Gretchen Koehler is an elegant fiddler — her classical violin training shines through, yet her style is totally idiomatic. She performed in several distinct fiddling styles: New England, Bluegrass, Québec, Cape Breton, to name a few. She explained and demonstrated the essential rhythmic distinctions between, say, a jig and a reel… jiggity-jig, jiggity-jig and huckleberry, huckleberry! Gretchen has found a rather unlikely music partner in New York City-based jazz pianist Daniel Kelly. His accompaniments provide an unexpected sonic environment and nudge her outside the usual framework of traditional folk. A couple of times he launched into extended jazz improvisations. An excellent musical marriage, and a totally delightful concert! We would be remiss if we did not mention who stole the show a couple times. Gretchen’s 13-year-old son Syl joined in with his own fiddle on “Devil’s Dream” and then jumped up altar-level for some spectacular step-dancing – bravo!
Marina Krickler, Daniel Sedgwick, Marjorie Gere
The Red Hedgehog Trio concluded their two-week retreat with a delightful concert that featured works for solo keyboard and violin-piano duo, as well as for the rather unusual instrumental combination of horn-violin-piano trio. J.S. Bach’s exquisite Partita No. 1 in Bb Major (BWV 825) opened the program, followed by John Harbison’s mysterious and atmospheric “Twilight Music” for Horn, Violin and Piano. Brahms’s lyrical Sonata No. 2 in A Major for Violin and Piano, Op. 100 led into the second half. The fourth and fascinating final segment of the program was “10 X 10” ─ 10 New Miniature Trios by 10 Composers, a collection of ten very brief works (each under two minutes in length) written by ten different composers for their trio. The Red Hedgehogs conceived and developed this project for the 10 X 10 Upstreet Arts Festival, a collaborative arts festival held annually in Pittsfield, MA. This effort represents a first step towards building new repertory for the ensemble of horn-violin-piano – a worthy cause. More power to them!
Ricochet Duo – Jane Boxall on marimba and Rose Chancler on piano – delighted the crowd with their program DANCES (May 3, 2015). The unconventional instrumental pairing by two dynamic artists creates an enchanting new sound-world with a tantalizing repertory. DANCES is an appealing array of short works, including traditional rags by Harry Breuer and tangos by Astor Piazzolla, Igor Stravinsky, and Lucas Guinot. Contemporary dance-inspired works include “Exposed Zipper” and “Trans Fatty Acid’s Rein” from Tight Sweater Remix by Marc Mellits, “Old Adam (Two Step)” by William Bolcom, “Dance of the Octopus” of Red Norvo, and Pleiades Dances of Takashi Yoshimatsu. “Jovial Jasper” and “The Whistler” by the legendary American xylophonist George Hamilton Green elicited squeals of delight!
Duo FAE performed to an ample crowd on Sunday, March 22, thanks to some wonderful publicity and cooperative weather. Violinist Charlene Kluegel and pianist Katherine Petersen offered three significant works considered masterpieces of the violin-piano repertory: Beethoven “Spring” Sonata, F Major, op. 24, Charles Ives Sonata No. 2, and Gabriel Fauré Sonata No. 1 in A Major, op. 13. All are rich, dense, complex works demanding tremendous mental focus and technical mastery. That the artists rose to the particular challenges and were not ruffled by the inherent difficulties of each is validation of their virtuosity and artistic maturity. It was a heavenly program and these gorgeous young women both played and looked like angels! They are establishing strong professional credentials already, as they complete their Doctoral of Musical Arts degrees at Indiana and McGill Universities, and are poised to burst onto the classical music scene. We will follow them with great interest and enthusiasm.
The Guidonian Hand trombone quartet was with us for a week-long retreat in early February. Their project was to record music they had commissioned and/or premiered over the past several years. Three intense long days saw them “lay down” all the material in the beautiful acoustical space of the old Saranac Methodist church. The editing and mixing is being done in NYC and we hope to have a thrilling CD release party for the guys in the fall at the Fire Hall!
The Hand gave a concert at the church to wind up their residency – a terrific program that juxtaposed art music of the past (Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Debussy) with contemporary works of living composers (Galen Brown, Jeremy Howard Beck, Conrad Winslow). In lieu of printed notes, the quartet members spoke engagingly about the various works – especially helpful with the new music, but there was some interesting nugget about even the old classics. Elegant speaking, exciting music, excellent virtuosic playing! They brought the house down, albeit a slim house due to snowy roads.
The superb violist Patricia McCarty found an excellent partner in pianist Cary Lewis for a duo recital at the historic Methodist Church in Saranac on November 16. Such accomplished and inspired playing – both individual and ensemble – is not an everyday occurrence in our neck o’ the woods. More than a particular in-the-moment chemistry between McCarty and Lewis, they clearly had spent a good deal of time in thoughtful rehearsal to arrive at a performance in which their interpretations were so transparent and well paced.
A meaty program opened with Sonata No. 3 in G Minor of J. S. Bach. Next came the charming Romance in F, Op. 50 of Beethoven followed by Sonata in E-flat, Op. 120, No. 2 of Brahms. After intermission the second half was given entirely to an exciting and beautiful contemporary work by American composer David Avshalomov: Torn Curtain, Suite for Viola and Pianoforte (1990-91). Torn Curtain was inspired by the disintegration of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and features themes and rhythms redolent of Russian, Roumanian, Czech, and Hungarian folk music. The audience begged for an encore and Ms. McCarty complied with a meltingly gorgeous rendering of Ravel’s Pièce en forme de Habanera. In every respect this Sunday afternoon concert was a deeply satisfying musical experience.
Did you know that our neighborhood is called Little Siberia by the locals? Yep, we’ve got “Russia Hill” by High Falls on Route 3 and the “Siberian Rod & Gun Club on Dannemora Mountain! Russian Duo offered one of their signature performances to about 100 rapt listeners. Native Siberian Balalaika artist Oleg Kruglyakov simply has this music in his blood, his being. His sense of timing and rubato, his overall musical gesture, is the real deal. His singing of Russian songs completely drew us into his world – at one point he had the audience clapping along unabashedly, deliriously. Formidable pianist Terry Boyarsky is a sensitive and worthy music partner, offering complete support and musical context, yet always allowing the balalaika to shine. What with the changeable weather, we had been concerned about the piano staying in tune, but Terry said not to worry – the balalaika is never in tune! Part of it’s charm.
It was a fantastic action-packed week with the Allant Trio! Pianist Beth Nam, violinist Anna Park, and cellist Alina Lim experienced Adirondack living at its finest and fullest. One glorious afternoon Andy Sajor took us sailing on Lake Champlain. The breeze was gentle and we dove off the boat for a refreshing swim in Cumberland Bay – they were amazed at how pristine the water was. A few days later we attended Thornton’s annual pig roast, one of Saranac’s most anticipated social events of the summer. The spread was plentiful and they sampled succulent smoke-roasted pork and salmon and an array of sides and salads, and washed it all down with a brew!
Each day the trio rehearsed morning and evening in preparation for their recording session with Joel Hurd of North Country Public Radio, as well as for the community concert. They succeeded in “laying down” Haydn’s “Gypsy” Trio and Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, as well as mapping out the complex editing– all extremely demanding work. The culminating concert at the church, free and open to the public, included both the Haydn and Mendelssohn trios, as well as the rising young Canadian composer Kelly-Marie Murphy’s Give Me Phoenix Wings to Fly. We were pleased with the turnout: 125 attended and we ran out of programs. The audience recognized the special talent, energy, and cohesion of the Allant Trio and rewarded them with an overwhelming standing ovation. We can’t wait for their new CD to be released and they can’t wait to come back again to the North Country!
The Rocky Hill Ramblers gave a pair of really fun shows July 11 and 13 at the Saranac Fire Hall. Folks do seem to enjoy the laid-back, sorta-scruffy atmosphere of this man-cave. The three-piece band was oh-so-much more than the sum of its parts, with Andrew O’Connor on guitar and vocals, Jennifer Hayden (Kellum’s daughter!) on fiddle and vocals (some delicious vocal harmonies going on there), and Steve Hayden (Kellum’s son-in-law!) on bass and guitars. Steve is a tremendous player, whose modest and nonchalant style subtly energize the Ramblers’ style. Their program was a sweet little stroll down Memory Lane with 60s and 70s folk and rock, country and blues, plus some ancient traditional English and Irish songs. A couple of Andrew’s originals were warmly received as well. Many friends commented on Jennifer’s banter in between songs – her informative and witty (frequently irreverent) remarks are definitely part of the act!
After two recent high-profile triumphs in New York City, the Lavrova-Primakov Piano Duo conquered Saranac! They came on a retreat with South African composer Braam van Eden to prepare several of his new works for performance and later recording. Being a trained classical pianist himself, van Eeden’s writing is idiomatic, fully exploiting the instrument’s sound palette and power. His compositions are grand, colorful, and expansive in a manner reminiscent of Franz Liszt. One of the works, Allegory, was dedicated to Hill and Hollow Music and received its world premiere – terribly exciting for us! A theme and variations, it was based on a melody by Tchaikovsky. The program followed a Russian theme mainly, the Duo also performing Arensky and Rachmaninoff.
Making the event even more special, the artists wore the most elaborate and glamorous costumes that have ever been seen north of Albany – the creations of NYC designer Madeline Gruen, a recent graduate of Pratt Institute, whose senior collection received the Liz Claiborne Award – and they changed costumes after intermission! A couple days before the concert, the Duo and Braam had given a live hour-long performance and interview on Walter Parker’s show on Vermont Public Radio, which surely helped bring in a full house. The enthusiastic audience generously rewarded the musicians with several standing ovations.