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2017 New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival: Political Protest and Social Justice

August 10, 2017

Interestingly, some of the most raucously explicit material of protest came not from the Peace and Social Justice Concert 24 but from the Wil(helms/liams)burg Concert 26, a collaboration of musicians and performing artists from Brooklyn and Hamburg, Germany. In the opening work, "Trumpen," for clarinet, piano, cello and laptop performers, Georg Hajdu created a piece based on the destructive and fracturing words of Donald J. Trump. This piece introduced the Unheard-of//Ensemble – Ford Fourqurean/clarinet, Daniel Anastasio/piano and Thea Mesirow/cello – who played throughout the concert, demonstrating remarkable technical control and versatility; this group “is a contemporary chamber ensemble dedicated to the development and performance of new music by living composers.” In "Trumpen," Trump’s words are altered and devolved into an ever-increasing intensity of chaos; the audience is witness to the mess – and is part of it as well – as this replicates political protest at its best, at once ancient and contemporary. [more]

2017 New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival: Composer as Creator

August 10, 2017

n light-hearted Rationalize (concert 27), composer Cody Brookshire combined found and manipulated sounds created by the audience with live music on bass clarinet and marimba. Brookshire created SynkroTakt, an audio streaming technology. Before the piece began, the composer instructed the audience on the seven-step procedure required to enable their devices to create sounds streamed into synchronous audio tracks; the audience, in this way, became the collective ‘artist/musician’ and provided one half of the ‘duet’ of electronic sounds and live instruments. The result was an unexpectedly sweet and pretty piece, a bauble in which sounds produced by an unusually concocted combination of chance and intention became a contemporaneous agent of creativity. [more]

2017 New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival: Outstanding Performers

August 9, 2017

In spite of the Festival’s lengthy booklet and daily concert updates, the rich creative vitality of the electroacoustic musical community remains only tangentially documented: composers and performers clearly work in close collaboration. Internationally recognized cellist Madeleine Shapiro, for instance, director of the important NewMusicMannes ensemble at the New School’s Mannes College of Music, is on the NYCEMF 2017 Steering Committee, and performed in several of the 2017 Festival’s concerts. She is clearly the sort of artist who can turn her instrument into both the composers’ muse and their servant. Shaprio’s ability to incorporate the cello’s entire history into its creative use in contemporary classical and experimental music suggests expanded incorporations of cello sounds in new music to contemporary composers. [more]

2017 New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival: Overview

August 7, 2017

In the seven concerts of the second half of the 2017 New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival held this month at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, New York, the full diversity and eclectic versatility of electroacoustic music was on vibrant, energetic display; the densely packed weekend of music was exciting, sometimes disconcerting and sometimes thrilling, and always fascinating. Sixty-six works by sixty-six composers were performed … a dizzying array of instruments, equipment, performers, sensibilities and effects! [more]

Jen Shyu: Nine Doors

July 8, 2017

After fifteen years of formal study, Shyu incorporates five distinct music traditions in her newest work: “epic storytelling (Pansori), East Coast shaman music (DongHaeAhnByeolShinGut), and Binari, usually performed as a blessing for an audience, all from Korea; music from sub-districts Aileu and Atauro ferom East Timor; Hengchung Folk Song with moon lute from Taiwan; Ledhekan, which combines Javanese dance with improvisational singing (Sindehenan) from Indonesia; and the ‘speaking-the-song’ or ‘katari’ with Japanese bias, the rare 4-stringed instrument originally used by monks and priests.” [more]

C4, The Choral Composer/Conductor Collective: Electric – Choral Works with electrified ensemble

June 25, 2017

C4’s last concert of the season was a typical C4 concert. The concert had one intermission; in both halves of the concert, there were one or two pieces that were new to C4 and one or two that they’d performed before. In this concert, there were also three premieres. Some pieces were a cappella; some were accompanied by a somewhat unexpected set of instruments, in this case, electronic … hence this concert’s name, “Electric: Choral works with electrified ensemble.” Almost all of the composers featured were either current or former C4 members; singers conducted each others’ works. Individual singers moved easily between solo parts and “just” being a section member. The extensive program notes were, as always, extremely useful. [more]

Angels in America (New York City Opera)

June 23, 2017

By eliminating most of the extended fantasy elements of the play, they reduced the storyline to the domestic turbulence of two couples and a deservedly ugly portrait of Roy Cohn. Add in a visit by the iconic Bethesda Fountain Angel (here totally generic) and some very dramatic, brass-heavy music and you have this intriguing production by New York City Opera that succeeds as an opera as long as one is not familiar with the source material. What seemed heavy going and existential in the original comes across on a much more human level in the opera. [more]

Heartbeat Opera: Butterfly

June 9, 2017

The artistic team responsible for this "Butterfly" made radical decisions and changes. Puccini’s original three acts of linear story – love and “wedding,” waiting, betrayal and death – are reorganized and abbreviated into three scenes of waiting, remembered love, and then betrayal. Some minor characters in the original opera are eliminated to create a caste of just five singing characters. The entire orchestra is reduced to a chamber orchestra of just six musicians, the Cantata Profana. The adaptation of Puccini’s orchestral score for this small chamber group by Daniel Schlosberg is remarkable: unexpectedly, its absolute faithfulness to Puccini’s musical intent at almost every turn made up for the diminished number of musicians. [more]

92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series: “From Camelot to California: The Worlds of Lerner and Loewe”

June 7, 2017

The show’s writer and host, Rob Berman, introduced many of the songs and, essentially, gave us the story of Lerner and Loewe’s difficult, on-again, off-again partnership. Referring to them, at one point, as an “odd couple,” Berman explained that the composer Frederick (or “Fritz”) Loewe was an “old world” European, and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner a “New York sophisticate,” who was educated in England. Berman also claimed that the common denominator for all of their musicals was a kind of “idealism,” making the pair “dreamers.” [more]

The New York Virtuoso Singers: Morton Gould/ASCAP Young Composer Award Recipients

May 28, 2017

From the beginning, one core component of Rosenbaum’s mission has been the cultivation of a contemporary American repertoire and the regular commission of new works. Rosenbaum is, in fact, an enthusiastic champion of young composers. This May concert, consisting of ten new works, reflected this focus … and was a wonderful celebration of young talent and achievement. [more]

St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys: Glory Be to Thee O Lord: Songs of Faith, Hope and Love

May 20, 2017

But the concert didn’t have the satisfaction of a big blockbuster – such as Haydn’s Creation, with which the season began – or of two or three masterworks. Music of the Anglican tradition is the bone and blood of St. Thomas’ work: it’s the music in which the choir excels. The formal musical curriculum in which St. Thomas students are immersed serves them well in any musical endeavor or style, but the Anglican vocabulary is the one these young musicians are most comfortable with. In this particular concert, the music of non-Anglican-tradition composers was well presented, demonstrating the skills of the singers, both young and old, but wasn’t thrilling. [more]

Composer Portraits Series: Klas Torstensson

May 6, 2017

"Elliott loves bebop" is a much more satisfying piece than either "Sonerna" or "No slash" on their own. It would be no matter what. But the experience of having listened to the two quartets one after the other immediately before the octet immeasurably enriched the experience of hearing the octet: the octet’s complexities were more intelligible and the patterns of their interconnections were more clear. Without compromising or simplifying the work’s density, its meanings were more accessible. [more]

The New York Pops 34th Birthday Gala: “Something Wonderful”

May 3, 2017

The sensational highlight of the concert was a medley from "South Pacific." “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right out of My Hair” had the luminous Ashley Park euphorically performing that showstopper. Ms. Park was filling in for the previously announced and indisposed Laura Osnes. Female members of The Camp Broadway Kids Ensemble, who were dressed in colorful outfits and sailor caps, wonderfully joined Park. This thrilling production number was representative of Cynthia Thole’s vigorous direction and choreography. [more]

Babes in Toyland (MasterVoices)

May 1, 2017

Victor Herbert’s 1903 operetta "Babes in Toyland" was presented by MasterVoices (formerly The Collegiate Chorale), in a splendid concert production, to celebrate its 75th anniversary. Music director and artistic director, Ted Sperling superbly conducted the dynamic Orchestra of St. Luke's, and the terrific MasterVoices choral group, that appeared onstage with them. [more]

Alam Khan: Maestro Ali Akbar Khan Birthday Celebration

April 17, 2017

Thanking his packed audience at Le Poisson Rouge for coming to hear him play, Alam Khan described his music on this evening as a tribute to his father, Ali Akbar Khan, whose ninety-fifth birthday it would have been. But it was more than an ancestral honoring: it was a tribute to a rich centuries-old tradition of Hindustani classical music. [more]

Vespers of 1610 (Handel + Haydn Society Orchestra and Chorus)

April 17, 2017

"Vespers of 1610" is a big and oddly sprawling work. It makes no liturgical sense, and, in terms of texts, has little programmatic unity beyond a consistent Marian devotion. But it is a coherent whole of musical and spiritual experience. It gives the impression of limitlessness, as though there were no end to what Monteverdi could have kept on telling us, precisely because the sacredness and meaning of God’s sacred words are infinite. [more]

World Music Institute: Salif Keita

April 9, 2017

Over the course of Salif Keita’s recent appearance at The Town Hall there was a story whose shape reflected both Keita’s identity and his music. At 7:00 p.m., there was a question-and-answer session with Keita, musician and writer Banning Eyre of www.afropop.org, and translator Isabelle Dupuis. By the end of the evening, audience and performers were inseparably merged; singing and dancing had become one, and Keita had made us all his own. Far from needing any explanation or translation, the music of Salif Keita is entirely universal. [more]

La Campana Sommersa (New York City Opera)

April 8, 2017

This production was a co-effort with Fondazione Teatro Lirico di Cagliari whose orchestra joined forces with the New York City Opera Orchestra under the baton of Ira Levin who brought out every bit of color in the music. Maestro Levin was sensitive to the needs of the singers, knowing just how to mold the orchestra’s sounds so that their voices soared over the often over-orchestrated score (not helped by the wrong-headed scrim used in the forest scenes). [more]

Glass @ 80: Philip Glass & Foday Musa Suso

March 24, 2017

Beginning in the 1980s, Glass and Suso collaborated on several projects. Genet’s difficult, demanding, essentially un-actable and relentlessly fracturing play, "The Screens," elicited from Glass and Suso unexpectedly warm and affirming music. The setting for Genet’s play – the wretchedness of the French Algerian War – calls for music that is both European and African, but to imagine Glass’ contribution as “the European one” and Suso’s as its African opposite is to misunderstand the creative relationship. [more]

Otello (LoftOpera)

March 20, 2017

LoftOpera is a feisty little company that operates around Brooklyn, especially Bushwick. They are giving" Otello" in LightSpace Studios, a disco on Flushing Avenue about the size of a high school gymnasium. There’s a small orchestra (27, about half the size Rossini wrote for), kept under tight but lyrical control by the company’s maestro, Sean Kelly. The singers do not appear to be looking at him for cues while they are enthusiastically playing out the story, but they only got lost once at Saturday night’s performance. [more]

The New York Pops: “Life is a Cabaret: The Songs of Kander and Ebb”

March 14, 2017

“It looks like when you got your Kennedy Center Honor!” exclaimed Mr. Reineke, as a spotlight shone on John Kander, who was attending the concert from a first tier box at Carnegie Hall. He grinned to a thunderous reaction. Sitting with him, was Susan Stroman, who has directed several Kander and Ebb productions. Near the end of the show, at Reineke’s instigation, the house lights went up, and the orchestra and the audience joined in for “Happy Birthday” to Kander. [more]

Composer Portraits Series: Misato Mochizuki

March 11, 2017

Neither a “Western composer” nor a “Japanese composer,” Mochizuki hasn’t sought to manufacture some sort of mix-and-match blend. She doesn’t borrow or build add-ons. Instead, seeking inspiration in nature on the one hand and in human projects as diverse as photography, genetics and cooking on the other, she produces music that is about both being and story. Embedded within every piece one beginning after another, her stories unfold from each; then she builds them into each other. Though she incorporates elements of theater in the use of lighting and musicians’ movements around the stage, her music is fundamentally unpretentious and unfussy; her writing is equally straight-forward and optimistically fresh. [more]

Composer Portraits Series: Beat Furrer featuring Either/Or

February 16, 2017

This is serious work. Without defiance of traditional or conservative contemporary classical music simply for mere defiance’s haughty sake, Furrer is developing his own particular vocabulary. And successful performance of Furrer’s music requires serious musicians. The musicians of Either/Or are a good match for this composer. Their technical skills are superb, marked by both muscular stamina and virtuosic creativity; equally important, their willingness to take performance risks is grounded in intellectual and artistic integrity. [more]

New York Polyphony: Palestrina’s “Marcellus Mass”

February 4, 2017

The second work of the evening was the world premiere of Ivan Moody’s Vespers Sequence. In careful, clear program notes, Moody described his goals in his compositions in general and in this new Vespers Sequence in particular: he seeks to “bring the concepts and principles underlying Orthodox spirituality … into dialogue with modernity” … in the “creation of a specifically Orthodox para-liturgical repertoire that brings together liturgy and concert.” Moody collaborated closely with New York Polyphony in conceiving and then finalizing this work; although the sacred texts and many of the originating aesthetic impulses of the work are ancient, the overall feel, in this premiere performance, was of something vital and contemporary. [more]

92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series: “Get Happy: Harold Arlen’s Early Years”

February 4, 2017

The show began with Arlen’s first hit, “Get Happy,” 1930, and ended with his 1939 score for the MGM film, "The Wizard of Oz." The first half of the evening was devoted to Arlen’s stand-alone popular tunes, his songs written for the Cotton Club Revues (1932-1934), and musical numbers for early sound movies. Blackhurst recounted how Arlen (born Hyman Arluck of Buffalo, New York), was a child prodigy singing in his father’s choir when he was seven, forming his own bands in his late teens, and occasionally appearing as a vocalist with them on records in his twenties. [more]

Love for Sale

January 26, 2017

The concept of Love for Sale, though not particularly original, is not a bad one, except for one very important factor: Ms. Burke is not up to either the singing or acting demands of Love for Sale, a voyage from innocence to jaded sophistication as told in mostly dark, melodramatic songs, ironically influenced by the American films that flooded Europe in the twenties and thirties. It’s an extraordinarily difficult repertoire that constantly threatens to be silly expressions of impossibly colorful and desperate characters. [more]

Candide (New York City Opera)

January 10, 2017

Linda Lavin, padded and badly bewigged, comes across more like a Jewish yenta than the victim of the vagaries of Eastern European warfare. She has only one song, “Easily Assimilated,” a silly attempt at seduction, which is a shame. This character had several numbers in the original, including one that actually referred to why she is “missing the half of my backside.” Lavin is a star, but is ill-used here. [more]

The Mikado Reimagined (NYGASP)

January 5, 2017

In keeping with Sullivan having been hit over the head, the cast is clothed in a motley collection: a combination of late Victorian and Japanese styles. Some are in all Japanese, some in all Victorian, most are in a combination of the two. Even the Victorian costumes have baroque additions to make them look exotic. The women all wear Victorian gowns with bustles open in the back just as though they had not finished dressing. The concept while colorful is quite a mess with every possible variation on stage at the same time. [more]

The Tallis Scholars: “A Renaissance Christmas”

December 27, 2016

It was a Tallis-perfect performance. Palestrina has long been one of the most sure-fire dazzling jewels in the Tallis Scholars' treasury. In writing sacred music, Palestrina made his particular kind of beauty – elegance, intellect, decorous sensuality – a kind of theology of mediation, a meeting place for the human and the divine. The Tallis precision of diction and tone and their ability to reveal every rhythmic and melodic nuance in the music they sing make Palestrina marvelous. The bright acoustic features of St. Mary the Virgin provide a wash of light on the singing. [more]

Life is for Living: Conversations with Coward

December 24, 2016

Green’s dry delivery is in the Coward manner, crisp, almost spoken to the music, with impeccable diction. Shrubsole’s accompaniment supports him without ever getting in the way. The most famous song is probably “I Went to a Marvelous Party,” and there are five songs from Coward’s last all-original Broadway musical "Sail Away." However, there are also unfamiliar songs from "After the Ball" (“Something on a Tray”) and" Pacific 1860" (“I Saw No Shadow”), London shows that never made it to Broadway. In addition is “London Pride,” recently heard in the rediscovered post-war musical, "Hoi Polloi." Stand-alone songs include the poignant “There’s No More to Say about Love” and “I Travel Alone.” [more]

Richard Holbrook: “Always December”

December 20, 2016

“The Little Drummer Boy” was an emotionally shattering highlight of Richard Holbrook: "Always December." Mr. Holbrook’s performance of this perennial was revelatory due to the intensity he brought to it. This was performed in tandem with the equally moving “Some Children See Him.” [more]

The New York Pops: “Make the Season Bright”

December 19, 2016

The beautiful wreath and garlands hanging above the stage were festively lit up for the wonderful finale, the “Jingle Jangle Sing-Along.” All of the performers appeared and encouraged the audience to join in for convivial group singing of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” and “Jingle Bells.” [more]
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