Over the past deacade, Metropolis Ensemble has made a name for themselves by performing almost anywhere other than in a concert hall: they've played at bandshells, in brownstones, and in Upper East and West Side apartments. More often than not, food and drinks are served, and the atmosphere is loose, almost clubby. Which, in fact, was how classical music was originally intended to be heard.
So, it was only fitting that for their 10th Anniversary this past Tuesday, Metropolis took over the Angel Orensanz Center on the Lower East Side for an ambitious party that offered free flowing wine and dozens of works, some performed simultaneously. The evening was inspired by John Cage's notorious 1967 Musicircus, where players are invited "to perform simultaneously anything or in any way they desire." Sign holders stood next to each performing ensemble with a large easel pad, on which the names of the performers and what they were playing were scrawled in black marker. Light projections filled the decayed gothic interior. Waiters walked through with seemingly bottomless trays of booze. There was even some random guy playing a cactus.
Many of the selections heard Tuesday night were selected from the 110+ works that Metropolis has commissioned over the years, such as Timo Andres' brilliant recomposition of Mozart's "Coronation" concerto, which Timo played from the middle of the floor while Metropolis players filled the stage and balcony above. (Timo and Metropolis premiered this recomposed concerto here in 2011.) It was one of the rare moments where everyone was able to stop and focus on a single performance, without any ambient chatter or far-off cymbal crash.
Several other works had been written for the occasion, including music by Ryan Francis, Paula Matthusen, Ricardo Romaneiro, Matthew Evan Taylor and Vasko Dukovski. New to me was D.D. Jackson: a Juno Award-winning Canadian jazz composer and pianist who wowed the audience with a spiky improvisation on a Scott Joplin rag, then switched to the Hammond B3 to perform his arrangement of Funkadelic's Maggot Brain, taking flight on the organ while the Metropolis players tried to keep up.
Du Yun wrote her Anniversary Wishing Song literally on the spot, integrating electric and acoustic elements with recordings of audience members offering their wishes for everything from Metropolis Ensemble to the Presidential election. The flawlessly executed evening ended with a solo set by Emily Wells: a cross-genre artist who piles violin solos on top of vocals and electronics, creating a shimmering, ecstatic sound that blurs the line between indie and classical.
Before Wells' set, violinist Kristin Lee spoke from the stage to acknowledge Metropolis founder and artistic director Andrew Cyr, "for sticking to his unique vision, which has truly helped transform the concert experience." These days, there are so many classical presenters falling over themselves to put their music in clubs, or new music ensembles striving to be hip and cool. But, it's not easy to be cool without it appearing forced, or without one type of music taking something away from the other. It takes skill, experience - and most of all, taste. If there's one essential quality that separates Cyr and Metropolis Ensemble from the herd, it's their taste, which only seems to get better with age. I can't wait to see where they go from here.
More pics on the photo page.