Monday April 4 took me all the way across the street to Symphony Space, where I encountered a long,snaking line at the box office, for the second program of the Cutting Edge Concerts New Music Festival 2011. There’s another concert tonight at 7:30, and I’ll get there early, both to pick up my ticket and get a good seat. Music by Mumford, Ferneyhough, Meltzer, and the festival’s artistic director Victoria Bond, performed by the Argento Ensemble and the Da Capo Chamber Players.
It’s another event publicized by Gail Wein (which I’m making a point of because one of the reasons I’m in to NY is to see how to get people to concerts, and very good way seems to be to hire Gail), and, like the previous day’s Baby Got Bach show, last week’s performance was sold out. Selling out a new-music concert, even in New York, is not easy, so congratulations to everyone involved. (The first concert in the series, on March 28, got a great review in the NY Times.)
Last Monday’s concert, performed by Sequitur, included music by Robert Sirota, Armando Bayolo, Daniel Godfrey, David Glaser, and Victoria Bond. It was long–first half was over 90 minutes. Producing new-music concerts takes an incredible determination, sense of mission, organizational skills, people skills, fundraising, etc., all of which Victoria Bond seems to have in abundance So I guess it’s natural to jam as much music in as possible. For most of the audience, which I assume was primarily New-York new-music lovers, and the composers (and their friends and family members) that’s probably a good thing. There aren’t many opportunities to get things performed. (And Symphony Space has a long history of marathon events.)
Now if you were looking for a new audience for this music, maybe shorter concerts would be the thing. I’m just wondering out loud here. I confess I stayed for just the first half; it was well after 9:00 PM by the time intermission came, and I really wanted to watch, of all things, a basketball game. I’ve lived in Indiana for almost a quarter century; the amazing (Indianapolis) Butler men’s team was playing UConn (my son’s favorite team) in the NCAA FInal Four championship game, and, well, even though I’m not much of a basketball fan, I couldn’t resist.
Before the basketball, the concert’s first half was great. My favorite was Robert Sirota’s A Sinner’s Diary for two violas, flute, cello, piano, and percussion. Symphony Space’s Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre has a smallish stage, so the percussion was set up in front of it. You’d think that would make for ensemble challenges, but it didn’t. Bond interviews the composers on stage before each piece–which works very well. Sirota explained, among other things, that he wrote the piece for his daughter Nadia‘s graduation recital at Juilliard. She now seems to own the new-music viola market in New York–seems like she’s played every concert I’ve been to (and if not, I see her in the audience). Her brother Jonah is the violist in the Chiara Quartet, hence the two violas in the instrumentation. The music was varied, lively, emotionally intense and evocative, and, natch, had a huge viola solo movement.
Armando Bayolo’s Mix Tape for solo double bass gave the very skilled Pawel Knapik quite a workout. Movements were based on well-disguised fragments of pop songs.
Daniel Godfrey’s Anika used letters from Anika, a young Polish Jew, writing to a cousin with increasing horror as the Holocaust impinges on her life, contrasted with a horrifying speech by a top Nazi official (I think it was Himmler or Goebbels; the program notes don’t say and I forgot to write it down). This was an unsettling, powerful piece to experience-maybe that’s one reason I felt I’d had enough music for the evening and went home to watch basketball. Sometimes there’s only so much one can absorb. The contrast of the texts, and the terrifying Nazi sense of mission, has stayed with me.
I’m looking forward to tonight’s concert. And I’ll be sure to take a little “disco nap” before heading over to make sure I have plenty of endurance!