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.

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.

Thursday: Beck plays Wuorinen at the Stone

Steven Beck.Photograph: (C) Beowulf Sheehan

Steven Beck.
Photograph: (C) Beowulf Sheehan

Charles Wuorinen is not only a formidable composer; he’s also a talented pianist. I remember well his playing during composition lessons I took with him at Rutgers: always up to tempo with nary a note dropped. Although his piano music is frequently quite challenging, it is also gratifying to play. Thus it is not surprising that estimable artists such as Garrick Ohlsson, Marilyn Nonken, and Alan Feinberg have championed his work. In recent years, Steven Beck has become another persuasive advocate on behalf of the composer. This Thursday at the Stone in downtown NYC, Beck will perform an all Wuorinen concert consisting mostly of solo works (cellist Jay Campbell guests on the duo Orbicle of Jasp).

Event Details
Steven Beck plays the music of Charles Wuorinen
January 10 at 8 PM
The Stone
Corner of Avenue C and 2nd Street


Orbicle of Jasp (1999) (with Jay Campbell, cello)
Bagatelle (1988)
Etude (for Chords and Dynamic Balance) (2011) – American premiere*
Capriccio (1981)
Josquin: Ave Christe (1988)
Haroun Piano Book (2009)

* commissioned by the Busoni Piano Competition


Friday: Nono CD Release Party

Miranda Cuckson and Christopher Burns originally planned to celebrate the release of their latest CD, a recording of Luigi Nono’s “la lontananza nostalgica utopica futura” back in November. After Storm Sandy, the formal release was pushed back to January. In the interim, the NY Times named it one of 2012′s best CDs and we added an excerpt of the recording to our “Favorite Things 2012″ Mix.

Tonight, at long last, Miranda and Chris get to properly celebrate the Nono disc, performing it tonight (Friday) and Saturday at Spectrum. In addition, listeners will get to hear a demonstration of the 5.1 surround version of the recording and another work by Burns. Details below.

Event Details

Date and time: Friday, January 4, 2012, *7 PM
Place: Spectrum
121 Ludlow Street, Second Floor, New York, NY
Tickets: $15 general/$10 students and seniors

–Live performance by Miranda and Chris of Leggii 3 and 4 from “la lontananza nostalgica utopica futura”

–Demo of the recording featuring Richard Warp’s realizations of the electronics in 5.1 channel surround sound

–Miranda performs Chris’ composition “come ricordi come sogni come echi: six
studies on Nono’s ‘la lontananza nostalgica utopica futura’ for solo violin”

–Open forum with the artists


Date and time: Saturday, January 5, 2012, *7 PM

Place: Spectrum
121 Ludlow Street, Second Floor, New York, NY
Tickets: $15 general/$10 students and seniors

–Miranda Cuckson and Chris Burns perform Dai Fujikura’s “prism spectra” for viola and live surround electronics, which they are recording for an upcoming CD

–Chris Burns presents his own compositions: “Opalescence”, a glockenspiel solo performed by Trevor Saint, and “Xenoglossia” for live electronics

–Richard Warp demonstrates his new brain-computer spatialization interface


Contact! at Symphony Space



Andy Akiho. Photo: Aestheticize Media.

I had mixed feelings about the Dec. 22nd Contact! concert at Symphony Space. The first concert curated by the New York Philharmonic’s current composer in residence, Christopher Rouse, it featured two commissioned works for sinfonietta and a New York premiere, all by fast rising composers, as well as Counterpoise by Jacob Druckman (1928-’96). Having studied with and sung music by Druckman, I was glad to hear the Philharmonic revisit his music: a superb orchestrator who knew how to control the balance and pacing of an orchestra piece better than most in recent memory.

One was reminded by comparing Counterpoise to some of the newer music on the program just how difficult it can be to cultivate these skills. This is particularly true today,  an era in which, even for very talented composers, opportunities such as Contact! are few and far between. My favorite moments came in Andy Akiho’s Oscillate, a commission for the NY Philharmonic that featured imaginative writing for the sinfonietta’s percussion cohort. Akiho himself is a virtuoso percussionist and he supplied dazzling parts for pitched and un-pitched percussion instruments and also had pianist Eric Huebner perform inside his instrument with fistfuls of credit cards: perhaps a more constructive use for them than holiday overspending! In places, the string writing was less successful, but Oscillate’s attractive harmonic palette and gestural ebullience contained flashes of brilliance.

12/14: Aeolian Chamber Players celebrate 50th Anniversary

On December 14, Aeolian Chamber Players celebrates its fiftieth anniversary of music making at Symphony Space. (Tickets and more info here.) A longtime commissioner of new works, ACP found it fitting to celebrate with another commission: Huang Ruo’s Two Shades. It will be heard alongside other 20/21 pieces from their repertoire by Ralph Shapey, William Bolcom, George Crumb, Luciano Berio, and others.


Monday: Jenny Q Chai gives Stroppa lecture recital

Dissecting Stroppa

On Monday December 3rd, pianist Jenny Q Chai is giving her DMA lecture recital at my old stomping grounds: Manhattan School of Music. Chai has become a persuasive advocate for a wide range of repertoire, but, after meeting him in Darmstadt some five years ago, the piano music of Marco Stroppa has become one of her keenest passions. Her lecture recital, which she plans to give in a lab coat (!), will focus on Stroppa’s Innige Cavatina. Below, check out a recording of the work from Jenny’s SoundCloud.