New Music Feed

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Celebrates George Crumb at 90

by Steven Pisano and Pete Matthews

George Crumb at 90 Lincoln Center
(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

The American composer George Crumb turns 90 later this year, but the Chamber Music  Society of Lincoln Center started the birthday celebration early with a two-part program spanning his entire musical career. Crumb and his wife Elizabeth (his high school sweetheart) were on hand both nights to listen, and they generously greeted a steady stream of young musicians (percussionists in particular) who were thrilled to meet the esteemed composer. 

Crumb has long been a unique voice among American composers, having emerged from outside the traditional conservatory system, which at the time was producing monolithic atonal, abstract music. By contrast, Crumb's music is both challenging and deeply felt, spiritual and dynamic. Often employing extended techniques - prepared pianos, amplified instruments - his musical imagination seems boundless. 

A survey of the Alice Tully Hall stage made it clear that Crumb does not write music for orchestras. While he occasionally has written works involving violins, flutes, and other instruments, he primarily has written for piano and percussion. Lots and lots of percussion! The stage looked like a big junkyard filled with various xylophones, marimbas, kettle drums, hammers, cow bells, bass drums, cymbals, wind chimes, and all sorts of other strange-looking unknown instruments. One of my favorites was the wind machine, a canvas chamber with a wind-up handle that mimics the sound of the wind.

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HereNowHear Piano Duo Closes Kettle Corn New Music’s 6th Season

by Nick Stubblefield

Kettlecorn

HereNowHear, the dynamic new-music piano duo of Andrew Zhou and Ryan McCullough, closed out Kettle Corn New Music’s sixth season at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music this past weekend. The young performers delighted a youthful and engaged crowd with contemporary classical and experimental works from established composers such as George Crumb, Steven Stucky and Luciano Berio, alongside brand new works from Kettle Corn personnel Emily Cooley and Loren Loiacono. Kettle Corn New Music, founded in 2012 in New York City, curates contemporary classical concerts while fostering an informal listening environment.  The audience helped itself to beer, wine, and a bag of complimentary kettle corn as fresh as the music itself.

Cooley (b. 1990) opened the night’s program with Phoria (2015) for piano 4-hands. Cooley explained that "phoria" is a misalignment of the eyes: an analogy that became clear as Zhou and McCullough’s hands appeared to chase each other down the keyboard during passages that were not quite in alignment. Delicate chime-like chords in the high register gave way to playful melodies and polyrhythmic chord patterns. 

Walter Zimmermann (b.1949) closed out the first half of the program with As a Wife Has A Cow: A Love Story, based on a text by Gertrude Stein. Extended techniques abounded as the performers strummed, muted, and tapped on the strings and frame of the piano, creating a wide variety of delightful and sometimes haunting timbres. 

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Robert Ashley's "Improvement (Don Leaves Linda)" at The Kitchen

by Steven Pisano

20190209-DSC01732(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

The composer Robert Ashley's opera Improvement (Don Leaves Linda) is an interesting case as an opera because it was not conceived traditionally as a work of theater with music, to be presented live on a stage, but as a sonic production, to be presented as a recording. There are characters, yes. There is a story (of sorts), yes. But the beauty of the work--and the beauty is often quite extraordinary--is in the sound, particularly of the voices.

In the new production of this late 1980s work now playing at The Kitchen, produced by Mimi Johnson, Ashley's widow, the central defining voice is the smooth, sinewy instrument of Gelsey Bell, who has been a notable presence on the new music scene for many years. She is perfectly cast to deliver Linda's low-key West Coast-inflected torrent of words about her life. Bell has appeared in other Ashley works before, including the TV opera Perfect Lives (with the group Varispeed, which has championed Ashley's work on several fronts) and one of his last works, Crash.

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Winter Jazzfest Marathon 2019

by Dan Lehner and Pete Matthews

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Winter finally reared its adversarial head for last weekend’s Winter Jazzfest, which was incredibly celebrating its 15th year. The bitter cold may have deterred some would-be last minute attendees, but the bulk still huddled in increasingly lengthening lines to hear some of the world’s best and freshest jazz and creative music. The oldest, most platonic form of WJF, the marathon - now taking on an almost literal dimension - had attendees running up-and-across town to catch whatever they could get into.

Friday night kicked off with local jazz radio stalwart WBGO's 40th birthday party at SOB's. After an opening set by up-and-coming singer Alina Engibaryan, guitar virtuoso Kurt Rosenwinkel took the stage with his quartet (Taylor Eigsti on piano, Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Jason Brown on drums.) Rosenwinkel stayed onstage to play alongside "DJ Brother Mister" (aka, Christian McBride), who indulged his fetish for old school funk by spinning records while simultaneously strumming an electric bass. The crowd readily obliged McBride's invitation to get up and dance. 

"Don't let me catch you standing there looking at me," McBride shouted. "It's a dance party!"

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