New Music Feed

Sarah Plum Plays New Works at Spectrum

by Nick Stubblefield

Sarah Plum

Stepping into Spectrum in Lower Manhattan is like stepping into a modern-day composer's living room. CDs line one wall, books the other. There are plenty of comfy couches, and even a dedicated beer fridge. It's worth seeing a show there just to say that you have. 

Last week, violinist Sarah Plum stopped by Spectrum and performed a set of recent works, with a little aid from a pianist and a computer. Plum demonstrated her dedication to precise and thoughtful playing right from the get-go with Andrew List's "Suite for Solo Violin" (2001). It was atonal, sometimes jarring, but often thought-provoking. Intended as an homage to the Russian Futurism movement, it set a bleak musical tone for the evening. 

Sidney Corbett's "Archipel Chagall 1" (1998) and Christopher Adler's "Violin Concerto" (2014) each offered additional showcases for Ms. Plum's abilities. Extended techniques, harmonics, and occasional pizzicato were scattered throughout: it seemed that the notes that weren't played were almost as important as the ones that were. No ferocious Vivaldi-like violin runs here, but rather music that was a bit more contemplative and harder to chew. 

Pianist Francine Kay joined Plum for Bela Bartok's Piano Sonata No. 2. Unquestionably the highest point of energy in the program, the work builds beautifully from its folksy motifs into an explosion of heavy, strained violin riffs. The piece, completed in 1922, far pre-dates anything you might call rock music, but there were sections towards the end I was certain sounded like power chords from an electric guitar. 

The program ended with the highly entertaining "Il Prete Rosso" (2004) by Charles Nichols, with live recording and looping effects that played back through surround-sound speakers. The result was hypnotic and mesmerizing. 

Caramoor Summer Music Festival Kicks Off 70th Anniversary Season

by Robert Leeper

Peter Oundjian at the Venetian Theater
Peter Oundjian and The Orchestra of St. Luke's at the Venetian Theater

A standard orchestra program pairs a short piece by a contemporary composer with a large scale Romantic symphony. Often, the short piece is a dense tone poem or an academic exploration. But Christopher Theofanidis’s Making Up for Lost Time, which opened last Saturday's season-opening program at Caramoor, the bucolic Westchester estate, went for more pleasant summertime fare.

Theofanidis’s piece was the first of three world premieres this summer at Caramoor, which is celebrating their 70th anniversary season. Though not a virtuosic showpiece, there were impressive subtle rhythmic shifts and luminous passages performed by the Orchestra of St .Luke’s, who are themselves celebrating their 40th Anniversary season. Perhaps aware of his place on the program, Theofandis steered clear of epic themes and gestures. Instead, his piece looked inward, examining how time is perceived within a piece of music: how a listener hears it, and how that sense of time can be manipulated.

The work featured cascading arpeggios and a genial sparkle in the high hat, both of which become rhythmically displaced, leaving the audience pleasantly disoriented. This gave way to a pastoral second movement that seemed to draw heavily on the widely spaced chords and fiddle-inspired dance music of Aaron Copland. 

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Highline Chamber Ensemble at SubCulture

by Nick Stubblefield


Singer Karen Marie with the Highline Chamber Ensemble 

The Highline Chamber Ensemble, which typically performs in lofts, bars, and studios throughout NYC, played to a packed SubCulture on Tuesday with a dynamite show that crossed genres from tango, to musicals, to jazz standards. In the process, they made me throw away all of my preconceptions of what a chamber music concert is supposed to be. 

The group brands themselves a "conductorless orchestra," with a full string section, piano, and drum kit. They opened with a lush, jazzy mashup of the standard "Nature Boy" with RJD2's "A Beautiful Mine," better known as the noir-ish trip-hop theme from the TV show "Mad Men." It was a strikingly effective blend, both harmonically and in terms of mood. It was performed by Karen Marie, a powerful songstress with major stage presence and vocal qualities reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald. Marie also fronted the group for a lush arrangement of Billie Holiday's "Crazy He Calls Me." 

All of the ensemble members are classically-trained, which became apparent in Astor Piazzolla's "Four Seasons of Buenos Aires." The work, inspired by Vivaldi's Four Seasons, incorporates elements of the tango; the ensemble played with both great precision and furious energy. Violinists Bela Horvath and David Lisker alternated as featured soloists, each delivering confident and awe-inspiring performances. 

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A Celebration of the Composer with the American Composers Orchestra

by Robert Leeper

George Manahan Conducting
George Manahan, Photo Credit: Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images

Organizations that further the careers of young composers are plentiful these days, but the American Composers Orchestra takes its support a step further with its Underwood New Music Readings, offering a rare peek behind the curtain of what it takes to bring a new orchestral work to the stage. Seven new works - chosen from hundreds of entries - received a run-through last Thursday evening at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, with George Manahan conducting the ACO.

Sitting just in front of the seven composers were several “mentor composers,” including ACO artistic director Derek Bermel, Gabriela Lena Frank, and Kevin Puts. Despite casual dress from the orchestra and the educational setting, much was at stake: one of the composers was to be awarded a $15,000 commission to write a work for the ACO, to be performed next season.

This being a working read through after just one rehearsal, the performances were far from polished. That said, there were certainly some noticeable trends - most notably, the lack of dense, serial music à la Schoenberg or Pierre Boulez. Despite the occasional odd rhythmic turn or timbral innovation, the works leaned heavily toward late Romanticism and Impressionism.

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