Thursday, December 1, 2011
Chronicle of October 2011
Restoration Rocks Festival. Mos Def, in collaboration with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, conducted by Alan Pierson. New York, NY. "Pierson has made an enviable name for himself over the last decade as the artistic director of Alarm Will Sound, a vital, omnivorous 20-member chamber ensemble formed in 2001 by graduate students at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. Working with Alarm Will Sound has earned Mr. Pierson a glowing reputation as an insightful, flexible leader in a vast range of modern music: from John Adams and Harrison Birtwistle to Edgard Varèse and Frank Zappa, with significant sidelong ventures into classic Beatles songs and complex electronica by Aphex Twin. Along the way Mr. Pierson picked up a second engagement as the principal conductor of the Crash Ensemble, a 14-year-old Irish contemporary-classical outfit. Those activities, along with a full schedule of freelance engagements, were more than enough to keep Mr. Pierson occupied. But with a performance on Saturday evening during the Restoration Rocks Music Festival in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, Mr. Pierson enters uncharted territory as the new artistic director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic. In the concert, one of two events designated by the orchestra as season previews, Mr. Pierson and members of the orchestra will collaborate with the prominent hip-hop artist Mos Def. More than a surprising detour in Mr. Pierson’s ascendant career path, the concert shows a spark of life for the Brooklyn Philharmonic, an august and hardy institution founded in 1857 and lately fallen on hard times. A groundbreaking ensemble internationally known for its provocative programming, it evaporated in recent years to a trickle of community-oriented chamber-music events. 'The choice to let that happen actually has been good for us,' Mr. Pierson said during a recent interview in his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. 'The institution had time to really wipe the slate clean and reconsider everything, and then come out again with something new, without the burden of attachment to something old,' a distinction that could help the orchestra avoid the kind of negative publicity that has greeted similar notions of reinvention afoot at the New York City Opera. The orchestra retains the benefits of its name and its legacy, he added, 'but we don’t have a thousand subscribers who were on a season last year, wanting to know why it’s something different this year.' What the Brooklyn Philharmonic does not have, at least for now, is a steady home to replace its longtime residence at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Instead, the ensemble intends to establish enduring bases throughout the borough. In addition to Bedford-Stuyvesant, it will be active in Brighton Beach, where it will present rare Soviet-era Russian cartoon music with its current full complement of 40 musicians in early November, and in downtown Brooklyn, where it will perform at Roulette next March. A peripatetic existence with uncertain returns might terrify most potential artistic directors. For Mr. Pierson, who will continue his associations with Alarm Will Sound and Crash Ensemble, it was an enticement. 'There were two things they had that piqued my interest,' he said of the initial discussions. 'One was the beginning of this really interesting sketch of making the Brooklyn Philharmonic Brooklyn’s orchestra.' Rather than going from neighborhood to neighborhood, hat in hand, the orchestra would insert itself into new communities in organic and meaningful ways, absorbing cultural lessons and cross-pollinating aesthetics and audiences. 'The second thing they had that was great was nothing else,' Mr. Pierson said. 'There was no ‘Here’s our six-concert subscription season, we can’t lose that,’ or ‘We have this great pops program that’s bringing in a lot of money, we don’t want to touch that.’ There was nothing set in stone.' The process of shrugging off the burdens of convention and expectation was under way before Mr. Pierson was hired . . . Pierson’s hand in the season ahead is evident in a number of eclectic programs with historical, cultural and literary ties to the borough. Canonical works by Copland and Bernstein and pieces by rising Brooklyn composers mingle with traditional shape-note singing, jazz and hip-hop, all of it integral to the orchestra’s work, rather than treated as fringe programming. Still, Mr. Pierson said, the chance to conduct mainstream classical repertory like Beethoven’s Third Symphony, which will be parceled out among several concerts, was an opportunity he relished" [Steve Smith, The New York Times, 9/30/11].
Death of Piero [Ernesto] Weiss (b. 1/26/28, Trieste, Italy), of complications of pneumonia, at 83. Baltimore, MD. "[He was] a former concert pianist and recording artist who turned to musicology, becoming an author and co-author of books in the field, including a widely used textbook, and founding the music history department at the Peabody Conservatory . . . . Coming of age in a generation of pianists that included Gary Graffman, Claude Frank, Jacob Lateiner, Leon Fleisher and Seymour Lipkin, all of whom were lifelong friends, Dr. Weiss performed in Europe and America from the age of 16 into his 30's and recorded works by Schubert, Schumann, Debussy, and Ravel. His broadcast performance of Mendelssohn’s First Piano Concerto from Lewisohn Stadium in Manhattan in 1958 was part of the first FM transmission in stereophonic sound. Mr. Graffman, in his memoir, I Really Should Be Practicing, wrote, 'Piero’s musicological knowledge was far greater than mine, and covered much more than just piano literature.' His scholarly bent eventually won out, leading him away from the concert stage and into an academic career. He enrolled at Columbia University, earning a B.A. in 1950 and a Ph.D. in musicology in 1970. Dr. Weiss was the author of four books, including, with Richard Taruskin, Music in the Western World: A History in Documents, an anthology of source readings that has been adopted as a college textbook throughout the United States and Canada. . . . Dr. Weiss taught at Columbia from 1964 to 1985, when he joined the faculty at the prestigious Peabody Conservatory, part of Johns Hopkins University, where he remained until his death. He also taught performance at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. [He] was born . . . into a Jewish Italian family well known in the worlds of business and the arts. His father, Ottocaro Weiss, was an insurance executive; his mother, the former Ortensia Schmitz, was a violinist and a niece of the novelist Italo Svevo. Mr. Weiss fled Fascist Italy with his family in 1938 and arrived in New York in 1940. As a young man, he studied piano with Isabella Vengerova and Rudolf Serkin, music theory and composition with Karl Weigl, and chamber music with Adolf Busch" [James R. Oestreich, The New York Times, 10/8/11].
Red Light New Music presents In a Landscape: Music as Map: works “influenced by physical environments, from the arctic to the urban to the volcanic.” New York, NY. "That description was revised in the program book to account for the fact that two, perhaps three, of the four works had nothing at all to do with locations. 'Tonight,' the introductory note read, 'we focus on two types of environments: the psychological and the physical.' In The Night Mare Christopher Cerrone uses an electronic drone and sudden mezzo-piano instrumental thwacks -- actually toneless string and woodwind attacks with no follow through -- to suggest the dark, eerie atmosphere of a dream gone wrong. With that as backdrop he builds gentle but anxiety-drenched themes from delicate, treble piano figures and fills out the texture with a blend of vibraphones and electronic timbres that together create the impression of a distant, wordless chorale. Mr. Cerrone’s scoring is skillful and economical, and he captures the spirit of a nightmare without diving into a sea of cinematic clichés. His piece was the program’s highlight. It was hard to know what to make of Chaya Czernowin’s Love Song. In her program note Ms. Czernowin writes that she wanted to capture the resonances, energy, intensity and loss of control that is part of falling in love. Like Mr. Cerrone, she rejects the predictable imagery: don’t look for the couple running toward each other in slow motion to the strains of Romantic string writing. What Ms. Czernowin offers here -- a brisk, fragmentary stream of pizzicatos, sliding figures, electronic sounds, breathy woodwind bursts -- is scarier than anything in Mr. Cerrone’s nightmare piece. That was the point, presumably, but the romance Ms. Czernowin describes is oddly joyless. The half of the program devoted to physical landscapes opened with The Light Within, a score by the Alaskan composer John Luther Adams. You might have expected this to be the promised arctic piece, but it was inspired by the artist James Turrell’s Meeting, one of his 'skyscape' installations, which Mr. Adams had seen at MoMA P.S.1 in Long Island City, Queens. Much the way Mr. Turrell’s work lets a viewer take in gradually changing characteristics of light over many hours, Mr. Adams’s piece presents what seems on the surface a single, unchanging, densely voiced chord. But this is Minimalism in its classic, hypnotic form: not much seems to happen on the surface, but within the chord, balances and colors shift slowly and inexorably. Whether light qualifies as a physical landscape may be open to debate. But Vincent Raikhel’s Cirques and Moraines, which closed the program, describes a glacier in Switzerland and was created, Mr. Raikhel writes 'through mapping the anatomical characteristics of glaciers onto a sound texture.' The result is a lot like Ms. Czernowin’s piece, but it has the benefit of an assertive solo cello line, played here with energy and a touch of poetry by John Popham. Ted Hearne conducted the ensemble in all four scores" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 10/7/11].
The Supreme Court hears argument over weather Congress acted constitutionally in 1994 by resoring copyright protection to foreign works that had once been in the public domain. Washington, DC. "The affected works included films by Alfred Hitchcock and Federico Fellini, books by C. S. Lewis and Virginia Woolf, symphonies by Prokofiev and Stravinsky, and paintings by Picasso. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. posed the general question in the case this way: “One day I can perform Shostakovich. Congress does something. The next day I can’t. Doesn’t that present a serious First Amendment problem?” Then the chief justice, a pioneer in the citation of popular music in legal discourse, asked the question slightly differently, invoking Hendrix, the great rock guitarist, to test the limits of the government’s position. 'What about Jimi Hendrix, right? He has a distinctive rendition of the national anthem, and assuming the national anthem is suddenly entitled to copyright protection that it wasn’t before, he can’t do that, right?' The solicitor general, Donald B. Verrilli Jr., making his debut in the post, said there were good reasons to allow Congress to restore copyright protection to works that had entered the public domain, even at some cost to free expression by performers and others. Responding to the chief justice’s hypothetical question, Mr. Verrilli said that 'maybe Jimi Hendrix could claim fair use.' The 1994 law applies, he said, to foreign works that had not been eligible for copyright protection before the United States joined and implemented an international convention. The terms of the newly copyrighted works, he added, expire on the same day they would have had they been copyrighted since their creation. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said there was nothing unusual in granting copyright protection to works that had once been in the public domain. In 1790, she said, Congress 'took a whole body of public works and gave them copyright protection the day they decided to pass the copyright law.' Anthony T. Falzone, representing the challengers to the law, disputed that as a historical matter saying that 'that was the first copyright act, and Congress established a baseline.; Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case, presumably because she worked on it as solicitor general. That raised the possibility of a 4-4 tie that would automatically affirm a decision of the federal appeals court in Denver, which had upheld the law. There is reason to think, Mr. Verrilli told the court, that American authors and artists will be treated better abroad because foreign authors and artists have received expanded copyright protection here. Mr. Falzone questioned that. Congress, he said, 'took speech rights of 250 million Americans and turned them into the private property of foreign authors, all on the bare possibility that might put more money in the pocket of some U.S. authors.' Near the end of his argument in the case, Golan v. Holder, No. 10-545, Mr. Falzone returned to the chief justice’s reference to performers like Hendrix. 'There can’t be any doubt, as I think Chief Justice Roberts got at, that the performance has a huge amount of original expression bound up in it,' Mr. Falzone said. 'It’s the reason it’s different to see King Lear at the Royal Shakespeare Company; it’s the reason it’s different when John Coltrane plays a jazz standard'" [Adam Liptak, The New York Times, 10/5/11].
Anthony Braxton Festival. Roulette, New York, NY. "Braxton, 66, has been a force in the American avant-garde since the 1960s, when he emerged in his native Chicago as a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Within the first decade of his arrival, he was being toasted in some circles as 'the new messiah, the new Charlie Parker-John Coltrane-Ornette Coleman,' as Whitney Balliett put it in The New Yorker. As a composer, conceptualist and saxophonist, Mr. Braxton exemplified the steep intellectualization of one wing of jazz’s avant-garde; his compositions often included notation in the form of pictographs and algebraic formulas, and he wrote pieces not only for jazz ensembles but also for classical orchestras (in one memorable instance, for four of them at once). One piece from 1971, Composition 19 (For 100 Tubas), finally had its premiere five years ago as a rumbling overture to that year’s Bang on a Can Marathon in Lower Manhattan. 'I wanted to have an experience like my role models,' Mr. Braxton said after the rehearsal, at a nearby pub. 'Karlheinz Stockhausen, Charlie Mingus, Iannis Xenakis, Sun Ra, Hildegard von Bingen. The people who were thinking large scale and small scale. I might not have been able to get the money to do what I would have liked to do. But you can still compose it and have the hope that maybe in the future it can be realized.' Mr. Braxton has often suggested that his sprawling output -- and the equally irreducible theoretical discourse surrounding it -- should be understood as a single body of work. To that end, his music has become a bit more accessible recently, thanks to a spate of archival releases. But that hasn’t made things easier for Mr. Braxton. 'This is a somewhat frustrating time cycle for me, in the sense that I rarely work anymore,' he said. 'My work has been marginalized as far as the jazz-business complex is concerned, or the contemporary-music complex.' Were it not for his tenured post at Wesleyan, where he has taught for more than 20 years, 'maybe I would be driving a taxicab or something,' he said. The Tri-Centric Foundation -- formed in 1994, and revived last year after a decade of inactivity -- has been another bulwark against that fate. It relies on the efforts of former Braxton protégés like Mr. Bynum, the vocalist Kyoko Kitamura and the multi-instrumentalist Matthew Welch, who will all participate in the festival" [Nate Chinen, The New York Times, 10/4/11].
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center performs trios by Maurice Ravel and Joaquin Turina. Rose Studio, New York, NY. "Turina experienced a eureka moment in 1907 while having a drink with his compatriots Isaac Albéniz and Manuel de Falla in Paris. He later wrote that during that evening he 'realized that music should be an art, and not a diversion for the frivolity of women and the dissipation of men.' Turina (along with Albéniz, de Falla and Enrique Granados) contributed a distinctive voice to Spanish concert music, often incorporating traditional folk songs and dances into works like his Trio No. 1 in D for piano, violin, and cello. It received a stellar performance [in this concer] . . . . The pianist Orion Weiss, the violinist Bella Hristova and the cellist Jakob Koranyi opened the program with an elegant and intense interpretation of the Turina work, which begins with a nostalgic exchange between violin and cello and later makes references to Spanish dances like the Muñeira from Galicia, the Jota from Aragon and the Soleares from Andalucia. All three musicians played with commitment, deftly illuminating the work’s impressionistic hues. . . . Sparks flew when [Koranyi] joined the violinist Jessica Lee and the pianist Inon Barnatan for a passionate rendition of Ravel’s sensuous [T]rio [in A Minor], influenced by the folk music of that composer’s Basque heritage. The playing was in turn soulful and fervid, with the last movement unfolding in a blaze of color" [Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times, 10/7/11].
Carnegie Hall’s 120th anniversary celebration, with Valery Gergiev and the Marinsky Orchestra. New York, NY. "Gergiev and the orchestra finished their weeklong stand in mostly fine style with three movements from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Shostakovich’s First Symphony and . . . Liadov’s Baba-Yaga" [James R. Oestreich, The New York Times, 10/13/11].
Daniel Bernard Roumain's Symphony for the Dance Floor. Harvey Theater, Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, NY. "Surrounded by booming electronic dance beats and a corps of hip-hop dancers, Mr. Roumain is game, likable and inoffensive to the core. He makes gestures toward aggression and sexuality, but they -- and this 75-minute work as a whole -- register more as harmless . . . . Symphony is the final installment in a trilogy of large-scale projects that the Brooklyn Academy has commissioned from Mr. Roumain. Part of the Next Wave Festival and directed by D. J. Mendel, it is the peppiest . . . of the three works . . . [including] One Loss Plus (2007) and . . . Darwin’s Meditation for the People of Lincoln (2008). Inspired by Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, the new work is 'a celebration of life,' Mr. Roumain writes in his program notes. Like One Loss Plus and Darwin’s Meditation, it has a form that is loosely episodic. There’s a moody opening solo; lively dance breaks in attitudes alternately exuberant and intense; a rap about a couple’s double suicide; a short black-and-white film; some allusions to the phallic properties of the violin; [and] a slide show of urban life . . . . As Donald Rumsfeld once put it, stuff happens. . . . Roumain’s interests are diverse, his taste for collaboration admirable" [Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times, 10/14/11].
The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra premieres Cynthia Wong's Memoriam. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "The conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has long demonstrated its mettle in Baroque and classical fare. More recently it has ventured into romantic and contemporary terrain, which is invariably harder to navigate without a conductor. In honor of its 40th anniversary next year Orpheus has commissioned four new pieces through its Project 440, in which 60 emerging composers were nominated and then whittled down to four via public feedback and panel reviews. . . . Wong dedicated the elegiac work to her father, who died of cancer in March, and more broadly to cancer victims and their caregivers. She was also inspired by Rilke and inserted lines from his poetry ('Even his downfall was for him only a pretext for achieving his final birth') in the score. Her piece, with sheer, oscillating textures that were elegantly conveyed, opened with a mournful introduction whose mood evolved into a more lively and humorous middle section. Darting wind fragments and fast, improvised passages over agitated strings eventually subsided into a quiet, yearning conclusion" [Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times, 10/16/11].
Fabio Luisi leads the Met Orchestra in John Harbison's Closer to My Own Life. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "Fabio Luisi has been under the opera world’s microscope since last season, when it became clear that the Metropolitan Opera, which had made him its principal guest conductor in 2010, was grooming him to succeed James Levine as its music director. The scrutiny intensified last month, when the latest in a series of injuries and health problems forced Mr. Levine to withdraw from his Met commitments, and the company removed the word 'guest' from Mr. Luisi’s title. Mr. Levine’s workload seems not to faze Mr. Luisi. . . . Levine has transformed this ensemble from a fine pit band into one of the world’s great symphony orchestras, and these concerts have become his nonoperatic signature performances in New York, rivaled only recently (and briefly) by his visits with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. For Mr. Luisi the challenge is to maintain the level Mr. Levine established, while moving his own interpretive personality into the spotlight. . . . Harbison’s style is a blend of neo-Romantic warmth and modernist angularity, and this work, with its retrospective text by Alice Munro (from The View From the Castle Rock) and its fitful string writing, sharply punctuating percussion and chromatic vocal writing, sounded like a sophisticated, slightly acidic update of Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915. Christine Rice, a mezzo-soprano, was the appealing soloist" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 11/17/11].
Death of Edgar M[arion] Villchur (b. 5/28/17, New York, NY), at 94. Woodstock, NY. "[He invented] a small loudspeaker that could produce deep, rich bass tones [which] opened the high-fidelity music market in the 1950s to millions of everyday listeners . . . . Audiophiles have hailed Mr. Villchur as a seminal figure in the field. In its 50th-anniversary issue in 2006, Hi-Fi News ranked him No. 1 among the 50 Most Important Audio Pioneers. John Atkinson, the editor of Stereophile magazine, credits him with bringing hi-fi into the home. 'Villchur’s development of what he called the acoustic suspension woofer made it possible for music lovers to buy loudspeakers that were domestically acceptable,' Mr. Atkinson said in a 2009 interview. 'A guy’s wife could accept their presence on the bookshelf in the living room.' Before Mr. Villchur’s invention of the AR-1 loudspeaker in 1954, producing high-fidelity bass tones required speakers large enough to generate the long wavelengths of the deep notes. Some speakers were as large as a refrigerator. In the cabinet, mounted toward the front, would be what hi-fi specialists call the drive unit: a cone-shaped device activated by a magnet and a coil of wire to produce the sound. In the early days of hi-fi, manufacturers were not fully aware of the relationship between the drive unit and the acoustic role played by the cabinet itself, and they sometimes left the rear of the cabinet open. Mr. Villchur realized that if the cabinet were completely sealed, the air trapped inside would act something like a spring that would control the cone’s vibrations, greatly enhancing the drive unit’s low-frequency performance. 'My measurements showed that my little prototype had better bass and less distortion than anything on the market, yet it was one-quarter the size,' Mr. Villchur said in an interview with Stereophile in 2005. 'I thought, 'This has got to be the future of loudspeakers.'' It was. By 1966, according to Stereo Review magazine, Mr. Villchur’s company, Acoustic Research, was the leader in the nation’s speaker market, with a share of just over 32 percent. One of Mr. Villchur’s breakthrough speakers was placed on permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in 1993. Mr. Villchur also made two other advances that greatly improved high-fidelity performance. He developed one of the first dome tweeters, a drive unit that produces high frequencies. Before the tweeter, high frequencies were emitted by the woofer, but with very poor sound quality. Instead of the cone, Mr. Villchur (and other innovators working independently of one another) devised small dome-shaped diaphragms that proved optimal for producing high frequencies. In the early days of the turntable, one of its biggest problems was an effect called rumble: vibrations from the motor and the turntable that were picked up by the needle. Mr. Villchur’s solution was to separate the motor from the turntable and connect the two with a rubber belt, significantly reducing the vibrations. Even though digital sound has largely replaced vinyl and turntables, Mr. Atkinson said, 'Edgar Villchur’s inventions have led to the application of scientific principles that are used in every loudspeaker now on the market.' Edgar Marion Villchur was . . . the only child of Mark and Mariam Villchur, who had immigrated from Russia. His father was editor of a Russian-language newspaper, his mother a biologist. . . . In his basement, [Edgar] Villchur began testing his notion of a sealed-cabinet loudspeaker. One day in spring 1954, speaking to his acoustics class at N.Y.U, he hinted at his idea. One student, Henry Kloss, stayed after class, eager to learn more. Soon, student and teacher were in Mr. Villchur’s 1938 Buick, headed to Woodstock. In Mr. Villchur’s basement workshop, they listened to the copious low-frequency tones on an LP recorded by the renowned organist E. Power Biggs. Mr. Kloss had a loft in Cambridge, Mass., where he was already building mail-order cabinets for Baruch-Lang speakers. It became the first headquarters for Acoustic Research. Mr. Kloss, who died in 2002, is credited with designing the production process for the AR-1 speaker and its successors, the AR-2 and the AR-3, which combined Mr. Villchur’s woofer and tweeter models. Among Mr. Villchur’s duties was promoting the products. In the early 1960s he sponsored “live versus recorded” concerts around the country, including one in a recital room at Carnegie Hall and another at Grand Central Terminal. At the concerts, a string quartet would play a piece of music, then mime it as parts of a recording by the same quartet played through a pair of AR-3 speakers. The listeners were rarely able to detect the switchovers. Mr. Villchur was president of Acoustic Research until 1967. After being bought by a series of manufacturers, the company went out of business in 2004. Its brand name was bought by the Audiovox Corporation" [Dennis Hevesi, The New York Times, 10/18/11].
The Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Charles Dutoit, in Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "[A] somber, at times ferociously angry work, composed shortly after Stalin’s death yet clearly still under the shadow of his tyranny. The Philadelphia strings captured the slow movements’ dark hues, as well as the unbridled power and sense of the tragic that bursts forth from the fast second movement. The solo playing by the orchestra’s principals was particularly striking here, yet in the end it was the electricity generated by the full ensemble that made this interpretation so vivid" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 10/26/11].
Amon Tobinin, in one of a set of cubes onstage, performs Isam. Brooklyn Masonic Temple, New York, NY. Repeated October 29, Moogfes, Asheville (NC). "The cube was centrally attached to other cubes, and they were all stacked in a geometrical pattern across the stage. Fast-moving abstract images aligned to the music were projected upon them, both individually and as an entirety, an uneven canvas. . . . Most of the time you couldn’t see Mr. Tobin as he worked in his encasement. But every once in a while a small light turned on inside the cube and there he was, administering his machines, nodding his head, with beard and baseball cap, the man inside the fractal. When Mr. Tobin -- born in Brazil, raised in Britain, now residing in California -- started out in the mid-’90s, he was methodical and obsessive with post-techno electronic rhythm. He went in hard for subdivided, mechanized breakbeats and clear, spacious samples of jazz pianists and bassists from old records; he was informed by the English drum-and-bass movement and for a while kept an indirect relation to it. Since then he’s gradually moved away from the particulars of that music, even down to the sources of each tone. He creates his own sounds now, most of them originating from objects that aren’t instruments. He then manipulates them digitally, often with the help of a Continuum Fingerboard, an electronic instrument that allows you to alter a sound’s pitch or timbre or amplitude. Isam, his new record on Ninja Tune and the basis for the multimedia shows on his current tour, goes further in that direction, and further away from dance music per se. It’s slow and cinematic, full of diving low frequencies and noises that are recognizably human made but seriously altered. (Some of its creaking noises come from a microphone put up to a creaky chair in his studio.) Likewise, machines are anthropomorphized: sounds suggesting machines coming to life or walking or chattering. . . . One of the projected images was a science-fiction space station, but many of the rest were abstractions and patterns, some having to do with machines, pre and post digital age. . . . There were big musical themes in here: sometimes the layers of sonic texture made room for a short, huge and simple melodic motif" [Ben Ratliff, The New York Times, 10/27/11].
Kurt Masur conducts the New York Philharmonic in Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 13 ("Baba Yar"). Avery Fisher Hall, New York, NY. Repeated 10/29. "The symphony is an odd, unsettling work, built on poetry by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and hardly the kind of score conductors typically make into a signature piece. Its first movement, a setting of the searing poem from which the symphony takes its name, begins as a monument to the estimated 34,000 Ukrainian Jews massacred by the Nazis at Babi Yar, a ravine near Kiev, in September 1941, but goes on to condemn anti-Semitism in all times and places, not least among the poet’s fellow Russians. The remaining movements, Humor, In the Stores, Fears, and A Career, are caustic critiques of Soviet society (or, more specifically, the toll of totalitarian control on the Russian spirit). Shostakovich’s music alternates between the ethereal and the deliberately crude, with long stretches of clouded, bass-heavy rumbling with light, tactile percussion offset by macabre, full orchestra passages in the sardonic accent that Shostakovich perfected decades earlier. Mr. Masur managed its transitions deftly and drew a performance of sharply focused intensity from the Philharmonic’s strings and woodwinds, with vivid contributions from its brasses in the more extroverted sections. The vocal line, on the surface, can seem more declamatory than melodic, but its shaping is subtle, and [Sergei] Leiferkus, who was in fine voice, has mastered its nuances. After a tepid start the Men of the New York Choral Artists projected the texts robustly as well" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 10/28/11].
Martin Helmchen perform's Arnold Schoenberg's Six Little Piano Pieces. Frick Collection, New York, NY. "Helmchen offered characterful readings of these concise, spare morsels, which reflect the composer’s shift toward the 12-tone system and reveal his distaste for the harmonic language and emotional gestures of the Romantic period" [Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times, 11/2/11].