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March 2013

University of Kansas Wind Ensemble at Carnegie Hall

University of Kansas Wind Ensemble, Carnegie Hall

"Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Become a world famous orchestra, pianist, or singer—or, just cough up about $25,000.

Whenever a student or other amateur ensemble rents out Carnegie Hall, most seasoned New Yorkers groan and look the other way. After all, most of these unsanctioned visits tend to be vanity tours for the ensembles involved, stoked about traveling to the Big City to play on the World's Most Famous Stage (and maybe catch a matinee of Mamma Mia! while they're in town.) 

Every now and again, however, a jewel can be found among this wasteland of student recitals and overdressed soloists. Case in point: last night's concert by the University of Kansas Wind Ensemble. Yes, Dorothy, the Jayhawks are known for more than just basketball: these kids have developed a reputation as one of the best wind bands in the land, with no less than four Naxos albums under their belt.

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Stockhausen's OKTOPHONIE at the Park Avenue Armory

oktophonie, park avenue armory, 3/23/13

"My music is a fast spaceship to the divine." – Karlheinz Stockhausen

In May 2007, I happened to find myself in Rome for a concert of electronic music by the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, one of the most influential—if polarizing—musical figures of the 20th century. Stockhausen himself sat at a soundboard in the center of Sinopoli Hall, fiddling with knobs while synthesized sounds bounced around the interior, projected from all directions. Included on the program that day was the world premiere of Cosmic Pulses, an hour-long torrent of sound that finally had its NYC premiere at Issue Project Room in 2011 (and would have been performed last October at Alice Tully Hall, were it not for Superstorm Sandy).

The Rome concert turned out to be the last one that Stockhausen ever gave: he died unexpectedly of a heart attack six months later at his home in Kürten, Germany. Fortunately, Stockhausen's longtime collaborators, Suzanne Stephens and Kathinka Pasveer, have carried on, offering authoritative performances of Stockhausen's iconoclastic works while scrupulously maintaining and protecting his musical legacy. 

But, since Stockhausen's passing over five years ago, Suzanne and Kathinka haven't been seen on our shores—until this week, that is, where they both arrived to present the NY premiere of OKTOPHONIE at the Park Avenue Armory's Wade Thompson Drill Hall. Completed in 1991, OKTOPHONIE was originally the musical accompaniment to Dienstag (Tuesday), part of Stockhausen's massive seven-opera cycle, Licht. But, it also stands on its own, "like a surviving capital from a cathedral ruin," as Joe Drew states in the program notes.

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Iva Bittová's "Fragments" at (le) Poisson Rouge

by Melanie Wong 

Feast of Music, Iva Bittova, le Poisson Rouge

Czech singer/songwriter/violinist Iva Bittová expertly charmed the audience Sunday night at (le) Poisson Rouge, her flowing pale-blue-and-white attire matching the ambient atmosphere she created. Beginning the set with a mystical melody on the kalimba, an African thumb piano, the audience was quickly placed in a semi-trancelike state.

Bittová stated that while each of the evening's “Fragments” were taken from her recent self-titled album, she could not guarantee any specific order, and rather invited us to “fly somewhere” with her. The ensuing journey was a beautiful and meditative cycle that ended just as it had begun, with the mystical kalimba lullaby.

Bittová’s music is quite a mix of experimental, classical-crossover, and world music; she plays violin while juxtaposing beautiful and often virtuosic singing (in both English and Czech) with guttural grunts, growls, wailing sobs and cries, tribal-like chanting, and even a little beat-boxing rhythm, together with effectual dramatics in the form of foot-stamping, clapping, and dancing.

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Jazz Royalty Unite for Paul Motian Tribute Concert at Symphony Space

by Craig Brinker


Photo credit: Alan Nahigian

Paul Motian's career spanned more than 50 years, including work with numerous ensembles, participation in more than 100 recordings, and performances with some of the greatest jazz musicians of the last century. His legacy within the jazz community was evidenced at a tribute concert in his honor at Symphony Space on Friday night, where more than 20 friends and collaborators—among them, Billy Hart, Gary Peacock, Ravi Coltrane, Gerri Allen, and Ed Schuller—took the stage to play Motian's music, as well as other music that loved by the famed drummer. 

While many listeners recall him from his time playing with Bill Evans' trio or Keith Jarrett, Motian's late career found him recording and touring prolifically as a bandleader—first with a quintet, then a trio, and most recently with a group called the Electric Bebop Band.

Most of the first half of the concert explored Motian's tunes in free-jazz context—extended, dissonant explorations channeled to the most adventurous of listeners. Joint artistc directors Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell took the stage, first playing the title track of Motian's premiere record as a bandleader, "Conception Vessel." Quickly setting the tone for the evening, they played the tune as a far-reaching, exploratory duet.

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