Immersed in Merce Cunningham
A defining innovator of contemporary dance, Merce Cunningham was born a century ago this year. Along with his partner in life and art, composer John Cage, and their friend and accomplice, painter Jasper Johns, Cunningham helped create an aesthetic that dominated artistic expression in the 1950s and 1960s. The everyday was celebrated: Silence could be music, an American flag could be a painting, and the chaos of a city sidewalk could be a dance. Cunningham’s choreography discarded narrative, emotional suggestion and even coordination with music, focusing instead on the physical form and movement of his dancers. He democratized his art by eliminating any notion of a focal point—the dance was happening everywhere. “The dancers are not pretending to be other than themselves,” he once said. “They are, rather than being someone, doing something.” A Merce Cunningham Dance Company production could be a bustle of activity, with no center and no star. Yet many of Cunningham’s dancers have gone on to create major work of their own. To honor his ongoing legacy, his centennial will be marked with events around the world and in the city he called home. Here are some of the highlights.
11 classical Christmas music concerts to see in NYC
New York City’s churches and concert halls have plenty of beloved year-end performances, some of them even spilling out into the streets. This year marks the Chamber Music Society’s 25th annual playing of the Brandenburg Concertos (Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, Upper East Side; chambermusicsociety.org. December 14 at 7:30pm, December 16 at 5pm, December 18 at 7:30pm; $45–$92). It’s also the 27th anniversary of the boom-box parade Unsilent Night, which marches from Washington Square Park to Tompkins Square Park (unsilentnight.com. December 16 at 5:45pm; free). We’ve gathered some additional off-the-beaten-path holiday concerts to give your season a different sort of sparkle. RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of concerts in NYC
Your Guide to Classical Music This Fall in NYC
Baryshnikov Arts Center Baryshnikov Arts Center (bacnyc.org) is one of midtown’s best-kept secrets, with two beautiful theaters and smaller studios that host recitals. Founded in 2005 by dance legend Mikhail Baryshnikov, BAC seeks to bring all the performing arts under one roof. The center’s fall music season is only four dates but still makes for a wonderful musical offering: It opens with a salon concert featuring the Tesla Quartet playing Debussy’s breathtaking String Quartet and soprano Alexandra Smither singing Luciano Berio’s magnificently challenging Sequenza III (Sept 19, $25). Also look for: yMusic presents the New York premiere of a chamber work by the National’s Bryce Dessner (Oct 15, $25); and Framing Time sets Morton Feldman’s translucent Triadic Memories (played here by pianist Pedja Muzijevic) with dance and lighting design (Nov 1–2, $25–30). Photograph: San Francisco Symphony/Courtesy Jennifer Taylor Carnegie Hall The fall season at Carnegie Hall (carnegiehall.org) features a few programs devoted to the great men of yesterday and one great woman of today: The esteemed conductor Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony in an all-Stravinsky program that includes the venerable Rite of Spring (Oct 4, $19–$126), while the Bang on a Can All-Stars take over the grand old hall with Julia Wolfe’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Anthracite Fields (Dec 1, $45–$65). Buy tickets. Also look for: The period instrument ensemble Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique p
See a concert inside Green-Wood Cemetery’s hidden catacombs
Twenty years older than Central Park and 30 years older than nearby Prospect Park, Green-Wood Cemetery once provided a peaceful respite for busy, still breathing New Yorkers (yes, back in the day normal people hung out in cemeteries). These days, we’re less at ease walking among the dead, but Andrew Ousley, curator of The Angel’s Share, a new classical concert series in the cemetery’s catacombs, is looking to bring people back to the graveyard. As something of an expert in “underground” classical music, Ousley’s Unison Media company also curates The Crypt Sessions in the depths of Harlem’s Church of the Intercession. “The atmosphere is definitely intense and charged, but not creepy in a 1950s horror-schlock way. I think it serves as a powerful reminder of our mortality as well as the importance of appreciating the beauty of life’s shared moments,” says Ousley. “I choose artists and ensembles who intuitively understand the kind of focused, transcendent musical experience we’re trying to create.” In June, the first concert—a production of the new opera The Rose Elf—attracted a sold-out crowd, including many classical-music newbies drawn in by the usually closed-to-the-public setting. (A tour of the grounds and the pre-show whiskey tasting didn’t hurt.) There’s still plenty more to come, though. Here’s our guide to the rest of this season’s concerts, which continue through October. Photograph: Courtesy Kevin Condon August 6, 7 The Sacred and the ProfaneHarp virtuoso Bridget Kibb
Best acts to see at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival
Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival maintains its tradition of eclectic programming of works from Wolfgang’s time to our own, with performances ranging from accordion to opera—and a free Schubertian throwdown for extra measure. Like its accompanying fests—Lincoln Center Festial and Lincoln Center Out of Doors—the festival gets going at the end of July but really heats up in August (along with a lot of the other best concerts of August). Here's the shows you won’t want to miss. RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the Mostly Mozart Festival in NYC
Who to see at the Red Bull Music Festival 2018
With its sixth installment starting May 3, 2018, the Red Bull Music Festival has fast become one of the broadest and most eclectic festivals in the city, despite being less than 20 events over three weeks. A show of Rammellzee’s graffiti and visual work and a radical feminist anti-prom hosted by Bronx-based skate crew Brujas bookend this year’s edition, which includes on-stage conversations with Robyn, Harry Belafonte and Hype Williams. We’ve picked the most promising events from the fest's 2018 lineup. Red Bull Music Festival runs May 3–25 (nyc.redbullmusicfestival.com).
The best classical and opera concerts in NYC
New York's classical circuit is—no joke—one of the most artistically diverse local scenes going. On a given weekend in town, you can check out grand European opera hits, edgy contemporary pieces, and one-off collaborations between electronic artists, indie darlings and recent conservatory grads. In addition to festivals like The New York Philharmonic Biennial, we have venues for every occasion, from the opulent Carnegie Hall to underground hot spot Le Poisson Rouge. And there are good deals to be had too, when you consider the free concerts, student-rush deals and the come-as-you-are ethos of several venues located downtown (and in Brooklyn). Here's where to find classical performances this week. RECOMMENDED: See our guide to concerts in NYC
Listings and reviews (3)
It’s All True
Take 1,500 hours of live recordings by punk heroes Fugazi, extract everything but the songs, mash it together into a loud, paranoiac lump and you’ve pretty much got It’s All True, an electrified assault on the senses. Afull-tilt electric-guitar quartet supplies the layered riffing, while the extreme Brooklyn musical-theater troupe Object Collection delivers lines as if they were boxers in training, making a hilarious dystopia out of guitar tuning and stage banter. If the term rock opera hadn’t been co-opted decades ago, it’d be a perfect fit.
Kahil El’Zabar and Ethnic Heritage Ensemble
The master percussionist Kahil El’Zabar may be one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets. His driving compositions—simple themes that gain complexity through repetition and improvisation—have been recorded with such saxophone stars as David Murray, Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp; his deft drumming has earned him gigs with Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon, to name a couple. But his best efforts are often his homegrown ensembles. El’Zabar celebrates the 45th anniversary of one of these groups, Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, with a tour that includes an appearance at an appropriately under-the-radar spot: the 75 Club at the Bogardus Mansion, a speakeasy-like Tribeca lounge that opened in October. While the trio undergoes various lineups, it’s always built around an unusual configuration of drums and two horns. El’Zabar’s vocal chants set trance-inducing patterns for the resonant rhythms of his large African hand drums and exploratory brass improvisations. The current version features Corey Wilkes on trumpet and Alex Harding on baritone sax, plus the leader’s voice, drums—and whatever other instruments he can shake, rattle or strap onto his ankles.
Art Ensemble of Chicago
The Art Ensemble of Chicago may be the most successful enterprise avant-garde jazz has ever known. A world-touring quintet with support staff and busloads of gear, they recorded for major labels while running their own imprint during their heyday of the 1970s and ’80s. Formed as the Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble in 1966, the group developed a sound integrating free improvisation with tightly rehearsed themes drawing from the history of African-American music. They eventually scattered, with trumpeter Lester Bowie and saxophonist Joseph Jarman settling in Brooklyn, but remained a vibrant force into the ’90s. Only two of the original members (Mitchell and percussionist Famoudou Don Moye) are active today; Bowie and bassist Malachi Favors have both passed away and failing health has kept Jarman from the stage since 2011. Appearances as the Art Ensemble are scarce, but this fall the group brings its still-vital music to London, Philadelphia and New York City. At the Lenfest Center in Harlem, the band will be rounded out by trumpeter Hugh Ragin, cellist Tomeka Reid and bassist Junius Paul. The night serves as a tribute to Jarman, who joins the band to read his Buddhist-inspired poetry.
The whisper opera is the latest immersive music experience to hit NYC
As the staged work visits NYU’s Skirball Center, we explain what to expect from the whisper opera. What’s this thing about anyway?David Lang’s the whisper opera is just what it sounds like: an opera where the performers whisper instead of sing. They will strain to be heard over the International Contemporary Ensemble’s two flutes, two clarinets, two cellos and a piano, which will be onstage with the singers—as will a small audience of about 30 lucky listeners. Erm, will I be able to hear if they’re whispering?You probably won’t catch everything, but that’s kind of the point. Lang created the libretto using predictive text from internet searches (e.g., “When I am alone, I always…”). The whispered phrases will hover and dissipate, only to be replaced by variations on the theme. The audience is small because they’re whispering, I get that. But why do they need a big room like NYU’s Skirball Center?Without giving too much away, let’s just say that while they won’t use the entire building’s footprint, the vertical space is still very much up for grabs. So why do I want to go hear a whispered opera, anyway?You might not, but you’ll be in rare company: Except for a single staging at the 2013 Mostly Mozart Festival for an audience of about 30, these 13 performances will be the only times the piece has been heard in New York. Lang is one of contemporary classical music’s busiest, most creative minds and director Jim Findlay, who just wrapped a new stage adaptation of synthesizer pione
How a chance encounter brought Bill Murray to Carnegie Hall
As far as stories go, the beginning of this one isn’t particularly remarkable: Cellist Jan Vogler and comedy legend Bill Murray first met when they struck up a conversation on a trans-Atlantic flight. Eventually the friendship developed into an unexpected musical partnership and an album, New Worlds, released in August. Combining music by Van Morrison, Henry Mancini, Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin with Murray’s affecting, assured readings of text by Hemingway and Twain, it’s a surprisingly cohesive journey through a broad range of Americana. The pair delve into the material again, with Vogler’s piano trio, at Carnegie Hall on Monday, October 16. Time Out New York caught up with the German-born, NYC-based cellist to ask him about the unlikely pairing. How did you and Bill go from that chance first meeting to a musical partnership?It’s really very rare in life that something is completely born out of friendship. We’re in very different fields but we liked hanging out together. After two years, Bill invited me to a Poetry Walk [an annual event hosted by Poets House] and at the gala after, he recited a poem by Walt Whitman. That was so fantastic, and I started thinking maybe we could do something together. “Classical music shouldn’t be an elite little world.” Bill is both reciting and singing on the album. I think it’s fair to say, though, that he’s not conventionally thought of as a great singer.The singing is the important link. I think he’s a great storyteller and he h
These are the acts not to miss at the Bang on a Can Marathon 2017
On Mother’s Day in 1987, composers Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe hosted their first daylong music concert, and the annual Bang on a Can Marathon was born. Since then, the trio has built its collective into one of the city’s preeminent institutions for new and adventurous music. Now a nonprofit organization, Bang on a Can boasts a house band (the Bang on a Can All-Stars), a summer intensive and commissioning fund for young composers, and year-round programming. After losing its longtime home at the World Financial Center Winter Garden last year and skipping the 2016 edition, the marathon moves across the river on Saturday, May 6, to Brooklyn Museum to host its strongest schedule in years. Here are our highlights. 2pm Bang on a Can cofounder Wolfe has been on a remarkable run of large-scale works since 2011’s Cruel Sister, enough to earn her a MacArthur “genius” award last year and a Pulitzer Prize in 2015. The All-Stars perform her wonderfully engaging Steel Hammer, which is based on the American John Henry folk tale. 4pmJoan La Barbara is a living link to the informal artist group New York School, having worked with Morton Feldman and John Cage in their lifetimes. Still active as a composer and performer, she’s a vocalist capable of challenging as well as lulling the ear. The Young People’s Chorus of New York City performs her A Murmuration for Chibok, a piece she wrote for the 250 Nigerian school girls abducted by Boko Haram in 2014. 6pm The Oberlin Contemporar
New York Opera Fest brings inventive music to bars, gardens and garages in NYC
NYC's opera scene is at its most open and inviting in decades, and nobody seems as anxious to tear down the imaginary walls keeping novices out of the halls as the New York Opera Festival. Now in its second year, the fest isn’t even stopping at the halls, as it brings productions to playgrounds and bars, a neighborhood garden and a converted garage. Through June 23, 20 companies in will stage 28 different productions throughout the city, and usually on the cheap. There will nearly be a soprano in distress on every street corner. Here are the shows not to miss. Flash OperasThe composer collective Experiments in Opera put on some wildly innovative new works over the past several years. This weekend it offers a half-dozen new operas, none more than 15 minutes long. Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway. May 5 at 8pm; $25. L’Elisir d’AmoreGaetano Donizetti’s 1832 comic romance sees two productions during the fest: first, a full staging by Regina Opera Company in May, and in June, an immersive outdoor rendition in which elementary school kids are guided through the writing, designing, costuming and performance of the work. Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 5902 Sixth Ave, Brooklyn. May 10 at 11am; free preview. May 13, 14, 20, 21 at 3pm; $26. · P.S. 129 playground, 425 W 130th St. June 15 at 11am; free. Fireworks and Lady Bird Hunter Opera Theater presents a double bill of premieres: Kitty Brazelton’s speculative work about aliens landing on the Fourth of July and Henry Mollicone’s telling
Opera spotlight: Two of NYC’s most exciting composers debut new works this week
Paola Prestini, Aging Magician As the executive and creative director of National Sawdust, Paola Prestini is a name to know in New York new music, as she works to secure a home for innovative composition and performance in Williamsburg. A composer herself, Prestini gave a preview performance of her opera Aging Magician at NYC’s Prototype Festival in 2013. And after some out-of-town stagings, the multimedia work makes its Off Broadway debut on Friday 3 for a run of nine performances. Starring and cocreated by the vibrant Rinde Eckert—a powerful vocalist and actor as well as a sharp writer—it tells the story of an aging clockmaker lost in memories of his Brooklyn youth, with the acclaimed Brooklyn Youth Chorus, fittingly, serving as group narrator and commentator. Celebrated director Julian Crouch (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Addams Family) helms the production and crafts the stage design, which incorporates gruesome puppetry, projections and ramshackle musical instruments of pipe and wire built by guitarist Mark Stewart of eclectic chamber ensemble Bang on a Can All-Stars. New Victory Theater, 209 W 42nd St (646-223-3010, newvictory.org). Friday, March 3 at 7pm; Saturday, March 4 at 2, 7pm; Sunday, March 5 at noon, 5pm. $16–$38. Through March 12. Kate Soper, Here Be Sirens On the heels of the premiere of her second major work, Ipsa Dixit (which ran February 3 and 4 at Dixon Place), contemporary-classical force Kate Soper presents a new suite version of her stunning first o
Look inside the Park Avenue Armory's new “Goldberg” Variations
Our classical editor answers some hard-hitting questions about the new staging of the “Goldberg” Variations at the Park Avenue Armory. So what's happening at the Armory?Pianist Igor Levit and artist Marina Abramovic are hosting a series of performances of Bach's “Goldberg” Variations. Levit performs the music, while Abramovic orchestrates the presentation inside the Armory's massive open space. It's a classical-music concert, mainly, but one with a conceptual spin. I’ve heard of Bach, but who is this Goldberg?Johann Gottlieb Goldberg was the house musician of Saxony’s 16th-century Count Kaiserling, who suffered from insomnia. According to legend, Bach was commissioned to write music for Goldberg to play to help lull the nobleman to sleep. For a number of reasons, however, most Bach scholars now believe the story to be inaccurate. For one, it’s unlikely the young Goldberg (14 at the time) would have been able to play the roughly hour-long set of 32 complex pieces. Pianist Igor Levit, who just released an excellent three-CD version of the “Goldberg” Variations, along with sets by Beethoven and Frederic Rzewski, will have no such issues. Wait, am I going to fall asleep during this?You might. Bach was a master of the Baroque, which in a nutshell, was more concerned with representing the complexity of God’s creation than expressing personal emotion. Some people find the deeply embedded logic of Bach’s music relaxing, while to others, it’s as invigorating as a game of speed chess.