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November 2010
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January 2011

December 2010

Ceremonies of Carols

DSC04276The holidays are upon us, and for those who are so inclined, there is an abundance of seasonal music all around town, as varied in style and quality as there are Christmas tree ornaments. For me, the gold standard has always been the St. Thomas Church Choir of Men and Boys: the finest example of the great Anglican choral tradition we have in this country. I had the chance to see the choir twice this past week, singing carols both old new. 

Last Thursday, the choir gave their annual performance of Britten's Ceremony of Carols (1941), which I've written about previously. This year, they also sang John Rutter's Dancing Day (1974), which, like the Britten, is scored for harp and SATB choir. Led by John Scott, St. Thomas' Organist and Director of Music, the performance was astonishingly beautiful, even from my spot high up in the organ loft. Unfortunately, the concert - which in past years has always been free - cost $40: a fact that went unnoticed on the St. Thomas website.

DSC04279Three days later, the choir offered A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, modeled on the traditional service given by Cambridge, England's Kings College Choir each year on Christmas Eve (which you can hear tomorrow morning at 10am here in New York on WQXR 105.9FM or streaming online on the BBC Worldservice.) This time, the service - which featured carols from the 14th through 20th centuries - was free and, as one might expect, packed to the gills. For all the beautiful music that transpired over two-plus hours, by far the greatest moment came at the end of the service, when the choir processed through the nave singing Mendelssohn's "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing," the boy sopranos soaring above the basses and tenors. Moments like these yield instant memories, far richer than the transitory parties and other obligations of this hectic holiday season. 

Hope you get to hear some of this noble and ancient music for yourself this week, regardless of your creed. DSC04335More pics on Flickr.

New Music Moving to Brooklyn

360 doubleNot to be outdone by Issue Project Room's pending relocation to Downtown Brooklyn, veteran new music space Roulette has announced that it will soon be relocating to the YMCA's 1928 Art Deco theater on Atlantic and Third, a stone's throw from BAM (and right across the street from Hank's.) The 600-capacity theater is a massive upgrade from Roulette's longtime SoHo digs: it has a wraparound balcony and a large proscenium stage with an equally-large backstage area that will allow for bigger, more diverse ensembles. After finishing up current renovations, they are set to present their first concert in the new space in March 2011. 

Meanwhile, Issue is still lagging way behind in raising the money necessary to make the move to 110 Livingston, but things are looking up with the recent hiring of Ed Patuto as the new Executive Director, replacing Issue's late founder, Suzanne Fiol. Assuming both institutions manage to get their act together, Downtown Brooklyn is looking more and more like it's destined to become the new Downtown. 

One Long Night

DSC04239The Winter Solstice may not be until Dec. 21st, but these increasingly long nights seem to be cater-made for multiple-show goings. Case in point: I managed to get to three different shows last night, each with it's own distinct flavor and abandon.

I started out last night up at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue for the traditional service of Evensong by the Choir of Jesus College, Cambridge, currently on their first-ever tour of the U.S. The choir, made up of male and female undergraduates, has a busy schedule of concerts and regular services, including Evensong twice a week in a 13th century chapel that is the oldest building in Cambridge. Last night's program included both ancient English carols and contemporary arrangements of traditional hymns by William Walton, Maurice Durufle, and Herbert Howells, all sung exquisitely by the choir from the chancel. One can only imagine the shock and awe they felt upon being thrust onto the holiday stampede of 5th Avenue. 

DSC03735A few hours later, I was on the Lower East Side at the Abrons Arts Center for Dither's Incubator Workshop, which had the electric guitar quartet performing a program of new works by Eve Beglarian (The Garden of Cyrus), Ted Hearne (Aberrations) and Nick Didkovsky's metal-influenced Vox Requiem, written in tribute to the late Ronnie James Dio, former lead singer of Black Sabbath and Dio. 

The main highlight, though, was Tristan Perich's Interference Logic: a mind-bending 30 minute fantasy for guitar and pre-programmed electronics. Unlike some of Tristan's noisier ventures, here the 1-bit chips emitted clean, high-pitched tones that perfectly blended with the guitars, phasing in-and-out like one of Steve Reich's early exercises in minimalism. And then, just as I was starting to wonder where this whole repetitive mass was headed, the guitars came triumphantly in over the top in orchestral splendor. It was a tour de force for both Tristan and Dither, who were playing it in public for the first time after only six weeks rehearsal. (They play it again on Jan. 28th at the Addison Gallery in Andover, MA, where Tristan is currently Artist-in-Residence.)

DSC04259I then hightailed it up to Mercury Lounge to catch Buke and Gass play their distinctive brand of spiky art-rock to a large and occasionally dancey crowd. This was at least the fourth time I've seen Arone and Aron play live, and the shock of their homemade wail and thunder never fails to startle. That they could draw that kind of crowd to Mercury on a Saturday night (not to mention big, enthusiastic crowds the week prior in Montreal, Toronto and Chicago) speaks volumes to the indie crowd's ever-expanding appetite for new and diverse strains of music. 

Now, if they only knew to look beyond whatever Bowery Presents is serving up. 

More pics on Flickr.