8 min read

Facing the music.

Thinking about attending in-person events… Peter Rehberg and Pablo Vela remembered… new sounds from Nyokabi Kariũki… and listings for the week ahead.


Anne Leihehua Lanzilotti at Tenri Cultural Center (Photograph: Steve Smith)

A week ago I started a newsletter by mentioning how much I've been missing in-person opera lately, and asked how others are feeling on the subject. It didn't surprise me that no one responded—not only because a newsletter is structurally more siloed than a social-media post, but also, I suspect, because we're all really on pins and needles working out what we're prepared to risk in our hunger for artistic gratification and something approaching normalcy.

We're seeing signs of concern and hesitancy everywhere. Artists like Stevie Nicks, Jason Isbell, and Limp Bizkit are cancelling concerts and entire tours. Festivals like Bonnaroo and Summerfest are requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test, even as we're reminded that plenty of folks are flouting those rules when they're not ignoring them outright. (I highly recommend reading Jon Caramanica's lavishly produced New York Times report on attending concerts of varying sizes in several states, and reading and listening to Elizabeth Blair's NPR story regarding the state of the live-music business.)

It's not just we musickers, by the way: Film critic Ty Burr, in his new newsletter, titled his review of The Green Knight "The Best Movie I Don't Want You to See" because it's playing exclusively in theaters—which of course is exactly where you want to see a film like this. Writes Ty:

“The Green Knight” should absolutely be seen in a movie theater. You should absolutely not go see “The Green Knight” in a movie theater. Both of these statements are true, which makes David Lowery’s new movie the Schrödinger’s cat of this week’s openings.

Yesterday, the New York Film Festival included this statement in announcing its Main Slate selections for 2021:

NYFF59 will feature in-person screenings, as well as select outdoor and virtual events. In response to distributor and filmmaker partners and in light of festivals returning and theaters reopening across the country, NYFF will not offer virtual screenings for this year’s edition.

Meanwhile, Kristen Lopez reports for IndieWire, film critics are questioning whether it's safe to return to movie theaters… and whether they should be forced to do so in order to fulfill the requirements of their employment, at a time when many feel the prospect could be hazardous.

Last Friday, though, I attended an in-person concert in an indoors venue, and it felt like a small miracle. It wasn't my first "post-pandemic" concert; that was Laurie Anderson and Jason Moran at the Park Avenue Armory, in May. But where that event had been oversize in scale (and overwhelmed in effect), the concert the String Orchestra of Brooklyn presented at Tenri Cultural Center last Friday night – the first music made in that room since quarantine began last year – felt comfortably just so.

The audience was limited in size and masked. It felt truly good to make small talk with old friends and newer acquaintances. The music – two pieces by Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, one for unaccompanied viola and the other for string orchestra with covert percussion – was alive and vital, the kind you feel in your earbones and your viscera, infused with the specific manner of acoustic alchemy that makes us attend live concerts to begin with.

The whole thing lasted no more than 45 minutes, but it was a deeply moving, profoundly satisfying experience—one I intend to repeat soon, and hopefully often.

Here is the news.

Peter Rehberg (Photograph: Magdalena Blaszczuk)

More than two weeks ago in this newsletter, I mentioned the passing of electronic artist and record-label operator Peter Rehberg, stating that a full-length obituary for NPR Music was pending. Yesterday – after an obligatory and proper wait for firsthand confirmation of sensitive details – the article was published, and you can read it here. I'm grateful to Jacob Ganz, Otis Hart, and NPR Music for giving me the opportunity and space to write this.

Toby Newman (L) and Pablo Vela in Meredith Monk's Book of Days, in 1988 (Photograph: Dominique Lasseur)

Another noteworthy passing: Pablo Vela, a performer, director, teacher, and longtime associate of Meredith Monk, died on July 26. From Monk's press representative comes this impressive synopsis of their work together:

First began performing with Meredith Monk in 1971, appearing in Vessel, Quarry, Specimen Days, The Travelogue Series, Turtle Dreams (Cabaret), The Games, A Celebration Service and on film in Book of Days, Ellis Island, 24 Hours of Faces, and Meredith Monk: Inner Voice. Served as Associate Director of Monk’s ATLAS: an opera in three parts, American Archeology #1: Roosevelt Island, and The Politics of Quiet. Organized and directed biannual workshops with Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble from 1976-2020.

According to the press representative, Vela was born on August 7, 1923, in Coffey, Kansas, to a German-American mother and Mexican father. He lived in Oklahoma and Texas before joining the Air Force, in which he served as a navigator during World War II. He earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Columbia University, and pursued one year of a Ph.D. program at Harvard University.

Vela received a Fulbright in the early 1950s to study in Paris, where he also served as an English tutor to fashion designer Givenchy. He taught with distinction in schools around the world, counting among his students David Mamet and William H. Macy. There's much more to his extraordinary life, and you can read about some of it in a 1986 BOMB Q&A with Vela and Ping Chong.

Click track.

Nyokabi Kariũki (Photograph: Gianfranco Bello)

Nyokabi Kariũki
(SA Recordings; DL)

I received a very nice note last week from a composer whose work I didn't know previously, and now I'm taking the opportunity to pass word along. Nyokabi Kariũki was born in Kenya and presently splits her time between New York and Maryland. Her new release, Galu, is part of a series of emerging-artist singles on SA Recordings, a label connected to Spitfire Audio, a British purveyor of virtual instruments and sample libraries.

Describing both the present piece and a forthcoming project, Kariũki writes:

"[I]t's based around field recordings taken at Galu Beach, Kenya, and features sounds of my vocals, kalimba, and drumset – served up with numerous electronic manipulations. The other tracks in the EP will follow this lead, where they're all similarly based on places in Kenya, and their emotional significance in my life."

Kariũki discusses her background, inspirations, and process at length in a recent interview with Rhian Daly. Based on this dreamy, transporting introduction, I'll be watching for her EP. Meanwhile, I'll also endorse checking out the three previous entries in the SA Recordings Singles Series, wildly disparate tracks by Homay Schmitz, Shiva Feshareki, and HAMU.

Night After Night Watch.

Adam Tendler (Photograph: Ben Tran)

All times listed are Eastern Standard Time.

NYC Free
Little Island
Pier 55 at Hudson River Park, Chelsea
Wednesday, Aug. 11–Sunday, Sept. 5, times vary; free, some tickets required

Wrote up the basics for The New Yorker…

What you musos really want to know, though, is that pianist Adam Tendler put a lot of thought into the programs he curated for the first week of this live-arts blow-out. Between 11am and 1pm today, student players from Third Street Music School Settlement performed 4'33" – John Cage's supposedly "silent" piece – to honor the presence-in-absence of those lost to COVID-19. Tonight, DJ Eli Escobar celebrates the city's resilience with a set of NYC-centric platters.

For a powerful Aug. 13 double bill, Tendler engaged the String Orchestra of Brooklyn to play Julius Eastman's Gay Guerrilla on Aug. 13 in recognition of the Hudson River piers and Meatpacking District as gay cruising sites, and commissioned Happenings, a new piece from Devonté Hynes (a.k.a. Blood Orange), to extend the Eastman lineage. Afterward, Tendler and fellow pianist Jenny Lin play favorites by Philip Glass, an iconic New Yorker.

One further Tendler-tended event comes later in the fest: On Sept. 2, PUBLIQuartet presents "American Woman," featuring a world-premiere arrangement of At the Purchaser's Option by Rhiannon Giddens alongside pieces by Jessica Meyer, Jessie Montgomery, Shelley Washington, and more.

The Amph at Little Island (Photograph: Steve Smith)

That's just scratching the surface… eyeball the first week's schedule alone for sets by Lakecia Benjamin, On Site Opera, Samora Pinderhughes, Amir ElSaffar's Two Rivers Ensemble, and Flor de Toloache. Still to come: Claire Chase, the International Contemporary Ensemble with Tyshawn Sorey, American Modern Opera Company (AMOC)—the list goes on and on, and that's not even counting all the dance, poetry, comedy, and other modes of performance going on.

Little Island requires timed-entry passes after noon, and for most events in The Amph, the venue's cozy riverfront stadium, you'll need free tickets. The space is eminently Instagrammable, so make sure your phone's charged.

DiMenna Center for Classical Music
450 W. 37th St, Midtown
Thursday, Aug. 12–Monday, Aug. 16, times vary; $20

Another one I wrote up with extreme brevity for The New Yorker

As noted in the New Yorker listing, the first five days of this year's Time:Spans festival feature a sound-installation-cum-electronic instrument from EMPAC: a newfangled Wall of Sound showcasing Wave Field Synthesis works by Miya Masaoka, Bora Yoon, Nina C. Young, and Pamela Z. The program lasts 70 minutes, and repeats four times each day, ending Monday morning. The festival's live, in-person events commence on Tuesday, Aug. 17, and tickets are extremely limited.

Craig Harris and the Nation of Imagination
‌Bryant Park
‌Between Fifth and Sixth Aves., and 40th and 42nd Sts., Midtown Manhattan
‌Thursday, Aug. 12 at 7pm; free
Proof of vaccination or test results required

Titled Nocturnal Nubian Ball for Conscientious Ballers and Cultural Shot Callers, this performance by trombonist Harris and his ensemble concludes Afrofuturism, Harlem Stage's citywide celebration of Sun Ra and his spacefaring legacy—so it makes sense that the guest of honor is Marshall Allen, the fiery alto saxophonist who at age 97 continues to lead the Sun Ra Arkestra itself. If you can't attend in person, the show will stream live on Bryant Park's Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube pages. And the concert repeats on Friday, Aug. 13, at 7pm in Marcus Garvey Park, 6316 Mt. Morris Park West, in Harlem.

Vijay Iyer
Prospect Park Bandshell
141 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn
Saturday, Aug. 14 at 7pm; free, with suggested RSVP

Headlining a seriously stacked bill that also includes sets by Joel Ross, Melanie Charles (note: ZOMG!!), and Mahogany L. Browne, pianist and composer Vijay Iyer unveils Tempest, a – pardon my technical language – freaking killer band with Moor Mother, Arooj Aftab, Ambrose Akinmusire, Tyshawn Sorey, and Daryl Johns. Whatever this turns out to be, it's bound to be fascinating.

Argento New Music Project
National Opera Center
330 Seventh Ave., Manhattan
Sunday, Aug. 15 at 2pm; suggested donation $20, seniors and students $15

Returning to the stage after a year of onscreen presentations, Argento offers a characteristically probing mix of chamber-ensemble works by Béla Bartók, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Georg Friedrich Haas, and Ann Cleare. If you can't attend in person, the concert will be streamed live for registered viewers.

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