Saturday, November 26, 2011

City of the Hills Chorus Performs Annual Holiday Concert, Sunday Dec 4th at 3PM

City of the Hills Chorus
Seated left to right: Terry Hait, Jan McGrath, Elaine Mattice, Flora Beth Cunningham (director), Linda Allen, Sue Dana-LeViness, and Joy Sanders.
2nd row: Joanne Burdick, Liz Moeller, Mary Johnson-Butler, and Jo Melmer.
3rd row: Pat Ashe, Donna Fornito, Carole Wood, and Kathy Polley.
4th row: Chris Hughes, Bettie Bennett, and Connie Herzig.
5th row: Karen Adolfsen and Dorcas Ross. Absent from picture: Kate Brooker Milano.

Another season has come and almost gone, but this one was extra-special: our 25th Anniversary, our Silver Jubilee. Bittersweet to see it pass but we have our annual Holiday Concert to cheer us up, this year featuring the City of the Hills Chorus -- Oneonta being the city in this case. A fabulous close to an amazing year of music, their performance will start the Holiday season in a harmonious and fun-filled key.

A chapter of the Sweet Adelines International, this group of women sing a capella in four-part harmony in the American folk tradition known as barbershop style. They will perform holiday carols and perhaps a contemporary song or two (I saw something about "California Dreamin'" though I have not been given the final program yet) interspersed with sing-a-long carols for optional audience participation. To learn more about the group please see their Web site at

I had forgotten how sweet and infectious this style of singing is until I saw The Music Man the other week on WNYC-PBS television from Syracuse. Throughout the film a group of 4 men who called themselves the Buffalo Bills wanders the streets of the fictitious River City, Iowa breaking into song whenever prompted by the notorious Professor Harold Hill, musical con man. I defy anyone to resist smiling at their rendition of "Lida Rose" or "Goodnight Ladies." I know many a Delaware County senior citizen who jumps - to the extent they are able to - at any chance to hear barbershop-style singing, so make a senior citizen happy and bring them to this concert.

Robin Ward, saxophone
And lest we get too sentimental we are starting a new tradition at this final concert for 2011, something we hope will become a regular feature: we will hear a brief performance at the beginning of the concert by a local music student. December 4 we will hear from Robin Ward, saxophone. Ms. Ward is a high school Senior and is in the process of auditioning for college admission in her chosen field of music education. She will be accompanied on piano by Dan Chien.

After playing a year of clarinet Robin Ward began playing tenor saxophone in sixth grade under the direction of Gary LiCalzi of the South Kortright Central School.  Since then she has participated in All-county band and chorus and was selected to play in the area All-state band. Last summer she began playing in the rock band Electric Evolver, performing in Albany, Stamford and Lake Placid. She now studies saxophone privately with Christine Cummings of Hartwick College and plays in the Hartwick Jazz Ensemble. Robin has applied to several colleges including Ithaca, Gordon, SUNY Fredonia, and Mansfield.

How wonderful to hear this talented young woman and give her a local boost as she prepares to enter the professional music world! We hope you will join us for some wonderful music of the season and for great food and good company, too, on Sunday December 4th at 3PM at the Cyr Center in Stamford.

Thank you as always to all of our donors and especially to the Robinson-Broadhurst Foundation for making this concert and our entire series possible! We also thank the O'Connor Foundation for their recent disbursement of their generous grant to us, which we were able to fully match. THANK YOU to all who contributed!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Giving Thanks

Ismail Lumanovski, Alexandra Joan and
Vasko Dukovski wait before the concert begins.
In the United States we just celebrated what is unofficially our favorite holiday: Thanksgiving. With no particular religious association and with little of the commercialism associated with many other holidays, it is a day when most Americans - whether newcomers or liflong residents - focus on enjoying time and good food with family and loved ones. For at least one day many of us try to adopt an attitude of gratitude, as the saying goes and without question we have much to be thankful for. As imperfect as our Union is, for most of us we would be hard pressed to find a better place to live. As for the most unfortunate among us whose numbers grow daily during these days of the Great Recession, many of us care deeply for you and for your struggles though that may be little consolation.
Here in Stamford we also give thanks for great musical performances like the one we experienced this past Sunday from the Grneta Ensemble. I am criticized sometimes (rightfully so) for hyperbole, but though it seems impossible I believe our artists keep getting better and better. In a year of outstanding performances this last concert was so amazing, dare I say the best one yet. A number of people in the audience told me they hesitated to come, thinking "Two clarinets? How interesting could that be?" but they were without exception so glad they had ventured out to hear the incredible artistry of the Grneta Ensemble. I imagine many who did not attend stayed away because of a similar misconception and you really missed something grand!

The Grneta Ensemble warming up on Sunday afternoon.
I am not a musician and am not capable of making a critique of any consequence. I can only note what I experienced and what others in attendance relayed to me. Vasko Dukovski and Ismail Lumanovski on clarinet and Alexandra Joan at the Steinway enchanted us, charmed us, knocked our musical socks off with their artistry, their energy, their sheer talent. After a perfectly balmy and lovely late November day and nearly two hours of amazing music, the audience leapt to its feet in a tremendous ovation to be rewarded with an encore in the tradition of Klezmer music, folk with jazz overtones that would have had us all dancing in the aisles were we a little less shy. The music stayed with me for at least another 24 hours, replaying in my head.

We are waiting anxiously for the prosmised recording and Vasko, do let us know when it is available! You three have many friends in these hills who want something to hold us over until your next appearance at the Cyr Center, which we hope will be soon. You inspired a young local musician who was reported to have said after hearing you and Ismail perform "If I'd known clarinet could sound like that I would never have switched to the saxophone!" By the way, Mr. Dukovski told us that "grneta" is an old Macedonian word for an instrument that may have been a clarinet or one that certainly was clarinet-like.

I posted this second photo of the young musicians in their casual clothing to remind us all that while they are young professionals, they are young; friendly, approachable people with extreme dedication to their art and a great desire to share that art with us, much to our delight. Such a long day for the people who come to perform here, too, mostly from the New York City area: three and a half hours by car each way, depending on traffic and weather. After decades of daily practice for long hours each day, they come for relatively little money to a place that is very unlikely to enhance their careers for a small group of people who nonetheless are truly thankful for the opportunity to hear such fine performances. Thank you, musical artists young and not so young, for sharing your gifts with us.

We also give thanks to the Robinson-Broadhurst Foundation and now to the O'Connor Foundation as well, to your founders and your heirs and your trustees for the funding that make these concerts possible. How especially appropriate in this new gilded age, of greed beyond measure and financial robber barons to note the example of these families in dedicating a sizeable chunk of their fortunes to enhancing the quality of life for the community at large in perpetuity. We give thanks to our many individual donors whose gifts may not be as sizeable in dollars and cents but whose importance could not be any greater; without your support we would have no reason to exist.

Thank you! THANK YOU.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Grneta Ensemble at the Cyr Center Sunday November 20th at 3PM

Vasko Dukovski, Alexandra Joan and
Ismail Lumanovski of The Grneta Ensemble

Friends of Music invites you to a performance by a trio of first-rate musicians on Sunday November 20 at 3PM at the Cyr Center in Stamford. The Grneta Ensemble includes Vasko Dukovski and Ismail Lumanovski, clarinets and Alexandra Joan, piano. Mr. Dukovski and Ms. Joan were part of the quartet that so impressed our audience with an inspired program designed by Vasko in our first performance by graduate students from Juilliard in May, 2009.

1st Prize winners of the Arriaga Chamber Music Competition in 2010 and praised for “the strength and intelligence of their playing” (, the members of The Grneta Ensemble have been enchanting audiences with their temperament, virtuosity and original concert programs. Initially comprised of clarinetists Vasko Dukovski and Ismail Lumanovski , the group became a trio in 2008, welcoming pianist Alexandra Joan and forming a unique combination of instruments.

All three are Juilliard graduates, prize winners in international music competitions and have been coached by Charles Neidich and Ayako Oshima and by Jerome Lowenthal at the Juilliard School. Sharing an Eastern European background, these young musicians create engaging and unusual recital programs mostly inspired by folk elements and improvisation, bringing the popular to classical. Their repertoire includes works from the romantic era (Mendelssohn, Ponchielli) as well as original arrangements of instrumental music from the Balkans.

Committed to preserving and continuing the clarinet duo tradition, The Grneta Ensemble has revived and performed many forgotten works as well as made many arrangements for its instrumentation. In addition the ensemble has inspired and commissioned multiple new works such as “The Macedonian Bloody Wedding” by Nicholas Csicsko, inspired by and based on the first Macedonian play with the same title, as well as “Grneta Variations” by Gerald Cohen.

For more information visit their Web site at and if you are at all hesitating about attending the concert in Stamford, visit the “watch” page to see and hear a recording of them performing via YouTube. It will convince you they are easily worth the effort of coming to the Cyr Center!

Please read more about the individual artists at the end of this post. The program for Sunday, November 20 is as follows:

The Grneta Ensemble

Vasko Dukovski, clarinet
Ismail Lumanovski, clarinet
Alexandra Joan, piano

Eastern Madness - With Western Touch

Felix Mendelssohn, Concert Piece No. 1 Op. 113

Gerald Cohen, Grneta Variations *

Amarillo Ponchielli, Il Convegno

---------- Short Intermission---------

Bela Bartok, Romanian Dances Arr. By Grneta Ensemble

Gerald Cohen, Hebrew Songs *

Mohammed Fairouz, Ughniat Mariam+

Ante Grgin, Hameum Suite

*Composed for Grneta Ensemble +Premiered by Grneta Duo

Vasko Dukovski, Clarinet/Basset Horn
With his virtuosity and mellow sound, the Macedonian-born clarinetist Vasko Dukovski has mesmerized audiences throughout The United States, Europe and Asia. Mr. Dukovski is a winner of numerous competition prizes and awards including: First Prize at the International Woodwind Competition in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria; Special Prize at the Jeunnese Musicales Clarinet Competition in Bucharest, Romania; 2nd Prize at the National Clarinet Competition and 3rd Prize at the National Chamber Music Competition in Macedonia and at the first Andreas Makris Clarinet Competition in Fort Collins, Colorado; Fine Arts Award from the Interlochen Arts Academy and Honors Award from the Eubie Blake Foundation in New York.

Mr. Dukovski is a great champion of contemporary music and has premiered over one hundred works and collaborated with many established composers of our time, among them John Corigliano, John Adams, Helmut Lachenmann, Yehudi Wyner and Gunther Schuller. He is a member of the Grneta Ensemble, Future In REverse F.I. RE, Mimesis Ensemble, Bloo Moon Ensemble and Ensemble 212, and regularly performs with the Argento Ensemble, Talea Ensemble and Either/Or Ensemble.

As an orchestral player, Vasko Dukovski has played under the batons of many important conductors of our time such as Maestro James Conlon, Michael Tillson Thomas, Yves Abel, David Atherton, Otto-Werner Mueller, Diego Mason, Anne Manson and Thomas Wilkins amongst others. Furthermore, Mr. Dukovski is the principal clarinetist of the Manhattan Symphonie Orchestra, The Garden State Philharmonic and the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra.

Vasko Dukovski was born in Ohrid, the Republic of Macedonia and began his clarinet studies at the age of nine. He made his first solo appearance at the age of ten, and in January of 2006 he made his New York debut with the New Juilliard Ensemble performing the world premiere of the Triple Clarinet Concerto by Guus Jansen.  Mr. Dukovski holds Bachelor of Music and Master of Music Degrees from the Juilliard School as a student of Charles Neidich and Ayako Oshima.

Ismail Lumanovski, Clarinet
The young award-winning Macedonian and Turkish clarinetist Ismail Lumanovski has enchanted audiences with his enthusiasm and virtuosity, combining the spirit of folk music with the discipline of Classical music.

To date one of his career highlights is the New York d├ębut in 2008 of the Carter Clarinet Concerto with musicians from New Juilliard Ensemble and Lucerne Festival Academy with Maestro Boulez conducting. Mr. Lumanovski’s United States debut took place in 2002 with his performance of Weber’s First Clarinet Concerto with the World Youth Symphony Orchestra in Interlochen, Michigan and his first appearance as soloist with the Macedonian Philharmonic was at the age of 13, playing the Weber Concertino.

Ismail Lumanovski is the winner of numerous competitions including 1st prize of the 23rd, 24th and 25th Clarinet Competition of Macedonia, The Juilliard Clarinet Concerto Competition, the International Young Artist Competition in Bulgaria, the National Folk Music Competition in Macedonia and 2nd prize in the Andreas Makris Clarinet Competition in Colorado. In addition Mr. Lumanovski received the “Fine Arts Award” twice at the Interlochen Arts Academy.

Born in Bitola, Macedonia, Ismail Lumanovski started playing the clarinet at age nine, attending primary school and high school in his city of birth. He holds a Bachelor and Master of Music Degrees from the Juilliard School as a student of Charles Neidich and Ayako Oshima.

Alexandra Joan, Piano
French-Romanian pianist Alexandra Joan is an active soloist and avid chamber music musician. A regular performer in Europe, she has appeared in Germany, Switzerland, France and also in Israel and Montenegro. She made her chamber music debut in New York in 2007 at Alice Tully Hall, and most recently made her Carnegie Hall solo debut presented by the Lagesse Foundation. She also performed at David Dubal’s lecture series at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Along with the masterpieces of the 18th, 19th and 20th century, Alexandra Joan performs new music frequently and is also an advocate of the music of George Enesco.

Ms. Joan’s appearances in international Festivals have included Roque d’Antheron International Piano Festival in France, Guebwiller, Colmar International Festival (Vladimir Spivakov), Oberstdorf Festival in Germany and other prestigious festivals and concert series in France. Ms. Joan has performed as soloist with “La Follia” Chamber Orchestra, The Montbeliard Orchestra, The Mulhouse Symphony Orchestra in France and The Orchestra of Radio and Television in Montenegro.

Her solo and chamber music performances have been featured on Radio France, Radio Suisse Romande (Switzerland), on Montenegro Television and WQXR in New York.
Ms. Joan has been a recipient of several important awards in France. She has received the “Vocation Prize” from the Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet Foundation in 2005 and the ADAMI Grant in 2006 and 2007 to study in the United States. In 2001, she won the 3rd Prize at the Andorra International Piano Competition.

Born in 1984, Ms. Joan began her studies at the Colmar Conservatory with Rena Shereshevskaya and gave her first public performance at the age of six. In 2004 she completed her Bachelor of Music Degree at the Paris Conservatory under the tutelage of Brigitte Engerer. She worked with artists such as Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Itamar Golan, Vladimir Krainev, Vera Gornastaeva, Staffan Scheja, Pnina Salzman and Emanuel Krasovsky.

A recipient of the Florence Gould Scholarship, Alexandra Joan recently graduated from the Juilliard School of Music where she completed her Graduate Diploma as a student of Jerome Lowenthal.

All Friends of Music are invited to this marvelous performance at the Cyr Center on West Main Street in Stamford at 3PM on Sunday November 20th. We are ever grateful to all of our donors and especially to the Robinson-Broadhurst Foundation for making this concert -- and our entire series -- possible and affordable to all. Hope to see you there!