New York Philharmonic Opens 175th Season with Corigliano, Gershwin, and Dvořák

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The New York Philharmonic officially opened it's 175th season Wednesday night with a concert which, while not exactly boundary-pushing, served as a reminder of the rich legacy of this oldest of American orchestras. Beforehand, the Phil played this video emphasizing the orchestra's identity as a uniquely New York institution, with NYC-entric performances throughout the season such as last week's Manhattan. (There was also brief mention of the Phil's "New World Initiative" - named after Dvořák's 9th symphony, which the Phil commissioned back in 1893 - but at the moment it consists of little more than an open calendar of performances by NYC-based musicians.)

As noted by Philharmonic president Matthew Van Besien, this season is also Alan Gilbert's eighth and last as music director. During his time in NYC, Gilbert may not have displayed the most magnetic podium presence, but he has done more to promote new music and innovative programming at the Phil than any director since Bernstein or Boulez. Gilbert's final season is no different, as he leads seven World, U.S., and New York Premieres, as well as music by LigetiJohn Adams, and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Gilbert will close the season with a concert that explores how music and musicians can effect positive change and harmony in the world.

Gala concerts aren't meant to challenge their well-heeled audience, but there was one relatively new work on this concert: John Corigliano's STOMP, originally written in 2010 for solo violin. It was typical of the new music played on most concert programs: short, playful, mostly melodic. The "stomp" in the title refers to Corigliano's instruction to the players to tap or stomp on certain beats, much like you'll find in country or jazz music. Or, any music, really. 

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Art of the Score: New York Philharmonic plays "Manhattan"

by Nick Stubblefield 

Manhattan at NY Philharmonic

"To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin."

Woody Allen said it best himself in those opening lines from his classic 1979 film Manhattan. The all-Gershwin soundtrack was originally recorded by the New York Philharmonic, so it was only fitting that the Phil presented Manhattan two weeks ago in David Geffen Hall as part of their annual "Art of the Score" series, which replaces a projected film’s recorded score with a live performance. Given that the Philharmonic recorded the soundtrack nearly 40 years earlier in this same hall, they could not have sounded more at home in this performance.

Gershwin's iconic "Rhapsody in Blue" opens the film, set to a montage of black and white images of the city that perfectly capture it's grandeur and frantic energy. The Philharmonic performed it with virility and enthusiasm, starting with the famously identifiable clarinet glissando. Throughout the film, the score subtly underscores the emotion playing out on screen, often unaccompanied by dialogue or other sound. In this live performance context, the movie's witty dialogue and score shined independently of one another.

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Ensemble Signal Celebrates Steve Reich's 80th Birthday at Miller Theater

by Nick Stubblefield

Steve Reich Variations 2016A string section, a wind section, six percussionists, six singers, and four pianos on one stage: that's how you throw an 80th birthday party for Steve Reich, widely regarded as America's greatest living composer. Ensemble Signal riveted the sold out crowd to their seats when they opened the 2016-2017 season at Columbia University's Miller Theatre last week with two of Reich's more recent works, juxtaposing Morse code-like rhythms with startlingly haunting vocal harmonies. The effect was mind-grabbing and mesmerizing, while often soothing and reflective. 

Daniel Variations (2006) started with a gut-punching fortissimo from the piano and vibraphone: dark, foreboding, and ominous. Tense, tight vocal harmonies cut crisply through a moment later. Daniel calls upon four singers, but the sound Ensemble Signal produced was more like a large Gregorian choir: they were not only precise on entrances and pacing, but blended to perfection.  

Occasional but vital bass-drum hits punctuated several passages, while the mallet players provided the pulse, staying tightly interlocked both in and out of phase with each other and the piano. The effect was entrancing, providing a contemporary context to the ancient-sounding vocals. Only fitting, given that the title of the work was derived from both the biblical Book of Daniel and the Jewish-American reporter Daniel Pearl, who was murdered by Islamist extremists in Pakistan.

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John Luther Adams' Inuksuit on Governors Island

by Robert Leeper

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The Rite of Summer music festival closed out their 2016 season on Saturday afternoon at The Hills park on Governors Island. Music Director Amy Garapic led over 70 percussionists from several of New York City's top percussion ensembles and schools and coming from the ranks of rock bands including Greg Saunier (Deerhoof), Brian Chase (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) in John Luther AdamsInuksuit.

Inuksuit is an event more than it is a performance. Percussion ranged from temple gongs, drums, cymbals, conch shells and rocks to whirly tubes, piccolos and several hand-cranked sirens over the approximately hour long performance. Bird songs fluttered out of pitched instruments creating appealing call and response textures. The work builds from a sparsely scored introduction to a thrilling middle before fading back to silence. 

Many attendees wandered the hills taking in the different angles and sounds as seems to be the intent of the piece, but it was interesting to note a number of people who appeared to stay in one spot, engaging deeply with the collage of sounds from only one location.  

As the work ended, audience members strained to listen for any last strands of music - and this may have been the most potent example of the value of a massive environmental work of this nature. In that strain to, the audience listened more closely to their environment than perhaps they ever had before - lured into a world of sounds and interest can be immersive and is constant. 

It was a beautiful day for it and readers should certainly experience it for themselves if possible. If you're in the area, the UConn Percussion Ensemble is performing Inuksuit September 10 of this year.

More pictures from Saturday are below:

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the public domain: Performance Day

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Steven Pisano

As I walked up Broadway from the A train on Saturday morning, something felt different. I'd made this walk countless times before, usually rushing to catch a curtain at the Met, the Phil, City Ballet, (or Opera RIP). But, this was the first time I'd made this walk as a performer, and I felt that mix of giddy anticipation and nervous energy that every singer, dancer, musician, or actor feels when they're heading to their first - or in this case, only - performance.

I didn't really have much reason to be nervous. After all, we had prepared for this day for four weeks, some for even longer. We knew the music, we had rehearsed the movements, we even got a sense of what the whole thing would sound like. Now, we just needed to go out and do it.

"It", of course, was the public domain, which we were set to perform in public for the first time on the Josie Robertson Plaza later that afternoon. But, there was still work to do, and all 1,000 of us were told to report to Geffen Hall no later than 11:30 am. A representative from the NYPD told us that rain was in the forecast, in which case the performance would not be rescheduled. He then offered detailed instructions about what to do in the event of an attack, or other unexpected incident. "These are the times we live in, folks." 

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