This time, it's the inaugural Tully Scope Festival, which kicked off Tuesday night at Alice Tully Hall with a performance by the International Contemporary Ensemble (better known as ICE.) Unlike last fall's White Light Festival - which was programmed around the theme of spirituality - there doesn't seem to be a discrete purpose to this festival. Rather, as Jane explained to me during the post-concert reception, it's about celebrating the hall itself, as well as "the many diverse strands of NYC's musical life." Of course, that doesn't explain what a percussion ensemble from Strasbourg and an early music ensemble from Mexico are doing on the bill, but ok.
Work kept me from making it in time for the free performance of Nathan Davis' Bells in the atrium, which reportedly employed winds, percussion and a chorus of cell phones: sounds like it was some sort of cross between Phil Kline and Dan Deacon. From the giddy, packed crowd I encountered immediately after, it seems to have been just the kind of invocation this eclectic new festival was calling for.
Inside the hall, the evening was centered around the music of Morton Feldman, the late NYC composer whose elongated, minimialist works seem to have caught the imagination of new-gen audiences: the hall was filled with a diverse mix of young and old, wearing everything from suits to skinny jeans. ("Feldman always brings out young people," Jane told me.)
Percussionist Steven Schick opened the concert with Feldman's The King of Denmark: a short work (6 mins) that settled over the hall like a sheer fabric, hushed to the degree that the gentle cymbals and chimes were often drowned out by patrons' coughs. (Way to go, NYC.)
The balance of the program - performed by ICE, with Schick conducting - was something of a tug-of-war between formalism and compositional freedom. Webern's dense "Concerto for Nine Instruments" (7 mins) was textbook serialism, chock-full of dense atonality. Xenakis' Jalons (14 mins) was structured around a strict mathematical formula while at the same time sounding almost primitive, with guttural, multiphonic winds and percussion.
After intermission, things loosened up considerably. Cage's Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (5 mins) was an aleatoric experiment for 12 portable radios, with the score indicating only when the volume on each radio should be raised/lowered, or its frequency altered. This sort of thing has become somewhat commonplace in new music circles - see Radio Wonderland or Scanner - but was fairly radical for 1951.
Because of the relative brevity of all the preceding works, Feldman's For Samuel Beckett - which clocked in at a not-unreasonable 44 minutes - seemed luxuriously long. Like its' namesake's plays and novels, there was no structure, no discernible direction to the music: all sense of time and presence was blurred. Instead, the repetitions and flat harmonics created an open space with which you could do whatever you wanted: contemplation, concentration, sleep. Remarkably, noone stormed out the way they did when Dan pushed our buttons a few weeks ago: on the contrary, the crowd whooped and hollered its unanimous approval. Go figure.
There will be more Feldman tonight, with Juilliard new music ensemble Axiom performing his monumental Rothko Chapel (along with music by György Kurtág.) And remember: if you were there Tuesday, you get in tonight for $20; more info on the Tully Scope website.
More pics on Flickr.