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May 2007

Something Old, Something New...

Dsc04212The conclusion of a major musical event took place yesterday afternoon in St. Thomas Church on Fifth Ave., attended by perhaps 200 people. John Scott, the Director of Music at St. Thomas Church, performed the last of ten recitals devoted to the music of Danish-German composer Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707). Scott, who is one of the world's foremost organists, first performed this cycle on the organ of St. Paul's Cathedral in 2004, but was clearly enthralled with the thought of playing these masterworks on St. Thomas' Loening-Hancock organ, built in 1996 to the specifications of the Northern European organs that Buxtehude himself would have played. The sound is more chirpy but also more nimble than a bellowing cathedral organ, which would muddle these often-delicate and complex pieces.

For me, the revelation were the praeludia: big, multi-section works filled with virtuosic playing that were probably the first examples of organ music not written exclusively for liturgical purposes. The two praeludia on this final program, in D Minor and G Minor, are among Buxtehude's masterpieces and clearly foreshadow Bach's better-known fugues in their power and drama. (Bach traveled to Lubeck in 1705 to study with Buxtehude for four months, an experience which clearly had a major impact on the young composer.) The accompanying 32-page program, with notes by David Gammie, offered copious biographical and historical information on Buxtehude, as well as thoughtful insights on the music.

After a two hour break, I traveled 15 blocks and 300 years to the final concert of the Wordless Music Series' successful first season. The music was mostly minimal and ambient, though not without its surprises. Vancouver's Loscil played iBook to video of a young girl - possibly his girlfriend - and her cat. Caleb Burhans, a founding member of Alarm Will Sound, assembled a string quartet for a driving performance of Steve Reich's Different Trains (1988), a remarkably innovative piece that has live musicians responding in performance to the sound of voices on tape, as well as samples of three other string quartets.

Concluding the evening was Brian McBride, who played electronic music filled with drones and pulses. He, too, spent much of the performance behind his laptop, occasionally augmented by Burhans' quartet and his own heavily-processed guitar. (At one point, he made it sound like the organ I'd heard a few hours earlier.) The music groaned towards the symphonic, especially in his Prelude (in E flat major) which to me sounded a lot like the primordial opening of Das Rheingold (the point was driven home by video of Silverfish swimming to the surface.)

Lots to look forward to in next season's Wordless series, including music by Messiaen, Carter, Ives, Nico Muhly, and Jonny Greenwood of a little-known English outfit known as Radiohead. (Apparently, Greenwood has written a symphony(!); details TBA)

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Opera in the 'hood

CosiposterApparently, the Met isn't the only opera company coming to the Slope this summer: our very own Brooklyn Repertory Opera will be presenting Mozart's Cosi next month at the Lyceum, set in present-day Brooklyn. Tickets are a very reasonable $20; first performance is next Saturday.

Not to be outdone, the One World Symphony will be performing a semi-staged version of Strauss' Salome at the Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn Heights. Tickets are $30 if you order by June 12.


One more from Venezia

Nonograve_2Apparently, Stravinsky isn't the only important 20th Century composer entombed at San Michele in Venice: Bruce Hodges from Monotonous Forest includes this photo (courtesy of David Conway) on his post regarding the ICE's performance this past week of Luigi Nono's A floresta é jovem cheja de vida (The Forest is Young and Full of Life), a work for voice, instruments and electronics from 1966. (Unlike Stravinsky, Nono apparently doesn't warrant a signpost. Yet.) Steve Smith's Times review here.

And, while I'm thinking of Venice and composers who lived there, the blowout event of this summer's Lincoln Center Festival is the Kirov Opera's performance of Wagner's Ring, in a new production partly conceived by artistic director Valery Gergiev. Admirably, they're going to stick to Wagner's intention to perform the complete cycle over four consecutive days. The bad news: you need to buy the full cycle. (Cheapest seats left: $600.) Wonder what they'll ask for standing room...


Summer Sounds

Cover_small_2This week's Time Out New York has a solid rundown of all the concert happenings coming up over the next few months. It is literally a Feast of Music here during the summertime, with many events free. Here's a quick rundown of the tried and true:

  • Celebrate Brooklyn: My personal favorite, mostly because it's two blocks from my house. ;) The quality of this fest seems to get better and better every year (even Prince showed up last year, in an unannounced encore during Maceo Parker's opening night gig.) Highlights this year include The Neville Brothers (June 14), the Brooklyn Philharmonic with Mark O'Connor and Maya Beiser (July 14) and Philip Miller's "REwind: A Cantata for Voice, Tape and Testimony", based on transcripts from South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation hearings (July 6).
  • Central Park Summerstage: NYC's original free outdoor summer fest, located at Rumsey Playfield in the park. The big shows this year: Cassandra Wilson (June 15), Brazilian Girls (July 22), and the incredible Zap Mama (Aug. 12), who totally blew me away at the Austin City Limits Festival in 2005.
  • River to River Festival: This one is all over the map - both geographically and musically - but has some real jewels, if you know where to dig. The big event this year is the 26-hour Bang on a Can Marathon (June 2-3), which moves from it's longtime home at BAM to the Winter Garden in the World Financial Center. Other highlights include: the New Pornographers (July 4 - Battery Park), The Flatlanders (Aug. 2 - Castle Clinton), and the Amstel Saxophone Quartet (Aug. 6 - Pace University).
  • Met Opera in the Parks: After being moved last year to the end of the summer, the Met's back on schedule this year, with performances of Boheme and Faust around the five boroughs and Jersey. Some pretty major talent's involved, including Hei-Kyung Hong, Roberto Aronica, Dwayne Croft, Paul Plishka, and James Morris(!) as Méphistophélès.
  • New York Philharmonic in the Parks: The usual picnic fare: Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky. The final concert in Central Park (July 17) features Andrew Davis conducting Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel and various arias sung by Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman

If all that isn't enough, there's also the JVC Jazz Festival, the Lincoln Center Festival, Mostly Mozart, and more summer concert tours than you can shake your Visa at. And that's not even getting into the out-of-town festivals - we'll save that some another time.