As summertime slowly approaches, concerts of music both minimal and maximal will enchant Manhattanites in search of aural Yiddishkeit. On April 29 at the Walter Reade Theater, flutist Claire Chase will perform Steve Reich’s “Vermont Counterpoint” in its version for flute and tape; the alternate version, for eleven flutes, would doubtless exceed even the gifted Chase’s capacities. She will be joined for other, less minimalist, works on the program by the pianist Jacob Greenberg. On May 1 at Carnegie Hall, Reich’s mini-fluting is exchanged for emotional maxing-out in the form of Gustav Mahler’s songs interpreted by baritone Matthias Goerne with the superstar pianist Leif Ove Andsnes.
The next day at Zankel Hall, Hungarian Jewish pianist András Schiff offers not-to-be-missed performances of his landsman György Kurtág’s aphoristic works, including two American premieres. On May 4 at Bargemusic, cellist Dave Eggar and pianist Olga Vinokur will play more intriguing sounds in reduced formats, including Philadelphia-born Aaron Jay Kernis’s “Air for cello and piano” (1996) and Marc Mellits’s “Fruity Pebbles” for violin, cello, and piano (1997). The latter work contains a playful tribute to Leonard Bernstein, somewhat curiously quoting TV’s “Brady Bunch” theme, itself a classic at Maryland’s Beth Tfiloh Day Camps where Mellits’ mother long worked as assistant director.
The German Jewish philosopher Ernst Bloch (1885–1977), not to be confused with the Swiss Jewish composer Ernest Bloch, is still remembered for such landmark books as “The Spirit of Utopia,” “The Principle of Hope,” and “The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays.”
As a philosopher, Bloch was influenced by Karl Marx and G. W. F. Hegel, although he was also drawn to novelist Karl May, a German creator of tales for children about the American West. Although Bloch cultivated friendships with the Hungarian Jewish philosopher Georg Lukács (born Löwinger György Bernát), Kurt Weill and Theodor Adorno, little of a personal nature was known about him by readers until 1978, when Suhrkamp Verlag published a collection of intimate jottings written after the death of his first wife Else in 1921.
An approaching New Year can be a time of rearrangements and transpositions, as Manhattan classical music lovers in search of Yiddishkeit will discover. From December 1 to 3 at Avery Fisher Hall, Gustav Mahler’s unfinished Symphony No. 10 in its revised Deryck Cooke performing edition will be conducted by Daniel Harding. Harding has recorded this work for Deutsche Grammophon, but some Mahlerians may prefer the version on Brilliant edited and conducted by Russian Jewish maestro Rudolf Barshai.
On December 10, modernism will be on the menu when pianist Peter Serkin plays “Toccata in Three Parts” (1941) by the German Jewish composer Stefan Wolpe at the 92nd Street Y. Wolpe’s Toccata has been limpidly recorded by Serkin on Koch Classics and by pianist David Holzman for Bridge Records.
One poet called autumn the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” but some New York concerts redolent with Yiddishkeit focus on the pleasant shock of the new, not misty mellowness. On September 16 at The Austrian Cultural Forum, a new arrangement of the Adagio movement from Mahler’s unfinished Tenth symphony will be conducted in two concerts by its arranger, Michel Galante.
On the same day at Symphony Space, Manhattanites can also hear Mahler’s poignant Piano Quartet played by the ardent New York Piano Quartet. In the same location, more sprightly listening is available on September 18 when violinist Elmira Darvarova and pianist Joseph Turrin play, among other works, transcriptions by Jascha Heifetz of the music of George Gershwin, and also a jazz-influenced suite, “To Dear Mr. Bach on his Birthday” by Slovak Jewish composer Peter Breiner.
The married painters Nancy Spero and Leon Golub fascinated their contemporaries by interweaving political themes into expressive artworks. As an individual creator, Spero finally received her full due in Christopher Lyon’s “Nancy Spero: The Work,” a lavish book out in October from Prestel Publishing.
Lyon’s introduction explains the symbolic importance to Spero of texts such as “The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype,” still available from Princeton University Press, by the German Jewish psychologist Erich Neumann, a longtime Tel Aviv resident. Spero’s own archetypes began in Cleveland in 1926, where she was born into a family of Russian /German Jewish descent.
While Hanukkah preparations and aftermath can overshadow every other human activity in December, ‘tis also the season for classical concerts, especially although by no means exclusively, in the New York area. These can include much Yiddishkayt, despite the seeming omnipresence of Handel’s “Messiah.”
Mahler-lovers will not want to miss the much-loved British conductor Sir Colin Davis leading the New York Philharmonic in performances on December 2, 4, and 7 of Mahler’s orchestral songs, “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” (The Youth’s Magic Horn). Although born in 1927, Sir Colin still conducts with a balletic grace which vivifies everything he interprets.