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November 2011

John Luther Adams' “songbirdsongs” at Galapagos

Post and photos by BonnieLe-train-blue-john-luther-adamsWho knew you could feel immersed in nature at a Brooklyn club? The five percussionists and six piccolo players of Le Train Bleu accomplished just that at Galapagos on Saturday with a performance of  John Luther Adams' “songbirdsongs” (1974-1980).  Many have spoken of Adams’ affinity for minimalism, but in reality, his rich, organic music fills spaces both small and large (see last summer's performance of “Inuksuit” in Morningside Park). 

"songbirdsongs" consists of nine discrete movements which flow together, lasting just under an hour. In this performance, each song was accompanied by visuals of nature scenes projected both on the back of the stage and above the seating area. The music was calm and atmospheric, save for the penultimate movement, which was accompanied by a loud bass drum at the rear of the room, kettle drums and clappers onstage, and piccolos wildly chirping from all three sides of the balcony.  

The final movement brought gentleness back to the fore, with a violin in the center of the room that conjured a shimmering winter scene, along with with bowed cymbals, kalimba, and chimes, signifying yet another cycle of nature’s seasons completed. 

More pics below.

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R.I.P. Ken Russell


"Other film-makers might have found their creative impetus in novels or plays; Russell's inspiration was surely primarily in music. His ideas, his images, his rows, his career itself were all one colossal, chaotic rhapsody." - Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Ken Russell, one of the most innovative, bizarre, and controversial directors in film history, died yesterday at his home in the UK. He was 84. Just last summer, Russell was in New York to present nine of his films - several of which had never been screened here before - during the Film Society of Lincoln Center's "Russellmania!" retrospective.

Among his many various obsessions, Russell had a keen interest in classical music: early in his career, Russell directed BBC documentaries on composers as diverse as Prokofiev, Debussy and Edward Elgar. Later on, he migrated to feature-length films that  took considerable liberties with the lives of composeres such as Tchiakovsky ("The Music Lovers”) Mahler, (“Mahler”) and Liszt (“Lisztomania”), all of which he saw as his way of making high culture accessible to a popular audience.  

In addition to classical music, Russell also was fascinated by the glam rock world of the 70's, as demonstrated by his most popular film, Tommy (1975), based on The Who's rock opera of the same name. The film, which starred a who's who of 70's musicians - including all four members of The Who, Ann-MargretElton JohnTina Turner, and Eric Clapton - was a box-office smash, playing to full movie houses for over a year.

Whether he'll be remembered as a visionary or a mere curiosity, Russell's love for music and musicians was unequivocal. If nothing else, anyone that's ever experienced one of his films will never quite hear - or see - this music the same way again.

More clips of Russell's films below.

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Accidental Skype Show

DSC06070I hadn't heard of Portugese singer/songwriter Rita Braga before Tristan and Lesley innvited me over to their apartment Saturday night for one of their semi-regular soirees with live music. (The parties were on hiatus while they were living in Berlin the past three months.)

Sadly, Rita never made it to the party because she was deported by an immigration officer at J.F.K., sending her immediately back to Lisbon upon discovering she was here for work and didn't have the proper paperwork lined up. Rita's "work" probably would have netted her around $100 total, or whatever she'd make by passing the hat at various private homes and underground venues.

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Olga Bloom Bargemusic

“For me, chamber music is the epitome of civilization.” - Olga Bloom 

In 2008, I wrote about one of my many visits to Bargemusic: the floating concert hall that's been moored at the foot of Old Fulton Street in Brooklyn Heights for over 35 years. The founder and indefatigable leader of this improbable home for chamber music was the inimitable Olga Bloom: a fixed and feisty presence at the barge up until a couple of years ago. During one of my visits, I remember Olga complaining to me about the water taxis, whose careless wake would mercilessly rock the barge while a young pianist or string ensemble was trying to make their way through Beethoven or Brahms. "(former City Councilman) David Yassky said he'd help me take care of it," she told me. I didn't doubt her for a second.

Olga passed away yesterday at her Manhattan nursing home; she was 92. The barge is now in the safe and able hands of violinist Mark Peskanov, who's already been running the show at Bargemusic for much of the past decade.

But, there will never be another Olga. Anyone who ever got one of her brochures in the mail - prefaced with one of Olga's quirky, carefully worded blessings - knows we've lost something unique and precious in New York music.

"Today our cargo is beautiful music, our audience and supporters are the good, brave, strong towboats pulling us along our destiny — as are the fine artists from all over world who perform here, and the good, brave, strong captain Mark who programs our mystical endeavor."