Classical Feed

New York Philharmonic Plays Stravinsky, Respighi and Lindberg

by Nick Stubblefield

IMG_3438If you're an avid musicgoer like me, then chances are good that you're constantly seeking out new music. Sometimes, though, you just want to hear the hits. The New York Philharmonic began their concert last Saturday with Ottorino Respighi's Vetrate di chiesa (Church Windows), full of sweeping horn lines and bell-like sonorities. Though its melodies and harmonic progressions may have been less memorable than Resphigi's other works (Fountains of Rome), it's hard to beat the thrill of feeling the rattle in your ribcage as the full Philharmonic brass blares all at once. 

Following was the US Premiere of Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg's Violin Concerto No. 2. Lindberg, who was the New York Phil's Composer-in-Residence from 2009-2012, was present for this performance. He stressed the importance of the interplay between the violin and the orchestra, noting that he did not wish for the orchestra to merely "back up" the violinist, as in some other concertos. Frank Peter Zimmermann took the spotlight, executing some beautifully delicate passages with such a soft touch that he could scarcely be heard. 

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“Angel’s Bone" at the Prototype Festival

by Steven Pisano

Top - Kyle Pfortmiller, Bottom - Kyle Bielfield, Jennifer Charles

(All photos by Cory Weaver.)

Angel’s Bone, presented by the unflaggingly innovative Prototype Festival and directed by Michael McQuilken, portrays the lurid tale of a suburban couple (Kyle Pfortmiller and Abigail Fischer) facing financial and marital distress who one day miraculously discover a Boy Angel (Kyle Bielfield) and a Girl Angel who have fallen out of Heaven and landed in their backyard.

It doesn't take long for this blessing to turn dark. At the wife’s blunt request (“Prune them!”), the husband holds high a gleaming meat cleaver and savagely severs the angels' wings. The couple then holds the angels prisoner in a clawfoot bathtub and exploits them by charging people for various services, including sex. The wife later entices the Boy Angel to impregnate her so that she can give birth to a human-angel hybrid. In the wife’s view, capitalizing on these innocent messengers of God is an acceptable way for her to finally get the life she feels she always deserved. 

The story is bold and daring, inspired by worldwide human trafficking, ranging from children sold for sex to indentured domestic workers. The United Nations estimates there are almost 30 million people in the world today living as slaves: a crisis in our midst. Unfortunately, composer Du Yun and librettist Royce Vavrek fail to explore this pressing issue in artistic terms. It seems to me that artists—writers, composers, filmmakers, painters, whatever—are uniquely equipped to help us understand or at least make us think about such issues by exploring their ramifications. 

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Hold on to Your Seat: The Prototype Festival Starts This Week

Prototype Festival
Now in its fourth season, the Prototype Festival has become an essential part of the New York cultural season. Featuring cutting-edge new chamber opera and music-theater works, shows are almost always sold out, and many of the people you see in the audiences are some of the top composers, performers, and directors in the music-theater universe. They know it’s the place to see brave and electric new work. So if you haven't picked out your shows already, you should go to the Festival site right now.

Originally presented almost exclusively at HERE (in Soho), this year’s schedule has spread across Manhattan and Brooklyn to venues including 3-Legged Dog Art & Technology Center, NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, HERE, National Sawdust, and the French Institute Alliance Française.

Last year premiered the chamber opera masterpiece The Scarlet Ibis (Stefan Weisman and David Cote), and featured the still-evolving Aging Magician (Paola Prestini). This year’s shows are Angel’s Bone (Du Yun and Royce Vavrek), Dog Days (David T. Little and Royce Vavrek), The Good Swimmer (Heidi Rodewald and Donna Di Novelli), The Last Hotel (Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh), Saga (Gregory Frateur and Nicolas Rombouts), Bombay Rickey (performed by the eponymous Brooklyn band), and La Reina (Jorge Sosa and Laura Sosa Pedroza). This year's festival will also feature the New York premiere of David T. Little's Dog Days, which had its world premiere to high acclaim back in 2012.

Performances run through January 17; tickets and information available here.


John Scott with St. Thomas Choir
Life can get in the way, sometimes. Which is the only explanation I can offer for why I am only learning now of the passing of the extraordinary organist, composer and conductor John Scott, who died suddenly this past August of cardiac arrest. He was 59. I am shocked, saddened, almost in a state of disbelief. 

I had never paid much attention to the organ before John arrived at St. Thomas Church in 2004, after serving for 26 years at St. Paul's Cathedral in London as Organist and Director of Music. But, John almost singlehandedly opened my eyes the possibilities of this wondrous instrument with his complete cycles of the music of Buxtehude, Messiaen and Ligeti. Not to mention all of the music he would play as part of his weekly liturgical responsibilities. 

For his first Christmas in New York, John put together an extraordinary free concert, which he would go on to repeat each December for the next decade. First, he led the Boys Choir in Britten's A Ceremony of Carols. (In later years, John added John Rutter's Dancing Day to the program.) Then, John would move quietly to the organ console, where for the next hour he would play Messiaen's epic La Nativité du Seigneur. As I wrote at the time:

"The music, which built steadily in complexity and volume until the walls began to shake, was horrible, beautiful, terrifying and ecstatic...After the final E-major unison, Scott came out and took two polite curtain calls. He is a meek-looking man of 52 in a plain blue suit, hardly resembling the madman we'd all just listened to for 70 minutes."

Happily, the St. Thomas Boys Choir will continue their annual performance of A Ceremony of Carols and Dancing Day next Thursday at 5:30 p.m, led by St. Thomas' interim director Stephen Buzard. But, without the bespectacled Scott leading them in his even, yet impassioned way, it just won't be the same. An incalculable loss. 

Read my past coverage of John's performances here. Remembrances by Nico Muhly, Cameron Carpenter and others here