Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Lavish, Ambitiously Orchestrated Twinbill at Symphony Space Last Night

“How many of you have been to a classical concert before?” Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner asked the packed house at Symphony Space last night. From the response, it didn’t appear that many had. Which makes sense if you consider that the average age at the big Manhattan classical halls is 65. But what Wasner’s band were playing, bolstered by the Metropolis Ensemble and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, wasn’t the kind of classical you’d typically hear at those venues. It was a brand new kind of music: epic post-minimalist sweep matched to rock edge and attack.

Wasner spoke of being humbled in the presence of eighty other musicians of such a high caliber, but she has fearsome chops herself. She began the show on bass and proved herself more than competent, then moved to guitar and gave a clinic in shiny, emphatic, shimmery phrasing. Drummer Andy Stack pushed this mighty beast with a supple drive, shifting constantly between tricky meters. At one point, Wasner suddenly realized that her bass had gone out of tune, then didn’t miss a beat or a note, hitting her tuner pedal and then fixing everything even as the tempo and syncopation changed in a split second behind her. Tuning while playing is a rare art; it’s a whole other thing to tune and sing at the same time!

Throughout the show, whether singing her own material or William Brittelle’s restless new song cycle Spiritual America, there was considerable contrast between Wasner’s cool, concise, understated vocals and the orchestra’s leaps and bubbles. Guitarist Ben Cassorla added flaring cadenzas and carefully modulated sheets of sustain. frequently playing with an ebow. When Wasner was on bass, Metropolis Ensemble bassist Evan Runyon frequently teamed with her for a pulse that wasn’t thunderous, but close to it. Keyboardist Erika Dohi added warpy, new wave-flavored synth, wafting synthesized strings and on a couple of occasions during Brittelle’s suite, wryly blippy, EDM-tinged flutters.

In a context as orchestrated as this was, Wasner’s songs came across as very similar to Brittelle’s, Both songwriters’ lyrics are pensive, direct and don’t follow either a metric or rhyme scheme. Likewise, they both gravitate to simple, frequently circling phrases that went spiraling or bounding from one section of the ensemble to the next. Brittelle’s big crescendos tended to be more flamboyant, and more evocative of 70s art-rock like Genesis or Gentle Giant, with the occasional reference to coldly bacchanalian dancefloor electronics. Wasner’s tended to be more enigmitically reflective if no less kinetic, and more influenced by 80s new wave pop. Are both fans of Carl Nielsen’s playfully leapfrogging symphonic arrangements? It would seem so. 

The night’s coda, Wasner’s cynical I Know the Law, was a study in the utility of self-deception as well as its pitfalls. As with the rest of the material in the night’s second set, the chorus punctuated the music’s many splashes of color with steady, emphatic, massed polyrhythms and occasional moody ambience. Wasner joked that one of Brittelle’s more nostalgic numbers would be something that these kids would understand in about ten years, which could prove true. What they will remember is being on this stage with a hundred other musicians, and getting a huge standing ovation from an audience of their peers.

Metropolis Ensemble don’t have any upcoming New York concerts for awhile, but their violinist – and Mivos Quartet co-founder – Olivia DePrato is playing the album release show for her auspicious solo debut album, Streya, at 1 Rivington Street on March 13 at 7:30 PM. Tix are $20/$15 stud.

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February 17, 2018 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Darkly Intense New String Album and a Release Show from Edgy Composer Molly Joyce

As if we need more proof that Monday is the new Saturday night, on March 6 at 6:30 PM there’s an enticing indie classical performance on the Lower East Side. It’s free with a rsvp, and there’s a reception afterward. The main enticement is that violinist Kristin Lee, concertmaster of the Metropolis Ensemble will be playing the release show for composer Molly Joyce’s intense, acerbic ep Lean Back and ‘Release (streaming at Bandcamp). As a bonus, the composer will also premiere her new work for toy organ and electronics, ominously titled Form and Deform. The show is at the new gallery space that just opened at 1 Rivington St. just off Bowery. It’s about equidistant from the 2nd Ave. F stop and the J/M at Bowery.

There are just two tracks on this edgy little album, performed by violinists Adrianna Mateo and Monica Germino with unobtrusive electronic touches. The title cut, clocking in around seven minutes, is a stinging study in tension slowly unwinding. built around a rather haunting chromatic riff, descending from icy, airy heights to a nebulous swirl and an eventual, rewarding calm. Getting there isn’t easy: it’s hard to turn away from.

The other track follows a similarly dark but ultimately triumphant trajectory, a human-versus-machine tableau built on variations on an octave. All the more impressive considering that this is Joyce’s debut release. Fans of cutting-edge, intense string music would be crazy to miss this. What else are you doing after work on a Monday night, anyway?

February 26, 2017 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deviant Septet’s Boisterously Entertaining Debut

It’s an auspicious sign any time a good band sells out a room. In the case of new music ensemble Deviant Septet’s debut performance Thursday night at Greenwich House Music School in the West Village, a wired young audience found its perfect match onstage. The Deviants’ signature piece is Stravinsky’s L’histoire du Soldat; their raison d’etre is to play that piece and, hopefully, new commissions for unorthodox mini-chamber orchestra. Featuring members of Alarm Will Sound, the Knights and Metropolis Ensemble, Deviant Septet comprises Bill Kalinkos on clarinet; Brad Balliettt on bassoon; Courtney Orlando on violin; David Nelson on trombone; Doug Balliett on bass; Mike Gurfield on trumpet; and Shayna Dunkelman on drums and percussion.

The first half of the performance was the Stravinsky. It’s not one of his major works, but it is a lot of fun. It’s sort of Stravinsky for kids, in a good way: it’s very entertaining. The story, a surreal, wryly Russian update on the Faust myth, was energetically directed by Rafael Gallegos, with Sean Carvajal lending a deadpan, sardonic, hip-hop edge to the character of the soldier, bassist Balliett serving as Greek chorus of sorts, with bassoonist Balliett playing the role of the Devil and Dulce Jimenez subtly developing the role of the Princess from guileless to femme fatale. Interpolating the story within musical passages that pulsed along on the tireless good cheer of the bass (Doug Balliett got a real workout but held up his end mightily), the group shifted amiably from martial bounce, to plaintive austerity, to the bracing astringencies of the final theme where it seems that the composer decided to dig in and get serious. It was the most intense passage, it was worth the wait, and the ensemble took it out on a high note.

The second half of the program began with the world premiere of Dutch composer Ruben Naeff’s For the Deviants. Meant to illustrate another deal with the devil – in this case, concessions to the right wing made by the Rutte administration in Naeff’s home country – it came across as the kind of piece written more to appeal to those who play it than those who have to hear it. Based on one of those circular themes all the rage in new music circles, the ensembled opened together against a drone, then took turns individually sending out bits and pieces of permutations, one by one. Toward the end, there was a passage with some semi-contrapuntal vocalese. Trying to keep her blippy ba-ba’s together, Orlando couldn’t keep a straight face and backed off, a reaction that was as completely honest and appropriate as it could have been.

They amped up the fun factor with another world premiere, Stefan Freund’s The Devil Dances with Tom Sawyer, a mashup of the Stravinsky with the classic rock radio stinkbomb by Rush. That song offers endless possibilities for comedy: Freund chose the high road, rather doing anything with lyrics like “He gets high on you!” and “Catch the spit!” Taking both pieces out of context, the Stravinsky took a backseat to the satire, the group opening it with a deadpan Dixieland feel, trombone playing Geddy Lee’s silly bassline. What became obvious from the first minute or so is what a boring song it is: after giving it a spirited thrashing and having fun rearranging its most hobbity aspects, they let it go. The group finished with Frank Zappa’s Titties and Beer, a funk-metal update on the Stravinsky, sung with sardonicism and soul-drenched relish, respectively, by Matt Marks and Mellissa Hughes, Doug Balliett switching to electric bass to fatten the slinky low end. It was a good way to bring the arc of the concert up as high as it could go – and the crowd screamed for more.

May 30, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment