Monday, July 18, 2016

Lincoln Center Festival - Reich/Reverberations - Reich - 07/16/16

Reich: Drumming 
So Percussion 
Victor Caccesse: Percussions 
Evan Chapman: Percussions 
David Degge: Percussions 
Yumi Tamashiro: Percussions 
Jude Traxler: Percussions 
Beth Meyers: Soprano 
Daisy Press: Soprano 
Jessica Schmitz: Piccolo 

 For the last couple of weeks I had been looking forward to celebrating Bastille Day with a relaxing four-day weekend, but alas July 14 started with brutally high temperatures in New York and ended with brutally distressing news from France, which was more than enough to seriously dampen even the most unbreakable spirit and then some.
 So a little but powerful pick-me-up was in order, and I figured that a ticket to Drumming, the first concert of The Lincoln Center Festival's Reich/Reverberations series, on Saturday evening in the Alice Tully Hall might do the trick. Performed by the immensely talented and genuinely hip So Percussion ensemble accompanied by eight equally intrepid musicians and singers, the intriguing work from the early 1970s promised one hour and ten minutes of non-stop drumming, which sounded like the perfect remedy to keep my mind temporarily off the seemingly out-of-control madness of the real world while fully indulging in a unique musical adventure.

 As its title indicates, the entire piece was about drumming, and this the music artists on the stage did at a level I had rarely witnessed. Starting innocuously enough with two members of So Percussion on the bongo drums, the endlessly morphing musical web started becoming more complex and more fascinating as additional musicians joined in and out of the various instrument sections and all those intricate rhythms were slowly but surely casting an irresistible and powerful spell on the eager audience.
As the performance progressed the music focus imperceptibly moved forward within each section and from one section to another without ever missing a beat. From the drums' primitive assertiveness to the marimbas' tropical light-heartedness to the glockenspiels' crystalline chimes, with the human voices occasionally echoing the marimbas and the piccolo making sporadic appearances with the glockenspiels, all was hyper-concentrated energy, razor-sharp precision and detailed clarity.
This clever and attractive combination of Western, African and Balinese traditions played with impressive ease and unwavering dedication resulted in a timelessly organic, infectious and life-affirming celebration of the joys of multi-culturism. The grand finale, which eventually involved all twelve artists, steadily grew ever denser before coming to a sudden end in a remarkable display of flawless coordination.

The spontaneous standing ovation that followed was long and loud, and earned us an exciting encore during which all performers as well as an understandably beaming Steve Reich gleefully joined forces for a virtuosic and fun clapping number.
The concert was literally and figuratively a welcome breath of fresh air on that hot summer night, although most of us did not enjoy it as much as we could have as late-comers kept on streaming in and disturbing audience members during the performance, despite the ubiquitous "No late seating" warnings and the generous ten-minute grace period before the performance started. Seriously, what's the point of having a "No late seating" policy if you are not going to enforce it?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

MoMA's Summergarden - Francesconi, Crowley, Archbold & Sigurbjornsson - 07/10/16

The New Juilliard Ensemble
Conductor: Joel Sachs 
Lucas Francesconi: Da Capo II 
James Crowley: Circle in the Round 
Paul Archbold: Traces 
Hroomar Ingi Sigurbjornsson: Septet

 Despite the many live music offerings The Big Apple has in store each summer, I tend to stay away from outdoor performances essentially due to the unappealing combination of chatty audiences, pesky bugs, unpredictable weather, predictable works and, to a much lesser degree, amplified sound. But there are of course occasional exceptions to that not so hard-and-fast rule.
And the first concert of MoMA's ever-popular Summergarden series last Sunday was one of them as I was quickly pulled in by the perfect weather and an intriguing program of New York premieres coming from Italy, English, Iceland and…Milwaukee, WI, which, to make the proposition even more attractive, would be performed by some of the still young but already impressively seasoned members of The New Juilliard Ensemble under the familiar baton of Joel Sachs.
Therefore, after spending most of my Saturday morning inside MoMA fully enjoying the visual arts, on Sunday afternoon I sat on the sidewalk outside MoMA for almost an hour, and then on a chair inside the oh so cool sculpture garden for another hour, before being able to fully enjoy some of the finest musical art the city had to offer, which is actually saying something.

 After a couple of de rigueur short speeches, the concert briskly opened with Lucas Francesconi's Da Capo II (From the beginning II), which was performed for the first time outside of Europe for the occasion. Built as a "single giant arch", the bright piece progressed with plenty of determination and energy. Although each instrument actively contributed to the clever whole, the piano assertively stood out, as much through the actual part that had been written for it as through the virtuosic playing of Robert Fleitz.
From Italy we moved back to United States with the New York premiere of James Crowley's Circle in the Round, whose title was borrowed from a compilation record by Miles Davis, a worthy "musical hero" if there ever was one. Making full use of the six musicians on the stage, the composition turned out to be highly explorative and wildly inventive, constantly engaging in new paths and assuredly keeping the audience on its mesmerized toes, an audience that made sure to express its deep appreciation by giving the attending composer an enthusiastic ovation.
After a brief intermission, we became acquainted with Paul Archbold's Traces, which was coming straight from England and making its first appearance outside of Europe. Inspired by Debussy's notoriously challenging Étude No. 8 "Pour les agréments" (For ornaments), the delightful two-movement piece started with a long melody line that became a series of chords that blossomed into myriads of melodies, all beautifully rendered by the hard-working orchestra. The composer, who was sitting among us, seemed very pleased by the performance, and so were we.
We finished the concert with the most substantial work of the evening, Hroomar Ingi Sigurbjornsson's Septet. Heard for the first time outside Iceland on Sunday, the four movements dynamically unfolded with the kind of zest and vigor that spontaneously bring to mind eastern European music in general and Bela Bartok in particular. There were also a few opportunities for some musicians to shine in mini-solos, which they did brilliantly.
That was certainly an outdoor performance that I would not have wanted to miss. Even the couple of giant dragonflies insistently hovering over us, the police sirens and helicopters sounds reminding us of our urban environment, and the loud picnickers apparently unable to stop stuffing their faces did not manage to spoil this enchanted evening.