Author Archive

Spotted at Keen’s Steakhouse:  New Music evangelist and all-round wild-and-crazy guy Frank J. Oteri hovering with music industry macher Marc Ostrow.  Is there a game-changing new website where classical, jazz and theatrical composers can easily publish and promote their work in the works?  Can you spell ScoreStreet, boys and girls?

Frank wrote two massive pieces recently that you should read if you haven’t already. One is a 8,000 word essay on Beach Boy founder Brian Wilson’s Smile and the other is on John Cage.

That’s frank, brother.

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Hilary Hahn has a really cool new album called  Silfra out today.  Recorded in Iceland with the Düsseldorf-based composer and pianist Volker Bertelmann, who goes by the name Hauschka, the album’s producer is Valgeir Sigurðsson, who normally works with people like Björk and Feist.

The big surprise  is that when Hahn and Hauschka entered the studio for their 10-day session, they hadn’t prepared a note. Almost all of Silfra is the product of improvisation.  If you hurry, you can listen to it free today at NPR.

Hahn and Hauschka recently interviewed each other about the project.  Here’s part 1:

Part 2

Part 3

 

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On Thursday evening, March 26, the New York Philharmonic will debut Marc Neikrug’s Concerto for Orchestra, which was commissioned for the NYPhil last year:

When Alan Gilbert was at Vail with the Philharmonic a couple of summers ago, and Marc Neikrug was Composer in Residence at the Vail Music Festival, they began to discuss the possibility of a commission. The composer thought possibly a wind concerto, but Alan Gilbert said that’s not what he had in mind; he wanted something “with more flash”…something a little more “sparkly.” Neikrug suggested that a concerto for orchestra might fill the bill. Traditional concertos for orchestra (by Bartók, Lutoslawski, for example) tend to highlight sections of the orchestra as virtuoso entities, but rarely pick out individual instruments or players, the way a solo concerto would. By contrast, the present work will build the concerto from multiple layers to show off the Philharmonic: the brilliance of the entire orchestra playing together; sections of the orchestra (e.g., strings, winds, percussion); smaller groups of musicians (a trio of strings, for example); as well as individual players.

You can be there. All you have to do to have a chance to win a pair of tickets is leave a comment below naming a Concerto for Orchestra that is not by Neikrug or Bartok. On Wednesday, I will put all the entries in an empty mayonaise jar from Funk & Wagnall’s porch and pick the winners. I have two pairs.

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The great ones don’t look for music; music finds them.  Ordinary people can learn to play and maybe even perform but the great ones are born with it. They live it…and perfect it. No matter the genre or style,  no matter where they try to hide–even a dirt farm in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas–music finds the kids with the spark and, for better or sometimes worse, it consumes them. And it makes the world a better place for all of us.

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I prefer to say that I consider myself a writer of music more than a composer. I just try to tell stories through the music narrative. I do this in the simplest, almost naive way possible. However, if there is something that leads me when I start writing a piece, it is to avoid communicating something tiring and boring. I want people to find my music sentimental and moving and also, as far as possible, to fancy listening to it again. I am talking about being accessible to the listener and the performers. In other words, I do not write for composers.  –  Jorge Grundman (1961- )

Maybe it’s because I am hopelessly retro or maybe it’s where I am in my life right now but I was blown away by a new CD that drifted in the other day called God’s Sketches by the Brodsky Quartet featuring the work of the Spanish “music writer” Jorge Grundman.  Putting aside the possibility that denying you’re a composer when you write music is probably more pretentious than admitting that you are,  what do we think of this guy?  Is he for real or have I fallen victim to to a New Age claptrap guilty pleasure?

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Igudesman & Joo, Carnegie Hall, April 17

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Help me out here.  A couple of my acquaintance are celebrating their 40th anniversary in New Orleans in a couple of weeks and asked me where they should go for a “special” night of music.  I haven’t been there in years and don’t have a clue but I said I would ask around.  I’m asking around.  Bear in mind that these are folks who think that Al Hirt and Pete Fountain are probably the greatest jazz players who ever lived.  And, I’m guessing that too loud or too grungy would not be good.  Who has some recommendations?

As long as we’re talking Nawlins, there are three–count  ‘em–big Dr. John shows at BAM coming up in April.   And anybody know a piano player/singer from New Orleans (now living in New York) named Brian Mitchell?  Saw him gigging with Levon Helm a few months ago and really liked his stuff.  If you see him, please tell him I’m looking for him.

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I was sitting in the S21 headquarters–Starbucks on 57th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues–sipping a latte and trying to guess which of the several attractive Asian-American women in the room was Sugar Vendil,  founder/artistic director/pianist of The Nouveau Classical Project, when a helpful message popped up on my iPhone:  “I’m the one with the black bowties on my shoes,” it said.   But, of course, I thought, that makes perfect sense.  This is a woman who has been producing three or four concerts a year since 2008 that bring together the unlikely combination of composers, performers and fashion designers  to create performances that are as much fun to look at as they are to listen to.  Of course, she wears bowties on her shoes.

Sugar–a combination of Suzanne and Edgar, her parents’ names–is a 29-year-old Filipino-American from the Bay Area who started playing the piano at 3 1/2 but didn’t get really serious until she heard a classmate playing Lizst’s Hungarian Rhapsodies–the one made famous by Bugs Bunny–at around 6.  She knew immediately it was time to step it up a notch.

“I didn’t have the typical Asian ‘Tiger Mom’ or anything like that,” Sugar says. “My parents were more laid back.  They never pressured me at all.  If I practiced a lot it was because I wanted to practice.  They let me develop at my own pace and I’m was happy for that.”

Sugar arrived in New York in 2001, enrolled at NYU, and settled into life in the music and fashion capitals of the world.  She has posed for fashion shoots herself and admits that “fashionista” is not a term often used to describe most denizens of the new music demimonde where geekiness is often the aspired to look.  But she sees nothing strange about inviting emerging designers to create clothing that matches the music program.

“Music and fashion have always been my passions,” she says.  “I see fashion as simply another way of expressing myself.  The idea of combining classical music with creative clothing may sound a little superficial but it’s really not.  We play serious music at our concerts but the fashion elements add touches of theater and style and  provide some context for the music we’re playing.”

Case in point:  The Nouveau Classical Project’s next concert at Symphony Space  on Thursday, April 5 is a salon event, Wearing the Lost Generation which Sugar describes as a “reimagining the Parisian Avant Garde.”  The musical program is Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor and  the world premiere of Lost Generation, an electro-acoustic work by Trevor Gureckis.  The performers will be wearing music-inspired pieces  by milliner and designer Heidi Lee, who has a reputation for producing “quirky” hats. St-Germain is sponsoring the post show reception with complimentary cocktails.

Like so many young people with vision who come to New York determined to make an impression, Sugar is tireless in her ambitions.  She organizes The Nouveau Classical Project programs, comes up with themes, finds the venues, finds the right designers and composers, selects the programs, and usually does the promotion.  This is not even to mention the rehearsals needed to play professional level concerts in public.   I asked her if with all that she still had time for a personal life.  She assured me that she does.

“I have a boy friend that I’m crazy about and I play a mean game of volleyball,” she says.  With that, she dashed off to tackle Ravel.  Poor man doesn’t have a chance.

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ISSUE Project Room is looking for a Marketing Coordinator to fill a part-time contracted position. The position requires coordination of the website and multiple modes of print, in order to outreach to the community to build audience and membership for ISSUE Project Room’s programs. A large part of the position consists of coordinating marketing materials from the Curatorial and Development staffs, and working directly with the Executive Director to produce the final products. This position is the manager and driver for all marketing projects, therefore, keeping on top of deadlines is essential. In addition, this position plays a key role in meeting ticket sale goals and toward those efforts, strategizes and carries out targeted marketing campaigns. As the Marketing Coordinator is responsible for finalizing content and outreach, excellent copy editing and interpersonal skills, as well as keen sense of ISSUE’s mission and language are required.   Read more

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At a dinner party in the Hamptons attended by your correspondent many years ago, the late and legendary editor Willie Morris averred–this was at a point in the evening when his beverage had been refreshed several times–that “things would have been a lot different if the South had won the war.”  I assumed he was being ironic but the notion came back to me other night during the first of two concerts organized by the Library of Congress in tribute to Dina Koston, a prominent force in DC classical music for many years who died last year and– along with her husband– left the Library an endowment called the Dina Koston and Roger Shapiro Fund for New Music.  The thought  I had:   So,  this is where new music might have gone if there had never been a Terry Riley or Steve Reich or Philip Glass,  if there had been no Internet or cheap recording technologies to allow almost anyone to circumvent the musical “establishment,” if a few of the trains to Princeton had not been diverted to New Haven (to mangle Wallace Stevens), if “high modernism” had prevailed in the marketplace of music ideas the way it did in academia.

Before you academy types pounce, let me be clear that I’m not making a value judgement about “quality” (whatever that is but I know it when I hear it).  The concert, which featured the superb Cygnus Ensemble  playing Dina Koston’s final composition—paired with the short play called Ohio Impromptu by Samuel Beckett that inspired it–a premiere of the endowment’s first commission and several other new pieces, was brilliantly staged and performed and thoroughly entertaining.  (Charles T. Downey has his usual bang-up review here. )

Nor am I suggesting that the living composers whose work was performed at the concert are old-fogeys who never crawled down from Uncle Milton’s knee.  But, several of them were bounced there a few times and their journey into heresy is one of the things that distinguishes their later work. From what little I know about Dina Koston, I’m fairly sure she would have hated Frank Brickle’s Farai un vers (which he calls Neo-Medieval Psychedelia) and David Claman’s Gone for Foreign, both of which are warm, witty and thoroughly non-dogmatic.  Harder to understand was the selection of Mario Davidovsky as the winner of the Koston-Shapiro fund’s first commission.  His Ladino Songs were solid and elegant but the seventy-something winner of the 1971 Pulitzer Prize and many other honors is hardly in need of additional recognition.  (They could have given the award to George Crumb, whose Ancient Voices of Children should have won the 1971 Pulitzer.)

For New Yorkers, the good news is that an extension of the Library of Congress/Cygnus Quartet  program, called Sounding Beckett, will performed here at the Classic Stage Co. on two weekends in the Fall–(Fri-Sun): September 14-16 and 21-23.  Three Beckett pieces will be staged–Ohio Impromptu, Footfalls and Catastrophe–and each will have two new works composed in response to it  commissioned for this occasion by The Dina Koston and Roger Shapiro Fund for New Music.

But, enough music politics.  What surprised me most pleasantly about the visit was what a lively and ambitious concert program the Library of Congress maintains.  Most concerts are staged in the LOC’s Coolidge Auditorium, a comfortable mid-sized venue, that was filled both nights I was there.  Anne McLean, who runs the concert series (with only a couple of people to help), is a warm and generous woman with an empathy for composers. musicians and other lost souls.  She  spotted me alone leaning against a pillar slurping my noodles at the reception, and pegged me for the Sequenza21 publisher and a man who needs a lot of hugs these days.  I really like this woman.

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