Category Archives: alternative classical performance

Lie Down and Listen in the Dark

I’m just back from the “Lie Down and Listen In the Dark” event at DePauw University, where I am the cello professor.  Katya Kramer-Lapin (fantastic pianist) and I played the “Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus” from Messiaen’s Quatour pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time), and the Rachmaninoff cello sonata.  We sat in the middle of the barely-lit stage of Kresge Auditorium in the Judson and Joyce Green Center for the Performing Arts, surrounded by 25 or so college students, and a few professors and middle-aged friends, who were lying on sleeping bags or blankets.  My ten-year-old student and his mother were the first to arrive.

It was a wonderful experience for me, which I’ll write more about soon.  I wanted to get this up ASAP so anyone who was there and wants to share what it was like for them has a place to do so.  Some comments may show up on the Facebook event page, too.

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Tai Chi Cha Cha and the Left-Hand Pizz Stress Challenge

(Or just give me a Xanax with a scotch on the rocks.)

So first the universe said to me, “and you will greatly expand your left-hand pizzicato skills this week.”

Last week and into this scores have been arriving via email for this coming Sunday’s 7:30 PM International Street Cannibals Tai Chi Cha Cha (how could you miss that?) concert at St. Mark’s in the Bowery in Manhattan.  (The New York one.  We probably have an Indiana one somewhere, along with our own Brazil and Poland.) It’s Fall Break, a whole week, at DePauw, and, having played on two of the Cannibals concerts while on sabbatical in New York last winter/spring, I invited myself to play in this one.  So I’m flying up there in the morning.

Two of the pieces have lots of left hand pizzicato.  If you’re not a string player, pizzicato is the fancy-pants Italian word for plucking.  (Classical musicians still use Italian terminology with each other because in the the 1600s opera started in Italy and became really popular.) 95% or more of the time we pluck with the right hand, the one that holds the bow.  But sometimes we are playing a note, or notes, with the bow and pluck other strings with the left hand, which is also holding down a string or strings.  This is just about as difficult as it sounds.  Maybe a bit more, especially if you haven’t done a lot of it for a while.

One of these pieces almost put me over the edge yesterday.  I can’t play this a voice said somewhere in me.  Keep calm answered another.  First learn the slightly awkward double stops and then figure out how to add in the pizzicatos. 

Took a break.  Laid down on the couch and Figaro, one of my cats, plopped down on my belly.  “Help!” I posted on Facebook.  “I took a practice break and now there’s a cat on my belly and I can’t get up.”  A friend added a comment to the effect that cat therapy is good for the playing.  Eventually the cat moved on, I got up, and returned to the cello.

Just did everything in  s  l  o  w    m  o t  i  o  n.

Very, very calmly.

My thoughts went quickly to Dale Stuckenbruck, the wonderful violinist (and musical saw player) who was my RA when I was a 16-year-old high school junior at the North Carolina Schoolof the Arts.  Dale would help me practice, bless him, and he taught me more about practicing (calmly, intelligently, methodically, and focused) than anyone else.  Thank you, Dale! (Isn’t that great . . . we can still be learning from our earlier mentors 35 years later?)

It’s going to be alright, it turns out. Just have to work out the choreography–which finger will pluck which string when.  And then it will speed up on its own. (And it just occurred to me that I’m practicing in tai chi-like slow motion for the Tai Chi Cha Cha concert.  Neat, huh?)

So that was handled.

Then the universe said, and you will be humbled.

I made a quick trip to the DePauw recording studio this afternoon, to record the Prelude and Gigue of the Bach G Major Suite for a doctor friend who is making some educational videos and needs some music for them.  Oh, I’ve played these movements a zillion times, it will be a piece of cake.  Ha!  As I listened to the playback of the takes, I kept thinking, man, I’d like to give this guy a lesson!  We’ve got something useable, and I may like it better a year from now, but I really need to do a lot more recording of myself. Holy fuck, this music is amazing and needs something more than me winging it.

OK, now back to practicing that left-hand pizzicato.

 

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Filed under International Street Cannibals, North Carolina School of the Arts, practice techniques, sabbatical journal

Phoenix’s Downtown Chamber Series: An Unusual Model for Success

a view from the rear of the Great Hall at the Phoenix Art Museum

I attended the Wednesday July 27 concert of the Phoenix Downtown Chamber Series (DCS) in the Great Hall of the gorgeous Phoenix Art Museum.   The DCS, a musician-run organization founded and directed by Phoenix Symphony violist Mark Dix, has been going since 2000.  The program, except for two solo piano pieces by Granados, was of all contemporary music.  Except for two more solo piano pieces, by the Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963), each piece included guitar and had been commissioned and/or premiered by Duo 46, guitarist Matt Gould and violinist Beth Ilana Schneider-Gould.  I listed all the performers (each of whom played terrifically well) in my preview post.

The DCS presents about five programs a year (if I understood correctly), at various art galleries, museums, and warehouse spaces in the downtown Phoenix area.  It’s a very interesting model: no traditional concert halls, changing venues, and the concerts are scheduled and announced one-by-one rather than a season in advance. Ticket prices are low (just $10), and there are a variety of donors (35 in the $10-99 category, 42 in the $100 and above).  Volunteers (seven listed in the program for these concerts) help with logistics, ushering, ticket sales, etc.

If someone had come to me before Wednesday night and asked, “How about we start a chamber music series where we just plan the concerts one by one and have them at different locations?”, I’d probably have been skeptical about the chances of building an audience.

Now that I think about it, though, an ensemble (or, in this case fairly large group of local musicians from whom the performers

From behind the stage, looking out over the seating area

for each concert are drawn) in a large metropolitan area can certainly build a following that is not venue-specific.  Having just spent five months in NY, the new-music groups Alarm Will Sound, the Metropolis Ensemble, and the International Contemporary Ensemble, each of which perform at a variety of locations, immediately come to mind as having done just that.

There were about 250 people, I estimated, at Wednesday evening’s concert, which was a repeat of a Saturday afternoon performance.  So the DCS certainly draws an audience.  Age range? Pretty typical, it seemed to me, the vast majority looking to be, like me, 50+.  Perhaps 10% 30 and under, a bit better than most classical concerts, but that’s a very rough estimate, and for one concert on a weeknight in what’s probably one of the more close-to-traditional spaces the DCS has played. This was their first set of concerts at the museum, the twelfth venue at which they’ve performed (by my count from that link).  The couple sitting next to me had read about the concert in the newspaper (old media still works!).

I was quite surprised when Mark Dix explained, in his remarks at the start of the second half of the concert, that the 2011-2012 season has yet to be planned, and that they have found that it works not to plan an entire season in advance, but to schedule things concert-by-concert, seeing who is available when. I’d have thought that with primarily local musicians, it would work better to get the season scheduled in advance–especially during the fall/winter/spring standard concert season.

On the other hand, I do a lot of last-minute scheduling myself for the summer concert series (the Greencastle Summer Music Festival) I organize in Greencastle.  We do twelve concerts a summer, and since we pay rather small honoraria and people tend not to have summer vacation and other plans set far in advance, it has worked for seven years to do the scheduling in late April and early May, with the concerts starting just after Memorial Day.  I’ve been thinking about starting earlier, and perhaps for some of the performers that could work, but I’ve been assuming that for most of us it wouldn’t work to pin things down too far in advance. And at DePauw, where I teach, the music faculty wasn’t enthusiastic about scheduling faculty recitals a season in advance, until the concert calendar started getting so crowded that we were forced to do so or not be able to get a date.

And many of the musicians are members of the Phoenix Symphony, and I know from my friends in the Indianapolis Symphony that the schedule can be more in flux than one would assume;  run-out concerts and special events get added during the season, so you can’t always count on a free night remaining so.

Obviously it’s working for them.  I talked briefly with Mark after the concert; his enthusiasm for performing chamber music in visually-stimulating, energetic, spaces such as art museums is contagious. He mentioned how “dead” recital halls and churches can feel, and how little classical musicians as a whole think about the visual experience of a concert.  He’s right on about that.

And it’s a musician-run, local series.  Which is great.  With the high level of the performances, I was impressed once again by how many terrific musicians there are wherever you go in the United States, just as so many of us were impressed by the high level of playing of orchestras from Toledo, Albany, Oregon, and Dallas at the Spring for Music Festival at Carnegie Hall.

Since the series presents primarily local musicians, they can pay what I assume are fairly nice fees for a gig in one’s home town. They don’t have to come up with six-figure fees to pay a big-name touring ensemble with its associated travel and hotel costs. That would require more extensive fundraising, including grants, big corporate donors/sponsors, slick program books with ads, etc.  (I talked once with the artistic director of a summer series, not too far a drive away from Greencastle, about possibly booking one or two of their groups to do a concert on my series;  each of the groups on his series expected a fee much larger than the budget for our entire summer.) To get a corporate sponsor for a program, you’d have to have that program scheduled well in advance.

But they don’t need that.  The Downtown Concert Series fulfills a very different purpose than, say, the Phoenix Chamber Music Society, which presents big-name artists like the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Muir Quartet.  This is (first-rate) local musicians putting on their own concerts, and doing a great job of it.

I’m really glad I went;  it gave me a lot to think about, and possibilities to imagine.

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Filed under alternative classical performance, alternative venues, Downtown Chamber Series (Phoenix), Duo46 (violin and guitar), Ensembles, Greencastle Summer Music Festival, Phoenix Chamber Music Society

New blood at Nublu: Brooklyn Rider Glass CD release party

“What I like about Nublu is that I can kick off my shoes, put my feet up, lean back on the couch and have a drink while listening to music,” my friend said as we settled in for the May 17 Brooklyn Rider release party for their new Philip Glass CD.  On a black leather couch, we could look at our reflections (as well of that of the art work above our heads) in a large mirror on the other side of the room. Johnny Gandelsman, one of the quartet’s violinists (who, by the way, has the most unusual, high-on-the-stick bow-hand position of any non-early-music violinist I’ve seen) had thanked the audience for coming to “the most alternative of alternative venues.”  (OK, I’d had a beer by then.  That comment could have come from Colin Jacobsen, the other violinist.)

my view of Brooklyn Rider at Nublu

More relaxed and casual than LPR, NuBlu is just a few blocks up from John Zorn’s bare-bones small avant-garde performance space The Stone.  (“Are all the really cool places in New York on Avenue C?” I asked.) An attractively grungy bar with a variety of art on the walls (some of the graffiti variety), and a combination of couches, upholstered balls (in holders that keep them from rolling around), bar stools and the, yes, the floor to sit on, it’s a surprisingly enjoyable place to listen to a concert.  Especially if you’ve snagged a couch seat.  Drinks reasonably priced for New York ($7).  The entrance is unmarked; just a booth with a (stern) doorman.  About as East Village as you can get. (Or is this the Lower East Side? Still working out Manhattan neighborhood boundaries.  At Ave. C and 5th St., it’s definitely in “Alphabet City.”)

Brooklyn Rider's performance space at Nublu

All Philip Glass music–no rock covers, mashups, or remixes, the kind of thing that some of us think is needed to bring in a young audeince, played by a classical/eclectic string quartet.  Virtually the entire audience in their 20s, or not much beyond.  Usually I go to a classical concert and, at 52, get to feel like a kid again, since almost everyone’s older than me.  What a pleasure it was to feel like an old guy.  (“I don’t think you’re allowed to live in the Lower East Side if you’re over 25,” my friend said as we took a cab home.)

This was the second time I’ve heard Brooklyn Rider play–the first was at Tully Scope.  Once again, amplified, well, and effectively.  All the players standing, except for cellist Eric Jacobsen, perched on an speaker.  Terrific, committed playing.  “We devoted three years to this project,” Colin told me after the performance, and it shows.  “I don’t like Glass,” my friend said, “but I loved this performance.”  And she must be a big fan of Brooklyn Rider, because it takes a major effort (three subway trains and a long walk) to get to NuBlu from the Upper West Side, where each of us lives. “This is like another country,” she said.

I’m still getting used to the fact that these club shows invariably start late.  The Nublu site didn’t actually list a time;  just said that Brooklyn Rider was “the early show.”  (I take that back;  I just looked again and the site says the “early band” is at 9:00 PM). The BR site listed as 9:00 PM.

But  that was more the start-mingling-and-drinking-in-earnest time.  The music started about forty minutes later.  I’d been a little antsy about getting there by the announced time, just in case.  The advantage was that we were there early enough to claim half a couch.  (Unfortunately, the other half was taken by a couple who, unlike everyone else in the place, talked through the entire performance. They were quiet only between pieces.)

I was entranced by the music.  If I wasn’t pretty broke now from New-York-overspending syndrome, I’d buy the BR CD of the complete Glass quartets. They played the Fourth Quartet, the Second (“Company”), and the Third (“Mishima,” for the film it was composed for.)

Cool place.  Great group. Fantastic music.  Young crowd, listening attentively (except for the chatty couple next to me), clearly absorbed.

There is a younger audience. Glad to have been there with them.

One of the Nublu staff has written me that the Nublu Orchestra with Butch Morris will be doing four shows next month.  The June calendar isn’t up yet, but I’ll definitely try to catch one if I’m still in town.

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Filed under alternative classical performance, Brooklyn Rider, Nublu, Philip Glass

Great Time at GALA NYC

“This is the concert I came to New York to hear,” I realized Saturday night, as I was reveling in delight at the GALA NYC (“Global Art, Local Audience”) event at the Brooklyn Lyceum. (If you’re new here, I’m in NY researching, among other things, developments in alternative presentation of “classical” music.)

Brooklyn Lyceum

The Brooklyn Lyceum

In a big, attractive space (the building started out as a bathhouse–no, not that kind of bathhouse), with big windows and lots of exposed brick, cellist Mike Block assembles a weekly cast of musicians and performance artists from various genres into a fabulous mix that, based on my one visit so far, allows performers to interact and exchange ideas without watering down or sacrificing their individual integrity.

Hideaki Aomori (saxophonist who plays frequently with Sufjan Stevens), Hu Jianbing (Chinese folk musician who is a master of the Sheng, a mouth organ), the Enso [String] Quartet, Shane Shanahan (world percussion), and CXC StreetstyleContermorary Dance joined Block on Saturday May 14 in a diverse (0bviously) and, more importantly, engaging program.  Block, Jianbing, and Shanahan have all participated in Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project.  That spirit of musical dialogue pervaded the evening.

I’d gotten there about 7:40 PM for the 8:00 PM show.  Terrific location–same block as a subway (R) stop.  Somehow I hadn’t managed to eat dinner, so I was relieved when told that “the group before” had run over and doors would open at 8:00 PM.  There were a couple of delis across the street, and I grabbed a salad.

Back at the cavernous Lyceum, I was directed upstairs to the big second-floor room (which gets used for basketball games as well as performances. Once seated, I found myself writing in my notebook, “cool space!”  Wonderful room, wine for sale (and coffee and snacks downstairs in the café). Folding chairs arranged in semi-circles, with the performing space set up in front of the windows.

GALA NYC Performance Area

GALA NYC Performance Area 5/14/2011

Not a huge crowd–maybe 50 or 60?  But I’m sure the audience will grow as the series continues–it’s that good.  The only challenge will be visual, especially when there’s dance–the performance area isn’t raised.

Mike Block, in jeans and a plaid shirt, gave a friendly, informal welcome to the audience, apologizing for the late start (which seemed almost unnecessary; I don’t think I’ve been to any “alternative venue” event in NY that started on time).  The show was being broadcast live on UStream (you can watch future shows here; wish they were archived).

looking back from my seat at the Brooklyn Lyceum

looking back from my seat

From the rear came almost magically elongated, drone-like sounds.  They turned out to be from a large frame drum, on which Shane Shanahan was slowly rubbing a finger.  He made his way to the front, stopping by a small child for a moment so the boy could look at the drum.  Rhythmic gestures stared, and Shane began overtone singing (don’t ask me to explain).  Then Mike picked up his cello and added initially floating, ethereal, and scratchy sounds which led into a solo cadenza-like section, initially folky and playful, then more like blues.  Shane picked up a dumbeck, and Mike began playing a energetic rhythmic groove, from a chart (turned out the open sections had been improvised) that eventually included ricochet strokes and tapping on the cello.

So the evening went.  Original music.  Improvisations.  The Enso Quartet playing movements from Erwin Schulhoff‘s fabulous Five Pieces for String Quartet (Schulhoff was killed by the Nazis and his music, suppressed in his lifetime, is finally being discovered and embraced).  A wonderful Shen solo from Hu Jianbing.  All sorts of combinations.  The two CXC dancers (Carmela Torchia and Chris Shalik Mathis) frequently joining in with their unique combination of moves from various traditions, including break dancing (on the floor, which would have been hard for most of the audience to see).  As a grand finale, a cover of the YouTube hit, Rebecca Black’s Friday, with all the performers (Mike singing, getting the audience to join in).

And why was it the “concert I came to New York to hear”?  Great, alternative location–not a stuffy concert hall.  Top performers from a wide range of traditions.  Interaction that really worked and didn’t seem to sacrifice anything.  A successful mashup of genres.  Remixing (including a Bach Courante) that really worked. Integration of music and dance.  A warm, informal atmosphere.  An engaging host (Mike), who speaks well, infomrally, and not too much (hard to pull off). Audience involvement, including volunteers who came up front to supply ideas for an improvisation), and the final singalong. Improvisation integrated with composed music. Seats for everyone, and no minimum food/drink purchase required (unlike, say, LPR, if you sit at a table).  Even close to the subway!

Great, inspiring model for me to take back to my students–and share with my readers.

Now the big question is whether this model is something that can be financially viable.  This was the second event in a series just getting off the ground.  Even if everyone there paid the small admission fee (and there must have been a number of guests besides me, who had a press ticket), there wouldn’t be much money to divide up among the musicians.  Hopefully, the audience will grow.  (If it does, many will have a tough time seeing the performers, so a stage will need to be set up.)

Well, if I ran a grant agency, I’d be happy to fund this project.  It would be great, though, if things like this could be self-sustaining.

Meanwhile, it was just terrific.  I’ll be out of town this coming weekend for my son’s college graduation, so I’ll miss the May 21 performance.  May 28 is already on my calendar.

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Filed under alternative classical performance, Brooklyn Lyceum, GALA NYC, Mike Block

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

March 21: Playing Bach in the Subways, to Celebrate Bach’s Birthday

I’m going to play Bach. In a New York City subway station (probably the uptown side of the 1/2/3 96th St. station). On Bach’s birthday–Monday, March 21.  I’ve never played in a subway before, but I’m looking forward to it.

Dale Henderson, the Bach in the Subways cellist, invited me.

You, too, if you’re a musician and going to be in New York. (Here’s Dale’s invitation on Facebook.  He’s also on Twitter.) What a great way to celebrate Bach’s birthday!

Dale Henderson at the 96th St 1/2/3 Subway Station on March 7

A week ago tonight (Monday, March 7), I’d been to that great Tyondai Braxton/Wordless Music Orchestra concert at Tully Scope. I usually walk home from concerts at Lincoln Center–it’s about 26 or 27 blocks, a bit over a mile and a quarter. But I’d stopped at Trader Joe’s and had a bag of groceries, and my personal trainer had really earned his money earlier in the day. I was tired. So I got on the subway, and got off at 96th St.

And, to my surprised delight, there he was. I’d read about him on the Wall Street Journal and CNN sites. He wants to share classical music with as many people as possible, so he plays Bach Suites in subway stations, accepting no money, handing out postcards about the project.

He was playing the Prelude of the C Minor Cello Suite, with love and commitment. I was so excited–I’ve been wanting to meet him and hadn’t gotten around to tracking him down.  Such serendipity–if I hadn’t bought groceries, or wasn’t tired from working out, I would have missed him.

When he finished the Prelude, I introduced himself. We had a great chat, and he told me how he wants to get as many musicians as possible to celebrate Bach’s birthday by playing in a subway station anytime (midnight to 11:59 PM) on Monday, March 21. So of course I said yes–I’ve been wanting to play in the subway, just for fun, and have just been waiting for the weather to clear up.

Then Dale wanted to get back to his Bach, and played the Courante from the G Major Suite, one of my favorites.  He let me take a video with my iPhone (I’m waiting for him to look at it before publicly posting in on YouTube).  Trains came and went, and he kept going.  The movement finished.  As my groceries and I headed home, at the other end of the station I heard the lilting arpeggios of the same suite’s Prelude, which gradually faded as I walked up the steps and into the noise of Broadway on the Upper West Side

(Once I’ve decided when I’ll be playing, I’ll post it here and on Facebook.  If you’re going to play, let me know where and when–I’m going to try and get around with a camera during the day.)

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Filed under alternative classical performance, alternative venues, Bach in the Subways, Bach Suites, cellists, Dale Henderson, music in subways

Two Very Different Mashups at [le] poisson rouge (Sabbatical Journal VI)

Two very different recent events at [le] poisson rouge had one thing in common: combining separate pieces. “Mashups,” to use the rock/pop vernacular. (God, that makes me sound so middle-aged.) One classical, the other, well, nearly every possible genre.

On Thursday February 3, Bruce Brubaker (chair of piano at the New England Conservatory) joined his former student Francesco Tristano (who needs to get his website back online) in  Simultaneo, parallell concerts on the same stage. The music was by Buxtehude, Gibbons, Schumann, Messiaen, Glass, Cage, Earle Brown, and Tristano himself. Using LPR’s seven-foot Yamaha (amplified) and an electronic keyboard with processing effects, they created an etheral and haunting soundscape as they combined pieces. There was a slow-motion, quasi-hypnotic feel to the evening, the music never stopping, even when the two traded positions (looping and/or delay processing comes in handy).  Brubaker wrote a blog post before the show, saying in part,

Next week, I’m playing an overlapped, simultaneous concert with Francesco Tristano, this time at Le Poisson Rouge in New York. It’s billed as “[ Simultaneo ].” In the advertising it says: “Two concerts at the same time!” A manifestation of remix culture for sure — it’s Girl Talk Classical!

So a definite reference to pop culture, and how classical musicans are being influenced by it.  (I guess I really ought to listen to Girl Talk and start paying more attention to pop culture.) Here’s video of an earlier concert:

For me the sometimes Ivesian juxtaposition of the music worked really well.  For Jake Cohen at consequenceofsound.net, it didn’t.

At one point during the double piano set by whiz kid Francesco Tristano and veteran Bruce Brubaker– two artists steeped in the 20th-century piano tradition– I jotted down in my notes: “I’m just not sure what the point is supposed to be.” Maybe that was the point. Avant-garde artists frequently set out to mystify their audiences, appealing to an elite and eccentric few, while shock and confusion were stalwart aesthetic values of the Fluxus movement and other happenings going on in this city during the 1960s and 70s. Make no mistake– Tristano and Brubaker are consummate musicians, unarguably at the top of their respective fields, and they know their stuff. They had a novel, wild idea: play two concerts with programs of both contemporary and classical piano music, from Cage to Schumann to Buxtehude, at the same time, at one of the hippest venues for classical music in the country. See what kind of freaky concurrences result, how each pianist will engage in a dialogue with both the music and with each other, and how the introduction of electronics will affect a wonderful synchronism of styles, touching on all the notable giants of piano music over the last 400 years. Unfortunately, their idea simply didn’t translate to practice.

I, on the other hand, was drawn into it. Maybe it has something to do with how my brain is wired.  When I improvise, I sometimes find myself playing two pieces at the same time, switching back and forth between them.  And this performance had that interactive quality that good improvisational music has. Brubaker and Tristano were clearly listening to and responding to each other. The music wasn’t only juxtaposed, it was often folded together.  It was, indeed, mashed up.

The audience was pin-drop silent, which meant that the sonic landscape included, even at the tables, clinking ice and cocktails being shaken, not stirred.  The music was so soft so much of the time that I found myself wishing we were in a recital hall rather than a club.

There wasn’t a lot of ice clinking last night, Sunday 2/6, at the 10:00 PM Dueling Fiddlers rock violin show, where extraneous sounds would not have disturbed the loose atmosphere or the amplified and energetic music. There was a small but enthusiastic audience. Not only was it Superbowl Sunday (it was hard to tear myself away from the Superbowl party; as a former Wisconsin resident I was riveted by the Packers), but the only genres it was tagged with on the LPR website were “rock and roll” and “rock violin.” I keep track of the events billed as “classical” and “contemporary classical,” so I hadn’t noticed the listing until that morning.  (There was enough classical music in the mix that both tags I mentioned would have been appropriate.) Glad I did, because it was really fun.

Adam DeGraff and Russell Fallstad have significant classical backgrounds (Adam, Russell told me, is the former concertmaster of the Richmond Symphony; Russell was the founding violist of the Fry Street Quartet) and top-level technique.  Playing acoustic violins (Fallstad often using a 5-string instrument including a C string) amplified with wireless mics, often processed with looping and effects pedals (one of which lowers the pitch of Degraff’s violin by a couple of octaves), they play with energy, a wide range of emotion, a sense of adventure and play, and interact with the audience with self-deprecating humor.  It’s much more than rock;  they quote a lot of classical music (Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach), and pop schmaltz (the theme from Love Story) as well country fiddling (they are based in West Virginia–or was it Virginia?) and original music.  They did a mashup of Lady Gaga and, well someone whose name I don’t remember. (OK, it was Ke$ha.) My 19-year-old daughter recognized much more than I.

One piece that struck me, and that I can remember pretty well, was the Prelude of the Bach G Major Cello Suite, played rather freely by Fallsatd, over which Degraff improvised a line, at first very conservative, reminiscent of the Bach-Gunoud Ave Maria. Then a blue note or too, and the thing morphed into a fiddling extravaganza about half way through the prelude.  Things were mixed up for a while, with all sorts of virtuoso double stopping, when Fallstad played the Bach’s descending scale passages so fast that they made a brilliant cadenza.  It built to a rousing finish, and gave me the idea that this Prelude, often played rather gently, could work as a free-tempo, very improvisatory and virtuosic showpiece.  Fallstad commented after that he had initial trepidation about “doing this to Bach,” but got over it, since “Bach is dead” and they can do whatever they want.  The comment seemed to fall flat. I’d say that Bach transformed and rewrote pieces by other composers, and what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

My daughter and I chatted briefly with Fallstad after the show.  How’d he get into this?  “I would be playing Beethoven quartets, realizing I was having a much better time than anyone in the audience,” he told us.  “I thought, we’ve got to do something about this.”  His old friend Adam called him with the idea of doing rock violin, and the duo, which has been performing together for about a year, was born.  They are getting an increasing number of gigs.  They’ve got a big future;  it will be interesting to see how their career develops.  There are things to work out.  There’s a quasi-apologetic energy to some of their comments that seems to be their classical selves making excuses for their rock selves; that they can move beyond.  Overall, there was so much great music making, interaction, and playfulness that I think I had the best time at their show of anything I’ve attended in NY so far.

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Filed under alternative classical performance, Bruce, Francesco Tristano, improvisation, Le Poisson Rouge, live performance, loop-based improv, looping

(Le) Poisson Rouge

Finally!

Since it first opened in 2008, I’ve been wanting to experience (Le) Poisson Rouge, the “multimedia arts cabaret” on Bleeker St. in Greenwich Village, in the space that once housed the Village Gate (with a Duane Reed drugstore there for part of the interregnum, a friend thinks).  Alternative presentation of classical music is one of my strongest interests and a theme in the first-year seminar course I teach at DePauw.  So a visit to LPR during this visit-my-daughter trip to New York was a top priority.

Last night there were two contemporary-classical events, each a CD release party.  At 6:00, Nonesuch hosted a reception in the Gallery Bar for Alarm Will Sound‘s new album, “a/rhythmia.”  Then at 7:30 PM the incredible flutist Claire Chase performed a concert introducing works from her debut solo album “Aliento” in the main space.

My daughter and I arrived about 6:15 PM to find the front staff, friendly early-twenty-somethings, surprisingly unsure of exactly what was going on.  The Alarm Will Sound party was free, but the Claire Chase event was $10 or free with a $50 annual membership, which grants admission for two to all free-for-members events.  The kids working the front didn’t know this, though;  one told the other to look it up on the website.  Then they didn’t know how to sign me up for a membership.  One went off and came back with the slightly rumpled Justin Kantor, the cellist (about 30 or so) who is a co-founder and manager of the club.  Justin, who I recognized from some how-to–play-the-cello videos on the web, had the membership forms, gently explained to the kids what to do, and had a nice chat with me before going back to work.

As all this was going on, my friend and DePauw colleague Cleveland Johnson, who is on leave directing the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship program in NY, emerged from the darkness.  He’d emailed me earlier in the day about getting together while I’m in town, and I’d emailed him back that I was going to LPR that evening.  Turned out he was as well, and was there with his daughter, a graduate student at Columbia.

“Alcohol is our patron,” Justin and his business partner like to say, and this became clear quite quickly.  The Gallery Bar was beautiful, the drinks fairly (although not overly) expensive, and the food menu inviting.  By this time it was, say, 6:30 or so, and nothing was yet happening regarding Alarm Will Sound.  “Things here often run late,” Cleveland, a LPR regular, explained.  “Some things don’t start for an hour after they’re scheduled.  And you never know how crowded it will be. You can show up for something you think no one would come to, and there will be a line around the block.  And then you come early for something you think everyone in New York will want to attend, and there’s hardly anyone here.”

My daughter and I were going to order food, but I spotted a buffet table with food waiting to be uncovered.  About 6:45 PM the coverings came off and guests started helping themselves.  The sound system was still playing something that was definitely not Alarm Will Sound.  A bit before 7:00 PM the new album did start playing, but by the time the Johnsons and the Edbergs migrated to the main space (about 7:15 PM) for the Claire Chase event, there were still no CDs or group members or Nonesuch execs around (or at least identified).

Now this event was well organized and produced.  To our delight, there was a table with CDs and flyers, and the CDs were free.  Now that’s a release party!  (On the other hand, I think they could have sold a bunch of them.)  The main space is visually extraordinary, and the stage had alto and bass flutes on piano benches.  I didn’t look at my watch, but it must have been quite close to 7:30 PM that Claire began her program, performing works for flute and electronics (two using prerecorded tracks, one with live processing including some looping) by Dan Fujikura, Nathan Davis, and Du Yun.  It was an extraordinary performance by an artist who has consummate technical command, musicality, and emotional involvement. The pieces were fantastic.  I was especially moved by Dy Yon’s Run in a Graveyard, which was given it’s world premiere at the event.

The lighting and amplification was brilliant;  a lot of money has gone into this space.  There was a two-item-per-person minimum, so despite being pretty full from the Alarm Will Sound party, we ordered food from the $5 appetizer menu along with drinks.

Now I had been wondering how things would work in a cabaret setting.  Surprisingly well.  The music was amplified, and the audience, at least for this event, was remarkably quiet and attentive, even while eating and drinking.  The wait staff was quietly efficient.  I look forward to hearing an unamplified acoustic event there and see how that goes.

As soon as Claire’s performance ended, the doors between the Gallery bar and the main space were opened.  After good conversation with DePauw music alum and extraordinary flutist himself Eric Lamb (who is a member of the International Contemporary Ensemble which Claire co-founded and serves as the Executive Director for) we headed out through the bar, a bit before 9:00 PM.  Now there was a table with Alarm Will Sound’s new CD;  I bought one.  The band (or some of them, there are 20 in it) had come and gone.

My daughter and I had a lovely walk uptown to her dorm, and made plans to see the 50th-anniversary hi-def digital restoration of The Wizard of Oz this afternoon at a nearby theater.  Of all the movies in New York . . . well, what could be a more nostalgic father/daughter outing?  It’s what we both want/need today, I think.

Great links about LPR here, here, here, and here (the last is on the design firm’s site and has a gallery of photos).

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Filed under alternative classical performance, Le Poisson Rouge