Esa-Pekka Salonen's "Foreign Bodies" at the New York Philharmonic

Ny phil obsidian teanPhoto: Chris Lee, NY Philharmonic

When the New York Philharmonic reached out to Esa-Pekka Salonen several years ago to ask him to become an artistic partner, it was not, as many might assume, as a conductor. Rather, he was engaged as the Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-In-Residence, and over the past three seasons, the Phil has performed several of his works, both at Geffen Hall and at Williamsburg's National Sawdust, where he curated the CONTACT! new music concerts this past season.

But, it wasn't until the final few months of Salonen's tenure that he decided to take up his baton and conduct the Philharmonic himself. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to his subscription concerts in April, where he led the Phil in performances of Beethoven and a new work by Anna Thorvaldsdottir. But, I was there a week ago Friday for "Foreign Bodies": a one-off program which the Phil worked overtime to market in the media and on their various social media platforms as "groundbreaking" and "an interdisciplinary extravaganza."

Aside from the music, there was a photo booth filled with feathered masks and plastic horns (presumably for Instagrammers who like to look silly) and Broadway-style sippy cups so you could bring your Sauvignon Blanc (clear beverages only!) into the hall. Not really groundbreaking, but better than the usual.

“The concert experience has become predictable,” Salonen told the Times earlier this month,"and, visually, mostly dead boring...People are quite used to not only following narrative layers at the same time, but also expecting it."

All-in-all, the concert was thrown together in about four months - a flash in the classical world, where schedules are often booked 2-3 years in advance. Still, Salonen wasn't working completely from scratch: his Green Umbrella new music concerts at the LA Phil (where he worked closely with current NY Phil President Deborah Borda) provided a successful template to work from. 

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River to River Festival - "Naamah's Ark"

by Steven Pisano

28016303517_0f6cbbebed_o(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Now in its 17th year, the River to River Festival is a series of free performances presented each summer in Lower Manhattan, offering music, dance, theater, and visual arts. On Sunday, in Rockefeller Park along the Hudson River, an oratorio by composer Marisa Michelson and librettist Royce Vavrek, "Naamah's Ark," was presented on an open-air stage featuring almost 200 singers.

Like many communities on the East Coast - including the area surrounding Rockefeller Park - Hurricane Sandy brought widespread destruction to the Long Island town of Lawrence, NY.  Different socioeconomic communities within Lawrence had for a long time been separate, keeping to themselves, but the storm changed everything, bringing the people of the town closer together as they all recovered from the storm.

Inspired by Michelson's conversations with the residents of Lawrence, "Naamah's Ark" re-centers the biblical story of Noah's Ark around Noah's wife Namaah, about whom relatively little is known. Here, Naamah is very much a modern woman, doing all she can to hold things together in the face of a disastrous flood - just like the residents of Lawrence.

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ACME Play the Music of Jóhann Jóhannsson at Le Poisson Rouge

ACME Johann Johansson - 1Over the past few years, I had several opportunities to see the Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson - perhaps best known as the Golden Globe-winning composer of The Theory of Everything, Arrival, and Sicario - perform his often-somber, occasionally menacing music, often with members of ACME (American Contemporary Music Ensemble). For their tenth anniversary back in 2015, ACME commissioned Jóhannsson's epic Drone Mass, which they premiered in the Met Museum's Temple of Dendur alongside Roomful of Teeth

Sadly, Jóhannsson died unexpectedly earlier this year at his home in Berlin. He was only 48, and had just started work on the Disney film Christopher Robin, which would have been his most ambitious scoring project to date. (The score was ultimately completed by Jon Brion.) 

In tribute to their former collaborator, ACME performed a program of Jóhannsson's music last Sunday at Le Poisson Rouge, which felt like full circle given that this was where they first performed together back in 2009. The concert was part of LPR's ongoing 10th anniversary series, LPR X, which continues throughout the summer. 

The selections, most of which were taken from Jóhannsson's albums EnglabörnOrphée and Fordlandia, were heavy and hypnotic, made all the more so by Jóhannsson's eerie absence. (The pre-recorded electronics were handled by Grey McMurray.) ACME artistic director Clarice Jensen performed the quiet, eerie “bc” for solo cello and tape loops, which she co-composed with Jóhannsson last year for her debut solo release, For this from that will be filled. Jóhannsson's music was an emotional trigger that called to mind any number of recent early deaths. At first, it felt like a blanket of pain and misery, but quickly dissolved into something resembling peace. Or, at the very least, acceptance. 

More pics on the photo page. Set list below.

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Northside Festival #10 - Thursday

by Steven Pisano

20180607-_DSC9007Each June, the Northside Festival brings to Williamsburg and Bushwick a long list of interesting conferences revolving around today's tech and media worlds, but what always interests us most at Feast of Music is of course music--lots and lots (and lots) of music. This year marks the festival's tenth anniversary, and over 300 bands are playing Thursday through Sunday with something for just about everyone.

On Thursday at Brooklyn Bowl, the line-up featured three self-professed "weirdos" and "geeks" who brought a DIY rap sensibility to their musical views of the world. To be honest, we never knew this was a niche, and it almost seems too much of a niche within a niche, but in a way this proves Northside's role in supporting performers across a wide spectrum.

Leading off the 3-hour concert was a singer known as Sammus (born Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo), a PhD candidate in science at Cornell University who is now based in Philadelphia. If you are a fan of the Nintendo game "Metroid," you would recognize her name coming from the game character Samus Aran who protects the universe from Space Pirates.

As you might expect from a singer/songwriter/rapper/teacher working on a doctorate, Sammus writes smart, socially conscious, and sensitive songs that surprise with their literate lyrics. Sammus also surprises by being angry at people (but in a nice way)--at people who made fun of her name when she was a kid, at people who misbehave on social media, at a**holes in general.

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