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Introducing Syzygy

SyzygyIn a city like New York, with so many first-rate musicians moving to town every year to try to “make it,” promising new chamber ensembles spring up all the time, and I think this is a great thing.  One of 2009’s most promising new groups was the Syzygy New Music Collective, which gave their debut concert at St. Anthony of Padua church, in the West Village, on December 4th.

Founded by Jessica Salzinski and Danielle Schwob, two composers who recently graduated from NYU, Syzygy is dedicating itself to the presentation of music by young and emerging composers, and indeed most of the music on the concert was by composers I hadn’t heard of.  After the concert I overheard them encouraging some composers from the audience to send them scores and recordings, and their website includes detailed information on sending submissions.

The concert was very enjoyable.  All of the performances were solid, and I liked most of the pieces.  The reverberant acoustics of the church served some pieces better than others, but that’s a pretty common problem. The acoustics were especially well suited for Angelica Negron‘s meditative “Technicolor” for harp and electronics.  Conrad Winslow‘s chilled-out (or did it only seem that way because of the space?) “Slippery Music” did a remarkably good job of integration live acoustic instruments and an electronic tape part.  Noam Feingold‘s violin/cello duet “A Knife in the Water” meandered attractively across its modernist landscape.  Jessica Salzinski‘s impressive “Piano Sonata No. 1″ was a bit muddied by the acoustics, but it came across well anyway.  The usually sweet sound of flute, harp, and vibraphone was somehow given a satisfyingly dark or even slightly ominous edge in Danielle Schwob‘s “Shiver.”  And Syzygy cunningly programmed a lovely Nico Muhly piece at the end of the concert.

I say “cunningly” because they attracted an impressively large audience for a first ever performance by a new-music group.  Part of that may have been the appeal of the Muhly name.  But I don’t want to diminish the other strategies they employed.  First, to fund the concert they raised money through kickstarter.  They then leveraged all of the other social media tools at their disposal, and it all worked.  This marketing savvy is in some ways the most promising thing about the group.  It’s one thing to put together a good ensemble and program and deliver a strong concert, but to stand out requires a business savvy that evidence suggests Syzygy posesses.

Syzygy’s next performance will be April 22nd, at the Nabi Gallery on West 25th street.


Comment from Christian
Time: January 10, 2010, 7:43 pm


Thanks for this – eager to hear them next time out!

Does the group seem to have a preferred style spectrum or was their programming stylistically diverse?

Comment from David
Time: January 11, 2010, 8:38 am

Sounds like a great ensemble. Rice University calls their new music ensemble Syzygy as well, though. Personally I’m hoping for a new music cage match: best performance gets to keep the name.

Comment from L. Kalman
Time: January 11, 2010, 10:15 am

Quick question… were you at the concert? I agree that the group has tremendous potential, but having seen this concert (a month ago, why is this appearing now?), Syzygy is more of a diamond in the rough at the moment. Very excited to see how it goes, though. I also remember the program having more pieces than you listed.

Comment from Symphonic Voyages
Time: January 11, 2010, 1:11 pm

What a nice introduction to the group. Will need to add Syzygy to my listen to list for 2010. Thanks!

Comment from Galen
Time: January 11, 2010, 1:42 pm

L. Kalman– Yes, I was at the concert, and I feel terrible about delaying my review this long. My schedule was getting crazy with some other projects (plus the holiday season) and I didn’t have a chance to write it up until now. I figured better late than never, but I’m sure I would have been able to do a better job a day or two after, and I regret that.

Christian– The program was relatively stylistically diverse. Nico Muhly’s piece was the most Downtowney, a couple others were firmly in the high modernist tradition, and others were somewhere in between. None of the electronics were live processing, but that was probably just the nature of this program–they’re clearly very comfortable with electronics.

Comment from L. Kalman
Time: January 12, 2010, 10:40 pm

Sorry… I asked if you were there because some of the performances were very weak, you did exclude pieces that were in the program. That church was a blessing as it covered the catastrophes (and musical ideas) so the incoherent mess was muddled.

There were some high points, specifically a piece I think was based on Alice in Wonderland, but some other parts were really self-indulgent and masturbatory. My only other criticism was the it was a 25 person audience, almost exclusively friends of the composers – thus stating there was an “impressively large audience” was misleading