Not much to ramble about in this week's preamble: I saw a terrific photography exhibition and a brilliantly gutsy musical last week, and in time I'll talk about them on the radio, and then here, too. Mostly I've felt dragged down by some kind of lingering illness, which is no fun during "normal" times but categorically scarier during this time of pandemic.
I've been fortunate. It's still sucked.
Tonight, having rescheduled twice already, I'm sitting out the last performance of Elektra at the Metropolitan Opera. (Evidently, so are the two marquee stars.) There's no question that I could endure the show, but no one who's paid dearly for tickets deserves to be subjected to my lingering cough.
Pretty sure the last time I made this same sacrifice was a revival of Die frau ohne Schatten. Maybe it's just Strauss.
This week's tally of memorable sounds includes recent and forthcoming releases featuring the music of Roger Reynolds, Michael Pisaro-Liu, Julia Reidy, and Chaya Czernowin, among others. Bend an ear…
Video of the week.
"Harry is a composer. He lives and works in Wiltshire."
Harrison Birtwistle: Notes from the End of a Garden, filmed by the composer's godson, commissioned by Sinfini, and premiered in 2014 for his 80th birthday.
Here is the news.
• The great British composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle died on Monday at age 87. Among the abundant obituaries available, the one by Ivan Hewett for The Guardian has a distinct gravity and authority. I also appreciated a quote that Ethan Iverson shared, from a Thomas Adès tweet:
I vividly recall taking a composer and improviser with me to hear Birtwistle's Night's Black Bird played by the New York Philharmonic under Christoph von Dohnányi in 2007, at what then was still called Avery Fisher Hall. After it ended, my guest seemed genuinely dumbstruck with pleasure and awe: "I had no idea anyone still wrote big, tough modern pieces like that anymore."
• Another passing of consequence: the profound Romanian pianist Radu Lupu died on Sunday, at age 76. David Allen has a fine obituary in The New York Times. (Ethan Iverson's previously cited essay, linked above, also covers Lupu.) I came to know this pianist initially because his was the first recording I happened to acquire of a piece dear to me on a deeply personal level, Brahms's Intermezzo in A major, Op. 118, No. 2. Serendipitously, Lupu's recording happened to be the finest I've encountered, even now; I speak not at all hyperbolically when I say that I view this as one of the greatest recordings of anything, ever:
Foolishly I never attended a Lupu recital, but I'll always recall having heard him playing the five Beethoven concertos in a single week with Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, in 2005. In his New York Times review of part of that cycle, Bernard Holland spins words prodigiously and poetically. (I remain steadfast in my admiration for Holland's prose, and grateful that our Times tenures overlapped.)
Also played during that Carnegie Hall series: Harrison Birtwistle's Night's Black Bird, along with Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 11, Roy Harris's Symphony No. 3, Henri Dutilleux's Symphony No. 2, and a daredevil elision of Franz Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony with Alban Berg's Three Pieces. Monumental.
• More passings: Hermann Nitsch, the provocative Viennese Actionist artist, died on Monday at 83; Artnet has more. And Nicholas Angelich, a talented pianist whose interpretations of Brahms's music were especially penetrating, also died on Monday at a tragically premature 51; read Gramophone for more.
• Lincoln Center this afternoon announced its summer festival plans: a single big-tent series, Summer for the City, running May 14-August 14 and incorporating aspects of Lincoln Center Out of Doors, Midsummer Night Swing, and the Mostly Mozart Festival. I wrote about the announcement for Gothamist, and I'm certain there will be more to say about specific aspects as the time comes closer.
Night After Night Watch.
Concerts listed in Eastern Standard Time.
20 Putnam Ave., Brooklyn
Thursday, April 21 at 7:30pm; $15, students $10
Violinist Maya Bennardo and violist Hannah Levinson introduce three newly commissioned pieces: Bennardo's Plateaus in an open field, plus Lightning Field by Mariel Roberts, and a new work by Lester St. Louis. Roberts opens with a set of music for cello and electronics.
Bridges: JACK Quartet
Merkin Hall, Kaufman Music Center
129 W. 67th St., Upper West Side
Thursday, April 21 at 7:30pm; $25, students $10
Appearing under the auspices of the Bridges series, an immersive residency hosted jointly with Montclair State University's Cali School of Music, JACK Quartet presents the world premiere of works by Khyam Allami and George Lewis, and the first U.S. performance of A Complete History of Music (Volume 1) by Patricia Alessandrini.
Composer Portrait: Thomas Meadowcroft
Miller Theatre, Columbia University
2960 Broadway, Upper West Side
Thursday, April 21 at 8pm; $20
Ingenuity, resourcefulness, and abundant wit have made the Australian-born composer Thomas Meadowcroft an ideal partner for the pianists and percussionists of Yarn/Wire—a compatibility evident in their first collaboration, Walkman Antiquarian. Now, Meadowcroft and a newer Yarn/Wire lineup unite for two world premieres infused with pop music, playfulness, and nostalgia.
Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall
881 Seventh Ave., Midtown Manhattan
Saturday, April 23 at 9:30pm; $65–$80
Many paths converge in this single concert by the trailblazing new-music quartet. The program include a reprise of Black Angels, the electrifying piece that first inspired violinist David Harrington to form this intrepid group, in the wake of composer George Crumb's passing on Feb. 6. It also includes a suite from My Lai, a theatrical piece created for Kronos by composer Jonathan Berger and librettist Harriet Scott Chessman, featured on the group's next album. Completing the bill are a world premiere, ilektrikés rímes by Aleksandra Vrebalov, creator of several Kronos mainstays, and the New York premiere of music by yourself by Inti Figgis-Vizueta, who's serving presently as a mentor for Luna Composition Lab—speaking of which, read on…
Luna Composition Lab Alumni Celebration
The Greene Space
44 Charlton St., Lower Manhattan
Monday, April 25 at 7pm; $25
Nia Imani Franklin – a composer and vocalist, and Miss America 2019 – hosts a celebration of former Luna Composition Lab participants, whose works will be played by members of the International Contemporary Ensemble. If you can't attend in person, this event will be streamed live on WQXR—which, full disclosure, is a part of the company that presently employs me.
Solar Flare: Luna Composition Lab
Merkin Hall, Kaufman Music Center
129 W. 67th St., Upper West Side
Wednesday, April 27 at 7:30pm; $15 suggested donation
Participants in the 2021-22 Luna Composition Lab, an invaluable mentorship and training program established by composers Missy Mazzoli and Ellen Reid to foster, platform, and promote young female, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming artists, present new works.
Find more listings in Night After Night Watch: The Master List, available exclusively to paid subscribers.