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December 2007

I Hate Top 10 Lists

Repairs01 'Tis the season for the obligatory Top 10 lists, in which critics make an unwise attempt to comb through a full year's worth of events to come up with their favorite art shows/films/plays/dance performances of the year. The music critics have it hardest, with every night in this town bringing a triple-digit selection of concerts. And, that's assuming they stay in NYC, and only stick to one particular genre.

So, you can imagine my challenge, having seen well over 200 shows this year, most of them memorable. Here, then, is a somewhat arbitrary list (in chronological order) of the best twenty shows I saw this past year. All took place in NYC, unless indicated. (Click on the hyperlink to read the original post.)

1) Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, 3/7/07

2) Leon Fleisher, People's Symphony Concert, 3/10/07

3) Audrey Chen, Issue Project Room, 3/15/07

4) Karlheinz Stockhausen: World Premiere of  “Cosmic Pulses”, Auditorium Della Musica, Rome, 5/7/07

5) Konstantin Lifschitz, Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, Books I and II, Town Hall, 5/28/07

6) Emerson String Quartet, Complete Beethoven Quartets, Carnegie Hall, 6/2007

7) Bang on a Can Marathon, World Financial Center Wintergarden, 6/2-6/3/07

8) Philip Miller: REwind Cantata, Celebrate Brooklyn, 7/6/07

9) Farm Aid, Randall's Island, 9/9/07

10) Austin City Limits Festival, Austin, TX, 9/14/07

11) Margaret Garner, City Opera, 9/29/07

12) Nico Muhly and Sigur Ros, Wordless Music Series, 10/5/07

13) Blonde Redhead/LCD Soundsystem/Arcade Fire, Randall's Island, 10/6/07

14) Paul Jacobs: Messiaen’s Livre du Saint Sacrament, Church of St. Mary Virgin, 10/8/07
15) Brooklyn Vegan CMJ Showcase, Pianos, 10/18/07
16) London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Colin Davis, cond., Avery Fisher Hall, 10/21/07
17) Fun Fun Fun Fest, Austin, TX, 11/3-11/4/07
18) Berlin Philharmonic: The Rite of Spring Project, United Palace Theater, 11/18/07
19) John Scott: Messiaen's La Nativite du Seigneur, St. Thomas Chruch, 12/20/07
As for No. 20, I'm going to have to go with Sander Kleinenberg's gig last night at Pacha: the NYC outpost of the Ibiza nightclub, and the only big-name club left in town. No chortling: when it's done by a skilled producer/DJ such as Kleinenberg, house music is just as legitimate as any other, basically using the same architecture as classical: crescendos, signature changes, polyrhythmic structures, etc. And, Pacha's sound is by far the best I've ever heard: the state-of-the-art system was designed in Germany, and the sound is loud, clear and deep anywhere you stand. I can only dream of hearing sound that good at an indie rock show.
All in all, a banner year for live music in New York, with the promise of more to come in 2008. Hope to see more of you out there.

Burnt Sugar

Pc270031 On Thursday night, part of a weirdly short stretch of work this week, I ventured out to Zebulon: a friendly Francophile boite on a fast-developing stretch of Williamsburg between Grand and Metropolitan Aves. I was there for a set by Burnt Sugar: an Afro-acid jazz orchestra led by Village Voice critic Greg Tate. Tate started the band back in '99, inspired by Miles Davis' Bitches Brew and Sun Ra's Arkestra, incorporating elements of rock, funk - even some bits of Reich and Glass.

The sizable band - which includes cello, violin, keys, four brass, three guitars, drums, percussion, and occasional vocals - doesn't appear to use charts. Instead, Tate leads the band using a method called "conduction", through which his improvisations mirror the vibe of the audience. The results were mixed: I heard as much blaring noise as clear, bright unisons. But, the sound seemed to improve as the night went on, with Tate throwing down some tight stops and soaring crescendos for effect.

They ended abruptly around 1230, just as it seemed they'd finally caught their groove. We shouted for more; they weren't having it. Gyp.         

Must Have Mortier

For those looking for a little taste of what to look forward to with the arrival of Gerard Mortier as City Opera's next director, WNYC's Katherine Lanpher hosted a 90 minute segment with him during their recent Must Have's Festival, in which he offered his thoughts on music and played selections by Ligeti, Messiaen, Coltrane, Jacques Brel and Billy Holiday. Some notable quotes:

"All singing is beautiful, not just classical. There is only good music and bad music."

"Avant-garde means you are in the front. Every masterpiece was avant-garde."

"If you ran your business today the same way you did 20 years ago, you would be out of business. Why is opera any different?"

"Regardless of the kind of day you've had, horrible or marvelous, after a night at the opera, you will leave feeling better about yourself, about everything."

Go here to listen to the full show.