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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.


Lincoln Center Festival: Bang on a Can All-Stars with Gong Linna and Ornette Coleman's Chamber Music

CLOUD_SBP4072Photo: Stephanie Berger

The 22nd edition of the Lincoln Center Festival kicked off last week, bringing it's usual surfeit of starry theater and ballet companies to the various houses of the Lincoln Center campus left otherwise vacant for the summer. Amidst these, there were a pair of musical offerings that straddled the worlds of jazz, contemporary classical, and world music. 

On Friday, I went to the John Jay Theater to see the Bang on a Can All Stars perform with Chinese vocalist Gong Linna, who's become something of a sensation in her home country for her charismatic stage presence and acrobatic singing. They met while the All-Stars were touring China a few years ago and, after after BOAC founders David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon sat down with Gong and her husband, composer Lao Luo, (a.k.a. Robert Zollitsch) they came up with the 12 part song cycle Cloud River Mountain. Collaboration is nothing new for the Bang on a Can trio - previous efforts include The Carbon Copy Building (1999), Lost Objects (2001), and Shelter (2005) - but it was Lao who was instrumental in integrating the unique harmonies and rhythms of Chinese music.

The songs were sung in a mix of English and Mandarin, with lyrics drawn mostly from the mythological poetry of Qu Yuan, written during the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). It was difficult to follow without supertitles or any kind of house lighting to read the translations in the program, but Gong's theatrical performance - matched by her flamboyant costumes - was captivating in its own way. As for the music, it ranged from Julia's "Into the Clouds", which raged with Patti Smith-like intensity, to Michael's persistent, heavy-handed "River", to David's quiet, haunting "Girl With Mountain." For an encore, Gong performed the wild, frenetic folk song "Tan Te", which first catapulted her to stardom.

Meanwhile, David, Julia, Michael and the All Stars have all decamped to North Adams, where they'll be ensconced at Mass MoCA for the next three weeks at the Bang on a Can Summer Festival, culminating in the annual Summer Marathon on August 6 with guest composer Louis Andriessen. Details available on their website. More pics here.

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A Berkshires Bounty: Opening Weekend at Tanglewood

Tanglewood - Feast of Music Jul 9  2017  3-33 PMLENOX, MA - I've been going to Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's longtime home in the Berkshires, almost every summer now for the past two-and-a-half decades. Those that have been to Tanglewood know that it is a special place, where the mix of manicured lawns, mountain vistas, and world class musicians make it one of the most satisfying places to experience music (not to mention some pretty elaborate picnics) in the world.

But, in all of those years, I've never made it up for the official opening weekend, which typically falls right after the 4th of July. Usually, these early concerts lean towards the pedestrian, featuring a flashy soloist performing under some second-tier conductor. (Tanglewood has actually been open since mid-June, mostly with a mix of pop and jazz concerts for the baby boomer set, including an annual appearance by local resident James Taylor.) 

This year, however, I was enticed by the early arrival of BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, who has expanded his presence at Tanglewood this year to some 10 concerts over four weeks. (11, if you count his participation in the Boston Pops' annual John Williams Film Night on August 19.) A promising development, to be sure, but with Nelsons about to take on the additional role of Kapellmeister (music director) of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, it remains to be seen if the trend will continue beyond this summer. 

Regardless, Tanglewood has always been about more than whomever's on the podium any given night. In addition to some two dozen concerts by the BSO in the 5,100 seat Koussevitzky Music Shed, a parade of world class soloists and chamber ensembles can be heard in the more intimate Ozawa Hall on most evenings. Then, there's the Tanglewood Music Center - Tanglewood's real raison d'être - which provides advanced training and performance opportunities for some of the world's top young musicians. In past summers, I've seen the TMC fellows perform everything from Wagner and Mozart operas under James Levine, to the U.S. premiere of George Benjamin's Written on Skin, in addition to chamber music and orchestral concerts. No matter where you turn, there always seems to be some kind of music happening at Tanglewood.

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