Musical Fireworks for Independence Day

Independence Day Weekend this year offered spiritual fireworks for the heart and soul in the form of a thoroughly American concert in Clarksville, Indiana.  In the Clarksville High School auditorium on Sunday, July 1, Clarksville Community Choir and Louisville Civic Orchestra joined forces in a patriotic display that culminated in the explosive pyrotechnics of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, masterfully played by world-class pianist Nada, a Middle Eastern immigrant and citizen of the United States.  The selection of a piece by Jewish composer Gershwin, combining as it does African American musical vocabulary with Franz Liszt’s virtuoso technique, itself inspired largely by gypsy music of Muslim ancestry, perfectly demonstrated the true source of America’s greatness.  Independence Day was embodied by cultural interdependence.

Clarksville Town Councilman John Gilkey emphasized that theme in his welcoming remarks to the audience, extolling America as a nation of immigrants.  The first half of the program moved with soaring majesty through familiar American anthems delivered with heartfelt sincerity by the Clarksville Community Choir, which is directed by one of the musical treasures of the region, Dr. Timothy Glasscock, professor and Department Chair of music at Bellarmine University.  The tonal balance and harmonic support achieved by conductor Jason Hart Raff, melding the choir and orchestra into a convincing whole, visibly moved the audience.  The Louisville Civic Orchestra, founded in 1915, is Louisville’s oldest continuously operating orchestra, and exemplifies the high mission of a community orchestra, in which all levels of musical ambition and accomplishment, from the ensemble`playing of students and amateurs to the spot-on intonation and  lyrical phrasing of the concert mistress’s solos, combine to inspire and include listeners.

Nada’s entrance in the second half of the program conveyed a touching modesty, as her smile of thanks as the audience acknowledged her was so palpably sincere.  The delicate elegance of her appearance belied her strength at the keyboard.  The audience responded viscerally to the sight of beauty, power and artistry combined, as if witnessing the seemingly effortless dancing of Ginger Rogers.  Indeed, Nada danced upon the piano using her whole body, perfectly in accord with Raff’s conducting, providing the audience with the opportunity to witness how music is made at the highest level of purpose and meaning.  Nada’s interpretation of Gershwin’s iconic piece was romantic and spacious, infused with longing, her tone dreamy, and yes, rhapsodic.  But when the time came for the dizzying combination of Latin syncopation and incisive repeated-note dazzlement, her technique answered the challenge thrillingly, setting up a stirring climax with the full orchestra and lifting the audience members from their seats in a torrent of spontaneous cheers.  Nada was fittingly placed at the end of the program, since all well-planned fireworks displays end with the most brilliant profusions.

– Frank Richmond

Review of Nada’s latest CD in International Piano Magazine 

A Portland Miracle – Performance with the Classical Hour Orchestra – Dec 29th, 2017

I witnessed a miracle between Christmas and New Year in a former warehouse sprawled across a block of Louisville’s long-neglected Portland district.  There, on December 29, 2017, the Lebanese-Hungarian pianist Nada embodied the soul of Brahms’ Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, weaving exquisite poetry with orchestra conductor Jason Raff within the walls of the cutting-edge artistic venue The Tim Faulkner Gallery.  The orchestra, assembled for the occasion, had rehearsed exactly once; when something this ravishing appears in the world against all odds, miraculous is the only word that suffices.

To be sure, the orchestra was smaller than we are accustomed to hearing in Brahms, with fewer string reinforcements, but the acoustics nurtured the sound, and the intensely sensitive listening of the players rendered the texture limpid. This was no competition between soloist and ensemble, but a rapturous love duet.

A special feature of the concert was the intimate proximity of audience to musicians.  The listeners were viewers too, captivated by the compelling presence of Nada, a Raphaelite beauty whose delicate back, shoulders and arms are animated by exquisitely articulated muscularity.  With calm, flexible gestures of her whole body, she coaxed mellow eloquence from the rich-voiced Steinway.  Her phrasing dove-tailed seamlessly with the soulful playing of the orchestra players. Her range of touches, colors and textures, from ringing chords to crystalline filigree, was deployed with grace and dignity.  This was an intimate Brahms, constantly lyrical, the singing quality of her sound more like lieder than opera.

Jason Raff is an accompanist of rare ability.  The score of the Brahms B-flat Concerto is a minefield of rhythmic, textural and harmonic traps,  but he conducted with such clarity and precision that I heard everything suspended in unforced transparency. Instantly he responded to tempo fluctuations from Nada without ever overreacting or seizing the reins from her.  Melodies flowed back-and-forth between Nada and the orchestra players organically,  complementing each others’ inflections.

Special thanks must be given to Tim Faulkner for creating a space of such open-ended creative possibility.  Presenting classical music in unconventional venues like his, attracting the curiosity of new audiences, represents a boundless direction for the artistic life of Louisville.

– Frank Richmond