Tag Archives: Elias Gross

Arts

Scene&Heard: Elias Gross Keeps in Touch

The Friends Meeting House in Lexington is a simple, beautiful space; a quiet A-frame housing a room of sparse furnishings and amazing acoustics.  Elias Gross chose this space for a viola recital he created as a farewell before he leaves the musical community of Lexington to pursue a Master’s Degree in viola at the University of Delaware.  His friends and fellow musical colleagues gathered together in the peaceful space to celebrate the nine years Elias Gross has helped mold the musical community of Lexington.

Receiving his Bachelor’s in Arts Administration in Music at the University of Kentucky, Elias was denied the recital performance music majors usually have when they graduate.  So, he held his own. 

Each song in the program was prefaced with an explanation of its selection for this final Lexington recital, placing the music in a more personal context.

He began with Bach’s Prelude, Cello Suite No. 5 in C Minor, a sorrowful, mournful tune that conveyed the deep resonance only the viola can create.  His fingers moving deftly like hitting keys on a piano, the song filled that serene room with music that seemed quite fitting for the space.

Elias prefaced the second selection, Spell No. 7 by Alexsandra Vrevalov, with “It’s real weird, you’re gonna love it.” It was certainly weird, with intentional movement of the bow up and down the neck of the viola.  Elias creates a full, physical emoting as he plays, making even breathing seem so relevant for a piece played on strings.  His bow performs acrobatics as he moves between simple strokes to finger picking and to deep double string strokes that resonate around the room.

He then eased into a duet with Melissa Snow-Groves on piano, Meditation by Paul Hindemith, a short sweet harmony that they blended beautifully.  From there he added Richard Young on the upright bass. Together they played and sang Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel. This was followed by Tom Waits’ Ol ‘55 which Elias played and sang as a piano solo.

The trio came together once more and blended a variation on Pachabel’s Canon into Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice.  They sang together with the tight harmony of a chorale, and Melissa kicked it up a beat to a near-rockabilly sound.

Elias then launched into his final solo, Keep in Touch by Nico Muhly – “another weird one,” he joked.  It was a very surreal song, and included electronic elements of a mostly tribal type beat that was played through a laptop and speaker supporting Elias on his viola. The experience was quite intense and transcendental, and seemed to take over his whole person as he played, as if he were channeling the composer in that moment.

According to the program notes, “Keep in Touch is a lament, a sort of chaconne divided up into sections by more freely-composed cadenzas for the viola. But the chaconne, a musical form based around a repeated cycle of chords, is not only the domain of composers like Bach and Purcell, one is as likely to hear the form on a Nina Simone record. And Antony Hegarty, the bluesily androgynous vocalist we hear in the electronic component of this piece, is a performer from the Simone school.”

Elias’ passion is to make the viola, and classical music more accessible to the community; to benefit everyone around him with all that classical music has to offer, and to make sure the music is always played. That came through clearly as the notes resonated around that wooden room with its asymmetrical window. 

In his recital program Elias quoted Zoë Madonna of Q2 Radio as noting: “Cast into the larger world, the viola is as a wanderer in an intimidatingly loud and large landscape, humming sometimes in concordance with the current, sometimes fighting against it.”

The viola is often overlooked for the flash and glory of the violins in an orchestra, or the commanding depths of the cello.  The pieces written for a viola solo take the deeper resonance of the instrument and put it out front, and often the result exemplifies the hidden space where the viola resides, and perhaps those who play it. It is a different path, often fighting for its own place in the quartet, or the orchestra.

Elias allowed himself to channel that message to his audience.  The overall effect in that tranquil space on Price Avenue was quite mesmerizing.

Elias has spent the last nine years in Lexington, not just receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in Arts Administration from UK, but also helping to expand the Central Music Academy as well as the Chamber Music Festival.  Central Music Academy provides free music lessons for children of low income, and has given over 20,000 free music lessons in its existence.

Elias taught viola and violin to kids, keeping a studio of five to seven students for several years. “I definitely could have benefitted from CMA as a kid”. He said teaching music to students is what helped him find his passion again, having let his playing of music “suffer” during his pursuit of an administrative degree. “Teaching was really what kind of got me to get my priorities back together…seeing what they demand of me…I can’t just be one thing, that’s just not who I am, but if I was able to spend a lot of my time teaching I would be really happy.”

He explains that he is drawn to teaching because he truly believes in the beauty and lessons that Classical music has to share with the world. 

Elias also is executive director of the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington which is about to share classical music with the city of Lexington for ten days.  Having expanded from one weekend to ten days, the Festival presents classical music in a variety venues to make it more accessible to the public.  Elias’ favorite piece of the whole, while he loves it all, is the Concert series that he moved to Al’s Bar after Natasha’s Bistro closed.

He believes that the world of Classical music has got to undo some of “these rules we’ve made ourselves” in order to bring the music out into the world and keep it alive. Different venues mean different crowds and a greater “marketing” of the music he loves, says the arts admin grad. “If we figure out how we can tear down our concert walls a little bit, and figure out who can be our allies in the music community that we could really tie it all together…I think that the stage is really important, but I think if the music is being heard and loved, then it really doesn’t matter where it is.”

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Arts

Scene&Heard: This Was What They Wanted

I was 18 when I bought my first Leonard Cohen tape and slid it into the car stereo of my Dad’s old Buick. Was This What You Wanted? began to play, and the whole world of one naïve Catholic Italian girl from Buffalo changed.

Music has that power, and that whole tape of the album New Skin for the Old Ceremony had a powerful influence on me as an audiophile. Lyrics suddenly became the most important part of a song, and Cohen was certainly one of the great sages of lyrical construction.

On the night of the election when I opened my newsfeed and learned that the great poet had gone to his reward, as my mother says, I felt an immense grief. I had to do something.

My simple Facebook suggestion to put on a show in tribute to Cohen resulted in a rapid response from musicians in town interested in getting involved. Clearly, so many of the local musicians I admire were as brokenhearted as me over the loss of this great, influential artist.

So, I found myself organizing a Leonard Cohen Tribute at The Burl, where my friend Bryan Minks gave us a Monday night to simply have a stage where we could pay tribute to a man to whom we all felt a strong musical connection. We decided to pass the hat for donations, and someone suggested we send anything collected to Standing Rock to help the water protectors in their struggle. The event began to take form.

The 28th of November was a damp and dreary night in Lexington, Kentucky, and the UK Wildcats were playing on tv. I wasn’t sure what to expect for turnout, but the room was already filling at 7:30. I placed candles on the tables as promised, and the first band began setting up. The intent was simply for each singer or group to choose two Cohen songs, perform them in their own way, and we would hopefully move smoothly from one set to the next, working Nolan Dunn too hard as he skillfully modified the soundboard for each different performer.

The Northside Sheiks (photo above) started the night with their signature blues vibe, Willie Eames giving his style to Almost Like the Blues and Slow with Lee Carroll on accordion, Smith Donaldson on Bass, Robert Frahm on guitar and David White on drums. From there, the packed house listened to a steady stream of great Lexington area musicians: Chris Sullivan, Warren Byrom, Brian Combs, Bryan Minks, Keith Rowland, Doc Feldman (with a little bit of help from yours truly), Eric Cummins, Chelsea Nolan, Josh Nolan, Derek Spencer, Ben Aubrey with Trinity Curtsinger, Rob Rawlings and Alex Parkansky. And then came a duet on strings with Elias Gross on viola and vocals and Richard Young on Bass, which grew into a trio that added Anna Hess on violin to back Kevin Holm-Hudson on keys when he led the entire group in Cohen’s Hallelujah to end the evening.

The night proceeded exactly as I had imagined it: candles flickered, people in quiet conversations between sets. When each performer began, the entire room hushed, even with the game on mute back at the bar. With the two songs they had chosen, each artist blended Cohen’s brilliant poetry with their own style and instrument to make it theirs.

“I’m always pleased when somebody sings a song of mine. In fact, I never get over that initial rush of happiness when someone says they are going to sing a song of mine. I always like it,” the late Cohen once noted in an interview on Pacifica Radio. “That song enters the world, and it gets changed, like everything else — that’s OK as long as there are more authentic versions. But a good song, I think, will get changed.”

He knew, of course, that his songs would live on. He even told us so in Tower of Song. Each artist or group of artists paid homage to Cohen that night, as candle flames flickered and the rain spattered against the windows. The Roll n’ Smoke food truck was parked outside, and the tangy aroma of barbecue floated through the Burl blending nicely with the fragrance of candles.

The audience was treated to a wide variety of genres as each artist individualized Cohen’s songs, piecing together the entire crazy quilt of the evening. From the Sheik’s blues interpretation to Bryan Mink’s Tower of Song with that country metal edge he has, to Chelsea Nolan’s booming vocals to Alex Parkansky’s drone metal guitar lifting Cohen’s music to surreal levels. Then the night went to strings, and the room, still nearly full even at 11:30 p.m. on a dark, wet Monday night, melted with the candles as all the singers took the stage once more to back Kevin Holm-Hudson in Hallelujah.

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We all sang along, barely able to hold back during the verses as we harmonized into the chorus. I felt like I was in church again, the candle light blurring past the strings in front of us, the keys played perfectly as each of the seven verses guided us along. The crowd joined in too – everyone knows the words to this iconic song – and that room full of gorgeous wood and candles and people who simply love great musical poetry, that room rang with the collection of those voices. No voice was distinguishable from another. And then the last chorus was sung, and Kevin paused for just a moment of silence, and ended the night with those two words that took all our breath away: “Goodnight, Leonard.”

We raised a total of $700 for the Sacred Stone Camp at Standing Rock. My friend Psera Newman, Direct Action Trainer for the Lexington Chapter of Greenpeace, took the stage twice and spoke to the audience about her time at Standing Rock, and why she chose Sacred Stone Camp as the appropriate recipient of contributions, describing it as the beating heart of the body that is the Standing Rock resistance.

Folks were unbelievably generous all night long, and the money order to Sacred Stone is en route, along with a letter I wrote to the leader of the camp, Ladonna Brave Bull Allard.

I am so proud of Lexington. I am so proud of all the musicians who took the stage that night, who took the time out of their lives to learn new songs and perform them and support each other simply to do it. For the love of the music. To show respect to someone who devoted their life to creating beauty and art for others to love. And to share the effort in the form of charity, for others who really need some help right now.

Goodnight, Leonard Cohen. Thanks for the beauty, sir.

(Credit: Derek Feldman, all photos and video.)


The Set List:

1. The Northside Sheiks- Almost like the Blues, Slow

2. Chris Sullivan- Famous Blue Raincoat

3. Warren Byrom and Chris Sullivan- Suzanne

4. Brian Combs- The Butcher, Heart with no Companion

5. Bryan Minks- Tower of Song, Is this what you wanted

6. Keith Rowland- The Stranger Song, Bird on the Wire

7. Derek Feldman w/ Cara Blake Coppola- You Want it Darker, There is a War, If It Be Your Will

8. Eric Cummins- Tonight Will Be Fine, Darkness

9. Chelsea Nolan- On the Level, One Of Us Can’t Be Wrong

10. Josh Nolan- Alexandra Leaving, Diamonds in the Mine

11. Derek Spencer- So Long, Marianne, Steer Your Way

12. Ben Aubrey- Dance Me to the End of Love, Here it Is

13. Rob Rawlings- Iodine, Paper Thin Hotel

14. Alex Parkansky- The Future, Waiting for the Miracle

15. Elias Aaron Irving Gross- Chelsea Hotel

16. Kevin Holm-Hudson-the Runaway Horse, Hallelujah