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December 2007
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January 2008

Visual Music

Dsc03338I didn't really know much about Japanese rock outfit Cornelius before going to see them Webster Hall last night, other than they performed the closing concert at LA's Concrete Frequency festival two weeks ago and that they were named after the character in Planet of the Apes. Good enough for me.

Dsc03339Opening was the Benevento/Russo Duo, who Ronen turned me onto six months ago. Together, Marco Benevento (Moog and other electronics) and Joe Russo (drums) use repeating themes, changing tempos, and complex harmonies that build to ecstatic climaxes. To me, it sounded like an electronic version of Bruckner: check their title track from debute release "Play Pause Stop"

Download 01_play_pause_stop.mp3

Dsc03384Cornelius' stage show was obviously built for the YouTube generation. Called "Sensuous Synchronized Show," bandleader Keigo Oyamada has worked with a team of designers and engineers to develop a full multimedia presentation, mixing lights with a digital video that includes everything from computer generated images, to old Warner Brothers cartoons. Impressively, the entire scheme is in sync with the performance: Oyamada says it's not meant to simply augment the performance, but becomes another instrument within it." Dsc03397_2

At first, the music was plodding and oversimplistic, and I began to think the images were more crutch than complement (much as I thought they were at Michael Gordon's Dystopia a couple of weeks ago.) But, about a half-hour in, the band let it rip in "Gum", and the whole stage became a hailstorm of images and speed guitar. The packed house of normally reserved indie kids went berserk.

Dsc03500The band went back and forth between thrashing and sedate numbers, mixing keyboards, Theremin, electronic effects, guitars played with bows, and a whole array of chimes and bells. They ended up playing for a full 100 minutes - and then got called back for a 20 minute encore, for which they had a whole additional light/video show. Just good bubblegum fun, with maybe a social message or two thrown in a la Murakami. I can't even imagine what this show must have been like in Disney Hall; I won't even dream of seeing it in one of our stuckup music temples. Thank God for Bowery Presents.

More pics:

Benevento/Russo DuoDsc03366 Dsc03340_2






Neighborhood Opera

Dsc03330_2The idea of putting on amateur opera in New York seems, at first, a fool's game, what with two of the world's greatest opera companies at our disposal. But, in fact, there has long been a place for smaller-scale opera in neighborhoods around the city: Amato Opera in the East Village, Dicapo Opera on the Upper East Side, the Vertical Players Rep in Cobble Hill. These houses offer intimate, affordable performances for those who unwilling to make the trek up to Lincoln Center - not to mention the opportunity for up-and-coming singers to perform live in front of a New York audience.

Dsc03334_2A few seasons ago, Sung Jin Hong's Brooklyn-based One World Symphony began to intersperse their orchestral concerts with increasingly ambitious semi-staged operas, performed once each in Brooklyn Heights and Morningside Heights. On Friday night, they offered a more-than-capable reading of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes: a psychologically-complex opera about a fisherman who is hounded by a mob-like village into a downward spiral of madness and violence. The music is full of tricky rhythms and challenging dynamics that can wreak havoc with even the most professional singers. While some of the secondary roles were uneven, and the layout of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church suffered from poor sightlines, the overall performance was musically and dramatically engaging, complemented by the warm, resonant acoustic of St. Ann's Gothic interior. 

Dsc03327Standouts among the cast were Caleb Stokes, who was commanding and often disturbing as Grimes, Heather Meyer as his beloved, Ellen, Jack White as Captain Balstrode, and Mischa Frusztajer as the lawyer Swallow. The One World Symphony under Hong has improved dramatically since I last heard them several years ago, playing with power and intensity, particularly the key "Sea Interludes" which mirror Grimes' increasingly unstable mental state.

There will be one more performance of Peter Grimes this afternoon at 4pm at the Ansche Chesed Synagogue on West 100th Street in Manhattan; tickets are $40. In June, One World returns many of these same singers in two performances of Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos in these same venues. The Met and City Opera will both be shuttered for the season by then, so do yourself a favor and go check 'em out.   


Olivier_messiaen2008 marks the centennial of two of the most iconoclastic and influential composers of the twentieth century, both of whom have significant ties to New York. French composer, teacher and organist Olivier Messiaen premiered From the Canyons to the Stars... in Alice Tully Hall, and wrote Eclairs Sur l'au-Dela on commission for the New York Philharmonic in 1992, his last completed work. Next month, Carnegie takes up the mantle with a multimedia presentation of the Turangalîla-Symphonie by the Saint Louis Symphony and David Robertson, who will no doubt offer the same warmth and insight he offered two weeks ago in LA. A week later, Weill Hall will host a full Messiaen Discovery Day, including a conversation with Messiaen's prodigal pupil Pierre Boulez and a performance of Visions de l'Amen for two pianos. Tickets are $9. (It comes as no surprise that the NY Phil has no plans to participate in the festivities: when they last performed Eclairs sur l'au-Dela, in 2005, I was one of only 500 or so still in AFH by the end.)

Dsc04489_3Lifelong New Yorker Elliott Carter was born exactly one day after Messiaen in 1908. Remarkably, Carter is not only still alive, but still composing: just two months ago, the Boston Symphony Orchestra gave the premiere of his Horn Concerto; there will be no fewer than six additional works premiered this year. Carter, a former protege of Charles Ives who used to write pieces so rugged and dissonant they bordered on cacophony, has embraced less complex, more accessible textures in his maturity, to generally wide acclaim.

As for local Carter tributes: all next week, Juilliard is hosting an "All About Elliott" festival, culminating in a performance by the Juilliard Orchestra next Saturday, with James Levine conducting. On Wednesday, the Pacifica Quartet is performing Carter's complete string quartets at the New York Society of Ethical Culture. This summer, Levine has devoted Tanglewood's entire Festival of Contemporary Music (July 20-24) to Carter's music, including several U.S. and world premieres. And in December, Carter will celebrate his 100th birthday in Carnegie Hall, with the New York premiere of his Interventions for piano and orchestra, featuring Daniel Barenboim, Levine and the BSO. (Picture of Elliott and I from Tanglewood last summer after the jump.)

For anyone who happens to live in London, the Southbank Center is hosting a year-long Messiaen festival, curated by pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard; check out the attached video. And, talk about a double-feature: in December, Aimard, Boulez, and the Ensemble Intercontemporain perform tribute concerts to both Messiaen and Carter on their respective birthdays (December 10 and 11).

Continue reading "Centennia" »