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August 2016

July 2016

The Public Domain: First Rehearsal

The Public DomainAside from having a bit of unexpected free time on my hands, the thing that finally convinced me to participate in David Lang's the public domain was the fact that one of the five groups of 200 singers - a.k.a. "strands" was rehearsing right here in Park Slope, at the northern end of 7th Avenue. But, as I took my seat among the other participants Wednesday night, I felt a sudden sense of unease. Flipping through the relatively simple score, I felt like I was back in college, treading water through a music theory class that I never should have signed up for. 

Fortunately, we were blessed to have as our guide Maria Sensi Sellner, founder and Artistic Director of Pittsburgh's Resonance Works opera company and a three-time winner of the American Prize in Opera Conducting. Sellner somehow managed to be both warm and encouraging, yet firm and direct, taking us through the score section by section, offering clear, easy-to-follow instructions for when to transition from one section to the next, when to crescendo or decrescendo, when to raise our pitch a half-step.

the public domain is a new work, meaning that we are all hearing it for the first time. There are no recordings to fall back on, which is both scary and comforting: Sellner told us that Lang wants us to make it our own, to "let the scaffolding show," even if that means making obvious mistakes. Fortunately, much of the work employs chance techniques, such that we are free to alter the tempo, pitch, even the order of the text. At least, until we're told otherwise. 

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My Lincoln Center Debut: David Lang's "The Public Domain"

Whenever I first meet someone who finds out that I'm the host of a music blog, one of the first questions they inevitably ask is: Are you a musician? Answer: No. Other than childhood piano lessons and the clarinet I stopped playing in high school, I've never managed to pick up any instrument. And, my voice is much better attuned to speaking than singing. Suffice to say, I'm much better at appreciating music than performing it.

But, there's safety in numbers, and so when I heard about David Lang's new choral work The Public Domain, a co-presentation of Mostly Mozart and Lincoln Center Out of Doors, I jumped at the chance. Modeled after Lang's Crowd Out, first performed in 2014 in Birmingham, Berlin and London, The Public Domain is written for 1,000 singers, all members of the general public, whose only requirement is that they enjoy singing. The performance is being led by London Symphony Choral Director Simon Halsey, who in the above video provides just the right amount of encouragement for those of us terrified at the prospect of hearing our voice break during our Lincoln Center debut:

"If you get involved in these things, my experience always is that you begin a bit skeptical, you warm up as it goes along, and then in the end, you think it's the best thing you ever did." 

I'll provide a diary of sorts of my experience over the upcoming weeks, culminating with the performance itself on Lincoln Center's Hearst Plaza on Saturday August 13 at 5pm. Also, there's still time to join if you want to participate - sign up on the website here.

The Feelies and Beach Fossil at Central Park Summerstage

DSC09473It might not be as close by as Celebrate Brooklyn, but not to be forgotten in the summer music landscape is Summerstage, now in its 31st year of (mostly) free gigs in all five boroughs. As in year's past, most of the big shows are at Central Park's Rumsey Playfield, which was where I was on Monday night for a double indie bill of local lo-fi heroes Beach Fossils and 70s garage legends The Feelies, drawing a fun crowd of 20 and 50-somethings to the rain-soaked astroturf, with not much in between. The Feelies, now in their 40th year, were no less impressive than when I last saw them here in Brooklyn in 2011, with Glenn Mercer putting out some vicious guitar licks while singing in a Lou Reed-like drone. 

Future Summerstage events across all five boroughs can be found here. More pics on the photo page

Violinst Francesca Anderegg at National Sawdust

by Nick Stubblefield


It's a rare and magical thing to hear great musicians playing great music in a great space, but that's exactly what audiences were treated to this past week when violinist Francesca Anderegg presented selections from Wild Cities, her latest album release, at National Sawdust in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Geometric shapes zig-zagged across the stage backdrop, suggesting a context for new musical ideas -- fitting, because Anderegg's performance offered contemporary, thoughtful, but highly approachable tunes.

If minimalism is, in the words of composer Philip Glass, "music with repetitive structures," then post-minimalism expands on the idea by embracing those structures, but not letting them confine or define the compositions. Anderegg's opening piece, Ryan Anthony Francis' "Remix," established a rocking, hard-grooving repetitive structure, then playfully defied expectations on each repetition by employing odd timings and rhythms.  

Pianist Brent Funderburk played a role as vital as Anderegg's.  On "Remix," his touch was impeccably light and delicate, his fingers hardly grazing the keys but nevertheless providing crucial counterpoint and a relentless and energetic driving force. 

Clint Needham's "On The Road" offered an emotional tenderness that only a solo violin could bring.  The violin was often weepy and melancholic, but there were touches of rhythmic playfulness throughout the work, too. Anderegg deftly handled quick changes in mood and texture throughout. 

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