10 min read

An itch to scratch.

Catching up on all the latest news and views… plus a Video of the Week featuring Chaya Czernowin and event listings for the week to come.


Having participated late last month as a faculty member for the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, I came back with a fresh commitment to, and excitement about, the prospect of writing criticism. For some insight into what the institute was like, I'll commend you toward this year's awardee, Emery Kerekes, who wrote about his experience in Which Sinfonia, the newsletter-format music journal he supervises with Anna Heflin (who's going to appear again in this newsletter, so watch out).

Fair warning, you'll probably have to subscribe to read the entire essay. I was a paying subscriber well before I met Emery, and I recommend it warmly.

Criticism, I'm reminded regularly in various ways, is not part of my present day job. Paradoxically, the curation an editor exercises in determining what a media outlet covers amounts to a kind of critical discrimination. But I remain a writer who enjoys writing, and craves opportunities to do it, so it's on me to scratch that itch myself however I have to stretch to reach it.

Congratulations to Emery, a discerning listener and confident, stylish inquisitor; to runner-up Lev Mamuya, whose reviews rang with poetry; and to all the brave, talented Rubin participants, every one of whom taught me something. Thanks, too, to my fellow faculty members, many of whom I'd seldom or never spent time with in real life; here, I was partnered with John Rockwell as a coaching team for the duration, and caught up at length with Gary Giddins, who I'd not seen or spoken with since a previous lifetime.

Finally, I'll extend my appreciation to institute founders Stephen Rubin and David Stull, and to our resourceful, indefatigable organizer, Jessica Downs. This was an honor, a pleasure, and a brilliant learning experience.

Here is the news.

Lina Lapelyte (Photograph courtesy Art Climate Transition)

• In The New York Times, Joshua Barone recently wrote a thoughtful, detailed, and persuasive review of The Mutes, a new performance piece for non-professional singers by Lina Lapelyte, the remarkable Lithuanian music-theater artist whose previous works Have a Good Day! and Sun & Sea made a lasting impression on many observers. I reviewed Have a Good Day! for the Times when PROTOTYPE staged it in 2014, and was rocked by Sun & Sea (which Joshua covered in its prizewinning 2019 Venice Biennale run) when it came to BAM last year. Based on this new report from Paris, I very much hope that The Mutes is presented here, as well.

• With the centenary of American composer George Walker just passed on June 27, it's gratifying to see his music being taken up in earnest by the Cleveland Orchestra, an ensemble regarded by many as America's best. I recall being much impressed by a performance of Walker's Antifonys conducted by Franz Welser-Möst that streamed not so long ago on the orchestra's Adella platform. That bristling piece is included on the orchestra's forthcoming Walker CD, alongside his Pulitzer Prize-winning Walt Whitman setting, Lilacs – one part of which is streaming now on all the usual platforms – and two of his strikingly original Sinfonias, Nos. 4 ("Strands") and 5 ("Visions").

None of these works is new to the catalog. Ian Hobson recorded all of them and more with Polish ensembles for the Albany label. (He used a tenor in Lilacs—an acknowledgment, perhaps, that Walker wrote the work for a Boston Symphony concert honoring the tenor Roland Hayes.) The Seattle Symphony's premiere performance of the Sinfonia No. 5 is available to stream and download, too. Still, it's a happy thing to see new performances by an exceptional ensemble and a conductor well equipped to manage Walker's challenging idiom. The disc is due on November 4, but can be pre-ordered now.

• Congratulations to Indexical, the Santa Cruz, CA-based purveyor of contemporary music and cross-disciplinary performance, for receiving a first-time multi-year grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation. The award will provide the organization with $60,000 over a two-year period. (A complete list of Warhol Foundation spring grantees is here.) This new windfall comes only a few weeks after Indexical announced a bequest of $100,000 from the Trust of Lana K. Weeks, a former arts executive and volunteer firefighter who passed away in 2019, half of which Indexical earmarked for a new artists fund.

Joel Thompson (Photograph courtesy Houston Grand Opera)

Houston Grand Opera has announced that Atlanta composer Joel Thompson will serve as the company's first full-time composer in residence, in a five-year term set to start on August 1. Thompson's works have been performed widely, with his gripping choral work Seven Last Words of the Unarmed attaining an especially high profile. For HGO, Thompson wrote the company's 71st world premiere, The Snowy Day, based on the classic Ezra Jack Keats book for young readers. In his new role, Thompson will compose a full-length opera for mainstage presentation, as well as a series of smaller pieces. He'll also work in the company's artistic leadership, participate in educational and community outreach programs, and mentor young composers.

Seth Cluett has been named director of the Computer Music Center (CMC) at Columbia University, effective July 1 (hashtag: donedeal). Cluett, a talented composer and sound artist, writer, and visual artist, joined the university as assistant director of the CMC in 2018. He succeeds Brad Garton, now designated director emeritus.

• Via Sasha Frere-Jones comes news of an enticing newsletter from Dan Fox, a New York-based writer, editor, musician, and filmmaker. Issue One of Keep All Your Friends is focused on the dazzling vocalist Flora Purim and the recent album she says will be her last; new writing and interviews about music, books, art, and film are promised every Sunday. Count me in. (Also, subscribe to S/FJ if you haven't already done so.)

• Chatting with David Furst for the latest of our almost-weekly Weekend Arts Preview segments last Saturday on WNYC, I waxed enthusiastic about a brilliant Nam June Paik show at Gagosian in Chelsea and a concert by the charismatic Cuban percussionist and singer Pedrito Martinez coming up on Thursday evening at Drom in the East Village.

The exhibition is the first installment of a two-part survey; Part 1 closes on July 22, while Part 2 opens at the Gagosian space on 75th St. & Park Ave. on July 19. (You could make a fun day out of seeing them both.) The concert is part of the ongoing 15th-anniversary celebrations at Drom, and also a part of something called Independent Venue Week, which runs started yesterday and runs through Sunday nationwide. Seems like plenty of reason to celebrate—and, having just seen Martinez perform with Isaac Delgado in San Francisco during the Rubin Institute, I can report with confidence that the man knows how to bring the party.


This week's tally of fascinating things I've stuck into my ears includes a July 4 American music binge kicked off with Aaron Copland's Symphony No. 3 played by the San Francisco Symphony, plus new and upcoming releases featuring Sarah Davachi, Magnus Granberg, Tyshawn Sorey, and more.

Hear, here.

Video of the week.

I'm gobsmacked by this recent composition for large orchestra and two vocal soloists by Chaya Czernowin, one of the most original musical creators at work in the U.S. today. The piece, whose title according to Czernowin's website translates as "Crown" or "Corona," was commissioned by Bayerischer Rundfunk Musica Viva and Wien Modern.

Czernowin sets the stage with these impactful words:

At the beginning of 2020, right before Covid hit, I had a clear concept for the orchestra piece, as follows: Crude: large blocks of orchestral mass, drifting into and apart from each other moved by momentous forceful, and unpredictable energies. This piece was to be a lament to the hubris of humans thinking that we can control the forces around us and a reminder of these unknown forces which move us and our environment. Little did I know that in March 2020 our world will stop and indeed our loss of control vis a vis nature would be so staggering.

Czernowin found inspiration in a poem by her colleague, Israeli poet, musicologist, and composer Zohar Eitan, tucking vocal lines furtively among the massive blocks of orchestral sound she had envisioned. This audio recording of the world premiere – performed on November 9, 2021, by soprano Sofia Jernberg, baritone Holger Falk, and the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien conducted by Christian Karlsen – was posted to YouTube by one of the site's most prolific sharers of broadcast premieres.

That's not a small thing: possibly a sanctioned recording of this arresting work will be issued, possibly not. Either way, I can't envision getting any opportunity to hear it played by an orchestra in the U.S.—mostly because I can't think of a single ensemble, except maybe the Cleveland Orchestra under Franz Welser-Möst, that has done the work to keep its audience abreast of at least some global trends in contemporary composition. (If this is an inaccurate surmise, please let me know.)

Orchestras here don't play music like this because they think their audiences won't like it. But then, the only way to develop audiences that understand, appreciate and even crave intense musical experiences of this sort is for the orchestras in which they've placed their trust to actually play music like this.

It's a conundrum.

Night After Night Watch.

Raven Chacon (Photograph: Adam Conte)

Concerts listed in Eastern Standard Time.

Marcus Gilmore Trio
Village Vanguard
178 Seventh Ave., Greenwich Village
Tuesday, July 12–Sunday, July 17 at 8 & 10pm; $40

Though it's no secret he's the grandson of the iconic drummer Roy Haynes, Marcus Gilmore has beat his own path for years now. He's known best as a solid contributor to projects led by Chick Corea, Vijay Iyer, and Ambrose Akinmusire, but Gilmore hits the Vanguard this week with his name atop the marquee, driving a trio with pianist David Virelles and bassist Rashaan Carter.

Attaca Quartet
Madison Square Park
Madison Ave. from 23rd to 26th Sts., Flatiron District
Wednesday, July 13 at 6pm; free

Presented by Carnegie Hall, Attaca not surprisingly emphasizes their two latest albums for Sony – Flying Lotus, Anne Müller, and Louis Cole arrangements from Real Life, and Arvo Pärt's Summa from Of All Joys – in what's described as a response to a public art installation in the park by Cristina Iglesias. The surprise is the closer, Maurice Ravel's fabulous String Quartet in F.

Kronos Quartet + Roomful of Teeth
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!
Lena Horne Bandshell, 141 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn
Thursday, July 14 at 7:30pm; free.

Kronos, long among the most crucial catalysts for the creation and promotion of contemporary music in America, turns the spotlight on itself with A Thousand Thoughts, which finds the quartet collaborating with filmmaker Sam Green in a live documentary about the group itself. Roomful of Teeth, a vocal octet whose exploits extend paths Kronos pioneered, opens the performance.

Curtis Stewart
Rite of Summer Music Festival
Nolan Park, Governors Island
Saturday, July 16 at 1 & 3pm; free

Most of us in the new-music community got to know the bold, stylish violinist Curtis Stewart through his work as a soloist and chamber musician, particularly in the inventively slippery string group PUBLIQuartet… and much of the rest of the world discovered Stewart when his rich, provocative 2021 solo LP, Of Power, was nominated for a Grammy, occasioning backlash from offended purists around the globe. Hear for yourself when Stewart lights up Governors Island during the Rite of Summer Music Festival, where he'll play music from his next project, Of Love. (Seeing as how the program mixes Bach and Brahms with Alice Coltrane, Bill Withers, and Kendrick Lamar, it seems safe to anticipate purists pouting anew.)

Raven Chacon: For Zitkála-Šá
Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort St., West Village
Saturday, July 16 at 4 & 7:30pm; $25, seniors, students, and visitors with disabilities $18

A Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, performer, and installation artist from Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation, Raven Chacon created one of the most powerful pieces in the current Whitney Biennial, Silent Choir (Standing Rock). New music mavens, meanwhile, might know him better for Sweet Land, the groundbreaking opera he created with Du Yun for The Industry, or maybe for White People Killed Them, his caustic improvising-rock trio with Deerhoof guitarist John Dieterich and Oakland percussionist Marshall Trammell. For Zitkála-Šá is a set of 13 striking lithographs Chacon created from 2017 to 2020, inspired by the historical figure of the title: a Yankton Dakota composer, activist, and teacher active during the early 20th century, and dedicated to a group of American Indian, First Nations, and Mestiza women composers, performers, and sound artists. Among the dozen performers interpreting the graphic scores on Saturday are Carmina Escobar, Joy Harjo, Laura Ortman, and Olivia Shortt.

The Instrument Speaks
Black Box Theater at Power Station
441 W. 53rd St., Midtown West
Sunday, July 17 at 2pm; pay what you will/can

I'm a newcomer to the music of Anna Heflin, who I've encountered more frequently in her roles as a journalist, critic, and editor (mentioned near the top of this newsletter, remember?) and public relations professional. All of those roles rightly point to a predilection for storytelling, which blooms into surrealistic visions, fragmented themes, and pretzel-logic poetry on her engrossing 2021 album, The Redundancy of the Angelic: An Interluding Play. Part of that work is included in this matinee program of Heflin's multimedia pieces for speaking instrumentalists (here's another), which also marshalls the reportedly state-of-the-art video and audio capabilities of the new Black Box Theater at Power Station at BerkleeNYC, the historic NYC recording studio now owned and operated by Boston's Berklee College of Music.

Find more listings in Night After Night Watch: The Master List, available exclusively to paid subscribers.

Do good.

(Photographs by the author, except where indicated otherwise.)