Archive for the “Performers” Category

In this space just a year ago we told you about Asphalt Orchestra‘s Lincoln Center Out of Doors hit-the-streets, in-you-face debut last summer. Well, what a year they’ve had! In August they performed during lunchtime at Philadelphiaʼs 30th Street Amtrak Station; it’s a testament to the band’s transcendence of genre that The Philadelphia Inquirer named that show one of the 10 Best Classical Performances of 2009, even though it took place in a train station and featured almost no classical music! In late 2009 the band was selected to play the official opening of Lincoln Centerʼs newest space, the David Rubenstein Atrium, and garnered even more critical hoo-hahs. Their ever-changing set list now includes commissions from Tyondai Braxton of Battles, Stew and Heidi Rodewald of The Negro Problem and Passing Strange, celebrated Balkan musician-composer Goran Bregovic, as well as new arrangements of Björk, jazz legend Charles Mingus, Swedish metal pioneers Meshuggah, the eminent American experimental composers Conlon Nancarrow and Frank Zappa, the playful Brazilian songwriter Tom Ze and the iconic Zimbabwean artist Thomas Mapfumo.

AO brings together some of the best rock, jazz and classical musicians in New York City and beyond: Jessica Schmitz (piccolo), Ken Thomson (saxophone), Peter Hess (saxophone), Alex Hamlin (saxophone), Shane Endsley (trumpet), Stephanie Richards (trumpet), Alan Ferber (trombone), Jen Baker (trombone), Kenneth Bentley (sousaphone), Yuri Yamashita (percussion), Sunny Jain (percussion) and Nick Jenkins (percussion). Is it classical? Yes. Is it rock, prog, jazz, world-party street band? Yes. Is it useless to try and pigeonhole this vital bridge between the arty and the party? Yes.

All this is to tell you that Lincoln Center Out of Doors is back starting tomorrow, Aug 4th, and AO can be found there again doing their gloriously noisy thing Wednesday through Sunday this week. Head to AO’s website for daily event details.

Among their here-there-and-everywhere, they’ll be premiering new commissions by David Byrne and Annie Clark, and Yoko Ono (they’ve been rehearsing with both Ono and Byrne the past weeks). If that weren’t enough, following their own set on August 5th they’ll be featured in the Taylor 2 performance of Paul Taylor’s piece “3 Epitaphs,” in celebration of Taylor’s 80th birthday. Appearing with the company’s dancers, the band will premiere new arrangements of pieces originally played by the Laneville-Johnson Union Brass Band.

But wait, there’s still more! AO’s eponymous first CD on Cantaloupe Music just dropped today, allowing happy listeners around the world to hear much of this music. The recording was made live-in-studio at Water Music Studios, Hoboken, NJ, in August 2009; here’s the tracklist:

1. Frank Zappa: Zomby Woof
2. Goran Bregovic: Champagne
3. Charles Mingus: The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife Are Some Jive Ass Slippers (arr. Jose Davila)
4. Meshuggah: Electric Red (arr. Derek Johnson)
5. Bjork: Hyperballad (arr. Alan Ferber)
6. Stew and Heidi Rodewald: Carlton
7. Tyondai Braxton: Pulse March

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There’s a lot of shock and sadness in the Mexican classical community just now: last week one of the finest violists in Mexico and the world, Omar Hernández-Hidalgo, was found dead in his hometown of Tijuana, four days after apparently being kidnapped. A principal violist by the age of 21, Grammy-nominated twice, the first violist in his country to recieve a PhD. (at Indiana University), praised by Pierre Boulez, Hernández-Hidalgo was a champion of contemporary music, especially the new and vital in his own country. While his technique was commanding and virtuosic, his own personality was warm, modest and endlessly generous. He was in the midst of a demanding schedule of performances and festivals right up to his disappearance, and the sudden hole his senseless death leaves in the Mexican musical soul is keen and intense. Our hearts go out to his colleagues, family and friends, along with our hopes for sanity, peace and determination to stand for a world that will not stand for this kind of evil. RIP.



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A few of the of the unusual and interesting events coming up soon, soon soon:

Victoria, B.C. : Wednesday May 12th, 8pm at Knox Presbyterian Church (2964 Richmond Road, Victoria / $10), LaSaM (Luminosity and Sounds by adventurous Musicians) is presenting a program titled “And Beethoven Heard Nothing“. As they tell it, the show will be “exploring Beethoven’s inherent belief systems, his deafness and the sonorities of his later work. Sonic phenomena; tinnitus and deafness; acoustic space, climax and stasis; memory and silence… The ensemble has pulled experiences of Beethoven’s thought and music through the filters of contemporary soundscape and performance practice into an evocative environment of dancing shadows, image and light.”  Directed by musicologist Dylan Robinson and composer Tina Pearson, with technical direction by George Tzanetakis and live video projections by Tim Gosley. Besides Pearson (flute, voice, glass) and Tzanetakis (clarinet, saxophone) collaborating musicians include Chris Reiche (piano), Cathy Lewis (voice, percussion), and Alex Olson (bass). Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Society will be on hand with information; the performance will be followed by a discussion about the project, and about how we use our ears in contemporary urban life.

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Baltimore, MD : Friday May 14th is the kick off for the 2010 edition of the Megapolis Audio Festival, running all the way through Sunday the 16th. Right from the horse’s mouth, there’ll be “circuit bending /noisemaker constructions, sonic slumber parties, free-form audio editing sessions, kickass musics, interactive demonstrations, urban sonic explorations, experimental musical practice and theory, film with funfun sounds, musical performances, subversive audio tours, (un-boring) lectures, and moremoremoremore.”

The line up is mind-boggling in its scope, filled not only with listening but workshops, installations, player participation and likely wild parties hither and yon. A special shout-out to my composer friend Erik Spangler, who in his alter-ego known as DJ Dubble8 will be working with Baltimore’s intrepid Mobtown Modern ensemble.

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Toronto, ON : Saturday, May 15th is the day to catch Contact Contemporary Music: Six Team League at the Music Gallery (197 John St., Toronto / 416-204-1080 / $20).

In celebration of Canada hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics with a nod to the National Hockey League’s “Original Six,” Contact Contemporary Music is pitching in with an ambitious attempt to connect the country through music. Six ensembles across the country will simultaneously present and perform a concert of six new works by six composers from six regions of the country in a musical sweep from sea to sea to sea.

The participating ensembles are the Motion Ensemble (Fredericton, NB) who have commissioned composer Joel Miller; Bradyworks (Montreal, QC) who have commissioned composer Michel Frigon; St. Crispin’s Chamber Ensemble (Edmonton, AB) who have commissioned Dave Wall; Redshift Music (Vancouver, BC) who have commissioned Jordan Nobles; and Contact Contemporary Music who have commissioned Juliet Palmer..

Six composers. Six ensembles. Six cities. Six concerts. Six Team League.

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Saint-Gilles, Belgium : Also on Saturday, May 15th, 8pm but half a world away (Maison du Peuple de Saint-Gilles, Parvis de Saint-Gilles, 37-39), the brilliant pianist Stephane Ginsburgh will be joining  many other wonderful musicians, in a free concert titled “Constellations-Figure“. A clumsy translation:

What is a constellation? A design, a network. Links forged between the points seen from afar, but apparently close. They are a familiar and enigmatic. A graph that tells us about relationships, geometric and experienced. Paths traced between places and individuals symbolic or real. What form a constellation? The proximity of the points or the path of truth? Twenty artists are encouraged to draw their constellation, while participating in the figure which will rise by the force of things. Do you like the Milky Way?

Did I mention many other wonderful musicians? It’s a “Night of Soloists”: Jean-Michel Agius (voice), Primitiv (beatbox), Laurence Cornez (piano), Tom De Cock (percussion), Fabian Fiorini (piano), Stephane Ginsburgh (piano), Philippe Liénaert (piano), Céline Lory (piano), Barbara Mavro Thalassitis (voice/dance), Laurence Mekhitarian (piano), Gerrit Nulens (percussion), Isabelle Roeland (voice), Jessica Ryckewaert (percussion), Jan Rzewski (saxophone), Johanne Saunier (voice/dance), Laurence Vielle (voice), Gilles Wiernik (voice).  It’s a cryptic but promising event, in a beautiful and historic location.

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Making the classical aspects of the burgeoning indie classical movement abundantly clear, crossover albums are now crossover marketing musical scores. Via his website, composer Owen Pallett has released a limited edition score for the music on Heartland, his latest Domino recording.

Owen Palletts Heartland

Joined by the Czech Symphony Orchestra and a host of guests (including composer Nico Muhly) Pallette has crafted his most consistently engaging music to date. In some critical circles, indie classical has, rightly or wrongly, been under the microscope for making pop into a ‘longhair’ genre, robbing it of its immediacy in favor of overt sophistication. I’d submit that this vantage point doesn’t give enough credit to indie audiences, who seem to be just fine grappling with orchestral arrangements by Pallett and electronic experiments by Animal Collective alike.

What’s more, recordings like Heartland amply demonstrate that one can, if they’re talented, craft sophisticated music that has just as many catchy hooks as a three-chord, three-minute anthemic single. A case in point is the loop-laden and jaunty “Lewis Takes off his Shirt;” the music, and the video below, suggest that pop can indeed combine sophistication with immediacy, and that its orchestral incarnation can be downright cheeky!



For those of your with a case of ‘artifact avarice,’ the full orchestra score for Heartland is $46 and has been printed in a limited run of 300. In addition to the music it also provides lyrics and a chart of diagrams of patches for the ARP 2600.

Owen Palett’s touring a bunch in support of Heartland. Here are some dates:

04-08 Toronto, Ontario – Queen Elizabeth Theatre
04-10 Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall
04-11 Minneapolis, MN – Varsity Theater
04-12 Milwaukee, WI – Turner Hall
04-13 Columbus, OH – Wexner Center
04-14 Pittsburgh, PA – Andy Warhol Museum
04-15 Washington DC – Black Cat
04-18 Indio, CA – Coachella Festival
04-20 Boston, MA – Institute of Contemporary Art
04-22 New York, NY – Webster Hall
04-24 Baltimore, MD – Metro Gallery
04-25 Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church
04-27 Atlanta, GA – The Earl
04-29 Dallas, TX – Granada Theater
04-30 Austin, TX – The Mohawk
05-05 San Francisco, CA – The Independent
05-08 Seattle, WA – The Crocodile
05-09 Vancouver, British Columbia – The Vogue Theatre
05-10 Victoria, British Columbia – Alix Goolden Hall
05-11 Portland, OR – Aladdin Theater
05-13 Salt Lake City, UT – Kilby Court
05-14 Denver, CO – Larimer Lounge

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bagpipeJust a few weeks ago over at our CD Review section, Jay Batzner wrote about the new Julia Wolfe Dark Full Ride CD: “Each piece transfixes me.  I am writing my own music differently because of this disc.  I am so glad that Julia Wolfe exists, is writing music, and that such talented performers play the hell out of her stuff.”  It’s a really interesting Ride, each piece intensely working over some greater or lesser multiple of the same instrument.

If you’re a skeptical “show me” kind of person, free as a bird tomorrow (Nov. 10th) in NYC and maybe just a little crazy, you can test your own reaction to all of these works and the performers. The normal CD release concert has been jettisoned for this one, instead having each of the four pieces performed separately in venues familiar and not-so, scattered around Manhattan:

At 11 AM Matthew Welch is guaranteed to absolutely fill the air as he plays LAD on bagpipe with 8 more bagpipes on tape, at Roulette, 20 Greene Street (between Canal and Grand);

At 12 noon, the title piece Dark Full Ride for 4 drumsets (manned by the Talujon Percussion Quartet — David Cossin, Tom Kolor, Michael Lipsey and Matt Ward) will pound out at Dauphin Human Design, 138 West 25th Street, 12th Floor (between 6th and 7th Avenues);

At 1 PM Robert Black and the Hartt Bass Band will rock Wolfe’s Stronghold for 8 double basses, at the Chelsea Art Museum, 556 West 22nd Street (corner of 11th Avenue);

Finally at 2:30 PM Lisa Moore, Lisa Kaplan, Blair McMillen, Timo Andres, Kate Campbell and Isabelle O’Connell, all conducted by Sam Adams, will undertake the epic my lips from speaking for 6 pianos at Faust Harrison Pianos, 205 West 58th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues).

julia wolfeJulia herself will be tagging along to each performance; if you happen to spot this face in the crowd you might go and say hi & thanks to the woman who penned all this glorious madness. It’s all free and open to whoever makes it, so pack a lunch, put on those walking shows and have a great hike!

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So recalls Felix Heltmann of then-West Berlin, in a comment over at the BBC, “and without question I just started pounding away at the Wall. I was so excited that I got exhausted after some time and I gave the hammer to my other mate who started hammering away too. What a night…”

To celebrate that night on this night, NYers might want to head to Le Poisson Rouge, where admirable pianist Heather O’Donnell will be in town — she herself has lived in Germany now for some years — to give a commemorative concert thanks to the Wordless Music series. On the bill will be Walter Zimmermann‘s the missing nail (at the river), for piano & toy-piano, and Wüstenwanderung; Oliver Schneller‘s Five Imaginary Spaces and Tomorrow…, both for for piano & electronics; and Charles IvesThree Quarter-Tone Pieces for Two Pianos (new version for piano & electronics).

Heather’s also taking her show on the road the next few days: tomorrow the 10th she’ll be at An die Musik in Baltimore with music of Schneller, Ives and Schumann; the 12th she’ll repeat that recital at the Goethe Institut in Boston; and the 15th she’s at the Ethical Society in Philadelphia doing Zimmermann, Ives and Schumann.

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Amanda Palmer (photo by Martin Foster)
Amanda Palmer (photo by Martin Foster)

Amanda Palmer is a bona fide rock star.  She first made her name as half of The Dresden Dolls, and has since struck out on her own with a solo album called “Who Killed Amanda Palmer.”  In June of 2008 she teamed up with the Boston Pops for two nights, and this December they’re doing it again for a New Year’s Eve concert.  Amanda has also been pioneering new models of how the rock music industry can work (staying in nearly constant contact with her fans via Twitter plays a key role), and I wanted to see if that ingenuity could be translated into advice for the classical scene.  I interviewed her by phone last week, and we talked about the upcoming Pops show, her musical background and training, and her impressions of the classical music industry:

Part 1:

Part 2:
Amanda is performing in Singapore right now, and when she returns she has a series of shows along the Eastern Seaboard which culminate with the Pops concert on December 31.
P.S. Here’s the link to the Shadowbox repertoire discussionAmanda mentions.

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photo_by_Owen_Richards[Ed. note: Composer and S21 regular Chris Becker sat down recently with the one and only Matana Roberts. I told him I’d love to feature his interview, and so here it is: ]


Saxophonist, composer, fanzine writer, and blogger Matana Roberts is the current artist in residence at Issue Project Room (NYC) where she is developing and presenting in a series of concerts material for her “large scale…sound narrative” COIN COIN.  COIN COIN might be described as a multi-movement composition utilizing composed, improvised, and pre-recorded music along with elements of theater (projections, candles, chains) to give voice to a complex family history that extends from Louisiana to at least three other continents.  Matana – a Chicago native – combines her Midwestern roots (including the influence of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians of which she is a member) with a very Southern-styled “collage” compositional technique to realize performances that (in Matana’s words) “…create an atmosphere where the people witnessing it feel enveloped into the experience.”  Those words certainly describe the two COIN COIN performances I myself have witnessed, the most recent being last week (September 30) where Matana, on alto saxophone, clarinet, and vocals, was accompanied by drummer and percussionist Mike Pride.

Her recent CD The Chicago Project (2008) is a wonderfully varied collection of original compositions featuring Chicago musicians guitarist Jeff Parker (Chicago Underground Trio, Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble), bassist Josh Abrams (Josh Abrams Quartet) and drummer Frank Rosaly (Ken Vandermark) and special guest tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson.  We talk a little bit about this recording in the interview that follows.

I first became aware of Matana’s work via her blog (Shadows of a People now called In The Midst of Memory). What I like about her writing is its immediacy and honesty whether she is providing details about her family ancestry or reacting to this country’s current confusions regarding race, gender, and class.  Matana’s will to give voice to her experience as a creative artist in the 21st century, as well as to the history of her Southern, African, and European ancestors is one of the things that inspired me to reach out to her for this interview.

Please note:  This interview was conducted and edited just before the untimely and tragic passing of Issue Project Room founder Suzanne Fiol.  Matana is certainly not the only artist to speak highly of Suzanne, and I would like to express my sincere condolences to everyone who knew and loved her.

Chris Becker:  As a composer and bandleader, can you talk about how you select musicians for a recording date or a Coin Coin performance? Do you compose with specific musicians in mind or do you go about the search and selection after the fact?

Matana Roberts:  I like to compose with specific people in mind when I have the luxury to do so.  Since I have been working on COIN COIN now for about 5 years as I re edit the work, I can pick and choose amongst sound makers that mean a lot to me not only as musicians but also as friends and almost honorary family.  I put together The Chicago Project with every musician that is on that record in mind. I wanted it to be a very specific document about my Chicago roots and development and all of the people involved are people who made it possible for me to play at the level I am playing now.

The only exception on that record would be Frank Rosaly– Frank showed up in Chicago right after I left, but I wanted him on the record because I felt he represented the positive new influx of creative direction Chicago has been getting in the last 10 years or so, and I also just liked him as a person. I’m more interested in musicians as people first, sound makers second. If they are not compassionate and open and considerate as people, that means that their sound output will (to me) be just as cold as their probable personality in my opinion.

CB:  Not to take anything away from the other musicians you play with, but one of the many exciting things about your CD The Chicago Project is the sound of Jeff Parker’s guitar playing alongside the sound of your alto saxophone.  You each have a very distinctive sound that blends as well as contrasts with the other throughout the tracks. What do you anticipate musically from Jeff when he is playing with you?

MR:  For whatever reason I have yet to figure out why Jeff and I have a very special musical connection that has always been apparent even in the little time we have played together.  Maybe it’s because he has such big ears.  He listens to some of everything and deals with the process of sound in so many different capacities – in collaborative groups, groups he leads, as a deejay.  He’s one of the busiest sidemen in creative music and so I just feel like he internalizes so much that allows him to connect with someone weird like me in a really empathetic and eerily intuitive sense.  He’s also just has an incredible big heart, the best laugh ever (Nicole Mitchell is a runner up to this though-her laugh comes from such an amazing wellspring of sound!) and speaks with such kindness about so many things, and knows how to speak on them with a tasteful brevity that I wish I could access more often… Read the rest of this entry »

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Imani Winds decided some time ago to make their tenth anniversary special, by commissioning ten new works from ten very different composers of color. Titled the Legacy Project, each new work not only gets premiered, but added to Imani’s rolling repertory as they perform across the country and beyond. So far they’ve taken on pieces by Wayne Shorter, Roberto Sierra, Alvin Singleton, Daniel Bernard Roumain, and Jason Moran; Danilo Perez, Jeff Scott and Simon Shaheen (and I suppose a mystery 10th composer) are in the wings.

harrisBut just now the latest offering is stellar jazz vibraphonist Stefon HarrisAnatomy of a Box (A Sonic Painting in Wood, Metal and Wind). Imani already showed it off this past week at Iowa State and Penn State; now they’re about to give the West Coast their chance, with concerts Oct. 2, 8:00PM  at Cal Poly Arts (Spanos Theatre) in San Luis Obispo, CA; and Oct. 4, 7:00PM at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. Imani Winds has always put their impressive chops at the service not only of the ‘official’ canon, but also pieces that reach out to someplace in the wider world beyond the typical classical concert stage. Hey California, come and hear for yourself.

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