Cafe Concerts Watch videos of preeminent classical artists recorded live in the WQXR cafe.
Cafe Concerts

Cafe Concerts

From WQXR Radio

Watch videos of preeminent classical artists recorded live in the WQXR cafe.

Most Recent Episodes

In-Studio: Matt Herskowitz Trio with Philippe Quint Bring Jazz to Bach

Bach has long proved irresistible to artists drawn to reimagining his music through a contemporary prism. Mahler and Busoni transcribed his works, and Leopold Stokowski orchestrated them. More recently, Bach has been arranged for banjo, accordion, jazz trumpet, string quartet, and even theremin.

The pianist Matt Herskowitz, no stranger to straddling the borders between jazz, classical and global styles, came to the WQXR performance studio with his jazz trio, plus two violinists from the classical world: Philippe Quint and Lara St. John. They performed three of his jazz-inflected arrangements of Bach's work, starting with the prelude to the Cello Suite No. 1.

In-Studio: Alina Ibragimova Performs Bach and Ysaÿe

The Russian-born violinist Alina Ibragimova in recent years has developed a following in Europe, especially in the U.K., where she studied and came of age. She appears poised to have a bigger following in New York, too, after her recent performances at the Mostly Mozart Festival and in the studio at WQXR. She came to the WQXR performance studio to present two pieces, starting with Eugène Ysaÿe's Sonata No. 3. Watch the video below and listen to the full segment at the top of this page.

This past June, Ibragimova, 29, released a recording of Ysaÿe's six violin sonatas, known as some of the most treacherous solo works in the repertoire. They are portraits, of a sort, of six violinists whom the composer knew in the 1920s: Joseph Szigeti, Jacques Thibaud, Georges Enescu, Fritz Kreisler, Mathieu Crickboom and Manual Quiroga. "You hear the personalities," said Ibragimova. "They feel like proper little dedications."

Ibragimova arrived at the station early one August morning after having performed a late-night (10 pm) recital at Lincoln Center's Kaplan Penthouse—one of at least two such performances this summer, another being at London's Royal Albert Hall in July. The violinist believes the late shift helps put audiences in a more contemplative mindset for listening. "I think the atmosphere changes for the time of day," she said. "People listen differently."

For her second performance, Ibragimova offered the Largo from J.S. Bach's Solo Violin Sonata No. 3.

In-Studio: Matt Haimovitz & Christopher O'Riley Play Beethoven & Rachmaninoff

The cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O'Riley are quick to emphasize that their recent venture into Baroque period instruments isn't some fusty or antiquated pursuit. The duo's new album, "Beethoven, Period," was recorded at Skywalker Ranch, film director George Lucas's famous studio complex in Northern California. Instead of sheet music they played from iPads. Their Seattle launch concert took place at the Tractor Tavern, a rock club.

The experience with very old instruments also forced them to rethink their approach to Beethoven's music. "All of the sudden, the relation between the cello and the piano is completely different," Haimovitz tells host Elliott Forrest. "No longer am I trying to project over the grandeur of a Steinway grand but I'm actually having to make room for the piano."

"You have a lot more leeway in terms of expressivity and color, even in the sense of one note having a shape to it," added O'Riley.

The album features Beethoven's complete works for cello and keyboard, with O'Riley playing on a fortepiano made in 1823 and Haimovitz outfitting his 1710 Goffriller cello with ox-gut strings, a rosewood tailpiece and a period bow.

The duo's performance in the WQXR studio marked a return to (mostly) modern equipment – with a 1940's Steinway and a modern cello bow – but two movements from the Opus 102 No. 2 sonata had a lightness and transparency that suggested time diligently spent in the period-instrument camp.

In-Studio: Matt Haimovitz & Christopher O'Riley Play Beethoven & Rachmaninoff

The Jake Schepps Quintet's Classical Hoedown

Blame it on Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring or perhaps the ridiculous virtuosity that is characteristic of so much bluegrass playing. In the past decade, growing numbers of classical musicians have been mixing it up with fiddlers, banjo players and mandolin pluckers. Yo-Yo Ma has worked with bluegrass players in the Goat Rodeo Sessions; mandolin wizard Chris Thile has played his own concerto with several American orchestras and released an album of Bach partitas.

The latest group to explore this hybrid is the Jake Schepps Quintet, a string band whose members are steeped in bluegrass spontaneity but whose repertoire – yes, repertoire – is by composers from the modern classical tradition. They include Matt McBane, Marc Mellits, Gyan Riley, and Matt Flinner. Led by Schepps, a Colorado-based banjoist, the group came to WQXR to play three pieces from "Entwined," their debut album.

"Most of the instruments in the string band aren't foreign" to classical composers, said Schepps, in an interview with host Terrance McKnight. "Most classical composers have written for violin, guitar, and bass, and a mandolin is tuned like a violin so it's familiar territory."

The quintet's set began with Flatiron VII: Planetary Tuners by Mellits, a Chicago-based composer whose works have been performed by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and Kronos Quartet, among other groups.

Café Concert: The Demenga Brothers and Luka Juhart

Successful sibling duos in music are rare. The stress of rehearsing and being constantly on the road together can derail the happiest collaboration. The best-known sibling partnership in musical history – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his sister Nannerl – didn't last long. He went off to Paris, Vienna and Prague; Nannerl settled down into marriage. The Swiss cellists Thomas and Patrick Demenga appear to take their collaboration with a more easy-going attitude. Some 35 years since graduating from Juilliard and the Bern Conservatory, respectively, they are still going strong, and performed together in December at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. "We can go on stage and close our eyes and start without even looking at each other," Patrick Demenga told host Jeff Spurgeon. "We are so close in a way musically that we trust – it's one of the most exciting experiences that you can have on stage." The two cellists, who also have active solo careers, came to the WQXR Café to perform as both a duo and as a trio with the Slovenian accordionist Luka Juhart. Their program combined the music of Bach with two modern works. First up was a transcription of Bach's Sonata in G minor for Gamba and Harpsichord (first movement), with Juhart playing the harpsichord part. "Normally if you play with harpsichord and continuo," said Thomas Demenga, "you have a very thin sound and you have to be very careful as a cellist not to overpower the harpsichord. In this combination with accordion you have a really full range because he can sustain the lines so you have the full polyphony." Juhart met the Demenga brothers through a composer friend, which led to some festival dates in Europe. At an appearance in Austria last year, David Finckel, the artistic director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, heard the trio and booked them on his series. Although the accordion is a relative outsider in U.S. chamber music circles, Juhart estimates that there are 30 or 40 college-level training programs in Europe where one can major in the instrument (he teaches at the academy in Ljubljana, Slovenia). Below, Juhart performs Vinko Globokar's theatrical solo piece, Dialog über Luft.While Juhart has sought to explore the outer boundaries of the modernist accordion sound, he has also taken up Baroque works by Rameau, Handel, Scarlatti and Frescobaldi. The Demenga brothers, meanwhile, have been equally versatile, as seen in the last work on their program, an excerpt from Thomas Demenga's Solo per due, which features all manner of bowed and plucked techniques. "It's a bit jazzy but not really because I don't like classical musicians who try to play jazz," said Thomas Demenga. He notes that one of his classmates and friends at Juilliard was the violinist Nigel Kennedy, known for a freewheeling forays into popular styles. "We played on the streets [of New York] to make money," Demenga recalls. The two musicians also played frisbee in the halls of Juilliard. "People hated us," he said with a laugh. Video: Kim Nowacki; Audio: Chase Culpon; Production & Text: Brian Wise

Watch: American Boychoir Presents Songs of the Season

The American Boychoir has had an eventful 2014 that's included an appearance in a Hollywood feature film, a visit to the Toronto Film Festival and a December East Coast tour that has the group singing Christmas music in seven different languages.

Eleven members of the choir, led by music director Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, visited the WQXR studios early this month to present a selection of carols and songs. The ensemble began with "Mary Had a Baby" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

Café Concert: Mivos Quartet

Bach's austerely beautiful Art of Fugue has long fascinated musicians who have a taste for the modern and esoteric. The piece, left incomplete at the composer's death, reduced complex counterpoint to its bare essentials – so much that the composer didn't even indicate the instrument (or instruments) for which it was composed.

In fact, most scholars agree that Bach probably intended the piece for the harpsichord, but a few string quartets have made their case for the work too. The New York-based Mivos Quartet recently brought the Contrapunctus XIX from The Art of Fugue to the WQXR Café as part of the station's month-long Backstock festival. In an arrangement by Patrick Higgins, it dramatically calls attention to Bach's advanced sense of time and musical architecture.

Café Concert: Dublin Guitar Quartet

The four members of the Dublin Guitar Quartet do not specialize in bouncy jigs and reels. Nor do they play in Guinness-soaked pubs. But while the ensemble is certainly connected to its Irish heritage, its repertoire goes further afield, to minimalist and post-minimalist composers including Philip Glass, Arvo Part and Michael Nyman, as well as modern masters like Igor Stravinsky and György Ligeti.

Quartet member Brian Bulger says that the group chose to focus on modern repertoire – frequently in arrangements – as a way to distinguish itself and emphasize its unanimity of sound.

"Guitar quartets traditionally tend to be a collection of soloists," he said. "They sit in a straight line and there would be a lot of virtuosity. We thought it would be a great idea to create a quartet that was the equivalent of a string quartet, sitting in a semi-circle and concentrating on string quartet repertoire and choir repertoire as opposed to the standard repertoire."

The ensemble's Café Concert highlighted this in two pieces by Glass, starting with an arrangement of his String Quartet No. 2, subtitled "Company."

 

Earlier this year, the Dublin Guitar Quartet released its latest album, a collection of Glass arrangements, which Q2 Music named an Album of the Week. In his review, Daniel Stephen Johnson praised for its "flawless rhythmic unison and tonal blend makes the four instruments sound like one."

Of course, arranging piano or string quartets for guitar can be a logistical stretch: there are questions of how to adjust to the guitar's range and articulations. The Dubliners perform with three six-string instruments along with an eight-string guitar with an extra high string and an extra low string, all designed by Bert Kwakkle, a Dutch guitar maker.

When it comes to capturing the intricate rhythmic churn of Glass's scores, the guitarists say it simply comes with time and hard work. The group was formed in 2001 at the Dublin Conservatory of Music and Drama, and in recent years, they have toured frequently in North America, Europe and South America. Composers are also writing new works for the ensemble. The guitarists say their next frontier lies in electric guitar quartet repertoire, both through existing pieces like those of the composer Steve Reich, and in a commissioned work by the New York composer Michael Gordon, due to premiere in March 2015.

Watch the quartet's performance of Glass's Quartet No. 3, "Mishima," below.

Video: Amy Pearl/Kim Nowacki; Audio: George Wellington; Interview: Jeff Spurgeon; Text/Production: Brian Wise

Café Concert: Pablo Villegas

The classical guitarist Pablo Villegas has made his home in New York City for a decade, but his performances have a strong sense of his roots in La Rioja, a region in the north of Spain celebrated for its complex red wines as well as its earthy, indigenous folk music. That includes the Spanish Jota, a folk dance that is normally played with mandolins and guitars, singers and dancers.

Performing solo, Villegas featured the colorfully virtuosic dance in a Café Concert performance of Tarrega's Gran Jota de Concierto, which featured a variety of strumming and percussive effects.

Villegas came to WQXR on the cusp of a busy season. He's making debuts this year with seven U.S. orchestras, including the Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Oregon Symphonies. For six of those seven he'll be playing Rodrigo’s soulful and challenging Concierto de Aranjuez. He also has a new album due out in early 2015, called "Americano." But as Villegas stated at several points during his visit, "music is a journey" and for him, it began at age six when he saw the celebrated Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia performing on television.

"I was really touched by it and I told my parents I wanted to learn guitar," he recalled. Villegas's parents enrolled him in a music school and at age seven he gave his first public performance. "Music is a social tool and as a musician I assume the responsibility of connecting to the audience in a way that I can make them feel things that perhaps they've never felt before."

Villegas went on to study in conservatories in Madrid and Weimar, Germany, before becoming "attracted by the multicultural nature of New York." In 2004, he began postgraduate studies with professor David Starobin at the Manhattan School of Music. Villegas paid homage to Segovia in this performance of the Prelude No. 1 by Villa-Lobos, who wrote this piece for the guitar legend.

Villegas's own career took off after winning the Andrés Segovia Award at age 15. He went on to receive many more prizes, while making debuts with a number of American and European orchestras. Currently, he is a cultural ambassador to the Vivanco Foundation in Spain, which combines a winery and museum of wine culture. "Wine, art – we used the same words to lexicon to express what we are feeling," he noted. "It's about emotions, it's about getting inspired by it."

For this last piece, Tarrega's Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Memories of the Alhambra), Villegas suggests pairing it with a Reserva, a red wine. "It's more calm and mature," he said. "It does go deeper into your emotions."

Video: Amy Pearl; Audio: Edward Haber; Text and production: Brian Wise; Interview: Naomi Lewin