Thursday at Roulette – Ekmeles and Pheeroan akLaff

Ekmeles. Photo: Tear N Tan.

Ekmeles. Photo: Tear N Tan.

Tomorrow at Roulette in Brooklyn, the excellent Ekmeles vocal ensemble, directed by imaginative baritone and composer Jeff Gavett, is performing. Last year, I heard Ekmeles at Columbia University’s Italian Academy in a program that featured Elliott Carter’s Madrigales and several works by Gesualdo in Vicentino’s archicembalo tuning; the former a virtuosic display and the latter a jaw dropping revelation.

 

Their set at Roulette features one of my favorite pieces by Ken Ueno: Shiroi Ishi. With a text written in Japanese by the composer, this piece has been championed by no less than the Hilliard Ensemble. It shows a supple side to Ueno’s music-making, as well as affecting passages of overtone singing, that stand in marked contrast to some of his more vigorous works that feature deliberately strained vocalisms and electronics.

 

Louis Karchin is also being featured by Ekmeles. The group is presenting his To the Sun and To the Stars: post-tonalpieces that are translations by poet Apostolos Athanassakis of Orphic hymns.This is the first time that this conceptual pair of pieces has been performed together.

Aaron Cassidy’s I, purples, spat blood, laugh of beautiful lips isn’t just post-tonal; it is hyper-microtonal and just plain hyperactive. A terrific piece of showmanship that is hard as hell. Bryan Jacobs’s Do You Need, Do to Me, 18 Me, 18 Mean was featured on File Under ?’s December mix. For a preview, head over to Mixcloud and take a listen to this setting of computer-garbled text. Try to imagine the electronics being triggered by big game show buzzers, as they will be on Thursday night!  Ben Johnston’s music is represented by a just intonation version of the folksong I’m Goin’ Away and a setting of his daughter’s poem Rose. Last but not least, Ekmeles tackles Evan Johnson’s Three in, ad abundantiam (solo e pensoso).

 

And that’s just the first half of this evening: there’s also a multimedia set featuring two pieces, Global Mantras and Tattva of Aquarius Age Reclamation, performed by the Pheeroan akLaff Ensemble: jazz instruments, vocalists, and visuals based on akLaff’s pan African and pan Asian travels.

 

 

Event Details

Interpretations: Ekmeles sings Americans; Pheeroan akLaff Ensemble

7:30 preconcert talk; 8 PM performance

Roulette

509 Atlantic Avenue

Brooklyn, NY 11217

$15/$10 students

Theo Bleckmann Performs Kate Bush (CD Review)

Theo Bleckmann

Hello Earth! The Music of Kate Bush

Winter & Winter CD

Often, we discuss covers – artists interpreting songs written by others – in relation to their original renditions. Hello Earth!, a quintet outing by vocalist Theo Bleckmann and a quartet of musicians with jazz and contemporary classical backgrounds, is devoted to the music of prog pop songwriter Kate Bush. It is a loving homage to Bush’s textured arrangements, and thoughtful, atmospheric, and, at times quirky, catalogue. However, to frame Bleckmann’s recasting of this music as a set of covers is to undervalue the considerable transformation these songs undergo here.

This doesn’t mean wholesale deconstruction. Although it starts out tempo rubato, one’s pulse will still surge by the second verse of Bleckmann’s rendition of “Running Up That Hill.” Both it and the title track inhabit a world of morphing, flexible, and swinging rhythms that are the stuff of modern jazz. But Bleckmann and drummer John Hollenbeck are well aware that, in order for the pop propensities of Bush’s songs to also be respected, this pliability of tempo must be met with corresponding forward momentum. Add to this the experimental touches that appear on the CD, such as prepared harpsichord, toy instruments, and other atmospherics, and the balance that is achieved would be the envy of many tight rope acts.

What the artists avoid doing, and perhaps this is a secret to some of the record’s charm, is seeking to recreate Bush’s well nigh inimitable and often theatrical performance persona. Bleckmann is a singer with a powerful and singular sounding instrument and formidable stage presence of his own; he wisely avoids any whiff of caricature. While the aforementioned affection and awareness for the originals is evident, there is no by the numbers recreation attempted on the instrumental musical front either. Instead, Bleckmann and his estimable cohorts pleasingly avoid literal mindedness when crafting their arrangements. The clearest demonstration of this: in “Saxophone Song” Caleb Burhans’ violin replaces the saxophone solo of the original. On “Violin,” the band moves from the more acoustic-based sound world that prevails on the album to a more rollicking and plugged in aesthetic. Burhans shreds on guitar in tandem with thrumming bass licks from Skúli Sverrisson, Hollenbeck unleashing an uncharacteristically aggressive barrage, and pianist Henry Hey’s Leslie-saturated rock organ work.

Bleckmann also refuses campy choices. “This Woman’s Work” could certainly have been accommodated at pitch in the singer’s attractive falsetto; As Ann Powers pointed out on NPR, this approach once helped to supply a big hit to Maxwell. Instead, Bleckmann allows the lead vocals, and backing vocals overdubs, to span his range from low to high; inhabiting the song’s emotive content rather than consigning it to a gender stereotype. It’s a masterful, and affecting, album closer.

“He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” (Video)




Thanks to mezzo Megan Ihnen and violinist Joseph Kneer for performing this piece twice this past Spring.





He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
by Christian Carey

Performers:
Megan Ihnen, Mezzo-Soprano
Joseph Kneer, Violin

The Federal Hill Parlor Series: the enormity of small things
Jordan Faye Contemporary January 21, 2012 7:30pm

The Federal Hill Parlor Series is committed to bringing quality performances to our beloved Baltimore City neighborhood. The open house format of the Parlor Series is a chance for us to mix and mingle with neighbors and friends while enjoying performances by some of Baltimore’s best talent.

A note from the composer:
“I enjoy working with unconventional combinations. I’ve composed a number of pieces in recent years for solo voice and solo string player. The W.B. Yeats poem “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” was one of the readings that my wife and I selected for our wedding ceremony. For our first anniversary, I created this setting for vocalist and string instrument. The inscription on the score’s title page reads:

To my wife Kay Mitchell on the occasion of our first Wedding Anniversary (They say the appropriate gift is paper; I took the liberty of adding notes.)”

This Weekend: Brooklyn Village at Roulette




The hot ticket this weekend is in Brooklyn, about Brooklyn, and performed by Brooklynites. Check out the trailer for Brooklyn Village below.



A multimedia piece starring the Brooklyn Phil and Brooklyn Youth Chorus, it features repertory standards, new pieces by David T. Little, Sarah Kirkland Snider, and Matthew Mehlan, and a tale as old as the Brooklyn Bridge. In fact, slightly older: its story concerns the buildings razed to make way for said bridge. All that plus Mellissa Hughes and Sufjan Stevens: talk about bringing out the star power!


Event details

Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 7:30 PM
Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 7:30 PM

Roulette, 509 Atlantic Avenue
Tickets: $20-$35 (www.roulette.org)

Performers:

Brooklyn Philharmonic; Alan Pierson, conductor

Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Dianne Berkun, director

Mellissa Hughes & Lauren Worsham, sopranos

Program:

Beethoven: Scherzo from Symphony no. 3 (1804)

Copland: Prelude to Symphony no. 1 (1924/8)

Sufjan Stevens: The B.Q.E. mvt. 6: Isorhythmic Night Dance With Interchanges (2007)

Shape Note song for chorus with audience participation (early 19th century)

Plus three world premieres:

Sarah Kirkland Snider: Here (2012, commissioned by Brooklyn Youth Chorus)

David T. Little: Am I Born (2012, co-commissioned by Brooklyn Phil & BYC)

Matthew Mehlan: Canvas (2011/12)

2/17: ACF celebrates with Talea at Bohemian Hall

Composer Bernhard Lang

Some of the arts organizations in New York are venerable establishments. Others may be relative newcomers, but take little time to install themselves as intrinsic parts of the music scene. It has only been here since the early aughts, but many of New York’s performers and concertgoers would have a hard time envisioning musical life here without the countless collaborations and imaginative programs brought to fruition at the modest-sized, yet mightily influential, Austrian Cultural Forum.

ACF begins its tenth season with a celebration: a concert this Friday at Bohemian Hall: a more commodious space. At Bohemian Hall, they have an enlightened take on the acquisition of celebratory libations: according to the press release, ”Concert-goers can buy a glass of wine, liquor or Czech beer to enjoy at the performance. The bar at Bohemian National Hall will be open before, during and after the concert.”  Beat that Avery Fisher Hall!

Bernhard Gander

Appropriately enough, the event spotlights three Austrian composers: Clemens Gadenstätter, Bernhard Gander, and Bernhard Lang. The program, which includes two US premieres, will be performed by the Talea Ensemble with guest vocalist Donatienne Michel-Dansac. Both Lang and Gander will be in attendance. They will join Columbia University professor George Lewis for an onstage discussion. And did we mention that this event, as well as the nine subsequent programs on ACF’s season, are free of charge?

For those of you unfamiliar with soprano Donatienne Michel-Dansac, she’s a highly regarded performer of European composers from the second moderns school. Check out the video clip below of her performing an excerpt of a work by Georges Aperghis.

Event Details

February 17, 8:00 pm: Talea Ensemble with soprano Donatienne Michel-Dansac

Bohemian National Hall at Czech Center, 321 E 73rd St., New York, NY

Program: Works by Clemens Gadenstätter (US premiere), Bernhard Gander (US premiere) and Bernhard Lang

Clemens Gadenstätter

C4 Gets Ecstatic this Thursday & Saturday

A collective of choral composers and conductors who sing too? Right up my alley!

Join C4 tonight or on Saturday for a program of ‘ecstatic’ music, featuring several new works, including a premiere by Sequenza 21 friend and collaborator Hayes Biggs (program notes below).

Notes on The Caged Skylark by Hayes Biggs

My setting of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s The Caged Skylark was begun in the spring of 2011 and completed in August of the same year. The piece is dedicated to Gregg Smith, in honor of his eightieth birthday and with deepest thanks for his unflagging commitment to and support of American composers over the past several decades.

Hopkins (1844-1889), besides being possessed of a vision that made much of twentieth-century English poetry possible, was a convert to Roman Catholicism and a Jesuit priest. The Caged Skylark begins darkly, its first two stanzas juxtaposing the image of the brave, “dare-gale” skylark chafing against the confines of his “dull cage,” with the workaday drudgery of humans, imprisoned in their own earthly bodies. My setting begins with a duet for the sopranos and altos that seems to suggest the aimlessness of the bird in his futile struggle against his incarceration, culminating in chordal “bursts of fear or rage” in the full choir, with the altos hanging on stubbornly after the other voices have abruptly been cut o

Hopkins changes the affect completely for the last two stanzas. The skylark, even when flying free and high, still needs a resting place, a “wild nest” to which he can rapidly descend at will from the heights. Likewise, humans freed—in Hopkins’s view—by the fact of Christ’s resurrection still require their own dwellings, but their bodies are now transformed into something much lighter, no more an encumbrance than would be a rainbow alighting upon a meadow. Musically, my interpretation of the oem takes on a decidedly more tonal cast, but it is a tonality hard won and not without ambivalence.

Please feel free to visit my web site: www.hayesbiggs.com

C4 Choral Ensemble

presents

“Ecstatic”

Featuring Ecstatic Meditations by Aaron Jay Kernis and The Hildegard Motets by Frank Ferko.

Also including the world premiere of The Caged Skylark by C4 composer Hayes Biggs and

works by Jonathan David, Michael Dellaira, John Harbison, Robin McClellan, and Tarik O’Regan.

Thursday, November 17th at 8:00PM
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
3 West 65th Street, NYC
(at Central Park West)

and

Saturday, November 19th at 8:00PM
Church of St. Luke in the Fields
487 Hudson Street, NYC
(just south of Christopher Street)

Admission $15, suggested

Visit our NEW AND IMPROVED web site at http://c4ensemble.org/

Early October – an Embarrassment of Riches!

Too Many Concerts and Cloning is Still Illegal!

Tricentric Orchestra. Photo: Kyoko Kitamura

October in New York is becoming an embarrassment of riches in the new music world. So many wonderful concerts to hear in town! But the plethora of notable events can be a source of frustration too: sometimes you wish you could be in two places at once. (I have a sneaking suspicion that Steve Smith has figured out a way to do this!) So, while we won’t get to review everything, there’s nothing saying we can’t preview as many events as possible! What follows are some, but rest assured not all, of the excellent upcoming goings on.

-        Starting Wednesday evening (Oct. 5) running through October 8 at Roulette is one of the biggest festivals celebrating the music of Anthony Braxton yet seen in the United States.  It includes performances by the Tricentric Orchestra, the US debut of the Diamond Curtain Wall Trio – Anthony Braxton (reeds, electronics), Taylor Ho Bynum (brass), and Mary Halvorson (guitar) – and two world premieres. The first, Pine Top Arial Music, is an interdisciplinary work integrating music and dance. The second, which is the culmination of the festival, is a concert reading of Acts One and Two of Trillium E, Braxton’s first opera. Those who can’t make the festival, or who want ample Braxton at home as well as live, can enjoy two new recordings of his music. The first is a freebie: a Braxton sampler featuring a diverse array of pieces (including an excerpt of the opera) that’s available for download via the Tricentric Foundation. The second is a recording of Trillium E in its entirety, available from Tricentric on October 11 as a download or 4 CD set.

-        On October 6, Ekmeles, everybody’s favorite New York group of experimentally inclined youngster vocalists, shares a triple bill with Ireland’s Ergodos and Holland’s Ascoli Ensemble at Issue Project Room’s new 110 Livingstone location (details here). Ekmeles will perform Pascal Dusapin’s Two Walking, two short pieces by James Tenney, and two US premieres. The first, Madrigali a Dio by Johannes Schöllhorn, incorporates singing, spoken word, and even boisterous shouts in a vocal work that explores counterpoints between pitched and un-pitched vocalizations.  Peter Ablinger’s Studien nach der Natur explores a plethora of sounds from the natural world as well as manmade noises: mosquitoes, quartz watches, the Autobahn, smoking, electric hums – all replicated by the human voice. Mr. Ablinger was kind enough to allow us to share a small score excerpt below.

-        Also on Thursday, October 6 (drat it to Hades!) is the premiere of the Five Borough Songbook at Galapagos. Twenty composers were asked by Five Boroughs Music Festival to each contribute a single work to this project. Participants include Daron Hagen, Tom Cipullo, Lisa Bielawa, and other heavyweights in the songwriting biz.

-        On October 8 at 7 PM at the Tenri Cultural Institute (ticket info here), the Mimesis Ensemble is doing a program of “Young Voices,” featuring three youngish composers who specialize in vocal music.  It’s a program that’s a bit more traditional in approach than is, say, Ekmeles’ wont, but it presents some noteworthy repertoire. Thomas Adès’ Three Eliot Landscapes and Gabriel Kahane’s current events inflected Craigslistlieder are featured alongside several works by Mohammed Fairouz.

-         On October 9 at 7:30 PM, Sequenza 21′s own Armando Bayolo will make his Carnegie Hall debut (as the kids say, whoot!). Armando’s Lullabies, a newly commissioned work, will be premiered at Weill Recital Hall by Trio Montage (more information here).

-        Just around the corner is the ACO’s SONiC festival, Ekmeles’ concert on 10/21 at Columbia (a humdinger of a program!), Bridge Records’ Anniversary Concert at NYPL, and, yes, the Sequenza 21/MNMP Concert at the newly revivified Joe’s Pub on 10/25. But those previews will have to wait for another post! In the meantime, there are pieces to compose, papers to grade, and both my wife’s and my birthdays this weekend. October is the month that keeps on giving: it’s good to be busy, right?

Peter Ablinger's Studien Natur (a wee excerpt)

Dale Trumbore: Snow White Turns Sixty (CD Review)

Snow White Turns Sixty
Gillian Hollis, soprano
Dale Trumbore, piano
Dissonant Gorgeous Productions CD/DL

In the call for scores for the Sequenza 21/MNMP Concert, we were smitten with twenty-something West Coast (by way of New Jersey) composer Dale Trumbore’s music. We’re thrilled that her string quartet How Will it Go is going to be performed by ACME on the concert (10/25 at Joe’s Pub: have you reserved your free seat yet?).

My own enthusiasm for Trumbore’s work recently received further confirmation when her debut CD arrived in the mail. Snow White Turns Sixty includes three of Trumbore’s song cycles, all of them settings of contemporary female authors. The musical language is post-romantic in tone, peppered with reference points ranging from high brow musical theater such as latter day Stephen Sondheim to the lush art songs of Dominic Argento and Daron Hagen. Occasionally, as in the song “Hazel tells Laverne,” one encounters a breezy jazzy cast, similar in temperament to that found in the cabaret songs of William Bolcom (but written for Gillian Hollis’ high soprano voice). Hollis sings with great flexibility, and never allows the punishingly high tessitura of some of the songs to deter her from poise-filled musicality. Trumbore performs the piano parts with a pleasing, delicate touch and in supportive fashion. While the disc strikes me as more gorgeous than dissonant, it whets my appetite for more music from this talented emerging composer.


Tanglewood Highlights 3: Humoresque and Homages

Fred Ho's Fanfare. Photo: Hilary Scott.

Fred Ho, Fanfare for the Creeping Meatball: This brief yet buoyant brass fanfare got played at the beginning of every FCM concert. But its jazz noir ambience, jocular rhythms, and even its campy “B-movie scream” (which, on Sunday night, caused unsuspecting Tanglewood fellows assembling onstage to leap out of their seats!) never wore out their welcome. New music gatherings tend to take on a somber demeanor and earnest programming needs to be leavened with a bit of humor. Ho’s piece fit the bill perfectly.

________

Milton Babbitt, It Takes Twelve to Tango and No Longer Very Clear: During the Festival of Contemporary Music, Tanglewood celebrated recently deceased composer Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) with several performances in his honor. Alas, we arrived too late in the week to get to hear Fred Sherry’s rendition of the late cello composition More Melismata. But judging by Babbitt memorials earlier in 2011 at which Sherry has shared the work, we would have gladly heard it again.

It Takes Twelve to Tango (1984) was Babbitt’s contribution to Yvar Mikhashof’s tango collection. Pianist Ursula Oppens included it on her FCM solo recital on August 7th. The piece is more explicitly referential of a regular dance rhythm than is Babbitt’s usual wont; even more so than the veiled references to swing era jazz that sporadically occur throughout his catalog. Still, the piece provides plenty of twists and turns that upend the usual tango form in favor of bustling counterpoint and playful misdirection. And yes, true to the punning title’s promise, Babbitt doesn’t dispense with dodecaphony, allowing his rigorous approach to commingle with a bit of witty humor in this occasional work.

At the morning concert on Sunday, August 7th, Soprano Adrienne Pardee and a small ensemble led by conductor Stefan Asbury performed Babbitt’s No Longer Very Clear (1994), a setting of a poem by John Ashbery. This piece isn’t heard as much as some of Babbitt’s other vocal pieces: a pity, as it a thoughtful and nuanced treatment of an intriguing poem, with shimmering instrumental textures and a delicately spun vocal line. Pardee, a TCM fellow, demonstrated a lovely tone, impressive control, and rapt attention to the score’s myriad details: wide-ranging dynamics, tricky rhythms, varied articulations, and abundant chromaticism.  Both she and the instrumentalists did so well that Asbury, remarking that it was, after all, a short piece, asked them to repeat it; which they did, making the work’s charms even more abundantly clear.