I went to a concert on June 15, 2021, co-curated by my friend Hyeyung Yoon. I first met her through my first roommate in New York, Greg Beaver. They were the second violinist and cellist in the Chiara String Quartet. They’re also a couple and are now married with two kids. They created the online Open Space Music concert series in the spring of 2020, which was a lifeline to so many of us who were craving live music.
This concert was a sort of extension of that series, only it was in person, at a cool little bare-bones venue in Greenwich Village. Of course I showed up a half hour early, that’s the way I’m wired. It wasn’t clear whether or not the venue was open yet but when I saw a couple of musicians going in I decided to follow them. The woman from the venue talked with them for a minute, then came to me and asked if I was performing or in the audience. I said, “Audience” and she said they were just getting set up. I asked if I could help and she looked at me like I had two heads. “Um that would be great…? Could you set up the chairs?”
She pointed me to a storage closet and I set up 35 folding chairs! I could not have been more thrilled. No sarcasm, this was really a treat for me. Greg and Hyeyung showed up, saw me doing this, and laughed. I said, “You can take the boy out of the Midwest…”
The first performers were Majid Khaliq, violinist and Alexis Marcelo, pianist. Khaliq
said that he and Hyeyung met at Juilliard when they were undergrads and hadn’t seen each other in person in 20 years! He and Marcelo played Ron Carter’s “First Trip,” which was in my head all the way home. They played with flavor and élan. The violinist was very good and the pianist was COLLOSSAL.
Next they played a piece that Khaliq wrote for his daughter before she was born. It was warm, welcoming, and had a little bit of a Burt Bacharach vibe, which you know is my jam.
They ended their set with “Spain,” a piece Chick Corea wrote with an intro stolen from Miles Davis’s *Sketches of Spain* (which was stolen from Rodrigo’s *Concierto de Aranjuez*). He asked the audience to clap at various moments, which brought a wonderful energy to the experience. The wild central section developed into something very powerful. It may have been a mambo.
The pianist had a stellar solo and I tried to figure out what I loved so much about his playing. It was that he played with absolute, unassailable confidence.
April Sun played a couple of movements of a solo piano piece by Béla Bartók, “Out of Doors.” She explained that Bartók was exploring the percussive qualities of the piano when he wrote it, though there was also some gorgeous, lyrical writing later in the movement. One section featured three different types of articulation happening at the same time: smooth in the left hand, honeyed and sustained in the outer fingers in the right hand, and staccato and percussive in the inner fingers of the right hand. Fascinating.
Khaliq and Marcelo came back and played what I’ll describe as a constructed improvisation on the Bartók mood. It had a strong Moorish flavor, spicy and fragrant. Sun played the rest of the solo piano piece, which had a dazzling variety of moods: spooky, spiky, whirling, exultant. And more. The first half of the concert closed with Khaliq and Marcelo playing more improvisations in the Bartók mood. They had some truly impressive polyrhythms and Marcelo had a hair-raising solo at one point, with his hands furiously flying over the keyboard. WOW.
This alternation between the original Bartók and the jazz improvisations on the Bartók mood reminded me of a concert I heard by the New York Philharmonic years ago, a concert they shared with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. They played nine movements of *The Nutcracker,* first by the Phil then by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra playing the Duke Ellington arrangement of it. I went to the concert anticipating the jazz guys would wipe up the floor with the NY Phil guys, but that wasn’t the case! The Phils totally held their own, because they’re such great players and because (it must be said) the Tchaikovsky originals are so brilliant.
The second half opened with Hannah Reimann singing Gasparini’s “Sposa son disprezzata.” She told the story of how her parents were in a car accident some years before - - her father’s leg was broken very badly and her mother died. She told her dad that she believed in the healing powers of music and asked what he wanted to listen to. He said, “All I want to hear is Cecilia Bartoli singing ‘Sposa son disprezzata.’” Reimann sang that, to a pre-recorded piano accompaniment. Her performance was full of feeling and personal truth. She moved over to the piano and sang and played “River” by Joni Mitchell. She said she’d been doing shows of Mitchell for eight years and her performance was informed by all of the hours she’s spent singing and playing Mitchell.
Hyeyung played a piece for solo violin she had written, “Moon Variations for Solo Violin,” a set of variations on a Korean song. She started by singing the song a cappella. I’ve known her for almost 20 years and had never heard her sing, so that was a real treat. Her voice was sweet, clear, and true. I couldn’t hear the source material in the variation but there’s nothing wrong with that! It sounded like a newly composed original piece that was inspired by the song. Of course it was full of thrilling idiomatic writing for the violin, which she played with force and skill.
I didn’t really like the next performer so I won’t tell you his name. He opened with a piece that sounded like faux Rachmaninoff. This (rather incongruously) led to the Bach C minor prelude, which splashed when we would have been better off with a ripple. The next piece might have been a Bach two-part invention? He played this with more precision but again, more slapdash than I would like. He played a sort of parlor piece with a showy part for the right hand. I hadn’t heard it before but don’t think it was supposed to sound like that. My favorite thing he played was the last piece, a broad, dramatic arrangement of “’Round Midnight.” He really sounded like he knew what he was doing on that piece.
Raimundo Penaforte played a piece he wrote for solo violin about his experience walking the Camino de Santiago. He played the piece while showing pictures and video from the trip. All of it was beautiful and moving. I had heard a piece of his at an Open Space concert last year, I was excited to hear more of his music, he’s very special. I looked up “Camino de Santiago” online - - is it really 500 miles?
Here's another piece by Penaforte:
Heidi Chu played two movements of a solo piano piece written by Greg Beaver (my old roommate, husband of Hyeyung). The piece is called *How To Survive a Pandemic,* She played “How To Distance” and “How To Mask.” They were expressive, full of variety, held together with their own unique logic. “How To Mask” was like a scherzo, it had a fun, slightly manic energy. I’m already looking forward to hearing the whole piece.
Emma Kato played the first movement of one of Benjamin Britten’s solo cello suites. Her playing was a little too rough-hewn for my taste, I would have liked a little more elegance and beauty in the sound.
It was such a thrill to be in the presence of live music again. I hope it’s a long time before I take that for granted…