A Celebration of the Composer with the American Composers Orchestra

by Robert Leeper

George Manahan Conducting
George Manahan, Photo Credit: Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images

Organizations that further the careers of young composers are plentiful these days, but the American Composers Orchestra takes its support a step further with its Underwood New Music Readings, offering a rare peek behind the curtain of what it takes to bring a new orchestral work to the stage. Seven new works - chosen from hundreds of entries - received a run-through last Thursday evening at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, with George Manahan conducting the ACO.

Sitting just in front of the seven composers were several “mentor composers,” including ACO artistic director Derek Bermel, Gabriela Lena Frank, and Kevin Puts. Despite casual dress from the orchestra and the educational setting, much was at stake: one of the composers was to be awarded a $15,000 commission to write a work for the ACO, to be performed next season.

This being a working read through after just one rehearsal, the performances were far from polished. That said, there were certainly some noticeable trends - most notably, the lack of dense, serial music à la Schoenberg or Pierre Boulez. Despite the occasional odd rhythmic turn or timbral innovation, the works leaned heavily toward late Romanticism and Impressionism.

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Coffee Conversation: Kronos Quartet's David Harrington

David Harrington, Big Ears FestivalFor anyone who cares at all about the living art of music, there is no more vital institution than the Kronos Quartet. Since their founding 41 years ago, this indefatigable quartet has commissioned more than 850 works and has performed more than 8,000 concerts around the globe. 

Kronos is in NYC this week for a pair of shows, including Mary Koyoumdjian's Silent Cranes at Roulette tomorrow (5/12) - part of their Under 30 project - and a collaboration with the students of Face the Music - including a world premiere triple quartet by Danish composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen - at the Queens New Music Festival on Wednesday (5/13).

Somewhere in between the Kronos Quartet's seven performances at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville back in March, I had the chance to grab founder and artistic director David Harrington to talk a bit about Kronos' legacy, as well as some of the exciting things on the horizon. Chief among these is their ambitious Fifty for the Future project for Carnegie Hall, in which they will commission no fewer than fifty new works over the next five seasons. Excerpts from our conversation below.

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Sonatas from the Soviet Era at SubCulture

by Christina Klessig

Ignat Solzhenitsyn
Last week, pianist Ignat Solzhenitsyn and violist Hsin-Yun Huang presented an intimate concert at Subculture entitled “Sonatas from the Soviet Era.” Solzhenitsyn, the son of Nobel Prize winning dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, began with Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No.8 in B-flat major. Prokofiev wrote this sonata during the genocide hell that the Soviet Union was experiencing towards the end of World War II, and reflects the conflicting emotions an artist goes through during times of war. The finale burst with anxiety and unstoppable motion; the final chord ‘succumbing to an inevitable release from inner torment.’

Following was Shostakovich's Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 147. Huang illuminated this valedictory work, which Shostakovich completed five days before his death. Huang treated every movement as a spiritual contemplation that sped up when it realized it needed to come back to reality’s version of time - much as Shostakovich must have been experiencing at the time. Huang and Solzhenitsyn's meticulous craftsmanship was successful at honoring Shostakovich's end of days.

Omar Sosa at BRIC House

by Steven Pisano 

Omar Sosa at BRIC, Brooklyn, piano

With Cuba increasingly on people’s minds as access to that magical island becomes easier for Americans to travel to, Cuban jazz pianist Omar Sosa and his Quarteto Afrocubano attracted an eclectic audience to its show last week at the newish digs of the BRIC Arts | Media House. Opened in 2013, BRIC House is an impressive facility nestled in Fort Greene near other institutions like BAM, Mark Morris Dance Group, and Theatre for a New Audience. If you haven’t been there yet - as I had not - you should check it out. (We were also there for So Percussion's performance this past Friday, part of the annual Look & Listen Festival.)

Sosa left Cuba back in the 1990s, living first in Ecuador before finding his way to the United States, and finally to his present base in Barcelona. His travels around the world, especially in South America and Africa, have helped to shape his music, adding flavors not heard in more traditional Afro-Cuban jazz. There is also a spiritual element to Sosa’s music that is based in his Santero religious beliefs, which grew out of Yoruban religious customs brought to the Caribbean by slaves centuries ago.

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