::Accordion Concerto Blends Bach With Pop [ New York Times ]::

Max Lifchitz and his North/South Consonance players closed their 22nd season on Tuesday evening at Christ and St. Stephen's Church with a program of four imaginative recent works. Three were by American composers (including Mr. Lifchitz); one was imported from Sweden. The musical languages were distinct, but each piece had something to draw the listener in — an unusual use of rhythm or color, for example, or a peculiar interlacing of lyricism and spikiness.

Still, the most fascinating of the pieces, and the one that lingered longest after the program ended, was the quirkiest, William Schimmel's "Empty World" (2001). Mr. Schimmel is a virtuoso accordionist whose own concerts and recordings can be both entertaining and provocative, not least because the musical connections he makes are surprising and fresh. "Empty World," an accordion concerto, is well within that tradition.

Some of the thematic material in "Empty World" comes from the old Supremes hit, "My World Is Empty Without You," but there are also references to Elton John's "Sixty Years On" and broader allusions to the styles of Bach, Scarlatti and Brahms. Often, the allusions are either included within longer melodies or rendered in an odd stylistic context that veils the source material.

Mostly, Mr. Schimmel's agility on the accordion, and the interplay between his instrument and arching solo lines for cello and violin, create a constantly shifting musical ground.

The works that surrounded this endearingly daffy piece were more conventionally serious. Leonard Mark Lewis's Concerto for Six Players (1999) is a vigorous, often sharp-edged chamber work in which winding solo lines created a constantly shifting sense of ensemble perspective. Mr. Lewis's most alluring writing was near the center of the piece, when the piano and percussion created a shimmering and sometimes sparkling figure around which string and wind lines created an interesting symmetry.

"Frameworks" (1997) by S. Pat Simmerud, the Swedish composer, also keeps the individual instrumental strands in the spotlight much of the time. The piece is based on a numerological game: the letters of the alphabet are assigned numbers, which also represent notes in the scale. The work's themes are drawn from a rendering of Bach's full name.

In his program note, Mr. Simmerud writes that the work is inspired by events in Bach's life. He doesn't say which events, and it isn't easy to guess. But the piece works perfectly well as an entirely abstract work.

Mr. Lifchitz's "Yellow Ribbons 37" (2002) — the latest installment in a series he began in the early 1980's — closed the concert. Cast in four movements called "The Last Trumpet," "Cataclysm," "Peace Dream" and "Dance of Hope," the work alludes to the current war on terrorism, but in a fairly subdued way. "Cataclysm," for example, is mildly dissonant, but not overwrought, and "Dance of Hope" is more of a Stravinskian exploration of rhythm than an optimistic celebration. Still, the piece was skillfully composed and included some athletic brass writing.

By ALLAN KOZINN. New York Times. June 10, 2002

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