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March 2015

Preview: John Adams' "Scheherazade.2" at the NY Philharmonic

Leila Josefowicz and John Adams
If what I heard Monday night at the David Rubinstein Atrium is to be believed, everyone needs to run out and pick up a ticket for one of the NY Phil's subscription concerts this week. Because, after a somewhat pedestrian all-Russian first half, Alan Gilbert will lead the Phil in the world premiere of John AdamsScheherezade.2 with violinist Leila Josefowicz, a longtime proponent of Adams's music. The 45 minute work, which Adams calls "a dramatic symphony for violin and orchestra," is significantly larger in scope than either of Adams' previous works for violin and orchestra: the Violin Concerto (1993) and The Dharma at Big Sur (2oo3). Indeed, the work is so big, it will take up the entire second half of the program.

"You have to be very, very prestigious," Adams writes in the program notes, "like Beethoven's Emperor concerto or a Brahms piano concerto to take over the larger spot in the program. But, that's what I wanted to write."

Inspired by the classic tale of the Persian queen who saves her life by telling her murderous king one story each night for 1,000 nights - the ".2" refers to Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic poem of the same name - Adams spoke about wanting to illuminate the darker, more sinister aspects of the story, in which he sees modern-day parallels in the way women are abused and oppressed around the world, particularly in the Middle East. Adams sent his first draft to Josefowicz on New Year's Day 2013, and the two have been working on it together ever since. "Collaboration," Adams said, "is the cruelest thing two people can do to each other, outside a double axe murder-suicide."

Josefowicz - who, remarkably, says that she's memorized her solo part - said that Scheherezade.2 is "such a big journey, such a huge range of emotions to try to pull off. I will never see music quite the same way again." (Josefowicz opened Monday's event with a typically tight performance of Adams' Road Movies with pianist John Novacek). For someone who has already contributed more to the modern orchestral canon than almost any other living composer, this sounds as if it might just be Adams' ultimate achievement.

More pics from Monday's discussion here. Tickets and info on this week's concerts - which take place at Avery Fisher Hall tomorrow, Friday and Saturday - here.

Cole Quest and The City Pickers at The Living Room

Cole Quest and the City Pickers at The Living RoomLike many other Manhattan expats, The Living Room recently relocated from it’s legendary Lower East Side location to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But, this venue known for featuring some of NYC’s best and brightest roots musicians hasn’t skipped a beat.

On a cold Monday night, Cole Quest and the City Pickers brought their down-home bluegrass to keep us warm. Fronted by the black cowboy hat-wearing Quest on dobro, they played a balance of traditional bluegrass tunes and clever originals. Quest's “Buy Me Back Barry” talked of old time cowboys sitting at the saloon, begging their bartender for another round. Being the City Pickers, the bartender in question was located in Astoria, Queens, cementing a mix of tall tales and modern troubadours.  

The band captivated the audience with passionate singing, tight arrangements and a contagious energy you need to experience to truly understand.  Christian Apuzzo (Guitar/Vocals) and Margaret Mug (Upright Bass/Vocals) - both from NYC’s exploding bluegrass scene - shined in “A Good Woman’s Love,” while Douglas Goldstein’s blistering banjo lines seemed to explode from his resonator.  The red overhead lights seemed to turn purple as Matheus Verardino’s harmonica brought forth a roar of blues.

In a world dominated by automation and technology, the tradition of acoustic music in NYC is not only alive, but thriving. Bluegrass in particular seems to have warmed the hearts of music lovers throughout the city with it’s approachable melodies, familiar themes and virtuosic musicians.

Cole Quest and the City Pickers play every other Monday at The Living Room, with their next show on 4/13. More info here

"Meredith Monk and Friends" at Zankel Hall

by Steven Pisano

Meredith Monk at Zankel HallOne thing is clear: Meredith Monk has a lot of friends—musicians who have both directly and indirectly been influenced by her work. And she has written a lot of music. So, it was only fitting that Monk, who is this season's Debs Composer's Chair at Carnegie Hall, was the subject of Sunday afternoon's “Meredith Monk and Friends” at Zankel Hall, celebrating her 50-year career (so far) as one of today's most widely admired musicians. 

This marathon concert lasted four-and-a-half hours, and hardly scratched the surface of her output. 1970’s “Dungeon” was performed with frenetic fury by John Zorn on a squawking, screeching, caterwauling saxophone while Cyro Baptista thumped methodically on a big bass drum. Other works were as current as the delicate a cappella “Cellular Songs,” which Monk and her famed Vocal Ensemble have been working on for the last several weeks. At age 70, Monk is clearly not content to simply rehash the past, but continues to look ever forward.

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Jóhann Jóhannsson's Drone Mass at the Temple of Dendur

Jóhann Jóhannsson's Drone Mass Most people probably had never heard of Jóhann Jóhannsson before he won the Golden Globe this past January for his score to The Theory of Everything. But the Icelandic composer - who now lives in Berlin - has been known in the new music scene for some time now: we heard first heard him in 2012, when he and the Wordless Music Orchestra performed The Miners' Hymnsa collaboration with filmmaker Bill Morrison. Jóhannsson writes a blend of acoustic and electronic music, which Jóhannsson himself plays from his laptop. 

Last Tuesday, Jóhannsson joined the string quartet ACME and vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth for the world premiere of his Drone Mass, a major work commissioned by ACME for its tenth anniversary. Billed as "a contemporary oratorio," Jóhannsson says that he wrote Drone Mass using mysterious ancient Egyptian texts made up of a meaningless series of vowels.

The performance took place at the Met Museum's Temple of Dendur, which has emerged over the past few seasons as one of NYC's essential concert venues. The majestic, cavernous space isn't always the most friendly from an acoustic standpoint, such as Vijay Iyer's show there a couple of weeks ago. But, for this music - loosely defined as sacred music - the resonant, church-like room proved to be ideal.

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