New Music Feed

A Thousand Thoughts: Kronos Quartet with Sam Green at The Town Hall

"The string quartet repertoire was probably changed more by (Kronos Quartet) than by any other group." - Philip Glass

WSHB1522-by-Waleed-ShahWhat is a string quartet? That seems to have been the essential question on Sam Green and Joe Bini's mind when they set out to make the documentary film A Thousand Thoughts, about the pioneering, peerless Kronos Quartet. The film, which received its New York premiere last night at The Town Hall, reminds us how Kronos has spent the past half-century upending just about every convention associated with the string quartet. Instead of tuxedos or concert black, they've typically worn the colorful, trendy outfits of a rock band (though they've toned it down considerably in recent years.) Instead of being marooned to classical radio or stuffy recital halls, they appeared on Sesame Street and at experimental music festivals. And, instead of playing the core repertoire by Haydn, Beethoven or Schubert, Kronos almost exclusively plays music by living composers, with more than 1,000 commissions to date, including their ongoing Fifty for the Future project with Carnegie Hall. 

When Green pitched the project to Kronos founder and Artistic Director David Harrington (whom I met at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville four years ago) he called it a "live documentary", in which Kronos would perform live and Green would provide running commentary to the film. (Green's other projects include The Love Song of R Buckminster Fuller, featuring live accompaniment by Yo La Tengo.) Harrington signed on immediately; Thursday's performance was the 18th since the film's premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2018. 

Green was given full access to Kronos' extensive archives, housed in their San Francisco rehearsal studio, and the film is largely a pastiche of his never-before-seen findings: video and audio recordings, photographs, old clippings of reviews (yikes!). It also includes interviews with composers, managers, musicians - and, of course, the four members of Kronos: Harrington, John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello).

Continue reading "A Thousand Thoughts: Kronos Quartet with Sam Green at The Town Hall" »


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.

Continue reading "Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Celebrates George Crumb at 90" »


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. 

Continue reading "HereNowHear Piano Duo Closes Kettle Corn New Music’s 6th Season" »


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.

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