New Amsterdam kicks off 2011 Fundraiser

New Amsterdam Presents 2011 Funding Drive from New Amsterdam Records on Vimeo.

New Amsterdam Records started its 2011 Fundraiser today.


In addition to giving listeners the opportunity to contribute to the continuing vitality of an imaginative imprint, NewAm is also offering free downloads. Every day from December 5-9, a different release from their catalog will be available for free download. Below is an embed of today’s offering: Sarah Kirkland Snider’s beguiling Penelope.

Too Many Shows (Zombie-clone reviewers frowned upon)

Once again, we find ourselves in the thick of things. The New York concert season is reaching a fever pitch of pre-holiday season intensity, in which presenters and ensembles try to get their programs heard before the inevitable onslaught of Messiahs, Nutcrackers, tree-lighting ceremonies, and caroling elbows its way to the forefront of New York’s calendar of musical events – ready or not. While we can’t be in two places at once (I still think Steve Smith has a magic ring that enables this power!), hopefully between the various new music enthusiasts in the Sequenza 21 community’s NYC cadre, we can support these “hot tickets.”

Tom Cipullo's The Husbands in Rehearsal

11/4 at 8 PM at Weill Recital Hall: Opera Shorts 2011

The third annual installment of the Remarkable Theater Brigade’s Opera Shorts program is this Friday. These mini-operas – ten minutes or less – are an emerging composer’s dream: a chance to hear a brief slice of their work on the stage. But Opera Shorts draws some heavy hitters to the mini-opera game as well. The 2011 installment features works by prominent songsters Jake Heggie, William Bolcom, and Tom Cipullo, as well as emerging creators Marie Incontrera, Mike McFerron, Davide Zannoni, Anne Dinsmore Phillips, Patrick Soluri, and Christian McLeer. Given the length of that list, it’s lucky that none of them have Wagnerian ambitions — this time out at least!

11/4 at 8 PM on the water: Bennett Brass at Bargemusic

Can’t decide whether you’d prefer an evening of early music or present day fare? Bennett Brass (trumpeters Andy Kozar and Ben Grow, hornist Alana Vegter, trombonist Will Lang, and tubist Matt Muszynski) has got you covered. Friday night at Bargemusic, they are presenting a program that works with both of the venue’s series: ‘Here and Now’ and “There and Then.’ The latter is represented by a Rameau suite  and Elgar’s Serenade for Strings (but this time arranged for … you guessed it … brass!).  Among the more recent music is Fanfare for All by the Dean of Dodecaphony: Milton Babbitt. His compositional antipode John Cage is also on the bill, as are some still-living figures: Ted Hearne, Nick Didkovsky, and Dan Grabois.

BoaC. Photo: Pascal Perich and Julien Jourdes

11/5 at 9 PM at Zankel Hall: Bang on a Can’s 25th NYC season opener!

BoaC celebrates 25 years of gigging in New York City with a show at a ‘modest’ venue – Zankel, the theater downstairs at Carnegie Hall! The centerpiece of the show is the New York premiere of Louis Andriessen’s Life with film by Marijke Van Warmerdam (postponed from a previous season due to that unpronounceable volcano in Iceland). There’s also David Lang’s sunray,  Michael Gordon’s for MadelineKate Moore’s Ridgeway, three pieces commissioned by Bang on a Can from David Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors (Instructional VideoMatt DamonBreakfast at J&M), and Lukas Ligeti’s Glamour Girl. The concert serves as a live preview of the All-Stars’ first studio album in five years: a two-CD set titled Big Beautiful Dark and Scary (out January 2012 on Cantaloupe Music). Ticket info is here, but we’ll let you in on a nice perk for early attendees: the first 200 to arrive get a free drink at the Zankel Bar!

Gorecki. Photo: ©Gerry Hurkmans

11/8 at 7:30 at Le Poisson Rouge: IN MEMORIAM HENRYK MIKOŁAJ GÓRECKI
Seems like yesterday, but it’s been a year since Gorecki’s passing. To commemorate the first anniversary of his death, the Polish Cultural Institute is hosting a concert at Le Poisson Rouge on Tuesday. The program includes Kleines Requiem für Eine Polka (1993), performed by Ensemble Signal, conducted by Brad Lubman,  as well as JACK Quartet playing the 2nd SQ (“quasi una fantasia,” 1991).
It’s a free show so long as you email rsvp to gorecki@lprnyc.com.

Happy 75th Birthday Steve Reich!

Steve Reich in 2011. Photo: Jay Blakesberg

Steve Reich turns 75 today. One of the premiere maestros of minimalism continues to dazzle us with thought-provoking and musically moving creations.

This morning, I introduced some of my undergraduate BA students to Reich, playing excerpts from Piano Phase, Music for 18 Musicians, and Different Trains. Some of them were unfamiliar with his music, but one student piped up,”What about Four Sections? I like that one too!”

If our students, particularly our student musicians, are picking out favorites and learning to perform Reich’s music, that is indeed a promising sign for the future of his works. As a small online musical offering, below are three student performances of Reich. The first is the trailer for Grand Valley State University’s Music for 18 Musicians recording. It was released a couple years ago, but has remained in heavy rotation in these parts! The second is an excerpt of Six Marimbas by students at the University of Kentucky. The third I’ve shared before, but can’t resist posting again: a pianist playing both parts of Piano Phase - at once!

And, just for my morning class, a video of a dance performance of Four Sections.

So Percussion plays Steve Mackey (Video)

So Percussion

Steve Mackey: IT IS TIME

Cantaloupe CD/DVD

CA21076

RELEASED: 09/27/11

So Percussion’s latest recording (a CD/DVD set) is out this week on Cantaloupe.

IT IS TIME features the music of Steve Mackey. Mackey decided to make a four movement suite in which each movement serves as a “mini-concerto” for a different member of So Percussion. In addition to solo turns, there’s also plenty of formidably scored ensemble interactions. The piece has a diverse instrumentation, employing found objects, traditional instruments, metronomes, and more exotic components such as steel drums.

Indeed, it seems to include everything but the kitchen sink (as evidenced by the video below!). One is glad that the package includes a DVD, as this is a piece that is a feast for the eyes as well as a bedazzling battery for the ears.

IT IS TIME is a meditation on the ephemeral nature of our existence. The fleet-footed passage of time is underscored by its metronomic pulse-driven memento mori. But rather than allowing this trope to become too melancholic, Mackey instead chooses an affirmative celebration of polyrhythmic activity, underscored by So Percussion’s ebullient virtuosity.

MP3: Steel Drums

Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11 (CD Review)

Revised cover artwork for Reich's new CD

Steve Reich

WTC 9/11, Mallet Quartet, Dance Patterns

Nonesuch CD

Now that we’ve gotten the cover art discussion out of the way – and Nonesuch has acquiesced to the concerns of those who felt the artwork exploitative and inflammatory – let’s consider the music on Steve Reich’s latest recording.

An interest found throughout Steve Reich’s output concerns spoken word recordings, which he has employed in a number of pieces, from his early phase compositions to his most recent multimedia works. One of his watershed pieces from the 1980s, “Different Trains,” was written for the Kronos Quartet.  It juxtaposes spoken word recordings detailing train travel in the US in the 1940s (Reich was frequently traveling from coast to coast to visit his estranged parents) with spoken word accounts of the treatment of deported victims of the Holocaust in transit to concentration camps.

“WTC 9/11” (2011), also for Kronos, employs similarly emotionally charged taped material, this time referencing the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers. Scored for three quartets (using overdubs), field recordings, and electronics, the piece’s outer sections are propelled by the jarring sound of a telephone’s “dead wire” signal, and also incorporate alarmed shouts of air traffic controllers and emergency first-responders. These are woven into the gestural fabric of the quartet’s music, which outlines each utterance with a melodic motif. Also incorporated are snippets of 2009 interviews with lower Manhattan residents, recalling their reactions to the tragedy and reflecting on how it has changed them.

The central passage is particularly evocative: the voices of Jewish officiants chanting and singing psalms over the remains of victims in the months following 9/11 interweaves with angst-filled sustained passages of string writing. One wishes that this area of the piece had been allowed more time to develop and register. Instead, Reich cuts it short, returning to the pensive and dramatically charged material of the opening to close out the work in portentous fashion.

In comparing it to its predecessor Different Trains, I would say that this piece takes a similar approach to the treatment of material. That said, its affect is entirely different. At around fifteen minutes long, “WTC 9/11” is a terser utterance than one might imagine as a response to an event with such far-reaching consequences. But in so crafting it, Reich has recaptured some of the blunt force trauma to our nation’s psyche in the days following the initial event. He’s also avoided some of the overt sentimentality that other artworks commemorating 9/11 have been unwilling to forgo.  It is this quality that gives “WTC 9/11” a potent dramatic heft that, though jarring at times, proves taut and unflinchingly eloquent.

Rhythmic drive and insistent pulsation underpin most of Reich’s music. A signature aspect of his style is the incorporation of polyrhythms, which he learned from his studies of African drumming. Reich has created a number of pieces for percussion ensembles or featuring percussion as a strong component. But the Mallet Quartet (2009) is a nod towards the continuing evolution of pitched percussion instruments; it’s his first work to incorporate the largest member of the mallet family: the five-octave marimba. Two of these populate the piece with layers of ostinato repetitions and thrumming, resonant bass thwacks. Meanwhile, two vibraphones supply shimmering chords and sustained lines. The piece juxtaposes these forces of wood and metal, pulsation and sustain, demonstrating that these two instruments can provide abundant variety and color. Engaging in nimble interplay, So Percussion’s rendition of this piece is informed by their years-long association with Reich’s music; they’ve also release an excellent rendition of his earlier work Drumming. When I saw them perform Mallet Quartet live at Carnegie Hall, they did so from memory. This intimate and comprehensive knowledge of the piece is reflected in its authoritative recording.

Reich himself appears, as part of the Steve Reich and Musicians ensemble, in the recording of Dance Patterns (2002). It was originally written for Ictus to accompany Thierry de Mey’s film Counterphrases of Anne Terese de Keersmaeker’s Choreography. Here, mallet instruments are joined by pianos. While the limpid counterpoint and fulsome polyrhythms found in the Mallet Quartet prevails here, the addition of concert grands adds richness to the harmonies; some of the piano writing takes on a positively jazzy cast. Vibrant and accessible, it may not be a watershed work like his pieces for Kronos, but it’s the perfect way to introduce Reich to a new audience. Maybe a passel of foreign film buffs will catch the minimalist bug!

Michael Gordon’s Sad Park recorded by Kronos

The Sad Park EP

Kronos Quartet; Michael Gordon, composer

iTunes-only DL

Michael Gordon’s musical reflection on 9/11, The Sad Park, is an interesting variant on another piece written for the Kronos Quartet to commemorate the terror attacks: Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11. Gordon’s source material is culled from spoken word recordings made by the teacher of his son’s Pre-K class: responses to the attacks as seen through the eyes of innocents.

But whereas Reich used taped voices of first responders and spoken-word reflections of its aftermath as recognizable, harrowing, landmarks, Gordon eschews using source recordings in an overtly referential, or even recognizable manner. Instead, with the assistance of composer Luke Dubois, they are digitally sculpted into ghostly apparitions; distorted to blur the excerpts’ message in favor of allowing their impact to operate on an emotive and sonic, rather than textual, level. Surrounded  by quartet writing in the post-minimal ostinato manner, as well as sustained, siren-like lines that form a kind of keening, mournful refrain, The Sad Park is an unsettling threnody.

It’s interesting to note that in NPR’s 9/6 blog post about The Sad Park, the responses in the comments section diverge widely. Some feel that it is an affecting piece, while others pillory its use of children’s responses as exploitative. I guess one can engender controversy without inflammatory cover art.

Composer Michael Gordon

The Apple doesn’t fall far from the Timber

Tonight at 7 PM at the Apple Store on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Mantra Percussion performs Michael Gordon’s Timber, a work for six percussionists playing 2″x4″s. The event celebrates Cantaloupe’s release of a CD of Slagwerk den Haag’s performance of Timber (which I reviewed yesterday on File Under ?).
Don’t you love the one pound wooden box they’ve packaged the CD in? Don’t you love saying Slagwerk den Haag three times fast?

Below is a video with more information about the piece, including interviews with performers and the composer. If you’re in NYC and want to beat the heat, check out an iPad, and hear six percussionists knock wood, amble on over to Apple tonight.

Who needs a jewel case when you’ve got Timber?

Michael Gordon
Timber
Slagwerk Den Haag
Cantaloupe Music

For his latest recording for the Cantaloupe imprint, Michael Gordon chose an unusual and cohesively elemental instrumental palette. The percussionists of Slagwerk Den Haag use only one kind of instrument: simantras – 2″X4″s – carved to different sizes to correspondingly vary the indefinite pitch and timbre. Given this winnowed orchestration, one might imagine that the results are monochromatic. Timber is anything but.

Instead, listeners are treated to an astonishing array of playing techniques, from a pitter patter of ricocheting attacks resembling rain fall to passages that accelerate and slow down to thunderous unison thwacks. Gordon’s penchant for polyrhythms and rhythmic canons keeps the musical textures varied and buoys a fascinating narrative that remains instense throughout the piece’s fifty-five minute long duration.

Not only is this release musically pleasing, it’s easily one of the coolest packaging designs for a CD we’ve seen in a while. Instead of a jewel case, the CD and liner notes are packed in a wooden box -that weighs about a pound! Seeing performance details carved into the side of a wooden box is much for aesthetically pleasing and, I’d imagine, environmentally friendly, than plastic tray inserts.

Avant Cellist’s Ideas Worth Spreading (Video)

Maya Beiser, everyone’s favorite ex-Can Banging All Star downtown cellist, was an invited presenter at the March 2011 TED conference. The TED site recently released a high quality video of her lecture recital, and it’s already garnered over 80,000 views!

TED’s slogan: “Ideas worth spreading.” We’re glad that Maya’s getting the chance to spread the word about Steve Reich’s Cello Counterpoint and David Lang’s World to Come far and wide!