At last night's edition of the Ecstatic Music Festival, Olga Bell and festival curator Judd Greenstein joined forces on a double bill of music inspired by each artist's heritage. Bell, who was born in Russia, wrote a new piece called Krai for the occasion, exploring the Cossack folk music of Russia's interior. Her Bjork-like voice was powerful and penetrating, belying her delicate, willowy appearace.
Judd chose to explore his Jewish heritage with Shlomo: an extended work for vocalists and acoustic and electronic musicians. He had the group - named "The Yehudim" - dress all in white and gold, looking like something our of ABBA. Their sound, though, was far closer to Steve Reich, with its repeating themes and organ-driven vocal music, like Eight Proverbs or Tellihim. After a bit of meandering, everything came together brilliantly in the final movement, "Two Came From the Night": the voices, the guitars, the chimes and Korg synthesizer.
My main issue - and this is by no means exclusive to this presentation - was that for the entire duration of the concert, everyone was staring at a music stand. Which, is completely understandable, given the newness and complexity of this music. But, when musicians are staring at their scores rather than at their audience, they put up a wall. Which, in truth, is the reason for the divide between rock and classical music: the ability to look your audience in the eye and convey the music directly to them, rather than ask them to gauge it from a distance.
Solution: memorize the music. Is it hard? You bet. But, if these brilliant musicians really want to cross that bridge, it needs to happen. The sooner, the better.
And, it also doesn't hurt if you smile a little.
More pics on Flickr.