Living out in Park Slope, I'm always on the hunt for shows I can get to, minus the long schlep home afterwards. So, apparently, was Michael Lowenstern, who used to commute from the Slope each week to play bass clarinet with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra—a traveling orchestra with gigs as far south as Trenton. And all after working a full day at a NYC ad agency, whose rigors are something I happen to know about.
"In 2005, I was driving home on the New Jersey Turnpike from one of these concerts," Lowenstern told Dan Joseph before his show two weeks ago at the Slope's Old Stone House on 5th Avenue. "And I found myself looking back at the end of my life, thinking to myself: Would I regret not playing more Mahler? No, but I would always regret missing my kid grow up."
"The next week," Michael continued, "I got an offer to work full time in advertising, and I resigned from the NJSO, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in the same week. I haven't freelanced since."
Michael's decision to "run away and join the office" freed him up to pursue his own musical path, using real-time performance technology such as Ableton Live to introduce electronic elements into his performances, much as his longtime friend/collaborator Todd Reynolds has done with the violin. ("Michael has been such an inspiration to me," Todd told me afterwards. "I've learned so much from this guy.")
Michael played an hour of music that, in his words, "doesn't take itself too seriously." "Trip" featured a tribal beat over a high-flying Klezmer-y solo, while "Stamp" engaged a pair of audience volunteers with iPhones triggering a humorous series of spoken non-sequiturs while Michael played keyboard. On "What I Say," Michael accompanied samples from Ray Charles on his Electronic Wind Instrument, or EWI, a toy-looking device usually relegated to the new age/jazz fusion world.
He ended with "1985" (2000), based on a recently discovered tape made by Michael's friends while he was in high school in which they asked a cross-section of students, "What do you think of Michael Lowenstern?" The responses—which incuded everything from "He's a pretty good musician" to "I don't know the guy, but I heard he's a real asshole!"—amounted to a mini-therapy session, with Michael having the last laugh as his clarinet jumped up and down over a funky electronic track, yielding simultaneous smiles and cringes.
Michael's show was part of Dan Joseph's ongoing Musical Ecologies series, which happens every month at the Old Stone House. The series picks up again next week with flutist/percussionist JD Parran, who will perform what's described as a lunar-inspired improvised set amidst Amir Bey's mixed-media installation. More info here.
More pics of Michael's set on the photo page.