Celebrating Pierre Boulez's 90th Birthday at National Sawdust

by Steven Pisano


(Photographs by Steven Pisano.)

Last week at National Sawdust a series of four concerts celebrated the 90th birthday (back in March) of French composer, conductor, and music writer Pierre Boulez, a greatly admired champion and practitioner of 12-tone and serialist composition. Pascal Gallois conducted the highly regarded International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), which recorded the concert for a future release.

The final concert of the series last Saturday began with “Polifonica-Monodica-Ritmica” by Luigi Nono, which despite my admitted antipathies towards serialist music, had an entertaining tension throughout. Mostly random percussion, even the silences had a well-measured tautness to them.

But while Nono kept me wondering what was coming next musically, Boulez’s “Eclat” and Karlheinz Stockhausen’s “Kontra-punkte,” which followed next on the program, made me wonder what I was eating for dinner. Pad Thai? Pizza? Pastitsio? My mind kept shamelessly wandering off to anywhere but focusing on the music. To my amateur ears, this music is strictly an acquired taste.

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Anthony de Mare Plays the Music of Sondheim at Symphony Space

by Nick Stubblefield


Michael Katzif for WNYC.org

When I first saw Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd," I was immediately drawn to his eerie, imaginative use of melody and unconventional harmony. Since then, I've become one of many Stephen Sondheim fans.

Then, there's pianist Anthony de Mare.  A champion of contemporary music, de Mare invited 36 composers - from a variety of genres ranging from jazz, to minimalism, to avant-garde - to re-arrange their favorite Sondheim piece for piano.  The project, Liasons: Re-Imagining Sondheim from the Piano, wrapped up a three-part series at Symphony Space last week, playing to a packed house. de Mare posits that Sondheim's musical influence extends far beyond the theater, and after hearing his works re-arranged by artists ranging from jazz-trumpeter Wynton Marsalis to minimalist-icon Steve Reich, I am convinced that he's right. 

The night started with Mary Ellen Childs' "Now," based on material from Sondheim's "Now/Later/Soon" from A Little Night Music. The piece twinkled and shimmered, showcasing the high piano registers for the first significant portion of the work, then building to rich and resonant octaves in the bass. 

Wynton Marsalis' arrangement of "That Old Piano Roll," from Follies, charmed with a light, bouncing stride left-hand reminiscent of Scott Joplin, with a dash of Thelonious Monk stylings in the right hand.  The off-kilter rhythmic and melodic juxtapositions piqued intellectual interest, but never at the expense of the piece's buoyancy.  This was the work of a true jazzer; de Mare had plenty of fun demonstrating his range and aptitude for syncopation on this one. 

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“Real Enemies” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

by Steven Pisano

  20151118-DSC_3582(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

“Anyone not paranoid in this world must be crazy." Edward Abbey

Americans are suckers for a good conspiracy theory. Were those gunshots on the grassy knoll? Is Paul dead? Is Elvis alive? C’mon, we all know they filmed the lunar landing in Arizona. And, be careful what you say: The government is listening to your phone calls.

Who believes this stuff? Well, a lot of people. And by the way, at least one of these far out theories is actually true. But which one? And how do we know for sure?

Real Enemies, playing through Sunday at BAM’s Harvey Theater, is a galvanizing musical exploration of American conspiracy theory and paranoia, stretching back into the 1950s. Composer Darcy James Argue and his dazzling 18-piece big band Secret Society have worked with filmmaker Peter Nigrini, writer/director Isaac Butler, and scenic and lighting designer Maruti Evans to create a highly engaging and intelligent production.

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Bulgarian Pianist Tania Stavreva Brings "Kaleidoscope Rhythms" to Tenri Cultural Institute

by Nick Stubblefield


Great music and art from all corners of the globe can be found in New York all year round -- so much so that deciding which event to attend next can be overwhelming. Bulgarian-born pianist Tania Stavreva solved that dilemma for me on Saturday when she invited me to a program she dubbed "Kaleidoscope Rhythms" at the Tenri Cultural Institute.  

Located in Greenwich Village, the Tenri Cultural Institute serves the surrounding community by, among other functions, providing performance space for local musicians. The clean, white minimalist room is visually and acoustically appealing, with the relative proximity to the Steinway grand enhancing the clarity of sound. 

Stavreva jump-started a program of mostly Bulgarian compositions, opening with her own, "Rhythmic Movement." Her piece referenced motifs and ideas from the second number, also titled "Rhythmic Movement" by Pancho Vladigerov. Both works drove forward with a calculated energy: dense harmonies overlapped in rapid succession, relentless from beginning to end. It was also brief, lasting only a couple of minutes. In fact, the entire program was a refreshingly succinct Bulgarian sampler platter, clocking in at just over one hour. 

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