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Coffee Conversations: Composer Eric Lemmon

by Nick Stubblefield4416184836_a01574fd11_b

NYC-based musician Eric Lemmon has been burning it up of late. His compositions, noted for their broad range of extended techniques and complex rhythms, have been performed at venues like (le) Poisson Rouge and the FIGMENT arts festival on Governor's Island. As a violist, he's joined the likes of The Manhattan Camerata, The Chelsea Symphony, and the Highline Chamber Ensemble (for which he's arranged, as well). 

On September 8th, Lemmon's "The Impossible Will Take a Little While" will be premiered by the Highline Chamber Ensemble at the DiMenna Center at 7:30pm.  Written for chamber orchestra and four voices, the piece is set to texts by Maya Angelou, W.H. Auden, Seamus Heaney, and others.

Recently, I was able to sit down with Eric and talk about his new work, as well as his life as a musician. Below are some excerpts from our discussion.

On Inspiration: "The Impossible Will Take a Little While" is based on a compilation of essays and poems of the same name.  The book is about how large systemic change in society doesn't occur through giant heroic moments, like MLK on the Mall, or the Berlin Wall falling, but rather the small actions of lots of regular people working hard for a long time. They culminate in those giant moments. 

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Coffee Conversation: James Felice of The Felice Brothers

Felice Brothers

The Felice Brothers find themselves at the center of the resurgent interest in American roots music, equally at home around traditional bands like Old Crow Medicine Show, or rocking out in a crowded club. Their latest release, Favorite Waitress (2014) marks the first time they've recorded in a traditional studio environment - a far cry from their debut release Adventures of The Felice Brothers, Vol. 1, which was recorded in a chicken coop. 

Tomorrow night (June 4), the Felice Brothers will take the stage for a free SummerStage show in Red Hook Brooklyn, kicking off their summer tour. I recently had the chance to chat with founding member (and one of two Felice brothers) James Felice about music, life, and their rise from subway buskers to the major festival circuit.

On Kicking Off Their Tour in NYC: This will actually be first show in a while...We’re so excited, we love playing in NYC. It’s like a second home to us.”

On Playing Big Stages: “It’s does feel a little bit weird sometimes, but one thing it does remind us of is how lucky we are to be doing what we do.

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Coffee Conversation: Kronos Quartet's David Harrington

David Harrington, Big Ears FestivalFor anyone who cares at all about the living art of music, there is no more vital institution than the Kronos Quartet. Since their founding 41 years ago, this indefatigable quartet has commissioned more than 850 works and has performed more than 8,000 concerts around the globe. 

Kronos is in NYC this week for a pair of shows, including Mary Koyoumdjian's Silent Cranes at Roulette tomorrow (5/12) - part of their Under 30 project - and a collaboration with the students of Face the Music - including a world premiere triple quartet by Danish composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen - at the Queens New Music Festival on Wednesday (5/13).

Somewhere in between the Kronos Quartet's seven performances at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville back in March, I had the chance to grab founder and artistic director David Harrington to talk a bit about Kronos' legacy, as well as some of the exciting things on the horizon. Chief among these is their ambitious Fifty for the Future project for Carnegie Hall, in which they will commission no fewer than fifty new works over the next five seasons. Excerpts from our conversation below.

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Coffee Conversation: Paul Jacobs - Part 2

Paul Jacobs at JuilliardTowards the end of my lunch conversation with organist Paul Jacobs, he invited me to his weekly organ class, which takes place every Thursday from 11-1 in Juillard's Paul Recital Hall. (The classes are open to the public.) From the back, I watched as several of Paul’s students performed freshly prepared works, often from memory. Each of them spoke beforehand about what they were going to play, offering some background and insight into the work. Some of the playing was a bit rough around the edges, but given that most of these students weren't even of drinking age, it was still impressive as hell. 

At the end, Paul led a group discussion centered on the Bach Organ Marathon at St. Peter’s Church. After sharing some reflections on the concert itself, he asked what everyone thought of a feature about the event written by Paul Elie for The New Yorker. Almost without exception, the students tore into it with a combination of searing intelligence and youthful indiscretion. Jacobs was diplomatic, careful not to scold or contradict them.

“Those are excellent points,” he said. “But, you must admit it's impressive that The New Yorker chose to write anything at all about the organ.”

"This is my 12th year now at Juilliard," Jacobs continued. "The standard has never been higher." (Case in point: Jacobs announced Michael Hey had just been appointed the new Assistant Organist at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and last year, Benjamin Sheen was named assistant organist at St. Thomas Church). "You’ve always been so supportive of each other, and you need to continue to be so. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t dwell on the negative: if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.” 

Sounds like something I might say. The rest of my conversation with Jacobs below.

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