Kevin Volans' minimalist, dancing piece for string quartet may have been made famous by Kronos and their 1990 recording, but the UK's Smith Quartet (pictured) have been performing it for nearly as long. They're almost invisible onstage in their dark suits, letting the music seep under your skin before you even realize it.
For all the times I could have caught guitarist Bill Frisell - at Barbes, at jazz festivals and top-tier jazz clubs around town - I'm kind of glad my first exposure is here at the Bang on a Can Marathon. He's certainly mellowed since his younger, noise-driven days, using his Fender to play gentle, looping melodies that fill the Winter Garden with a rosy glow. Call it a respite.
Home shows are a fairly common practice in New York, where musicians (mainly classical) play small, private concerts in the homes of wealthy patrons, who pay a pretty penny for the privilege. But, it's not every day that you get invited (for free) to the home of a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, whose boundary-busting music is helping to forge the sound of the 21st century.
And so, thanks to a generous friend, I found myself in David Lang's loft yesterday afternoon, on the eve of the Bang on a Can Marathon. When I arrived, David himself answered the intercom: "Come on up, all the way to the top!"
Lang greeted me warmly at the door. "Hi, I'm David. Please, come in, have some wine!" The sun-filled spaced was cozy and comfortable, with a modern kitchen and walls lined with books and artwork, mainly by his wife. In the back was a small theater, which David told me he'd set up a year ago in the space his wife once used as a studio. (David still composes in the loft.)
"I just thought it would be a good way to have shows without the headache," he said.
"It must be the toughest ticket in town."
"Well, you're right," he laughed. "Because there are no tickets!"
After a cocktail hour, the thirty-or-so guests (including Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe, Jeremy Denk and others) piled into the theater's wooden benches for a conversation between David, conductor Paul Hillier, and Carnegie Hall's Jeremy Geffen. (Michael went straight for the loft bunk on the east wall.) David played two tracks from the new Harmonia Mundi release of the little match girl passion, the first I'd heard this haunting music since the 2007 premiere. (Let it be said: David's got a kick-ass sound system that he likes to play loud.)
Then followed a live performance by the Ars Nova Copenhagen of two of David's choral pieces, both American premieres. "for love is strong" (2007, for mixed chorus) used text from the song of songs ("which I used to read for the dirty parts," David confessed.) "give me" (2009, for male chorus) is part of a larger collaboration between Michael and Julia, and so new David himself hadn't heard it performed before.
It's difficult to describe the intensity of a pitch-perfect soprano or a belting baritone singing six feet away from you, which I've only experienced once before: a performance of Janacek's Jenufa at Judith Barnes' Vertical Players Rep theater on Court Street. (Sadly, I never did make it to Amato Opera, which closed its Bowery Doors for the final time on Sunday.) But, to hear music performed in such an intimate setting, in the room in which it was conceived/composed, is a whole other level of Wow. Hope I get invited back sometime. (More pics below.)