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January 2010

The Week in Pics

Some additional music happenings seen this past week:

DSC00761Violinist/composer Tom Swafford: the best thing that ever happened to Park Slope's rush hour. 1/21/10

DSC00762Nate Schweber (of the New Heathens) performing solo at Banjo Jim's: a great folk/roots bar on Ave. C, 1/22/10 DSC00766 DSC00769Lady Blanche at Banjo Jim's - cute and funny

DSC00774Ethan Lipton & His Orchestra singing wryly funny songs like "Bossy Man" and "Old People Don't Whisper" Barbes, 1/23/10 

DSC00793Logan Richardson & SHIFT playing hard bop at Fat Cat Billiards on Christopher St., 1/23/10DSC00798(This place, filled with pool and ping pong tables, caters to the NYU crowd, but the live jazz makes it feel like something out of a Beat novel.)


Voices Carry

 DSC06632This week's big diva explosion may be uptown, but for true vocal ability, last night's double bill at Bowery Ballroom was hard to beat. Toronto's Basia Bulat played a rootsy solo set, accompanying her powerful, penetrating vibrato with fierce autoharp and guitar. A real talent; here's hoping she brings her full band the next time she comes to town.

My Brightest Diamond, playing their first NYC show in over a year, took a more high-concept approach, filling the stage with white ladders and balloons; a young girl passed out balloon animals during intermission. Lead singer Shara Worden, who's been spending more and more time following pseudo-classical pursuits, was a commanding stage presence with her flamboyant attire and voice of operatic proportions. (Worden studied voice at the University of North Texas before being seduced by the rock siren.) Oh, and she played lead guitar, joined by Nathan Lithgow on bass and Brian Wolfe on drums. DSC06665

Why this show (at $15 a ticket) had tickets available at the door while that talentless harpy managed to sell out four nights at Radio City says a lot about the state of our brainless culture. In short: it's the triumph of Hype over Substance. Hope it was worth the $200+. (More pics below and on the Fan Page.)

Continue reading "Voices Carry" »


The Art of Teaching

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Over the past fifteen years, I can't even count how many times I've seen James Levine conduct, both at the Met and the Boston Symphony. But, for all those performances, I've never had the chance to experience one of his rehearsals, from which he has gained a well-earned reputation as both an exacting technician (with orchestras), and a gentle - but prodding - father figure (with singers.) 

So, when I heard Levine would be leading a master class of young singers at Zankel Hall this past Tuesday (part of Marilyn Horne's annual The Song Continues... series), I jumped at the chance to see him in action. Levine - who's had a fair amount of experience coaching young singers as director of the Tanglewood Music Center - sat at a folding table stage left, one of his ubiquitous blue towels draped over the red tablecloth. He wore a blue polo and white tennis shoes, hunching awkwardly in his chair. Frequently, he would spontaneously air conduct, at noone in particular.

Each of the singers I saw, who ranged in age from 21 to 24,  performed their own hand-picked selections, accompanied by one of two up-and-coming pianists (Lio Kuokman and Adam Nielsen.) True to his rep, Levine was warm and encouraging, but persistent in his pursuit of what he wanted.  (He must have said, "There's one other little thing..." at least two dozen times.) But, once Levine got what he was looking for, noone applauded louder than he.

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Levine was deftly creative in his instruction, the happy byproduct of some 40 years spent coaching the world's greatest singers. For mezzo-soprano Julia Dawson, he closed the piano lid and tilted it away from the audience to compensate for her "pretty" but relatively thin voice. When he felt the soprano Lori Guilbeau was muting her delivery of an Andre Previn song, he had her speak the text aloud, in the same slow meter in which she sang. And, when he told mezzo-soprano Cecilia Hall she wasn't being direct in her performance of a Mahler song, he had her translate the text from memory.

Some other Levine pearls:

  • "Opera is wonderful, but songs are the most sensational literature there is."
  • "It's just one notch too...thoughtful."
  • "The most important feature of this form of singing is your point of view."
  • "Don't lose the joy of choosing a song for its poem, rather than the other way around."

The last singer I heard was Paul Scholten, a baritone currently pursuing his A.D. at the University of Cincinnati - which happens to be Levine's hometown. After a shaky start and some reassuring advice from Levine, Scholten sang Schubert's Erlkönig: a dark, gothic poem by Goethe about a child who rides horseback with his father, only to perish after being attacked by an invisible "Erl King." Scholten nailed it, eliciting the loudest applause of the night. It also won Levine's highest praise:

 "Stunning! That was really real." 

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Singing for Haiti

Help for Haiti: Learn What You Can Do

Music feels like an afterthought after last week's apocalyptic earthquake in Haiti, which has reportedly claimed the lives of 200,000 people and has left millions of others homeless and desperate. If you haven't already, please make a donation to some worthy charity that is helping in the aid and recovery effort. (Personally, I've made a donation to the American Red Cross.)

If you're musically inclined and are looking for a little reward for your generosity, there are some incredible events happening this week, courtesy of some kind-hearted local and international musicians. See below for a selective list:

City Winery 

EMERGENCY BENEFIT CONCERTS FOR HAITI

100% of funds raised from these benefits will be directed to Doctors Without Borders, Partners in Health and an emergency mobile hospital aid mission organized by the Jewish Renaissance Medical Center. 

Wed 01/20 9pm - $75  - Patti Smith, The Swell Season, John Wesley Harding, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Yo La Tengo, Young People’s Choir of New York City, Joshua Bell and Special Guests

Thu  01/21 9pm - $50  - Lewis Black, Willie Nile, Vernon Reid & Corey Glover of Living Colour, Rich Pagano & The Sugarcane Cups, Marshall Crenshaw

Sun 01/24 8pm - $50  - Rosanne Cash, Madeleine Peyroux, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Tambou Combo, BETTY

Mon 01/25 8pm - $20  - 20 Indie artists: Vienna Teng, Amber Rubarth, Ari Hest, Alex Berger, Nate Campany and many more. See Site for details.


Highline Ballroom


Sunday 1/24 9pm - $20 

FOR THE PEOPLE! A benefit show for the people in Haiti 

All proceeds will go do organizations that work directly with the people of Haiti: Life For the World, Helping Hands Bring Sunshine, and Rural Haiti Project.
Music by Hard Hittin Harry & Madsol-Desar 
Performances by: Earthman Experience, Eternia A.D.M., A-Alikes, Homeboy Sandman, Oveous Maximus, Soul Purpose (feat. Maya Azucena & Swiss Chris), Supa Nova Slom, Negus Okai & Brown Rice Family, Najee, Saga One


Bell House


Wednesday 1/27 6pm - $50

STRENGTH THROUGH UNITY
A BENEFIT FOR THE VICTIMS OF THE EARTHQUAKE IN HAITI

100% of the proceeds will be split between Save The Children and Partners In Health.

All performers will be playing abbreviated, acoustic and/or stripped down sets. Scheduled to appear:
JIMMY FALLON
fun.
THE WALKMEN
TED LEO
EUGENE MIRMAN
THE WRENS
MICHAEL SHOWALTER
SONDRE LERCHE
New York State Senator DIANE SAVINO
TODD BARRY
AC NEWMAN of NEW PORNOGRAPHERS plus RHETT MILLER of OLD 97s plus NICOLE ATKINS as a SEEKERS cover band.
HERE WE GO MAGIC
PAT KIERNAN of NY 1
THE WAHOO SKIFFLE CRAZIES

Early birds can come for free food courtesy of GREAT JONES CAFE, DUB PIES, and more.

A special two hour edition of keyboard karaoke will be hosted by SARA SCHAEFER and JOE McGINTY in the front lounge from 11pm-1am