New York is no stranger to "traditional" performances from the Indian subcontinent, from Kathak, Odissi, and Bharatanatyam dance to sitar and tabla music, but the presence of contemporary performers who often blend these traditional forms with more modern forms such as hip hop/urban dance and rap music are far less known.
The SummerStage program run by the City Parks Foundation presents a wide variety of (mostly) free performances throughout the summer in all five boroughs. And in Brooklyn, what says "summer" more than Coney Island? The enormous open-air Ford Amphitheater (5000 seats!) along the Boardwalk a couple of blocks past the stadium where the minor-league Brooklyn Cyclones play baseball was recently the host for an oldies-but-goodies show called "The 70s Soul Jam" featuring the Manhattans (known here as Sonny Bivins' Manhattans, due to a 2018 court ruling about the name), the Stylistics, and Harold Melvin's Blue Notes.
The emcee, Fred"Bugsy" Buggs, a radio personality at WBLS-FM, told the crowd: "If you were born in the 1970s, these guys probably helped bring you here," later calling it "baby-making music."
The 1970s was a time of striking transition in popular music. The generally short, upbeat, radio-friendly pop hits of the 1960s was giving way to strong inroads from disco, funk, punk, and jazz, and would see the roots of hip hop which would influence the next several decades, just as the roots of rock & roll in the 1950s had set the table for the decades following then.
The prepared piano - where a pianist places screws, forks and other foreign objects on the piano strings to create strange, eerie timbres - has long had a place in the world of contemporary classical music, notably in the avant-garde music of John Cage and George Crumb. Pianist and composer Kelly Moran was pursuing that same path, collaborating with prepared piano veterans like Margaret Leng Tan and releasing several albums of increasing complexity and rigor, culminating in 2017's Bloodroot, named by the NY Times as one of the year's best classical recordings.
But, before long, Moran found herself at an impasse which left her "banging her head against the wall." Not long after, she had what she describes as "her Eureka moment":
“I was squatted down in the forest, listening to the sounds of the wind and the wildlife, and all the echoes surrounding me. I asked myself: How can I make music that feels like this: natural, connected, and effortless? So I went back to my piano, hit record, and went into this trance-like state where I improvised for several hours nonstop...When I listened back to the recordings, I felt like the music that I had produced that day felt really unbridled and joyous."
Since then, Moran has reimagined the prepared piano as an instrument of ecstatic possibilities, enhanced by electronics and a less rigid, more improvised approach to performance. Specifically, Moran feeds her piano into MIDI software and a sampling keyboard, allowing her to electronically manipulate the recordings and play them back as complex, new sounds.
On Monday 5/20, Moran performed at Roulette, completing her Van Lier artist-in-residence fellowship that began in March 2018 (prior to her joining Warp). The first half of the program consisted of music from Bloodroot and Origin, which was gentle and slowly evolving, like Erik Satie crossed with Terry Riley's ecstatic improvisations, with elements of wind chimes and Balinese gamelan. The electronic elements were subtle, subjugated to the prepared piano; Moran, in a flowing white dress complementing her long blond tresses, was the clear focus, lit by a simple spotlight.
It's up in the mid-80's today in NYC, which has got me thinking about my favorite time of year: summer, when all sorts of amazing music heads outdoors. In addition to some of our old faves - Celebrate Brooklyn, Summerstage, Warm Up - there are some exciting new additions this summer, such as Industry City's new Summer Series. Sadly, there are also several casualties this year, including Williamsburg's Northside Festival and Panorama. R.I.P.
Below are some highlights; check out our Summertime list on the right for updates throughout the summer.
SummerStage (June 1-September 24): SummerStage gets a facelift this summer with a (long overdue) $5.5 million renovation to Rumsey Playfield, including a new stage, sound system, lighting and raised bleacher seating. Lineup includes Durand Jones and the Invitations (who we caught twice at SXSW in March, 6/1) Parquet Courts (6/8), Big Freedia (6/13) and Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane and Matt Garrison with Brandee Younger (6/15).
Rite of Music Summer Festival (June 1 - Sept. 7) Governor's Ball has long since outgrown it's original home on Governor's Island, but you can still take the ferry to see live music once a month this summer with this free new music festival, now in it's 9th year. Performers include Ensemble Connect (6/1), Sandbox Percussion (7/6), Go: Organic Orchestra and Brooklyn Raga Massive (8/10), and Sirius Quartet (9/7); performances take place at 1 and 3pm.
Met Opera Summer Recital Series (June 10-19): It's not the same as when they used to do full operas in the parks, but if you want the Met experience on the cheap, go check out one of these free recitals, which take place in all five boroughs. Among the top flight singers are Ying Fang, Nathan Gunn, Leah Hawkins, and Joseph Lim.
NY Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks (June 11-16): Music Director Jaap van Zweden is sticking around this summer to lead the parks concerts in all five boroughs, with a program including Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 and Copland's "Hoe-Down" from Rodeo. Followed by fireworks, of course.