Reviews and Testimonials
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
Musical Images: North/South Consonance Finds Modernity
by Judy Gelman Myers
Feb 22, 2012
What Film Forum is to cinema, North/South Consonance is to modern classical music—an independent nonprofit bringing New York City deserving works overlooked by big-ticket distributors and mainstream media. North/South continued its 32 season of free concerts Feb. 19 with “Midwinter Sounds,” music for chamber orchestra by composers from Cuba, Italy, and the U.S., at Christ & St. Stephen’s Church.
Mexican-born Max Lifchitz founded North/South in 1980 to guide the works of Latin American composers to worldwide attention. Today North/South has its own record label and a long list of international premiers. Still, Lifchitz feels he’s fighting two concurrent trends: mainstream producers playing it safe by promoting only well-proven (i.e., commercially successful) composers coupled with lassitude on the part of the listening public. “Radio is afraid to play this music, and you can’t get a listing in The New York Times unless you have a big publicity budget,” he says. “With so much prerecording, people take music for granted. They want to have it on in the background, but they don’t want it to get in the way. This music isn’t easy listening.”
Maybe not, but “Midwinter Sounds” sure wasn’t hard to listen to. Modern classical music is often stereotyped as disjointed and overly intellectual, but the largely programmatic music featured in this concert conjured up a wellspring of good old-fashioned images.
Ada Gentile’s opening mournful phrases in Torre del Guado resolved into a pastoral ode, recalling the tenuously happy end of Robert Frost’s “Dust of Snow,” while the four movements of Victor Kioulaphides’ New York Moments are so evocative that one can’t help but listen to the city’s sounds in a different way. Even without knowing the title of the second movement—“Central Park (Reflections on the Lily Pond)”—you’re crossing the Bow Bridge with your lover on a spring day; the eerie melodies of “Tugboat on the Hudson (Evanescent in the Morning Fog)” have you rubbing your shoulders against the strange beauty of the river at dawn.
Harold Schiffman studied composition with both Roger Sessions and Ernst von Dohnanyi. In Serenata Concertante, he offers a largo based on Appalachian fiddle tunes, as relaxed and charming as a sly romance. Ironically, the most “modern” instrumentation came from the oldest composer on the program—87-year-old Cuban-born Aurelio de la Vega. Sounds of fragmentation summoned another poem to mind: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.” Images of a modern age.
Judy Gelman Myers writes about arts and music for cityArts magazine
Strolling Through Castles and Labyrinths
By STEVE SMITH, The New York Times
Wed., March 10, 2010
NEW YORK The concert presented by Max Lifchitz and his North/South Chamber Orchestra at Merkin Concert Hall on Monday night was billed as a 30th-anniversary gala. Since founding North/South Consonance in 1980, Mr. Lifchitz, a Mexican-born composer, conductor and pianist, has devoted copious effort to promoting the work of composers underserved elsewhere, through a regular series of concerts in New York and on CDs released by North/South Recordings.
But if you were looking for regal finery, flowery speeches and Champagne, you were in the wrong place. This particular gala was celebrated with business as usual. Works by Hilary Tann, Stephen Yip, Edward Green and Mr. Lifchitz received their first performances. A solitary nod to the past, Elizabeth Bell's "Andromeda," was featured in a 2002 North/South Consonance event, the first presented at Merkin.
Arthur Campbell, conducted by Max Lifchitz, during the North/South Chamber Orchestra's anniversary gala.
In all of his endeavors, Mr. Lifchitz has adhered to no particular stylistic dogma, and this concert was accordingly notable for its range. Ms. Tann, Welsh-born and now based in upstate New York, reworked a 1998 trio for oboe, viola and cello, "The Walls of Morlais Castle," into a handsome piece for string orchestra, with dusky melodies and bracing, rustic rhythms.
Mr. Yip's "Spirit Labyrinth II" also dealt in folk-inspired notions, calling on a solo harpist, Megan Levin, and the string players to slap, thump and slide through a ritualistic sequence of gestures, conjuring calm meditation, frenetic enlightenment and eventual repose.
Mr. Green's Concerto for Clarinet and Strings, revised from an earlier work for saxophone and string orchestra, opened with a relaxed lyricism reminiscent of Hollywood's take on Copland's music. Wistful motifs never overstayed their welcome; indeed, you often wished one or another idea would linger to bloom fully. A suave, peppy second part eventually bustled its way back to the first movement's relaxation. Arthur Campbell was the eloquent soloist, sounding especially strong in his rich lower register.
Ms. Bell, a student of Vittorio Giannini and Peter Mennin, showed the most refined grasp of structure and pacing in "Andromeda," less a piano concerto than a well-wrought celestial fantasy in which piano figured prominently. Helen Lin, the soloist, dexterously grappled with contrasting meters and hand-over-hand legerdemain, chorused by strings and two percussionists.
In Mr. Lifchitz's "Night Voices No. 16," for clarinet, strings and percussion, Mr. Campbell was more clearly the focus. Unaccompanied for long stretches, his clarinet sang, purred and growled ornate soliloquies during the fitful work, as strings murmured and a percussionist punctuated the flow.
Throughout the evening you could wish for greater clarity and bite from the ensemble. But the sound the North/South players made was seldom less than respectable; their cause is still more so.
Lifchitz delivers an evocative show
By JOSEPH DALTON, Special to the Times Union
First published: Thursday, April 19, 2007
Albany Max Lifchitz isn't just a composer, he's a storyteller, as well. And though his subject matter is usually rather grim, four of his works heard Tuesday night were consistently evocative, propulsive and succinct.
"Musical Narratives," an hourlong concert at the Performing Arts Center of the University at Albany (where Lifchitz has been a faculty member since 1986), offered performances by members of his New York City ensemble, North/South Consonance, with the composer at the piano.
"Blood Orange," written just last year, featured television actress Norma Fire ("Law & Order") in a conversational monologue that she commissioned from poet Kathleen Masterson. It centered on Fire's father, his emigration from Poland, the Nazi persecution back in the homeland, and the family's assimilation into Manhattan life.
The accompaniment from piano and violin made liberal use of minor-key tunes from Yiddish folk and liturgical music, while "Yankee Doodle" and the national anthem also made brief appearances. The musicians also played small gongs and whispered portions of the text, like "fire, fire, fire" and "water, water, water." It felt pretty corny at times, but the cumulative effect of the piece worked. In the end, it was like having watched a music video on the History Channel, though the only visual was an orange on the floor at center stage. (In the text, the fruit is shared during the final wedding scene.)
"Of Bondage and Freedom" shared a similarly somber ground, born out of the Holocaust. Scored for soprano, violin and piano, the piece was commissioned by Beno and Lisa Sternlicht of Schenectady in 1991.
The lasting impression is the quality of the performers. Violinist Claudia Schaer was a rock-solid centerpiece, her meaty tone functioning like an unblinking witness to the depth and bitterness of the piece. Soprano Elizabeth Farnum's part included English, Yiddish and Polish texts as well as sprechstimmea kind of cadenced intonation. She brought an intimate and polished sound.
Two purely instrumental works were also inspired by difficult world events. "Yellow Ribbons No. 22" for viola and piano, part of an ongoing series begun during the Iranian hostage crisis, was atonal and unsettleda style and feeling that usually go together. Unfortunately, violist Bernard Linden had intonation difficulties during the widely leaping lines. In "Elegia," written during the Vietnam War, Lifchitz hammered away at unchanging block chords on the keyboard. Tones rang out like sirens and demanded attention.
Joseph Dalton is a local freelance writer
who contributes regularly to the Times Union.
© 1996-2007, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation
Accordion Concerto Blends Bach With Pop
June 10, 2002, New York-- Max Lifchitz and his North/South Consonance players closed their 22nd season on Tuesday evening at Christ and St. Stephen's Church with a program of four imaginative recent works. Three were by American composers (including Mr. Lifchitz); one was imported from Sweden. The musical languages were distinct, but each piece had something to draw the listener in — an unusual use of rhythm or color, for example, or a peculiar interlacing of lyricism and spikiness.
Still, the most fascinating of the pieces, and the one that lingered longest after the program ended, was the quirkiest, William Schimmel's "Empty World" (2001). Mr. Schimmel is a virtuoso accordionist whose own concerts and recordings can be both entertaining and provocative, not least because the musical connections he makes are surprising and fresh. "Empty World," an accordion concerto, is well within that tradition.
Some of the thematic material in "Empty World" comes from the old Supremes hit, "My World Is Empty Without You," but there are also references to Elton John's "Sixty Years On" and broader allusions to the styles of Bach, Scarlatti and Brahms. Often, the allusions are either included within longer melodies or rendered in an odd stylistic context that veils the source material.
Mostly, Mr. Schimmel's agility on the accordion, and the interplay between his instrument and arching solo lines for cello and violin, create a constantly shifting musical ground.
The works that surrounded this endearingly daffy piece were more conventionally serious. Leonard Mark Lewis's Concerto for Six Players (1999) is a vigorous, often sharp-edged chamber work in which winding solo lines created a constantly shifting sense of ensemble perspective. Mr. Lewis's most alluring writing was near the center of the piece, when the piano and percussion created a shimmering and sometimes sparkling figure around which string and wind lines created an interesting symmetry.
"Frameworks" (1997) by S. Pat Simmerud, the Swedish composer, also keeps the individual instrumental strands in the spotlight much of the time. The piece is based on a numerological game: the letters of the alphabet are assigned numbers, which also represent notes in the scale. The work's themes are drawn from a rendering of Bach's full name.
In his program note, Mr. Simmerud writes that the work is inspired by events in Bach's life. He doesn't say which events, and it isn't easy to guess. But the piece works perfectly well as an entirely abstract work.
Mr. Lifchitz's "Yellow Ribbons 37" (2002) — the latest installment in a series he began in the early 1980's — closed the concert. Cast in four movements called "The Last Trumpet," "Cataclysm," "Peace Dream" and "Dance of Hope," the work alludes to the current war on terrorism, but in a fairly subdued way. "Cataclysm," for example, is mildly dissonant, but not overwrought, and "Dance of Hope" is more of a Stravinskian exploration of rhythm than an optimistic celebration. Still, the piece was skillfully composed and included some athletic brass writing.
ALLAN KOZINN, The New York Times © 2002 The New York Times Company
On March 15, 2002 New York Times reviewer Anthony Tommasini wrote:
"Arthur Berger, born in New York 90 years ago, is an interesting and elegant composer who has, for whatever reasons, not received the performances he deserves. So it's good that on Tuesday night (March 12) the North/South Consonance Ensemble presented a birthday concert for Mr. Berger at Christ and St. Stephen's Church. Berger won acclaim as a skillful Neo-Classical composer" in the 1940's and 50's, writes Tommasini, who adds that Berger's "Neo-Classical works had spiky, astringent qualities that made them seem fully modern, and his 12-tone works retained Neo-Classical lucidity and charm."
Reviewing the performance of Berger's "Collage III," Tommasini calls the music "bracing and mercurial," and writes: "a section deceptively marked 'tranquillo' is filled with insistent stuff that keeps protruding through the placid surface; spunky outbursts are oddly quizzical. Max Lifchitz, the ensemble's music director, conducted a strong performance, which included works by Amy Williams, Elizabeth Alexander and Mr. Lifchitz."
The New York Times
"The performers, all excellent...North/South Consonance is a high quality ensemble...The listener was rewarded with a diverting sampler of recent compositional styles."
The New York Times
"Max Lifchitz's group seeks out intriguing works from across the continent. The North/South Consonance Ensemble is New York's lifeline to the rest of the country."
"Founded in 1980 by Max Lifchitz, North/South Consonance is an excellent contemporary music ensemble, a composers' ensemble. Their CD recordings are of high quality; the packaging and program notes are in line with the quality of the music and performances. Highly recommended."
American Record Guide
"Max Lifchitz, Mexican-born composer, pianist and entrepreneur, has one of the keenest senses anywhere for what belongs with what on a program. North/South Consonance offered a state-of-the art performance of Schönberg's expressionistic masterpiece Pierrot Lunaire."
Times Union/Knight-Ridder Newspapers
"North/South Consonance's musicians clearly demonstrated their expertise in dealing with music of diverse styles ranging from romanticism to expressionism to jazz derived works."
México City's Reforma Newspaper
"For more than fifteen years the North/South Consonance Ensemble has championed new chamber music of the Americas. Its yearly concert series in New York City is a well-established forum for lively and adventurous performances, and its seemingly-indefatigable conductor and pianist, Max Lifchitz, has proved to be a true and open-minded friend to contemporary composers of all musical persuasions."
Journal of the International Alliance of Women in Music
"As both composer and listener, I can testify from first hand experience to the musical expertise of the North/South Consonance Ensemble and its commitment to giving the finest possible rendition of everything they choose to program. Furthermore, it is to their credit that they present a wide spectrum of fresh and exciting new works from all corners of the music world."
Wayne Peterson (Recipient of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize in Music)
"So many musical projects are started and after a few years fade away. But North/South Consonance has indeed managed to not only continue year after year, but it seems to have prospered and certainly it has gained in stature and notoriety. Bravo!"
José Serebrier (Uruguayan Conductor and Composer)
"Thank you again for the time, effort, artistry and sensitivity you put into my piece. It is very difficult for young composers like me to have our music performed by enthusiastic professionals like you and your ensemble. It was obvious at the concert that the performers love what they do and that they find new music a worthy cause."
Jeremy Podgursky (University of Louisville)
"The devoted North/South players gave an excellent performance of my Sextet."
Ursula Mamlok (Manhattan School of Music)
"The recent fine performance of my Character Studies under the auspices of North/South Consonance remains a happy memory."
Richard Wilson (Composer-in-Residence, The American Symphony Orchestra)
"From its earliest beginnings, Otto Luening greatly admired the philosophy and mission of North/South Consonance: to present greatly diversified contemporary music from North. South, East and West by first rate performers."
Catherine Luening (The Otto Luening Trust)
"I congratulate North/South Consonance and its founder, Maestro Max Lifchitz, for the excellent work, realized for more than 20 years, of bringing the music of so many contemporary composers of the Americas to the attention of the New York audience.."
Roque Cordero (Panamanian Composer)
"The members of North/South Consonance not only gave an accurate performance of my work but also played it with great artistry."
Nickitas J. Demos (Georgia State University)
"North/South Consonance has championed emerging composers of every stylistic bent, giving life to important (and all too often, sadly neglected) segments of the contemporary repertoire."
Stefania de Kenessey (New School University)
"North/South Consonance's programs are, in some cases, a young composer's first professional exposure in New York City."
Larry Bell (The Boston Conservatory)
"The recent North/South program featuring Latin American music was well received by all my students. They thoroughly enjoyed the quality of the music selected and, of course, the vocalist and instrumentalists. This type of performance has a lasting effect on the many students we have, especially those from parts of Latin America. All the students really got a great deal from Max Lifchitz's presentation and wonderful explanations of the music."
Ron Mazurek (Bergen County Community College)
"In 1997, North/South Recordings released a disk that included my Nocturne II. The recording was expertly produced, packaged and disseminated. As a result, my work is now known to a much wider audience, having received favorable reviews in a number of important publications."
Jan Krzywicki (Temple University)
"North/South Consonance's performances really show the composers' works to their full advantage. They are carefully and lovingly prepared. Max Lifchitz and his group are a jewel in New York City's crown."
Francis Thorne (Founder, American Composers Orchestra)
"North/South Consonance gave a superb performance of my Bassoon Concertino on June 5, 2001. The excellent performers conducted by Max Lifchitz could not have been more satisfying. May we all say: Long Live Max Lifchitz and his work with this important concert series."
James Sellars (Hartt School of Music)
"Thanks for the truly sensitive performance of my Croquis du Nil. It brought out the lyrical qualities of the piece. It was a pleasure working with you and the group. I sincerely hope I have the opportunity to work with you again in the near future."
Francis Kayali (Free-Lance Composer, Los Angeles, CA)
"I just listened to the tape of your June 22, 2010 performance of my Les Immagini nascoste. My sincere thanks to you and all the members of The North/South Chamber Orchestra for this so beautiful an interpretation. You all did a really great job. Thank you."
Massimo Lauricella (Italian Conductor and Composer)
"Thank you very much for the recording from the June 8, 2010 concert. I greatly appreciate your including my composition The Poems to Come on the program. I had a wonderful time and it was a wonderful performance! I look forward to working with you again."
John G. Bilotta (Free-Lance Composer, San Francisco, CA)
"Have listened to the tape you sent me of my Tango Overtures with score in hand. Congratulations to you and the players, it's really a highly polished, nuanced, and spirited performance--I can't imagine that I will hear better--I feel honored. Special kudos to your concertmaster for the imaginative playing in the quasi cadenza section."
José Lezcano (Cuban American Guitarist and Composer)
"Thanks so much for the recording of the May 18, 2010 performance of my work Ten. You and the players did a wonderful job. I was delighted with the results. Your championing new music means a lot to all of us composers."
Marilyn Ziffrin (New Hampshire's 2008 Lotti Jacobi Living Treasure Award recipient)
"The North/South Recordings catalogue is most impressive – first rate soloists, fine ensemble playing and conducting, and a considerable range of music."
Scott Wheeler (Emerson College)
"I was most satisfied with the magnificent premiere performance of my Cuatro Imágenes Coreográficas. The accurate rendering was full of vigor, nuance and coherence. Please convey my warmest thanks all involved – the conductor and the terrific musicians."
Federico Ibarra-Groth (Mexican Composer)
"Thanks for a great performance of Three Movements on March 11, 2012. The sensitivity of the ensemble as each member interacted with the other was a joy to hear."
N. Lincoln Hanks (Pepperdine University)
"The October 30, 2011 performance of my Scherzo was excellent, especially the rhythmic precision achieved by the ensemble. Thank you for preparing the piece so well and for programming it in the first place."
Robert Rival (Resident Composer, Edmonton Symphony Orchestra)
"Congratulations on another year of interesting and varied concerts. You are aterrific example of one who does so much for colleagues—tireless, imaginative and a great contributor to our profession. I send you my warmest support."
Bernard Rands (Recipient of the 1984 Pulitzer Prize in Music)
"Max Lifchitz has done an amazing job with his North/South Recordings label. For years it has championed contemporary music that's not quite avant-garde, but still innovative enough to deserve a hearing."
Ralph Graves (WTJU-FM Classical Comments)