by Steven Pisano
One thing is clear: Meredith Monk has a lot of friends—musicians who have both directly and indirectly been influenced by her work. And she has written a lot of music. So, it was only fitting that Monk, who is this season's Debs Composer's Chair at Carnegie Hall, was the subject of Sunday afternoon's “Meredith Monk and Friends” at Zankel Hall, celebrating her 50-year career (so far) as one of today's most widely admired musicians.
This marathon concert lasted four-and-a-half hours, and hardly scratched the surface of her output. 1970’s “Dungeon” was performed with frenetic fury by John Zorn on a squawking, screeching, caterwauling saxophone while Cyro Baptista thumped methodically on a big bass drum. Other works were as current as the delicate a cappella “Cellular Songs,” which Monk and her famed Vocal Ensemble have been working on for the last several weeks. At age 70, Monk is clearly not content to simply rehash the past, but continues to look ever forward.
The program featured a rich assortment of New York music luminaries, many of whom were interviewed by WNYC’s John Schaefer during the multiple changeovers. Monk spoke of a newfound interest in writing orchestral music, saying that in the past she used voices as instruments, but now is using instruments as voices.
Vocal group The M6 performed Monk’s classic “Tablet” from the mid 1970s. Group members Emily Eagen, Holly Nadal, and Toby Newman sang magnificently over an insistent rolling piano line, occasionally ornamented by recorders. At times, there was jungle-like simian chatter, holy chanting, moaning, wailing, and school-girlish giggling.
One of the most unusual, yet most exhilarating performances was from Lee Ranaldo, who played his Fender in ways guitars are not, uh, usually played (even during his Sonic Youth days). No strumming or fretboard fingering here. Instead, Ranaldo used mallets to bang on the strings, rubbed the neck in circles along the floor, bowed the instrument like a cello, and waved the guitar around like a dousing rod seeking some sort of treasure, filling the auditorium with a sonic extravaganza of spectral feedback and howling echoes.
Other performers included Future Quest, Rigdzin Pema Collins and DJ Spooky, Don Byron, Lukas Ligeti, Todd Reynolds, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Missy Mazzoli and Victoire. (Promised to appear, but a no-show with no mention of why, was opera star Jessye Norman.) Space does not allow for details of all these performances, but worth special mention is the Young People’s Chorus of New York City's bright, energetic version of “Things Heaven and Hell,” based on a poem Tennessee Reed wrote when she was 11 years old. The concert ended with all of the performers on stage performing Monk's Panda Chant II.
(All photos by Steven Pisano. You can find more here.)