.

Following the intermission was the Brahms Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, a work that is full of the passion and richness found in much of his chamber music. As usual, the piano part is enormous, monumental, one might say, and was executed with brilliance and control. There is a thickness of texture and an intensity in Brahms’s smaller works that resemble his use of the orchestra, and the breathtaking excitement of the rhythms almost makes it hard for one to keep one’s seat! But there are also those rhapsodic, long melodic lines that are pure German romantic Weltschmerz. Again, the performance was flawless; there is nothing but praise to be given this ensemble, to their musical sense, understanding, technical prowess, and above all, their mastery of the literature. At the risk of repeating myself, I, for one, wish to thank the Heritage Concert Society for providing the opportunity to hear such playing at a short distance from where I live. We can only hope it will continue.

 
 

The New York Sun
We
dnesday, January 24, 2007
Topping a Trio of Youthful Works
By Fred Kirshnit

By a fortuitous coincidence, the rich tapestry of concert life in New York offered three concerts in three days that each presented the work of an 18-year-old composer — and none of them was Mozart. On Saturday, the Waterville Trio played Chopin; on Sunday, the Cassatt Quartet followed with Ernst von Dohnanyi, and on Monday, the excellent Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players trumped everyone — twice — with the Piano Trio in G Major of the young Claude Debussy.

The Jupiterians play the same program in both the afternoon and the evening at the Good Shepherd Church, and this day offered an entire menu of rarities. The Debussy is a wonderful piece, filled with bountiful love of nature befitting its composition in Fiesole, Italy, in 1880. Two of the best young string players in New York — no, check that — two of the best string players in New York, violinist Xiao-Dong Wang and cellist Julie Albers, were accompanied by pianist Ilya Itin in this ravishing rendition. Mr. Wang is a leader of the superb chamber group Concertante, and Ms. Albers possesses perhaps the finest and warmest tone of all of our local cellists, abetted immeasurably by her Neapolitan instrument made by Lorenzo Ventapane in 1790. They are great advocates for this interesting bit of juvenilia, complete with bird calls, sprites, and wood nymphs in the charming Scherzo-Intermezzo.

Henri Brod is such an obscure composer that he isn’t even listed in Groves, but he was an oboist during the time of Beethoven and a bit of an inventor of reeds and deeper instruments. His Wind Quintet in E Flat major, Op. 2, No. 1 was given a lively and disciplined reading by three former principals of the original full Jupiter Symphony, Barry Crawford, flute, Vadim Lando, clarinet, and Karl Kramer-Johansen, horn. The veterans were joined by bassoonist Gina Cuffari and oboist Winnie Lai.

This is definitely an oboist’s piece and Ms. Lai excelled as the beneficiary of much of the lyricism and solo melodic work. She was certainly up to the task, intoning beautifully with a satisfying singing line. Never having heard of Brod, I tested myself a bit during this reading by trying to discern his major influence. I settled on Anton Reicha, and was warmly rewarded after the concert when my cursory research showed that Reicha was indeed Brod’s teacher. This performance was notable for its clarity of individual lines and infectious gemutlichkeit.

Just as obscure in his own way was Charles-Marie Widor. Violist Max Mandel joined for this realization of his Piano Quintet No. 1 in D minor. Widor is probably best known as the teacher of Albert Schweitzer and his collaborator on several of his famous editions of the complete organ works of Bach. But he was also a prolific composer of other scores and this quintet showcases a white-hot, passionate side. The work is Franckian in character — Widor replaced Franck as the organ professor at the Paris Conservatoire in the same year of 1890 that he penned this quintet — and even somewhat Lisztian in emphasis. What with Debussy on the same program, there was a definite Wagnerian feel to these marvelous pieces. The quintet was ecstatically played, one of the best performances I have heard at Jupiter in quite some time — and that is saying a lot.

 
 

The New York Sun
We
dnesday, December 13, 2006
Improving on History
By Fred Kirshnit

In an inspired bit of programming, the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players presented a concert Monday at the Good Shepherd Church that featured not only the trio inspired by a famous Austrian archduke but also a trio written by the man himself. The man in question? Not Franz Ferdinand, but rather the most famous archduke in music history, Rudolph von Habsburg, brother of the emperor of Austria.

Of course, no composer ever said a bad word in public about his patron, but Beethoven appears to have genuinely loved Habsburg, keeping him on as a student for many years. The Piano Trio in B Flat Major, affectionately known as the Archduke, is not even the greatest piece of music dedicated to the man, since Beethoven named him as the honoree for both his fourth and fifth piano concertos. Further, it was Habsburg’s elevation to bishop once he decided to take holy orders — it was good to be born noble in those days — that engendered the writing of the great, but now virtually forgotten in live performance, Missa Solemnis. Habsburg reciprocated by setting up a monetary fund for Beethoven, the only condition of which was that the composer remain in Vienna to reap its rewards.

Clarinetist Vadim Lando, cellist Ani Aznavoorian, and pianist Ilya Itin presented the Trio in E Flat Major written by the aristocrat in 1813. It turned out to be an inventive, ebullient piece, more evocative of Schubert than of Beethoven. The Allegro moderato is gently rocking in that signature Viennese way, the middle Larghetto begins like a hymn and proceeds into a lively set of variations, and the Scherzo is light and airy. Full of melodic freshness, the work entertains, if not inspires, and certainly is the equal of thousands of other efforts of the period.

Monday’s performance was smooth and argued convincingly for its inclusion into the repertoire. It was also likely much more successful than the historical performance Mr. Lando discussed: Beethoven himself was at the keyboard then, but was, by the time in question, stone-cold deaf. His lowered tones were inaudible, his fortes clangorous. Mr. Itin was decidedly more in control.

When I read on the schedule that this soiree would also include a work by Foerster, I assumed this was Joseph Bohuslav Foerster, the significant Bohemian composer of opera and a friend of Gustav Mahler in Vienna. In actuality, though, the Foerster in question was the obscure composer Emanuel Aloys Foerster, a mentor and friend to Beethoven and a prolific producer of chamber music, with 48 string quartets to his credit. The work presented Monday was the String Quintet in C Minor, and it proved to be an essay of substance. Ms. Aznavoorian was joined by violinists Dmitri Berlinsky and Lisa Shihoten, as well as violists Max Mandel and Eric Nowlin. I was especially taken with the gravitas of the work, which was splendidly displayed by this well-blended ensemble. The musicians’ virtually flawless playing made me yearn to hear more of this shadowy figure of the past, whom Beethoven referred to as his “master.”

Finally the “Archduke” itself. Arguably the finest trio for violin, cello, and piano ever written, it begins marvelously and expansively with an unforgettable, glorious melody that immediately establishes its nobility. This broad stroke sets the tone for the entire piece, a monumental work of larger-than-life architecture in which thoughts develop organically and unhurriedly. The players, including Mr. Berlinsky as the fiddler, were true to this big gesture style, notably in the apple-cheeked Scherzo. Ms. Aznavoorian was particularly spirited in the pizzicato section, singing out the optimistic melody with a good deal of brio.

 
 

The New York Sun
We
dnesday, December 6, 2006
A Winning Concert Despite Competing Sounds
By Jay Nordlinger

At the beginning of Monday afternoon’s concert by the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players, an interesting problem arose. Workers outside the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church, home of the Players, would not cease until 2:15; the concert was starting at 2. Mei Ying, who runs this series (splendidly), told the audience that she had had a conversation with the workers: They said it would cost $5,000 for them to stop. She also consulted with her musicians, who said, “Let’s start on time anyway.”

As usual, said Mei Ying, the union “Goliath” could not be fought. (She was referring to the workers, not to the musicians!) And, for that quarter-hour, string players competed with construction sounds — usually winning.

It was a winning concert, too. The program offered some rarities, including by canonical composers, and some familiar, cherished works as well.

We started with a piece by Rossini, written when he was about 12. This is a sonata for two violins, cello, and double bass (a kind of string quartet). It was nice to hear a work by Rossini outside opera — although his last movement, marked Tempesta, sounds like one of his madcap opera scenes. The movement ends calmly, however, the “tempesta” evidently having subsided.

The Jupiter foursome played well, with an unusually rich, darkish sound. (Perhaps the church’s acoustics had something to do with this.) There was some scary intonation, but it was shortlived. And, in that tempest, the players were wonderfully agile.

We next heard a vocal work by Schubert, his Salve Regina, D. 676. It was good to have some little-known Schubert — even if this is not an immortal piece.

The soprano soloist was Christine Goerke, who has been heard at the Metropolitan Opera and other major houses around the globe. Readers may remember particularly her Donna Elvira (in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”) and her Madame Lidoine (in Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites”). But she is singing ever more Strauss and Wagner, and seems set to become a Wagnerian.

She was not her best self in the Schubert: Entrances and onsets were messy, and her sound was pillowy. Moreover, she fought the flats (and not too successfully). But that is still a lush carpet of a voice, and she would sing far better later in the afternoon.

Following the Schubert, we heard some Beethoven, his Wind Sextet in E flat, written when he was about 16. It is an excellent piece, with a beautiful Adagio and a masculine — you might even say macho — minuet. Go figure.

The piece was played by a crack team, too: not that they cracked. Horns and all others were well-behaved. A bassoonist, Gina Cuffari, showed a fine sense of phrasing in the Adagio. And you might appreciate a biographical fact about the second bassoonist, Adrian Morejon: In addition to his bassoon credentials, he has a diploma in harpsichord performance from the Curtis Institute. Beat that.

After intermission, we had a piece by Ernesto Cavallini, who, as Charles Neidich explained, was known as “the Paganini of the Clarinet.” Cavallini lived from 1807 to 1874.

And who is Charles Neidich? He, too, is a Paganini of the clarinet. He played Cavallini’s Adagio and Variations, and did so brilliantly. He was all facility and savoir-faire — tons of fun, too. He reminded me of an especially good Rossini soprano, or mezzo-soprano. And, when he was through, the crowd cheered for him as for a diva.

I felt a bit sorry for Christine Goerke, who had to follow that display — but she came through beautifully. She sang one of Wagner’s “Wesendonck Lieder,” the most popular and transporting, “Träume.” The composer wrote it in preparation for “Tristan und Isolde”; perhaps Ms. Goerke is singing it in preparation for that opera as well. She was backed up by a small chamber army, including a flute, a string quartet, those bassoons — everything the Jupiter Players had.

And she sang “Träume” marvelously, at a proper pace, and with a sure sense of legato: A legato in a dramatic soprano is a very attractive thing.

When the song was concluded, the audience would not quite clap. Maybe it was transfixed (as Wagner can do to you); maybe it just didn’t know the song had ended. Ms. Goerke smiled and laughed, and, before she sang the next piece — the last work on the program — she said, “I promise you’ll know when this one’s over.”

That final piece was Beethoven’s “Ah, perfido,” the composer’s bestknown work for voice (along with dear “Adelaide”). (No fair counting “Fidelio” or the Ninth Symphony.) This is a great, great concert aria, and Ms. Goerke rocked the house — rocked the church — with it. She was incisive and dramatic, lyrical and sensitive, correct and glorious. She showed a juicy mezzo range, with a very strong low B flat — to go with impressive high ones.

And she was right: We knew, for sure, when the piece was over.

 
 

The New York Sun
Friday, November 24, 2006
Obscure Works in Excellent Form
By Fred Kirshnit

In 1818, when 9-year-old Frederic Chopin made his debut in Vienna, the work he performed was a piano concerto by Adalbert Gyrowetz. This was not the last time a piece by this obscure composer was performed, but it is difficult to find any recent presentations of his music before the one on Monday by the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players at the Good Shepherd Church.

Gyrowetz was a friend of Mozart but not his student, even though he did compose a ballet titled “The Marriage of Figaro.” He serves rather as an interesting example of the path many composers other than Beethoven took as heirs and epigones of Haydn.

The work this day was the Flute Quartet in D Major, Op 11. No. 1. Written in 1795, it could easily be presented as a mature composition by Haydn — the way Fritz Kreisler used to regularly unveil new discoveries of solo violin music by such composers as Vivaldi and Tartini that in actuality he wrote himself — and not one member of any audience would be the wiser.

Flute music plays a prominent role in Jupiter concerts because one of the group’s most active members is Barry Crawford, former principal of the now defunct Jupiter Symphony full ensemble. A bit of a musical archaeologist, Mr. Crawford consistently shares these mined treasures and always performs them with steely accuracy and a superb singing tone. Joined by violinist Misha Keylin, violist Max Mandel, and cellist Ani Aznavoorian, Mr. Crawford led a lively account that was not only well blended but allowed each individual voice to enunciate clearly. Mr. Mandel was extremely animated in the final rondo.

Franz Krommer, or if you prefer, Frantisek Kramár was a Moravian composer with a decided kinship to the American Moravian string quartet movement. He composed more than 70 of these pieces and, parenthetically, would have been none too pleased with the Jupiter’s title of “Bohemian Brothers” for this concert (perhaps they meant “unconventional”).

Mr. Crawford’s counterpart at these proceedings is the fine clarinetist Vadim Lando. Also a former Jupiterian under conductor Jens Nygaard, Mr. Lando is an intrepid explorer, who sometimes even reconstructs obscure repertoire for his instrument when the printed music is no longer available. In this case, he had a rich literature from which to choose the Clarinet Quartet Op. 82, and he mentioned in his opening remarks that he will advocate for the players to begin to offer some of Krommer’s string quartets.

In his day, Krommer was considered by many the equal of Beethoven, and it only took a few seconds once this piece began to hear the difference between his profound sense of harmonic color and Gyrowetz’s more monochromatic approach. This was a revelatory performance, one that made me want to plunge into the Krommer catalog myself. Of special note was the rollicking Menuetto allegretto third movement.

Of course, not every piece on a Jupiter program is obscure — this afternoon the group presented one of the towering works of the chamber repertoire, Antonin Dvorak’s Piano Trio in F minor. Some say this is the finest work of chamber music since Beethoven’s. This might be hyperbole, especially considering that it is modeled so closely on the trios of Brahms that are its superior, but there is no question it is an extremely powerful and gripping essay. In fact, the work is so majestic it needs an especially intense sonic combination, muscular and lavish, gritty and yet lovely, to pull it off. Unfortunately, this was not in the cards on this particular program.

Pianist William Wolfram anchored this reading with Mr. Keylin and Ms. Aznavoorian in tow and did a creditable job, but never achieved that degree of strength and confidence necessary to elevate this rendition to a higher level. One concern was his rather narrow scope of dynamics, his decision to keep his volume level rather uniform leading to a lack of interpretive coloration. Also a bit robotic in touch, he neither intrigued nor captivated his listeners. The strings were also adequate and remarkably accurate, but there was a decided deflation of tone that ultimately rendered this realization a bit monotonous. Still, it is such a great work that the crowd rewarded it with a hearty ovation.

Speaking of that crowd, one of the most telling pieces of evidence about the overall excellence of the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players is that the audience is virtually identical every week. Those in the know just keep coming back.

 
 

The New York Sun
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
An Evening of Scandinavian Sound
By Fred Kirshnit

The Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players, the creation and legacy of Jens Nygaard, who passed away in 2001, presented their latest program Monday at the Good Shepherd Church.

I admired Nygaard for a number of reasons, but two come immediately to mind. First, he was an advocate, as am I, of the Scot musicologist Donald Francis Tovey. Second, how can you not love a guy who stops his forces during a rehearsal of the Beethoven Five to exclaim, “Save the pretty playing for Juilliard!”

Nygaard was American but of Danish ancestry. One would think that he would have approved of the all-Scandinavian concert that his colleagues gave this week (though the concert actually began with the work of a Germanic composer).

Former principal flutist Barry Crawford led a lively account of Joseph Martin Kraus’s Quintet in D Major, Op. 7. Kraus was a contemporary of Mozart and adopted his insouciant style for the outer movements of this piece. The string quartet — Misha Keylin and Annaliesa Place, violins; Max Mandel, viola, and Andrey Tchekmazov, cello — was well blended and accurate. The Largo was beautiful, filled with flowing, long legato lines. There is a seemingly endless stream of these flute gems from the Viennese Classical era, and Mr. Crawford is doing his best to present them all.

Clarinetist Vadim Lando, hornist Karl Kramer-Johansen, and bassist Joseph Bongiorno joined the quintet for a performance of the septet version of En Saga by Jean Sibelius. Those readers who have already had their morning coffee will notice that it took eight people to play this septet. Why? Because Mr. Kramer-Johansen, the Scandinavian in the group, felt this arrangement by Gregory Barrett could use augmentation.

I have loved En Saga in its massive orchestral form since childhood, but I am an instant convert to the chamber version as a result of this performance. There is considerable evidence that Sibelius originally envisioned En Saga for some combination of small groups of winds and strings. When this composition was complete, however, it was already fully fleshed out for orchestra. This chamber version is superior primarily because of timbral combinations. Colors are more vivid in solo wind parts, while the landscape is incredibly stark.

In fact, the spare instrumentation magnifies exponentially Sibelius’s signature atavistic feel. This was fantasy writing at its most affecting. Every sonic combination was a new shock. This was the best performance of any work I have encountered thus far this season.

The other work on the program was obscure Norwegian composer Christian Sinding’s Piano Quintet, Op. 5, his first successful composition. Pianist Yung Wook Yoo led the string quartet through this massive work. He has a gigantic keyboard voice, too large and resonant for that little room, which made it sound as though he were consistently intoning the opening passages of that other Norwegian composer Edward Grieg’s famous Piano Concerto at Carnegie Hall. It was tempting to consider Mr. Yoo a pounder, but I don’t think this is fair. He was simply performing in the wrong space.

His Brobdignagian utterances were consistent with the rest of the piece, a rather blowsy work full of sound but little substance. If you like this sort of 1930s nightclub thing, then this was a superb version of it. Apparently there is more to Sinding than Rustles of Spring.

 
 

The New York Sun
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Plenty of Style Even Without Red Carpets
By Fred Kirshnit

There were no red carpets, no giant television screens, no puppets, just high quality music-making at the back end of Lincoln Center Plaza as the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players presented a program of German rarities at the Good Shepherd Church on Monday.

It is hard to overemphasize the importance of the Brahms-Wagner feud when discussing the history of German music in the last quarter of the 19th century. Careers were made or destroyed based on which side of the Januarian head a composer decided to hang his hat. If an artist were neutral, however, experimental on the one hand but traditional on the other, the popularity he achieved in his lifetime quickly dissipated after his demise, when there was no group ready to accept his legacy.

This is what happened to Joachim Raff, heralded in his own time as a titan but almost immediately thereafter falling into the pit of obscurity. Eight energetic string players presented his Octet in C major, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt the brilliance of this now forgotten composer.

There is a trend in chamber music these days to have string players stand. Mostly it makes little difference, but in this case the performance was so febrile as to lend credence to the sonic power of the evening’s particular configuration. Violinists Stefan Milenkovich and Harumi Rhodes and violist Dov Scheindlin faced off on one side and fiddlers Julianne Lee and Bracha Malkin, joined by violist Eric Nowlin, stood on the opposite side like frontline players in a high velocity game of volleyball. Cellists Julie Albers and Margo Tatgenhorst Drakos sat on either side of the imaginary net.

The Raff turned out to be a major work of intense Romanticism. The sound of the eight instantaneously took over the room and was as fullthroated as an entire string orchestra. This piece is a symphony conceived in large terms, with considerable Sturm und Drang and an andante moderato of great beauty. I heard the density of Max Reger and the ebullience of Antonin Dvorÿák. Considering that this is Raff’s opus 176, there is obviously a lot to explore. This was a fabulous performance of a work so rare that members of the Joachim Raff Society flew over from Britain to be in attendance. I’m sure that they were not disappointed.

But this was hardly the most obscure offering on the program. That honor had to go to the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. No, not the famous one, but rather a prototype that Felix composed when he was 13. In its original form, the piece was a real discovery and was once performed by the now defunct full forces of the Jupiter Symphony under Jens Nygaard. Now that the group is resurrected as the chamber players, former principal clarinetist Vadim Lando wished to play the transcription for his instrument and string quartet that had been fashioned by Mendelssohn’s friend Heinrich Baermann. However, the printed music seems to be lost, so Mr. Lando wrote out all of the parts after listening to an old recording. He felt free to make his own alterations, producing, as he said in his opening remarks, a transcription of a transcription.

Like the transcriptions for horn of the Brahms cello sonatas, the challenge here is that Mendelssohn’s original violinist didn’t need to stop playing to breathe, whereas Mr. Lando, at least theoretically, had to take a breath sometime. He must be a very good underwater swimmer, however, as he was able to fashion long and extended runs and otherwise lyrical passages seamlessly. The piece is more than just juvenilia, sporting a solid sense of melodic development. After all, Felix composed it only three years before he penned “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The final Allegro was one of those movements that express the German notion of authentic Gypsy music — compare the finale of Brahms’s G minor Piano Quartet. Since he made his own arrangement, Mr. Lando might have considered a tambourine obbligato for this rousing conclusion.

Various other works rounded out the program. Steven Beck led a driving version of a piece by an old codger of 15 named Ludwig van Beethoven. The Piano Quartet WoO (without opus number) 36, No. 2 is quite a dramatic essay, notable for foreshadowings of interpretive majesty. Also on the program was a trio for flute, cello, and piano by Friedrich Kuhlau, another fascinating character who deserves a lot more attention. But I’m out of space for today; at the Jupiter concerts, there is always so much about which to be enthusiastic.

Mondays through May 14 (152 W. 66th St., between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, 212-799-1259).

 
 

The New York Sun
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
An Adagio Accented by Sad Remembrance
By Fred Kirshnit

American conductor Leonard Slatkin found himself in London on September 11, 2001, and understandably wished that he were home instead. Preparing to lead the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the first night of the Proms concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, he altered the program to open with the Adagio for Strings of Samuel Barber.

Over time, this movement from a string quartet has taken on a life of its own and was the solemn opening work on Monday, September 11, 2006, as the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players presented a very moving afternoon at Good Shepherd Church. Mei Ying, volunteer factotum (her own description of her all-encompassing status at the organization), offered an extremely well–planned bill of fare, and in her opening remarks pointed out that Jupiter founder Jens Nygaard died less than two weeks after the terrorist attacks, and that the firehouse in front of the church lost 11 of its brave men on that horrible day.

Of course, Mr. Slatkin employed the full string forces of his orchestra to handle the Barber Adagio five years ago, but for this performance, the piece returned to its roots as an elegy for quartet. Violinists Sergey Ostrovsky and Lisa Shihoten, violist Dov Scheindlin, and former cellist of the American String Quartet Margo Tatgenhorst Drakos played with a great deal of sensitive power, the cello in particular agonizingly resonant and disturbingly eloquent. Tommaso Albinioni’s Adagio in G minor may have been espoused by better directors — notably Peter Weir and Orson Welles, while Barber has only Oliver Stone to his credit — but in this particular context, the emotional level was very high. As often happens at New York concerts, sirens were heard from the street midway through the performance, but on this day the effect was almost too much to bear.

So what was the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 doing on this program? Good question, answered quite convincingly by harpsichordist extraordinaire Gerald Ranck. There is simply no more uplifting piece in the entire literature, and none that shares its utter sense of joy more generously. This was certainly the case in this snappy performance, in which Mr. Ranck and the quartet were augmented by bassist Kurt Muroki and by flutist Barry Crawford.

The first part of the program was necessarily a bit on the short side, because after intermission the Jupiter players honored the heroic dead with a complete performance of Mozart’s Requiem Mass. This was not your father’s Requiem, but rather an arrangement for string quartet fashioned by Peter Lichtenthal, a medical doctor who studied in Vienna, but practiced in Milan, Italy. Good friends with Wolfie’s son Karl, Lichtenthal arranged many of the master’s works for smaller groups so that he could introduce this new-fangled contemporary music to the northern Italian public. The Requiem is his most ambitious work and must be heard to be believed.

The first experience that the listener undergoes is a spiritual one indeed. Of course, since the instrumentation consists only of a string quartet, there are no words. And yet, I heard the words as distinctly as if they were being physically sung — with the added enhancement that in my mind the choir was always on pitch. And lest you think this a hallucination unique to this reviewer, the author of an essay on Dr. Lichtenthal discusses this same, very ghostly phenomenon.

Musically, the piece varies a bit in its adaptability. Sections in which the instruments are paramount in the original, the tuba mirum, for example, work very well in this thickly constructed, compact version. Others in which the singing is dominant are open to a spirited debate, although it did occur to me to mention that Mr. Scheindlin has an exceptionally pleasing singing line. Still others, such as the Confutatis maledictis, simply don’t measure up.

But this performance was really quite good, notable for its unhurried sense of development and its thoughtful balance. At just over 45 minutes, there was an awful lot of ground to cover — the performance was also repeated in the evening — and it is legitimate to ask if this piece is simply a historical curiosity or the most significant writing for string quartet before late Beethoven. Whatever its musicological value, it was certainly fitting and proper for such a hallowed occasion.

Returning Mozart’s Requiem Mass to a church was a splendid idea. All of us grieve in our own way — I still have friends who can’t bring themselves to go downtown to look at the sight of the attack — but, for me, this experience was not only cathartic, but beautiful, transcending even the wonder of the music itself.

 
 

The New York Sun
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Mining the Rare Jewels of Chamber Music
By Fred Kirshnit

Anton Bruckner’s String Quintet in F is often referred to in German-speaking countries as the “pearl” of the chamber repertoire. But here in the United States, it is extremely rare to hear it live. The audience enjoyed that chance on Monday evening, as the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players journeyed from their normal digs at the Good Shepherd Church to play Bruckner’s jewel in the air-conditioned confines of the Jewish Community Center on Amsterdam Avenue.

At just about 50 minutes, this fully developed symphony for strings is filled with surprises. Rather than following the example of his beloved Schubert and employing two cellos, the Austrian composer mimics Brahms by using two violas. Instead of weighty dramatic development, his quintet offers sweet, lovely progression. And he bypasses his propensity for thick textures by spinning his melodies horizontally rather than vertically, expanding them to delightful lengths.

This performance was first-rate. Violinist Xiao-Dong Wang, a founding member and frequent first violinist of the excellent chamber group Concertante, led mates Lisa Shihoten (second violin), Max Mandel and Eric Nowlin (violas), and Ani Aznavoorian (cello) in a well-planned rendition with a comfortably relaxed pace. The first movement, performed in three-quarter time, offered several opportunities for enjoyment, including an unhurried exploration of its lovely thematic material and interplay of the five strings in glorious alternation of singing tone. Although the blending of the group could have used a little more attention, the lyricism traveled well from chair to chair.

The Scherzo is one of Bruckner’s patented Upper Austrian dances: Part of its folksy charm lies in its clumsiness.The insertion of this type of unsophisticated dance into an otherwise urbane symphony inspired Bruckner’s pupil Mahler in several of his later symphonies. The group captured the ingenuousness of the movement expertly.

As in most Bruckner symphonies, the gem was the slow movement, painstakingly constructed by this talented quintet. Although the loveliest example of this type of movement in a string quintet must be reserved for Antonin Dvorák’s marvelous “Viola” Quintet, Bruckner’s effort runs a close second. On Monday night, these superb players caressed its quiet loveliness, giving the piece a sensitive treatment.

Two works rare in any part of the world also enjoyed play on the program. Ms. Aznavoorian, joined by clarinetist Vadim Lando and pianist Steven Beck, performed Ferdinand Ries’s Trio, Op. 28, a lively if quotidian work presented in the spirit of good fun and encyclopedic completeness. Ries, a pupil of Beethoven’s who wrote forgettable music, became somewhat famous later in life as a raconteur whose singular subject was his great teacher. (That most of his stories were fictional only added to their charm.) As a composer, he lacked inspiration but proved a competent craftsman. The musicians performed his work solidly enough, although I wished for considerably less self-effacement and more dynamic leadership from Mr. Beck.

Haydn’s “London” Trio No. 1, written for two violins and cello on his second trip to Britain, used to be performed quite frequently but has since fallen into disfavor. Flutist Barry Crawford took one of the fiddle parts and teamed with Ms. Shihoten and the evening’s cellist for a less heralded iteration. They offered tuneful, straightforward, and infectiously rhythmic music making.

Like the rest of us, the Jupiter Symphony players may be on a half boil during the summer, but their important and high-quality performances continue with one more concert at this venue on August 7, featuring a Beethoven Piano Quartet and a trio by Alexander Zemlinsky.

 
 

The New York Times
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
A Quirky Sampling from the Small Print of the 18th Century
By Allan Kozinn

The Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players, resident at the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church during the season, have moved to the JCC in Manhattan for their summer series. The programs are in the style to which this ensemble’s audiences have become accustomed: a balance of the familiar and the agreeably odd. The oddities had pride of place on Monday, when the musicians devoted the first half of their concert to music by Josef Myslivecek, Carl Stamitz and Antonio Rosetti, 18th-century composers who, though beloved in their day, now live on in the small print of books about Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven.

The works at hand, though, deserve an occasional revival, if only for their scoring variety. Rosetti’s Sextet for flute, two horns and strings, for example, often seemed like an orchestral score seen through the wrong end of a telescope. Its attractions were in its graceful stretches of solo writing for the flute (Barry Crawford), violin (Lisa Shihoten) and cello (Inbal Segev), all deftly executed here, and in the tandem horn lines, played with a rich tone by Karl Kramer-Johansen and Lauren Robinson. Stamitz’s Quartet for violin, clarinet horn and cello was equally colorful and more compact. Stamitz came off as the best of these three composers, and the players responded to his urbane writing with a warm, focused sound and ample drive in the finale. Myslivecek, by contrast, was represented by a charmingly courtly Trio for flute, violin and cello that showed him up as lightweight, but that was the luck of the draw: he wrote more substantial music as well, and Mozart admired him. After the intermission the ensemble played Dvorak’s Double Bass Quintet. The reading had its rough-hewn moments, but the energy of the performance was sufficiently appealing to outweigh the flaws, and there were strikingly sweet moments as well, most notably in Anne Akiko Meyers’s reading of the first violin line. The flexible ensemble also included Joseph Bongiorno, bassist; Dov Scheindlin, violist, in the Dvorak and Rosetti; and Vadim Lando, clarinetist, in the Rosetti.

 
 

The New York Sun
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
The Shaman of Estonia
By Fred Kirshnit

In this age of apostasy, many Westerners turn their backs on religion only to find that they soon develop an increased craving for spirituality. Many in the former Eastern bloc, their religion quashed under the heel of communism, experienced a similar journey.

The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt quit creating new works in the late 1960s, turning instead to the study of medieval music. Out of these scholarly endeavors, he developed a style of composition that he labeled tintinnabulation, taking his cue from Poe’s poem “The Bells.” Exploring the campinilian quality of each individual note, Pärt fashioned an entire genre of spiritually regenerative music that took the Soviet Union and its enslaved satellites by storm. Like the Georgian composer of cosmological music Giya Kancheli and the Pole Henryk Gorecki, Pärt developed a reputation as a shaman, a healer through music.

Pärt’s now classic work, “Fratres,” for violin, string orchestra, and percussion, was the centerpiece of a particularly interesting concert by the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players on Monday afternoon at the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church. Violinist Vadim Gluzman, an Israeli born in the Ukraine, spoke eloquently about the Soviet oppression of composers before fronting this affecting performance. In “Fratres,” the soloist must intone one note from both ends of the range of his instrument, forcing him to constantly juxtapose his playing from G string to E in a furiante manner while the orchestra fleshes out the overtonal residue. The result is a quivering lamentation of rare power. The performance this day was excellent. Overall, this recital had the convivial feel of a musicale, friends playing for friends. There is no stage, and the audience can practically reach out and touch the players. Even the spoken introductions are accomplished sans microphone.

 Luckily, the stable of artists who frequent this venue includes some of the most capable in New York. The Jupiter concerts have a long and storied history, and this one featured as a special guest harpsichordist Gerald Ranck, who in 1967 was the first to perform Bach’s “Art of the Fugue” in New York. He has been appearing with the Jupiter players for at least two decades. Mr. Ranck was scheduled to lead a performance of Bach’s “Orchestral Suite in B Minor” in a chamber arrangement, which he did expertly. But he also took the opportunity to augment the original program and perform three of Domenico Scarlatti’s 555 sonatas. I was especially impressed with his realization of the famous E major – many of us will remember its espousal at the piano by Vladimir Horowitz – in which he made a serious case for his original instrument and its more brilliant timbre. Bach’s Suite also showcased flutist Barry Crawford, performing with a string quartet and a double bass, and, of course, Mr. Ranck. This was deeply invested music-making: The opening “Ouverture” was markedly serious, while the dance movements alternated between courtly and lively, the interplay of sonorities highly satisfying. There is something to be said for old-fashioned toe-tapping, much of which was going on during these proceedings.

Any serious student of Mozart or Beethoven knows the name of Franz Anton Hoffmeister, a music publisher in Vienna who aided both of these composers in their efforts to establish themselves as major artistic presences. But how many realize that he was a prolific composer who wrote more than 40 string quartets and 60 symphonies? In his day, he was compared favorably to Haydn, but, over time, he has been relegated to footnote status. Thus it was a rare treat to hear one of Hoffmeister’s Clarinet Quartets – the No. 2 in E-flat major – in such a refreshingly playful performance. Clarinetist Vadim Lando mentioned that the group had wanted to play a different piece in the series but that the printed music was not available, rather ironically considering what Hoffmeister did for a living. Still, this work compares quite favorably to Mozart’s “Kegelstadt Trio,” especially in the use of the upbeat, sunny side of the wind instrument’s personality. It was a joy to hear this extremely lively rendition.

One more treat for us Jupiter junkies was the announcement of next year’s schedule. The season will open with an important concert on a very solemn day. Monday, September 11 will witness two performances of the string quartet arrangement of Mozart’s Requiem Mass, prepared by his contemporary Peter Lichtenthal.

 
 

The New York Sun
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
One of the Best Deals in Town
By Fred Kirshnit

Brahms spent the summer of 1886 on Lake Thun in Switzerland. He was so enamored of the place that he returned for his next two vacations. His bucolic bliss is most eloquently re-created in the Andante of the “Double” Concerto, written in 1887. But his first summer there was his most productive, and saw the creation of the second sonatas for both violin and cello with piano, the basic skeleton of the third violin sonata, and the mighty Piano Trio in C minor. The latter was presented on Monday afternoon at the Good Shepherd Church by the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players.

The trio contains a very unusual movement, the Andante grazioso, written originally in 7/4 time. Considering that Tchaikovsky’s Allegro con grazia - composed in 5/4 time - from the “Pathetique” Symphony of 1893 caused many orchestras to reject it for almost 40 years, Brahms was clever in adding two additional bar lines per original measure, which transformed the movement into consistently repeating sequences of 3/4, 2/4, and 2/4 without altering the music one iota. (Curiously, as Brahms became more sophisticated, his melodies became simpler, and by the end of his life, they even approached Mozart’s.)

The Piano Trio was given a dramatic performance as part of a very meaty program at the church. Pianist Steven Beck, violinist Sergey Ostrovsky, and cellist Mark Kosower intoned the opening in a granitic manner, establishing from the outset the piece’s import. But there is also that Brahmsian calm, and the threesome captured this profoundly as well. Mr. Beck expertly drove the 7/4 movement from the keyboard. He avoided the sin of self-effacement, and both string players were superb in their generous but masculine use of vibrato. The violin and cello meshed both sonorously and stylistically, a fine foreshadowing of that incipient concerto. This was a wonderful realization of a vibrant work.

Karl Goldmark’s String Quintet in A minor is so rare that the Jupiter Symphony apologized for not being able to print a date of composition in the program (my cursory research indicates the mid-1850s). Goldmark was a Wagnerian’s Wagnerian, the founder of the Wagner Society in Vienna - the thought of one of his pieces being on the same program with Brahms would have given an Austrian listener of the 1870s the vapors. He was a minor composer of note for previous generations, and the New York Philharmonic regularly programmed his “Rustic Wedding Symphony” during the Bernstein era; his Violin Concerto was also reasonably well-known. But for whatever reason, he is now but a footnote. The quintet, early though it may have been in Goldmark’s career, is quite a mature piece with considerable amounts of lovely passagework. Goldmark was closely allied to Bruckner, and this work reminded me of that majestic symphonist’s only piece of chamber music, also a string quintet. Joining the two string players already mentioned were Lisa Shihoten, violin; Dov Scheindlin, viola; and Denise Djokic, cello. This performance was very wellblended and a joy to explore.

Wind music was also on the program. Flutist Barry Crawford offered a delightful version of Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D major, K. 285. With Ms. Djokic supplying an insistent sense of propulsion, Mr. Crawford was free to employ his singing tone freely, dexterously tripping the light fantastic in the concluding Rondeau. Mozart professed to loathe the flute, but still composed some of its most beautiful showpieces.

The best performance of the day, though, was Beethoven’s raucous “Gassenhauer” Trio for clarinet, cello, and piano No, this is not the punk band, but there is a rebelliously rude spirit imbedded in this early chamber work. Clarinetist Vadim Lando joined Messrs. Beck and Kosower, and they just seemed to click perfectly. Mr. Lando was not at all shy or respectful; rather he was boldly aggressive, almost circus-like in spots. Mr. Kosower conducted a clinic in modern cello technique, combining a healthy and lyrical vibrato with a strong-handed approach to rhythmic phrasing. His solos in the Adagio were generously lush but also tightly controlled. This was music-making of a very high order.

One more note about this unheralded series. I usually don’t pay much attention to the price of admission - I sneak in for free - but I did notice that, according to my ticket stub, my superb seat in the church normally goes for a whopping $10. If we chart on a graph musical quality versus ticket price, few venues in town could match this one. Plus you get a free libation at intermission. But let’s keep it our secret. I don’t want to lose that good seat. The Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players will perform again on April 10, 24 and May 1, 15 at 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m. at the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church (152 W. 66th Street, 212-799-1259).
 

 
 

The New York Sun
Wednesday, December 4, 2002
The Jupiters Play On
By Adam Baer

Some great musicians get a statue when they pass away. Some get their name imprinted on the roof of a well-known concert hall. But the late conductor Jens Nygaard has a living tribute: an entire ensemble of musicians and a concert series to go along with it.

When Mr. Nygaard passed away last year at the age of 69, people thought that the end was near for his Jupiter Symphony. For 20 years, he ran this hard-working band as a refuge for the city’s young, talented musicians who need a place to play. Concertgoers could hear seldom-performed works of the great composers and enjoy an intimate performance experience and independent brand of inspiration.

Mr. Nygaard, an Arkansas transplant with the ability to play nearly every instrument in the orchestra, had a rousing, infectious passion for teaching from the podium and was a compelling leader. Musicians in the orchestra often talked about Mr. Nygaard like a second father.

The Jupiter Symphony concerts at the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church on West 66th Street, just around the corner from Alice Tully Hall, were always thought-provoking and moving, if not note-perfect. Famous soloists like pianist Ruth Laredo and Sara Davis Buechner would often play concertos with the orchestra for free.

Today the Jupiter Symphony lives on as a chamber music series developed, in the words of its makeshift director and “volunteer factotum” Mei Ying, to “acknowledge and perpetuate the legacy of conductor Jens Nygaard…continuing a marvelous journey through the universe of music that includes works from the standard repertoire and the rarely-performed, and featuring outstanding musicians.”

The series offers 20 concerts a year—each performed twice at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on the same day—and has recently expanded its reach with noonday concerts at Trinity Church on Broadway at Wall Street. It is one of the city’s cultural jewels.

And so are its musicians, as evidenced in Monday’s 2 p.m. concert featuring flutist Barry Crawford and pianists Adam Neiman and William Wolfram.

The concert began with Mr. Crawford and Mr. Neiman in a rendition of Prokofiev’s Sonata in D for flute and piano. This piece was made famous by violinist David Oistrakh, (On hearing it performed on the flute, he immediately asked the composer for a violin version.)

Mr. Crawford is a young musician with guts. He played the piece viscerally, especially considering the small size of the room and his close proximity to the front row of the audience. He found the quirky spirit in Prokofiev’s mercurial melodies and brought a robust flute sound, more throaty than many others. With a heavy vibrato, he sounded less like an orchestral flutist and more like a Moscow fiddler. His high jumps from low notes were also exciting, not grating. And his honest approach to making each colorful phrase go somewhere different was palpable.

Mr. Neiman was timid at the beginning of the piece but later let go of his inhibitions, displaying fine piano work and an appropriately fickle, sardonic approach to Prokofiev’s pointed articulations, angular motives, and slightly off-kilter harmonies. He could have paid a little better attention to Mr. Crawford, but his sparse solo displays of virtuosity eclipsed any minor ensemble problems the two might have had.

In a two-piano arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances,” Mr. Neiman and Mr. Wolfram became true chamber-music partners thanks to the position of their instruments. The pianos were aligned not in the usual “mating style”—as Mr. Wolfram joked—but in a mirror image, with one pianist looking right and one looking left but still side-by-side, the instrument closest to the wall cutting a 45-degree angle with it. As Mr. Wolfram predicted, this allowed the audience to hear two pianists playing with each other, not the combined piano sound that often results from the traditional positioning of the instruments.

And yet nothing would have helped the pianists if they weren’t completely on top of their game. Watching the young Mr. Neiman, an Avery Fisher Career Grant winner, play with Mr. Wolfram, an acclaimed concert-scene veteran, was absolutely engaging. Mr. Neiman bopped his head and aggressively threw his wiry frame into the fiery notes of the piece as Mr. Wolfram displayed the power and majesty for which he is known. The overall spirit was an explosive blend of young insistence and hard-won authority.

In the end, if Mr. Nygaard was known for anything, it was unmitigated verve. That’s what the audience regularly returned for, and that’s what they got Monday afternoon. To have a grassroots community of musicians continue to celebrate Mr. Nygaard with indomitable performances like these week after week, even without the power of world-famous guest soloists, is proper tribute. And with more large orchestras and ensembles needing more corporate sponsorship year after year, I, for one, hope the Jupiter’s individual subscriber-base remains strong.

New York’s musical life needs the spirit of Jens Nygaard, and Mei Ying should be proud she’s keeping it alive.
 

 
 
The New York Times
January 26, 2002
“The Jupiter Orchestra Is a Lively Survivor”
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI

No one really expected the scrappy Jupiter Symphony to survive the passing of its founder and conductor Jens Nygaard, who died of cancer at 69 in September. Not even Mr. Nygaard.

For over 20 years, this perpetually rumpled Arkansas native, a maverick in the New York music scene, earned the loyalty of orchestra players, especially students and fledgling professionals, who were drawn to his artistic vision, infectious love of offbeat repertory and deep musical understanding, despite the fact that Mr. Nygaard paid them modestly, at best. Renowned soloists typically played with the orchestra free. Concerts by the Jupiter Symphony at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church on West 66th Street, in the shadow of Lincoln Center, were always interesting and often inspiring.

The orchestra is no more, but the musicians associated with it have formed the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players, which earlier this month began a concert series at the church to perpetuate Mr. Nygaard’s legacy. Tuesday afternoon’s rewarding program was the second in the series.

It was the kind of program Mr. Nygaard might have devised: French chamber works from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, only one of which, the Franck Piano Quintet, was familiar. It began with a fascinating 1919 Sonata for Cello and Piano by Gabriel Pierné, a student of Franck who was respected greatly in his time. The work displays Pierné’s ear for adventurous chromatic harmony and lush Impressionistic colorings. Composed in one 25-minute movement, the sonata is full of ideas but structurally amorphous. Still, the splendid performers — the cellist Ariane Lallemand and the pianist Sara Davis Buechner — made every moment count. And the resonant sacristy is ideal for chamber music.

Chausson’s wistfully beautiful “Chanson perpetuelle,” for mezzo-soprano, piano and string quartet, another rarity, offered the rich-voiced Desirée Halac as soloist. The Franck quintet received a gripping performance from Ms. Buechner, Ms. Lallemand, the violist Lev Zhurbin and the violinists Grigory Kalinovsky and Jane Chung.

The most moving moment of the program came before the Franck, when Ms. Buechner, who performed over 20 concertos with Mr. Nygaard and the orchestra during the last 16 years, gave a lovely, undulant account of a Fauré barcarolle in his memory.

There are nine more concerts in this fitting series through May 14.

 
 
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“Music-making at its very best.” Harris Goldsmith, New York Post.
“Concerts by the Jupiter Symphony are among the most consistently satisfying in town. Mr. Nygaard’s music-making is wonderfully natural; his program is refreshing.” Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times.
“If you haven’t heard Jupiter, your idea of what a classical concert can communicate is rather limited.” Leighton Kerner, The Village Voice.
“Nygaard-style Mozart means some of the finest Mozart available these days.” Leighton Kerner, The Village Voice.
“The performance of Respichi’s Triptych was a dazzler. Carnegie Hall was washed in some really gorgeous tone.” Leighton Kerner, The Village Voice.
“Jens Nygaard made of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony a sparkling, beautifully proportioned jewel. It must be a pleasure for an orchestra musician to play under so secure a technician.” Harold C. Schonberg, The New York Times.
“The program was put on with such taste, dignity, and affection that this listener was completely charmed. Jens Nygaard is one of New York City’s finest musicians.” Raymond Ericson, The New York Times.
“Mr. Nygaard has the right feeling for elegance that is not brittle, charm that is not cloying, and buoyancy that is not boisterous.” Andrew Porter, New Yorker Magazine.
“Mr. Nygaard’s quicksilver phrasing was a connoisseur’s delight.” John Rockwell, The New York Times.
“It would be impossible to take exception to Mr. Nygaard’s performance of Beethoven.” Peter G. Davis, The New York Times.
“Jens Nygaard and his orchestra have acquired living-legend status over the years  with their full-blooded, edge-of-the-seat, and scrupulously prepared performances.”  Leighton Kerner, The Village Voice.
 
The New York Times
February 11, 2001
“Slick Routine Makes Way For Vitality”
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI

GOOD SHEPHERD PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH on West 66th Street stands in the shadow of Lincoln Center, dwarfed by the back side of the Juilliard School. Yet in the church’s dusty old sanctuary you can hear some of the most meaningful music-making in the city: concerts by Jens Nygaard and the Jupiter Symphony.

The church has a high ceiling and resonant acoustics but not much floor space. So the audience sits on folding chairs encircling the orchestra, right up close. A radiator in the corner hisses on and off during the winter months, but it doesn’t matter, because the performances Mr. Nygaard elicits from his mostly young players are utterly honest and crackling with vitality.

There are times at Lincoln Center, far more than there should be, when orchestras and ensembles give slick, routinely professional and uninvolving performances. There is nothing routine about the concerts of Mr. Nygaard and the Jupiter Symphony, which he founded in 1979. They play so often — 30 different programs this season, performed three times each, on Monday afternoons and Monday and Tuesday evenings — that it is easy to take them for granted. Late last month, Mr. Nygaard presented a typically unusual program: Brahms’s First Symphony coupled with the rarely heard Cello Concerto by Donald Francis Tovey. Like all soloists with the orchestra, the cellist Joel Krosnick played for no fee.

The 68-year-old Mr. Nygaard, with his stringy, slicked- down hair and perpetually rumpled look, doesn’t cut the figure of a maestro. He conducts standing on the floor, level with his players, and, when carried away, wanders right up to them to ask for more or settle them down. He favors a short baton that looks like an elongated pencil and keeps extras in his jacket pocket, since they tend to fly out of his hand when he gets excited. That he is still at work is heartening, for he has been fighting myeloma, a type of cancer.

Mr. Nygaard has long attracted players to these meagerly paid gigs because he is a born teacher and an inspiring figure. After growing up in Arkansas and studying music at Louisiana State University, he went to Juilliard to pursue conducting but was directed to the piano program. Two years out of school, in 1959, he suffered a mental breakdown and spent several months in a state institution. Then came a period of homelessness, during which he spent nights on a bench in what is now called Richard Tucker Park, just across the street from Juilliard. He recovered, thanks to successful treatment and the support of friends.

A belief in music as a force for human betterment, aligned with a fierce ambition to conduct, got Mr. Nygaard through the next two decades, during which he led concerts in smaller halls, schools and churches. The Jupiter Symphony, always just a step away from bankruptcy, may not look like much to the conductors who regularly work at Lincoln Center. But it’s Mr. Nygaard’s Berlin Philharmonic.

To his performance of the Brahms First on this wintry night Mr. Nygaard brought bold interpretive ideas that made the familiar work seem like the audacious modern symphony it was when new. The Larghetto opening to the first movement was performed like some inexorable wail from the guts of the orchestra. The relentless pounding of the timpani could have been happening inside your head. When the tension of the first phrases dissolved, the players captured the sense of lingering confusion in the music: “What’s going on? Where do we go from here?” With a prod from Mr. Nygaard came the response: we charge right into the driving Allegro, the main section of the movement, in which all the possible resolutions are grappled with.

The slow movement was a wistful consolation for the torment we had been through. And much later, when the joyous main theme of the final movement broke out in glorious C major, Mr. Nygaard kept the tempo moving purposefully. If the joy seemed a little forced, it just made the music more intriguingly ambiguous.

For this richly scored work Mr. Nygaard was able to hire only 35 players, with too few strings (18) for proper balance. And the playing was rough in places. Yet there are different kinds of roughness. One results from carelessness; the other from musicians like these, fired with ideas and trying mightily to make them happen, unfazed by wrong notes.

Introducing the cello concerto after intermission, Mr. Nygaard spoke of his debt to Tovey, the English conductor, pianist, composer and teacher, best known for his writings. “When I was young,” Mr. Nygaard said, Tovey’s essays “crystallized all of my nebulous thoughts about music.” Mr. Nygaard wanted to perform this 1935 work for more than 35 years, he said. Then Mr. Krosnick spoke, paying tribute to Mr. Nygaard, a former teacher, who had at a critical point provided a young cellist with a model of musical integrity.

Tovey came out of the late Romantic school, and his ruminative and fascinating concerto is flush with Romantic fervor. But it is also long-winded, and it meanders for a full hour. Its musical materials, like the dumpy dance tune of the final Rondo, are not strong enough to support the concerto’s expansive structure. Still, in this impassioned performance the music seemed an expression of a composer with a vision: an impractical vision, perhaps, yet disarming nonetheless. Mr. Krosnick played the ferociously difficult cello part with prodigious technique and rhapsodic lyricism. The orchestra struggled at times through the thickly scored work, but Mr. Nygaard’s unflagging intensity kept them going.

How often do you hear a performance with so much at stake? Lincoln Center patrons who could use a jolt of inspiration should walk around the corner to hear the Jupiter Symphony. And take your checkbooks, Mr. Nygaard would add.  

 

 

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