Matthew Oberstein

SYREN Modern Dance and Artemis Chamber Ensemble at Baryshnikov Arts Center

Send to Kindle

We rarely attend dance recitals (is that the correct word? feels wrong to say “concert” or even “show”). We love music. One of the flexible groups of musicians that we follow is The Artemis Chamber Ensemble. In particular, we are huge fans of Melissa Tong, David Fallo and the conductor and musical director, Matthew Oberstein.

When we heard that Artemis was performing with SYREN Modern Dance for three nights (part of a six-night run for SYREN, opening their 8th season), we bought tickets for the third night. The performances were (and are being) held at Baryshnikov Arts Center.

SYREN performed two pieces, broken up by an intermission. The first was Dolce, choreographed by Kate St. Amand (one of the co-founders of SYREN).

KateStAmand

There were six dancers for this piece. They performed in every permutation from only one of them on stage to all six. They were: Sonja Dale, Chanelle Lagacé, Xuexin (Nico) Li, Brigitte Mitchell, Lynn Peterson (the other SYREN co-founder) and Chihiro Shimizu. They were all terrific, individually and collectively.

SYREN-PerformingDolce

Artemis can be configured from a quartet all the way up to a 19-piece chamber orchestra. Last night was seven pieces plus Matthew working his conductorial magic. The seven players were: Melissa Tong, Heidi Shaul-Yoder and Sarah Koenig-Plonskier on violin, David Fallo on viola, Laura Bontrager and Emily Brausa on cello and Eleonore Oppenheim on bass. They were fantastic (no surprise, that’s why we showed up in the first place).

ArtemisWarmingUp

Dolce was set to Holberg Suite by Edvard Grieg. It’s a stunning musical piece, brought to life perfectly by Matthew and Artemis. SYREN’s choreography (or Kate St. Amand’s, to be more precise), matched the music wonderfully. Given that we’re not “dance first” people, the visual could have distracted me from the amazing music, but it didn’t.

SYREN-PerformingDolce2

The second piece was “the last of the leaves” (I put it in quotes since it wasn’t capitalized in the program) also choreographed by Kate. In addition to the same six dancers above, two male dancers were added to the mix: Bryant Henderson and Jeremy Neal. The men dressed in the same outfits as the women.

SYREN-Performing-the-last-of-the-leaves2

The dance was set to Shaker Loops by John Adams.

While the dancing and choreography were as fluid and interesting (to my untrained eye) as the first piece, the musical experience was nothing like the Holberg Suite. I would describe the piece as constantly dissonant. The skill require to play the piece might have been even more difficult, but it felt to me like I was watching horror movie transitional music.

MatthewObersteinLeadingArtemis

I was expecting a knife to come through a shower curtain, or someone to be pushed down a flight of stairs in the dark. Unlike Dolce, without the dance, I would not have been able to enjoy the music with my eyes closed.

The dance matched the music in this case as well, but I could have stood for a repeat of Grieg’s work. Smile

SYREN-Performing-the-last-of-the-leaves

I am thankful that we get to broaden our horizons through our connections with our friends and the musicians that we actively follow.

MatthewObersteinSYREN

Tonight through Sunday, SYREN is performing a different piece (without Artemis to my knowledge): Toward Home, music by Damon Ferrante.

Mozart Requiem at Holy Family Church

Send to Kindle

Ask and ye shall receive (no, seriously!). On Thursday I saw Alex Wong perform at Rockwood Music Hall. One of his guests was the wonderful Melissa Tong on violin. Here’s what I wrote about her in my post about that show:

Melissa Tong on the violin joined Alex for the next number, one of my favorites, Brooklyn Blurs, which they knocked out of the park. I’ve said it so many times, Melissa is an incredible musician, we can’t get enough of her. I look forward to seeing her play with a symphony, her specialty.

While that last line wasn’t rhetorical, I didn’t expect it to bear fruit so quickly. This morning I woke up to a wonderful surprise. Melissa updated her Facebook status to say that she was playing at Holy Family Church in New Rochelle at 2pm. We were already at the house, so there was no way we were going to miss this one.

MelissaTong

The Artemis Chamber Ensemble and the Choirs of Holy Family and St. Frances de Chantal Churches performed Mozart’s Requiem. (Note: you can click on any image to see a larger version.)

ProgramCover

Artemis and the choirs were conducted by Matthew Oberstein (Executive Director of Artemis). Monsignor Ferdinando D. Berardi of Holy Family introduced the program, describing Matthew Oberstein as Energetic. He’s that, and much more.

MatthewOberstein

Lois and I sat in the first pew near the center aisle. I have never been so close to a conductor. My vantage, five feet to his right, gave me a view of his technique that I have never experienced. From behind, we all see the arms moving up/down and in/out to the music. From a distance, you might see them point toward a particular section of the orchestra as well.

I could see so much more. Matthew uses many subtle cues to extract the sound that he wants. Tiny finger movements, things that would be difficult to detect from a distance, even if you had the correct angle. I was extremely impressed. Lois noted how riveted most of the choir was on his every movement.

There were four Solo singers (who also sang together):

Wendy Baker, soprano. Absolutely stunning voice.

Elizabeth Mondragon, mezzo-soprano. Beautiful voice, not quite as highlighted in this piece as the others were.

Steven L. Nanni, tenor. Amazing voice. He really moved me whenever he sang.

Kevin Burdette, bass. Looks can be deceiving. Kevin is tall and thin, not a body type I associate with a deep bass voice. Wrong. Kevin has an incredible voice and he easily (or at least apparently easily) reaches extremely deep notes.

Each sings wonderfully on their own. When the four sang together in any combination, it was mesmerizing. When they all sang with the choir, it was heavenly.

WendyBakerElizabethMondragonStevenNanniKevinBurdette

Artemis configures themselves depending on the material. They range from a quartet to a full chamber orchestra. Today, they were 19 pieces, 18 right in front of us, and one on the organ on the side of the Church. They were all awesome. I was inches away from Flavio Gaete on Viola. Watching him so close up was wonderful.

FlavioGaete

We came to hear Melissa (President of Artemis, something I didn’t know prior to the performance) and I am so thankful that we made the effort. She’s as good as I imagined (as are the rest of Artemis). Requiem is quite complex, in particular the starting sequences right after the long pauses. Melissa and Heidi Schaul-Yoder were like Siamese Twins nailing those flying measures.

MelissaTongHeidiSchaul-Yoder

The other person I’d like to call out is the cellist, Christine Chu McGovern (Artemis’ Artistic Director). Wow. I could name every person in Artemis, so please don’t assume I think less of the others.

ChristineChuMcGovern

We didn’t have a great view of the right side of the orchestra during the performance. Here are two shots of them afterward:

BassoonPlayersBrassAndTimpaniSection

Everyone mentioned above are professionals, in every sense of the word. On to the so-called amateurs. The choir was large, made up of the combination of both Holy Family and St. Francis de Chantal Church choirs.

LeftSideOfChoir

They were absolutely amazing. As I mentioned above, they were riveted on Matthew’s every little movement and they responded perfectly to those instructions. They sang softly when called for, and filled the entire Church with their power when that was requested of them.

Here are the names of everyone who performed from Artemis and the Choirs:

ArtemisAndChoirMembers

After the performance I asked Melissa how many times they rehearsed with the choir. Twice! Amateurs indeed (not!).

I challenge those of you who don’t believe me to go see this exact performance next Sunday (November 14th, 2010) at St. Francis de Chantal in the Bronx, 3pm. I urge those that do believe me to go and enjoy next week’s performance as well.

If you would like to support this amazing group of musicians, please send contributions to:

Artemis Chamber Ensemble

P.O. Box 813

Croton-on-Hudson, NY 10520