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.

Smooke’s “nonopera” premiered in Brooklyn on Friday

Rhymes with Opera

This Spring, Baltimore-based composer David Smooke composed Criminal Element, a “nonopera” in a fabricated language, for Rhymes with Opera, a company devoted to presenting opera in nontraditional spaces. Alongside works by Martin Zimmerman, Ryan Jesperson, and George Lam, it premieres Friday, June 17th in Brooklyn at Cafe Orwell. The program, titled Criminal Intent (hopefully Dick Wolf won’t sue), will be repeated in Baltimore, Hartford, and Boston.

As if it weren’t hard enough to compose an opera, non or otherwise, in the midst of a busy semester teaching at the Peabody Institute, where Smooke is a faculty member, the composer decided to create his own libretto, in a made-up language built out of IPA no less! To help us translate this phonetic construction and its backstory, I asked for some further information about the piece, which he shares below.

Smooke says, “In this nonopera, I consider the fraud—the unveiling of which helped spark the recession of 2008—perpetrated by Jérôme Kerviel, the rogue trader from France’s Société Générale who appeared to me to function as the archetypical white-collar criminal. Like his British counterpart Nicholas Leeson, who brought down the venerable Barings Bank in the 1990s, Kerviel was an interloper in the European banking society. These men were among the first working-class hires within traditionally upper-class departments and both appear to have perpetrated their crimes as part of their vain attempts to please their superiors through outworking and outsmarting their colleagues. Here, scenes of trading—number arias—recur throughout, with each growing progressively more tense. Life beyond the office is represented by a lullaby sung by paternal and maternal figures (Kerviel’s parents were a blacksmith and hairdresser in Pont-l’Abbé, Brittany), and by snippets of city life that include an invitation from friends to join their revelry. Although this piece creates theatrical scenes with some referential elements, it is a meditation on class differences and on the germinating factors in exorbitant criminal events, and is not intended to portray the life of any specific individual.”

“There is no text; the action is conveyed through an invented language notated in the International Phonetic Alphabet. The action therefore remains relatively ambiguous and non-specific. I ask the singers and the string quartet to explore many unusual performance techniques, which force them to stretch beyond their normal comfort zones.”

Criminal Element in rehearsal

CRIMINAL INTENT

Featuring the West End String Quartet
Orphée Redux and Someone Anyone directed by Elspeth Davis

Friday, June 17 at 7pmCafé Orwell
247 Varet St, Brooklyn, NY 11206

Saturday, June 18 at 6pmWindup Space
12 W North Ave, Baltimore, MD 21201
*A party for Friends of RWO after the show!*

Friday, June 24 at 7:30pmReal Art Ways
56 Arbor St, Hartford, CT 06106

Saturday, June 25 at 2pmYes!Oui!Si! Space
19 Vancouver St, Boston, MA 02115

  • RYAN JESPERSON Orphée Redux
  • MARTIN ZIMMERMAN and GEORGE LAM Someone Anyone
  • DAVID SMOOKE Criminal Element (2011, premiere, commissioned by RWO)

Invisible Cities the opera Premieres Tonight!


Composer Chris Cerrone and I share a love for the late author Italo Calvino.

Cerrone has adapted the maestro’s novel Invisible Cities into an opera. It will be performed at Columbia University tonight and tomorrow by Red Light New Music, Mellissa Hughes, and Ekmeles. With such an illustrious cast of characters, what’s not to like?

Preview of Invisible Cities from Denise Blostein on Vimeo.

May 13 and 14th, 2011, 8pm
Red Light New Music and
The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in American at Columbia University
present the staged world premiere of Invisible Cities

1161 Amsterdam Ave. (just south of W. 118th Street)
New York, NY
$15 admission
$10 student and senior tickets available at the door

Hiphopera? MATA Festival Closer at LPR Tonight



The MATA Festival’s final performance is 7:30 PM tonight (5/12) at Le Poisson Rouge.

It features the Metropolis Ensemble, premiering several new works commissioned by MATA, including Ryan Carter’s Skeumorphic Tendencies and The Rake, a hip-hoperatic retelling of Stravinky’s Rake’s Progress by Brad Balliett and Sequenza 21′s own Elliot Cole. Ticket information can be found on LPR’s site or via Metropolis here.

A Burst of Blinding Clarity from Metropolis Ensemble on Vimeo.

Jim Jarmusch reads “Neither”







New York City Opera’s three monodramas – by Arnold Schoenberg, Morton Feldman, and John Zorn – premieres this weekend at Lincoln Center. The have a bunch of interesting videos discussing the works up on YouTube. Here’s director Jim Jarmusch reading reading Samuel Beckett’s Neither (the libretto of the Feldman), Alan Shawn discussing Schoenberg’s Erwartung, and director Michael Counts describing Zorn’s music.







Cyberbullying and Britten

When I planned to teach a course at Westminster Choir College about Benjamin Britten’s vocal music in the Fall, I knew that gender/sexuality studies would play a role in our evaluation of his works. But I certainly wasn’t planning to discuss something as topical and unsettling as the recent tragedy at Rutgers. Our campus is a half hour away from RU (my alma mater), and a number of students were understandably shaken by hearing about Tyler Clementi’s suicide.

The technological tools for communication may have gotten more sophisticated; but the people using them, if they act selfishly, can be in danger of disconnecting from their better impulses. Sadly, in this instance, the consequences were heartbreaking.

With Britten’s Michelangelo Sonnets and his opera Peter Grimes staring up at us, we began to discuss their texts. We then pondered the connection between the poems and some biographical background: Britten and Pears’ early collaboration, their trip to America, and eventual partnership. In my initial lesson notes, I’d pointed out that theirs was a relationship that was frowned upon in many corners, and would still be illegal for more than two decades after they returned to Great Britain. I asked: what resonances to Britten’s life can be found in the poetry of Michelangelo?

My plan was to then turn to a discussion of how Britten depicts these texts and alludes to personal biography in the musical details of these songs.

But in light of cyberbullying and prejudice, the continued homophobia in American society seemed an unavoidable topic: one I didn’t want to foist on the class but certainly wasn’t going to avoid if they decided to broach it. Delicately, one of the students brought up Tyler Clementi’s suicide. I was touched by how sensitively and maturely the other students in the class responded. They thoughtfully discussed the issues surrounding this terrible event, reflecting on how it affects their future work as teachers and musicians. They also reflected on how it should serve as a wake up call for their current lives, challenging them to speak out against teen suicide and try to be compassionate friends to their peers.

They pointed out that whether it is homophobia, racism, social, financial, or academic pressures that are troubling them, many young people are under duress and in need of compassion: both community support and sometimes professional help. As we saw this week, it’s far too easy for someone to be treated with prejudice and cruelty, even today. As some of the students pointed out, among young people we sadly must say, “Especially today.”

I’ll remember many of the comments made by the students on Friday. Although, to respect their privacy, I won’t share their more personal observations, there was one comment that brought us back to the music in eloquent fashion. It was the suggestion that Britten, indeed through the works we were studying that very day in class, could teach us a great deal about prejudice.

“What Britten sought, throughout his life, to portray in his music, was that if you treat someone like an outsider, we all suffer as a society: none of us can grow.”

Although we didn’t have time to find all of the musical intricacies in the songs, I’m very grateful for that lesson.