Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

Respighi Lives in the Chamber Orchestra of New York

It feels great to get a new appreciation for a composer’s music and to hear it in new ways. To hear rediscovered pieces by a long gone composer is an even greater thrill. I experienced both in hearing the Chamber Orchestra of New York, under the direction of Salvatore Di Vittorio in recital at the Rockefeller University.

Ottorino Respighi

Di Vittorio, a composer in his own right, has a great dedication to the music of Resphigi. In recent years, he has been invited by Respighi’s heirs and curator “to edit, orchestrate and complete several early Respighi works in their first printed, critical editions under the Ottorino Respighi Publications series with publisher Panastudio in Italy.” (according to the program notes to February 3, 2012 recital).

On this occasion the Chamber Orchestra played two works which have been edited by Di Vittorio, Serenate, for small orchestra (in its U.S. premiere) and Aria for Strings. Both pieces were a revelation and a departure from our standard perception of Respighi’s music. As Di Vittorio remarked before the music began, the Serenate is more playful and more simply orchestrated than the larger and better known Respighi works. Then after a concertino by R. Strauss and the chamber version of Copland’s Appalachain Spring, the recital ended with the beautiful and soft Aria for Strings. The two Respighi pieces sat comfortably at the beginning and end of the performance, – with their transparent sonorities and calming structures, they cleansed the aural palate, so to speak. Assuming that they are among the “early” works cited in the program, they show how Respighi was able to use the traditions that he inherited as a starting point for his later, perhaps more innovative works. But this conformity to earlier norms does not in any way diminish the beauty and value of these pieces. From our perspective in the 21st Century, it is no longer relevant whether a piece was at the forefront of new forms when it was written a century ago, – what matters to us now is the worth of the music itself. And in this, the two pieces hold up beautifully.

As part of their ongoing efforts to bring the Respighi oeuvre to light, Salvatore Di Vittorio, Chamber Orchestra of New York and Panastudios have collaborated on several recordings of these works. The Aria for Strings is featured on a Naxos recording that was released in June, 2011, and the

Respighi in 1903

Serenate for Small Orchestra will be on a disc to be released later in 2012. The 2011 recording, which features the Violin Concerto in A major, also contains the Suite for Strings, which like the Aria for Strings is a warmly neo-Baroque piece that proves that these classical forms are still very viable and alive. Also on this disc is the Rossiniana, a suite full of arietta melodies, percolating flutes and Italian folk dance rhythms that pay homage to that great composer and delight the listener.

For more information, look at Di Vittorio’s website

or the website for Chamber Orchestra of New York, “Ottorino Respighi”

February 4, 2012 Posted by | concerts, music | , , , , | Leave a comment

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino brings the bite of the tarantula to Alphabet City.

CGS, a group, from Southern Italy performs an astoundingly lively and living folk music that has existed undisturbed and undiscovered right in the middle of the Mediterranean for centuries. It is wonderful to hear it played so authentically in New York, albeit at Drom, a small club on Avenue A in Alphabet City.

Folk Music of Southern Italy

When people think of Southern Italian music, they generally conjure up Neapolitan music, which being the product of a large city, has a long history of commercialization and interaction with other musics. (see my article about Passione below). World music lovers might be familiar with other folk styles from the Neapolitan region, Campagna, through the efforts of La Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare, but the tarantella of the rural Salentino, with its characteristic pizzica style, a frenetic dance music which has been said to cure the bite of the tarantula, has remained in obscurity, ever in danger of extinction through emigration and indifference.

That would be a tremendous pity. This music has a historic quality that is unmatched elsewhere in Italy. The music of La Nuova Compagnia is closely related, but it is from a far more cosmopolitan and urban environment around Southern Italy’s main city and seaport. It reflects a society that thrives on cultural cross-fertilization and academic musical training. When you listen to the albums of NCCP you can hear the influences of other Mediterranean cultures, the melodies that gave inspiration to operatic composers from Pergolesi to Rossini and singing styles that grudgingly acknowledge the dictates of bel canto conservatories. In the music of the Salento, (in Puglia, the heel of the Souther Italian boot) in contrast, you hear the  sounds as they have existed for centuries in all their rustic glory. Right there, at very nearly the geographical center of the Mediterranean, the Salento culture has remained strong, like a little land in the permanent eye of the storm that has been the history of this sea over the centuries.

Even with the modern embellishments of violin and popular melodies that CGS brings to their music, there is nothing that I can point to as a close cousin to this sound. Sure, I can hear a wisp of fado in the ballads and clearly hear the Balkans resonating in the hollow-fifth male harmonies that imitate the sound of the bagpipes, and in the raw female voices, but the pizzica, with its frenetic drumming and bagpipe drone and its hypnotic melodies is something that can only be related to musics of a renaissance era past. Those simple melodies, often based on a triad of notes ascending and descending over and over again can be tiresome in some the songs, giving the tarantella a ninna-nanna lullaby quality, but in the pizzica they reveal their power: it is their very simplicity that gives the music its trance inducing dynamic. It is a music that comes alive in performance.

Alessandra Belloni performs

The Heritage Musical Groups

The post 1968 period brought an ethnic reawakening in Western societies as part of a broader urge for cultural exploration. The NCCP was formed in 1970 and the CGS later in the decade, as part of a new awareness of the value of the tarantella. In 1980 the formation of a New York group, the Giullari di Piazza brought the Southern Italian folk music to American audiences. The founder of that group, Alessandra Belloni, has dedicated herself to this music, laboring to bring this music to light from under a mountain of misconceptions and an active indifference from the Italian American community, who instead of championing the music of our people, generally turn up their noses and plug their ears at the very mention of the word “tarantella.” It is a word that conjures images of obligatory wedding dances on a level with the Hokey-Pokey and walking like an Egyptian. Belloni made a guest appearance with Canzoniere at Drom last night, and she made a spectacular impression with her passionate singing and dancing (to the point of writhing on the floor in pizzica passion). Although much older in years, she held her own with this group of virtuosi, blending perfectly with their incessant idiophones and string drums, blaring bagpipe, feverish violin and the smoking fisarmonica (can you imagine hot licks on an accordion? I couldn’t until last night).

An Audience for Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino

During the past decade, with the establishment of the annual tarantella festival in the Salento, La Notte della Taranta, (see below) the CSG has finally begun to gain recognition outside of its small region. Certainly there is a wider audience for this music. Anyone interested in world music would be enthralled by this sound, it is unique and vibrant and expressly danceable, a fact that was attested to by the unusually large number of people who ended up jumping around on the dancefloor in front of the musicians. If you get a chance to get to Casa Italiana at NYU on October 3rd, prepare to be enchanted, and bring a few extra dollars to buy one of their CDs.

Some Links:

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino website

Alessandra Belloni, Giullari di Piazza

La Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare

Casa Italiana at NYU events

La Notte della Taranta

The venue: Drom

My articles:

my ezine article about Il Sibilo Lungo della Taranta

re: Passione, musica napoletana

September 16, 2011 Posted by | concerts, music | , , , , | Leave a comment

Woodstock Redux at Bethel Woods: Here to stay or gone forever?

Many people believe that Woodstock took place in the town of Woodstock in Ulster County, New York. It didn’t. It was supposed to, but Woodstock, New York would have nothing to do with this enormous kermesse of hippies, yippies and various hangers-on. So the organizers went out and searched for another venue… and eventually found Yazgur’s Farm in Bethel, New York, many miles away, near Monticello in Sullivan County.

The site of the original Woodstock, as it looks today at Bethel Woods

The rest is history, or at least partially history, and a good deal of myth. If it were truly history we might also know that the area around Monticello has gone through a downward spiral economically that has closed all of the big hotels that once thrived in this area. The myth gives us an image of Yazgur’s Farm as some kind of Garden of Eden in the Catskills.

the museum and hall

But myth is important, and powerful too, and it was the power of that myth and the energy that it inspired that led to the rebirth of the Woodstock venue in recent years, as Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, a vast, mostly open air celebration of contemporary music, arts and crafts. It includes a museum, and crafts market and conducts outreach and educational programs for the community.

The grounds are immaculately landscaped, the stage modern, acoustic and huge, the seats comfortable, the lawn pristine. And unlike the original Woodstock there are ample food stands, parking, and toilet facilities. On a recent night to see the Goo Goo Dolls, the place was full of happy concert goers on lawn chairs or seated on rocks or on cushioned seats, and the place was rocking. Unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly full, and a few nights later for Janet Jackson, it was still not sold out.

The modern stage and open air amphitheater

Has the damage to tourism in Monticello already been so complete that even Janet Jackson can’t draw a capacity crowd to a state-of-the-art open air venue in mid-summer?

There have been other attempts to revive tourism in this area of the lower western tier of New York State. Proposals have been drawn up to rebuild the Concord Hotel and to build new facilities for horse racing. However, these projects have been stalled by the lack of funding and proven marketability. Now a new nemesis has arisen: the introduction of fracking. This controversial method of extracting natural gas from shale strata below the ground dangerously close to the water table has split the local community. Some farmers who are now barely subsisting on their hard labors have been offered big bucks by oil companies to allow fracking on their property. They may be concerned about the possibilities of potential environmental problems in the future, but they are also concerned about putting food in the mouths of their children and paying their mortgages today. It is inevitable that some of them will be forced to take the money and allow the practice. Thus, the question mark of how this industrial activity will impact Sullivan County and its hopes for a touristic revival. Fracking is done along the Marcellus Shale Formation which extends through much o Appalachia. It has already had disastrous effects elsewhere where it has been loosely regulated and applied in an exploitative way by unscrupulous businesses. New York State hopes to regulate the activity and limit it to “safer” areas. It has its proponents, too, even among environmentalists who point to the possibility of safe methods. In addition, it should be noted that New York’s energy plan needs to find new resources to replace the Indian Point nuclear power plant near New York City (for which it provides up to 30 percent of the electricity), and fracking could help.

The Goo Goo Dolls in concert

The area is at the crossroads between revived tourism and industrial development. But could what appears to be diametrically opposed futures actually come together to lead to future prosperity? If the fracking can be closely monitored, learning from the mistakes in other states, and the large corporations that inevitably get involved can be required to help with touristic development, perhaps some kind of symbiosis can be achieved. That may be a new myth, but one worth striving to make reality.

Click the link to Bethel Woods.

August 10, 2011 Posted by | concerts, music, performances | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Orovela in a timeless world

I wasn’t sure what to write in my first entry in a year. Then it hit me. I was in the bedroom of my new apartment playing LPs on the record player that I had extracted from my sister’s attic. I was going through the handful of records I had saved over the years for various inexplicable reasons and here was something that really popped out at me. It was a recording I had gotten in the Republic of Georgia some time in the 1990s. The group was called Vocal Ensemble Orovela, and they were performing the title song, Orovela. It was a hypnotically beautiful folk song which artfully showcases the harmonic style and vocal flexibility of Georgian traditional song. I was blown away by it, and I thought, this is what I’ll write… a simple entry explaining how I discovered this gem just sitting in my stored attic boxes waiting all these years to be appreciated.

I had to know a little bit more about this song if I was going to write about it. I deciphered the Cirillic script on the album cover (ignoring the Georgian script, alas.) and found that the leader of this folk group was named Temur Kevhishvili. He also sings the title song. There is little more that I could glean from the Russian, except that the group was formed in 1988 and that my Melodiya recording dates from 1990. So I googled Orovela and just to

Hamlet Gonashvili

prove that nothing is new under the sun, one of the first links was to someone who had done just what I planned to do. On May 17, 2009, Poesis, a fascinating woman in Singapore, wrote about Orovela in her blog, Poetic Oneirism [ I had to look that word up 😦 ] . In it she simply stated that she had heard this song the other day, and how she just had to write about it. She gives some information about the singer on her recording, and some links. You can find a link to her blog at the bottom of this post.

Poesis has a recording by the singer Hamlet Gonashvili. I found him on youtube and I gather from the information on various sites that he is the singer who established the recorded standard to which other singers aspire. The vocal ensemble on my LP replicates almost exactly the style of Hamlet Gonashvili, though I am sure that the tradition goes back much further than that.

Getting back to Poesis. I looked at her most recent entry, and I was astounded to see that in June she wrote about

Jean Sibelius

THE other music which I have been obsessed with lately, namely the Violin Concerto in D Minor by Jean Sibelius. Actually, I bought the CD for another piece, the Wood Nymph, which I had heard in April on WQXR radio and which also struck me just as Orovela had. This time Poesis and I were contemporary music lovers, but it didn’t really matter, whether contemporary or separated by two year: blogging is a magical world that does not recognize the boundaries of time that we normally perceive. Time there is dictated by a ticking clock of technological progression which is beyond my realm of knowledge. To me, the internet is timeless, or more precisely, there are only two times: Now and Obsolete. So, as long as our computers can access Poesis’ 2009 blog entry, her words are as fresh as the day she wrote them. It doesn’t matter if she blogged every day before and after that, or never blogged again. That answers a question of mine with a blissfully simple wisdom. How to get back to a blog after ignoring it for a year? Just do it, no explanation necessary.

Click here for the link to Poetic Oneirism

Here is Hamlet Gonashvili.

The Wood Nymph

July 4, 2011 Posted by | concerts, music | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Esma Redzepova at New Morning

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Esma Redzepova Rocks the House at New Morning
Going to see Esma Redzepova tonight at New Morning, the laid back jazz club near Chateau d’Eau in Paris. The Queen of the Macedonian gypsies! Eastern European gypsy music is addictive, that must be why it has become so fashionable in Paris lately. Could it have started with the teenagers who get on the metro dragging a huge amplifier on wheels, which they then turn to blasting levels and gyrate around with their shirts open to the beat of “Dragostea din Tei”? No, no way! I always wondered how they could be so oblivious to what people find truly annoying. No, it didn’t start with them, Emir Kustorica is a more likely source, and a lot more classy.

esma02_orig2

Was it worth it? Of course, even with the crosstown negotiations to bring a friend from Colorado, and her niece, an eighteen year old lookalike of Paris Hilton. Ever try squeezing your way through the sex starved African post adolescent males who sell telephone cards at the Chateau D’eau metro, with Paris Hilton in tow? It was quite an adventure, and that was just the starter.

May 4, 2009 Posted by | concerts, music, performances | , , , | Leave a comment