So I happened to be in the city over the weekend and didn’t have any interviews or other meetings today, so I figured “Hey, I’ve got a laptop…why not liveblog the Bang on a Can Marathon over at the World Financial Center? One press pass and sweet front row seat later, and here I am. I’m not sure if I’l be insane enough to make it to midnight, but I’ll try to give y’all a sense of as much of the festivities as I can. Started in 1987 by David Lang, Julia Wolfe, and Michael Gordon, the Marathon has turned into one of the biggest new music events in the country. I’ve never liveblogged anything before, so this should be interesting! I’ll keep the rest of the posts under the break so as to not take up a huge amount of space – if you have time and in the NYC area, come on down – it’s free, you can come and go as you’d like, and I’ll be in the front on the corner if you want to say hi!
10:50am. Just saw Asphalt Orchestra walking out their “march” right in front of me…have wanted to see these guys for quite some time and now they’ll be in my lap.
11:00. Not very many concerts ask you to go outside first, but here we are in the courtyard watching Asphalt Orchestra playing one of their opening numbers [update: Carlton by STEW and Heidi Rodewald]. The tourists who are here visiting are getting a real treat…watching Alex Hamlin blow a solo while running around the sousaphone player demonstrates how much fun they’re having.
11:10. Asphalt is now wandering away from the audience as they start the second piece (program’s inside, I’ll update titles in a sec – this one is the Yoko Ono work [update: Opus 81] she wrote for them last year)…everyone scatters to different areas of the courtyard, in the middle of the audience, etc…the light squealing of the revolving doors sounds like seagulls and adds to the subdued nature of the work. First long tones, then a skittering group improv, then a long succession of percussion hits and finally a long crescendo bring the work to a close…this is much more than just a marching band, folks.
11:20. Now they’ve led everyone back inside to a rousing rendition of…something funky. Carl Stalling would have loved it.
11:25. Bagpiper Matthew Welch is performing the 1st & 3rd movements of his work The Self and The Other with the Queens College Percussion Ensemble. Welch describes this work as taking its’ inspiration from Indonesian Gamelan, and the result works surprisingly well; the bagpipes’ nasal quality sounds very similar to indigenous reed instruments from Southeast Asia, so if you closed your eyes you would have a hard time recognizing the anachronism. The ensemble is capably under the direction of Michael Lipsey and the student performers are performing the intricate work quite well.
11:50. Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz has brought her flutist husband Alejandro Escuer to BOAC to give the NY premiere of her solo work Códigos secretos. Based in Mexico City, her works and talents are gradually being recognized here in the States. Beginning with a rhythmically complex barrage of key clicks, pops and overblown wind noises, the work bursts into a curiously-flavored lyrical passage that is accompanied with some of the tastiest electro-acoustic I’ve heard to date (and more or less in good balance with the flute – bass end is a bit much, but it’s a huge hall/mall we’re in, so maybe they’re trying to compensate). Escuer is a first-rate flutist and gives a very natural performance to the work.
12:00. Anthony Gatto’s Portrait of Eva Hesse is performed behind the audience by the Queens College Percussion Ensemble again with the professional group Iktus Percussion. Just when you thought it was just going to be drums, out comes the brake drums and gamelan-like metalliphones – lots of sound, lots of color…a very dramatic work. Percussion ensembles should check this one out…but make sure y’all have a LARGE hall, ’cause it’s freakin’ loud…
12:10. JACK Quartet, this generation’s answer to the Arditti Quartet, gives a heartfelt rendition of Richard Ayres‘ Three Small Pieces for String Quartet. The second movement is kicking my ass….parallel lines a half-step apart fly on top of ostinati. Third movement is a tongue-in-cheek jig/waltz/freak-out…I wish I had written this. Strike what I said before…this generation’s answer to Kronos may be more apropos. The turn-on-a-dime performance was spot on.
12:25. Waiting for the Prism Saxophone Quartet to start performing…must give huge props to Christina Jensen for allowing me to hide my luggage so I don’t have to deal with it today. Thanks, Christina!
12:30. Kati Agócs is a fantastic composer who just started teaching at the New England Conservatory a few years ago and has been getting noticed all over the place as of late. Prism is performing a work of hers, Hymn, that they just released on their new album “Breath Beneath“…slowly unfolding, Hymn shows off the dynamic range of the quartet in a short but powerful work.
12:40. Word to the wise…if you want to come watch for a long time, bring your own chair. I’m pretty sure these folding chairs are against the Geneva Convention…
12:45. Violinist Todd Reynolds has been a mainstay on the new music scene for a very long time and has been focusing on works for solo violin and electronics for several years. His work Transamerica is a world premiere today; Reynolds wrote this work in collaboration with the DJ artist Kid Beyond and it’s found on his new CD Transamerica. A complex layering of loops from both Beyond (pre-recorded) and Reynolds (live), the work kicks into high gear from the get-go. Col legno-with-a-pencil effects contrast nicely with traditional fiddle techniques all on top of raucous DJ loops. I’m liking this a lot, but the kickdrum is a bit loud and overbalances the violin at times…it’s tough to tell whether or not that’s intended or not in this room.
12:55. What do you follow up the Reynolds’ hard-rockin’ violin-with-electronics piece with? Xenakis, of course. Prism comes back and performs his seminal 1987 work Xas, known throughout the saxophone world as one of the most challenging works in the quartet repertoire.
12:57. I’m sure I’ll mention this throughout the day, but it’s fun watching the reaction of folks who are just walking through the mall complex when they’re suddenly presented with something like Xenakis.
12:59. Multiphonics on a baritone saxophone. Some things just make you smile…
1:03. The orchestration books will tell you that the saxophone has a range of 2 1/2 octaves. These guys are so fluent in the altissimo register that they need to re-write the books.
1:08. An Italian new music ensemble performing works by British & American composers up next.
1:10 Glenn Branca just walked by. More about him later tonight (and I thought it had already been loud…)
1:20 Sentieri Selvaggi is presenting works by Michael Nyman and Michael Daugherty…two composers rarely paired up together. Love Always Counts is a work that uses material from an opera by Nyman entitled Love Counts that deals with Love and Mathematics that Nyman put together for this ensemble – an updated version of the Nyman music I’m used to from earlier periods, this is a nice bouncy piece that most Pierrot+Perc ensembles should be able to easily add to their repertoires.
1:29. Michael Daugherty introduces his work Sinatra Shag by alerting us to the quotation of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walking. This piece is pure Daugherty, with a similar 1960’s feel that he incorporates into Dead Elvis and other works, complete with maniacal violin solos (he does love some violin from time to time). Sentieri Selvaggi performs both Nyman and Daugherty works with the right amount of technical finesse and musical freedom…one of many new discoveries for today.
1:35. Roshanne Etezady just took a picture of the audience from the stage. If you’re in the room, tag yourself on Facebook. Go ahead…I’ll wait.
1:45. Prism returns for a third time to perform Roshanne’s beautiful work Keen…she’s not afraid to single out soloists within the quartet and weave a canonic texture into something living & breathing. Fine performance by what’s got to be one of the best quartets in the world today…have never got to hear ‘em live before and I’m very glad I did today.
2:00. Sentieri Selvaggi comes back and introduces the audience to three new works by Italian composers. Fillippo Del Corno’s Risvegliatevi!, Mauro Montalbetti’s Brightness and Carlo Boccadoro’s Zingiber all show off the talents of this ensemble…Del Corno’s grooves contrasted nicely with Montalbetti’s lush and subtle soundscapes, while Boccadoro’s playful romp through the countryside (with many cowbells, natch) ended the trifecta nicely.
2:10. Asphalt Orchestra comes down both escalators on either side of the stage…sweet! Just performed two newer works – one by David Byrne & Annie Clark (Two Ships) and Thomas Mapfuno (Ngoma Yekwedu). You. Must. Check. Them. Out.
2:25. Next up: The All-Stars.
2:27. Composer Christine Southworth asks everyone to go to the website pooch.es as they listen to Concerning the Doodle by the Bang on a Can All-Stars.
2:31. Evan Ziporyn has a wind controller…more to come.
2:41. Not sure what to make of Southworth’s piece yet…it’s gone in several directions, each one interesting but not sure exactly how they relate. Asks pianist Vicki Chow and cellist Ashley Bathgate to sing while playing…and guitarist Derek Johnson to get all Peter Frampton-y. Pretty cool stuff.
2:52. Kudos to the folks who re-booted the network server…much better now.
2:56. Currently listening to O Shut Your Eyes Against The World by longtime BOAC collaborator Bryce Dessner…nore singing (not lyrical stuff, just textural) from Chow again…slowly evolving harmonic palettes over a constant 8th-note ostinato rhythm. Some balance issues again…so far the acoustic+electronic/amplified works are not faring as well as the strictly acoustic. I’d heard this is a hard room to work sound in, but I’m not sure it’s the room…
3:40. Next up – Young People’s Chorus of New York City with Maya Beyser on cello, Payton MacDonald on tabla and the composer of the work Hijaz by Michael Harrison, on a digital piano that’s been adjusted into just intonation.
3:43. Young soprano and cello in octaves. Yumba.
3:47. Sumptuous piece by Harrison…the just intonation gives it a bit of an other-worldly quality without being distracting, and the choir is amazing. Hearing Beyser live for the first time was reason enough to come to the marathon…awesome. Having the choir voice the tabla syllables was a great touch.
3:53. By the way, the YPC is under the damn fine direction of Francisco Nuñez. #concertprogramfail
4:01. 1/2 of the guitar quartet Dither, Taylor Levine and James Moore are performing a new work by David Lang entitled warmth. It’s a duet in the sense that there are two instruments playing, but they’re both playing the same line, so as Lang says, the interest lays in how the lines stay together and diverge naturally. Interesting concept…will have to chew on that one for a bit…
4:07. Someone’s gonna have to do some ponderin’ on the electric guitar as a concert instrument (I’m sure they have, I’m just sayin’…)
4:10. Next up – two great sounds that sound great together. JACK Quartet and the Young People’s Choir of NYC performing a work by Michael Gordon.
4:30. After waiting 20 minutes for the internet to get working again, now I can tell you how good that was. Small amount of material, but huge creative use of such…extremely powerful work, with choir parts easily sung (and masterfully performed) by the children’s choir, and intense string parts for the quartet. Woof.
4:40. Athelas Wind Quintet with the accordionist Frode Andersen giving the US premiere of a new work Songs and Rhapsodies by Poul Ruders up next.
4:45. Not at all what I was expecting…very slow moving chords at first, within which the accordion (technically a Bayan) blended extremely well with the rest of the winds, giving it an organ-like flavor. When things started to pick up, the work ran off in several different directions, but it all came across well. One can’t help but focus on the bayan within the ensemble, but it was never distracting, just such a new and unique combination of colors…if you don’t know this Danish ensemble, you should (they have a new CD coming out on Bridge soon that features this Ruders work).
5:04. Something you will rarely see: A woodwind quintet being conducted…by an accordion player.
5:13. And now, some Zappa love from the Asphalt Orchestra in the back of the house. They’re using the space quite well today…
5:21. Getting Bjork’s Hyper Ballad full-frontal like (Asphalt Orchestra 5 feet in front of you)…and here they end with Goran Bregovic’s Champagne. Nice moves, wonderful arrangements…hopefully they can rest now after a long day o’ playing.
5:31. Talea’s up in five minutes…which is technically 25 minutes ahead of schedule. Curious how many folks are timing their attendance to catch certain groups…hopefully not too many.
5:39. And now I find out that the next piece, Index of Metals, Fausto Romitelli’s last work before he passed away about 10 years ago, is gonna be an hour long. Luckily, soprano Tony Arnold is singing in it, so hours will seem like minutes.
5:47. Talea Ensemble’s sounding good tonight…I’m curious what relationship they have with Romitelli (they played his Professor Bad Trip at last year’s marathon).
5:55. Definition of an optimist = a composer who scores a work with an electric guitar, electric bass, and a bass flute.
6:06: From Romitelli’s bio on the Casa Ricordi website:
In his last work, ‘An Index of Metals’ (2003), the musical experimentation and literary suggestions that accompanied his real-surreal approach to compositional work were fulfilled in a grand abstract narration. Based on the “desire to create a total perceptive experience, uniting with the musical aspect its visual double to immerse the spectator in an incandescent, enveloping material”, this work was conceived by Romitelli as “an initiatory celebration of the metamorphosis and fusion of matter, a light show, in which an extension of the perception of the self beyond the physical limits of the body is provoked by means of techniques of transference and fusion in an alien material. It is a path towards perceptive saturation and hypnosis, one of total alteration of the habitual sensorial parameters.”
6:11. Tony Arnold…has a megaphone. And she’s ready to use it. Hide the chillun’s…
6:24. The constant bombardment of sound and music is makin’ my brain a little mushy, but this piece is one of those that as soon as you think you’re going to shut down, it throws you another curveball and your interest is piqued again.
6:30. There’s something poetic of a big chamber ensemble sitting for 2 minutes listening to guitar feedback die away…
6:36. I’m going to apologize ahead of time…I doubt I’ll be able to make it to midnight or even to 8pm…hunger, my back, and too many friends may win out.