The 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)