Monthly Archives: March 2011

Getting the 18-40 Crowd to Attend

How to Get the 18-40 Crowd to Put Down the Controller and Go to Your Theatre: a great post by Melissa Hillman, Artistic Director of the Impact Theatre in Berkeley.  (Thanks to Mike Nelson, @kickassclassical on Twitter). Here are the main points.  Read her elaborations.  Brilliant.

1. Do the kinds of plays young people want to see.

2. Be realistic about your pricing.

3. Market to young people.

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Name That Theme: Figuring Out Tully Scope

Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times keeps, well, complaining that he can’t figure out the “theme” of the recent Tully Scope festival here in New York. “But the theme of the festival was hard to discern,” he writes, referring back to the opening event in his enthusiastic review of the final concert (which I blogged about here).  “And at its conclusion the theme of Tully Scope still seemed amorphous,” he continues later.  In his review of the opening event he says,

I cannot figure out what the point of this festival is supposed to be. In a program note Jane Moss, the vice president for programming at Lincoln Center, writes that TullyScope is “an international bazaar,” a “discovery of all that is wonderful about New York’s musical life.” It is also, she adds, “about a very special new musical home at Lincoln Center.” Fair enough, but terribly vague.

Sigh.

Maybe it’s a generational thing. Somehow I doubt Mr. Tommasini uses the shuffle feature on his iPod (if he has one) to experience a randomly-ordered, surprising-filled juxtaposition of music. If he did, this may have made more sense to him.

There wasn’t a central, organizing musical focus, like the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Manifest Legacy: Beethoven and Brahms series, which ran concurrently with Tully Scope in the same hall.  You might say that it was a festival “about nothing,” as the now-ancient sitcom Seinfeld (set in New York) was often described.  Which means, that like Seinfeld, it was a festival about everything.  A kind of musical buffet in which one could sample all sorts of new things.  The lack of a central musical point was the point.  It was a celebration of musical diversity. New music, old music.  Superstars like Emmanuel Ax and Jordi Savall.  New York-based up-and-comers like Tyondai Braxton and Brooklyn Rider.

Closing his review of the final concert, he does hit on what I think some of we older music-types may miss the significance of:

After the concert, as with all the Tully Scope events, the audience gathered in the lobby and mingled, given glasses of sparkling wine. You were surrounded by animated conversations about the music. Lincoln Center should find a way to keep this welcome innovation of Tully Scope going.

Absolutely.  As Greg Sandow points out in his post on the final concert,

People normally go out at night to have an experience. They want to do something that’ll be fun, or meaningful, something they think they’ll enjoy, that will mean something to them.

Yes, yes, yes.  This added so much to the experience.  I ended up meeting and chatting with someone after every concert I attended, which would not have happened without the space or without the free drink.  In a comment on Greg’s post, Linda writes,

This is what “The Experience Economy” is all about. People (especially in the sought after 25-40 age group) want to buy into a complete experience, preferably one in which they can interact with other people, rather than be passive “receivers.”

The other aspect of the “complete experience,” which the reviews I’ve seen have overlooked, is Tully Scope’s fascinating use of staging and lighting design.  I keep commenting on it in my blog posts because I’m realizing it’s so important and so many of us interested in the future of classical music aren’t thinking (enough) about it.  What I’ve really gotten during my time here in New York is that concerts are much more visual than people my age (50+) tend to realize, or would like to be the case.  For younger audiences, the visual is an important component of the complete experience.

People who just want to hear good music can stay home and listen to the inexhaustible supply of nearly a century’s worth of extraordinary recordings.  Complete, interactive experiences that are humanizing and foster human connection need to engage more than just the ears. If, of course, you want more than a handful of people to attend.

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Filed under Alice Tully Hall, future of classical music, Greg Sandow, Lincoln Center, Tully Scope 2011

JACK Quartet at LPR

One of the great pleasures of this stay in New York is that I keep getting introduced to terrific string quartets I didn’t know before.  The St. Lawrence, Brooklyn Rider, Sweet Plantain, and, tonight (Sunday, March 27), the JACK Quartet, in performance at LPR.

JACK Quartet (photo credit: Stephen Poff

 

First non-amplified event I’ve been to there. Acoustics could be worse;  not much resonance, but I could hear just fine.  Despite the food and drink, people were as silent, maybe even more silent, than at most classical concerts in more traditional venues.

I hadn’t had lunch or dinner.  Before the concert, I ordered a salad and edamame, which, unfortunately, came just as the music started.  I ate in between pieces and movements, especially since, by total chance, my son and I were sitting with the group’s manager.  Really didn’t want to be in a “sorry, your group is great but I need to focus on my food” mode.

Besides, when you’re listening to (mentally) hard-to-chew music by Steve Lehman, György Ligeti, and Horaţiu Rădulescu, you don’t want to be distracted by popping edamame beans into your mouth.  (At least I didn’t.) Music such as Rădulescu’s Fifth Quartet “Before the Universe was Born” (given its New York premiere tonight), by a composer who described his compositional approach like this:

[Sectral technique] comprises variable distribution of the spectral energy, synthesis of the global sound sources, micro- and macro-form as sound-process, four simultaneous layers of perception and of speed, and spectral scordaturae, i.e. rows of unequal intervals corresponding to harmonic scales

is not really music to eat by.  (The quote is from the linked-to Wikipedia article.)

The program definitely was on the non-tonal, special-effects end of the new-music spectrum. No indie-rock/classical easy-accessibility here. As my son (22) and I walked to meet his sister in Little Italy after the performance, he asked if the highly intricate work the JACK players had done could be considered virtuosic.

Absolutely.  Highly virtuosic. Excellent young players who did an amazing job with complex, fascinating music.  They are making quite a career–look at their list of performances.  And it’s a career based in new music.  Just one Beethoven quartet and no Haydn or Mozart (or Brahms or Schubert or Schumann) in their repertoire list.

Who would have though a string quartet could make a living without Haydn and Mozart?  But that’s the interesting thing.  If they were focusing on the core Viennese repertoire, maybe they wouldn’t have as much of a career.  There are countless groups playing that stuff well.

JACK?  68 premieres, if I counted correctly.

They are men on a mission. They are building their own virtually proprietary repertoire.  Their own niche, as marketers say.  They offer something unique.  Excellent role models for young musicians.

LPR was full, with a $20 cover charge.  JACK obviously has a following here. (So does LPR.)

The JACK Quartet plays some Xenakis:

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Filed under JACK Quartet, Le Poisson Rouge, String Quartets

Coming Up: March 27-April 4, invited or not

Back into the whirlwind of NY concert life! Here’s where I’m planning to be in the next week.  By the way, I love the Time Out New York music listings and recommend checking them out.

Sunday March 27: (tonight) Jack Quartet at LPR, 7:30 PM.  Pretty heavy-duty new-music program.  I’m dragging my son (22) there so he can experience LPR. “Serving art and alcohol” is one of their mottoes, and my boy, unfamiliar with Ligeti, may perhaps need the alcohol to get through.  We’ll see.

Monday March 28: So Percussion plays what I think is the final Ecstatic Music Festival concert.7:30 PM.   If I wasn’t going to that, I’d be at the opening of the the Monday-night Cutting Edge New Music Concerts (3/28, 4/4, 4/11, and 4/25–no concert 4/18) in the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre at Symphony Space.

Tuesday March 29: The Juilliard Percussion Ensemble performs contemporary Japanese music (8:00 PM) at Alice Tully Hall, part of Carnegie Hall’s Japan:NYC Festival, numerous events in almost as many venues around the city. It’s a free concert, but you may need to pick up tickets at the Juilliard Box Office. I love percussion music, so this was a no-brainer choice for me. Earlier, at 6:00 PM, there’s a program of traditional Japanese music at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, which I may try to catch at least part of (it’s free, too–register here).  If I could afford $100, I’d probably bypass the Juilliard ensemble (sorry, y’all) to hear and see Yoko Ono and friends in a 10:30 PM Japan fund-raising concert at LPR.  (And I’d line up about 9:00 PM.)  ‘Cause I have celebrity fever, and she is Yoko!

Wednesday March 30: John Zorn’s 8:00 PM Masada Marathon at NY City Opera (Lincoln Center). Because how often do you get to experience something like it?  If it wasn’t for that, I’d be at LPR for the fabulous International Contemporary Ensemble 7:30 LPR show.  And hey, it’s FREE.  (RSVP directions in the link.)

Thursday March 31: The New York Philharmonic (7:30 PM), with Anne-Sophie Mutter playing the premier of Sofia Gubaidulina’s In Tempus Praesens, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. (And the Tchaikovsky Second Symphony, without Ms. Mutter, I presume.) Haven’t been to the Philharmonic yet this trip, so I’m excited to attend.  I know NY critics (paid and otherwise) like to pick on it, but it is one of my favorite orchestras, and Avery Fisher Hall’s acoustics aren’t as bad as some make out. After that, I’ll head uptown to the Thalia Cafe at Symphony Space to have a drink and enjoy the 10:00 PM Jon & Lynn and the Giant Cicada show.  Because I met Jon (Burr), he’s a great guy, and he invited me. Which is always a great way to get people to come to your gig.

Friday April 1: I haven’t decided.  I might go hear pianist/composers Quentin Kim at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie, because I love the idea of composer/performers.  And performer/composers (depending on how one self-identifies).  He’s playing his own music plus Beethoven and Schumann.  Lots of other possibilities, too.  Who knows?  Maybe someone will invite me to something.

Saturday April 2: Thomas Deneuville’s music, along with that by others, performed at the Estonian House at 4:00 PM. Concert’s called “Something Not Too Complicated.” I might not have spotted this, but Thomas reads my blog and invited me. (Which I bring up because I’m generally not good about inviting people myself, so I’m preaching to myself, and you, too, if you’re a performer or presenter.) Then off to LPR for Taka Kigawa‘s solo piano 7:30 PM Japan Benefit Concert. To which Taka, with whom I recently performed invited me. Plus a mutual friend keeps inviting me, too, (although he keeps mixing up the date and we would be going tonight or tomorrow if he didn’t have me as fact checker).  It’s only $25.  And he is an extraordinary artist.

Sunday April 3: I may or may not make it to the 11:00 AM Baby Got Bach event at LPR, depending in part on how much I drink at Taka’s show there the night before.  It sure looks like a lot of fun, though, so I probably will (and I actually don’t drink much).  Sorry, New York Society for Ethical Culture (whose Sunday morning services I often attend). Still deciding about that afternoon, but I haven’t yet heard Juilliard 415 (the school’s early-music orchestra; the link’s to a NY Times review), which is performing on the 3:00 PM all-Handel program featuring vocalists Dorothea Röschmann and David Daniels at Carnegie Hall. At 7:00 PM, Dale Henderson (the Bach in the Subways cellist) and pianist Molly Kiser are giving a recital, and I’ll be at that.  Dale invited me.

Monday April 4: Definitely the 7:30 PM Cutting Edge concert at Symphony Space’s Thalia. Why?  I’m not sure what else is going on, and I don’t care.  The publicist for the series is a great person who I see at lot of performances and she invited me.

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Tully Scope: As Good to Watch as It Was to Listen To

(Been traveling, mostly without Internet access.  How did NY concert life get along without me in attendance?)

Last thing I attended in NY was the final Tully Scope concert, featuring music of Heiner Goebbels.  Fascinating, eclectic music performed by not one but two orchestras, the London Sinfonetta and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the latter on (at least mostly) period instruments, both conducted by Anu Tali. [Update: NY Times (Tomasini) review here.]

I ended up, pretty much by chance, sitting with Greg Sandow.  As he wrote about here and here, he was quite excited by the size and mix of the audience, and impressed by the eclecticism of the series. Greg writes that it was the Festival, not the artists themselves, that Lincoln Center marketed.

They didn’t advertise programming or stars, didn’t stress the names of the performers or the composers whose music they were going to play. They marketed the festival. Which for me is crucial. People normally go out at night to have an experience. They want to do something that’ll be fun, or meaningful, something they think they’ll enjoy, that will mean something to them.

Greg’s on the money there, although I’d disagree about the advertising.  They marketed the festival and the individual artists.  My own take is that it was a pretty even mix of both.  Certainly many–perhaps all–of the individual performers/groups have their own, significant followings.  Emanuel Ax certainly has his fan base, and Tyondai Braxton, for example, has another. The promo emails I received, especially the ones advertising 50%-off tickets available at the Rubenstein Atrium, and posters I saw featured the performers and composers, as did the Google ads that appear at the top of my email.  What seems to have worked here is that the followings got mashed up.

I picked the more non-traditional events to attend, since that’s my particular interest right now, but by the end of the series I wished I’d been to all the concerts and experienced the entire mix.  As the festival progressed, and perhaps before it began, there may have been many of us who having been to one great event, decided to trust that the others would be worthwhile as well, even if the concert wasn’t one we’d usually pick on its own.  As the followings got intermingled, probably each of us found him or herself a new fan of someone they hadn’t heard (or heard of) before. It was the entire “mash-up” (as Jane Moss, the Vice President for Programming called it in her program note) that was the thing.

I’ve called [le] poisson rouge a “shuffle venue,” where some people go just to be there, because it’s a cool place and they trust that whatever/whoever is playing will be good. (“Shuffle” coming from the iPod function where different, often unrelated, tracks are played in random order in a way that beings often interesting and pleasant surprises and juxtapositions.)

Tully Scope was what you might call a shuffle series:  a seemingly random mix of widely divergent, terrific performances, which you just wanted to hear–and see–all of.

The gorgeous Tully lobby is a great place to hang out–that’s so important in these changing times.  Free glass of sparkling wine after the concerts, creating a party atmosphere.  And tickets just $20, once one was purchased at full price, a great incentive to buy a package.  Didn’t do that?  There were half-price tickets for many of the events available on the day of the performance.  So it was affordable.

The very different staging and lighting designs for each event were engaging and, to me, delightful.  It was like a different hall for each event.  The final Goebbels concert had a two-tiered stage, with strings on the stage and winds, brass, and percussion on connected risers the width of the stage about 3 feet high.  Quite striking.  So were the lighting cues, which made heavy use of different colors, spotlights, fading, etc., even floor lamps.

This was not just people playing and/or singing on a stage.  This was an event where the visual aspect, the theatrical aspect, was embraced in a significant way.

We are increasingly creatures of YouTube, for better or worse. We live in not just a music iPod culture, but a video iPod culture.  Audiences under forty, and especially under thirty–who are so crucial to develop–want, even need, visual stimulation and engagement.  The folks at Tully did a great job, among other things, of providing that.

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Filed under Alice Tully Hall, audeince building, Festivals/Series, Greg Sandow, Heiner Goebbels, innovative marketing, Le Poisson Rouge, Lincoln Center, Shuffle Venues/Series, Tully Scope 2011

Winning at Roulette: An Evening Not for the Faint of Heart

After the Clogs/Brooklyn Youth Chorus Ecstatic Music Festival concert, I went into serious-cellist mode. Wednesday March 16, my performance with the International Street Cannibals, was looming. (It went well, and I was not eaten alive, thanks for asking, nor was anyone else.) Until then, I rehearsed, practiced my ass off, and besides taking my daughter out to see The King’s Speech (I really didn’t think two hours about speech therapy could be riveting, but it is), stayed pretty much at home.

Monday I had a session with my terrific personal trainer, Chris.  Sunday I’d thought to send him a text message.  “Big concert Wednesday night.  Anything but arms tomorrow–have to have full use of them until Thursday.”  When Chris works you out, well, there might not be all that much left the next day or two.  So we did legs, and while walking was still less than fully comfortable Wednesday, the upper body was functioning at full capacity.

So it was Thursday the 17th when I finally got back on the subway to go to another concert.  I went down to the all-too-close subway station (just half a block from my building) a bit later than was comfortable and immediately went into impatient, why-won’t-the-train-come-right-now-like-magic mode.  I even found myself doing the thing I think is so stupid when performed by others: leaning over and peering into the darkness of the tunnel to see if a train is coming.  Like that’s going to help.  Watched pots don’t boil, looked for trains don’t emerge.  So I relaxed, and the express train did come.  Soon I was at 14th St., transferred to the local, and almost before I knew it emerged on Canal St. with plenty of time to make it to Greene St.

That’s where Roulette, my destination for the evening, is. I’d been thinking of it as an “alternate venue” for classical music.  But really it’s a long-standing “downtown” new-music venue.  At some location or another, it’s been presenting new (avant garde, experimental, contemporary, etc.) music for three decades.  I put “downtown” in quotes only because many of us not from New York, especially those more anchored in traditional classical music, aren’t aware that one of the many music cultures in Gotham is the downtown music scene.  Downtown music developed in  the 1960s (when else?) in lofts and small spaces in places like Roulette’s Canal and Greene Streets location.  Factories were closing, buildings vacant, and rents cheap.  Now, on the border of SoHo and Tribeca, it’s one of the most expensive, highest-income neighborhoods of Manhattan.  Artists led the revitalization; today, they are priced out of the neighborhood.  Roulette, not surprisingly, is moving to Brooklyn.

The program was (mostly) new piano music by Christian Wolff, Michael Byron, and Larry Polansky, performed by Joseph Kubera and Marilyn Nonken (tremendous pianists).  No one was waiting for Sufjan Stevens here. This was terrific, no-holds-barred, complex, intellectually-challenging, frequently atonal, irregularly metered, hard-to-follow-unless-you-throw-yourself-into-it new music.  The kind of stuff that music students groan about having to study.

I loved it.

It was, in its own way, like a really good workout with Chris, my trainer.  Takes you places you didn’t know about.  Pushes you past limits you didn’t know you had. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. “Book of Horizons is not for the faint of heart,” explained the program note, which continued, “‘Retreat is not an option,’ challenges the composer.” No kidding.

There’s a delicious integrity to a place like Roulette.  So much of the classical world is trying to figure out how to appeal to a broader audience.  Become more accessible.  Sell more tickets.  Make more money.  All that is important in the larger world.  But not at Roulette.  Want to play there?  Apply.  Read the guidelines.

Our programming focus includes avant jazz, experimental music, experimental electronic music, multimedia music projects, and new music among other forms of new and experimental music.  We do not program rock, pop, musical theater, singer-song writers, or any other form of commercial music.

So it’s not the kind of place you’re likely to hear Gabriel Kahane performing his CraigsList Leider.  That’s fine;  the world needs all sorts of venues. The place really filled up, too, with older folks like me and a good sprinkling of young composer/serious new music types.

Christian Wolff’s Exercise 20 (Acres of Clams) started the concert, performed by both Kubera and Nonken (two pianos).  The oldest piece on the program, it was composed in 1980.  It’s a set of variations on “a song sung by a New-England-based, non-violent activist group called The Clam Shell Alliance, which occupied the site of the Seabrook (New Hampshire) Nuclear Power Plant in 1977.” It included a bit of whistling and some moments with percussion toys.  I’d love to have been following the score to see how much was strictly notated and what was aleatoric.  The program note (by Amy C. Beal) explained that it’s a piece which focuses “on sensitivity, coordination, and communication between the players, often in what Wolff has referred to as ‘democratically indeterminate’ ways.” I’m all for indeterminacy, especially the democratic kind.

Michael Byron’s Book of Horizons was written in 2009, but this was its premiere.  Just one piano, played by Kubera. Five movements, with programmatic titles.  “Unknown Americans” was very contrapuntal.  “Porcelain Nights” had many arpeggiated figures, and often sounded pentatonic, although not strictly so.  “Like the Eyes of the Bride” had me writing “pointillistic . . . short gestures . . . short scale riffs . . . punctuating chords.”  “A World Full of Hope” was rhapsodic, with bell-like passages  The final movement, “Appearances and Architraves,” returned to short gestures and complex textures.  (Whew!  Writing notes in the program helps. What, you don’t know what an architrave is? I didn’t either.) Great variety, and indeed “not for the faint of heart”!

Lots of chatting at intermission. Many people knew each other;  it’s a hub of the downtown new music scene, after all, and there was a bit of a clubhouse feel. Another blogger introduced me to someone.  “Oh, Eric Edberg.  You’re a writer, right?”  And it’s funny, while I was glad he’d heard of me, what came out of my mouth was, “I’m a cellist.  And I write a blog.”  (Some identity issues going on, I see.)

The second half of the concert was Larry Polansky’s 2007 Three Pieces for Two Pianos, also having its premiere.  (Serious composers don’t hold their breath waiting for a new piece to get performed.)  No programmatic titles in this work:

I
II
III (Canon in four voices)

But just when I thought I’d found an oasis free of genre-melding music, here came Stephen Foster’s “Comrades Raise No Glass for Me” in the second movement!  Well, it wasn’t really genre-melding.  Quoting a song is different than synthesizing idioms.  As Amy C. Beal’s very informative program notes explained, Polansky explores “purely musical puzzles (‘interrupted tuplets,’ ‘stretching’ a song by independently varying exponential curves, probabilisitically morphing modes, and more).”  OK, if you understand that, you’re probably named Polansky!

The complex first movement, Foster-free, is “an homage to [Henry] Cowell’s Rhythmicana as well as an expression of Polansky’s faith in the pianists’ Kubera’s ability to play very difficult rhythms.”  Very difficult, indeed.  But faith (in the sense of belief without evidence) was not needed–the evidence of skill was overwhelming.  The last movement draws on computer-music techniques, according to the notes, but just how I’m not sure.  Regardless, we all loved it, the performers, and their performance.  As an encore they played one of piece’s the optional “Interloods.” Which one, I’m not sure.  If you’re playing “Meditation from Thais,” that’s pretty easy to announce.  If it’s viiitviiniiivii(iii) (“moving out”) (tooaytood #15c) (one of the “unusual titles” of the Interloods) you just play the thing.

You know, lots of classical musicians hate this sort of stuff.  Some people think that the dominance of this sort of challenging, not-easy listening music in the post-WWII years helped kill off a wide audience for new music.  Maybe it did.  But did I ever enjoy this concert, in all its who-cares-if-you-listen glory.

When I left Roulette, I noticed a plaque on a nearby building.

Fluxhouse plaque on Greene St.

It was the second Fluxhouse.  And I took the best photo my iPhone could in the streetlight, just for Jon Silpayamanant, my former student and much admired colleague (and by far the most frequent commenter on this blog), with whom I would have loved to have shared the entire evening.  He would have appreciated even more than I.

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Filed under Christian Wolff, Downtown Music, Fluxhouse, Jon Silpayamanant, Joseph Kubera, Larry Polansky, Marilyn Nonken, Michael Byron, Non-traditional Venues, Pianists, Roulette

Waiting for Sufjan: Clogs, Shara Worden, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus at the Ecstatic Music Festival

(It’s do-laundry and catch-up-on-posting-about-concerts day.  So let’s see how caught up I can get!)

On Saturday March 12, my daughter and I went to hear Clogs, Shara Worden, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus perform at Merkin Concert Hall as part of the Ecstatic Music Festival.  (Great photos here.) There is so much going on in New York, and I’ve gone to far fewer Ecstatic concerts than I’d hoped (and now wished).  So often there are two, or three, or even four events happening at the same time, each of which I’d like to be at.  And occasionally, I’m rehearsing, or performing, or just exhausted and/or musicked out.

Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Shara Worden, and some of Clogs on stage at Merkin. By David Andrako at brooklynvegan.com

Anyway, Clogs is another of those wedded-genre groups (a friend read another post and commented on Facebook that he loved my phrase “wedded genres” but it turned out I had said about everything but that phrase, which occurred to him, so thanks John B!) and the performance sounded so fascinating that I chose it over that evening’s Les Arts Florissants Tully Scope event. Which I really wanted to see.

I got my daughter to join me.  She was reluctant at first;  I’ve taken her to some weird stuff, and this was a long subway ride from the East Village.  But when I mentioned I’d gotten an email from a publicist mentioning in part that Sufjan Stevens, whose name was vaguely familiar to me, was going to be performing, too, she was sold. (He’d also been just been added to the listing on the website.) “Sufjan Stevens!  He’s great!  Pete [her brother] has all his albums and I have a lot of his stuff on my iTunes.  I can’t wait to tell Pete we’re going to hear Sufan!”

I guess the Metro ride seems shorter when Sufan Stevens is on the other end. Nothing like celebrity to get someone to a concert.  Which is great if you can afford a celebrity, or are friends with one who will play for free.  Those TV celebrities selling their own hair treatments and whatever?  Think they really went out and decided to devote their lives to coming up with the world’s best face cream?  No way.  Almost always, some great marketer like Dan Kennedy (and it usually was Dan Kennedy, by the way, especially if the infomercial is successful) went and hired them for a face-cream client.

If you don’t have/can’t afford a celebrity, our culture’s fame addiction is a real pain in the ass.  You can do absolutely great stuff and it is next to impossible to get people to come to your concert, or buy your CD, or your face cream, or whatever. Clogs?  They had Sufjan, and, bless them, it meant I got an evening with my daughter.

We arrived at Merkin about 15 or 20 minutes before the concert was scheduled to begin, and there was a huge line.  Was it for Sufjan?  Was it because there were a zillion kids in the chorus and therefore a zillion-squared relatives attending? Are Clogs that big a draw?  I don’t know.

There was just one person working the box office (shortly joined by another).  And some confusion in the line.  Was this the line for ticket holders?  Or to get tickets?  Turned out to be the latter, and as the news spread, the line thinned out a little.  Wow!  I thought.  This is kind of like one of the hot events at LPR, like when we stood in the rain waiting to hear Zoe Keating.

It took a while to get the tickets sold and everyone in, and the concert started a bit late.  Clogs is an unusual quartet: Bryce Dessner on guitar(s), Rachael Ellliott (bassoon), Thomas Kozumplik (percussion), and Padma Newsome (voice, mandola, and viola; violists can be so adventuresome!).  All terrific, inventive musicians.  As the evening progressed, a Penn-and-Teller dynamic revealed itself.  Newsome and Dessner talk to the audience and teasingly and playfully with and about each other; Elliott and Kozumplik stay silent.  Great rapport with the audience, in a folk-concert sort of way. The choir, not surprisingly, didn’t talk to the audience, either.

I really liked Clogs (and everyone else, just hold on).  A four-person band with bassoon and guitar–what more do you want, if you’re a let’s-do-things-differently guy like me?  Here’s part of their self-description:

Clogs are four musicians from the U.S. and Australia whose work traverses time and place and through which seemingly disparate influences are seamlessly drawn in. They compose and improvise using sounds and textures from across the musical spectrum—the immediacy of folk and rock music, twisted Americana, the complexity of modern composition.

And that’s why I had to hear them–and more of this Ecstatic Music series.  Immediacy and complexity, “sounds and textures from across the musical spectrum”–that puts it so well.  It’s what draws so many to this developing amalgamated-genre musicking (ooh, there’s a new phrase) in which the pieces and performances appeal to many but don’t fit in any particular category.

There were several additional instrumentalists (two violins, a cello, and percussion), and Shara Worden singing and playing guitar, and the wonderful Brooklyn Youth Chorus, mostly adolescent girls with a small handful of guys mixed in.  So when the show started with beautiful songs by Padma Newsome, not having having yet read the list of who was who (no individual names were listed on the page with program, they were buried several pages back), I was wondering who was who and which one is Sufjan Stevens?

I didn’t care that much (I hope), but that’s who my daughter had come for.  And he is a celebrity, after all, in her world.  Where’s the celebrity?  I want her to be happy.  I’m the guy who took her to see . . . what’s his name again?

Turned out, once Padma Newsome started talking to us after the opening two songs, with Bryce chiming in a bit, that it was, oh well, just them.  Clogs and the choir and Shara.  No Sufjan.

They’d started with “Cocodrillo” and “On the Edge,” two songs by Padma from a new album by Worden and Clogs, with a wonderful choir part added (if my memory is correct;  I didn’t know it would take me over a week to get around to writing about this, or I would have taken better notes).  “2:3:5,” and instrumental piece full of complexity and layered rhythms, “all in my guitar part,” as Dessner joked, followed, and then “Voisins.”  There was quite a bit of discussion about “voisins” meaning “neighbors” in French, and possible programmatic aspects, but, really, they said, it just happened that they were in the town of Voisins when they wrote it.  Charming banter, and a nice piece, which, if I’m not mistaken, started out in 7 and morphed around the metric spectrum a bit, all while retaining the folkish feel that was ever present in the evening.

So, I was wondering, having scanned through the program and finding the list of personnel, are they are going to have this Sufjan guy do a little solo set as a kind of guest star? It was obvious that the program was printed before he was added.  The suspense was building.  Wait till he comes on and we tell Pete about this! (Hmm.  Maybe I’m more into this celebrity thing than I thought. Oh, hell.  I love celebrities.  I WANT TO SEE FAMOUS PEOPLE!  Even if I didn’t know they were famous until just a bit ago.)

Anyway, no Sufjan yet. Be patient.  The concert’s fantastic without him.

The two big works on the program were co-commissioned by the festival: Bryce Dessner’s Tour Eiffel (text by Vincente Huidobro) and Padma Newsome’s three-movement Unattended Shadow (texts by himself and Susannah Keebler).  The Manhattan New Music Project also supported both, and St. Ann’s Warehouse the Dessner piece.

I enjoyed both.  Were I an actual music critic (not just playing one on this blog), I’d have taken better notes or written about the music right away.  What I remember is that the Brooklyn Youth Choir, directed (on stage) by  . . . oops, her name didn’t get in the program, was terrific.  (Actually, it was Dianne Berkun, who founded the group and is listed on the BYC website).

I loved the poems, especially the three in Unattended Shadows. The first, by Keebler, was inspired by a shirtless, shoeless bicycle rider in Newsome’s home town, who would avoid shadows while riding around.  The third, Newsome’s own “Dog Pooh Corner in Seattle,” was prompted by a church, not (just) feces.  In part:

Dog pooh corner in Seattle,
With infinity comes a song.
Two jesters, a mandarin cat, sat looking at an empty space.
Along comes a man and a dog,
The man pees while the dog watches on,
At the Tuesday lunch line at the door,
At the Tuesday lunch line for the poor.

My temporary room in NY overlooks a church which feeds many poor people, among its other services, and there’s a low-income “hotel” next to it.  In this Upper West Side neighborhood with its multimillion dollar apartments (including in the building where I’m staying, although not the rent-stabilized run-down unit where I’m a guest), there are panhandlers on the street. “Sir, sir, can you help me out?” I’m asked several times most days. (“I’ll be honest with you sir,” a very disheveled guy shared with me one night. “I’m an alcoholic.  And I really need a drink.  That’s what I need the money for.  It’s my birthday and I need a drink.” So I gave him five bucks and another guy, seeing what happened, started to tell me it’s his birthday, too.) I’m sure more than one has peed while a dog watched.  And there’s not infrequently poop on the corner. So it resonated with me.  My daughter, on the other hand, found it the one thing she really didn’t like.

After the big pieces, a couple more to go.  Well, now I bet they’ll bring Sufjan Stevens out!  What’s he going to do? A little solo set?

The penultimate piece, “5/4.”  No Sufjan.  No Sufjan? Is he not here?  We’ve already told Pete on Facebook about this!  What are we going to brag about?

That’s all I remember.  No Sufjan.  It probably was in 5/4. Pretty sure it was.  It may have been instrumental or had vocals.  I just don’t recall.  All I remember, no fucking Sufjan.

Finally, in the very last piece, “We Were Here,” (or in the encore, but I think that was just Clogs) Sufjan Stevens (yay!) came out on the stage.

Cool-looking kid. (Well, he’s in his mid-thirties, but he still looks like a kid to me.) All in black, I think.  Plugged in his guitar banjo. OK! It’s Sufan time!

And he sang along with everyone else.  No solo. Shara Worden sang, too. Sufjan probably has a nice voice.  He must, he’s got a big career.  We just didn’t hear it, at least by itself, that night.  (Well, we heard a little.  It’s sensitive and sexy.  I’ll probably end up downloading an album.)

My daughter and I had a huge laugh over the whole thing. (“I think they really overused that Sufjan kid,” I teased her.) She really enjoyed the concert, and I’m so glad she got to hear the great concert she heard. Even if she was kind of tricked into coming.

And she did get to see Sufjan.

Sufjan at Merkin, from brooklynvegan.com


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Filed under Clogs, Ecstatic Music Festival, Ensembles, Festivals, Shara Worden, Singers, Sufjan Stevens

Sweet Plantain and Fernando Otero at 92Y Tribeca

Ugh!  So behind again in posting. I gotta learn how to do a quick post about a concert I attend.

On Friday March 11 at the 92nd St Y TriBeCa, the string quartet Sweet Plantain, as uncategorizable as it is excellent, played a great set of original music and covers of Cuban pieces, opening for the phenomenal pianist Fernando Otero and his group (which included a killer, sexy bandoneón player).

Sweet Plantain

As I sat with a friend in the club setting (nice bar area and tables in front of the stage, which surprised me-I was expecting something more like the Upper East Side 92nd St. Y’s concert hall) of the venue’s main space, so delighted to be hearing terrific music by musicians I’d never heard of until recently, I got why Steve Smith and Nate Chinen were so enthusiastic about preparing event listings when I heard them speak earlier this month.  Of course if you care about music, you want people to know about what’s coming up so that they will actually attend the events.  It was through the Time Out New York fabulous music listings (Steve’s in charge of those) that I had found out about this event by looking to see what was scheduled for the night.  “This is amazing!” I thought.  “More people should be here.”  And I realized that if I were writing/blogging about music as a full-time gig, I’d want to be telling people about shows like this in advance, too.

Since then, it the only person I’ve talked to about the show who already knew of either Sweet Plantain or Otero went to school with David Gotay, Plantain’s cellist.  No one, even my pianist friend who is nuts for Piazzolla and tango music (very much a part of Otero’s language) had heard of Otero–who won a frigging Latin Grammy, for crying out loud.

Now you do.  Check them both out–well worth it.  Sweet Plantain plays with technical virtuosity, energy, commitment, and a sense of fun and adventure.  And they do original music.  The return of the performer-composer is such a big part of the revitalization of the music formerly known as “classical.”  Not only is this sort of we-want-to-connect-with-audiences creativity very healthy for music, but it’s also a fantastic way for a young group to establish itself in the musical marketplace.  And Otero?  Well, his Grammy-winning album is great (I became such a fan at the show that I actually bought one–would have picked up a Sweet Plantain album, too, it they’d had some for sale), but in person he (and his colleagues) are phenomenal.  Electrifying.

(And this was a pretty quick post.  Whew!)

[edited to correct spelling of Otero.  Oops.]

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Filed under 92Y Tribeca, cellists, David Gotay, Music Writers, Nate Chinen, Performance Venues, Pianists, Steve Smith, Sweet Plantain (string quartet)

Tonight (3/16): Weber & Beatboxing & Juggling &, &, &

If you’re a cellist or cello-music lover, you’re probably familiar with the delightful Carl Maria von Weber Adagio & Rondo, arranged for cello and piano by Gregor Piatigorsky. Lovely & fun short virtuoso salon piece.

It probably never occurred to you that what it needs is a beat boxer beatboxing during the Adagio and a juggler juggling during the somewhat circus-like 6/8 Rondo.  Me neither. Sounds like great fun, something very different. Talk about alternative presentation of classical music!

Luckily, it did occur to the minds behind the New York musicians’ collective the International Street Cannibals.  Who have invited me to perform with them.  So I’ll be playing that Weber-Piatigorsky piece, with beatboxing and juggling, as part of tonight’s 8:30 PM program, “&,” at St. Mark’s in the Bowery, an important NY alternative performance space as well as an Episcopal Church (directions and Google map).

Lots of other music and performance art on the program, including the slow movement of the Schubert Death & the Maiden quartet, the timbres darkened by having the second violin part played on viola and the viola part played on a cello.  (I’ll be holding down the actual cello part on a cello, albeit a carbon-fiber one.)  There will also be a Shostakovich Prelude & Fugue performed by the awesome pianist Taka Kigawa, the wonderful composer Gene Pritsker’s new Sex & Death, Dan Barrett‘s arrangement of Heart & Soul . . . and much, much more.

The music is all something & something.

And it’s music & dancing, music & juggling, music & devil sticking, music & . . .

No wonder the program is titled, simply,

&

Wednesday, March 16
8:30 PM
St Mark’s in-the-Bowery
131 East 10th Street, NYC

Admission $15

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Filed under alternative classical performance, alternative venues, Eric Edberg performances, non-traditional concerts

Musicians’ Nightmares

I just woke up, greatly relieved to do so.

Otherwise I would still be on a concert stage, sitting on a cellist’s solo podium, in front of an orchestra (in this dream some altered form of the Indianapolis Symphony, the conductor a woman who exists, I presume, only in that dream), sight reading the solo part of Strauss’s Don Quixote.  Which somehow had grown to have two intermissions, with the final section music I’d never even heard of, let alone seen, all in thumb position and very awkward.

Or maybe it was just one intermission, because when I went on stage to play the final passages, not only did I have to squeeze by the violist still performing the Sancho Panza part (who gave me a hug, that was nice), but the stage crew had kindly put the music for the concert I’m playing tonight in real life plus a rock stop (endpin holder) on my seat.  I put those things on the floor, opened the unfamiliar and impossible-to-sight-read music, felt panic . . .

. . . and woke up.

I do not want to go back to sleep!

Got a musician’s or other performance-anxiety dream to share? Post it in the comments.

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Filed under Dreams