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October 2023

Music Preview: Kronos Quartet at 50, Aimard Plays Ligeti at the NY Phil, Anthony Davis' "X" at the Met Opera, and a Kevin Puts Premiere at Paul Taylor Dance Company

Kronos Quartet at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, 7/21/22

There seems to be an overflow of musical treats on offer in NYC this week. And none of them have anything to do with ghouls or goblins. 

Thursday, 11/2

Pierre-Laurent Aimard plays Ligeti's Piano Concerto with the NY Phil: In what feels like a tiny bit of a stretch, the Phil is devoting part of its season to the centennial of iconoclastic composer György Ligeti, perhaps most famous for the otherworldly music Stanley Kubrick appropriated (without permission) for 2001: A Space Odyssey (which the Phil performed live a decade ago.) This week, longtime champion Pierre-Laurent Aimard arrives to perform Ligeti's fiendishly difficult piano concerto with conductor Susanna Mälkki, on a program that includes music by fellow Hungarians Liszt and Bartók. In addition, Aimard performs a late night set of Ligeti-inspired improvisations as part of the Phil's Nightcap series (11/4), and a solo recital (11/7) juxtaposing Ligeti's music with Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy. 

Friday 11/3

Kronos Quartet: Five Decades at Carnegie Hall: I don't remember the first time I saw Kronos live, but I feel they've been an indispensable part of my musical life for as long as I can remember. I mean, how many other string quartets can claim a Golden Anniversary (even if the only remaining original member is leader David Harrington)? In celebration, Kronos takes over Stern Auditorium with a massive lineup including Laurie Anderson, Tanya Yagaq, Wu Man, and the Bang on a Can All-Stars.

Anthony Davis'  at the Met Opera : Only 37 years late, Anthony Davis' opera about the life of controversial civil rights leader Malcolm X arrives at the Met with a stellar cast led by baritone Will Liverman (Fire Shut Up My Bones) as Malcolm X. Davis has revised his score for this new production by director Robert O'Hara (Slave Play), conducted by Kazem Abdullah. If you can't make it to the house, the opera will be live streamed on the Met's website.

Saturday 11/4

Paul Taylor Dance Company at David Koch Theater: I don't usually cover dance here, but I'm making an exception for this Saturday's program, which includes a world premiere by Lauren Lovette (Echo) set to Kevin Puts' Contact, which he wrote during the Covid-19 pandemic for the charismatic trio Time for Three. They perform live onstage, with the Orchestra of St. Luke's in the pit.   

A Hope for Music: Joyce DiDonato Master Class at Carnegie Hall

Joyce DiDonato, Dead Man Walking, Metropolitan Opera, 10.2`.23
Joyce DiDonato, Dead Man Walking, Metropolitan Opera, 10/22/23

Last Saturday, I went to the Metropolitan Opera for the first time this year to see the final performance of Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking, which over the past 23 years has become the most widely performed opera of the new century. The performance, which was broadcast to movie theaters around the globe, was simultaneously brilliant, moving, and deeply disturbing. Led by the Met's music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the cast was anchored by mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean, the Louisiana nun who ministers to a man on death row and finds herself caught between the parents of victims demanding justice and a murderer seeking forgiveness. DiDonato gave a commanding, viscerally emotional performance, as one might expect given that she's owned the role of Sister Helen for more than two decades. (If you missed Dead Man Walking, watch this.)

With no rest for the weary, the following morning DiDonato began her annual master class at Carnegie Hall's Resnick Education Wing. Carnegie has invested heavily in education through its Weill Music Institute, which offers numerous opportunities for young musicians to learn from some of today's greatest artists, including master classes, youth orchestras, and outreach initiatives. In addition to DiDonato's master class - which she's been teaching since 2015 - soprano Renée Fleming oversees the week-long SongStudio (January 22-27) alongside soprano Angel Blue and tenor Nicholas Phan, ending with a recital in Zankel Hall.

Over the next three days - with two sessions per day - four up and coming opera singers would be mentored by DiDonato on everything from breathing technique and diction, to movement and stagecraft. While the morning sessions were private, the afternoon sessions were open to the public and live streamed on YouTube and Medici.TV. After watching the first two sessions online, I went to the final (10/24) session in person, and can testify that as amazing as DiDonato is as a performer, she is an even better teacher, with a charismatic zeal that borders on evangelical. Beyond just teaching the next generation of singers, DiDonato is on a quest to save music - or at the very least remind us of its transformative power.

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