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Days of tension, anger and (thank God) New York Polyphony

Post-inauguration Saturday wasn't the easiest time to be in New York City. Whatever side you were on politically, the streets in much of mid-town were closed off. Police were everywhere. Cars seemed not to know where to go or what to do. I even saw a cab driving with its passenger door yawning open. The one way across 42nd Street was the Park Avenue overpass; looking down from it onto the street, I saw an ocean of protesters unlike anything I'd imagined. They were peaceful, but who knew that at the time? That night, just feet from an … [Read more...]

The devastating debut of 4:48 Psychosis (the opera) stands high in 2016’s best

LONDON - The guy behind the ticket counter at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre checked out my Brooklyn zip code and asked "Did you come over for this?"  "It was in the top three reasons." He wasn't surprised. People had been coming to the theater over the past week from as far away as Australia to see 4:48 Psychosis, probably never having never heard of the composer, Philip Venables, but couldn't stay away if only because the Sarah Kane play - with an obviously devoted cult following - were no doubt as struck as I was that this play needs … [Read more...]

Michael Hersch, 9/11, and the twin towers of light

With each 9/11 anniversary, I still don't know how to process the experience. Of course, I was glad on Sunday's 15th anniversary of 9/11 that the new World Trade Center is up and in what has become one of the most vibrant, architecturally advanced sections of Manhattan. I was happy about my photographic accident to the left, which had the emblematic twin columns of light, which appear every 9/11,  reflecting off an adjacent building in ways that made me feel somehow protected by the heavens. But the idea of airplanes crashing … [Read more...]

David Lang’s new opera The Loser may yet win

Pulitzer-winning composer David Lang has written several operas so far, none of them in the least bit conventional, and all of them showing how much the ultra-minimalist Bang on a Can aesthetic can be fascinatingly at odds with an art form that's traditionally grand. His latest is The Loser, which was unveiled Wednesday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Opera House in a production whose apparatus alone guaranteed sold-out houses. Only the mezzanine in the huge auditorium was available to ticketbuyers, severely limiting the seating capacity, … [Read more...]

Bach’s Brandenburgs: Liberated by the Sebastians?

The world probably wouldn't be appreciably different had Bach's Brandenburg Concertos not been discovered sitting on some shelf, possibly unplayed and unexamined, a century or so after they were finished in 1721. J.S. Bach still would've been re-discovered. His works would be as venerated as they are now. But the Brandenburg Concertos are so singular in Bach's output, in the history of concertos or, for that matter, in western music that their impact on audiences was inevitable. But their influence on composers? Well, who else but J.S. Bach … [Read more...]

Boulez haunts the Philharmonic – with music from from his noisy youth

Pierre Boulez has been haunting the New York Philharmonic mercilessly. On Monday night at the fashionable Williamsburg, Brooklyn venue known as National Sawdust, the recently deceased composer was heard alongside the French contemporary he often hated, Olivier Messiaen, as well as younger somewhat-modernist composers such as George Benjamin and Oliver Knussen. Hosting was a Boulez champion, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. You wouldn't think that such an evening would be such fun. Oh, but it was. For the Philharmonic, Salonen is the … [Read more...]

David Amram at 85: Distilling his multiple personalities

He doesn't look much older than when he was 60. But he's showing his age in a way that true artists do. His 2014 piece, Greenwich Village Portraits, is one of his very best. David Amram has led multiple lives simultaneously. He's a jazz musician able to improvise an actual song on the spot, the master of many ethnic and folk musics who plays at Farm Aid concerts (and fits in), but most importantly, is a composer of classical concert music. Maybe I was too bewildered in past years to put it all together. Then I was asked to work on the … [Read more...]

Bach at the Armory – with gongs, noise-canceling headphones and deck chairs

Every concert should be as comfortable as this. Goldberg, a new performance art piece created by Marina Abramovic that involved a full performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations, was a marriage made in ... well, the drill hall of the Park Avenue Armory in New York. Abramovic was quoted as saying she would make audiences suffer for their Bach - a scary prospect: one of her pieces had her combing her hair until her head bled - but I'd love to hear any concert in these circumstances, with the pianist in the center and four large rectangular … [Read more...]

John Luther Adams makes the earth speak (while tourists cover their ears)

John Luther Adams often seems like an Alaska Impressionist - or so I've said in the past, perhaps misleadingly. The implication of that moniker implies pretty-sounding Arctic Debussy, something more descriptive than Sibelius and surely full of more bears than lions and tigers. In fact, Adams (who lived in Alaska for years) has an all-embracing attitude toward sound that could only have come in the wake of John Cage. His Strange and Sacred Noise, which I caught at a free lunchtime concert at Trinity Wall Street in New York, was performed with … [Read more...]

The Pope, the music and the evacuation

A pope without music is like a ship without a flag. It's part of the papal aura - but, unlike incense, it doesn't send your sinuses into spasms. At the Festival of Families Saturday night on Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the music at a gala concert in Pope Francis's honor was quite secondary - almost a footnote that was all-too-easily ignored, even with big-personality artists such as Jackie Evancho, Andrea Bocelli and the Philadelphia Orchestra onstage. Among the things you maybe didn't see in the televised version (including … [Read more...]

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