Signal plays Reich at Miller Theatre

Opening Night at Miller Theater

Steve Reich Photo: Jeffrey Herman

Steve Reich
Photo: Jeffrey Herman

On September 15, Ensemble Signal, conducted by Brad Lubman, presented an all-Steve Reich program to open the season at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre. There was a sold out crowd, populated both by contemporary music devotees and over 200 Columbia students. Reich turns eighty later this year, and this is one of the many birthday concerts that will fete the composer.


Signal has recorded several albums of Reich’s music, including a 2016 release on Harmonia Mundi that features his Double Sextet and Radio Rewrite, recent works that demonstrate the undiminished energy and invention of their creator. The Miller Theatre concert focused on two sets of “variations,” composed in the prior decade: Daniel Variations (2006) and You Are Variations (2004). The amplified ensemble featured a superlative small complement of singers, a string quintet, a quartet of grand pianos, and a bevy of percussion and wind instruments. They were recording the concert, one hopes for subsequent release.


Daniel Variations is, in terms of instrumentation, the slightly smaller of the two. Alongside the aforementioned piano/percussion group, Reich employs a quartet of vocalists (two sopranos and two tenors, singing in a high tessitura for much of the piece), string quartet, and two clarinets. There are two textual sources for the piece. The first are the words of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who, while reporting on the conflict in Pakistan in 2002, was captured and killed by Islamic extremists. These are offset by quotations from the Book of Daniel, a text from the Old Testament of the Bible. The texts underscore Pearl’s Judaism and also his love of music (he was an amateur string player). Indeed, the last movement of the piece, “I sure hope Daniel likes my music, when the day is done,” is a trope on a Stuff Smith song, “I Sure Hope Gabriel Likes My Music,” found in Pearl’s record collection after his death.


You Are Variations finds Reich exploring texts from his spiritual roots, including Psalm 16, quotes from the Talmud, the Hasidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, and Wittgenstein (Reich’s undergraduate thesis subject). Musical quotes are diverse as well, ranging from L’Homme Arme to a song by James Brown. The harmony is prevailingly in D mixolydian but unorthodox bass progressions and layering often give it a polytonal feel. From where I was sitting, the vocals seemed a little recessed in favor of the winds, something that I am confident can be worked out in subsequent mixing of the projected recording. It still worked live, giving the impression that the singers were sometimes supported by the ensemble and sometimes vying in a struggle for discernment of the weighty texts.


Lubman conducts Reich’s work with the authority of someone who has both an intimate knowledge of the scores and of the formidable musicians at his disposal. Reich seemed to approve. Taking the stage with trademark baseball cap firmly planted on his head, he volubly demonstrated his pleasure to everyone from Lubman to the sound designer. The percussionists, in particular, beamed as they accepted his greetings: they had done right by Reich.

Monday: NYNME features Foss


Monday at the DiMenna Center, New York New Music Ensemble presents a program of works by Lukas Foss (1922-2009). Lukas (with whom I studied in the 90s when I was at BU) was a man of many musical talents with a near-omnivorous interest in a host of musical styles. Rather than try to present a comprehensive portrait of them all (a tall order in a single evening!), NYNME will focus on pieces from the mid-sixties through the mid-eighties, the period during which he was in his most experimental phase. In Echoi (1963), Foss made use of vast swaths of serial-inspired charts – there are pictures of them taking up whole walls of his studio. However, his performance directions add a measure of postmodern theatricality and there’s more than a bit of aleatory at work too. These seemingly disparate elements come together in a piece that is a masterful melange. Paradigm (1968), is more ebulliently chaotic still. Incorporating clangorous percussion and vociferous shouts alongside quasi-rock riffs from electric guitar, it channels more than a bit of the cultural and political revolutions afoot in the year of its composition.

Rendezvous - Tashi

Solo Observed (1982), began its life as a virtuosic solo piano piece, Solo, which found Foss experimenting with minimalism and maximalism at the same time. Solo Observed (1982, in versions for both orchestra and chamber ensemble), adds additional instruments, who observe, comment on, and sometimes even obstruct the pianist’s solo. The last work on the program, Tashi (1986), written for the star-studded chamber ensemble of the same name, is one of my favorite of Foss’s chamber works. Abundantly virtuosic and sumptuously harmonically varied, it is one of the best syntheses of the various styles and varied materials that fascinated Foss. Hunt down Rendezvous, the group’s 1989 recording on which it appears. Better yet, catch it live tonight.


In One Week: Recital in Princeton

Christian Carey recital postcard

Emerged: A Recital of Compositions by Christian Carey

Christian Carey headshot

Saturday, September 28th at 2 PM

Prince of Peace Church,

Princeton Junction, NJ

Free Event

Performed by:

Righteous Girls

(Gina Izzo, flute; Erika Dohi, piano)


(Jeffrey Gavett, baritone, Carlos Cordeiro, bass clarinet,

Andy Kozar, trumpet, Will Lang, trombone)

Peter Jarvis, drum set

Sara Noble, soprano

Megan Ihnen, mezzo soprano

Carl Patrick Bolleia, piano

Zheng Yuan, viola

Natalie Spehar, cello


Prayer  (2011)    loadbang

3 Bagatelles (2006)    Righteous Girls

“He Wishes for the

Cloths of Heaven” (2009)   Megan Ihnen and Zheng Yuan

3 Flourishes (2008)            Gina Izzo

Solo for piano  (2013)            Erika Dohi   (World Premiere)

“Fuller Brush Music”    (2010)             Peter Jarvis

“Blue Symphony” (2013)   Sara Noble & Carl Patrick Bolleia

Two Miniatures  (2012)    Carl Patrick Bolleia

“Gloss on Guston”

“Fiery Sunset”

3 Kenyon Settings  (2009)    Megan Ihnen and Natalie Spehar

For Milton   (2011)     Righteous Girls

Friday and Saturday: JACK and Bermel at IAS

Composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel is coming to the end of his term as artist-in-residence at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. This Spring, he’s curating several concerts that assure he’ll be fondly remembered. This Friday and Saturday, he is joined by JACK Quartet for a concert featuring Ligeti’s Second String Quartet,  Brahms’Clarinet Quintet, Bermel’s Ritornello and a new piece by Bermel:  A Short History of the Universe (as related by Nima Arkani-Hamed). I’ve been told that events on the concert series frequently sell out, so if you are planning on attending order in advance!


Friday: Miranda at Mannes

Miranda Cuckson

It is no secret that violinist, violist, and sometime vocalist Miranda Cuckson is one of File Under ?’s favorite contemporary music performers on the New York scene. An excerpt of her recent Nono recording can be heard on our December Mix (see embed below).

Miranda has started a new non-profit music presenting organization called nunc. On Friday at Mannes College of Music, nunc has its maiden voyage. Miranda is joined on an 8 pm concert by mandolinist Joseph Brent, percussionist Alex Lipowski, bassoonist Adrian Morejon, mezzo Mary Nessinger, and pianists Matei Varga and Ning Yu. The program includes music by Michael Hersch, Charles Wuorinen, Iannis Xenakis, Georges Aperghis, Sofia Gubaidulina, and more.

You can read read Miranda’s program notes here. Admission is free.


File Under ? December 2012 Mix by Christian Carey on Mixcloud

Q2 Elicits Your Feedback!

Q2, The online “Living Music, Living Composers” arm of New York’s classical radio station WQXR (105.9 FM) is requesting some feedback from its listeners. Their Listener Survey (available online here), subtitled “Help Us Serve You!”, provides Q2 listeners with an opportunity to let the station know what’s working and what you would like to see changed. Please take a few minutes and let the good folks at Q2 know that you’re out there listening with discerning ears and an appetite for more contemporary classical listening fare.

Monday: Transatlantic Ensemble at Steinway Hall

It is a bit of a dreary looking day in New York. One way to enliven one’s spirits: a free concert after work! Translatlantic Ensemble, which features clarinetist Mariam Adam (also of Imani Winds) and pianist Evelyn Ulex, will be performing at Steinway Hall tonight at  7 PM (doors open at 6:30).

The program will include music from Transatlantic Ensemble’s new CD, Crossing America (Eroica JDT 3469). including works by Paquito D’Rivera and Jeff Scott.  After the hour long concert concludes, meet the artists at a reception. New music in a lovely setting and a free nosh afterwards? Sounds like a cure for January Monday blahs.


Sunday: LPR Celebrates Carter

Tonight at 7:30 at Le Poisson Rouge, cellist Fred Sherry, soprano Tony Arnold, pianist Ursula Oppens, and several other estimable performers known for their interpretations of Elliott Carter’s music join Ensemble LPR to celebrate and remember the composer. The program includes the song cycle Tempo e Tempi and the Quintet for Piano and Strings.

Tickets/more info here.

Soldier Songs at Prototype

David T. Little’s opera Dog Days got a lot of buzz for its 2012 production in Montclair, NJ. Little’s 2006 opera Soldier Songs will be presented tonight through 1/18 as part of the Prototype showcase of recent operas.

Brooklyn Vegan has an interview with Little here. Also check out the embedded video trailer below.


PROTOTYPE Festival 2013 – David T. Little’s Soldier Songs from PROTOTYPE Festival on Vimeo.