New Music Feed

Stone Mason Projects at the Wilmer Jennings Gallery

by Steven Pisano
20160121-Screenshot 2016-01-21 14.31.54(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Sometimes the thrill of great music can be discovered in the most unexpected of places.

On Wednesday night, I attended a concert produced by Stone Mason Projects in the Wilmer Jennings Gallery in the East Village. Named after a black printmaker from the 1930s, the gallery walls were hung neatly with photographs. Some plastic folding chairs were arranged in rows. Somehow, they squeezed in a baby grand piano.

Founded by soprano Pamela Stein Lynde, Stone Mason Projects is a small production company dedicated to promoting contemporary music, particularly for voice. The audiences at these concerts have so far been small—fewer than 50 people—most of whom seem to be friends or family of the performers. At first glance, one might think these concerts to be merely vanity productions, just a step above performing in one’s living room. But the singing was stellar, on par with anything I've heard recently at higher profile venues such as Zankel Hall or National Sawdust. These concerts deserve a wider audience.

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New York Philharmonic Plays Stravinsky, Respighi and Lindberg

by Nick Stubblefield

IMG_3438If you're an avid musicgoer like me, then chances are good that you're constantly seeking out new music. Sometimes, though, you just want to hear the hits. The New York Philharmonic began their concert last Saturday with Ottorino Respighi's Vetrate di chiesa (Church Windows), full of sweeping horn lines and bell-like sonorities. Though its melodies and harmonic progressions may have been less memorable than Resphigi's other works (Fountains of Rome), it's hard to beat the thrill of feeling the rattle in your ribcage as the full Philharmonic brass blares all at once. 

Following was the US Premiere of Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg's Violin Concerto No. 2. Lindberg, who was the New York Phil's Composer-in-Residence from 2009-2012, was present for this performance. He stressed the importance of the interplay between the violin and the orchestra, noting that he did not wish for the orchestra to merely "back up" the violinist, as in some other concertos. Frank Peter Zimmermann took the spotlight, executing some beautifully delicate passages with such a soft touch that he could scarcely be heard. 

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“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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“Dog Days” at the Prototype Festival

by Steven Pisano

John Kelly, Lauren Worsham(Photo by Ellen Appel.)

War is everywhere. People are starving. The meager food rations air-dropped from military helicopters are not nearly enough to stave off hunger. All the animals, including the birds, have died. Or maybe they have all moved away, as if sensing that something even more terrifying than war is coming closer. Clearly, the apocalypse is at hand.

This might sound like a slight exaggeration of today’s front page reporting on Syria or Afghanistan or Iraq. But it is the very real, and bleak, world faced by the family in David T. Little and Royce Vavrek’s Dog Days, an electrifying and, to say the least, startling chamber opera which had its New York premiere at the NYU Skirball Center this past weekend, presented by Beth Morrison Projects as part of this year’s Prototype Festival. (It was originally produced in 2012 at Montclair State University.)

Dog Days is extreme. It is like being Tasered with a 1000 volts of electrical energy, straight to the brain. It won’t kill you. It will jolt you alive. But it does take a little while to get there. The first act at least partially tricks us into thinking this might be some peculiar variation on Beauty and the Beast. In the advertising for the production, it certainly looks like a quirky rom-com between a Man-Dog and a wide-eyed young girl. But if you took this bait, you are in for a shock.

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