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October 2011

Fall Bounty

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NYC is literally bursting at the seams with music this week, with no fewer than three festivals filling concert halls, alternative spaces and plain ol' dives all around the city. Last night, the 31st annual CMJ Music Marathon kicked off, with over 1,000 indie bands trying to make a name for themselves with as many 20 minute sets as they can cram in over the next five days.

Tomorrow, the 2nd annual White Light Festival begins at Lincoln Center, with a free performance by Bassekou Kouyate at the Rubinstein Atrium. Other highlights of  this year's intriguing cross-genre festival include performances of the Missa Solemnis and War Reqiuem by the London Symphony, a screening of The Passion of Joan of Arc with music by Portishead's Adrian Utley and Will Gregory of Goldfrapp, and an all-Messiaen recital by Olivier Latry, titular organist of Notre Dame Catherdral in Paris. 

Perhaps most intriguing of all is the first annual Sonic Festival, which started last week and continues through Saturday. Hosted by the American Composers Orchestra, the festival feautures new and electronic music by more than 100 composers, all under the age of 40. (The festival's name stands for "Sounds of a New Century.") Among the remaining highlights are Nico Muhly's new electric violin concerto (played by Caleb Burhans) on Friday at Roulette, a late-night jam (also at Roulette), and a collaboration between the ACO and the Dessner brothers at the Winter Garden on Saturday. 

I'd say more, but I've got a show to catch. Or several.

The New Seattle Symphony

Seattle 2011_061I'm out west this week, primarily to visit friends but also to check out some music of various stripes up and down the coast. The big news at the Seattle Symphony these days is the arrival of French conductor Ludovic Morlot, who replaced longtime music director Gerard Schwarz this season. Morlot, who's done some decent work with the NY Phil, is a conductor on the rise: in addition to his appointment in Seattle, he is also about to become Chief Conductor of La Monnaie in Brussels. (To his credit, he and his family have chosen to live in Seattle.)

The Seattle Symphony has always been respectable, but seemed to be a bit rudderless under Schwarz, who overstayed his welcome here by more than a decade. Already, Morlot has injected some much-needed energy through some innovative programming, such as this upcoming collaboration with local indie darlings Hey Marseilles, and a performance of Rhapsody in Blue with - no shit - Herbie Hancock. (There are also one or two horrible ideas, such as this Sci-Fi themed show with Star Trek's Commander Riker; Morlot won't be around for that one.)

Saturday's program at Benaroya Hall was far more conventional, with a program centered around themes of mortality. (Cheerful stuff in a city noted for having one of the highest suicide rates in America.) Liszt's From the Cradle to the Grave moved from sweet to bleak, ending with a slow, minor key fade. Mahler's Kindertotenlieder ("Songs on the Death of Children") featured Canadian baritone Nathan Berg in a capable - if insipid - performance. (Once you hear Thomas Quasthoff sing this mysterious, supernatural work,  you'll never want to hear anyone else attempt it.)

Things picked up a bit after intermission with Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances: a vibrant work in three movements. This was the last piece that Rachmaninoff wrote, and includes everything from Spanish-sounding waltzes to a grotesque danse macabre. The finale, with its clarion brass and crashing percussion, was particularly loud and crisp, sending the audience to its feet. Yes, more of that, Maestro.

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More pics on the photo page.