Archive for the “Miller Theater” Category

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.

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A lot of important ensembles have been coming out of places like Oberlin (Eighth Blackbird), Yale (So Percussion, Now Ensemble), and Eastman (Alarm Will Sound, JACK Quartet, Signal) over the past 10+ years.  Well, it looks like there is another one trying to break through from Eastman called Eastman BroadBand.

BroadBand is preparing for a tour of Mexico that will culminate in a performance at the Festival Internacional Cervantino in Mexico City, but before they leave they will stop in New York City on Monday to pick up their visas at the Mexican consulate and perform at Columbia’s Miller Theatre (8pm).

The program features music by Silvestre Revueltas, Juan Trigos, and Alejandro Viñao, as well as Eastman faculty and BroadBand artistic directors Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez and Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon.  Eastman BroadBand has this to say about the program:

“The music on the program explores the composers’ interaction with contemporary culture through a number of seemingly diverse perspectives: the musical folklore of Mexico, Spain, and Pakistan; the literature of Juan Rulfo and Juan Trigos Sr; the kinetic sculptures of Arthur Ganson, and the ‘music of architecture’ are all examined through the abstract lenses of these imaginative artists.”

The program also features two soloists who I’ve had on the podcast this year.  You can listen to what pianist Cristina Valdes and soprano Tony Arnold have to say about performing contemporary music and working with composers here and here.

Tickets: $25 general admission, $12 students and Eastman alumni.

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Miller Theatre at Columbia University is running a great little series of composer portrait concerts this month:

Saturday, Nov. 7th, Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006) is featured, with Chicago’s Fifth House Ensemble doing the honors. The program includes Ustvolskaya’s Trio (1949), Piano Sonata No. 6 (1988), Octet (1949-1950), Composition 2 (1972-1973), Piano Sonata No. 4 (1957), Composition 3 (1974-1975).

Then on Tuesday, Nov. 17th, we get a full plate of a true American “gnarly” individualist, Ralph Shapey (1921-2002). Miranda Cuckson (violin, viola, and artistic director), Charles Neidich (clarinet), William Purvis (horn), and Blair McMillen (piano) will join conductors Donato Cabrera and Michel Galante, The Argento Chamber Ensemble, New York Woodwind Quartet and Talujon Percussion Quartet for this rare panoramic essay of Shapey’s work: Five for violin and piano (1960), Interchange (1996), Movements (1960), Etchings (1945), Concerto for clarinet and chamber group (1954), and Three for Six (1979).

Things round off with a concert on Sunday, Nov. 22nd, devoted to Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho (1952- ). Violinist Jennifer Koh will join the International Contemporary Ensemble and conductor Brad Lubman in a concert full of gems: Terrestre (2002), Graal théâtre (violin concerto) (1994, rev. 1997), Lichtbogen (1985-1986), and Solar (1993).

All concerts kick off at 8PM. Columbia University’s Miller Theatre is located north of the Main Campus Gate at 116th St. & Broadway on the ground floor of Dodge Hall. For tickets, call the Miller Theatre Box Office at 212/854-7799, M–F, 12–6PM, or they can also be purchased online.

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Miller TheaterRonen Givony’s Wordless Music is back at Miller Theater this Sept. 9-12, doing it’s indie-rock/electronic/classical/new-music thing. The 9th brings back the 802 Tour (Nico Muhly, Sam Amidon and Doveman, w/ special guest Nadia Sirota); the 10th welcomes Do Make Say Think and DMST founder Charles Spearin’s “The Happiness Project”; the 11th features Tim Hecker, Grouper, and Julianna Barwick; and the 12th caps it off with Destroyer and Loscil performing a rare collaborative set of original music from each artist’s catalog, then the JACK Quartet. All shows start at 8pm, with tickets setting you back $15-$20. Columbia University’s Miller Theatre is located north of the main campus gate at 116th St & Broadway, on the ground floor of Dodge Hall.

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Since it’s opera week here at Sequenza 21 and there’s a lot of chatter in the comments about transplanting operas between cultures and Galen has raised the topic of fugues in the invisible YouTube video below, it seems somehow fitting to mention that  Miller Theater and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music are presenting tonight and tomorrow night the U.S. premiere of Lost Highway by Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth, a multimedia opera based on the weird and wacky David Lynch film of the same name.  Film buffs will recall that Lynch’s film involves sex, murder and a character named Fred Madison who mysteriously becomes Pete Dayton through a mental disturbance known as “psychogenic fugue.”  Can you dig it? 

Timothy Weiss conducts the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble and an all-student cast.  Anybody going?  Write us a review.

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