I’m not going to write about the obvious event of the week, since everybody and their grandmother already did. Instead, as the Britten centenary is drawing to a close, there are still a few opportunities to knock items off your Britten bucket list. The Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings should be high up on there, this week with brainy Britten specialist Ian Bostridge in the central tenor role. The piece really feels like a fairly conventional song cycle in the Schubertian tradition, but the ever-so-slightly off-kilter horn lines make it odd and interesting. If you miss it (I will due to travel obligations) don’t worry, the NY Phil also scheduled it three times in November.
I’ll repeat a little known Carnegie Hall factoid: For most concerts on the big stage, very generous $10 rush tickets are available on the day of the concert at the box office, generally at 11 am. The rush seats are in the front rows of the balcony with poor sightlines but great acoustics.
Xenakis occupies a space in my canon right adjacent to the photographers Bernd and HiIlla Becher, which is why it seemed logical to tape snippets of his unique scores underneath the Becher prints in my workspace (the above snippet is from Syrmos). Both Xenakis and the Bechers are entangled in the field of architecture while producing their main body of work in a different medium. Both follow rigid rules at a small scale that at a larger scale combine to reveal layers of meaning. It’s pretty baffling that a Xenakis piece constructed from some mathematical models could be meaningful or even beautiful, but more often than not, that happens.
Mode Records has a long-running Xenakis edition project with a new, self-recommending addition coming out this week. The excellent ICE, responsible for some of my best concert experiences in New York, recorded Xenakis chamber works and is presenting the result at Spectrum on Wednesday. Whether I can make it there or not, that CD will shortly be in my possession for sure.
I have a lot of gripes with the Met. For one, I haven’t ever come away completely satisfied from any of their productions. That might have something to do with the fact that I generally only go for the obscure ones, but I just can’t get myself to reward them for their mostly unimaginative programming.
Shostakovich’s The Nose readily passes the obscurity test, being one of just two operas he completed, both of them rarely performed nowadays. Valery Gergiev conducts this week’s and the following two performances, and here’s another gripe. The Met rightly got quite a bit of flak leading up to their opening night because even though it featured two Putin supporters — Gergiev at the baton and Anna Netrebko in a leading role — in an opera by a gay Russian composer, the Met refused to make an official statement condemning the anti-gay laws recently introduced in Russia.
I’ll give Gergiev and Netrebko some benefit of the doubt and assume that they’re cozying up to Putin for pragmatic reasons, to remain in good standing with the musical institutions of Russia (which tend to be heavily subsidized), not because they genuinely endorse his politics. The parallels to Shostakovich’s contortions to get on the good side of the Soviet regime are almost painfully obvious. Regardless, I’d like to balance my karma by donating to a relevant cause, and I would encourage all Met patrons this season to do the same. In the absence of options to give money directly to Russian gay rights organization, my pick is All Out, who were already doing work in Russia when the now nation-wide anti-gay laws were only a regional phenomenon in St. Petersburg.
If you were very dedicated and went to a different John Zorn concert every single day this week, which thanks to his 60th birthday celebrations you can actually do, you would probably still not succeed at developing a unified theory of what springs from his mind. He works in so many styles, instruments and configurations that I can only say he’s a musician, in the purest sense of the word. In a mid-concert interview at the Guggenheim in June he talked about people’s struggle to classify him and he was particularly weary of being pigeonholed as the “saxophone guy”. If my memory serves me right his exact words were: “Is the New York Times here? You can write that John Zorn hates the saxophone.” (The New York Times did not comply.)
If I have to pick just one Zorn event this week, I’m going for his organ improvisations at Columbia. It’s free and the below recording of a previous performance on the same instrument sounds great.
Obviously, over the past few weeks I’ve been a bit too busy with life, work and summertime to give regular updates. I remain busy and am soon setting off on a long trip to Europe and India - updates on a regular schedule will resume in September.
Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. Look it up, kids. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra can claim the prize for most daring programming at the Spring for Music festival, the yearly summit of lesser known regional orchestras at Carnegie Hall (which will unfortunately end after 2014 due to financing issues). All concerts at the festival are worthwhile for their combination of low price ($25) and high ambition but the Buffalonians are serving especially rare treats with pieces by Giya Kancheli, a living Georgian composer I’m not familiar with, and Glière’s expansive Symphony No. 3.
Recently I caught a screening of Attenberg, a 2010 film that’s part of a new wave of Greek cinema, and was struck by how much it owed to and in fact directly quoted from Antonioni’s Red Desert (compare the very last shot of Attenberg with the very last shot of Red Desert). A subsequent reviewing of Red Desert later I’ve gone very far down the Antonioni rabbit hole again where I’m obsessively rewatching scenes on YouTube. Luckily BAM is just now mounting a cheeky series of films that set off the boo-happy audience at the Cannes film festival, called Booed at Cannes. Among them is Antonioni’s L’eclisse, the last installment of a loosely coupled trilogy that started with L’avventura, starring what may be the most transfixing on-screen couple of the 60s, Alain Delon and Monica Vitti. Antonioni is a master of frame compositions that are severe and beautiful at once which translates best on the big screen, so it’s always worth catching him in a theatre.
For their series Now Arriving, Carnegie Hall invites young musicians to workshops led by great artists that culminate in public performances. This week’s workshop, taught by John Adams and David Robertson, tackles classic American works of the 20th and 21st century, among them inevitably Adams’ own Shaker Loops (on Thursday). Apparently he has not tired of it yet, despite the overexposure, still going strong 35 years after its inception. For example, less than two weeks later it will already be heard at Carnegie Hallagain as part of the Baltimore Symphony’s Spring for Music offering. It was also recently deployed in the Tilda Swinton movie I Am Love in a way I did not anticipate, carrying Swinton, her youthful lover and assorted flora and fauna to a climax in the hills over San Remo (thereby triggering in me great longing to hang out in the hills over some Northern Italian city).
(This clip is not safe for work, should your place of work be of the traditionally nipple-phobic American type.)
It’s a week for high-profile chamber ensembles to kick up some dust in low-profile spaces, starting with ACME, a sort of supergroup composed of musicians (notably Nadia Sirota, Caleb Burhans and Timothy Andres) regularly seen in various other formations around town. They are highlighting the largely unsung composer Mieczysław Weinberg and his piano quintet. Weinberg was born in Poland but fled from World War II to Russia as a young man, where he became a close life-long friend of Shostakovich, also featured in the program. With a prodigious output of 17 string quartets, 22 symphonies and 7 operas (says Wikipedia) he sounds like a potential treasure trove for an adventurous music director.
I first became aware of the Paris-based Quatuor Ébène when their truly excellent recording of Debussy, Ravel and Fauré set a new benchmark for French string quartets. The oddity of this week’s high school setting is explained by the fact that they are performing under the umbrella of the Peoples’ Symphony Concerts, dedicated to bringing high-end classical music to cash-strapped New Yorkers. The $13 tickets are indeed super affordable, especially considering that Ébène usually plays in the big league, say Carnegie Hall, where they arescheduled to appear again in February 2014. The program looks so formulaic (Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn) that I would normally pass, but they attack Germanic standards with enough of the same undeferential grit as their modern French fare that YouTube commenters regularly accuse them of blasphemy, and that’s a plus in my book.
Last night I caught OKTOPHONIE at the Park Avenue Armory, one of Stockhausen’s signature spatial pieces, here projected from 56 speakers surrounding the audience. As usual, Stockhausen doesn’t know when to stop and the whole thing goes on for too long. But this was all about the experience of sitting in a small circle in the middle of the huge drill hall, everyone dressed in white as if attending a strange cult’s mass.
With a pitstop for a couple of drinks, I made my way over to a part of town I usually avoid. Björk’s Mutual Core video is playing every day in March at 3 minutes before midnight on 15 large screens in Times Square between 42nd and 47th St. This many-headed alien in the home of crass flashy ads and droopy Elmo impersonators was the perfect complement to Stockhausen.
This is Nik's highly subjective weekly preview of happenings in the NYC area (and a bit beyond), with a heavy slant towards "classical" music of the last 100 years or so, independent film and theatre. Commentary might be acerbic and lacking in respect but ultimately comes from a loving place. Vorfreude ist die beste Freude. (German proverb: Anticipation is the best kind of joy.)