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May 2012

Cleveland Orchestra at Carnegie Hall: Brahms, Shostakovich, and Saariaho

by Michael Cirigliano II

Kaija Saariaho, Cleveland Orchestra, Carnegie, Feast of Music
The Cleveland Orchestra’s program Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall was a mix of conservative and bold choices, as evidenced by a stodgy Brahms classic on the first half juxtaposed with Shostakovich’s most enigmatic symphonic statement and the New York premiere of a brilliant work by the Finnish composer, Kaija Saariaho.

Saariaho has received a lot of exposure this season, thanks to her position as Carnegie Hall’s latest Composer-in-Residence. Given her twilit homeland, her music is exotic and dark—fusing aggressive orchestral passages, exotic percussion, and sensuous strings. Laterna magica, a 2008 work that takes its name from an Ingmar Bergman biography and the first machine to create a moving image, was expansive and rich in color.

Although her music can tend to skew on the cerebral side, there was a clear-cut form to this work, which used extensive percussion—comprising vibraphone, tubular bells, pitched gongs, and sawed cymbal throughout. The effect was devastatingly beautiful and atmospheric, with large cosmic swells emanating from the string body. A master of texture, there were many moments of woodwind flourishes supported by plucked strings against a tapestry of keyed percussion and harp. Adding to the piece’s shadowy demeanor were several passages of whispers spoken into woodwind instruments at different pitch levels, including repetitions of “light” (“licht”), sounding like a distant plea to the darkness at hand.

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Brooklyn Phil Gala at Steiner Studios

DSC09490Last night, the Brooklyn Philharmonic held their annual gala at Steiner Studios, the former Brooklyn Navy Yard way out in the No man’s land between Clinton Hill and Williamsburg. These events are typically mercenary affairs, intended to extract necessary dollars from the wallets of rich patrons in exchange for some rubber chicken, cocktails, and comedy (here courtesy of the "classical comedians" Igudesman and Joo, who came off like a less dignified version of Victor Borge.) Maybe a little dancing.

But, while last night had all of that, it was actually more of a rallying cry, an opportunity for the Brooklyn Phil to restate their reason for being in a borough which is already chock-full of musical outlets, of every stripe. It also brought together all of the Phil’s various stakeholders: not just donors, but composers, community leaders, even the odd hip-hop artist.

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Manuel Agujetas at CUNY Graduate Center

I've been fascinated by the world of flamenco ever since my 2010 visit to Andalucia in Spain, where I was overwhelmed by the intoxicating mix of impassioned singing, virtuosic guitar playing, and ecstatic, trance-like dancing. I only made it to Granada and Sevilla, but flamenco was born in Jerez de la Frontera, near the southeast tip of Spain, not far from the Strait of Gibraltar where many Gitanos - Spanish Gypsys - had settled. 

Most of the traditional flamenco Gitanos are long gone, fallen victim to the never-ending fusion of flamenco with everything from tango to techno. But Manuel Agujetas, who was born in Jerez de le Fontera in 1939, survives as one of the last great exponents of the traditional Jerez style of flamenco. Last night, Agujetas performed before a crowd of 200 or so at CUNY's Graduate Center, the final concert of of their inaugural Live @365 world music series. Remarkably, it was Agujetas' first NYC concert in more than 35 years. 

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Har Mar Superstar and Father John Misty at Knitting Factory

by Laura Wasson Har Mar Superstar Knitting Factory 5:19

Heading to Knitting Factory on Saturday night for Father John Misty and Har Mar Superstar, I knew two things for certain: there would be a lot of hipsters, and it would be crowded (the show had sold out earlier in the week.) I don’t know that I was quite prepared for either, being only a recently converted Father John Misty fan and only vaguely of the hipster persuasion, but I sidled to the front row, drink in hand, and hoped inconspicuously for the best.

By the time Har Mar Superstar (aka Sean Tillmann) and his roving crew (including Father John Misty himself, Josh Tillman on drums) took to the stage, the venue was packed and it was clear the crowd was ready for a show. They would not be disappointed. Now, to be perfectly fair, seeing Har Mar Superstar live is almost certainly nothing like listening to Tillmann’s various albums. He’s a great singer and his fun, catchy funk pop songs are a joy to listen to. But seeing Tillmann in action is another matter altogether. Not only is his voice even stronger in person, he’s a consummate performer; a veritable later day Pan or Bacchus with moves like Jagger. He started the set clad in an ethnic printed hooded dashiki and orange skinny jeans. By the end, he’d shed multiple layers and was standing in only his rather small skivvies, socks and at one point a pair of loafers.

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