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New Music in the Tennessee Mountains: Big Ears Festival 2015

Tennessee Theatre, Big Ears Festival
KNOXVILLE, TN - It didn't take long after my arrival at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville last weekend for me to realize that this was no run-of-the-mill music festival. After picking up my wristband, I wandered next door to the landmark Tennessee Theatre, where the Kronos Quartet - this year's Artists-in-Residence - were finishing up their all-Terry Riley set with pipa master Wu Man. Then, in one of those magical moments that only seem possible at festivals, they were joined onstage by Riley and Laurie Anderson, each of whom told stories while Kronos improvised. Prior to that moment, I found out later, Riley and Anderson had never met in person, much less performed together. (Anderson was in town to perform Landfall with Kronos the following night.)

As I listened to Riley's rambling story about John Cage at a baseball game, I thought to myself: Where am I? How is it possible this is happening in a place not named New York, L.A., or San Francisco?

Turns out that Knoxville (pop. 180,000), aside from being home to the University of Tennessee and its 30,000 students and faculty, is also the home of AC Entertainment, best known as the co-producer of Bonnaroo in nearby Manchester, TN. AC Entertainment president Ashley Capps, who started Big Ears in 2009 (there was a hiatus from 2011-2013), applies the same basic formula here that he uses at Bonnaroo: pile together as much interesting, wow-inducing music as you can within a set amount of space and time in order to build a critical mass of energy and excitement. Add unannounced DJ sets, jam sessions, and a satellite festival, and you spin the whole thing into a wild frenzy.

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Calder Quartet Play Norman, Adès and Ravel at the Brooklyn Library

Calder Quartet, Brooklyn LibraryFor more than 40 years, Carnegie Hall has offered a series of free Neighborhood Concerts at theaters, libraries and community centers in all five boroughs. For many, these concerts - which run the gamut from classical, to jazz, to world music - are the only opportunity they have to hear some of the same world class music that graces the stage(s) of 57th and 7th on a nightly basis. 

Somehow, in all my years of NYC concertgoing, I've never managed to make it to one of these neighborhood concerts. Until last Sunday, when LA's Calder Quartet played a free show at the Brooklyn Central Library. The concert, which was held in the library's subterranean Dweck Center, drew a large crowd, obviously familiar with the Calder's reputation as one of this country's finest working quartets. (There was a bit of a snafu when most patrons showed up without seat reservations, but to Carnegie's credit, they were able to seat everyone who turned up.)

Unlike Calder's collaborations with Dirty Projectors' Dave Longstreth or Dan Deacon, this was a straight-up recital, featuring a trio of works that ranged from early 20th century to early 21st. Andrew Norman's melodic, pointillistic Sabina (2009) seemed to emerge from nowhere, slowly building in passionate intensity like the Roman sunrise that inspired it. 

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Fun Fun Fun Fest 9 Recap with Photos

DSC08172Austin, TX - The 9th edition of Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest tore up Auditorium Shores once again last weekend with a heady mix of indie, punk, metal, electronica, and everything in between. While things got off to a bit of a rough start on Friday, it turned out to be a beautiful weekend with sunny days and cool nights - perfect to see that long lost band you used to freak out to in your parents' basement, or that hot new act you keep missing every time they come to town. Only at Fun Fun Fun Fest is it possible to wander from sensitive alt-rock (Neutral Milk Hotel), to classic hardcore (Murder City Devils), to white hot hip-hop (Wiz Khalifa), all in less than an hour? Not to mention all of the afterparties - free with FFF wristband - which tore up Austin til the wee hours. 

Below is a highly selective sample of some of our favorite acts from the weekend. Additional pics from Friday here, Saturday here, and Sunday here

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Coffee Conversation: Alondra de la Parra

by Steven Pisano

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Photo by Steven Pisano


Conductor Alondra de la Parra is something of an anomaly. Aside from being a woman - still a rarity in the classical music world - she was raised in a country (Mexico) which isn't exactly heralded for it's contributions to classical music. Still, de la Parra, 34, has managed to carve out a successful career, first as music director of the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas - which she founded when she was still a student in order to showcase composers and performers from the Americas - and more recently as a globetrotting guest conductor. 

Fresh off of Saturday's Town Hall concert commemorating the Latin American holiday of El Dia de los Muertos (“The Day of the Dead”), we had the chance to sit with Alondra to talk about her career, her Mexican heritage, and her love of music - classical and otherwise. 

On Being A Mexican Conductor: I was raised in Mexico - my parents are Mexican - and I still live there. I think growing up there gave me a sense of rhythm and a very particular sense of musicality and musicianship which I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t Latina, and specifically Mexican. Though nowadays, since I’ve lived in many places and move three or four times a month from one place to the other, I feel more like a citizen of the world. But my Mexican roots and my Mexican soul - that’s why I named my album Mi Alma Mexicana - will always remain.

On Latin American Composers:  I love showing the world that Mexican culture is much more than the clichés that people know us by, that we do have folklore, but not every piece of music is based on this. We also have music that is contemporary, that is inspired by European music, and I just like sharing the music of Latin American countries as being competitive in quality with music from anywhere else in the world.

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