Robert Johnson's 100th Birthday Rehearsal Show at City Winery
Rock Boat XII: March 1st – March 5th 2012

Sarah Cahill and Julia Holter at LPR

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Tuesday night, Ronen hosted a Wordless Music show at LPR, featuring his familiar two-set formula of Classical and Ambient-Indie. As such, the show attracted a diverse - if bifurcated - crowd: older classical/new music patrons at the tables, youngish hipsters at the bar. It was also - like most of Ronen's shows - completely sold out.

First up was Sarah Cahill: a gawky redhead from San Francisco who played a selection of solo piano pieces from the early 20th century. Speaking at length beforehand, she said she was intrigued by composers who devoted themselves to mysticism, astrology, and now-obscure movements like Theosophy, integrating aspects of Hinduism and Buddhism into traditional western religion.

A quiet and gentle prelude by Erik Satie was followed by set of late pieces by Alexander Scriabin, none longer than 29 seconds. (Cahill informed us that Scriabin died at 43 of a burst carbuncle he induced while shaving, inciting awkward laughter.) Dane Rudhyar's "4th Pentagram" was clunky, almost cheeky in its overt playfulness.

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Cahill made a particuluarly convincing case for Ruth Crawford - who later married Charles Seeger (father of Pete Seeger) - as a brilliant-yet-overlooked composer, performing three dark, atonal preludes Crawford wrote when she was only 24. As it turns out, Crawford stopped composing when she was 30 so she could follow her husband into the study of folk music.

Henry Cowell's "The Banshee" had Cahill playing the strings inside the piano while composer Samuel Adams held down the pedal, creating creepy, haunting sounds intended to evoke the piercing wail of the mythical Irish figure. Cahill closed with another late work by Scriabin which started out slow and somber before becoming lush and ecstatic, almost Messiaen-like. 

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After the break was an extended set by L.A. native Julia Holter, who's been blowing up across the indiesphere of late on the strength of last year's Tragedy and her new album, Ekstasis (which is being released today.) The pairing of Cahill and Holter was more apt than might have appeared on the surface, as Holter is classically-trained (she went to CalArts) and used to compose chamber music. "Badly," according to her own estimate, "because I wasn’t very interested in what I was doing... I need some kind of story as a starting point."

This was Julia's first-ever NYC show, and she dressed for the occasion in a gold sequinned dress, her normally free-flowing hair done up in a bun. Her quiet, pretty voice floated gently over cellist Christopher Votek and percussionist Corey Fogel, as well as her own shimmering keyboards. It was all ambient and soft, content to stay put in its moody ecosystem. There are hints of Laurie Anderson in what Holter does - hushed vocals, blurring the line between composer and songwriter - but she lacks Anderson's daring. (Anderson, coincidentally, is playing two shows at Pace's Schimmel Center tonight and tomorrow.) Julianna Barwick or Joanna Newsom are probably closer soundmates.

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You can hear the archive broadcast of Holter's performance from LPR streaming on NPR music. More pics at the photo page.