Archive for the “Conductors” Category

The New York Philharmonic has made significant strides to renew its commitment to contemporary classical music this season. Curated by composer-in-residence Magnus Lindberg and conducted by music director Alan Gilbert, April16th’s Contact! series performance was a compelling program stirringly performed.

Sean Shepherd‘s These Particular Circumstances proved a vibrant opener. A bassoonist as well as a composer, he’s a fine orchestrator. Its also clear that, while at Cornell for his DMA, he learned a lot about Lutoslawski from Steven Stucky, as his language incorporates insights from both composers. Shepherd’s music has a wonderful way of making the orchestra shimmer. He took advantage of the chamber orchestra’s lither scoring, providing deft contrapuntal passages for winds and solo strings. At the same time, These Particular Circumstances displays considerable power in its tutti passages, reminding us that the ensemble for Contact! is a formidable assembly.

Nico Muhly made a point of complementing his former Juilliard classmate from the stage, pointing out that Shepherd’s high-lying passages create such a signature sound that, when he learned he was following him on the program, he decided to ‘give the violins a break.’ True, with a darker hued string section led by the violas, his work Detailed Instructions takes on a sound world that stood apart from the other pieces on the program. Muhly is post-minimal in orientation. And while a couple of the composers in the audience who sat near me groused at intermission that his work is ‘indebted to Philip Glass,’ what they didn’t seem to hear was Muhly’s playful departures from mainstream minimalism.

Instead of Glass’ symmetrical use of ostinati, Muhly’s repeating figures dart in and out of the ‘expected phrase lengths,’ creating delightful surprises and heady syncopations. In the more reposeful central section, he channeled an appealing lyricism from his recent pop-based excursions into a spacious orchestral mold. The third section gave the NYPO musicians a chance to up the bpm quotient, in a breakneck paced, dazzling finale. Make no mistake, Muhly is no mere retro-minimalist; quite the contrary, he’s a compelling new voice on the scene.

Matthias Pintscher composed Songs from Solomon’s Garden for the NYPO’s artist-in-residence, baritone Thomas Hampson. A setting of texts from the Song of Solomon in Hebrew, the work was simultaneously sensuous and inquisitive. Pintscher deftly juxtaposes cantabile passages with spikier ones, creating an impressively varied orchestral palette. And while Solomon’s Garden never even flirts with neoromanticism, it has a far more lyrical impulse than some of Pintscher’s other, in this writer’s opinion less congenial, vocal writing. Hampson sang the challenging, chromatic, and wide ranging  part with commitment, subtlety, and musicality. At a stage in his career when he certainly needn’t take on learning new works, Hampson’s willingness to participate in Contact! so enthusiastically is admirable.

Alan Gilbert and Thomas Hampson (photo: Stephanie Berger)

Gilbert has done a remarkable job in a short amount of time crafting a fine contemporary ensemble with these Philharmonic members. He elicited powerful, clear, and engaging performances throughout the program. Its worth noting that the NYPO is getting into the spirit and has been very supportive of Contact!. The organization went all out to publicize the show, in the process making a zealous case for new music’s relevancy in the broader cultural life of the city. And they did a good job incorporating multimedia into the PR mix; we posted some of the flipcam videos on the front page in advance of the performance.

Enlisting WNYC’s John Schaefer as host and onstage interviewer was a nice touch. Schaefer kept things moving breezily while eliciting both bon mots and aesthetic observations from each artist and composer. WNYC/WQXR’s contemporary internet station, Q2, will be broadcasting the concert on Thursday, April 22 at 7 p.m. or Saturday, April 24 at 4 p.m.

After the concert, the whole audience was invited to stay and chat at a reception.  Everyone was even treated to a free beer. What’s not to like?

Comments Comments Off on NYPO’s Contact! at Symphony Space

Big news in the orchestra world. Starting next season (2010-’11), George Manahan will become the American Composers Orchestra’s Music Director. He will continue as Music Director at the New York City Opera.

George Manahan

George Manahan

In my view, this is good news indeed. Manahan is a superlative musician; he’s conducted some excellent performances of contemporary fare at NYCO. One hopes that his name will entice new audience members to check out the ACO.

Kudos as well to outgoing director Steven Sloane, who’s done an admirable job with the ensemble since 2002.

Thoughts on the shakeup? The comments section is open below!

Comments 1 Comment »

My long-time favorite MP3 download site eMusic has its own little online magazine. One of its features is “Jukebox Jury”, where a musician sits down with the interviewer to chat while listening to and commenting on various tracks played. The latest guest is none other than the N.Y. Philharmonic’s new Music Director, Alan Gilbert. The interview covers a lot of ground in a nicely casual way, with Gilbert listening and then giving his take on everything from his own conducting of Mahler’s 9th Symphony, to tracks featuring Christopher Rouse, Magnus Lindberg, Art Tatum, Uri Caine, John Adams, even The Field and Radiohead.

Comments 13 Comments »

Received a blurb from the LA Phil the other day, which in all caps proudly declares “LA PHIL LAUNCHES MICROSITE CELEBRATING INCOMING MUSIC DIRECTOR GUSTAVO DUDAMEL”  … Kaboom!… Here’s the relevant bit (my bolds):

On September 24, 2009, the LA Phil launched a microsite celebrating the arrival of incoming Music Director Gustavo Dudamel. Introducing audiences worldwide to Gustavo in new and engaging ways, the comprehensive microsite, located at http://www.laphil.com/gustavo, features videos such as Gustavo’s first rehearsal with the YOLA Expo Center Youth Orchestra, the LA Phil’s video tribute “Welcome Gustavo,” and the press conferences unveiling Gustavo’s inaugural season and appointment as 11th Music Director of the LA Phil.  Visitors can also take a multimedia journey through Gustavo’s life with tiling photographs, video and biographical text.  The latest Gustavo-related news and newly recorded audio and video content will be added to the microsite as Gustavo’s exciting inaugural season progresses.

The Gustavo microsite prominently features a brand-new interactive online game and iPhone application, Bravo Gustavo, designed by Hello Design to simulate the experience of conducting an orchestra.  The Bravo Gustavo online game invites users to interact with Gustavo and the LA Phil performing Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique (music courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon).  The Bravo Gustavo iPhone application adapts the mobile device into a conducting baton, utilizing the accelerometer to directly affect the overall tempo and note duration of the music – just like a real conductor.

Wow, conductor as new “my best friend forever”, and it seems like the only thing missing from the package is the action figure. I suppose if the classical world had been cool enough to do a “Bravo Herbert” or “Welcome Antal” back in the day, the crowds would never have left.

Comments 3 Comments »

The San Francisco Electronic Music Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary this week.  On the final festival night, Saturday, September 19th, the program will include a special all-electronic performance of the opera I, Norton, by San Francisco Bay Area composer Gino Robair.

I, Norton is based on the proclamations of Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, who lived during the Gold Rush era in San Francisco. The concert begins at 8:00 p.m. at the Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online from Brown Paper Tickets.

Gino RobairGino Robair has created music for dance, theater, gamelan orchestra, radio, and television. His works have been performed throughout North America, Europe, and Japan. He was composer in residence with the California Shakespeare Festival for five years and served as music director for the CBS animated series The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat. His commercial work includes themes for the MTV and Comedy Central cable networks. Robair is also one of the “25 innovative percussionists” included in the book Percussion Profiles (SoundWorld, 2001). He has recorded with Tom Waits, Anthony Braxton, Terry Riley, Lou Harrison, John Butcher, Derek Bailey, Peter Kowald, Otomo Yoshihide, the ROVA Saxophone Quartet, and Eugene Chadbourne, among many others. He is a founding member of the Splatter Trio and the heavy metal band Pink Mountain. In addition, he runs Rastascan Records, a label devoted to creative music.

S21: His Imperial Majesty Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, is an “only in San Francisco” kind of personage.  What inspired you to make him into the central character of an opera?

GR: He’s the kind of complex character one needs for an opera. And I like the fact that he’s mythologized somewhat.

Although many people see him as this incoherent, homeless vagrant, I think the reality is that he was bright man who was determined to make a difference in a world that was hostile, confusing, and often out of control. We’re talking about the Old West, here!

Remember, he was a Jewish immigrant from South Africa. Try to imagine the culture shock he experienced arriving in mid-19th-century California during the Gold Rush. It makes total sense to me that he’d conclude that the only way to solve the problems in his new environment was to roll up his shirt sleeves and do the job himself.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments 4 Comments »

Colnot

One of the simple rules for the podcast is that there is a new episode every two weeks.  That rule was broken in July when all four members of ETHEL were featured.  And, that rule is being broken again in September when four musicians based in Chicago will be featured.

The month starts out with conductor Cliff Colnot (best known for his work with Contempo, Chicago Symphony’s MusicNow, ICE, and others).  Cliff is a unique person in that he feels so strongly about notation and rehearsal efficiency, that he has produced documents outlining the way he likes to see things as a conductor–and gives them away to anyone who asks.  Some of his thoughts on the topic are rather controversial, but anyone who has met him knows that it is hard to find a more appropriate word to describe him than “efficient”.   Even if you disagree with him on some of his points of view, it’s hard to argue with the fact that composers should be preparing scores and parts in a way that doesn’t waste rehearsal time.  Cliff describes how to get these documents for free at the end of his episode.

As always, you can subscribe in iTunes here, on the web here, or just click here to download the episode.

Comments 3 Comments »

(Thanks to Kevin Austin, who runs the Canadian Electroacoustic Community e-mail list, for pointing this one out):

Every serious classical listener/collector has spent time probing through the hiss, pop and crackle of early monophonic 78 and 33 rpm recordings; though the sound is tinny and boxed in, they love the magical feeling of somehow being brought closer to some vital moment, performer or composer.  Until 1958 people could only buy monophonic records; some might have heard stereo sound previously in a few push-the-envelope films like Fantasia, but for at least a couple generations mono was all they had. Yet there had been a number of experimental tries at stereo sound, going back as early as the 1920s (the BBC’s first attempt at a stereo radio broadcast was in December 1925). One of these pioneering experiments has been wonderfully documented on the Stokowski.org website.

Leopold Stokowski might have had a bit of the showman in him, often shrewdly picking music, concerts and events with a little more than average glitz and spectacle. But especially early on, we can’t forget that he was very friendly with a lot of the avant-garde of the day, and had a keen interest in new ideas.  His Philadelphia Orchestra began broadcasting concerts in 1929, but he was disappointed with the poor fidelity. Stokowski approached Bell Labs looking for some way to improve the sound; there he hooked up with Bell’s legendary research director Dr. Harvey Fletcher. Fletcher was doing groundbreaking work on electrical recording, new microphones and recording equipment, constantly searching for ways to expand the frequency, dynamic range and spatial presence of recordings.

They worked out a deal where in 1931 Fletcher would install the latest equipment in the basement of the hall (the Academy of Music) that the Philly orchestra used for broadcasts, making the orchestra a test subject for their recording experiments. By the end of the year they were able to push the recorded spectrum all the way to an unheard-of 13,000 Hz (though still in mono) in a recording of Berlioz‘s Roman Carnival Overture.

But most amazing of all was the work of another of Fletcher’s researchers, Arthur C. Keller. He’d devised a system that could use two microphones at once, each cutting their own sound to a separate groove on the master disk. With this new stereophonic setup, in 1932 Keller recorded Stokowski and the orchestra performing Scriabin‘s Prometheus: Poem of Fire (part 1; part 2). As far as we know, this is the oldest stereophonic music recording in existence, and for all those lovers of the 78 rpm records from this period the quality is just stunning. It would still be more than a quarter-century before the technology could advance enough to where everyone could finally listen at home in stereo.

Arthur Keller came out of retirement in 1979, and assisted by Ward Marston made the modern transcriptions you hear here, from the original master disks stored at Bell Labs. All thanks to them, and to the folks at Stokowski.org for sharing the story (there’s plenty more to learn there too, so don’t forget to go check out the site).

Comments 1 Comment »