Preview: Staatskapelle Berlin's Bruckner Cycle at Carnegie Hall

Tonight, the Berlin Staatskapelle kicks off an unprecedented nine concert survey of Anton Bruckner's complete symphonies at Carnegie Hall. Led by music director Daniel Barenboim - who incredibly made his Carnegie debut 60 years ago tomorrow - the concerts will also feature six of Mozart's late piano concertos, which Barenboim will lead from the piano. We won't be at all nine concerts - that's a bit much even for a Bruckner fanatic like me - but I'll be there tonight for the rarely heard Symphony No. 1, along with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27. Tickets and additional info available on Carnegie's website.

PROTOTYPE Festival: Breaking the Waves

by Annette GoldBreakingthewaves(All pics by Steven Pisano)

Following it's world premiere at Opera Philadelphia in September, the much-hyped Breaking the Waves had its New York City debut at the Skirball Center at NYU last Friday night as part of the PROTOTYPE Festival. Going into it, I was skeptical—would the piece be a salacious shocker with nudity and profanity, or would it be a revelation? The answer: it is bafflingly not greater than the sum of its parts, despite exquisite composing and lyrical, if not virtuosic, singing.

As a disclaimer, I’ll share that I haven’t seen the movie. I felt that would actually be better, since I wanted to experience firsthand what I had heard would be a very powerful story. Operas should have powerful stories. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to remain confused for most of the performance, due at least in part to the stuck, postured direction by James Darrah.

The opera seemed most free in the little moments of joyful characterization allotted to the doomed protagonist Bess, brilliantly sung by Kiera Duffy, whose Scottish accent and paradoxical gamine naïveté were never a burden. Composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek gift us with an all-male Greek chorus of sorts; it seemed Mr. Darrah could have left the posturing to them to highlight their contrast with the protagonists, a sort of ‘perspective of the masses’ versus that of the ‘other.’

That is not to say the piece was ineffective. It surely had shock value—Ms. Duffy was completely nude a handful of times, and her character’s husband, Jan, both bellowed and crooned by John Moore, was naked in enough positions to leave nothing to imagination. The nudity was obviously intended to be an important expository choice, but it felt gratuitous and gave us no insight about either character’s true desires. The inexplicable connection between the love interests was only more confusing as Jan exploited Bess’s kindness by encouraging her liaisons with every member of the chorus, accompanied by more nudity.

Continue reading "PROTOTYPE Festival: Breaking the Waves" »

Bang on a Can Kicks Off Ecstatic Music Festival

by Robert Leeper

Bang on a Can All-Stars
From Left: David Cossin, Derek Johnson, Robert Black, Ashley Bathgate, Ken Thomson, Vicky Chow, John Schaefer

Downtown moved uptown last Monday as the Bang on a Can All-Stars Presented the 2017 Bang on a Can People's Commissioning Fund concert. The evening kicked off BoaC’s 30th anniversary season as well the Ecstatic Music Festival to a packed house at the Kaufman Music Center.

Since it's founding in 1992 the All-Stars have grown into one of America’s premier modern music ensembles.  The second generation of the group, Vicky Chow (piano), Ashley Bathgate (cello), Ken Thomson (clarinet/saxophone), David Cossin (drums), Robert Black (bass), and Derek Johnson (electric guitar) are each accomplished soloists in his or her own right, but have together to form this community dedicated to innovative music. On Monday they added works by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Mexican-Dutch composer Juan Felipe Waller, and American composer Nico Muhly, to the growing multimedia project Field Recordingswhich instructs composers to go into the field of recorded sound and respond with their own music.

In true Bang on a Can style, the event was event was eclectic and informal: a presentation of new music as well as an opportunity for the night’s emcee, WNYC’s John Schaefer, to chat with the composers about their work. The performances and talks are to be used on Mr. Schaefer’s New Sounds program.

Continue reading "Bang on a Can Kicks Off Ecstatic Music Festival" »

Sxip Shirey Album Release at National Sawdust

by Nick Stubblefield

Sxip Shirey show

It would be futile to try and encapsulate impressions of electro-acoustic artist Sxip Shirey's (pronounced SKIP SHY-REE) album release show at Williamsburg's National Sawdust in a single blog post. The show lineup included guest singers, tuba, penny-whistles, music boxes, children's toys, live effects and drum loops, a string section, horns, harmonicas, dobro, and oh yes — a twenty-person choir. Instead, let the composer-performer sum it up in his own words: "As a kid, I grew up listening to the Beatles, so I thought each song should have a different studio set up...nobody told me they never toured that shit." The concert, which celebrated the release of Shirey's newest record, A Bottle of Whiskey and Handful of Bees, was the only show Sxip presented in promotion of the record, and that made it extra special for an audience already game to follow Shirey down a strange, sonic rabbit hole. 

First off, how about another hand for Garth the sound guy? Each of the many numbers required a vastly different stage configuration, numerous mic set ups, and live audio processing. It’s a testament to the technician’s abilities that he was able to mix all that input down to cohesive, hiccup-free sound.

Continue reading "Sxip Shirey Album Release at National Sawdust" »