Reflections in Blue: Jenny Q. Chai at Le Poisson Rouge
Jenny Q. Chai, piano
Le Poisson Rouge, NYC
Sunday, Nov. 4th, 2012
Written by Scottie Roche
On Sunday, November 4th, I had the immense pleasure of leaving behind the troubles inflicted on New York City and much of the East Coast by Hurricane Sandy to be transported to that other realm we call Music, by way of Jenny Q Chai’s show at Le Poisson Rouge. Understandably, things had been tense of late with a pivotal national election looming and the city devastated by a storm that had left the very area of the concert’s venue in total darkness for a week — Le Poisson Rouge was without power until the night before the concert.
That the performance happened at all is a testament to the resilience of New York City and the perseverance of an endearing performer who though she had difficulty reaching NYC from China and had spent the last few nights sleeping on the couches of friends (which she assured us were very comfortable.) “The show must go on,” the old adage maintains. I’m glad it did.
I wasn’t entirely sure what I was walking into when I saw the breadth of the program Ms. Chai had put together. Certainly I was intrigued, but curious as to how Satie would sit beside Schoenberg or what Scarlatti would sound like sandwiched between Stockhausen and the work of Marco Stroppa. As the performance proceeded I quickly learned to trust Ms. Chai’s smart programming and theatrical good sense.
Ms. Chai made a stunning entrance in an ebullient powder blue gown— its strapless ruched satin bodice a modern reflection of the gown’s more traditional organza skirt. Ms. Chai made the interesting choice of wearing an oval mirror on her back, while the front of her gown had a more forward-looking reflective waistline. The gown was a perfect synecdoche of the performance as a whole: the atonal complexity of Schoenberg’s harmonic language might seem an ocean away from the simplifying French modernity found in Satie’s Three Gymnopedies but in terms of the straightforward presentation of musical ideas, they make wonderful companion pieces. Powder blue streaks in Ms. Chai’s hair were a striking addition to the overall ambience of the evening.
Programming the Scarlatti after the Schoenberg made Scarlatti feel quite fresh, the second sonata being a particular joy. Following Scarlatti was Marco Stroppa’s Innige Cavatina, an exciting piece that I’m happy to have come in contact with.
After intermission Ms. Chai entered with a change of wardrobe. She still sported a mirror at her back but her gown had been replaced with a dress that evoked an evening of fun in San Tropez. There was a subtle lighting change, adding warmth to the cooler preintermission atmosphere, but still blue.
I found the highlights of the program’s second half to be Cage’s “Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs” with Ms. Chai’s warm chest voice accompanying the taps on the fallboard called for by the piece. Andre Boucourechliev’s “Orion III” was really amazing, it dazzled in the upper registers and was full of crash boom fireworks in the bass.
Where it all came together for me was the Chopin Barcarolle which ended the program. I found Ms. Chai’s performance heartfelt and quite touching. It made me appreciate all the more the musical voyage through varying waters of style and century through which she navigated her audience. It is no small feat to present such a diverse program cohesively and Ms. Chai did so, splendidly.
At the concert’s closing we were graced with an encore from Ms. Chai’s album New York Love Songs: Serbian born composer Victoria Jordanova’s “Prayer”. Hearing Ms. Chai’s whispering and sultry voice perform this song live was just the perfect top-off to a magical evening.
Scottie Roche is an opera-trained vocalist, social media arts consultant and a freelance writer. His website is Scottie Roche.com