New Music Feed

Meredith Monk's "Cellular Songs" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

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(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

A new work by Meredith Monk is always a cause for celebration. Her performances, which always feature a magical combination of singing, dancing, and visuals, never fail to provoke the mind, even as they entertain. Always more interested in the textures of the voice as instrument, rather than simply a conveyance to sing a song, Monk has long been one of the most extraordinary vocalists of the last 50 years.

Monk's new work, Cellular Songs, is playing at the Harvey Theater at BAM through this weekend. Cellular Songs is sparer than the last work Monk presented at BAM: the brilliant On Behalf of Nature, which played three seasons ago. That work was a rich whirlwind of colors in the sets and in the costumes, and was brimming with Monk's trademark chant-like singing.  

In Cellular Songs, Monk sings with less force than she has in the past, but even in her mid-70s now, she can still entice your ears in a way only she can. If you've only heard her on recordings or in videos, you've missed the special experience it is to hear her sing in person.

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"Written on Skin" at Opera Philadelphia

by Steven Pisano

"Written on Skin" at Opera Philadelphia(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Proclaimed an instant modern masterpiece when it premiered almost 6 years ago at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, George Benjamin and Martin Crimp's opera Written on Skin recently received its American premiere at the increasingly edgy Opera Philadelphia under the direction of William Kerley and the musical direction of Corrado Rovaris.

Originally produced in an earthy and rugged style, which was videotaped and released on DVD, the opera has been reimagined in a more sophisticated, almost futuristic staging by Tom Rogers, who also designed the costumes. Loosely based upon the story of Guillem de Cabestany, a Catalan troubadour who lived at the turn of the 13th century, the narrative can be interpreted in different ways.

The basic thrust is that a rich landowner commissions an artist to create a celebratory illuminated manuscript of his life (making sure his enemies are depicted in Hell). The man's wife is excited by the possibilities that the book presents, and begins a sexual relationship with the artist. But because the illuminated manuscript tells all, the landowner soon reads about his wife's betrayal in the book's pages. Enraged, the landowner hunts down the artist, carves out his heart, and serves it as dinner to his wife, who then leaps to her death from a balcony when she learns what she has devoured.

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Guitarist Dan Lippel at Le Poisson Rouge

by Steven Pisano

Dan Lippel at Le Poisson Rouge(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Kettle Corn New Music continues to present some of the most interesting and varied programs in the city, at venues as wide-ranging as the DiMenna Center, the Donnell Library, and Le Poisson Rouge, which is where I saw guitarist Dan Lippel last week.

Honestly, I was a little hesitant about seeing a show featuring just one man playing guitar all night. I can listen to solos pretty much endlessly on piano, saxophone, trumpet, violin, or cello. But guitars (and also drums) usually make me start daydreaming. Even some rock god slashing his axe at ear-exploding decibels has a tendency to make me numb.

So imagine my surprise when Lippel grabbed me from the very first pluck of a string and kept me mesmerized throughout the night, and at the end, wanting even more. Lippel isn't loud, flashy, pedantic, or boring. What he is is an amazing master of his instrument. And I guess I've been living under a rock, because when I checked out his website after the show, my head started spinning with all the accolades he's garnered, and the list of contemporary composers who have written compositions just for him is long and jaw-dropping.

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Prototype Festival: The Echo Drift at Baruch Performing Arts Center

Prototype Festival  The Echo Drift Jan 19  2018 at 9-22 PMUnfortunately, I haven't had a chance to see most of this year's PROTOTYPE Festival of new opera, now in it's 6th year, but I did make it out to the Baruch Performing Arts Center last night for the world premiere of Mikael Karlsson's startling one-act The Echo DriftSet in a prison in a dystopian future, it centers around a female prisoner (Blythe Gaissert) serving a life sentence in solitary confinement. She is visited there by a talking moth (John Kelly), who offers her a Faustian escape by abandoning her connection to time and space. 

For a world premiere opera, The Echo Drift had a remarkably polished feel: from the industrial stage design (Elle Kunnos de Vos, who also wrote the libretto), to the Tron grid-like light projections (Simon Harding), to the always excellent International Contemporary Ensemble, which dispatched Karlsson's electro-acoustic score with total command. But, it was Gaissert who ran away with the show, with a fierce, defiant performance that grabbed my attention all the way in the back row. I'm sure we'll be seeing more of her on NY stages in the months and years to come. 

If you haven't seen it, The Echo Drift has one final performance tonight at the Baruch Performing Arts Center. Tickets and info available on the Prototype website; info about other shows here

More pics on the photo page