A short newsletter this week, as I'm headed out of town on Thursday afternoon: first airport, first airplane, first major travel since October 2019. It's a lot to wrap one's head around. But I'm not traveling alone, and that makes the prospect a little less eerie, somehow.
Something else I'd not done since the fall of 2019: attend a Composer Portrait concert at Columbia University's Miller Theatre. These once were a staple of my musical diet; lately, though, circumstance has conspired to prevent my attending. The Thomas Meadowcroft portrait on April 21 was a great way to dive back in: music of technical substance and abundant charm, played by an ensemble that, even half-reconstituted presently, still has the composer's playful language in its collective bones and blood.
My favorite moment came during the first piece, Forward Through Circles, when Meadowcroft had one percussionist (Russell Greenberg) bow a vibraphone and the other (Sae Hashimoto) rub a finger around a goblet's rim, while each simultaneously played a melodica, and pianists Laura Barger and Julia Den Boer held long tones on electric keyboards. It was tricky work that sounded as natural as breathing.
George Grella liked that piece, too, but not its companion, Another Children's Television, which trafficked overtly and, I thought, playfully in outright kitsch. Characteristically, George didn't mince words.
There are a handful of quite excellent concerts happening where I'm headed, but I don't anticipate getting to them. If that changes, you'll hear about it.
This week's tally of memorable sounds includes recent and forthcoming releases from Survival Unit III, Anteloper, Claire Rousay, Michael Oesterle, and plenty more. Bend an ear…
Video of the week.
Streamed live online and played before an in-person studio audience, here's Monday night's Luna Composition Lab Alumni Showcase, featuring members of the International Contemporary Ensemble performing music by past participants in the groundbreaking mentorship program for female, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming composers. (If you're reading this on Wednesday, April 27, then this year's Luna Lab participants await their showcase tonight.)
Here is the news.
• Carnegie Hall announced its new season Tuesday, and one of the biggest reveals is flutist Claire Chase being named the newest occupant of the Richard and Barbara Debs Creative Chair. In past seasons, this position has gone to a composer; this time, Chase will use the platform to showcase her audacious 24-year commissioning cycle, Density 2036, which is notching its first decade.
As a preamble, Chase hosts a salute to Pauline Oliveros on January 21, marking what would have been the trailblazing composer's 90th birthday. She'll reprise the first two installments of Density 2036 on May 18, showcasing music by Marcos Balter, Mario Diaz de Leon, Du Yun, Felipe Lara, and George Lewis, and then return on May 25 for the new part x, which will include the world premiere of a Carnegie Hall-commissioned piece by Anna Thorvaldsdottir. (Between those dates, in what Chase has characterized as an "uptown/downtown pub crawl," you'll be able to hear her present parts iii-ix over at The Kitchen — here's fervently hoping this includes Sarah Hennies's arguably impractical, ineffably beautiful Reservoir 2: Intrusion, from part vi). One more event to mark on your calendar: on May 9, Chase joins conductor Susanna Målkki and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra in Kaija Saariaho's Aile du songe.
• There's plenty more new music to be found in the forthcoming Carnegie Hall season… I've not yet done a deep dive, but was impressed to spot pretty much instantly an American Composers Orchestra concert on October 20, early in the season, which includes a new concerto for the Attacca Quartet by inti figgis-vizueta, a world premiere from Yvette Janine Jackson, and the first New York City performance of Mark Adamo's recent cello concerto, Last Year, with soloist Jeffrey Zeigler. That one goes on the can't-miss list, for sure.
• Y'all like the Steve Reich choons, right? Well, then, make a note of November 1, when Zankel Hall hosts the Colin Currie Group and Synergy Vocals in a piece new to the U.S., Traveler's Prayer, plus two stone-cold classics, Tehillim and Music for 18 Musicians.
• More NYC music news announced Tuesday, as reported by my colleague Ben Yakas for Gothamist: SummerStage is returning in a big, big way this season, with a dizzying variety of 90-something concerts all over the city; and City Winery, the adult-music venue brand owned by Knitting Factory co-founder Michael Dorf, plans to open a new location inside Grand Central Terminal… and promises to keep the volume down enough so you'll be able to hear your train announced.
• Finally, how utterly marvelous to find a review in The New York Times of Joyce DiDonato's ambitious, heartfelt Eden project, written by my former close comrade at the New Yorker, Oussama Zahr. More, please!
Night After Night Watch.
Concerts listed in Eastern Standard Time.
Ecstatic Music: Amir ElSaffar's Rivers of Sound Orchestra
Merkin Hall, Kaufman Music Center
129 W. 67th St., Upper West Side
Thursday, April 28 at 7:30pm; $25, students $10
Iraqi-American trumpeter, santur player, vocalist, and composer Amir ElSaffar leads his talent-packed multicultural big band in a performance featuring Iraqi maqam vocalist Hamid Al-Saadi.
Nia Imani Franklin
80 N. Sixth St., Williamsburg
Thursday, April 28 at 7:30pm; $20
Franklin, a past Miss America pageant winner who's used her visibility to promote her work as a composer, as well as that of her peers and colleagues, showcases her own music alongside works by Missy Mazzoli, Tomeka Reid, Jessie Montgomery, and Sato Matsui.
Long Play Festival
Friday, April 29-Sunday, May 1; times and prices vary
I'm going to level with you: it feels almost cosmically strange to be leaving town the weekend Bang on a Can finally gets to splatter its super-ambitious new Long Play Festival all over Brooklyn. This festival is freaking crazy in the best possible sense. If you can't find something that interests you in this extravaCANza™ – from Matmos playing Robert Ashley (Roulette; April 29 at 6:15pm) to Michael Pisaro-Liu and Nate Wooley playing music by Éliane Radigue (Public Records; April 30 at 3pm) to Leftedge Percussion playing Strange and Sacred Noise by John Luther Adams (Mark Morris Dance Center; April 30 at 7:30pm) to Michael Riesman playing a Philip Glass solo recital (Roulette; April 30 at 11pm) to the completely bananas finale, in which a new Bang on a Can Orchestra will re-interpret Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come, with guests like James Blood Ulmer and Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and arrangements from Nick Dunston, Craig Harris, Nicole Mitchell, Carman Moore, David Sanford, and Pamela Z – well, if you can't find anything in there, you maybe just don't like new music. If your budget is limited, you're still in luck: in addition to putting on free shows in BAM's The Adam (formerly BAMcafé), Bang on a Can is bending over backward brokering deals for $25 day passes and $50 festival passes.
Merkin Hall, Kaufman Music Center
129 W. 67th St., Upper West Side
Saturday, April 30 at 7:30pm; $25, students $10
An estimable pianist, Chen also has a special knack for fashioning magical works with toy instruments and other unorthodox gadgets. Here, she presents a new piece featuring a specially commissioned scroll painting by children's author Grace Lin, alongside such prior creations as Tone Grove, for prepared music boxes and electronics, and Sumitones, for piano.
Reaching Across a Thousand Darknesses:
Paul Celan Centennial Concert and Reading
Scheuer Auditorium, The Jewish Museum
Sunday, May 1 at 4pm; $18, seniors $12, students $10
A program celebrating the centenary of Paul Celan, a Romanian Jewish Holocaust survivor widely regarded as being among the finest poets of the 20th century, includes commentary from poet and translater Pierre Joris, plus two Celan-inspired compositions by John Zorn – Zeitgehoft, for violin and cello, and Shibboleth, with Joris narrating over a recorded track – plus a live rendition of Force of Light, a haunting Celan song cycle composed by Dan Kaufman for his long-running alt-rock-slash-Euro-cabaret combo, Barbez, which assembles for the occasion complete with theremin wonder Pamelia Stickney.
Resnick Education Wing, Carnegie Hall
154 W. 57th St., Midtown Manhattan
Monday, May 2 at 7:30pm; $20
Carnegie Hall's youthful teaching ensemble, operated with the Juilliard School and the Weill Music Institute in partnership with New York City's Department of Education, offers an all-contemporary outing curated by composer Julia Wolfe. Included are world premieres by Robert Honstein, Kyle Brenn, and Shelley Washington, alongside pieces by George Lewis and Gabriella Smith.
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center
1941 Broadway, Upper West Side
Tuesday, May 3 at 7:30pm; $34–$74
Pianist Gil Kalish, a longtime close associate of the late George Crumb, plays one of the towering works from that iconoclastic composer's singular oeuvre, Ancient Voices of Children, with an ensemble fronted by soprano Tony Arnold. Also included on this appealing bill are songs by Claude Debussy and Charles Ives, and an arrangement of Igor Stravinsky's Le sacre du Printemps for two pianos.
Find more listings in Night After Night Watch: The Master List, available exclusively to paid subscribers.