Classical Music is Dead*

String Theatrics and Violin Semantics

Posted in concert, music, review by izziramkissoon on 05/25/2011

On Friday, May 20, the Vilcek Foundation hosted a performance of violinist and composer Mari Kimura.  The program featured a variety of works stemming from Kimura’s interest in new violin techniques and technology.   Kimura started the evening off with Bach’s Preludio from Partita No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006 (1720).  The piece exploited Kimura’s Juilliard training in a flawless and clean performance showing her mastery of classical violin technique.

The second piece on the program was Kimura’s original composition Subharmonic Partita (2004), which introduced her discovery of subharmonics on the violin.  Kimura explains subharmonics as “an extended bowing technique, for playing the violin in a very special way.  By controlling the speed and pressure of the bow very, very precisely a violinist can play notes below the open G, normally the lowest note on the violin, without changing the tuning.  Through the use of subharmonics, it’s possible to play cello notes on the violin!”  In the composition Kimura included fast five octave arpeggios that created glasslike textures juxtaposed against low register growls of subharmonic mastery.

The piece was followed by two more original Kimura compositions, Six Caprices for Subharmonics (1997-1998) and a world premiere called Janmaricana for Subharmonics (2011).  Both compositions served to illustrate Kimura’s use of subharmonics in composition extending the range of the violin.  In Kimura’s compositions she used the subharmonic technique fused with pizzicatos, double stops and a wide range of technique to produce a unique language of her own on the violin.

The technology portion of the program started with a piece that incorporated animation by Ken Perlin followed by another world premiere, Duet X2 for violin, cello and augmented bows (2011).  The piece featured cellist Dave Eggar in a duet with Kimura.  At the start of the piece Kimura displayed her custom Max Msp patch on the projector allowing the audience to take an inside look at Kimura’s interactive dashboard in action.  The piece utilized two bowing motion sensors called “min-MO” developed at IRCAM.  The sensors acquired 3 dimensional acceleration and bow pressure from the performers during the composition.  The relationship between the gesture and sound was second in comparison to the intense communication between both Kimura and Eggar. During the performance real-time processing created various timbres and layers using delay, a computer harmonizer and other effects.

The Old Rose Reader was commissioned by Kimura and composed by Francis White.  The composition incorporated text visuals and prerecorded sound of Kimura’s husband.  The visuals followed the text at times displaying what was being stated by the speech with white text over a black background.  The text also used roses as a motive projecting various types of text relationships against the speech.

Conlon Nancarrow composed the final piece of the program, Toccata for Violin and Player Piano.  This piece ended the night with speed and intensity as Kimura received a wonderful ovation for her versatility as a composer, performer and programmer.  The hall soon emptied as the night transitioned down one floor to the reception hall where Kimura and friends made themselves available to the audience while having champagne and hors d’oeuvres.


Electronics+Noise=Syzygy at Galapagos

Posted in concert, review by The Nouveau Classical Project on 03/02/2011

Photos by Alexis Sumsion

Sunday night found the Brooklyn’s Galapagos Art Space the scene for a mini-marathon of new music focusing on performances with electronics.

The duo Loud Objects started the night with a piece that was equal parts improvised sound experiment, light installation and free-wheeling soldering session. The performance began by the duo silently placing electronic parts on an “antique projector.” After the initial circuit was created, an abrasive, yet captivating, sound filled the room. Seeing the process being projected onto the wall drew the audience into the piece: “How’d such small things that were totally inactive a minute ago, start producing such a loud sound? And how does adding that one wire there change the sound from BABABABABABA to TWEEEEEEEEEEEEE?” Loud Objects somehow found a way to make their set just loud enough to be on the threshold of uncomfortably too loud, and just long enough to show off what they could do without going too long.

After they tore down all their electronic gizmos and do-dads, Syzygy New Music Ensemble started their set with Danielle Schwob’s Mehr Licht. Meaning “More Light” in German, the piece employed a medium-sized chamber ensemble and electronics. I kept going back and forthwith myself on whether the electronics were necessary, or all the musicians were necessary. With the number of players on stage, Schwob could have gotten acoustic sounds just as interesting and beautiful as the electronic part.

Rapture by Anna Clyne was the first “karaoke” piece of the night. Written for solo Clarinet with live and pre-recorded electronics, with live digital visuals by Joshua Ott, the piece seemed to play itself. The most interesting part of the piece was Ott’s live visuals. They oozed and morphed on the screen in tight conjunction with the music.

Tristan Perich’s Observations was so engrossing all I could write down during it was “Robot Crotales Players.” The piece did an excellent job keeping one tiny idea interesting. Percussionists Frank Tyl and Sean Statser were machine-like in their focus and dedication to the performance.

The last two pieces before the second intermission (I mentioned it was a mini-marathon), were vastly different. Nico Muhly’s Honest Music for Violin and pre-recorded electronics had twinges of bad movie music, while Mason Bates’ Red River told the story of the Colorado River. The piece had isolated moments of brilliant gestures and ensemble writing, but it also had long stretches of cliché harmonies and uninteresting sounds.

Because of the late start the concert got, and because I had to be responsible the next day, I had to leave after the second intermission. Overall, the concert was interesting. Some would argue it as a showcase for what role electronics could play in concert music, and some would argue it as an example of electronics becoming stale. I could see both and would argue both. The moments that interested me the most were the moments when electronic sound and acoustic sound became one, when I couldn’t figure out what timber the sound was, or who (or what) was making it.

Brooks Frederickson

Note from Nouveau Classical Project: we will be performing Schwob’s Mehr Licht at our concert on March 10 for MATA Interval 4.3: Amped/Electrified! You can pick up tickets here.


Posted in review by The Nouveau Classical Project on 01/13/2011

Via Deceptive Cadence, NPR classical’s blog:

When The Runway Meets The Concert Hall

12:20 pm

January 13, 2011


Sugar Vendil and JY Lee at "Reconsruction"

Sugar Vendil (right), founder and artistic director of the Nouveau Classical Project, at a concert with cellist JY Lee. Their clothing was designed by students at Parsons The New School For Design.

When a classical musician is asked to show up in concert attire, that almost always means black and plain. No gaudy jewelry, no excessive ruffles and no bright colors. The basic uniform for musicians (female singers excepted) is meant to remove the focus from the performers and put it solely onto the music.

Pianist Sugar Vendil is turning this convention on its head. In 2007, she founded the Nouveau Classical Project (NCP), a New York-based initiative that fuses music with fashion. The organization works with stylists and designers to bring fashion to the forefront with garments that match the music.

“I’ve always come up with really weird ways of combining fashion and music,” Vendil says. She’s loved fashion since childhood. “To me, fashion is a way to express myself. It’s the one thing we have to do every day. We have to get dressed. I don’t think of fashion as something superficial. It’s another form of expression.”

Designer Jonathan Cohen, who is creating the costumes for the NCP’s upcoming performance at the MATA Interval Concert Series (which spotlights young composers), says music has always influenced his design choices.

“I play with deconstruction a lot,” Cohen says. “For example, in some pieces I will leave an unfinished hem, while the inside has couture-like finishing details. It’s a classical element with a rock edge to it.”

The musicians of the NCP have worked in everything from feathers and masks to hooded capes. For them, the addition of fashion enhances the performance experience.

“Any sort of costume or style can bring a performer deeper into character,” says soprano Amanda Hicks, who has been involved with the NCP since its inception.  “Each piece creates a slight change in demeanor and atmosphere for the audience. The clothes, jewelry and headpieces definitely add to the depth and level of the performance.”

Their audiences approve. NCP concerts are largely attended by a younger crowd — many of whom have more of a background in fashion than in classical music. But Vendil says that after the concerts, people talk more about the music than the apparel. Much of the repertoire is from the 20th century, but works by new composers are also featured.

The Nouveau Classical Project is just one of many recent initiatives in New York that are putting a new face on classical music. Musicians, composers and ensembles all over the city are ignoring convention and doing what feels good to them.

Danielle Schwob: Music For Releasing Ghosts: I. Consolation (performed at “Form/FIGURE”)

“I’ve been here since 2001,” Vendil explains. “Back then, people didn’t do this. Now, young people are all starting to do their own thing.”

The NCP’s slogan “Classical music is dead” pokes fun at the doomsday predictions that pepper classical music journals and blogs.

Angela Pickett at "Reconstruction"

Angela Pickett (viola), of the ensemble Sybarite 5, at the “Reconstruction” concert.

“Everyone’s trying to save this art form like it’s the whales or hungry children,” says Vendil. She thinks classical music culture needs to open itself up to the rest of the world, not the other way around. “Classical musicians hide behind the screen of trying to save the current art form. But a lot of things have changed.”

The NCP’s next show is on Valentine’s Day, and the theme is black.

“It’s kind of an anti-Valentine’s Day thing,” Vendil says. “Black is typically used to hide the musician in classical music, but in the fashion world it’s a staple. We’re taking black back in this concert.”

Photos by James Bae

Post-Disaster Beauty: “Katrina Ballads”

Posted in concert, music, review by The Nouveau Classical Project on 08/26/2010

Ted Hearne‘s “Katrina Ballads” documents Hurricane Katrina with texts taken from newscasts and quotes, accompanied by video. We were lucky enough to experience this at (where else?) a super-packed LPR, where we stood for all 80 minutes of the show.

So much to love about this music. It was emotional without being sentimental. It was honest–text was quoted verbatim–however, the specific choices of quotes, and more importantly, the music, clearly expressed a point of view. (If you want to know what that is, you can pick up the record here.) The “Katrina Ballads” engages the listener in the turmoil that transpired as a result of Katrina, telling a story with so many nuanced emotions. Sadness and disappointment are expressed, as in ‘Ashley Nelson,’ performed by the sensual Rene Marie. Sarcastic moments include ‘Brownie, You’re Doing a Heck of a Job,’ sung by Hearne in bad-ass James Brown style, and Barbara’s Bush’s quote about everyone coming to Houston is sung in a saccharine-toned swinging, folksy tune. A series of video projections, created by Bill Morrison, was composed of Katrina footage and complimented the music exceptionally well. When a quote by a famous person was being sung, the actual footage of it being said would be projected, which was very effective in providing clarity.

The ensemble was excellent, handling the rhythmic complexity like a well-rehearsed band (this is a good thing: they felt the rhythm and truly knew the music, they weren’t just a tight shouldered ensemble following a score). All the singers gave beautiful performances, notably Isaiah Robinson in his solo of the ballad based on Kanye West stating that ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people.’ That boy can hit high notes like none other!

There are great performances to be seen everywhere…hell, we are in New York after all. But this wasn’t just good music or a good performance, it was moving. In his Times review, Kozinn wrote that ‘The contrast between the disc and the live performance was extraordinary: the fastidiously produced recording, though it delivered some of the work’s punch, left me cold. But the concert reading had a tough edge and a wildness of spirit that suited the music, and the subject.’ We have yet to hear the work outside the concert, but our opinion will probably remain the same, that the “Katrina Ballads” is the first meaningful piece of new music we’ve heard in a while and its honesty shines through. And it sounds really awesome.

Ted Hearne’s “Katrina Ballads” can be purchased on New Amsterdam’s website:

JACK at The Stone

Posted in music, review by The Nouveau Classical Project on 08/11/2010

Who: JACK Quartet

Where: The Stone

Wore: Black tank with cummerbund trim, vintage baby blue ruffled Versace skirt, white and silver wingtips

Program: Contrapunctus No. 14 from The Art of Fugue – Bach (arr. by Christopher Otto)
Six Bagatelles, Op. 9 – Webern
Blossoming – Toshio Hosokawa
String Quartet no. 5 – Glass

It was our first time at The Stone tonight, which we missed before we turned around and spotted the 2×8 inch window graphic on the door that marked its name. We were lucky our intern, Yoobin Whang, saved us a seat in what felt like a one hundred-degree room. (Remember form/FIGURE? If you weren’t there, it was super hot and packed in, much like this concert, except during the winter.) The seats were not only sold out, but the remainder of any available space was occupied as well: people who could not secure a seat stood in available spots to hear the JACK Quartet work their magic. For the Webern, the quartet asked that the AC be turned off ‘for just this piece.’ It was worth sitting through the heat: JACK performed the Webern with such precision and clarity in their ideas, creating an atmosphere that was almost palpable. Mad props to the door guy who turned the air back on as soon as the group relaxed to signal that it was okay to applaud now. The Hosokawa was beautiful, with colors that felt natural and organic (like Whole Foods! Sorry, that came to mind instantly. Next thought is the second floor of Fairway.) The group did justice to the luminous Glass String Quartet, providing excellent contrast between sections and emotions.

We regret that we didn’t snag the Xenakis CD that was for sale at the door! We’ll just have to get one here.

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Why Mark Morris Dance Group makes us love Handel Oratorios and the 80s…

Posted in art, concert, fashion, music, review, we like by Nicole Merritt on 08/05/2010

We love pastels too sometimes...

Is classical music really dead? Mark Morris doesn’t think so. In fact Mark is so crazy about classical music, that he started one of the only large dance companies in the U.S. that insists on bringing their own musicians on tour to perform with them live. Surely an expensive and risky endeavor, Mark has stated in many interviews that this is an essential element needed to make his works feel alive. This is just one of the many reasons why we at NCP love the Mark Morris Dance Group (, and tonight was no exception…

Sitting down in the first ring of Daniel Koch Theatre at Lincoln Center for the Mostly Mozart Festival, my first thought was, “I’m so freakin’ tired. How am I ever going to sit through a two-hour Handel oratorio without passing out?” Little did we realize that we were in for an awesome sensory overload. It takes a special kind of artist to make a Handel Oratorio seem modern, but Mark Morris more than manages to do so with his choreographed work set to Handel’s “L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato.” Choreographed in 1988 and inspired by paintings by Blake, and poems by Milton, this work of art has many muses. However, its Mark’s vision of life, beauty, and fun that shine the brightest throughout this grand piece.

With fantastic pastel leos, tea-length dresses, and cut-off tops, this work reminds me one of giant human kaleidoscope circa 1988 (credit going to costume designer Christine Van Loon). With inter-changing colors and a series of frames for the set-design, the setting at times almost appears digital. The oratorio is comprised of four singers, a pit orchestra, and an outstanding choir. Having heard rumors that the Mostly Mozart Festival orchestral musicians were not always the tightest group, this was certainly not the case tonight. My personal favorite was the choir, and lyric soprano Lisa Saffer. Lisa’s crystal clear voice was the perfect imitation of a flute and a bird in the “Sweet Bird” section (that song is hard!).

There are supposedly 32 little stories within this work, but what I picked up on was Mark’s ability to translate the music into perfectly compatible physical movements. While this sounds like an easy thing to do, Mark demonstrates the breadth of this skills by playing with this concept throughout the work. In the one of the movements, the featured dancer is the perfect embodiment of a bird, with spirit fingers to match the tiniest trills in the flute and voice. Equally stunning were the representations of flocks of geese, where the company of dancers appeared at first to fly together, and then without warning the second half of the flock separates off and assumes flying another direction. Mark mimics the layers of music by adding lines and layers of dancers. The effect is something like swimming in a pool of colors. In another movement, Mark shows his silly side with gender-bending roles of women carrying men, and better yet bottom smacking circles of boys which I think was part of an Accompagnato (but I cant be sure because I was distracted by bum-smacking – plus it was dark in there!). Who doesn’t love a choreographer that can make you laugh and feel like you’re watching something profound at the same time?

In any case, this is the perfect work to introduce someone new to the Mark Morris Dance Group, or to make you fall back in love with his works. “L’Allegro, il Penseroso” is stellar on every level, with beautiful music, exciting choreography, and stunning visuals. This show will run tomorrow and Saturday night (August 5-7) at Lincoln Center, so if you have a chance…this is NCP tested, approved, and recommended.

For a Good Time, Dial 1-800-SHAHAM!

Posted in music, review by The Nouveau Classical Project on 08/05/2010

If there was a list of classical musicians who’d be fun to dance with, Gil Shaham and Pablo Heras-Casado would make the top ten of that very selective and short list. At Tuesday night’s Mostly Mozart concert at Avery Fisher Hall, Heras-Casado led the very energetic and engaging Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra through a performance of Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto (1938) with the energy one would expect from a young conductor. His gestures were bouncy, animated, outwardly expressive–a perfect match to Shaham, who engaged the audience with his ultra-extroverted performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, K. 219. The second movement Adagio felt a bit rushed, as if to say, ‘Let’s get to the fun stuff again!’ And indeed, Shaham performed the third movement with playfulness and virtuosity of the first. We did not expect what came after the Mozart was finished…

Dubbed by Shaham a ‘Turkish-dance-not-by-Mozart,’ both Heras-Casado and Shaham just let it rip (we can just imagine Heras-Casado telling the orchestra, ‘I’m gonna to this stompy thang here and make my curls bounce, just go with it’). Complete with blue and bent notes, improvised-sounding phrases, and a driving rhythm, this music brought out laughs, and afterwards, a standing ovation, from the audience.

This audience clapped between every movement (who wouldn’t appreciate a little ‘Go you!’ during a performance? ). According to Allan Kozinn, this shows that ‘this was an easy crowd to please.’ At least we know that the seats were not filled by only music students and industry people. This also showed how little often people go to concerts at all. If this was someone’s first concert experience, it was a great one: Shaham and Heras-Casado, and the Mostly Mozart orchestra not only played, but performed, traditional repertoire with skill and emotion. This is the type of performance that would make people come back.

We left at intermission. The orchestra was to perform Beethoven’s Second Symphony, but we felt we got the meat of the program. Not to say that Beethoven is excess bun, but when you’ve heard several performances and recordings of something, sometimes you just want to go get a drink already. (We know, ‘But each performance is different!’ Okay.)

It seems the Mostly Mozart Festival really knows its audience, which seems to be one that does not listen to classical music regularly. This was a smartly programmed concert, with a non-stereotypical classical composer (people 99% of the time instantly think Beethoven or Mozart) alongside pieces to be found on ‘Mozart for Munchkins’ or ‘Beethoven at Brunch.’ That, plus the engaged performers, a conductor who is alive, and Shaham’s encore that showed classical music’s ability to be fun and trivial, contribute to this concert’s success. Heras-Casado+Shaham=a good time.

Science and Sound as Storyteller

Posted in concert, music, review by The Nouveau Classical Project on 06/07/2010

Sunday evening we headed to the NYU Skirball Center to see and hear Icarus at the Edge of Time, a new children’s book by superstar string theorist Brian Green, and in this case, an event in the World Science Festival that attracted clusters of cute kids. After an introduction by Tracy Day and a short talk by Green on the Icarus myth and black holes, the story began. A film by Al and Al vividly portrayed a futuristic galaxy as Liev Schreiber narrated. We especially loved Icarus’s spaceship, complete with bird-like wings. Brad Lubman conducted the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in performing Philip Glass‘s accompanying score, which was composed exclusively for the film. Glass himself was in attendance with his two youngest sons.

Green’s Icarus re-imagines the story of Icarus in physicist kind of way: in this story, Icarus foolishly travels to a black hole after his father tells him not to. His journey is a success, except for the fact that he forgot to account for one thing: time. When Icarus returns, it is 10,000 years later, which felt like an hour to him, and everything he knew was gone…floating in space are detached feathers, representing his fall. Icarus at the Edge of Time dark tale for young ones that teaches them: a) a bit about Einstein and relativity, and b) if Daddy says ‘Stay away from black holes,’ YOU’D BETTER LISTEN!

So if you want your kids to grow up smart and well-behaved, perhaps you should pick up this book and mix in some Glass with that Mozart!

le Grand Makeover

Posted in concert, music, review by The Nouveau Classical Project on 05/31/2010

This weekend we got to see the final performance of György Ligeti’s “anti-anti-opera” le Grand Macabre. We had a feeling it would be good, but we had no idea it would be so outrageously fun and, for lack of better words, so very cool. (We tried: no luck from After avoiding reading reviews, so as not to interfere with ours, le Grand Macabre went beyond what we expected.

To be honest, we didn’t know what to expect. There were quirky and silly (in a good way) puppets manipulated and projected onstage by Giants are Small. Super off-the-wall characters were fabulously portrayed. Our favorite was Gepopo, performed by Barbara Hannigan, a hyper-active Lady Gaga-in-outer-space-looking creature (so Lady Gaga normal we mean?) that dances around like she’s strung out on some serious drugs (aka: how we typically dance at bars downtown). Then there were Amanda and Amando, a topless, super-horny couple clad in grass mini-skirts. Pretend analingus onstage. There was so much hilarity. Really funny stuff. Not like, ‘I’m-at-the-opera-this-is-where-I’m-supposed-to-laugh-so-it-shows-I-get-it-funny,’ but like real people funny.

One of the best parts was that the New York Phil looked like they were having FUN (gasp!) and showed they have a personality. Alan Gilbert is the Cher to their Tai. (If you haven’t seen Clueless, Cher, the main character, is the popular girl who takes newbie Tai under her wing and dresses her in a plaid mini and knee-socks, instantly making her popular, 90’s style.) The night we went, there were a few chic-looking people. Maybe not as many as you’d see at one of those Nouveau Classical concerts, but more than usual ;). The New York Phil might get to sit next to the cool kids at lunch period this week!

It looks like the Phil is getting a clue, and they have Gilbert to thank, along with whoever else was responsible for making le Grand Macabre happen. The strong visuals, which include outlandish costumes by Catherine Zuber, were a huge factor in the opera’s success. And we loved the booklets (pictured above) that contained drawings and the libretto inside.

We wonder what the New York Phil plans to do next. How do they plan to make their non-operatic, regular concerts stand out? Will it be possible to make as much of an impact? This weekend got us interested (and almost excited) about their next move.

Twofer at Merkin

Posted in music, review by The Nouveau Classical Project on 05/28/2010

While the New York Phil premiered le Grand Macabre last night, we had to get out and experience the one-night-only (!) double premiere at Merkin Hall, where Signal gave two on point performances. First up was Nico Muhly’s Stabat Mater, a piece based on a Roman Catholic chant of the same name that describes the Virgin Mary weeping during the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This composition may not give anyone a definite answer to Sequenza21’s ‘rude’ question from a couple weeks ago, but no matter…the performance was convincing and Muhly created some really great effects, especially in the string writing.  Towards the end was a startling climax where the music let loose, with the ensemble improvising dynamics and the vocalists singing with frantic intensity. Stabat Mater was overall clear and simple, a mini-oratorio type of deal with a Nico Muhly touch, and it’s pretty cool to see how one would approach this subject matter in modern times. Definitely more about the sound than the savior…but hasn’t it always been?

We like your style!

The second half of the program provided the audience with a nice contrast, with more drama and excitement from Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s  The Corridor. The Corridor recounts the myth of Orpheus looking back at Eurydice, causing her to stay in the underworld forever. Right from the start of we know we’re not in a safe place: the ensemble hits a loud dissonant chord, like what we’d hear if a movie character was at the edge of a cliff. And that is sort of where we begin: with Eurydice at the point between life and death. The story is told with much expressiveness from Signal; enough intensity was created to imagine the scene visually.  The music itself created such a strong backdrop for every mood and character. Both soprano Rachel Calloway and tenor Jeffrey Gavett were great actors and played their roles with conviction…In Calloway’s case, two roles: that of Eurydice and that of commentator. The Corridor did what a good story does: excite and entertain.

We love how cohesive the program was altogether. Muhly had good taste in writing ‘something to go along with a bit of Birtwistle.’* Stabat Mater may have been a little harder to pull off; after all, it is based on the Bible, and if you’re not religious, it will most likely not move you. The story isn’t as enticing as a Greek myth, but it was nevertheless pleasant and had some great moments. And with a fierce ensemble like Signal, it is hard to go wrong.

More photos here.

*Before last night we weren’t thoroughly familiar…ok, not really familiar, with Birtwistle’s music…don’t judge us! But we definitely want to hear more now. If you do too, here’s his discography.