Weekend Live Music Preview: 9/17-9/19

IMG_3029The summer may have unofficially ended on Labor Day weekend, but with a delayed reopening to live music thanks to COVID, things are still going strong here in NYC into the third week of September. Good thing we still have balmy temps and (relatively) clear skies. 

So here's a roundup of some of the best things happening this weekend, much of it outdoors. Man, look at all of this music!

Friday 9/17

Death of Classical presents Simone Dinnerstein, Green-Wood Cemetery, 7pm (Additional performances on 9/15 & 9/16.) Inspired by first responders, parents, caretakers, and all those affected by COVID-19, the famed pianist and Brooklyn native will lead the audience on a walk through the cemetery, pausing periodically to perform music by Bach and Richard Danielpour on several pianos that will be scattered along the route. $100, including a pre-concert reception.

Anzu Quartet Performs Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, Roulette, 8pm. Made up of veterans of Bang on a Can and other NYC new music ensembles, the Anzu Quartet (Ken Thomson, clarinet; Ashley Bathgate, cello; Olivia De Prato, violin; Karl Larson, piano) perform Messiaen's searing work of perseverance on the 80th anniversary of its premiere at the Stalag VIII-A Prisoner of War camp in Germany. $25 in advance, $30 at the door.

Celebrate Brooklyn: Mr Eazi/Bembona/AJO, 7pm. Nigerian superstar Mr Eazi brings the laidback rhythms of Banku music - which blends Ghanian highlife and Nigerian afrobeat - to the bandshell. New York-based AJO and Puerto Rican-Panamanian artist BEMBONA open. Free.

Saturday 9/18

Rite of Summer Music Festival, Governor's Island, 1pm and 3pm. For the conclusion of their 10th anniversary season, the Rite of Summer Music Festival is presenting new music stalwarts Alarm Will Sound in the NYC premiere of John Luther Adams' Ten Thousand Birds, inspired (as Messiaen was) by the songs of birds. Admission is free; the ferry (which leaves from both the Battery and Brooklyn) costs $3 roundtrip. 

The Great Long Meadow Fire, Radegast Beer Hall and Biergarten, 3pm. It's not too early to get your Oktoberfest on at Williamsburg's Radegast, where upstart brass band The Great Long Meadow Fire will put up some alt country, dark Americana and gospel blues to go with your Hofbrau. Free.

Brooklyn Americana Music Festival, Various Locations, 3pm (Additional performances 9/17-9/19.)  This annual festival of folk, roots, country blues, bluegrass, and all things Americana is back live this year with more than fifty shows at locations in and around DUMBO and Red Hook. Weekend shows are all free; others $20-25.

Celebrate Brooklyn: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue/Lady Blackbird/MICHELLE, 7:30pm. The electric Trombone Shorty and his explosive brass band brings down the curtain on this year's Celebrate Brooklyn Festival with their get-out-of-your-seat blend of hip hop, funk and NOLA groove. Get ready to dance! Free.

Sunday 9/19

New York Philharmonic, Alice Tully Hall, 2pm (Additional performances on 9/17 and 9/18.) Hot on the heels of the Met Opera's triumphant return last weekend with Verdi's Requiem, the Phil returns to Lincoln Center for the first time since March 2020 with a varied program of new and classic works, including music by Anna Clyne, Copland, and Beethoven's 4th piano concerto (with the amazing Daniil Trifonov.) As with most concerts this season, this program will be performed at Alice Tully while Geffen Hall receives its looooonnnng overdue renovation. Tickets $48-86.

Central Park Summerstage: Patti Smith and her Band, 7pm Patti was supposed to be part of the big NYC Homecoming concert on the Great Lawn last month, but unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas. Any chance to see this legend should not be missed - especially when it's outdoors in Central Park. Free.

Stephane Wrembel, Barbès, 9pm. We all probably took our share of things for granted before COVID, but one of the things I missed the most this past year was being able to roll down the hill Sunday nights to Barbès where Wrembel, the world's greatest exponent of Django Reinhardt's gypsy guitar music (as well as his own Oscar-nominated compositions), held court each week until the wee hours. Wrembel is back, and hopefully is here to stay. $20 suggested. 

EMPAC Wave Field Synthesis Opens TIME:SPANS Festival at the DiMenna Center

Time Spans Wave Field SynthesisAcoustics are a funny thing. In most concert halls, you hear the instruments in your head in relation to their position on the stage, regardless of where you sit: violins sound as if they come from the left, basses from the right, winds and brass behind. But in some older, curved halls - I'm thinking of Carnegie in particular - there are some seats where a disembodied oboe or flute sounds as if it's coming from the right, or even from behind you. These acoustic quirks (which also appear in Whispering Benches) are generally eliminated now with the help of acoustic engineers, who are paid handsomely to ensure every seat has a clear, balanced sound. 

With amplified music, sounds are generally limited by the number of channels in any given loudspeaker array: a stereo system has two channels, a typical home theater system has seven, a movie theater has 10. But, all of these systems project sound in only one direction, meaning you have to position yourself in the absolute center of the room in order to get a "true" surround sound experience. And, even then, the experience is mostly individual sounds bouncing around the room (i.e., Stockhausen's 24 channel work Cosmic Pulses.)

Enter Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC), which works with a technology called Wave Field Synthesis that claims to have the ability to project sound in real space, much like in an acoustic concert hall. The technology, which was developed at the Delft University of Technology in the late 1980's, has been used in live performance before, but with inconsistent results. EMPAC's innovation is to use a modular array of 558 mini loudspeakers, grouped into 18 modules of 31 speakers each, plus subwoofers. The technology - which involves the manipulation of sonic wave fields -  is too complicated to explain here, but working with software developed at IRCAM in Paris, the EMPAC array enables composers to project high resolution sounds not from a single source, but from different locations around a room. 

Continue reading "EMPAC Wave Field Synthesis Opens TIME:SPANS Festival at the DiMenna Center" »

The Boston Symphony Orchestra Returns to Live Performance at Tanglewood

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood, 7/17/21
STOCKBRIDGE, Massachusetts - On a fairly unremarkable Tuesday in March 2020, I decided at the last minute to go see the NY Phil and Louis Langrée perform a concert at David Geffen Hall that included Debussy's Nocturnes and Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Scriabin's explosive Poem of Ecstasy, and Ravel's mystical Shéhérezade (with the captivating mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard.) The Phil played to their usual high standard, nbd.

Little did I know that would be the last live concert I'd see the Phil - or anyone - perform for sixteen months. 

Suffice to say: it's been a rough year-and-a-half all around. Aside from the horrifying human toll that COVID-19 has taken, countless musicians and performing artists lost their livelihood, scrambling to find other ways to pay their bills while keeping up their musical chops without anywhere to play (aside from parks, porches, and the occasional online gig.) No doubt more than a few hung up their guitars, saxophones, and concert dress for good.

For those that managed to stick it out, a nagging question remained: how would they sound? Is it fair to expect musicians coming off a year-and-a-half layoff to play as well as we remember? (Not to mention, would I remember how to write about them??)

For orchestras, which rely on the interplay of 70-100 highly skilled musicians all carefully listening to one another, the return of live performance seemed daunting to the point of impossibility. How could such a huge collection of individuals possibly play with any texture or nuance after having been apart for so long? Sure, there have been streaming concerts, with orchestras playing in empty halls, socially distanced from one another. But it's one thing to perform in front of a camera, another to play before a live audience.

Continue reading "The Boston Symphony Orchestra Returns to Live Performance at Tanglewood" »

Louis Andriessen (1939-2021)


Louis Andriessen New York Philharmonic
Louis Andriessen following the world premiere of Agamemnon at the New York Philharmonic, October 2018 

Less than a week following the death of Frederic Rzewski, on Thursday we lost Dutch composer Louis Andriessen at the age of 82. One of the most influential composers of the past half-century, Andriessen was largely responsible for introducing minimalism to Europe, though he later expanded his palette to works of great color and complexity. I had the chance to hear his music multiple times over the past twenty years, including an outdoor performance of Workers' Union during 2008's Make Music New York, a 2010 performance of Die Staat by Carnegie's Ensemble ACJW and John Adams, and a double bill of his operas Anais Nin and Odysseus' Women at National Sawdust in 2016.

But for me, the high water mark was 2018's Agamemnonwhich the NY Phil commissioned for Jaap van Zweden's first year as Music Director. Agamemnon was Andriessen's first work for large orchestra in decades, filled with militaristic brass and heavy percussion. It was bold, loud, often terrifying. The work was the centerpiece of a week-long festival of Andriessen's music presented by the Phil; in addition, he was the Debs Composer Chair at Carnegie Hall and was a frequent collaborator with Bang on a Can, who considered him both a mentor and kindred spirit:

"As he did for young composers everywhere, he welcomed us, he taught us, he gave us a glimpse into a world in which a composer could be open to radical innovation, open to challenging music’s social place and power, open to building a community of composers and musicians who cared about each other, listened to each other, and helped each other.  We learned so much from him." 

Louis Andriessen following the world premiere of Agamemnon at the New York Philharmonic, October 2018 Photo: Chris Lee

Times obit here.