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Esa-Pekka Salonen's "Foreign Bodies" at the New York Philharmonic

Ny phil obsidian teanPhoto: Chris Lee, NY Philharmonic

When the New York Philharmonic reached out to Esa-Pekka Salonen several years ago to ask him to become an artistic partner, it was not, as many might assume, as a conductor. Rather, he was engaged as the Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-In-Residence, and over the past three seasons, the Phil has performed several of his works, both at Geffen Hall and at Williamsburg's National Sawdust, where he curated the CONTACT! new music concerts this past season.

But, it wasn't until the final few months of Salonen's tenure that he decided to take up his baton and conduct the Philharmonic himself. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to his subscription concerts in April, where he led the Phil in performances of Beethoven and a new work by Anna Thorvaldsdottir. But, I was there a week ago Friday for "Foreign Bodies": a one-off program which the Phil worked overtime to market in the media and on their various social media platforms as "groundbreaking" and "an interdisciplinary extravaganza."

Aside from the music, there was a photo booth filled with feathered masks and plastic horns (presumably for Instagrammers who like to look silly) and Broadway-style sippy cups so you could bring your Sauvignon Blanc (clear beverages only!) into the hall. Not really groundbreaking, but better than the usual.

“The concert experience has become predictable,” Salonen told the Times earlier this month,"and, visually, mostly dead boring...People are quite used to not only following narrative layers at the same time, but also expecting it."

All-in-all, the concert was thrown together in about four months - a flash in the classical world, where schedules are often booked 2-3 years in advance. Still, Salonen wasn't working completely from scratch: his Green Umbrella new music concerts at the LA Phil (where he worked closely with current NY Phil President Deborah Borda) provided a successful template to work from. 

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River to River Festival - "Naamah's Ark"

by Steven Pisano

28016303517_0f6cbbebed_o(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Now in its 17th year, the River to River Festival is a series of free performances presented each summer in Lower Manhattan, offering music, dance, theater, and visual arts. On Sunday, in Rockefeller Park along the Hudson River, an oratorio by composer Marisa Michelson and librettist Royce Vavrek, "Naamah's Ark," was presented on an open-air stage featuring almost 200 singers.

Like many communities on the East Coast - including the area surrounding Rockefeller Park - Hurricane Sandy brought widespread destruction to the Long Island town of Lawrence, NY.  Different socioeconomic communities within Lawrence had for a long time been separate, keeping to themselves, but the storm changed everything, bringing the people of the town closer together as they all recovered from the storm.

Inspired by Michelson's conversations with the residents of Lawrence, "Naamah's Ark" re-centers the biblical story of Noah's Ark around Noah's wife Namaah, about whom relatively little is known. Here, Naamah is very much a modern woman, doing all she can to hold things together in the face of a disastrous flood - just like the residents of Lawrence.

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ACME Play the Music of Jóhann Jóhannsson at Le Poisson Rouge

ACME Johann Johansson - 1Over the past few years, I had several opportunities to see the Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson - perhaps best known as the Golden Globe-winning composer of The Theory of Everything, Arrival, and Sicario - perform his often-somber, occasionally menacing music, often with members of ACME (American Contemporary Music Ensemble). For their tenth anniversary back in 2015, ACME commissioned Jóhannsson's epic Drone Mass, which they premiered in the Met Museum's Temple of Dendur alongside Roomful of Teeth

Sadly, Jóhannsson died unexpectedly earlier this year at his home in Berlin. He was only 48, and had just started work on the Disney film Christopher Robin, which would have been his most ambitious scoring project to date. (The score was ultimately completed by Jon Brion.) 

In tribute to their former collaborator, ACME performed a program of Jóhannsson's music last Sunday at Le Poisson Rouge, which felt like full circle given that this was where they first performed together back in 2009. The concert was part of LPR's ongoing 10th anniversary series, LPR X, which continues throughout the summer. 

The selections, most of which were taken from Jóhannsson's albums EnglabörnOrphée and Fordlandia, were heavy and hypnotic, made all the more so by Jóhannsson's eerie absence. (The pre-recorded electronics were handled by Grey McMurray.) ACME artistic director Clarice Jensen performed the quiet, eerie “bc” for solo cello and tape loops, which she co-composed with Jóhannsson last year for her debut solo release, For this from that will be filled. Jóhannsson's music was an emotional trigger that called to mind any number of recent early deaths. At first, it felt like a blanket of pain and misery, but quickly dissolved into something resembling peace. Or, at the very least, acceptance. 

More pics on the photo page. Set list below.

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Summer 2018 Music Preview

Celebrate Brooklyn
Hard to believe it's already June, and while this year's Gov Ball has already come and gone, the music is just starting to move to the great outdoors. Below is a preview of some of our favorites - check out our Summertime list on the right for updates throughout the summer. 

Celebrate Brooklyn: (June 5-August 11) NYC's best outdoor music venue celebrates it's 40th year with another stellar lineup that kicks off with Chicago rapper (and Microsoft shill) Common on 6/5. Other free shows include Aimee Mann (6/21), Branford Marsalis (6/29), Kronos Quartet (7/14), and a stellar closing weekend with Godspeed YOU! Black Emperor (8/10) and The Breeders with Speedy Ortiz (8/11). Benefit shows this year include a killer double bill with Grizzly Bear and Spoon (6/20), The Decemberists with M. Ward (6/13), and Courtney Barnett with Julien Baker and Vagabon (7/25). 

Northside Festival (June 7-10): Northside is now a decade old, and the clubs will be jammed across Williamsburg and Bushwick with the latest in cutting edge music, alongside stalwarts such as Caspian, Deerhoof, and Liz Phair. Sunday afternoon brings a Block Party to Bedford Ave, with bands and vendors running all the way to Metropolitan Ave.

NY Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks (June 12-17): What were you doing when you were 11 years old? Well, if you're Jordan Millar and Camryn Cowan, you're having your music played by the New York Philharmonic at this year's parks concerts, courtesy of the Phil's Very Young Composers program. (They also play music by Bernstein, Saint-Saens, and Rimsky-Korsakov.) The Phil visits all five boroughs next week with conductor James Gaffigan; details here

SummerStage (June 2-September 27): This sprawling series returns with a wide spectrum of music performed in parks across all five boroughs, most of it free. Highlights include a Canada Day celebration headlined by Broken Social Scene (7/1), Afrobeat scion Femi Kuti and Positive Force (7/29), a New Orleans fest with Trombone Shorty, Galactic, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and (8/8), and Angelique Kidjo covering The Talking Heads (9/27).

Make Music New York (June 21): Celebrate the longest day of the year with this citywide musical happening, with performances on street corners, plazas and parks from sun-up to sundown.

Warm Up at MoMA PS1 (June 30-September 1): NYC's best tea dance enters its third decade at MoMA PS1, with an architectural installation featuring large-scale, interactive mirrors - and hopefully some misters. Tickets include museum admission. (LI City residents get in for free.)

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