Recent musical events here in NY (Sabbatical Journal II)

A quick catch up on my more interesting activities since the Chamber Music America Conference ended on Sunday January 16.

On Tuesday 1/19, I went down to the Parkside Lounge in the East Village, where several members of the International Street Cannibals, including my old North Carolina School of the Arts classmate Dan Barrett, hosted a jam/open mic session.  Wide array of music, including a stunning performance of the Berio Sequenza (from memory, no less), by alto Christina Ascher. When I arrived in the back room  of the bar, Dan was playing the Sarabande from the Bach C Major Cello Suite with wonderful, loving intensity. I ended up doing a solo improv (borrowing Dan’s cello) and joining in on the final jam.  Also there was DePauw alum Kevin James (not the actor!), who did a very cool trombone piece which included audience members slowly playing and-cranked music box mechanisms.  The weather was crappy, the turnout smallish, but some money was still raised for the Clearwater Project.

The next night took me to the Upper East Side, to the elegantly-housed Diller-Quaile School of Music, just off Fifth Avenue.  I went to hear Tomas Ulrich perform his hauntingly beautiful new “Epilogue for Solo Cello” on a faculty recital.  I’ve known Tomas for years.  I also got to meet (and hear) several of his faculty colleagues, including the fine cellist Teresa Kubiak, with whom I had a stimulating conversation at the reception.  I brought up the shrinking amount of work for free-lance classical musicians in New York.  Teresa is feeling its effects, along with every other free-lance classical musician in NY.  Most of her income comes from teaching.  But she’s not bitter or sour.  Just full of joy at being able to perform and teach great music.  It was so refreshing and inspiring to hear.

Saturday 1/22 brought an Ecstatic Music Festival performance at Merkin Hall with Craig Wedren and the American Contemporary Music Ensemble performing music by Meridith Monk (“Stringsongs”), Wedren (a solo set of his songs and film music, including some fascinating use of a lopping and other pedals), and a song cycle, “On in Love,” with lyrics by Wedren and music by Jefferson Friedman.  This was fascinating for me–an “alternative classical” (to use Greg Sandow’s term), post-classical (to use Joe Horowitz’s term), classical-indie rock fusion event.  Merkin Hall is a traditional classical venue.  Rock music (Wedren’s? I’m so illiterate when it comes to non-classical music I don’t know) was playing over a sound system before the show/concert. The stage was lit with colored gels.

I loved the Monk piece, angular, rhythmic, complex and simple all at the same time.  It was the most classical thing on the program.  The rest of the program for me was interesting and engaging, but not as affecting as the Monk.  I’m just not used to, or into, the indie-rock language (I assume that’s what it was!) that infused the rest of the program.  Familiarity with a style is key to appreciating and being affected by it.  There was a smallish turnout. The balcony, which an usher tells me seats about 150 in the 450-0r-so-seat hall, was closed, and there the downstairs was 2/3 to 3/4 full.  A NY friend very in tune with concert promotion thought the problem was not enough publicity;  I don’t know.

The New York Society for Ethical Culture has a magnificent building at 64th St. and Central Park West.  When I was going to Juilliard, I lived just half a block away but never went in.  Sunday 1/23 I went to the morning meeting (they are very secular humanists, so I’m not sure if calling what I attended a “service” is appropriate) to hear John Liechty (whom I met at the CMA conference) perform three original compositions for the prelude music.  Two neo-Baroque works (which worked quite well) and a piece in a more contemporary, minimalist-influenced idiom, all for violin and piano.  John works a day job (as many composers from Mussorgsky to Phillip Glass have done) so he can write the music he wants, and he seems quite happy with the situation.  I love that about him.

On Monday 1/24 I wanted to check out another alternative venue, Caffe Vivaldi, which presents live music, of every genre, 7 days a week.  On Mondays they have an open mic night, which I thought I’d visit to report on and see if it’s somewhere I’d like to play (kid of like lurking in a web forum before joining in).  For some reason I imagined it as a large, spacious place.  But it’s in the West Village, where (doh!) everything is tiny. Ans it is.  Absolutely crammed with performers, performers-in-waiting, and their friends and fans.  I squeezed in and listened for a while.  My daughter met me.  We were going to have dinner there, but with no seats we went to a terrific Indian place around the corner.  Squeezed in for a while after dinner.  I couldn’t see where I’d even put a cello case in there, but we’ll see.

The Budapest Festival Orchestra performed in Avery Fischer Hall on Tuesday 1/25 as part of the Lincoln Center Great Performers Series.  I got a half-price ticket in the David Rubenstein Atrium, part of Lincoln Center, right across the street from the main campus, next door to the Empire Hotel.  Day-of-performance half-price tickets. Fantastic!  Not everyone seemed to know about this, though.  There was a good bit of a line at the main Avery Fischer Hall box office, and no line across the street, where you can get the best-available tickets much less expensively.  Iván Fischer, the orchestra’s founder and music director, conducted a program of Haydn (Symphony No. 102 and the D Major Piano Concerto) and Stravinsky (The Rite of Spring) with piano soloist Alexi Lubimov.  Precise, beautifully shaped, infinitely alive music making which captured the humor and playfulness many Haydn performances miss.  I sat by three Juilliard graduate piano students who were nearly awestruck by Lubimov’s artistry.  I confess, it was the most thoroughly and traditional classical of the events I’ve attended so far, and also my favorite.

Tonight I’m planning to go down to [le] poisson rouge to hear/see the Metropolis Ensemble perform “Hallucinations,” electro-acoustic music by a number of composers including John Corigliano (the only name I recognize).

(Note: I’ll put in some more links later.)

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2 responses to “Recent musical events here in NY (Sabbatical Journal II)

  1. I’ve always wanted to see a Meredith Monk piece performed live. I remember talking to Keith Nightenhelser about the possibility of bringing her and her perfoming company to DePauw for the performing arts series and how that would have taken up the entirety of the budget for it.

    If I ever go to NYC just to see a show, she would be at the top of the list–I’m only sad I’ll never get to see Merce Cunningham perform live.

    I didn’t know Corigliano had written any electro-acoustic pieces–that might be interesting.

  2. Well, should be an interesting event tonight. I loved the Monk piece and want to hear more.

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