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MATA Festival 2016 Wrapup

by Steven Pisano  2016 MATA Festival, Ryan Muncy, Dixon Place(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

As one of NYC's leading contemporary classical and experimental music festivals, the MATA Festival was back in town last week for six nights of innovative works by composers from around the world. On average, the directors of the festival receive about 1,100 submissions each year, out of which only 25-30 are usually performed. And yet, the fact that the number of submissions, from over 70 countries,increases each year, speaks to the need for a forum for young composers to share their work.

MATA's focus is on work by early career composers, many of them in their 30s. This year's festival saw works from more than a dozen countries, including Israel, Argentina, Turkey, Hungary, and Iran, among others. To perform these works, MATA arranged for top flight performers and ensembles to come to New York, including Ensemble neoN (from Norway), Ensemble Linea (from France), and the Rhythm Method Quartet

This year's offerings, although still "out there" in many respects, were much more unified in approach than the wildly divergent styles at last year's festival. With so many pieces performed over the week, in venues such as Scandinavia House, National Sawdust, and Dixon Place (not to mention an ice-breaker at the Paula Cooper Gallery), it is impossible to describe them all. Here are some highlights.

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Preview: Big Ears Festival 2016

Big ears festival 2015I'm excited to be returning to Knoxville, TN this weekend for the Big Ears Festival, which I attended for the first time last year and was pretty much blown away by the wall-to-wall mix of new music, electronic music, jazz, drone, and every other genre that doesn't neatly fit into a Pandora's box. This year's lineup includes everyone from Philip Glass and John Luther Adams, to Andrew Bird and Sunn O))). The festivities begin tomorrow night; stay tuned here and @feastofmusic for updates. Click here for a video montage of last year's festival. 

Preview: Stockhausen's KLANG at the Met Museum

Stockhausen Cosmic PulsesThough you wouldn't know it except for a few perfunctory blurbs in the local press, there is a landmark music event taking place in New York this weekend. For more than four years, composer Karlheinz Stockhausen labored daily on KLANG ("Sound"): a series of acoustic and electronic chamber works intended to be performed over the course of a single day. Unfortunately, Stockhausen died unexpectedly in 2007, having completed only 21 of the planned 24 sections.

To date, the only section of KLANG most New Yorkers have had the chance to experience live is Cosmic Pulses (13th hour), which was performed at Issue Project Room in 2011. (A subsequent performance at the White Light Festival in 2012 was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy.) At the world premiere in Rome in 2007, I knew I had experienced something extraordinary:

"With speakers placed all around the hall, the experience was alternately trancelike and intense to the point of maddening... At the end, we all gave Stockhausen a raucous ovation, and mobbed his soundboard in the center of the hall. I was one of those who approached, telling him that I hoped he would bring this music to America sometime soon.

"I hope so too," he said, a bit haltingly.

Enter the Metropolitan Museum, whose director of concerts and lectures, Limor Tomer, has chosen to present all 21 sections of KLANG between tonight and tomorrow. In order to accomplish this massive undertaking - which is being co-produced by Joe Drew's Analog Arts and includes nearly two dozen U.S. and N.Y. premieres - performances will take place simultaneously across all three Met buildings: the Met Museum, The Cloisters, and the new Met Breuer on Madison Ave (formerly the Whitney). Admission to all performances is free with museum admission.

Although some sections - such as Cosmic Pulses and Heaven's Door (4th hour) - will be given multiple performances, it won't be physically possible for one person to experience all 21 sections of KLANG this weekend. (Full schedule available here.) Still, I plan to get around to as much as I can over the next two days; check back here and @feastofmusic for updates.

“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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