Monthly Archives: May 2011

Coming Up: Tribeca New Music Festival and GALA NYC Events

Greg Sandow, back from his trip to England, has been writing up his experiences, including yesterday’s post on the intersection between alt-classical (as he, his wife, and some others say) music and the London Symphony.

It’s interesting that one of the keys to developing new, age-diverse diverse audiences is new music that is challenging and accessible at the same time.  New music, new audience.  And the mix and/or juxtaposition of musical languages (i.e., indie rock, classical, contemporary classical, non-Western, etc.) that is so much in evidence in so many performances here in New York.

With that in mind, here are some events I’m looking forward to here in Gotham:

The Tribeca New Music Festival began Monday night, with a performance by the string quartet Ethel (warmly reviwed by the Times).  I was till out of town, so I didn’t have to choose between that concert and the free Time for Three show at the church across the street from my apartment. (And, damn it, both are groups I really want to hear in person!)

I am planning to attend the rest of the Tribeca Festival events, including Dither and Redhooker tonight (May 26) at Merkin (near Lincoln Center), and Tribeca Monsters Tuesday (May 31) at Galapagos (in Brooklyn), as well as the others listed on the festival website.  (I find it a bit amusing that, in its 10th season, a festival named for Tribeca, a Manhattan neighborhood which used to be low-rent and is now insanely expensive, has no performances in its namesake locale.)

Saturday night I’ll be at the final GALA NYC show at the Brooklyn Lyceum before the series takes a summer break (it resumes in the fall).  I loved the May 14 event.  I almost called it a “variety show” in my post, but thought it might have an unflattering connotation.  Then I got a promo email from Mike Block, the versatile cellist and organizer of the series, including this:

WHAT IS GALA NYC? A variety show featuring new and exciting collaborations by world-class musicians from different backgrounds.  Come see some world premiers and new re-interpretations of existing music! You can see videos from our previous 3 performances at

So obviously “variety show” is the right term!  Tickets are only $15.  I think it’s about the best deal in New York.

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Filed under GALA NYC, Tribeca New Music Festival

Welcomed Back to NY with Bach in the Subway

I got back to New York Tuesday night, after a long weekend away for my son’s college graduation, and fell in love with the city all over again. I just love it here.  What can I say?

To save money, I took a shuttle bus (instead of a cab) from LaGuardia to Times Square.  I stood on 42nd St. for a while, just looking at all the lights and people, and was happy.

Then I went down to the subway, and there, on the 1/2/3 platform, was Dale Henderson, the Bach in the Subways cellist, Baching in the subway.  Couldn’t think of a more perfect welcome “home” (as temporary as it may be).  We chatted a bit, in between movements, as I waited for my train. “Any requests?” Dale asked me.  At first I declined, but then I asked for a Gigue (essentially a jig; each of the six Bach Suites ends with one).  Dale played the powerful and stormy D minor, and then my favorite, the one from the D major suite. When Pete, my son, was born, I used to sing Bach Gigues to him in the hospital nursery.  As I was getting in the subway car, Pete was driving home from Grinnell. Dale playing a Gigue for me (and everyone else), right there, was a perfect way to celebrate Pete’s milestone and the start of my final weeks in New York.

I got back to my big corner room. It was a warm night.  I opened all the windows, and turned out the lights so that I could lie in bed without being on display, yet see the lights from the buildings surrounding mine. Very nice.

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Filed under and everything, Bach in the Subways, Bach Suites, Dale Henderson, life in NY, music in subways

My Mother’s Tour with J. S. Bach

“Look!  All this music is by Bach!” my mother exclaimed, pointing to the pile the table in her room.  “Isn’t it amazing there’s so much by just one composer?”

79 years old, and she’s played the piano for, probably, 75 of them.  And now, Alzheimer’s Disease, despite its cruelties, brings surprising joys.  A stack of Henle editions, over a foot tall, culled from her bookcase of music, now assembled on the desk in her “Legacy Neighborhood” room, there to be discovered, as if for the first time.

“That really is something, Mom.”

She plays the piano every day.  That was the big challenge, finding a place where she could be taken care of well, and have her piano.  Memory-care facilities, the ones based on current thinking, anyway, don’t have individual apartments with kitchenettes.  Everyone has nice big bedroom with a sitting area, but the place is designed so you want to come out of the room, so you need to in order to eat.  It’s to keep people from isolating themselves (plus few if any of these lovely people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia could cook for themselves).  The director of this place, which I’d initially ruled out, found a room where my mother’s Steinway B could live. It’s a large “private dining room.”  The idea is you can bring the family over and have a meal together.  It sounds and looks good when you look at the place.  But not many people bring over the whole family to have dinner with Grandma, especially when she can’t remember who you are. The piano looks good in there.  A win-win solution.

She recognized me today.  She always has.  Never addressed me by name, though.  That was a bit tough.  I kept waiting to hear it.

It’s been a couple of months since we’ve seen each other.  I’ve been living in New York since mid-January and have made only one trip back before this. She’d recognize my name.  It just didn’t come to her.  She was excited to see me, my daughter, and my ex-wife.  We’d been to my son’s college graduation.

“He came to visit me in Florida, you know.” She beamed.

My daughter and I were a bit startled. “Who, Mom? J. S. Bach?”

“Oh, yes.  He brought me this music himself.”

One voice inside me wanted to say are you fucking crazy? He died in 1750!  Another said, relax.  You’re in her world for now.

OK.  Might as well play along.

“Wow, Mom, I didn’t know that.”

“He and I went around to schools. I played for them and he gave them Bach’s music.” (Interesting sentence formation, I thought.  Not, “He gave them his music.”  “He gave them Bach’s music.”  Was “he” still “Bach”?)

She seemed so happy at the memory.  Sharing the music.  I have a lot of nice memories.  Some not so nice ones, too.  When and if my actual memories dissolve, a nice replacement would be a tour with J. S. Bach.

it was that kid of morning.  I cried some when we left.  Allison, my ex-wife and such a dear friend, reminded me that I’d told about someone who said he’d fallen in love with the woman his mother, who had dementia, had become.  I’m there, I guess, but I still miss the woman she used to be.

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Filed under and everything, Dealing with dementia, family life


Sunday May 22, the day after the world didn’t end, the rapture didn’t happen.  (Too, bad, a friend of my son posted on Facebook.  The rest of us could have gotten universal health care and gay-marriage legislation passed pretty quickly and made the world a better place.)

It’s commencement weekend here at Grinnell College, in Grinnell, Iowa. (“Where the Hell is Grinnell?” asked the tee-shirt of a student I passed. Grinnell!)

My son graduates tomorrow, so I’m here, a brief break from New York.

Yesterday afternoon, a reception for graduating seniors and their families in a big tent in the center of campus.  Later that evening, a concert of student vocal groups.

My son, Pete, is in the G Tones, an a capella (unaccompanied) group.  (“My transformation into Andy Bernard is almost complete!”) They finished the show. He had a big solo, busted loose. Fabulous.

I sat in the lovely old chapel, listening to and watching these beautiful, tired, relieved, happy kids make their music, some polished, some losing all sense of pitch.  All performed with enthusiasm.  My daughter next to me, her mother next to her. Parents and grandparents and siblings all over the place. We soaked in their joy in making music and our own at having it made for us.  These great kids, after all they’ve been through in finals week, celebrating it all by putting on a concert.

It doesn’t get any better than this, I thought. This is heaven. Maybe the rapture happened after all, and I was “taken.”

If so, God really knows what she’s doing.  Thanks.

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Filed under and everything, family life

This weekend: Look & Listen Festival and GALANYC

I’m going out of (NY) town tomorrow for a long weekend.  My son graduates from college! (Of course he will have passed all his courses.)

A few things I wish I wasn’t missing here, though.  First, the Look & Listen Festival, presenting contemporary music in art galleries. Tonight (May 19), Friday, and Saturday at 8:00 PM, Sunday at 3:00 PM.  Each performance at the Chelsea Art Museum, 556 West 22nd Street.  Great lineup of New York new-music big names.  I’ll be at this evening’s performance (assuming I’m all packed, etc., which is a big if).  Tickets are just $15.

If I could be in three places at once on Saturday, the next GALA NYC show (series organized by cellist Mike Block) is at 8:00 PM at the Brooklyn Lyceum.  I loved last week’s concert. Mike’s coming up with the most interesting, eclectic combination of performers.

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Filed under Brooklyn Lyceum, Festivals/Series, GALA NYC, Look & Listen festival, Look & Listen festival

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.


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