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.
Can music without words have a message? Can it be sarcastic, cynical or secretly defiant? Presuming that it can has become somewhat of a trope in Shostakovich program and liner notes. It’s very easy, maybe too easy, to project the composer’s tense relationship with the Soviet regimes he lived under onto his music, to find veiled acts of rebellion in this or that passage.
I’ve been reading a book-length attempt at this,Music for Silenced Voices by Wendy Lesser, a biography told through the lense of Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets. It succeeds as an abridged history of the man and his time but doesn’t convince me where it tries to analyze the quartets movement by movement, often linking them directly to biographical details. I find that ascribing very particular meaning to musical language is more demystifying than illuminating.
The Jerusalem Quartet cycles through the full 15 quartets this week, and the slick website created for the occasion mostly avoids the tropes. I especially like the timeline which sticks to key facts and that the notes for the individual quartets (for example for the 8th below) have audio samples woven into the text.
These two make a perfect double bill of pianists: both known to champion new music, both known to stretch the notion of a piano recital. In her projectA Sweeter Music, Sarah Cahill commissioned 18 composers to write for her on the topic of peace. During his self-directed America 88x50 recital tour, Adam Tendler drove his Hyundai across all 50 US states to bring contemporary American music to underserved communities (a memoir about the experience is forthcoming).
In this concert Cahill is recalling the recent past with pieces at the very edge of the repertoire (such as by William Duckworth), while Tendler is predicting the near future with new works composed for him and by him. Come prepared for the premiere of his own Hate Speech which calls on the audience to play supplemental audio on their cell phones.
After a full survey of Polish director Andrzej Żuławski’s films last year, BAM brings back one of his greatest, Possession. From the outset it’s a psychological study of a break-up spiraling out of control, but during its course it jumps so wildly from one genre to the next, from spy thriller to corny action movie to sci-fi horror to Rosemary’s Baby, by the end you won’t know what hit you. West Berlin, before the Wall came down, when it was in fact unknown whether it would ever come down, provides the claustrophobic setting. In the infamous scene below, Isabelle Adjani wrestles such a deeply unsettling performance from her body, it might forever change how you feel upon entering the bowels of the Berlin subway. You’ve been warned!
(Trivia: This was shot at the stop Platz der Luftbrücke on the U6, which hasn’t changed much since then and where I happened to get off once after midnight last year.)
Two and a half hours of Messiaen organ music — this is likely the closest I will ever come to a spiritual experience in a church. After presenting Messiaen’s other large-scale organ solo work here in 2011 (to general acclaim), Jon Gillock returns to the Church of Ascension with the monumental Livre du Saint Sacrement from 1984. Praise the Lord! Us non-believer pipe enthusiasts are starved for this kind of ambitious organ programming. The church is particularly well-equipped for this since it doesn’t stash the organist away in some hidden balcony but places the console center stage almost at eye level with the audience, so for once you get to observe all the foot-pedaling, stop-pulling action.
Since reading the book, I’ve been broadcasting the opinion that Thomas Pynchon’s latest novel Inherent Vice would lend itself brilliantly to a TV mini-series. Some other novels of his, not so much. Pynchon typically knits together numerous loopy plots and subplots and deploys a whole army of characters that make difficult source material for any sort of adaptation. Ballhaus Ost took up the challenge and dared to stage Pynchon’s debut novel V. whose thematic thrust I frankly can’t reconstruct, even though I read it and just refreshed my memory via Wikipedia. Loopy. Inherent Vice, by the way, is being adapted not for TV but for the big screen by Paul Thomas Anderson with Joaquin Phoenix as the lead, which in my head invokes visions of a whole shelf of Oscars and Golden Globes, and maybe even something like a Palme d’Or.
I watched my fair share of Star Trek episodes, but clearly I’m not a serious trekker since I don’t remember any of the numerous references to Klingon opera apparently scattered throughout the series. Someone just slightly crazy researched all of them to create ‘u’, a Klingon opera consistent with Star Trek mythology. The opera’s official website claims this is the final performance, after runs in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe. It’s aptly happening as part of the festival Unmenschliche Musik(“inhuman music”) which sports a host of other fairly bizarre concerts under the most fetching tagline: “compositions by machines, animals and chance” — and, ostensibly, by Klingons. The festival says if you dress Klingon you get two tickets for the price of one, so stage action and audience are bound to be otherworldly.
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.)