Among the many important works inspired by the 9/11 disaster, Robert Moran’s Trinity Requiem – recently released on Innova – is one of the most gripping. It’s a Christian mass performed by the Trinity Youth Chorus, augmented in the lower registers by members of the Trinity Choir, conducted by Robert Ridgell. Which is a choice of performers as fitting as it is musically successful; New York’s Trinity Church was the house of worship closest to Ground Zero, its organ destroyed by the avalanche of soot and debris from a couple of blocks away. Here the choir performs with Alexander Hermann at the organ, Jennifer Hoult on harp, and a cello section of Aminda Asher, Veronica Parrales, Sara Wolfe, and Miho Zaitsu. Most of this is very quiet as befits an atmosphere where grief has depleted most all energy, although not all the music is dark: Moran allows some hope for a possible future, particularly on the warm if plaintive theme in the final movement, In Paradisum. The melodies move slowly, gently, often very poignantly: the arrangements themselves change much more than the actual tunes, in the style of Rennaisance choral music but with more of a willingness to embrace the unresolved, a style perfectly capsulized in the Introit, which begins with the suite’s one big organ swell and ends unsettled and somewhat menacing. Somewhat similarly, the spacious, echoey Kyrie gingerly moves away from and then back to a central tone. A calming hymn, a gentle processional that gives way to a baroque waltz (with vivid echoes of the Pachelbel Canon), a distant, somewhat minimalist funeral march and eventually a turn into quiet, otherworldly, mutedly soaring upper-register ambience mark the passage from stunned disbelief to sheer anguish to a slow determination to begin anew. To call it methodical wouldn’t be accurate – coping with death is never like that – but it’s a potently perceptive portrayal of how many of those who survived the disaster, or lost loved ones in it, would respond. When approached to write this, Moran was initially dismayed by the idea of writing a requiem sung mostly by children, but it’s a good thing he didn’t back away from it. This achievement makes a powerful, considerably quieter counterpart to Melora Creager’s angry, betrayed 9/11 suite, and Robert Sirota’s haunting, nightmarish Triptych.
There are three other works on this album, and they make good segues. Seven Sounds Unseen, a John Cage homage performed by choral ensemble Musica Sacra, is considerably more lively but similarly full of intriguingly subtle tonal and timbral shifts, particularly the low, solitary drone that emerges toward the end of the first movement to counterbalance the highs as they reach for a hypnotically celebratory feel. The second is a long, hypnotic round with a surprise interruption, the third a mutedly triumphant outro.
Notturno in Weiss, a subtly apprehensive, slow fugue between the voices of The Esoterics and harpists Alexis Odell and Melissa Walsh is a setting of a Christian Morgenstern poem which contrasts the whiteness of a lily and a tombstone, each keeping its own vigil. The final track is titled Requiem for a Requiem, a seamless Moran “greatest hits” medley assembled by soundsculptor Phillip Blackburn including an excerpt from a more vigorous work as well as long passages that play up the harp versus the choir’s atmospherics.
Pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album was #495:
Robert Sirota – Triptych – The Chiara String Quartet
Arguably the most powerful, intense musical response to the horror of 9/11, composer Sirota’s anguished, horror-stricken suite for string quartet draws on artist Deborah Patterson’s triptych depicting the detonation of one of the towers, the death of NYFD chaplain Mychal Judge and the sky over the smoking hole at Ground Zero. The Chiaras premiered this at New York’s Trinity Church, barely two blocks away, in October, 2002. The frenzied horror of the first movement attempts to replicate sirens, a devil’s choir of car alarms and the chaos following the crash of the planes; the second is a grief-stricken lament; the third reaches for some sort of peace or closure. The only audio for this that seems to be on the web seems to be at cdbaby, where the album is still available, but terrific performances of this piece by the American String Quartet have made it to youtube in three segments, here, here, and here.
One can only imagine the emotional challenge the Chiara String Quartet faced when they premiered Robert Sirota’s 9/11-themed Triptych on September 26, 2002 at New York’s Trinity Church. Sirota was in New York on 9/11, and the Quartet also belong to this city: to evoke such themes as this piece explores must have been nothing short of overwhelming, notwithstanding the year that passed between the tragedy and the premiere. As an evocation of terror and dread, the Triptych ranks with any other work in the classical or avant garde repertoire, including any of the Shostakovich symphonies or string quartets. Again at Trinity Church last night, the Quartet revisited the premiere with a riveting performance of that piece along with another 9/11 requiem of sorts, Richard Danielpour’s String Quartet No. 6, “Addio,” from 2009.
Both works combine narrative and more abstract themes, Danielpour’s being the more melodically accessible. The crash of the planes is alluded to, but the frantic activity in the wake of the impact gives way to a vividly cinematic chase scene of sorts, desperate footfalls across the bridges leading out of Manhattan, perhaps? It was a showcase for the entire quartet and particularly violist Jonah Sirota, whose biting, often fierce pizzicato lit up a surprisingly rock-influenced second movement, alongside cellist Gregory Beaver’s funereal, sometimes aghast, wounded inflections that made a stark contrast with violinists Rebecca Fischer and Julie Yoon’s eerily shimmering, often stratospherically high atmospherics. Several warm, gently contemplative passages gave way to foreboding and fear and eventually terror. As with Sirota’s piece, it closed with a quietly pleading ambience, reaching for solace but fully aware that for those who have lost loved ones, very often there is no consolation: the pain may recede, but it’s always there, always a millisecond away from returning with a paralyzing intensity.
Behind the Quartet, artist Deborah Patterson’s gray-tinted Triptych – which Sirota meant to interpret with this piece – stood in chilling relief against the back of the church. The first panel depicts one of the towers through a plume of smoke; the second, NYFD chaplain Mychal Judge – one of the first victims of the disaster – being attended to by members of his department; and the third sort of a black-and-white Turner painting, light beaming down eerily on the smoking hole at Ground Zero. Sirota unforgettably depicts all that via frenzied tritones, an evocation of a hellish choir of car alarms, several sirens and their doppler effects, and a bit later, a handful of trucks making their way through a silent desolation. That stricken stillness packed a quiet wallop in contrast to the incessant, rapidfire attack of jarring atonalities that prededed it. This is a cruelly difficult piece to play, but the Quartet rose to the challenge, all hands on deck, with a visceral intensity.
Sirota’s second movement offers brooding, morose, absolutely depleted ambience followed by more anxiously shifting, interwoven segments that were delivered delicately, receded and eventually rose to the most grief-stricken point of the night. As with Danielpour’s piece, Sirota’s concludes on a quietly anguished, prayerful note. As if on cue, the second the piece was over, a siren began to wail outside the church, making its way up Greenwich Street. Perhaps as stunned by this strange stroke of fate as by the music, the audience waited until the sound began to fade before breaking out into applause. Was this the best concert of 2011? Possibly: without a doubt, it was the most intense.
Of all our year-end best-of lists (the 100 Best Songs of 2009 and 50 Best Albums of 2009 included), this is our favorite, because it’s the most individual (everybody has a different list) and it’s closest to our raison d’etre, live music in New York. Last year’s was difficult enough to narrow down to twenty; this year’s is criminally short. We could have put up a top 100 concerts list and it would be five times as good.
This was the year of the Beast – Small Beast at the Delancey, New York’s most exciting weekly rock event. We caught onto this slowly – the concert series ran for about a month before we discovered it – but when we did we were there almost every week. Occasionally someone will ask, since you have a music blog, why don’t you start booking shows? With Small Beast, there’s no need: it’s your weekly chance to discover the edgiest, smartest rock-ish talent from Gotham and across the globe. You’ll see a lot of those shows on this list.
Yet 2009 was a weird year for us – running a New York live music blog and not being in town much of the time made it problematic, to say the least. Week after week, we watched from a distance, enviously as half the city got to see stuff we never did. In August, the Brooklyn What did a killer triple bill with Palmyra Delran’s garage band and amazing latin ska-punk-gypsy rockers Escarioka at Trash Bar, but we weren’t there. The second night of the Gypsy Tabor Festival just a few weeks later looked like a great time, but we missed that one too. As the year winds down and we finally (hopefully!) start to reap the rewards of a whole lot of hard work, it appears, pending some absolutely transcendent show exploding onto the radar, that this is it for our Best Shows of 09 list. Needless to say, we can’t wait for 2010.
Since any attempt to rank these shows in any kind of order would be an exercise in futility, we just listed them as they happened:
The Brooklyn What at Fat Baby, 1/15/09 – since we’d just reviewed a couple of their shows in the fall of 08, we didn’t even review this one, fearing overkill. But on what was the coldest night of the winter up to that point, they packed the club and burned through a characteristically fun, ferocious set, maybe fueled by the knowledge that one of their idols, Ron Asheton, had left us.
Kerry Kennedy at Rose Bar, 1/21/09 – the noir chanteuse was at the absolute top of her game as quietly resilient siren and southwestern gothic bandleader.
Paul Wallfisch and Larkin Grimm at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/9/09 – the Botanica frontman (who books Small Beast) turned in a typically fiery set, followed by the avant-chanteuse who battled and finally lashed out at a crowd of clueless yuppie puppies who just didn’t get what the show was all about.
Kotorino at Pete’s Candy Store, 4/13/09 – the quietly multistylistic, gypsyish band filled the place on a Monday night and kept the crowd riveted as they all switched instruments, beats and genres over and over.
The New Collisions at Arlene’s, 4/23/09 – Boston’s best new band blazed through an early 80s inflected set of edgy powerpop.
Paul Wallfisch, the Ulrich-Ziegler Duo and McGinty and White at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/23/09 – after Wallfisch had set the tone for the night, Big Lazy’s Steve Ulrich and Pink Noise’s Itamar Ziegler played hypnotic, macabre guitar soundscapes followed by the ferociously lyrical retro 60s chamber pop of Joe McGinty and Ward White.
The American String Quartet playing Irving Fine and Robert Sirota’s Triptych at Bargemusic, 4/26/09 – a sinister ride through works by one of the leading lights of the 1950s avant garde followed by a haunting, intense performance of contemporary composer Sirota’s 9/11 suite.
Paul Wallfisch, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble, Spottiswoode and Steve Wynn at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/30/09 – after Wallfisch got the night started, Beren roared and scorched her way through a pummeling, macabre set. Then Spottiswoode impressed with a subtle set of nocturnes, setting the stage for Wynn, playing together with his friend and ex-lead guitarist Chris Brokaw for the first time in several years, a feast of swirling, otherworldly guitar overtones.
The Friggs and the Chrome Cranks at Santos Party House, 5/8/09 – a triumphant return for the popular 90s garage girl rockers followed by the equally triumphant, reinvigorated, snarling sonic attack of another one of NYC’s best bands of the 90s.
The French Exit at Local 269, 5/13/09 – NYC’s best new dark rockers playing one of their first shows as a four-piece, rich with reverb, tersely incisive piano, haunting vocals and defiant lyricism.
Chicha Libre on the Rocks Off Concert Cruise Boat, 5/15/09 – definitely the best party of the year that we were party to, a swaying excursion through psychedelic, surfy cumbia music, past and present.
Paul Wallfisch, Darren Gaines & the Key Party and Alice Texas at Small Beast at the Delancey, 6/4/09 – Wallfisch kicked it off, Gaines and a stripped-down trio impressed with gutter-poet, Lou Reed/Tom Waits style rock and then Alice Texas turned in a swirling, incandescent, gently assaultive show that reminded how much we miss Tonic, the club where she used to play before it was torn down t0 put up plastic luxury condos.
Paul Wallfisch, Marni Rice and the Snow at Small Beast at the Delancey, 6/22/09 – another Wallfisch night, this one featuring the great LES accordionist/chanteuse/cabaret scholar and then Pierre de Gaillande’s clever, haunting art-r0ck crew.
Ian Hunter at Rockefeller Park, 6/24/09 – the former Mott the Hoople frontman, at age 70, has simply never written, played, or sung better. This show was a real revelation.
Daniel Bernstein at Sidewalk, 7/9/09 – the underground songwriter/lyricist/tunesmith casually burned through one haunting, haunted, ridiculously catchy tune after another.
Randi Russo and the Oxygen Ponies at the Saltmines, 7/10/09 – another haunting show opened with the absolute master of the outsider anthem, who did double duty playing in Paul Megna’s equally dark, intense, lyrical indie band.
The Main Squeeze Accordion Festival: Musette Explosion, Suspenso del Norte, Hector Del Curto’s Eternal Tango Quintet, the Main Squeeze Orchestra, Roberto Cassan and John Munatore, Liony Parra y la Mega Mafia Tipica and Peter Stan at Pier One, 7/11/09 – squeezebox heaven.
Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers Ensemble and the Dave Brubeck Quartet at Damrosch Park, 8/5/09 – cutting-edge Middle Eastern-inflected jazz followed by one of the great ones, undiminished and still inventive at 89.
Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, 11/19/09 – the panstylistic rock goddess played several good New York shows this past year, but this one with Matt Kanelos on piano and glockenspiel and Billy Doughty on drums and melodica was pure transcendence.
Carol Lipnik, Bonfire Madigan, Rachelle Garniez, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble and McGinty and White at Small Beast at the Delancey, 11/23/09 – what seems at this point to be the single best show of the year (if only because it’s the most recent one on the list) matched Lipnik’s phantasmagoria to Madigan’s equally artful chamber pop, Garniez’ irresistible charisma and ferocity, Beren’s contralto classical punk assault and then Ward White took over where the sirens had been and sang what could have been his best show ever.
Concert Review: The American String Quartet Plays Robert Sirota, Irving Fine and Others at Bargemusic, Brooklyn NY 4/26/09
The American String Quartet had played the Brooklyn debut of Manhattan School of Music President Robert Sirota’s 9/11-themed Triptych suite the previous night. Looking across the river at Manhattan from inside the barge the following afternoon, the Twin Towers’ absence became more and more striking as the first movement built to a frantic, chaotic, horror-stricken crescendo of tritones and dissonance. From an audience perspective (particularly as witnessed by someone who was three blocks away when Tower Two blew up), the music was viscerally harrowing. Lucid Culture puts up a year-end “best New York concerts” list, and while being far from definitive, you can bet this performance will be on it.
Sirota was in New York on 9/11 and over the following months, writing the suite in tandem with Deborah Patterson’s painting of the same name – the artists’ intent was for the music to reinforce the painting and vice versa. To say that both are impactful would be a ridiculous understatement. The suite’s first movement, Desecration began with a shock, immediately followed by frenetic anguish that eventually fell apart, leading to a mournful solo by violinist Peter Winograd and eventually an evocation of car alarms (Sirota imagined that the destruction of the towers would have set off every one of them in Manhattan, an insult added to injury that thankfully didn’t occur) followed by a brief, single siren played on violin, fading into the distance.
The second movement, Lamentation began stark and modernist, growing more insistent, anguish finally turning to outrage, the impossibility of being able to fathom the enormity of the event intensely and vividly captured by a tentative cello line eventually passed to the other instruments, ending with a simple, defeated fade to solo violin. It’s not known how deeply the composer was able to investigate the mystery surrounding the tragedy, or whether this is simply a rendering of the city’s collective emotional state.
At last, some consonance appeared in the final movement, Prayer, reaching for solace and not finding it, interestingly with less of a feeling of communion and inclusiveness than there was at the time. While the months afterward brought out in many respects a beautiful and unforgettable period of camaraderie and compassion among New Yorkers, the conclusion of Sirota’s work rightfully maintains a persistent and unavoidable sense of loss. As riveting and heartbreaking as the piece is to witness in concert, one can only imagine how difficult it must be to play, especially for a New York group such as this, but the musicians didn’t let on.
The rest of the bill was a thicket of knotty cerebrality, but the Quartet accentuated its emotion and also its frequent good humor. They’d opened with Irving Fine’s 1952 String Quartet, an astonishing and powerfully Stravinskian work delivering many of the tropes of Romanticism in a completely different language, jeweled with suspense, horror-movie cadences and complete defiance in places. Winograd related an amusing anecdote about how his father, also a noted musician, knew Fine, who was notoriously prickly. After hearing the piece, the story made perfect sense. The ensemble also tackled Henry Cowell’s strange and often boisterously witty, improvisationally-driven String Quartet No. 3, the “Mosaic,” named for its interwoven, deceptively simple themes designed to be repeated as the performers see fit. They closed with Walter Piston’s String Quartet No. 1, another work which cast numerous codas and cadenzas straight out of Brahms or Beethoven straight into the drink where they landed dazed. Did Mingus know Piston’s work? One would think so from hearing this piece.
Shock of shocks, the barge wasn’t sold out, either. Fault of the depression? Maybe. The challenging nature of the program? That would be strange – Ives and his ilk don’t usually scare the crowds off. From the looks of it these days, Bargemusic could be something you could decide on at the spur of the moment, a wonderfully romantic idea.