New Music Feed

Ensemble Signal Celebrates Steve Reich's 80th Birthday at Miller Theater

by Nick Stubblefield

Steve Reich Variations 2016A string section, a wind section, six percussionists, six singers, and four pianos on one stage: that's how you throw an 80th birthday party for Steve Reich, widely regarded as America's greatest living composer. Ensemble Signal riveted the sold out crowd to their seats when they opened the 2016-2017 season at Columbia University's Miller Theatre last week with two of Reich's more recent works, juxtaposing Morse code-like rhythms with startlingly haunting vocal harmonies. The effect was mind-grabbing and mesmerizing, while often soothing and reflective. 

Daniel Variations (2006) started with a gut-punching fortissimo from the piano and vibraphone: dark, foreboding, and ominous. Tense, tight vocal harmonies cut crisply through a moment later. Daniel calls upon four singers, but the sound Ensemble Signal produced was more like a large Gregorian choir: they were not only precise on entrances and pacing, but blended to perfection.  

Occasional but vital bass-drum hits punctuated several passages, while the mallet players provided the pulse, staying tightly interlocked both in and out of phase with each other and the piano. The effect was entrancing, providing a contemporary context to the ancient-sounding vocals. Only fitting, given that the title of the work was derived from both the biblical Book of Daniel and the Jewish-American reporter Daniel Pearl, who was murdered by Islamist extremists in Pakistan.

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John Luther Adams' Inuksuit on Governors Island

by Robert Leeper


The Rite of Summer music festival closed out their 2016 season on Saturday afternoon at The Hills park on Governors Island. Music Director Amy Garapic led over 70 percussionists from several of New York City's top percussion ensembles and schools and coming from the ranks of rock bands including Greg Saunier (Deerhoof), Brian Chase (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) in John Luther AdamsInuksuit.

Inuksuit is an event more than it is a performance. Percussion ranged from temple gongs, drums, cymbals, conch shells and rocks to whirly tubes, piccolos and several hand-cranked sirens over the approximately hour long performance. Bird songs fluttered out of pitched instruments creating appealing call and response textures. The work builds from a sparsely scored introduction to a thrilling middle before fading back to silence. 

Many attendees wandered the hills taking in the different angles and sounds as seems to be the intent of the piece, but it was interesting to note a number of people who appeared to stay in one spot, engaging deeply with the collage of sounds from only one location.  

As the work ended, audience members strained to listen for any last strands of music - and this may have been the most potent example of the value of a massive environmental work of this nature. In that strain to, the audience listened more closely to their environment than perhaps they ever had before - lured into a world of sounds and interest can be immersive and is constant. 

It was a beautiful day for it and readers should certainly experience it for themselves if possible. If you're in the area, the UConn Percussion Ensemble is performing Inuksuit September 10 of this year.

More pictures from Saturday are below:

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the public domain: Performance Day

Steven Pisano

As I walked up Broadway from the A train on Saturday morning, something felt different. I'd made this walk countless times before, usually rushing to catch a curtain at the Met, the Phil, City Ballet, (or Opera RIP). But, this was the first time I'd made this walk as a performer, and I felt that mix of giddy anticipation and nervous energy that every singer, dancer, musician, or actor feels when they're heading to their first - or in this case, only - performance.

I didn't really have much reason to be nervous. After all, we had prepared for this day for four weeks, some for even longer. We knew the music, we had rehearsed the movements, we even got a sense of what the whole thing would sound like. Now, we just needed to go out and do it.

"It", of course, was the public domain, which we were set to perform in public for the first time on the Josie Robertson Plaza later that afternoon. But, there was still work to do, and all 1,000 of us were told to report to Geffen Hall no later than 11:30 am. A representative from the NYPD told us that rain was in the forecast, in which case the performance would not be rescheduled. He then offered detailed instructions about what to do in the event of an attack, or other unexpected incident. "These are the times we live in, folks." 

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Dr. Dog and The Knights at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!

DSC00267I had other plans for Saturday, so Friday was my last opportunity to stop by BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! this summer, where Philly rockers Dr. Dog were joined by openers The Knights and a local gospel choir for an extended set. While their music owes a lot to The Flaming Lips, Pavement, and other 90's indie bands, they have their own infectious energy, propelled by Toby Leaman's urgently delivered vocals and Soctt McMicken's strong guitar work.

Thanks, BRIC, for another amazing summer at the bandshell - though there's more great music to be had this fall at BRIC House in downtown Brooklyn, including the BRIC JazzFest in October, shows by The Knights, and more. I just wish I could walk home from there.

More pics from Friday's show on the photo page

The Public Domain: Put-Together at Baruch College

IMG_4064What do you get when you combine Orange, Red, and Yellow? As I found out last night at the put-together for the public domain at Baruch College's gymnasium, some pretty astonishing sounds.  With at least 500 participants present - some from as far away as Europe and Japan - Simon Halsey and Annie-B Parson ran us through the entire performance, giving us for the first time an idea of what to expect at the final performance. 

For the most part, Simon was encouraging, congratulating each of the 15 groups on how well we'd learned the score and movements. That said, he did call us out several times for not following his direction. "Most of you are doing splendidly, but this group clearly doesn't know what they are doing!" he exclaimed at one point. Ouch.

Anne Tanaka, the incredibly well-organized Line Producer responsible for all of the behind-the-scenes work, came out after the run-through to thank us all for our time and effort, and to congratulate us on a job well done. "Usually at large-scale events" she said, "the put-together is a complete disaster. But this came off nearly flawlessly. We are all really excited for Saturday!"

Speaking of which: despite a forecast of hot and humid conditions for the weekend, the performance for the public domain is ON for Saturday 5pm on the main plaza of Lincoln Center. If anyone can't make it then, or just wants a sneak peak, we will be conducting a dress rehearsal on the plaza at noon. Volunteers are still needed to help out with logistics on the day of the performance - info available on the website.

More pics of the rehearsal here.