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Ecstatic Music Festival: Richard Reed Parry, Son Lux and yMusic

by Michael Cirigliano II

Son Lux, Richard Reed Parry, Merkin Concert Hall, Ecstatic Music Festival

Photo credit: David Andranko for BrooklynVegan

The program for Wednesday night’s Ecstatic Music Festival concert at Merkin Concert Hall couldn’t have been more emblematic of the festival’s tagline: “Re-defining music for the post-classical generation.” Celebrating the ongoing synthesis between the classical and pop worlds, Wednesday's show featured the music of an indie rock musician-turned-classical composer [Richard Reed Parry, of Arcade Fire fame] and a classical composer-turned-electronic pop musician [Son Lux], all performed by local new music chamber ensemble, yMusic.

Although Parry is well-known as the bass/accordion/kitchen sink player for Arcade Fire, here he presented a series of adept and intuitive chamber works he referred to as “For Heart and Breath.” Instead of abiding by a set time signature, Parry had the musicians use their own heart rates and breathing patterns (measured via stethoscopes) to set the tempo of the piece. Each work pitted short, rapid-fire motives against longer, melodic chorale gestures—the percussive pulse of the heart versus the long flow of air in each player’s breath.

The music was incredibly organic and fluid, and nowhere near as aleatoric as one would assume given the process. Even at the intermission, several audience members could be heard commenting that the music compelled them to breathe along with each long phrase, making the performance a visceral experience for performer and audience. As each work in the series progressed, the instrumentation became more varied: starting out with a duo for violist Nadia Sirota and Parry at the piano, and ending up with a nonet, including yMusic, Parry on bass, and The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner on guitar.

Contrasting Parry’s compositions was the work of Son Lux (a.k.a. Ryan Lott). An avid commercial composer and arranger, Lott creates incredibly dense pop songs that often toe the line between classical and popular song structures. Three of the works Lott presented were re-arrangements of songs from his critically acclaimed albums At War with Walls and Mazes (2008) and We Are Rising (2011).

These songs, originally relying upon electronic beats and layered vocals, were re-imagined for the evening’s instrumentation, with Lott himself contributing not only the vocals but many beautiful moments at the piano. For We Are Rising’s stand-out track, “Leave the Riches,” thudding percussion was replaced with bass clarinet growls, icy piccolo, and strongly accented chords from the string players; instead of Lott’s vocals weaving in and out of chorus, his lone voice quivered against the ensemble’s sound, mixing with tremolo strings throughout.

In this forum, Lott was able to show his inherent agility as a composer—not being content with one interpretation of his own work, but showing that each of his songs can take on a different character, given the instrumentation and electronic elements involved. Much like Parry’s works earlier in the evening, Lott showed himself to be an acute musician, always searching for new ways to re-define music for today’s performers—and listeners.