Great Music at St. Bart’s Presents – Andy Akiho and the Sebastians

Monday, April 25, 2016, at 7:30 pm in the Chapel


Kristin Lee, violin
Ian David Rosenbaum, percussion
Amphion String Quartet


Andy Akiho, photo by Aestheticize Media; The Sebastians

Music by the dynamic young composer Andy Akiho, which has been praised as “mold-breaking” and “vital,” mixes with a series of Baroque masterpieces in this program performed by some of the finest young chamber musicians and ensembles on the New York music scene: violinist Kristin Lee, percussionist Ian David Rosenbaum, the Amphion String Quartet, and “leading young early-music ensemble” The Sebastians. Akiho himself also performs, on steel pan. The concert, presented by the Great Music at St. Bart’s series (produced by the Mid-Manhattan Performing Arts Foundation), takes place in the St. Bart’s Chapel, a wonderfully intimate space ideally suited for contemporary chamber music.

The Sebastians’ segments of the program, early-Baroque works – chamber pieces by Purcell , Schmelzer, and Graupner; and Biber’s exciting Battalia (Battle) for string ensemble – and one of the era’s most popular masterpieces, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, both echo and contrast with the keen sense of line and syncopated counterpoint in Akiho’s LIgNEouS for string quartet and marimba and Deciduous for violin and steel pan, which will be performed by Kristin Lee, for whom the work was written, and Akiho.

BIBER Battalia à 10 for strings (1673)
AKIHO LIgNEouS for marimba and string quartet (2010)
SCHMELZER Sonata for three violins in D Major (c. 1660-1670)
PURCELL Fantasia upon a Ground for three violins in D Major (c. 1680)
GRAUPNER Presto from Canon for two violins, cello, and continuo
AKIHO Deciduous for violin and steel pan (2014)
BACH Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 (1721)

Watch Kristin Lee and Andy Akiho perform Deciduous in the video clip below:

Andy Akiho, whose work has been described as “mold-breaking,” “alert and alive,” “dramatic,” and “vital” by The New York Times, is an eclectic composer and performer of contemporary classical music. Recent engagements include commissioned premieres by the New York Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, and Carnegie Hall’s Ensemble ACJW. Akiho’s debut CD, No One To Know One, on innova Recordings, features compositions that pose intricate rhythms and exotic timbres around his primary instrument, the steel pan.  Twitter

Named the recipient of a 2015 Avery Fisher Career Grant, Korean-American violinist Kristin Lee has been praised by The Strad for her “mastery of tone.” A violinist of remarkable versatility and impeccable technique, Ms. Lee enjoys a vibrant career as a soloist, recitalist, chamber musician, and 
educator.  Twitter

Praised for his “excellent” and “precisely attuned” performances by The New York Times, percussionist Ian David Rosenbaum made his Kennedy Center debut in 2009 and later that year garnered a special prize created for him at the Salzburg International Marimba Competition. Mr. Rosenbaum joined the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s CMS Two program in 2012 as only the second percussionist they have selected in their history.  Twitter

Hailed for its “gripping intensity” and “suspenseful and virtuoso playing” (San Francisco Classical Voice), the Amphion String Quartet (Katie Hyun and David Southorn, violin; Wei-Yang Andy Lin, viola; Mihai Marica, cello) is a winner of the 2011 Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition and joined the roster of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s CMS Two Program in fall 2013. Through CMS, the ensemble made its Alice Tully Hall debut in March 2014, about which The New York Times praised “the focused, forceful young Amphion String Quartet” for its “sharply detailed performances.”  Twitter

The Sebastians are a dynamic musical ensemble specializing in music of the Baroque and Classical eras. Lauded as “everywhere sharp-edged and engaging” (The New York Times), the Sebastians have also been praised for their “well-thought-out articulation and phrasing” (Early Music Review) and “elegant string playing… immaculate in tuning and balance” (Early Music Today). Winners of the Audience Prize at the 2012 Early Music America Baroque Performance Competition, the Sebastians were also finalists in the 2011 York International Early Music Competition and the 2011 Early Music America/Naxos
Recording Competition.

Tickets: $35, $15 for Students and Seniors

Tickets may be purchased online at on the event page, by phone by calling 212-378-0248, or in person at St. Bart’s in Midtown Manhattan, 325 Park Avenue at 51st Street.

Great Music at St. Bart’s is produced by the Mid-Manhattan Performing Arts Foundation, an independent 501(c)(3) corporation established to cultivate, promote, sponsor and develop the understanding and love of the performing arts as presented at St. Bartholomew’s Church, a treasured masterpiece of architecture on the east side of Manhattan’s midtown. The corporation sponsors performances of music, dance, drama, and other performing arts as well as the exhibition of works in the film and fine arts genres.

Click here for full press release on these concerts.

Press Contact:
Jennifer Wada Communications

New York Classical Review: Austere and Timeless, MacMillan Premiere Proves Compelling at St. Bart’s

Article on New York Classical Review

James MacMillan’s “Since it Was the Day of Preparation …” received its New York premiere as an MMPAF concert event was reviewed on the website New York Classical Review.  The article is reprinted below, or click here to view it on the NYCR website.

Austere and Timeless, MacMillan Premiere Proves Compelling at St. Bart’s

By George Grella
May 05, 2014 at 1:05 pm
macmillan_XXL (1)
New liturgical works like James MacMillan’s “Since it Was the Day of Preparation …”, which had its New York premiere Sunday afternoon at St. Bart’s Church, are important reminders of both the foundations of the Western classical tradition and how what amounts to two handfuls of notes continues to be an enduring source of invention for thousands of years.
MacMillan’s piece was commissioned by Soli Deo Gloria, an organization dedicated to funding the composition of sacred “choral-orchestral” work from leading contemporary composers (this is the third MacMillan piece they have contributed to). The Scottish composer sets the Gospel of John from a point after Christ’s death to the Resurrection and Christ’s three appearances. At about eighty minutes in duration, it uses the compact forces of a small chorus—whose members double as solo narrators, the disciples, and Mary Magdalene—and a quintet with the unusual instrumentation of clarinet, horn, cello, harp and theorbo.
This is a well made, involving composition, given a performance, conducted by William K. Trafka, that matched the quality of the music: refined, assured, controlled and focused, with the sensation of indescribable expressive intensity and depth just contained under the surface of the notes. The music sounds familiar, in that it is clear and easy to follow, and yet also new. There are unexpected details and an inventive use of traditional ideas that surprise and construct a rigorous internal logic.
One thing that is so refreshing about “Since it Was the Day of Preparation …”, and MacMillan’s work in general, is how his sensibility goes against the grain of contemporary Western thinking about sacred music. He is the foremost composer within the Catholic liturgical tradition (though not confined to that). He does not indulge in easy comfort and blandishments, he expresses both the difficulty and solace of faith, and while he works in tonal harmony, he challenges listeners as often as he soothes them. 
His writing is immediately captivating. The piece starts, unusually enough, with a theorbo solo (played elegantly by David Walker), but rather than make a neo-Renaissance pastiche, MacMillan creates a compelling mix of melodic phrases, harmonics, and dense, strummed chords, and traverses the instrument’s range. The effect is stimulating and grounding, hinting at the contemporary context for the work while setting it deep within the classical tradition.
After the theorbo, the first voice heard was the clear tenor of Christopher Carter, picking up the Gospel at the first sentence after, in the composer’s words, “Jesus gives up his spirit”—thus the title of the piece. The narrative switches between other singers, all of whom sang with an affecting clarity of tone and expression: bass James Whitfield, sopranos Amanda Sidebottom and Martha Sullivan, altos Eliza Bagg and Elizabeth Merrill, and tenor Christopher Ellman.
Structurally, there are solo interludes for each instrument throughout the piece, and three sections where the quintet plays as a whole and accompanies the voices. The interludes alternate with the mostly a cappella sections.
The music also alternates stylistically between austere vocals and the sensual instrumental music—particularly a dazzling clarinet solo played by Benjamin Fingland, the kind of expressive writing that has one envisioning the composer’s hand moving freely across the expanse of the blank page. In contrast, the vocal lines are disciplined and ordered by the requirements of the words.
MacMillan uses the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition of the Bible. He sets the text with a sophisticated sense of harmony, mixing together modes and triads, allowing the voices to wander expressively around a central pitch while also using dissonance to produce acute moments of tension and deeply satisfying release—all in a single line.
Another simple and powerful device MacMillan uses is to have the chorus members play hand-bells in free rhythm whenever Christ, the dignified, subtle bass-baritone Jeff Morrissey, sings. The sonic color is gorgeous, and the bells connect the music to the rituals of the Catholic Mass. The balance between the ringing metal of the bells (and the brightness of the instruments) and the woody purity of the voices works subliminally as an intellectual and spiritual argument for the sacrifices of glories of Christ and those who follow him.
There is a single moment in the piece that encapsulates the musical means, the meaning, and the sheer pleasure of the music’s sound: as Whitfield finished singing about Jesus’ burial, the quintet entered under his last syllable, first sustained on G then lowered to F. The voice and instruments came together on a ninth-chord that, in the cavernous space (unfortunately only half full), rang, briefly but intensely, with a bracing brilliance. It felt like the illumination of the sun after a long period of darkness, just as painful to the eyes, just as warm to the body.
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NYTimes Music Review: “The Angels in the Heavens Sing for Themselves”



The Angels in the Heavens Sing for Themselves

Haydn’s Oratorio ‘Die Schöpfung’ at St. Bartholomew’s Church

Truth be told, the “Representation of Chaos” that opens Haydn’s 1798 oratorio “Die Schöpfung” (“The Creation”), sounds oddly decorous to modern ears. Granted, it begins with a short burst of brassy dissonance, and altered versions of that gesture return during the slow, dark-hued overture that pours forth before the angel Raphael’s serene narration of the familiar scene from Genesis: the formlessness of the earth, the darkness on the face of the waters. And when a second angel, Uriel, announces the creation of light, Haydn provides a magnificent explosion of C major orchestral timbre.

Yet the salient musical features of this depiction are graceful melody and tonal harmony. To experience it as the primordial chaos Haydn intended, you need to imagine hearing it with 18th-century ears.

The Japanese early-music specialist Masaaki Suzuki offered technical support, in the form of a period-instrument account, for listeners inclined to make that imaginative leap — and a beautifully shaped performance for those who simply wanted to hear Haydn’s richly painterly score — on Monday evening at St. Bartholomew’s Church. His forces were the Yale Schola Cantorum, a superb chorus, and an orchestra of 41 players drawn largely from the Yale Baroque Ensemble and Juilliard415, the student ensemble of the Juilliard School’s historical performance program.