Monday, December 19, 2016

Soulful Music with the Iris String Quartet

Metropolitan Playhouse
Iris String Quartet

Photo Credit: Agnieszka N.

YIBIN LI, Violin

December 16, 2016
220 East 4th Street between Avenues A and B

Metropolitan Playhouse located in the East Village was pleased to present the IRIS STRING QUARTET in a concert of major works by Ravel and Shubert, along with the World Premiere of MICHAEL KOSCH'S Giotto (selections) for violin solo.  The program included: Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello; Franz Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor, D.810 “Death and the Maiden”; and, Kosch's world premiere.

The Iris Quartet has played in most of New York's finest venues like Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully, Steinway, Merkin, and Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center so it was a pleasant surprise to listen to them in a small chamber; especially, for the classical chamber music lover. Apparently, the quartet is named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow. These young musicians come from different countries (Albania, China, and Japan) and some were educated at Juilliard and others at respective renowned schools in their country of origin as well as having trained with the masters in their field.

The Iris Quartet was excited to lead off a fifth season of concerts in this award-winning theater that is an integral part of the East Village theater scene. Metropolitan Playhouse was also delighted to present the Iris String Quartet as part of the MUSIC AT METROPOLITAN series in its intimate downtown home, whose acoustics and size are ideally suited to chamber concerts and solo artists' recitals.

The concert began with a lovely surprise Bach violin solo by Muneyoshi Takahashi.

Maurice Ravel’s (1875-1937) Sonata followed and was a very interesting choice made by Yibin Li. It almost sounded as though it were composed for the 21st century and yet it was composed between 1920-24. It flirted with avant-garde approaches linked to Stravinsky and Schoenberg and its astringent harmonies sounded like what we regard as avant-garde jazz today. This was very different than the Classical Ravel that I’m accustomed to and which defined this Frenchman’s work.

Kosch's (b. 1959) world premiere was next which was inspired by Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337), a Florentine painter and architect who was considered one of the first great artists of the Italian Renaissance. Kosch is known to compose his works inspired by great artists with the idea that art inspires musical composition.

After a short intermission, the quartet finished with another interesting choice—Franz Shubert’s  (1797-1828) “Death and the Maiden”.  Ms. Li explained that this string quartet was composed while Shubert was dying so it felt like the notes were between life and death, but more like celebrating the last moments of his life. Shubert’s music influenced by the Romantic movement sounded poignant and rapturous.

After the intimate and romantic performance, there was a lovely reception whereby all the audience members could meet the musicians and the composer, Kosch, which led to interesting conversations.


Laura Thompson

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

HAMILTON'S Educational Program for 20,000 NYC Public School Students


International High School at LaGuardia Community College

HAMILTON’s Educational Program in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, NYC Department of Education and The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History shall provide 20, 000 New York City student tickets to see the musical Hamilton.

On November 30, 2016, 1300 students from New York City (NYC) public schools gathered at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway for the inauguration of this unprecedented partnership funded through a $1.46 million grant provided by The Rockefeller Foundation. This innovative collaboration provides students the opportunity to see Hamilton on Broadway after studying American History, a curriculum designed by The Gilder Lehrman Institute.

The program started with opening remarks by the partners, followed by original student performances from 17 NYC public schools, a Q & A with some members of Hamilton, lunch, then a Matinee performance of HAMILTON! The enthusiasm of the students throughout the whole day was immense with deafening applause and whistles of excitement and happiness. It was a joyful day.

Student representatives from the 17 NYC public schools presented original material live on the same stage that HAMILTON is performed consisting of songs, rap, poetry, modern dance, scenes, and monologues—all incorporating themes from American History. The themes were centered around the American Revolution, the Boston Massacre, Equal Rights, Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Human Rights, Government Pensions, Slave Trade, Racism, Women’s Rights and so much more.

The group of participating high schools was selected by the New York City Department of Education: Achievement First University Prep High School, Bronx Leadership Academy II High School, Bronxwood Preparatory Academy, Brooklyn High School of the Arts, Brooklyn theatre Arts High School, Channel View School For Research, Community Scholl for Social Justice, Democracy Prep Harlem Hight School, East Side Community School, International High School at LaGuardia Community College, John Adams High School, Landmark High School, Mott Haven Village Preparatory High School, Repertory Company Hight School for Theatre Arts, and School for Democracy and Leadership. 

As HAMILTON creator Lin-Manuel Miranda said, “There is no feeling on earth like performing for a theater full of students who are learning about our founders in class and seeing how it still relates to their own lives on stage.” Miranda’s goal is to build this program across America.

Additionally, Judith Rodin, President of The Rockefeller Foundation summed it up quite nicely, “The partnership between HAMILTON and The Rockefeller Foundation is a game changer for 20,000 New York City public schools’ students. Today, the first 1,300 experienced something truly inspirational – the story of America's founding fathers as told by actors and actresses who look just like them, through a transcendent Broadway musical created by a student of the New York public school system —just like them. We couldn't throw away our shot at bringing Hamilton to the audience it could affect most, who otherwise might not have had the opportunity.” This was also the theme of the Q & A afterwards with some of the cast members of HAMILTON.

James G. Basker, President of The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History said, "This project is transformative. Twenty thousand students will experience American history in a new way and find their own connections to the Founding Era, to the performing arts, and to the future of our country." 

NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen FariƱa said, "I thank the Miranda family for assuring that their passion for history and music is shared by New York City students. This musical will impact the lives of thousands of students and connect to enriching curriculum, undoubtedly sparking passion and an understanding of how inspiring history can be in the classroom, in our great City, and beyond."

I think the partners characterized their aspirations succinctly. It’s a marvelous idea to roll out this program throughout America. Bravo to all in creating this awe-inspiring partnership to educate students about the Founding Fathers!

- Laura Thompson -