Archive for the “Experimental Music” Category

Washington, D.C. readers may have noticed that the new music scene in the District has been exploding lately.  This week brings another significant event when New York’s Cygnus Ensemble makes its Washington debut at the Library of Congress.  The concert, part of a mini-residence by Cygnus at the Library, is presented as a tribute to legendary violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler.  Rarely heard music by Kreisler from the Library’s Fritz Kreisler collection will be performed, featuring guest violinist Miranda Cuckson on Kreisler’s own Guarneri del Gesù violin.

Most notably for new music fans, the concert features the world premiere of Harold Meltzer’s Kreisleriana, for violin and piano, commissioned by the Library of Congress’ McKim fund.  The concert also features Meltzer’s Pulitzer-Prize finalist work Brion, commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for the Cygnus Ensemble.

The concert begins at 8:00 p.m. at the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium.  There will be a pre-concert discussion by Mr. Meltzer and Cygnus founder William Anderson at 6:15 p.m. at the Library’s Whitall Pavillion.  No tickets are required for the pre-concert talk.  Tickets to the main concert are free but require reservations and may be obtained by contacting Ticketmaster online or at 202.397.7328.

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From Bora Yoon's "Weights and Balances." Photo: Julia Frodahl

Many of us waited with bated breath during the recent breakdown of talks between management and the orchestra at NYC Opera. Even though the season is proceeding, the company’s plan to keep themselves afloat (if not artistically viable) seems dubious at best. No music director, draconian cuts for the players and chorus, and no base of operations. Instead NYCO will present a truncated season at several venues. After hearing how shabbily the company has treated its employees – while George Steel continues to make in excess of $300,000 – why would they expect their audience to follow them around town? It portends difficult days to come for opera – and opera goers – in the city. Take nothing away from the Metropolitan (although its recent conductor troubles are noteworthy): but a city with New York’s operatic history would seem to have room for more than one major company.

Fortunately, as Zachary Woolfe points out in a recent excellent article in the NY Times, several smaller companies are attempting to fill the void left by City Opera’s vicissitudes. Opera Omnia, Gotham Chamber Opera, DiCapo Opera, and others are making it possible to hear a plethora of works from the repertoire that are unlikely to be programmed any time soon, either at the Met or languishing NYCO: baroque gems, less known Mozart, neglected bel canto, and the like. The remaining challenge, and it’s a daunting one, is to nurture operas by living composers.

To further the efforts of those working towards that end, three longtime champions of contemporary works – HERE’s Kim Whitener and Artistic Director Kristin Marting and Beth Morrison of Beth Morrison Projects (BMP) – have recently announced a promising new venture. Prototype: Opera/Theatre/Now, a festival that they plan to be an annual event, debuts in January 2013.

Unlike NYCO, Prototype will have a single performance venue, HERE’s space in Soho, for which they will try to build an audience. And, also unlike City Opera, the festival, with steady hands at the rudder, will pursue a coherent artistic vision, presenting chamber operas in the contemporary classical/post-classical vein. Some of the names being mentioned as participants in the Prototypes‘s initial presentations should be familiar to those who’ve attended recent editions of VOX: David T. Little, Byron Au Yong, and Bora Yoon.

Dare we hope for an open call for proposals for new chamber operas? More information about Prototype as it’s available.

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Long Distance Poison

Gamma Graves

Ecstatic Peace Cassette

Gamma Graves is a prime example of the kind of release that has helped to fuel the cassette resurgence on the indie/experimental music scene. Produced by a variety of sources, from bedroom DIY collectives and small tape-only labels to established imprints like Ecstatic Peace, the audio cassette format, long thought extinct, is back. Tapes have been unassumingly encroaching their way onto the shelves of connoisseur collectors and music critics (no less than Steve Smith is a devotee): even record sellers such as Insound and Other Music have made room for them again.

The Brooklyn triumvirate of synthesizer performers Nathan Cearley and Erica Bradbury and prepared guitarist Casey Block comprise Long Distance Poison. Armed with vintage gear by Moog, Arp, and Roland, they create experimental soundscapes with a sense of history, referencing everyone from David Borden and early Philip Glass to Keith Rowe, Alva Noto, Ryoji Ikeda, and Derek Bailey. Drone-based foundations are overlaid with coruscating ostinato loops and distressed with pointed interjections.

Gamma Graves is the type of music that would have been just fine to distribute digitally (or via CD). Indeed, some purists might argue that cassette is an inherently inferior audio format to hi-res digital played through good equipment (by no means do most consumers play their MP3s through good equipment). So, why do I like having it on cassette? I find the noise imparted by tape and deck to do no harm to this music: in fact, it adds another, subtle, layer of drones to the proceedings that is consonant with the musical intentions of the work.

The tape as artifact yields something important too. Limited runs of handmade cassettes are often lovingly attired with artwork more expansive and, obviously, more tangible than any JPEG can provide. They are a reminder of a bygone era in which the physical release WAS the release, in which tape-trading and digging in bins for rarities was a hobby to enthusiastically pursue: not something simulated in online forums and furtively grasped at brick and mortar outposts now few and far between. Long Distance Poison (and Ecstatic Peace) acknowledge their debt to history not only via musical reference points, but through the resonances found in a cassette as relic and artwork. Try finding all that in a computer file.

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This weekend, Ann Arbor’s University Musical Society is putting on its most ambitious project since I’ve been in town: Philip Glass‘s legendary opera Einstein On The Beach.

The production is directed by Robert Wilson with choreography by Lucinda Childs and includes a stunning cast hand-picked by Mrs. Wilson and Glass for the revival. Performances are this Friday (7 PM), Saturday (7 PM) and Sunday (2 PM) at the downtown Power Center performance space.

Alas, the shows are sold out at this point, but if you are a diehard fan, or just an interested individual in the area, there is always “second-acting” or last-minute availabilities to hope for (I’ve got my fingers crossed!).

For insights on the opera from one of its talented singers, check out Lindsay Kessleman‘s blog, “Inside Einstein on the Beach“.

I hope I can get in for at least some of it and report back on what it is like!

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Andy Akiho may have started out as a performer only, but his heart has driven him to become not only a wonderful composer in his own right, but a composer/performer that creates some of the most wonderful and compelling sounding pieces combining steel pans with a variety of instruments from other great new classical musicians. Having studied composition with such greats as Julia Wolfe, David Lang, Ezra Laderman, and Martin Bresnick among others, Akiho had just recently won eighth blackbird’s inaugural Finale National Composition Contest. Andy talked to me about that and some of my favorite works of his. Read the rest of this entry »

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Photo courtesy of Andre Penven for Coilhouse Magazine

Zoë Keating (Wow, what can I say??) has definitely cultivated a very respectable place in the new music and indie music circles. After rethinking a classical concert career as a cellist for working a tech job, she was intervened to perform with various friends, played in the band Rasputina, eventually went solo with a gorgeously layered, rhythmic cello sound. Zoë went on to sell over 40,000 copies of her CDs without distribution, a record label or management. And she has over one million Twitter followers. The internet loves her!

Besides her solo career, her other projects include music collaborations with various dance companies (Apex Contemporary Dance Theatre, American Repertory Ballet, Digby Dance), film scoring (or soundtrack performances; Warrior, The Secret Life of Bees, The Conspirator), scoring for varied TV programs and other medias, and makes guest appearances alongside artists such as Amanda Palmer, Paolo Nutini, Imogen Heap, and many more. Read the rest of this entry »

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Steve Reich and Music for 18 Musicians comes to Disney Hall on Jan. 17

For the LA Weekly, I compiled a list of what appear to be the best classical music events next year in Los Angeles. (Of course, the 2012-13 seasons haven’t been announced yet, so there will likely be events in the fall that I’ll be crazy about, and REDCAT had not published its Winter/Spring concert schedule by the time I turned my copy into my editors)

Just about all my picks involve 20th/21st century music (there’s lots of pre-20th century music at Ojai, and although Mahler may not seem 20th-century to many classical music mavens, over half of his output was composed after 1901).  Here they are, in order of Most-To-Least Amount of Regret One Will Have For Not Attending The Event:

1) Steve Reich played by the Bang on a Can All-Stars and red fish blue fish, Jan. 17

2) The LA Philharmonic’s Mahler Project, but in particular the rarely performed 8th Symphony

3) The Ojai Festival–lots of new music, but especially the West Coast premiere of John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit on June 7

4) Jacaranda’s March 17-18 concerts, featuring the LA premiere of Christopher Rouse’s astounding String Quartet no. 3, played by the group which commissioned it, the Calder Quartet

5) Violinist Shalini Vijayan will perform Cage’s One6 and One10 with musical sculptures by Mineko Grimmer (which Cage approved as appropriate companion works to his music), as the opening concert of Cage 2012

My story, along with lots of links and videos, can be read here.

Some observations and amplifications I couldn’t squeeze into a 500-word story:

  • REDCAT is doing a 2-night Cage Festival, including performances of 103 and Fifty-Eight on the first evening. But from what I can see right now, that and Southwest Chamber Music’s Cage 2012 are the only big birthday celebrations going on for Cage in his native city. Green Umbrella will present Cage’s Concerto for Prepared Piano, performed by Gloria Cheng and conducted by John Adams; the other works scheduled for that program include Stockhausen’s Tierkreis (the “Carnival of Venice” for new music groups) and a new work from Oscar Bettison which is more likely to be in Cage’s spirit than Stockhausen’s goofy Zodiac pieces.
  • The all-Andriessen Green Umbrella concert looks very promising–2 multimedia works, (the lurid Anais Nin and Life) plus the US premiere of La Giro. It’s worth attending just to see the riveting Cristina Zavalloni, who’s become one of Andriessen’s chosen interpreters
  • I feel sorry for all the other composers on the above Jacaranda program (Richard Rodney Bennett, William Schuman, and Leon Kirchner)–memory of their music will be completely obliterated by Rouse’s compositional juggernaut, his Third Quartet. There’s a video of the Calder Quartet ripping it up (the West Coast premiere) here. The Calder will also play Rouse’s Second Quartet, but the ending to that work has always struck me as contrived
  • Jacaranda has 2 other exciting programs coming up: the American premiere of Terry Riley’s Olson III, a work from the time of In C, and a January concert of chamber music by Dutilleux, Takemitsu, Ung, and Saariaho. It was a real coin toss for me to choose between Olson III or Rouse Third Quartet, but I ultimately went with Rouse because the Calder knows the work cold, and a successful performance is certain (unlike Olson III)
  • In addition to Inuksuit, JLA’s Red Arc/Blue Veil and the two-piano-plus-tape version of Dark Waves will be heard at Ojai. Marc-Andre Hamelin, a pianist I would not associate with JLA’s music, will be performing in the latter 2 pieces–I look forward to hearing what he does with the piece. I imagine he’ll get authoritative guidance from Steve Schick, his partner in Red Arc, and from JLA himself. Amusingly, John Adams’ Shaker Loops will be on the same program as Dark Waves. I wonder how many inattentive audience members will think they’re works by the same composer? Much more up Hamelin’s alley: Ives’ Concord Sonata and Berg’s Four Songs, op. 2, and following his performance of Dark Waves with Leif Oves Andsnes, the pianists will play Stravinsky’s 4-hand arrangement of Rite of Spring (done on 2 pianos, because the hand crossings and elbow bumpings are ridiculous)

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Cory Smythe and Amy X Neuburg; Photos courtesy of Glenn Cornett

Amy X Neuburg/Cory Smythe
Roulette
Brooklyn, NY
Dec. 13, 2011

It’s East Meets West…coast, that is.

On the stage of the old-school charming Roulette in Brooklyn was yet another creatively edgy program, put on this time by the pairing of West-coast avant-cabaret artist Amy X Neuburg and New York’s own pianist-composer, ICE’s Cory Smythe. Presented without an intermission, the show was almost entirely electronic or electro-acoustic in nature (with the exception of a refreshing burst of Fats Waller’s “Handful of Keys” from Mr. Smythe), and most of the pieces were composed and/or arranged by both of them. Read the rest of this entry »

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On Tuesday, December 13, Bay-area artist Amy X Neuburg will collaborate for one-night only with NY-based pianist/composer Cory Smythe at Brooklyn’s Roulette on Atlantic Ave.

Neuburg’s brand of music, which has been dubbed “avant-cabaret”, promises to be an interesting blend with Smythe’s improvisational work as they will play a majority of the evening together, as well as some portions solo.

AMY X NEUBURG

Amy told us recently in an interview what to look forward to in this unique show:

We’re each performing a few solo songs, but the bulk of the evening will be brand new and collaborative. Much of our music leaves room for improvisation, and most of it involves live looping of the piano and the voice. You’ll hear a “cabaret improv” song about rat experiments, a completely whack song Cory has written which I am to sing in a country twang while looping piano chords in multiple odd time signatures, a duo of new songs (about personality disorders) constructed of simple layered lines, two composed songs that we played earlier this year in Milwaukee, and an unusual interpretation of “Gretchen am Spinnrade” that we have convinced ourselves Mr. Schubert would appreciate.

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Judith Berkson performing “Vor an Sicht” (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Reddin)

Vital Vox: A Vocal Festival (Vital Vox 2011)
Roulette
Brooklyn, NY
Sat, Nov 5 & Sun, Nov 6, 2011

I guess there was no better way to kick off the Vital Vox Festival than with a primal scream. Gelsey Bell and her partner for this performance, composer/performer Paul Pinto, actually gave us several of them separate and together at the start of the song cycle Scaling, and they seemed to be the sound that signified both the power of vocal performance and the experimental nature of the festival as well.
In general, the festival is a huge emphasis on artists that recognize the human voice as an instrument, an instrument that has just as much range and capability as any great violin, piano or guitar, and works wonderfully as a duet with other instruments or other voices. These artists are all equally gifted as vocalists as they are composers or musicians of other instruments, and they all put on compelling performances. Read the rest of this entry »

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