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"The Love Suicides at Sonezaki" at the White Light Festival

by Steven Pisano

Sonezaki_Shinju-hatsu_toku042.final_copyright Hiroshi Sugimoto-Courtesy of Odawara Art Foundation(© Hiroshi Sugimoto/Courtesy of Odawara Art Foundation)

2019 marks the 10th anniversary season of Lincoln Center's White Light Festival, offering works from around the world in music, theater, and dance that explore art’s power to "reveal the many dimensions of our interior lives." The festival opened this past weekend and continues through November 24.

The initial presentation, The Love Suicides at Sonezaki, is a Bunraku play written by the esteemed Japanese dramatist Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725). A soy sauce company sales clerk named Tokubei and a prostitute named Ohatsu are in love, but many forces conspire to keep them apart. So, they decide that if they cannot be together in this world, they will commit suicide and be together in the next life. The show was such a big hit when it was first presented in 1703, that numerous young couples were known to commit suicide in the nearby forest, which caused the Tokugawa shogunate 20 years later to prohibit any further performances--a ban that lasted until 1955 (232 years later!).

This U.S. premiere was created by artistic director Hiroshi Sugimoto, one of the world's most celebrated photographers and architects, as well as a theater producer. The music was written by Seiji Tsurusawa, who is known as a Living National Treasure.

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"desi:NOW" at Lincoln Center Out of Doors

by Steven Pisano

20190804-DSC01614(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

A desi is "a person of Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi birth or descent who lives abroad." You can include Sri Lanka too.

On Sunday night, in a program hosted by Reena Ninan from CBS News, Lincoln Center Out of Doors presented a survey of some contemporary South Asian performers in a program called "desi:NOW" in Damrosch Park.

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 evening kicked off, literally, with Project Convergence, who combined Bharatanatyam dance and tap dancing. At some point in the past this may have seemed like a crazy idea, but it worked more effectively than you might think, and with American Ballet Theater experimenting last year with integrating similar forms into its repertoire (via Michelle Dorrance), the idea of fusing dance forms just seems to be a sign of the times.

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2019 NYC Summer Music Preview

Celebrate Brooklyn 2018 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. 

Celebrate Brooklyn: (June 4-August 10) My personal favorite of all the free NYC music festivals - and not just because it's walking distance from my apartment - Celebrate Brooklyn returns to the Prospect Park bandshell for it's 41st season with an eclectic lineup including R&B, Latin, indie, and roots music, most of it free. Highlights include a blockbuster opening night with Patti LaBelle (6/4), a double bill with Liz Phair and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (6/29), bluegrass supergroup I'm With Her (Aiofe O'Donovan, Sarah Jarosz, and Sara Watkins, 7/18) and Canadian stalwarts Broken Social Scene (7/25). Benefit shows include The National with Courtney Barnett (6/12&13), Father John Misty with Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (6/19) and Mac DeMarco (8/6).

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.

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World Music Institute Presents Anda Union at Merkin Hall

by Steven Pisano

46650797375_ee19ca0cc1_o(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

On March 30, the World Music Institute hosted a fascinating concert at Merkin Hall featuring the Mongolian musical group Anda Union, whose nine members represent different nomadic ethnic groups, many from the grasslands of Ar Horchin in Inner Mongolia. Back in the 1200s and 1300s, Genghis Khan and his grandson Kublai Khan established a vast Mongol Empire that included China itself, until the start of the Ming Dynasty when the Mongols were expelled.

Anda Union is comprised of musicians who go by only one name: Nars, Chinggeltu, Saikhannakhaa, Uni, Chinggel, Biligbaatar, Tsetsegmaa, and two named Urgen. They play exotic-looking string instruments and reeds with names such as morin huur, tobshuur, ikil, moadin chor, and tobshuur. Because much of traditional Mongolian culture has been absorbed in the geographical areas that were once part of Mongolia but are now part of China, many younger Mongols have been researching and celebrating their traditional customs, to keep them alive for future generations. In this vein, Anda Union has been blending traditional folk music of the region with modern music written by members of the band. 

47566288741_34b1596e7c_oIn addition to singing traditionally, Mongolian singers are noted for hoomei, or throat singing, in which the vocalist sings two pitches simultaneously. On most songs the band performed, the seven main musicians sang together as a group, or one or another would take the lead. But on a number of songs, there were two featured singers who brought something special to the performance.

The featured female singer was Tsetsegmaa, who was dressed in a traditional robe of aquamarine silk and a fur hat with a conical top. Whenever she sang, the audience sat in rapt attention, particularly when she sang a song about mothers that was mesmerizing, even not knowing the words she was singing.

47513304342_5bb3416a8f_oThe featured male singer was Biligbaatar, an award-winning long-song singer introduced as a "cowboy," whose rousing performance of "The Herdsman" had the hall rocking. He was dressed in a long blue cloth wrap, and wore a brown cloth hat on his head.

As part of the rousing finale, the band played a high-energy piece that was a tribute to the importance of horses in traditional Mongolian culture, with the musicians capturing the speed of the horses, the thundering hooves, and the high whinnying sounds as they race across the steppe.

The concert was a strong reminder of how different cultures around the world approach what we all experience in life as people, and each culture brings to the table its own unique traditions. The many great shows that the World Music Institute puts on throughout the year in New York are an opportunity to experience these cultures a world away.

47513306572_7cc3477574_oMore photos can be found here.