Classical Music is Dead*

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.

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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.