Birds and Music with Pierre-Laurent Aimard at Tanglewood

Pierre-Laurent Aimard - Tanglewood at Mass Audubon Pleasant Valley - Feast of Music Jul 27  2017 Jul 27  2017  7-07 AM Jul 27  2017  7-010LENOX, MA - In the summer of 1949, Aaron Copland invited Olivier Messiaen, who at that time was little-known in the U.S., to be a composer-in-residence at Tanglewood, which was just then entering its second decade. During his time in the Berkshires, Messiaen composed, taught the TMC fellows, and worked with Leonard Bernstein on preparations for the premiere of his Turangalîla-Symphonie later that fall. (Lenny's holding the score in this pic, with Messiaen looking on a bit nervously from the left.) Messiaen would return to Tanglewood a second time more than a quarter-century later for another performance of Turangalila, this time with Seiji Ozawa conducting.

Beyond music, it isn't clear what Messiaen did in the Berkshires, though it's likely he spent a fair amount of time watching and listening to birds, as was his lifelong habit. For Messiaen, birds represented a form of purity in music, which at the time was at risk of losing its soul at the hands of total serialism - of which Messiaen himself was an early proponent. It was around that same time that Messiaen had begun to transcribe birdsong and incorporate it into his music, capturing its chirping rhythms and often-brusque timbre more precisely than anyone before him.

Last year, in his final season as artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival, the multi-faceted pianist and educator Pierre-Laurent Aimard designed a unique program in which he performed Messiaen's mammoth Catalogue d'oiseaux (Catalogue of the Birds, 1958) over the course of an entire day, in locations both indoors and out. For Aimard, who was a friend and student of Messiaen's for more than 20 years, this was more than a mere stunt: each of the thirteen pieces, some lasting nearly half-an-hour, were written to capture a bird and its landscape at specific times of the day. 

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Dawn of Midi and Mashrou' Leila at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!

Dawn of Midi - BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn - Feast of Music Jul 22  2017  8-06 PM
Those that braved the rain Saturday night at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! got to see a pair of acts that are pushing both musical and geographical boundaries. Lebanese rock outfit Mashrou' Leila sang about the politics of exclusion and racism in their home country with their hearts on their sleeves. They clearly have an adoring fan base, many of whom turned out in force to support, but with the lyrics all in Arabic and their music mostly one-dimensional, the impact was lost on me. 

Personally, I was fascinated by openers Dawn of Midi: three Indian-Americans - bassist Aakaash Israni, pianist Amino Belyamani and drummer Qasim Naqvi - who started playing together in L.A. 10 years ago, and now live in Brooklyn. Along the way, they've accumulated some pretty big fans, including Radiohead, who asked them to open for them during two shows at MSG last year. Dawn of Midi's setup is that of a standard jazz trio, but their sound is anything but: using only acoustic instruments, they mimicked the repetitive pulses and beats of electronic so effectively, a good part of the audience could be seen bobbing their heads to it. 

More pics on the photo page.

Morton Subotnick Performs "Silver Apples of the Moon" and "Crowds and Power" at the Lincoln Center Festival

Morton Subotnick - Lincoln Center Festival - Feast of Music Jul 21  2017  8-44 PMFor all those who think electronic music started with Frankie Knuckles in Chicago, or the Belleville Three in Detroit, a tutorial of sorts was provided by the Lincoln Center Festival this week, which invited pioneering electronic composer Morton Subotnick to perform his seminal work Silver Apples of the Moon on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. It might seem ironic to stage a work that was originally designed to be heard in the privacy of one's home, but Subotnick - like most musicians - has come to embrace the pleasures of live performance.

For this performance, Subotnick - now 84 - "revisited" the composition, updating his original Buchla Box (which he co-created with Don Buchla) with a hybrid Ableton-Buchla instrument that allowed for a mix of live and recorded electronics. The music - which was split into 8 channels - was strange and hallucinatory at first, then rhythmic and propulsive. Sitting alone at a table filled with wires and various control pads, Subotnick was in complete command of the proceedings, bringing to mind another electronic composer I caught in the autumn of his career

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Christian Marclay and Okkyung Lee Perform Alexander Calder at the Whitney Museum

Christian marclay okkyung lee - alexander calder - whitney museum - Feast of Music Jul 21  2017  2-08 PMIn 1932, artist and sculptor Alexander Calder devised Small Sphere and Heavy Sphere, Calder's first hanging mobile and one of the first works that sought to blend visual and performance art with sound. Consisting of a heavy iron sphere and a smaller wooden one that hang on either end of a horizontal iron rod, the work is activated by setting the spheres in motion, creating an delicate cacophony by crashing into a collection of household items.

The Whitney, which is currently displaying a show of Calder's mobiles and motor-powered works, invited turntablist and sound artist Christian Marclay and cellist Okkyung Lee to stage Small Sphere and Heavy Sphere last week in the Susan and John Hess Family Theater. Marclay laid out the objects on the floor - wine bottles, copper chimes, cermaic bowls - while Lee walked around the room, dragging and occasionally playing her cello. It was less music than John Cage-like aleatory (which, of course, Cage would vehemently call music), along with some occasional accidental humor, such as when a Mrs. Fields cookie tin twice rolled across the floor until it crashed into the audience. 

The Whitney's "Calder: Hypermobility" remains on display through October 23, with daily activations of Calder's sculptures, along with additional performances by JACK Quartet, Arto Lindsay, C. Spencer Yeh and others. More info on the Whitney's website. More pictures here.