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Updated: 2017-11-21T12:51:04-05:00


A Hand-Picked Gift Guide For the Classical Music Lover On Your List
If you're making a list and checking it twice, the WQXR staff has put together a can't-miss gift guide for those who have a classical-music lover, or several, on their list this holiday season. Maestros and Their Music: The Art and Alchemy of ConductingConductor, writer and teacher John Mauceri has conducted everything from Broadway to the great orchestras of the world and worked with everybody from Leonard Bernstein to Danny Elfman. His book is full of tales and wisdom. Language of the Spirit: An Introduction to Classical MusicWhile this book may be slimmer than many histories of classical music, it's no less comprehensive. Author Jan Swafford traces the history of the art with humor, insight and authority. It's a great introduction for beginners and a companion for connoisseurs alike. The Voyager Golden Record Not intended for human consumption: A vinyl copy of NASA’s Voyager Golden Record might actually be the coolest gift ever. Launched in 1977 on two spacecrafts, the golden records contained Earth’s greatest music from Bach to Beethoven to Blind Willie Johnson and Chuck Berry, and everything from Benin percussion to Solomon Island panpipes. frameborder="0" height="349" src="" width="100%"> The John Adams Edition The Berlin Philharmonic really knows how to make a composer feel special. To celebrate John Adams' 70th birthday and his recent artist-in-residency, the illustrious orchestra of Wilhelm Furtwängler and currently Sir Simon Rattle has released a stunning 4-CD/2-Blu-Ray set of the composer's music, including performances of City Noir with Gustavo Dudamel and Lollapalooza with Alan Gilbert. If the all-star cast of musicians wasn’t enough, there’s also bonus video with Adams in conversation with his longtime collaborator, the charismatic opera director Peter Sellars, and an extensive essay by The New Yorker’s Alex Ross. With landmark performances and a case that would make the art-book imprint Taschen envious, it’s a tribute to top all tributes to Adams’ life and music, and a perfect gift for the devoted collector. Bjarte Eike & Barokksolistene: The Alehouse SessionsBjarte Eike is a Norwegian violinist and his merry band of international players is only slightly misnamed: they do indeed play Baroque music, but they also offer fiery performances of Irish and Nordic folk fiddle tunes, and haunting arrangements of Scottish and English ballads. On this album, they play all of the above, in the spirit of a late-night jam session at an 18th-century English pub. Best of all, you won’t always know which is the Baroque composition and which is the rustic dance tune. Kronos Quartet: Folk Songs Over the course of 40 years, the ever-intrepid Kronos Quartet has reimagined what the “string quartet” can be. Having commissioned, premiered and championed literally hundreds of contemporary composers from around the world, Kronos now brings in four leading folk singers, each of whom brings two songs to the party. Vermonter Sam Amidon has one of the most immediately identifiable voices in contemporary folk music; Rhiannon Giddens is formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Grammy-winning black string band, and is now a freshly minted genius as the winner of a MacArthur Fellowship; Natalie Merchant was the lead singer of the art rock band 10,000 Maniacs; and Olivia Chaney is the most ascendant young folk singer on the London circuit these days. Tickets to Violinist Janine Jansen at Carnegie HallLike any world-class soloist, violinist Janine Jansen has a big sound, but she can also play so softly and delicately that you’re forced to lean forward in your seat. As part of her Perspectives series at Carnegie Hall, you can hear her play with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and chamber music with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, in the same week. Robbins 100 Give someone one more reason to look forward to spring — tickets to New York City Ballet’s salute to American choreographer, director and dancer Jerome Robbins[...]

November 21, 2017: Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Mayor Richard David
We heard from Mayor Kathy Sheehan (D-Albany) and Mayor Richard David (R-Binghamton) on the tax overhaul plan and how it will affect their cities.

November 21, 2017: Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Chancellor Betty Rosa
Hurricane Maria has left thousands of Puerto Rican students with a lack of education resources on the island. With many of the displaced students making their way into New York’s classrooms, what are some of the challenges that have to be faced? We broke it down with MaryEllen Elia, New York State Department of Education Commissioner, and Betty Rosa, Chancellor of the Board of Regents.

November 21, 2017: Susan Lerner
Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause NY, discussed the serious concerns that have been raised through the Sam Hoyt sexual harassment allegations.

November 21, 2017: Donna Lieberman
The New York Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the East Ramapo Board of Education. Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU, explained the lawsuit.

Listen: Cecilia Bartoli Just Became the First Woman to Perform in the Sistine Chapel

The Vatican’s Sistine Chapel opened in 1483, and over the past few centuries it has seen quite a lot: Michelangelo painting its ceiling, dozens of papal conclaves and a teenage Mozart taking in the majesty Allegri’s Miserere (to illegally transcribe it later). But one thing it hasn’t seen — or rather, heard — in its over 500-year history, is a woman singing.

That changed on Friday night, The Guardian reports, when mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli joined the all-male Sistine Chapel Choir in its namesake place of worship. Together, they sang Perotin’s “Beata Viscera.” The selection was part of a larger project — an exploration of underperformed ancient and Renaissance music from the church’s archives.

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Bartoli’s creative contributions to the choir on Friday weren’t a one-off occurrence. The five-time Grammy winner joined the Sistine Chapel Choir to record Veni Domine, a new album of music for the liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas (including “Beata Viscera”). Per the Guardian’s report, the album was produced in the chapel not only for its acoustics, but because several of the pieces — despite being composed for performances in the chapel — haven't been performed there in modern times.

Even though Bartoli broke this particular barrier, her performance is a sign of all the work that still needs to be done. In an interview with Italian Newspaper Corriere della Sera, Bartoli pointed out “there is still so much to do” when it comes to correcting the gender imbalance in orchestras.

November 20, 2017: Comptroller Tom DiNapoli
Fresh off his trip to the UN climate conference in Germany, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli joined Susan to recap the trip and break down the numbers behind next year’s state budget gap.

November 20, 2017: Bob Lowry and Cosimo Tangorra
Ahead of last week’s vote on the GOP’s tax overhaul plan, members of the Council of School Superintendents urged New York’s congressional delegation to vote no on the plan due to the elimination of the state and local tax deductions. Bob Lowry, Deputy Director for Advocacy, Research and Communications at New York State Council of School Superintendents, and Cosimo Tangorra, Superintendent of the Niskayuna Central School District, explained why the tax deduction elimination will impact New York’s schools.

November 20, 2017: Dr. Rick Timbs and Larry Spring
How can school districts across the State respond to the emotional and economic impacts that poverty has on students? We discussed this with Dr. Rick Timbs, Executive Director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, and Larry Spring, Superintendent of the Schenectady City School District.

November 20, 2017: Alex Camarda
We heard from Alex Camarda, Senior Policy Consultant at Reinvent Albany, who argues that New York’s economic development spending is not transparent or measured for effectiveness.

A 10-Piece Playlist to Fill You Up This Thanksgiving
Let's be real for a moment. “Holiday music” is just code for music about snow, giving gifts or an adjacent religious holiday. But what about Thanksgiving? It just seems to always get left behind in the conversation. Don't despair, though, here are some tunes to get you started on Turkey Day. frameborder="0" height="380" src="" width="300"> Our Town — Aaron Copland Is Our Town a bleak play? Yes, sort of — unless you walk away from it with the understanding that life is precious, short and can end unexpectedly. So just be conscious of that while you’re travelin’ down this road that we call life. Savor and be thankful for those special moments with friends and family. You know, like on Thanksgiving. The “American” Quartet — Dvořák  Dvořák liked: America. Dvořák did not like: the scarlet tanager, a songbird that can be heard in the Iowa countryside. The composer found himself there while he took a vacation from his teaching duties at the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York. While we can assume the trip was relaxing, that “damned bird” impinged on his happiness. But not too much — the birdsong served as an inspiration for part of the scherzo. Wer Dank opfert, der preiset mich — Bach Bach wrote this cantata for use in the church, and it’s pretty Bible-heavy. Psalm 50 is referenced, in which God points out something along the lines of, “Hey, giving thanks to me would be nice from time to time!” So is a parable in which Jesus heals some lepers, which, if you were one of the afflicted is the ultimate reason to give all of the thanks. “A Thankful Heart” — John T. Hocutt The performance we have in mind is sung by Cantus, and is included on an album called A Harvest Home. It’s unabashed embrace of all things autumnal, with music that includes “Food, Glorious Food” and “Simple Gifts.” Get a taste of the Thanksgiving spirit with “A Thankful Heart” — the voices singing “Give me a calm and thankful heart / from every murmur free” are like some kind of musical comfort food. “Let Us Break Bread Together” — Traditional Embrace the folk traditions of Thanksgiving with this stirring Negro spiritual, most commonly sung in churches during the ritual meal of communion. On Thanksgiving, we’re communing with loved ones — some of whom we may not have seen in quite some time — over food and our own human experiences. “Simple Gifts,” from Appalachian Spring — Copland Is this the origin story for any Thanksgiving or harvest-adjacent music? Certainly not, but you’d have a tough time building a Thanksgiving playlist and not including this Copland classic, based on the tune of an old Shaker hymn. “Trout” Quintet — Schubert The details surrounding the first Thanksgiving are quite murky, and blurred even more so with each passing year of donning rose-tinted lenses that sanitize the relationship between colonists and indigenous Americans. But, if we take multiple grains of salt and work all the way backwards, we can try to imagine what that meal’s (however great or small) menu was. And that menu likely included fish. Trout is a fish. There’s a whole lot more subtext to the Schubert, but word association is cool for now. “Beautiful Dreamer” — Stephen Foster A throwback American song for a throwback American holiday. Perfect for when you’re drifting off on the couch after demolishing plates in the afternoon. (Or evening? When does everyone eat Thanksgiving dinner, anyway?) Symphony No. 9, “From the New World” — Dvořák  It’s no longer a secret that nothing about this symphony is inherently American. But that doesn't stop us from feeling like it is; truly, expectations a[...]

5 Times Mickey Mouse Jammed Out to Your Favorite Classical Tunes
Mickey Mouse appeared on screen for the first time on Nov. 18, 1928. Classical music features heavily in cartoons featuring everyone from Bugs Bunny to Tom and Jerry to The Simpsons, but it all started with Mickey Mouse. In honor of the beloved mouse’s birthday, we’ve compiled a short list of his contributions to spreading classical music to new audiences throughout the world. So, whether you grew up watching Mickey Mouse, miss the days when you could spend hours on end watching cartoons, or just love classical music, share Mickey’s classical music legacy with your friends and keep spreading music throughout the world. Bizet’s Carmen One of the earliest Mickey Mouse shorts, "The Opry House," features some of the most well-known tunes from Bizet’s Carmen, including a comedic rendition of the "Toreador Song," in which a violinist breaks his instrument and then uses his beard as an improvised violin of sorts, and a meowed version of the popular Habanera in which a pair of dentures stand in for castanets. But that’s not the only bit of classical music we find in "The Opry House." width="620" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" id="a-5438811768086264198" class="youtube_video" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" data-original-url="">  (Begins at 2:00) Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor "The Opry House" also featured a “stirring” performance by Mickey Mouse himself of Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C-sharp minor. Rachmaninov had written the piece when he was only 19-years-old, but it soon became immensely popular among pianists. However, Mickey Mouse’s performance made a particularly strong impression on the composer: Rachmaninov told Walt Disney during a visit to the Disney studios, “I have heard my inescapable piece done marvelously by some of the best pianists, and murdered cruelly by amateurs, but I was never more stirred than by the performance of Maestro Mouse.” Bravo, Maestro Mouse, bravo! width="620" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" id="a3818424068369876913" class="youtube_video" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" data-original-url="">  (Begins at 4:47) Rossini’s William Tell Overture The 1935 short "The Band Concert" is all about a concert band performance gone awry. When the film begins, Maestro Mickey Mouse has just finished conducting a piece to great applause. He soon begins anew with an exciting performance of the famous William Tell Overture that could quite literally blow you away — it blew the sheet music off of the performers’ stands, after all! But then the typical cartoon fun ensues: a tornado blowing the performers away, a flautist’s glove getting stuck in the flute and a bumblebee causing general chaos — and the performance quickly dissolves into a series of disaster after disaster. Poor, Maestro Mouse. width="465" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" id="a7448684760950857316" class="youtube_video" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" d[...]

Stravinsky's 'Firebird' Got a Scream From This Concertgoer

Orchestras can get really loud. And they should be able to, especially when you have upwards of 100 musicians on stage. Doubly so when you can really hear the contrast of those dynamic extremes. Like in Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, when the serenity of the dance of the princesses (“Ronde de Princesses”) gives way to a mighty burst of sound to introduce a much more diabolical step on the dance floor (“Danse Infernale”). Calling it “startling” is a bit of an understatement. If you haven’t had the pleasure of hearing it before, let this screaming concertgoer during a North State Symphony performance of the work serve as an explanation of how startling it can be.


November 19, 2017: Capitol Pressroom
Guests: Senator John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) Blair Horner, Executive Director of New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause NY Jennifer Wilson, Director of Programs and Policy, League of Women Voters Larry Levy, Executive Dean at the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra

Watch This Hypnotic Performance of Glass' Violin Concerto ... On a Sax

Philip Glass’ First Violin Concerto is a thrilling ride. Saxophones are thrilling instruments. So when the concerto is performed with a sax featured as the solo instrument, it should come as no surprise that the piece doesn’t lose even a bit of its edge. Just take a listen to this excerpt of the concerto from soprano saxophonist Amy Dickson. It’s no less mesmerizing. Yet another testament to this author’s (very biased) understanding that saxophones will pretty much make anything better.

November 17, 2017: Winners and Losers and Matt Hamilton
Who are the Winners and Losers of the week? Jon Lentz, Editor-in-Chief at City and State, shared who made the list. Then, we broke down the week’s news with Matt Hamilton, Capitol Reporter for the Times Union.

November 17, 2017: Dan Clark
Someone has their pants on fire this week according to the Truth-O-Meter. Dan Clark, reporter at The Buffalo News and Politifact New York, stopped by with some ratings from the Truth-O-Meter.

November 17, 2017: Sen. Pamela Helming & Sen. Tom O'Mara
After the recent flooding around Lake Ontario, two lawmakers say Plan 2014 is partly to blame. We discussed this and their recent hearing on Plan 2014 with Senator Pamela Helming (R-Canandaigua) and Senator Tom O’Mara (R-Big Flats).

November 17, 2017: Andy Zepp
Andy Zepp, Executive Director of the Finger Lakes Land Trust, explained his organization’s efforts to stop the damage that toxic algae has had on the Finger Lakes region.

'The Psalms Experience' Recap Program 11 and 12: Celebration of Life and the Consequences of Power
David Patrick Stearns: In the last two concerts of the psalms marathon, I felt the hidden challenges of putting on this festival. The 5 p.m. Saturday concert at Union Theological Seminary was by the Netherlands Chamber Choir, which I've admired hugely for years and will continue to do so. But with all of the different stylistic bases they had to touch in the four-century-plus span of the program, all the notes were mostly in the right places. But the cognitive depths? Less so. For example, the group truly connected with Isidora Zebeljan (born 1967) whose modern Psalm 78 had somewhat modernistic hairpin turns.  But the more intuitive transitions of the Monteverdi-era Dixit Dominus (Psalm 110) by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani were handled less well. James Bennett: I thought the tone was set right out of the gate, with a powerful Hammerschmidt setting of Psalm 24, “Machet die Tore weit.” But I see where you’re coming from with your thoughts of the Renaissance works. Did it take away from the overall experience for you? Personally, I found the Cozzolani to be a performance of interest — playful at times, while celebrating a God really championing your cause. But I also found it structurally interesting, with the Gloria Patri (“Glory be to the father…”) woven in throughout the whole piece, and then restated to end it. frameborder="0" height="380" src="" width="300"> DPS: I really don't mean this to sound like a criticism. It's an observation. This is a choir of living, breathing human beings - extremely competent ones - not some radio where you switch the dial to go from one musical epoch to another. Also, this isn't a criticism of the festival concept, one that inevitably induces choirs to jump between so many eras in the span of an hour or so. As a listener, it's great to skip through the centuries, hearing the music cheek by jowl. But compromises are inevitable. JB: I see. DP: During the Union Theological Seminary concert, when it headed toward its conclusion with Alexander Grechaninov's Psalm 135 and that unmistakable pre-Russian Revolution choral sound...oh-my-God, I wanted more. JB: Ah! The Grechaninov was intense — I had never heard it before and just loved it so so much. Those “Hallelujahs!” That punch! width="620" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" id="a7934286784458080442" class="youtube_video" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" data-original-url=""> DPS: I also loved Francis Poulenc's Exultate Deo (Psalm 81) with its reckless sense of musical invention and more saturated sense of harmony applied to a religious text. frameborder="0" height="380" src="" width="300"> Among the newly composed psalms, I was especially intrigued by Caroline Shaw's "and the swallow" (Psalm 84). Just the night before in Princeton, I heard The Crossing choir, a great group based in Philadelphia, sing her piece. "To the Hands" - a passionate social commentary about the plight of refugees with a musical manner that switched gears abruptly according to the needs of her text. In the psalm that I heard on Saturday, the words prompted something that flowed purposefully and had all of those humming effects, which I loved. JB:[...]

'The Psalms Experience' Recap Program 10: Pilgrimage of Life

A wandering organ introducing Norwegian composer Fartein Valen’s setting of Psalm 121 began the music of the tenth program in the Psalms Experience series. The curious keyboard gave way to an at time foreboding duet, before finishing with the full choir in a glorious chord. It couldn’t have been any more fitting. This was, after all a presentation of the “Pilgrimage of Life” — the only concert in the Psalms experience that featured Psalms being performed in sequential order. Together, Psalms 121 through 134 are known as the “Songs of Pilgrimage” or “Psalms of Ascent.” They may have been sung during pilgrimages to Jerusalem, but as Union Theological Seminary Professor Esther J. Homori explained, they’re also perfect for mediation as we reflect on our own life journeys.

Included in the program was Palestrina’s setting of Psalm 123. The contour of the voices wound their way ever upwards; a real ascending song, matched by the first words uttered by the choir “I lift my eyes to you, O God, enthroned in Heaven. It’s peak Palestrina, peak Polyphony, a song that can capture the attention of someone who isn’t really that into vocal music.

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What followed the Palestrina was the sharp contrast found in Peter Maxwell Davies’ Organ Voluntary for Psalm 124. As the name suggests, it was originally written for solo organ — deeply introspective, but at the same time unsettlingly dissonant. Grete Pedersen, director of the Norwegian Soloists Choir, rearranged the piece for choir, juxtaposing Davies’ jarring organ with the constant sounds of a Scottish Folk Tune.

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Also of particular interest of Ingvar Lindholm’s “De Profundis,” taken from his opera A Dream Play. The Swedish Composer, who died just a few weeks ago in October 2017, chose for his setting of Psalm 130 voices that rumbles low and eerily, that can also give way to these rushing waves of piercing sound. “From the depths I have called your name,” the Psalm begins, and the tense dissonance creates a sonic effect that the listener can’t but connect to the distorted sounds heard from underwater.

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Karin Rehnqvist’s nocturnal setting of Psalm 134, “Nar natten skänker frid” (When night gives peace), ended the program on a pensive yet hopeful note, bringing the audience's journey as a collective to an end — while still encouraging that individual searching.  

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Concert Review: Daniil Trifonov and the Mariinsky Orchestra at Carnegie Hall
Too many ideas, Trifonov. Way too many ideas. While he's still in the do-no-wrong phase of his virtuoso career, Daniil Trifonov insists he's more than a pianist, but a composer, and proved it with his 2014 Piano Concerto in E-flat, which he brought to Carnegie Hall on Wednesday with the Mariinsky Orchestra under Valery Gergiev. He may be a victim of his own overachieving in one of the more crowded piano concertos this side of Heitor Villa Lobos' musical rainforests. Trifonov's 35-minute, three-movement concerto is more like the air traffic over LaGuardia with musical objects pursuing serpentine paths, sometimes intersecting but never colliding. As piano soloist, Trifonov was in particularly demonic form, especially in a long cadenza near the end that wanted to out-crazy Shostakovich. In a way, Trifonov is a throwback to the late 19th century when titans of the piano often wrote their own concerto vehicles. On that level, the piano concerto did its job by achieving a partial standing ovation. You could call it a success. You could also call it bewildering. "I hope you can explain what the maracas are doing there," said I to the man next to me, "because I can't." Yes, out of the blue in this high-romanticism heavily-orchestrated piece, that Latin percussion instrument starts clicking away. Maybe a Villa-Lobos homage?  Many other composers are referenced here. The first movement begins in the harmonically hazy world of Zemlinsky, but soon takes after Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev in the piano writing. Like later Scriabin, Trifonov doesn't write sharply contoured melodies. More often, he buries his melodic material within a web of thick harmony. The most pervasive influence, though, was Bernard Herrmann's music to the film Psycho, not so much the chop-chop stuff but the underlying soulful anxiety of the road-trip scenes. I also thought of the Matthew Aucoin opera, Crossing, and not in a good way: Both pieces have good, derivative and mundane ideas cheek by jowl.  The second movement was the most promising, quoting some dance music in a way that suggested this was the soundtrack to a film that's yet to be made but could be worth seeing. But with so much musical traffic, who could tell when the third movement was underway? Of course, the more grand the music became, the more you knew the end was upon us, particularly as Trifonov, the performer, threatened to reduce the piano to a pile of stage rubble. The piece does have overriding themes that attempt to knit together this wide-reaching musical panorama. But the music is also trying to out-run the audience, perhaps so that listeners can't examine it too closely. This was my third encounter with Trifonov's concerto, having caught two previous radio broadcasts that proved what a difference the conductor makes in what often feels more like a symphony with lots of piano than a concerto. At Carnegie, Gergiev gave the piece much visceral excitement: Whether or not the music is good, it can be compelling. In the 2015 Pittsburgh Symphony performance, Manfred Honeck delivered a perfumed atmosphere that went far to override the peripatetic qualities. There, the concerto seemed quite viable. In the Detroit Symphony broadcast from October, Giancarlo Guerrero seemed not to really connect with the piece; the music's antecedents were more evident. Using the maracas as a reference point, Guerrero allowed them to be a non-sequitur, Honeck integrated them into the atmosphere and Gergiev made them slightly menacing. Overal[...]

November 16, 2017: Len Burman
What are the potential impacts to New York in the latest GOP tax overhaul plan? Len Burman, the Paul Volcker Professor, and a Professor of Public Administration and International Affairs at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University; senior research associate at Syracuse University’s Center for Policy Research; co-founder of the Tax Policy Center; and former Treasury official, gave us an update.

November 16, 2017: Asm. Shelley Mayer
As George Latimer transitions into his new role as Westchester County Executive, the race to fill his soon-to-be vacated Senate seat is heating up. Asm. Shelley Mayer (D-Yonkers) explained why she is seriously considering a run for the seat.

November 16, 2017: Jim Heaney
According to reports from Investigative Post, the economic development programs launched under Buffalo Billion are still not living up to economic or transparency goals. Jim Heaney, Editor and Executive Director of Investigative Post, broke down the latest reports.

November 16, 2017: Michael Kink and Melissa Servant
Activists are urging Republican members of New York’s congressional delegation to vote no on the GOP tax overhaul plan. Michael Kink, Executive Director of Strong Economy for All, and Melissa Servant, NYSUT political action coordinator, weighed in on the plan.

Why Are We So Obsessed With Child Prodigies?
Earlier this month, the TV program "60 Minutes" interviewed the violinist-pianist-composer triple threat Alma Deutscher. You might recognize the name as that of the composer whose opera, Cinderella, premiered in Vienna at the end of 2016 to warm reviews. frameborder="0" height="349" src="" width="620" id="cbsNewsVideo"> It was a topic VAN Magazine Editor-in-Chief Hartmut Welscher explored in detail in a 2016 article called “The Prodigy Complex.” Fittingly, it too made direct reference to a different Deutscher profile, by the Guardian in February of 2014. Before we get too deep though, let’s acknowledge that Deutscher is an incredibly talented individual. But as Welscher points out, the obsession with not only her, but other prodigies in the world past and present, speaks “speaks volumes about our genre’s collective psyche.” Synthesizing the opinions and observations of authors, journalists and musicians, Welscher makes it clear that the way we treat musical prodigies is pretty weird. Some things to think about: “When a child spends hours every day studying music, is it really a miracle that she can write it?” Asking if a prodigy can change the face of music is a “question that critics in other fields would hardly dare to pose. A kid who draws a convincing Mona Lisa isn’t expected to change the history of art, nor is one who puts together sonnets suspected of being the next Shakespeare.” Quoting music critic Janice Nimura: “The child prodigy is the polite version of the carny freak. Gawking at the dog-faced boy in the sideshow is exploitative, but gawking at the six-year-old pianist on the ‘Today’ show is somehow okay, even inspiring, demonstrating just how high human potential can soar.” Classical music has seen its fair share of prodigies, and will likely continue to do so as well. But consider a composer like Mozart. The relationship he had with his father Leopold, who would push the boy to tour tirelessly pushes the limits of acceptability — no wonder it’s so tempting to draw comparisons to a father-son combination like Joseph and Michael Jackson. frameborder="0" height="380" src="" width="300"> But, critically, composer and conductor Russell Steinberg points out that Mozart was able to grow. “Mozart eventually discarded his persona as an entertainer and worked unflaggingly to be regarded as a master composer,” Steinberg writes. Hey, it’s true. Yes, we know Mozart had prodigious talent, but when we think of Mozart today, his music is what comes to mind — not his childhood concert tours. To be fair, one can’t help but wonder how things would have shaken out if Mozart had lived in a time of constant, digital media coverage. frameborder="0" height="380" src="" width="300"> Ditto someone like Mendelssohn siblings or Dika Newlin. Both had prodigious ability early in life — but their careers and output outweigh the ten years or so they may have spent as miracle children. Which brings us to how we, today, interact with young phenoms. Because the real question to ask is how much is the riveted public interested in the music, as opposed to the fact that it’s a child producing it? And even more importantly, how [...]

'The Psalms Experience' Recap Program 9: Security and Trust
The ninth concert of the Psalms Experience revolved around a theme of “security and trust.” As Esther J. Hamori (Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible, Union Theological Seminary) pointed out in her opening remarks, security isn’t just something we have. It’s something you continually seek. And constantly renewing that sense of security is an integral part of living life, because when you know someone’s got your back — divine or otherwise — it becomes a whole lot easier to take those chances, and allows you to worry at least a little bit less. The program notes revealed a particularly interesting musical thread that tied these polyphonic Renaissance settings (of which there were many) to the musical interpretations of future composers like Carl Nielsen and Paul Schoenfield: straight-ahead, and less elaborate sounding polyphony. The composer Thomas Ravenscroft achieved this effect through his dedication to what Keller identifies as the “metrical Psalm”. That is, a translation that emphasizes the retention of the poetic feel of the original text, over adequately communicating the meaning in a new language. Ravenscroft’s setting of Psalm 4, “O God, that art my righteousness.” frameborder="0" height="380" src="" width="300"> Listen to these unified voices really drives home that sense of a unified bond. One of the keywords that stood out in the performance was “only” — not as in “all alone,” but rather as “only you, in this world are worth trusting.” There’s a satisfaction as well that comes through, from knowing that material wealth is only temporary; that it passes with the fading of the world. (“ For thou thereby shalt make my heart more joyful and more glad / Than they that of their corn and wine full great increase have had”). I wouldn’t go so far as to call these Psalms “existential cries,” but there is definitely a pervading mood of focusing on what really matters. As in the following Psalm, by Ferdinand Di Lasso, where the poet writes “if wealth burgeons… pay it no mind.” frameborder="0" height="380" src="" width="300"> Also of note was Paul Schoenfield’s setting of Psalm 86, “Hateih hashem.” It was sung in Hebrew and quire reminiscent of the Renaissance polyphony that dominated the program. But this solemn song, that ends on the quietest of notes, is at the same time filtered through modern sensibilites. It makes for a unique listening experience. frameborder="0" height="380" src="" width="300"> I’m not ashamed to say that for the 23rd Psalm, possibly the most famous in the collection, I was hoping to hear American poet Artis Leon Ivey Jr.’s iconic 1995 arangement. However, the choice to perform one by Carl Nielsen was still satisfying. It, too, gelled musically with the other pieces included in the performance. Written in 1929, the motets are a testament to the composer’s marked interest in Renaissance Polyphony; it was perfectly at home in the multi-voice pastures of that afternoon. frameborder="0" height="380" src="" width="300"> [...]

This Is What a Saxophone-Recorder Hybrid Sounds Like
Meet the Venova. It’s the first of its kind — the product of what happens when the saxophone, with its blistering sensuality ... width="465" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" id="a2655050266171892938" class="youtube_video" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" data-original-url="">   ... and the graceful, sentimental recorder ...   width="465" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" id="a1061614022996810995" class="youtube_video" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" data-original-url=""> ... love each other very much. Or it’s a product of Yamaha engineers, hungry for Japan’s Good Design Award. The video above, created by the good folks at Quartz, quickly explains the origins and mechanics of this newly created instrument. width="620" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" id="a-1068307987667543653" class="youtube_video" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" data-original-url=""> The Venova, whose product outline describes it as “a new wind instrument that lets beginners enjoy saxophone-like playing feel and performance,” is a sax-recorder hybrid. Like the saxophone, it’s a single reed instrument. However, it is more simply constructed, sort of like a recorder. The tubing design is very compact, allowing for merry-music making to be had in a variety of scenarios that Yamaha went to great lengths to illustrate in a promotional video. The Venova, for solitary strolls on the beach! Picnics! Jam bands! Here it is, in all of its powerful glory. width="620" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" id="a-5223563832816584803" class="youtube_video" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" data-original-url="">     [...]

Explainer: Why Do Orchestras Wear All Black?
Apart from the instrumentation, ethnic makeup, and seating arrangement of many orchestras, what else do they have in common with one another? Go on, look. Conductor Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic enjoy the applause after the performance at New York's Carnegie Hall on April 24, 1996. (AP Photo / Paul Hurschmann)   NJSO Edward T. Cone Composition Institute (Fred Stucker)   Portland State Chamber Choir (Courtesy of the artists) It’s a sartorial thing. Generally speaking, orchestras wear black, or some other grayish gradient. Really, it’s hard to separate the visual of formal dress from the expectation of “serious music.” It’s an optic employed by many ensembles —  like the Modern Jazz Quartet, whose members donned tuxes in order to convey to white audiences that jazz was just as serious as classical music. width="465" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" id="a4539785025416915434" class="youtube_video" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" data-original-url="">     But who set this dress code, and who gets to break those rules? Formal wear enthusiast blog Black Tie Guide took a crack at answering this question, tracing the sartorial habits of Western European musicians throughout the centuries. Their conclusion? A mixture of habit, expectation and, eventually, a desire by cultural elites to hang onto the aesthetics of old. They write: “In the 15th and 16th centuries, small orchestras entertained guests of nobility at their private homes, then in the 17th century they expanded in conjunction with the opera companies that emerged across Europe. Therefore, for the first two hundred years of their existence, orchestras were not only associated exclusively with the upper class but also with the most formal of occasions for that class, short of attending Court. It would have been expected that the entertainment dress in finery befitting of such elite audiences just as the livery of senior household servants was almost as grand as the attire of their masters.” Since operas were often an evening affair, the formal dress for that time of day — you know, evening wear, or white tie — would have been donned by the orchestra as a simple matter of etiquette. Enter, tailcoats and bowties. And even though the audiences in orchestras have become a lot more socio-economically diverse, the orchestras are still dressing up. Our formal wear friends speculate that this is because the “patrons of the high arts continued to enjoy the association with high social standards.” Of course, full on evening wear has since given way to suits and black dresses. Dressing up, but not too up. But here’s the thing — dressing so formally, even in “just” suits and ties and dresses, can get really uncomfortable. In fact, one would go so far as to call it “impractical.” And at least one famous conductor, has said as much. Now, who could that possibly be? Conductor and composer, Leonard Bernstein smiles as he listens to a question put to him at his press [...]

November 15, 2017: Senator John DeFrancisco
Senator John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) is still mulling a run for Governor in 2018. We discussed whether last week’s election results will impact his decision and much more.

November 15, 2017: Good Government Groups
What are the legislative priorities of Albany’s good government groups? We heard from Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause New York; Jennifer Wilson, Director of Programs and Policy at the League of Women Voters; and Blair Horner, Executive Director of New York Public Interest Research Group.

November 15, 2017: Larry Levy
Will the “Blue Wave” continue into the 2018 midterms? We asked Larry Levy, Executive Dean at the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra

'The Psalms Experience' Recap Program 8: Lamentation
James Bennett: Hi! Laments! They're metal as heck: width="620" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" id="a-3846526769021197146" class="youtube_video" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" data-original-url="">     Vanessa Ague: amazing JB: So Psalms 8 was all about laments, cool. Thematically, it was appropriate to group with abandonment, but the sound of this one couldn't have been any more different. VA: Agreed — the sound of this concert was smooth and calming, unlike the last which had its rough edges and agitations. But definitely the theme of abandonment and lamentation seem to go hand in hand. This program was different, too, in that it had less of a variance in time periods in which the Psalms were set. JB: Yeah, you pointed out early on how many of these settings were from the 16th century. The standout for me, though, was the Mendelssohn. VA: The majority of the works were condensed to that time period, but as you noted earlier, from the program notes, they chose works from different Christian sects. While the sound is very similar because that's what was in style, it was an exploration of how each tradition musically related to the psalms. I agree that the Mendelssohn was a standout moment in the program. It was so lush, yet texturally fascinating, with solo and choir interactions as well as a huge dynamic range. JB: It's a pretty lonely call and response. The incipit, translated in English "My God, why have you forsaken me?", seems to be a perfect bridge from the Abandonment program. It was interesting to hear how this motet varied from other settings of the hymn. It's chanted during the Good Friday stripping of the alter in some Anglican Churches (and formerly during catholic services too). The Psalm itself is also crazy long, so good on Felix to clock it in under 8 minutes. frameborder="0" height="380" src="" width="300"> VA: Very interesting. Yes, I was actually surprised that the work wasn't longer! This program, though, even more so than the last, offered us the dilemma of "what do major and minor emotionally mean" in polyphonic works? JB: For sure. I feel that can be its own beast to tame. But about that — those contrasts aren't necessarily drawn in lines temporal (although they totally can be), but also denominational. I'm looking at the program notes and the works before 1700 were largely Catholic and Calvinist. Anglican and Lutheran settings, which had a lot more emotional variance, comprised a second part. I believe there were a lot of rules in the Catholic church about bringing that kind of emotion into religious music — and Calvinists generally shun aesthetic excess too — so maybe this weird "happy sound" with anguished lyrics is a consequence of that? VA: The emotional ideas of major and minor (happy and sad) probably shouldn't be so set in stone, I agree, but it's an inte[...]

The King's Singers Celebrate Their Golden Anniversary With Midday Masterpieces

The King’s Singers joined us in our studio to serenade you with their arrangements of English music, as well as arrangements of music by Paul Simon and Billy Joel. Above, watch the beloved a cappella ensemble perform a new work, a commissioned piece from British choral composer Bob Chilcott, using text from a poem by American poet Maya Angelou.

While the English choral tradition forms the backbone of their repertoire, they don’t shy away from other vocal music from the British Isles. So keep an ear open for a special arrangement of a Beatles’ tune in the full performance video below.

The King's Singers were formed 50 years ago, at King's College, Cambridge. They are a well-traveled group, too, crisscrossing the globe to make about 100 performances this year. But 2018, their golden anniversary, is extra special. In addition to traveling to Maine, Colorado, Singapore and New Zealand, they are celebrating the release of a new album, aptly titled Gold out now on Signum Records.

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'The Psalms Experience' Recap Program 7: Abandonment
Vanessa Ague: It was a wonderful concert, and probably the most musically variant of the ones I saw, at least. What were your highlights and thoughts? James Bennett II: Hah, all of them? Here were some standouts: Zad Moultaka's Sakata — to my knowledge, the only Psalm setting done in Aramaic. It was a very percussive, violent piece, physically, you know? There's stomping, the beating of chests… shrill ululations and the flicking of lips. It all creates this sound of organized chaos. Listen to Zad Moultaka's setting of Psalm 60, Sakata, at the New York Times. VA: Moultaka's setting of Psalm 60 was also a highlight for me — I wasn't expecting the violence of the piece. But it makes sense; abandonment is angering and confusing, and we often react to those emotions with violence. The layers of this piece were constantly keeping me on my toes. There was an extreme level of agitation, dissonant chords droned underneath haunting melodies. It certainly felt like abandonment, and that was chilling but also apt. JB: Standout lyric for me: "you made us drink the wine of bewilderment." The Norwegian Soloists ensemble was making it clear they weren't messing around. It wasn't the only setting that captured the sound of abandonment... there was Blow's Psalm 74 setting, with a single voice beginning with "O God, wherefore art thou?” VA: They Choir really brought it that night. Their performance was absolutely captivating as much as it was musically stellar. This definitely added to the intense experience of the event. Hearing the Blow after the Moultaka was also an interesting sonic pairing because it was so pleading. It was a change from the violent utterances we had just heard, and it sort of felt like the natural cycle of emotions that a person goes through when she's feeling isolated. First, you're mad, then you want to find an answer, to just stop being abandoned. It was also interesting to me that this piece ended in a decidedly major chord. Maybe that was hope? JB: And lastly, we'd be remiss if we didn't talk about their own Norwegian influences that were woven into the program VA: I agree that the addition of traditional Norwegian music was welcome. JB: It's a talented group no doubt, but pulling in the Aramaic Moultaka, an Armenian Chant and these new arrangements by Grete Pedersen was the MOVE. The Schein was especially enjoyable, although, I know, ~abandonment~. It challenged those major-minor associations we discussed before. But the choir placed some voices off-stage, and blended these two pieces — a setting from the German Schein and a Norwegian vesper, "Ned i vester soli glader." The blend was, to me at least, seamless. frameborder="0" height="380" src="" width="300"> width="620" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" id="a-4174004904240396316" class="youtube_video" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" webkitallowfullscreen="webki[...]

Singular Voices: Billy Joel
It was a pretty good crowd for a Monday. All 20,789 seats in New York’s Madison Square Garden were sold out for the 43rd consecutive time as Billy Joel, local piano man and internationally revered musician, gave his monthly concert there on Aug. 21. His upcoming New York dates are Nov. 18, Dec. 20, Jan. 11, Feb. 21 and Mar. 28, which will be the 50th in this unmatched run of performances. Joel, 68, has been performing for more than 50 years and was a Kennedy Center Honor recipient in 2013. His music is part of the modern American songbook. Though other singers love to perform his music, the definitive performances of Billy Joel songs are by Billy Joel himself. In this regard, he is like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and the late George Michael. He is a balladeer whose lyrics capture the feelings of millions of people. There was one nagging problem during the concert: much of the show was way too loud. I held my ears shut because the volume was really painful. A very kind employee from Madison Square Garden noticed this and handed me a pair of ear plugs, which helped somewhat. Apart from the excessive decibels, the concert was full of pleasures. Joel’s music sounds as if it was created first, with words following. I say this as high praise, even though many successful songwriters or teams begin with the lyrics. Joel’s music feels so integral, so deeply felt, and the emotions it evokes come from deep within him and have a way of entering the hard-to-reach places of people who are fans but not necessarily musical. An aspect of his singular voice comes in his ability to pull from deep within himself to connect listeners to how this music makes him feel. He is one of the rare singers in any genre who makes you feel he is singing just to you, even in a massive stadium. He often tells stories in his songs that have the same narrative feeling as certain opera arias in which a character is recounting a powerful and consequential tale to another character. For example, Sieglinde to Siegmund in “Der Männer Sippe” from Die Walküre; “La Mamma Morta” from Andrea Chénier in which Maddalena laments to Carlo Gerard; “Vissi d’Arte” in which Tosca talks to God, and “Voi lo sapete” from Cavalleria Rusticana, in which Santuzza pours out her whole heart. I encourage you to experience Joel’s intimate directness with “Vienna,” a song you may not know. width="620" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" id="a4758139491205570103" class="youtube_video" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" data-original-url="">     Joel’s piano playing is brilliant and expressive. He effortlessly riffs in many genres from jazz to Broadway to opera. At the base of his piano playing is a strong classicism and, after attending the performance, I was not surprised to learn from an [...]

November 14, 2017: EJ McMahon
According to recent reports, New York is looking at a budget deficit of 1.7 billion dollars. EJ McMahon, founder and Research Director of the Empire Center for Public Policy, weighed in on the issue.

November 14, 2017: Dr. Robert Pollin and Jessica Wisneski
A recent report from the Political Economy Research Institute says that an increase in State funding of clean energy is needed and can create 160,000 jobs annually. Dr. Robert Pollin, author of the study and Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and Jessica Wisneski, Deputy Director at Citizen Action of New York, broke down the report’s findings.

November 14, 2017: Sen. Tony Avella
Senator Tony Avella (D-Queens) has proposed legislation to mitigate the effects of climate change. We discussed the bill and more with the Senator.

November 14, 2017: Keith Wright
Manhattan Democratic Party Chair and former Assemblyman Keith Wright joined Susan to preview the upcoming legislative session and to discuss whether the “Blue Wave” was a bellwether for the 2018 elections.

5 Opera Characters Who Are Having a Worse Day Than You
You woke up late, your toothbrush fell in the toilet, you missed your train, you were late to a very important meeting, you’re tired, you’re hungry, and you think you forgot to apply deodorant. You’re having a very bad day. But rest assured, people have been having bad days since the dawn of time and they’ve made it through, so don’t worry, you’ll get through it, too. Alright, alright, so saying “everything’s going to be okay” doesn’t always make you feel a whole lot better. Well, in case you need a little something extra to put everything in perspective, read on and consider these five opera characters who are having a way worse day than you. Lucia from Lucia di Lammermoor Lucia is having just about the worst week ever. Lucia’s mother has just passed away. She is in love with Edgardo, the political rival of Lucia’s brother Enrico, but Enrico has arranged for her to marry Lord Arturo in an effort to save their family from financial ruin. Lucia and Edgardo resolve to keep their love a secret in an effort to avoid confrontation with Lucia’s brother. Suspecting that Lucia still loves Edgardo, Enrico and Normanno procure a forged letter from “Edgardo” purporting that he loves another woman. Enrico shows the forged letter to Lucia on the day on which she is to marry Arturo. Distraught and betrayed, Lucia agrees to marry Arturo in order to do her duty to her family and to her late mother. The wedding ceremony commences. Lucia is signing the wedding contract when suddenly Edgardo bursts in and declares that he and Lucia are to be married. Upon seeing the signed contract however, he flees, utterly distraught. Overcome by her misfortune, Lucia kills Arturo, leading up to an iconic mad scene, which Lucia sings while covered in her late husband’s blood. After an exchange with her brother, Lucia collapses and dies. width="620" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" id="a-3300102085225063042" class="youtube_video" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" data-original-url="">     Monica from The Medium Monica is the daughter of Madame Flora, or “Baba,” a medium who leads fake seances at her home. Monica lives in the house with their mute servant boy Toby. Baba arrives home drunk and tells Monica and Toby to prepare for the evening’s seance. The guests arrive and the masquerade begins. Mrs. Nolan, a guest, speaks with her deceased 16-year-old daughter, but it is really Monica speaking from behind a screen. Baba thinks she feels a hand clutching at her throat and she forces the guests to leave. Blaming Toby for the trick, Baba flies into a rage. Some days later, Baba throws Toby from the house, much to Monica’s dismay. Monica and Toby share a[...]

Check out This Orchestra Playing 'The Rite of Spring' Without a Conductor
The Rite of Spring is a complex piece of music with a legendary history. Stravinsky’s music for the ballet is a cornerstone of musical modernism; for over a hundred years it has challenged (and on occasion, outraged) listeners. A work like that needs a skilled conductor to hold everything together, a fact that makes the orchestra Les Dissonances' recent performance all the more impressive. That is, the orchestra performed the piece without a conductor at all.

Walsh on WCNY’s ‘The Capitol Pressroom: Cuomo and combatting poverty
Syracuse Mayor-Elect Ben Walsh joined WCNY’s Susan Arbetter on “The Capitol Pressroom” on Monday. The Mayor-elect discussed his phone call with Governor Andrew Cuomo and one his priorities heading into City Hall, combatting poverty. To listen to the rest of Arbetter’s interview with the Mayor-Elect, go to

November 13, 2017: Sen. Brad Hoylman
Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) explained his new bill which would allow police officers to remove guns and other weapons from the household of someone charged with domestic violence.

November 13, 2017: Michael Ciaravino
Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino has sent a letter the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation asking them to pay for a water filter to protect residents from PFOS contamination. We heard about what he wants for the community and the latest on Newburgh’s efforts for clean drinking water.

November 13, 2017: Syracuse Mayor-Elect Ben Walsh
Come January, the city of Syracuse will have a new Mayor. Ben Walsh, Mayor-elect of Syracuse, joined Susan to discuss his vision for the city and to look back at a campaign that sent the first non-Democrat or Republican to City Hall in over 100 years.

November 13, 2017: Michael Borges
A new report released by the New York State Association of School Business Officials looked at the increasing number of students living in poverty and the costs to school districts across the State to respond to the problem. NYSASBO Executive Director Michael Borges joined the show to break down the report’s findings.

'The Psalms Experience' Recap Program 6: Gratitude
Vanessa Ague: "Gratitude" is an interesting concept — it's not just showing thanks, but being ready to return kindness. It is an action, not an abstract thought. The Reverend Winnie Varghese's opening words, "gratitude of surviving trouble," and "we are a nation of survivors," were immediately resonant and inspirational. We do live in times of tragedy, and when tragedy strikes, the question is: how do we find gratitude for what we have, what we believe in, for God? These are the questions that humanity has struggled with for centuries, and those that the evening's program sought to bring light to. When I heard the word "gratitude," I thought there would be  a lot of jubilance. But there was not. Rather, it was introspective: how do we look within to find gratitude? How do we live in gratitude? To that end, there was a strong sense of melancholy running throughout the entire program. James Bennett: Like my guy Victoria. That "Credidi" was complicated. It’s the kind of thing you toss on and just lie in bed staring at your ceiling, feeling your feelings. (I may or may not have done this before.) frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560"> VA: Definitely, that was the vibe. Don't worry, James, we've all been there JB: It's not gratitude for all this great stuff going on, It’s gratitude for deliverance. VA: Certainly, and that was surprising to me, but all the more rewarding. The concert had this one sound — this bittersweet, homophonic melancholy, and not very many resolutions. My big highlight was Nico Muhly's "Marrow," a setting of Psalm 63. It was layered dissonance. Some voices droned or hummed or "ooed" while others sang the words, but eventually they all came together in some semblance of understanding, yet uncertain harmony. Of course, with phrases like "destroyed to eternity," there will be uncertainty, but there was also resolution, finally. The piece felt uncertain and joyful all at once, and ended with no perfect consonance to be found. That is a good representation of the struggle of exhibiting unbounded gratitude. JB: I'm glad I was able to listen to it. He described it as "a aquatic idée fixe." It's fitting he was able to arrange this, too — dude loves him some choral music. He wrote that amazing piece in the Times earlier this year,  about that book on the history of English choral music last year. Cool stuff. VA: Totally. I love that piece as well. Last night's brought me to full on crying, which was exciting, because that's when you know you are connecting to the music and the words. Transitioning from that right into Pierre de la Rue's setting of Psalm 146, a 15th century work, was fascinating. This piece brought the steadiness that Muhly had upended previously.[...]

'The Psalms Experience' Recap Program 5: State of Humankind
Vanessa Ague: Yesterday's 6:30 pm edition of the Psalms Experience sought to explore the idea of the "State of Humankind." Before the concert even began, I wondered how these texts and sounds could even scratch the surface of understanding the state of humankind. It is a massive topic with no answers: it can be incredibly dark on one end, or hopeful on another. And I don't think we found answers last night, but we were able to explore ourselves and our surrounding world in a deeply introspective way. James Bennett: Did you think only the two extremes were explored, or did it hit some existential ambiguity in there, too? Like, the first one was this celebratory Bach, Psalm 117.  frameborder="0" height="380" src="" width="300"> VA: The Reverend Winnie Varghese offered some food for thought in her opening words, which stuck with me throughout the concert. "Sometimes it feels that...all is contained in these psalms." The psalms encapsulate experiences people have had for centuries, experiences that we continue to have. We can find solace in them because of the shared experiences they express. There was so much ambiguity in this concert, but I think that is a more accurate representation of what we actually live as humans in the world. Maybe one day you are incredibly negative about the state of humankind, but the next you may see the beauty of our kind. It's interesting you mention the Bach setting. It was joyous, jubilant, and a big baroque chorale. One of the highlights for me was the transition from this sound into Mohammed Fairouz's "Diversions," a setting of Psalm 14. Its sound was dark, dissonant, and uncertain. Now, there was questioning of the good of humankind. The gruesome imagery was introduced: "fresh corpses line the boulevard," in an eerie dissonance. All of a sudden, you knew that there are two sides to the coin of humanity. Those two pieces, juxtaposed, illustrated this idea nicely. But the rest of the concert felt so bittersweet. To me, that's the middle ground between praise of the good of humanity and God and doubt and despair. JB: Violent, to say the least. The New York Times was able to get recordings of these new settings and commissions, so anyone who wasn't there will be able to hear it. VA: That's wonderful news — last night's commissions were stunning. JB: True! But one more thing about the Fairouz I think it's worth mentioning that, violent as it is, the composer feels that the Psalm is hopeful. As he tells the Times, "if you look at the world we're living in today, the opportunities are tremendous." So the music was jarring, the text was graphic... but just because everything around you is so terrible, it doesn't always h[...]