New York Times
Classical Music in Review:
New Renaissance Chamber Players – Greenwich House 27 Barrow Street Greenwich Village, NYC 1992
The New Renaissance Chamber Artists presented an “African Portraits” concert on Friday night, aiming to dissolve barriers between European instrumental performance and West African tribal music traditions. Surrounding the world premieres of two African-influenced compositions, by Robert Levin and Michael White, were two semi-improvisatory sessions led by the brilliant Ghanaian percussionist Abraham Adzenyah.
The “through composed” works were sometimes provocative, but Mr. Adzenyah’s contributions dominated the evening. He drew a fierce, volatile pulse from a single drum, steadily accumulating intensity. Midway through the final session, he broke into a hyperkinetic dance routine and later induced the audience to dance and sing in tandem. Mr. Adzenyah is a professor of music at Wesleyan University; his lectures must be something to behold.
Mr. Levin’s “Warrior Dance,” derived from music of the Ewe people of Ghana, seemed a bit timid in its mingling of flute, bass clarinet, voice and percussion. Robert Maniscalco, in the warrior role, was enthusiastic but unconvincing. Mr. White’s “African Portraits,” eight scenes from African village life, came up with an intriguing blend of Western and African sonorities. The work was buttressed by impressive contributions from two performers: refined soprano solos by Leslie Terrell Hamilton, occasionally bluesy in inflection, and incisive drumming by Stefon Harris. But an excessive burden fell again on Mr. Maniscalco, who at one point appeared in a huge feather costume and exclaimed: “I am pleasing! I am resplendent!” The spectacle brought to mind some dubious skit from the early years of “Saturday Night Live.”
Note: This is the infamous review, unedited, that concluded my career in New York. The NRCA commissioned composers and playwrights to create new multidisciplinary works, which we performed in The Apple Core Series, about six concerts a year. Part of the mission of the group was to blend western musical and theatrical traditions with those of other cultures. One year we chose Japan, another we chose India. But that year we chose Ghana; we were about 300 years ahead of our time! I knew it would be a fiasco but we did it anyway. And the NYT showed up. The rest is history.