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Ear Heart Music Series Opens with Richard Reed Parry, yMusic Ensemble, and Nico Muhly at Roulette

by Steven Pisano

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If nights of the week have a music personality, and Friday and Saturday nights are the loud and rowdy party animals in the group, then Monday is the quiet and contemplative member of the family. Which made last night a perfect night for Ear Heart Music's season-opening presentation of music by Richard Reed Parry and Nico Muhly at Roulette.

Better known for his chart-topping rock band Arcade Fire, Parry for a number of years now has also been writing neoclassical music that is more personal in nature and less written for a mass audience. This makes Parry a perfect choice for Ear Heart Music, whose artistic/executive director Amelia Lukas has for the past five years been steadily building an audience for new music.

At last night's concert, Roulette had a warm, friendly atmosphere, as if the audience had just dropped by Parry's living room. Indeed, at the end of the night, the audience was invited to follow Parry and his fellow musicians across Atlantic Avenue to a drinking establishment called the Hollow Nickel, to imbibe some spirits and "to talk and get to know each other better."

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The evening began with a performance of several short pieces featuring Nico Muhly on piano and Nadia Sirota on viola. At one point, Muhly excused himself and sat on the floor of the stage in the shadows while Sirota played an engaging solo - actually a duet, since she played against a pre-recorded track of herself.

The main part of the evening was taken up by Parry's Music for Heart and Breath, which was released by Deutsche Grammophon this past June. One of the conceits for this cycle of meditative and serene pieces is that the musicians wear stethoscopes to hear their own heart beats and breathing patterns, which each player is to be guided by while playing the music. At first, the idea of stethoscope-wearing musicians sounds as if it is an attention-getting gimmick during a downtown art-music happening, but as soon the yMusic ensemble began to play quietly in unison, the stethoscopes were quickly forgotten by the audience.

As Parry explained in July during an interview on NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday", "Every note, and everything that any of the musicians plays, is played either in sync with the heartbeat of that player, or with their breathing, or with the breathing of another player."

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The result was an evening of quiet, but thoughtful music that flowed smoothly, only occasionally punctuated by a staccato rhythm or a crescendo. yMusic, supplemented by a small group of additional musicians - including Parry himself on double bass - played adeptly, showing why they have been praised as being at the forefront of new music, straddling both the pop and classical worlds.

Parry will be back in November when BAM presents Black Mountain Songs, an ambitious choral work about the famous North Carolina arts college. Co-curated by Parry and the show's creator, Bryce Dessner, it features the Brooklyn Youth Chorus led by Diane Berkun-Menaker and music by Parry, Dessner, and Muhly, as well as Tim Hecker, Jherek Bischoff, John King, Caroline Shaw, and Aleksandra Vrebalov.

More photos can be found here.