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Now in their 10th season, the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players have earned their special place in New York City music lovers’ hearts.

A stone throw from Lincoln Center’s main venues, the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church on 152 West 66th Street provides a modest but intimate setting for the chamber music series, commemorating the powerful legacy of the founder and conductor of the Jupiter Symphony Orchestra, Jens Nygaard, who had performed for audiences at Alice Tully Hall, as well as the homeless and victims of natural disasters alike.

His passion for music not only glorified already celebrated works, but he sought out lesser known and neglected works or composers whose names had been forgotten, which he presented with great appeal. This charismatic personality in teaching and music-making touched many lives before he passed away in 2001. The Emmy Award winning documentary “Life on Jupiter,” has accounts of Nygaard’s highly spirited and relevant impact, told by his friends and colleagues.

Run by private funding, the enthusiastic efforts of the Chamber Players’ manager and Nygaard’s widow, Mei Ying, as well as former first bassoonist and now music advisor, Michael Volpert,  the series is dedicated to continuing Mr. Nygaard’s artistic quest for beautiful music and interesting performance. It also keeps on providing performance opportunities for some of the former orchestral musicians as well as talented guest artists.

A small but loyal and informed audience follows this quest on a very low budget. Tickets are not expensive. The performances are held on twenty Monday afternoons (2pm) and evening (7.30pm) programs.

Besides playing some of the standard gamut, the performers who come from a roster of first rate, internationally performing artists, notably explore a handpicked, highly selective repertoire.

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There are many compositions dealing with the horrors of World War II. Some of them, like Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, have little to do with the war–Penderecki changed the original title of the work from 8:37 after hearing its first performance. Others, like Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, achieved notoriety during the war, but their status in the repertory is still debated. (I can’t stand the Seventh, but find his Eighth Symphony one of the most moving works to arise from the war).

Then there is that genre unto itself, the Holocaust piece. An Israeli colleague of mine once solemnly claimed that if an Israeli wrote a piece about the Jewish Holocaust, they would get a performance by an Israeli orchestra. No joke–he had composed such a work and had a tape of said performance.

There is a curious paucity of works from the actual time of World War II which deal with the subject. Artists always claim to be mirrors of their own time, yet where are all the great reflections of the most turbulent era of the last century? One of the few contemporary composers who called out the Nazis and created a lasting work of art at the same time was Michael Tippett in his A Child of Our Time.  Dallapiccola’s Canti di Prigionia is another powerful piece written during the war, although performances are fewer than Tippett’s oratorio. Britten, the self-proclaimed pacifist, during the war years produced–Paul Bunyan? A violin concerto? Peter Grimes?

There has been plenty of music resurrected by composers who perished in Nazi death camps–most of it, to my taste, not worth the effort of programming. The greatest work composed in a Nazi concentration camp was written by a French prisoner of war at Stalag VIII-A, the Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps by Messiaen, which is less about the war then an expression of the composer’s faith.

For works about the camps, of course there is Schoenberg’s A Survivor From Warsaw, a good piece, yes, but I find the 1920’s/30’s neo-Expressionist language of Schoenberg a little over the top. It’s as if F.W. Murnau did a silent horror film about Auschwitz–effective but at the same time curiously dated and overstated.

For years I found Nono’s Il Canto Sospeso to be the most intense, emotionally powerful work inspired by WWII, with its texts drawn from letters of imprisoned Resistance fighters terrifyingly matched to the searing drama of Nono’s music. But for the past 2 decades, I have been fascinated, captivated, and horrified by Steve Reich’s Different Trains. I heard a good performance of this recently, and you can read my thoughts at the link below.

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cb…I hope not! They’re the last thing you need for this nine-part quest.

If you’re coming from a previous clue, you know just what’s up; if you’re clueless, heading here might make things a bit more clear. Either way, good luck! Now my friend, question the third:

Handel’s famous aria “Ombra mai fù” from his opera Serse was written for which of Porpora’s famous students?

And so on to four, just past this door

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Since Christian Carey’s wonderful post on June in Buffalo sounded so enticing, I figured it was time I see what all the hubbub was about. From getting there just in time to hear the first piece on the afternoon’s concert to eating wings with many of the participants at the Tap Room to thoroughly enjoying the evening concert to literally closing the seemingly popular Tap Room with the Meridian Arts Ensemble…methinks I got a good taste of it.

The overall structure of each day during the festival seems to be a lecture by one of the guest faculty, followed by workshops between the faculty and the participants, then an afternoon concert by one of the guest ensembles performing works by the participants, and ending with an evening concert by another guest ensemble which includes works by one or more of the guest faculty.

Yesterday’s afternoon concert had the New York New Music Ensemble putting six participant works through their paces and the result was a straightforward demonstration of avant-garde techniques and concepts. Prepared piano, bass clarinet multiphonics, percussionists dancing wildly from one instrument to the next, overblown alto flutes…you want ’em, they got ’em…yet, curiously, the two instruments who didn’t get much showcasing were the violin and cello. Read the rest of this entry »

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Photo:Jerome de PerlinghiIt’s sometimes said that composers are either German or French, and American vanguard one Frederic Rzewski, with his much vaunted admiration for Beethoven, is clearly on the German side.  But how could he not be when some of his composition teachers like Dallapiccola and Babbitt forsook a flowing lyric line for a jagged dramatic one, whose aim is not to seduce the ear, but to wow with intellectual rigor?  But that doesn’t mean that Rzewski’s work is insincere, or lacks power — it has that in spades — but that it tends to be aimed at the mind and not the heart. It’s often confrontational, too. But that’s a good thing because any real musical interaction, like any real human one, has a built in   confrontational element, and confrontations help us grow.

Rzewski’s 1976 solo piano piece The People United Will Never Be Defeated (El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido) is certainly a work in which he confronted the musical possibilities of all kinds of things that had been appearing in his output until then.  He was 38 at the time he wrote it and his discoveries here power lots of his subsequent work. I t’s as much as a watershed piece for him as Glass’ massive ensemble work Music In 12 Parts (1971-74) was for him.  It’s also a kind of compendium of rhythmic, harmonic and coloristic approaches to Chilean composer Sergio Ortega’s song for Salvador Allende on which it’s based. There are 6 variation sets of 6 each plus a coda, and Rzewski seems to use every possible pianistic device in it. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Ditmas Park Concert Series is up and running for its second season. Curated by Jody Redhage, there will be five concerts in the series.

Friday, May 1 / 9:00 pm Erica von Kleist Trio, 10:30 pm John Ellis Trio / Sycamore Bar & Flower Shop, 1118 Cortelyou Rd. at Westminster Rd., Brooklyn, NY (Q to Cortelyou Rd) $10

Sunday, May 10 / 4:00 pm Janus / Temple Beth Emeth, 83 Marlborough Rd. at Church Ave., Brooklyn, NY (B/Q to Church Ave) $10

Saturday, May 23 / 9:00 pm Dan Pratt Organ Quartet / Sycamore Bar & Flower Shop, 1118 Cortelyou Rd. at Westminster Rd., Brooklyn, NY (Q to Cortelyou) $10

Saturday, May 30 / 3:00 Botanica String Quartet / PS 217 Auditorium, 1100 Newkirk Ave. at Coney Island Ave., Brooklyn, NY (B/Q to Newkirk Ave.) Free Family Concert

Friday, June 12 / 8:00 pm Gabriel Kahane and Friends / PS 139 Auditorium, 330 Rugby Rd. at Cortelyou Rd., Brooklyn, NY (Q to Cortelyou Rd.) $10

Sponsored by the Brooklyn Arts Council and numerous local businesses, the Ditmas Park Concert Series connects the world class musicians living in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn with the students and residents of the community. Featuring band leaders who live walking distance from the venues, the DPCS strengthens the community through live creative performance.

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NMC Songbook


English imprint NMC is celebrating its twentieth anniversary with a special 4-disc CD boxed set. NMC Songbook features vocal music by a number of the UK’s finest and most prominent contemporary composers: Birtwistle, Davies, Weir, Goehr, Finnissy, Bryars, Harvey, Turnage, and many, many more. These are interspersed with galliards by British Renaissance composer Thomas Morley, arranged for modern forces by Colin Matthews.

For those who’d like to perform some of this repertoire, it’s available for download at  Sheet Music Direct. Featuring both composers associated with vocal music and those for whom song is a comparatively rare venture, the songbook is a treasure trove for musical Anglophiles!  

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If you believe that the importance of the arts in these times is inversely proportional to the economic news, than there’s never been a better time for YouTube’s Symphony Orchestra. YouTube announced today the winners of the world’s first orchestra selected entirely through video auditions on-line, a process yielding more than 3,000 videos from all over the world, and 200 finalists.

Since I work in the social media aspects of business software marketing, it’s been a fascinating experience to see my husband, Bill Williams,  in his role as the Music Coordinator for the YouTube project, examine many of the nuances and applications of social media’s power.

The global YouTube community, and Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, selected from the finalists more than 90 musicians playing 26 different instruments from 30 different countries including: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, China, Columbia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the United States.  Many of the winners have played professionally but a number of them have not.

The musicians will travel to Carnegie Hall in April for a summit and for a concert under the direction of Tilson Thomas. Selected submissions will be compiled into a mashup video, which will premiere at the Carnegie Hall concert on April 15. The concert will uniquely cover the 1200 year span of classical music and many surprises are in store for the concert-goer. Tickets are on sale now.

Since the launch of this initiative in December 2008, the YouTube Symphony Orchestra’s channel has received more than 13 million views worldwide. To further demonstrate the commitment of YouTube to this genre, new features to improve the site quality and functionality are present on the channel. According to the press release, The YouTube Symphony Orchestra marks the first program on YouTube to welcome submissions from nearly every country in the world, and the channel continues to be available in 16 different languages.  YouTube has partnered with more than 40 major classical music organizations and institutions to bring this initiative to musicians around the world.

Nothing this ambitious has ever been undertaken in the world of classical music in such a short period of time.    One  perspective is that the discovery of hidden talent can mean the difference between just another orchestra assembled by conventional means and a orchestra chosen in part by us, by subject matter experts, and by the crowd, providing a point of reference for the way we participate in the arts in the future.

In addition to marketing software, Margot also plays a mean jazz piano and is the only person I know who has Giant Steps as a ringtone. JB

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David Schiff

While well-known for his writings about music, including books about Elliott Carter and George Gershwin, David Schiff is also a prolific and active composer. A professor at Reed College, he’s visiting New York this week to hear the American Composer’s Orchestra premiere a revamped version of Stomp, a piece that celebrates the music of James Brown. The concert, part of the Orchestra Underground series, also includes premieres by Margaret Brouwer and Kasumi, Rand Steiger, Fang Man, and Kati Agócs.

 Carey: Stomp was written in 1990 for Marin Alsop. How did you decide to write in homage to James Brown?

Schiff: I was asked for a concert opener and somewhere in the process I realized that one of my rhythmic motives was from James Brown’s “I Feel Good” (as recorded Live at the Apollo). I then re-conceived the piece as a tribute.

Carey: Have other rock or jazz legends figured in your music?

Schiff: There’s a big Motown section in my Scenes from Adolescence (1987) and my Slow Dance for orchestra (1989), written for the Oregon Symphony, has a lot of Charles Mingus in it, but I have also had the great honor of working with two living legends in jazz, Regina Carter and Marty Ehrlich.

Carey: What’s “re-lit” about this new version for the ACO?

Schiff: ACO asked me to reduce the size of the orchestra slightly to fit in Zankel Hall. This gave me the opportunity to re-score the entire piece. The wind section now is much better suited to the style of the piece: flute, E flat clarinet, two saxes, trumpet horn, trombone and tuba. But there are also a lot of musical changes everywhere. I think that in the years since I first wrote Stomp I have become more experienced with the style. The new version is much hotter than the original–even though the orchestra is smaller.

Carey: You’re currently at work on a book about Duke Ellington. Is that research infiltrating your composing at all?

Schiff: Ellington’s music influences everything I do. I go to school with his music every day and I find his melodies, rhythms, harmonies and instrumentation endlessly inspiring.

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Ever browsed the books on your shelf, and had the sudden strange feeling they were telling you something? Nina Katchadourian selects a few spines to show you you weren’t so far off — including this succinct tale that gets a helping hand from none other than John Cage:

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