What Film Forum is to cinema, North/South Consonance is to modern classical music—an independent nonprofit bringing New York City deserving works overlooked by big-ticket distributors and mainstream media. North/South continued its 32 season of free concerts Feb. 19 with “Midwinter Sounds,” music for chamber orchestra by composers from Cuba, Italy, and the U.S., at Christ & St. Stephen’s Church.
Mexican-born Max Lifchitz founded North/South in 1980 to guide the works of Latin American composers to worldwide attention. Today North/South has its own record label and a long list of international premiers. Still, Lifchitz feels he’s fighting two concurrent trends: mainstream producers playing it safe by promoting only well-proven (i.e., commercially successful) composers coupled with lassitude on the part of the listening public. “Radio is afraid to play this music, and you can’t get a listing in the New York Times unless you have a big publicity budget,” he says. “With so much prerecording, people take music for granted. They want to have it on in the background, but they don’t want it to get in the way. This music isn’t easy listening.”
Maybe not, but “Midwinter Sounds” sure wasn’t hard to listen to. Modern classical music is often stereotyped as disjointed and overly intellectual, but the largely programmatic music featured in this concert conjured up a wellspring of good old-fashioned images.
Ada Gentile’s opening mournful phrases in Torre del Guado resolved into a pastoral ode, recalling the tenuously happy end of Robert Frost’s “Dust of Snow,” while the four movements of Victor Kioulaphides’ New York Moments are so evocative that one can’t help but listen to the city’s sounds in a different way. Even without knowing the title of the second movement—“Central Park (Reflections on the Lily Pond)”—you’re crossing the Bow Bridge with your lover on a spring day; the eerie melodies of “Tugboat on the Hudson (Evanescent in the Morning Fog)” have you rubbing your shoulders against the strange beauty of the river at dawn.
Harold Schiffman studied composition with both Roger Sessions and Ernst von Dohnanyi. In Serenata Concertante, he offers a largo based on Appalachian fiddle tunes, as relaxed and charming as a sly romance. Ironically, the most “modern” instrumentation came from the oldest composer on the program—87-year-old Cuban-born Aurelio de la Vega. Sounds of fragmentation summoned another poem to mind: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.” Images of a modern age.
For more information, visit www.northsouthmusic.org.