6 min read

The spirit of radio

Begin your day with a friendly voice, a companion unobtrusive: Here's the latest news, streaming picks, and a Video of the Week featuring Apartment House playing Morton Feldman, gorgeously.
The spirit of radio


Two weeks have passed since I mentioned a new job in the prelude to my year-end round-up. Since then I’ve been training intensely for my new position as a senior editor on the Arts Desk at NPR. It’s a temporary situation presently, contracted for six months, during which I’ll assume some of the duties of a public-radio legend.

Note, please, my choice of words. One does not replace Tom Cole, who’s been a towering presence, guiding light, and prominent influence in public radio for decades. Tom worked previously for Performance Today and Morning Edition before landing at the Arts Desk. If you’d like a quick example of his artistry as an editor, listen to the Morning Edition segment about a new Robbie Basho box set he shaped with reporter Joel Rose in December. You can admire his own writing, and his penchant for the guitar, in his authoritative obituaries of Julian Bream and Peter Green.

Tom will be missed keenly by those who worked with him closely – including Lara Pellegrinelli, my wife, who created many vibrant pieces with him during a long, happy collaboration – and by everyone who listened the work he did, whether they knew it or not. Following in his footsteps is a formidable challenge—but it’s a privilege to work in an organization and a medium he helped to shape so profoundly.

What this swerve in my career trajectory means for my writing, now and in the long term, remains to be seen. But this obviously is an extraordinary opportunity, one I plan to embrace and explore to the fullest extent possible.

One administrative note to the arts professionals who scan this newsletter: Please send notions for Night After Night and The New Yorker to the same iCloud address you’ve used thus far. My NPR address is reserved exclusively for business pertaining to that role, and nothing else. Thanks for understanding.

Here Is the News

Kris Davis (center) and the band with which she recorded Diatom Ribbons, which topped the NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll in 2019. (Photograph: Mimi Chakarova)

Speaking of Lara Pellegrinelli, a substantial new feature she conceived and wrote arrived on the NPR Music website Tuesday. “Equal at Last? Women in Jazz, by the Numbers” is a data-driven investigation of gender bias embedded in the NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll. The poll, established in 2006 by Francis Davis and published by NPR Music since 2013, is the largest of its kind, thus providing a snapshot of jazz criticism as an overall field of endeavor. As for why investigation was needed:

[R]ecordings are also made and circulated within a male-dominated industry and media. So the year-end polls that rank those projects — and empower “experts” to anoint or dismiss the artists who make them —  warrant our skepticism and scrutiny. And we well know that year-end lists have additional lives as listening lists, shopping lists, booking lists and hiring lists. Artists inevitably benefit from the prestige that the polls confer, creating a feedback loop that validates and fosters the visibility of their future labors. It is therefore important to understand whether or not they are reproducing and reinscribing gender bias.

In addition to Lara, six additional reporters have bylines for participating in this this painstaking investigation and evaluation: Shannon J. Effinger, Jordannah Elizabeth, Kira Grunenberg, Rachel Horn, Georgia Sebesky, and Natalie Weiner. All deserve attention and commendation.

  • The remarkable year the composer, multi-instrumentalist, and bandleader Tyshawn Sorey had in 2020, against all odds, has continued into 2021. His next big performance happens tonight, when cellist Seth Parker Woods and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra present the second performance of For Roscoe Mitchell, the engrossing “non-certo” Woods premiered with the Seattle Symphony in November. That event ended up on my year-end list and those of numerous co-workers and colleagues, which makes this uncommonly swift encore all the more welcome. As you prepare to stream the concert (details below), be sure to read the deep, wise, and insightful profile of Sorey that Adam Shatz wrote for The New York Times Magazine—it’s quite extraordinary.
  • For another commendable example of compelling music journalism, look to “Marion Brown’s Musical Portrait of Georgia,” written by Jon Ross for The Bitter Southerner, and illustrated with gorgeous photographs by Larry Fink. The article is rich in historic detail and evocative nuance, and did exactly what any strong music writing should: it sent me scrambling to put on Brown’s Afternoon of a Georgia Faun, a meditative 1971 album I heard in a new light, thanks to Ross.

Video of the Week

Last Saturday, January 9, the versatile English new-music group Apartment House took over London’s intimate Wigmore Hall, where it is designated an associate ensemble, for a daylong Morton Feldman celebration. Spread across three concerts streamed live on YouTube free of charge (with donations encouraged), the programs offered a range of mostly concise chamber works spanning Feldman’s career. All three are worth viewing, and remain available on-demand through Feb. 8. If you have to pick just one, I’d urge the weightless, mesmerizing account of Piano and String Quartet presented as the whole of the second concert. It’s just over an hour long, and time stands still for the duration. (The first program is here; the third, here.)

Stream On

Ekmeles (Photograph courtesy of the artists)

All times listed at Eastern Standard Time.

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Thursday, January 14, 8pm

As mentioned above, cellist Seth Parker Woods joins the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in the second performance of Tyshawn Sorey’s For Roscoe Mitchell, conducted by Maxim Emelyanychev. Also on the program are Ralph Vaughan Williams’s resplendent Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis and Franz Joseph Haydn’s regal Symphony No. 103 in E-flat (“Drumroll”). ($20; atlantasymphony.org)

Teatro alla Scala Orchestra
Friday, January 15, 2pm

The Italian premiere of Runner, a 2016 piece for large ensemble by Steve Reich, is a highlight in a concert by the Teatro alla Scala Orchestra, conducted by Carlo Boccadoro. The bill also includes Company by Philip Glass, Da pacem Domine by Arvo Pärt, Bruno Maderna’s Serenata 2, Niccolò Castiglioni’s Concertino per la notte di Natale, Mauro Montalbetti’s Corpo in controcanto, and a Boccadoro composition, Come polvere o vento. (Free; teatroallascala.org)

Hub New Music
Saturday, January 16, 7pm

Led by the flutist Michael Avitabile, the effervescent Boston quartet Hub New Music presents the world premiere of a new composition by Christopher Cerrone, in a video presented by Arizona Friends of Chamber Music. The 10-minute piece, titled New Addresses, comprises three movements, each named for a poem by Kenneth Koch: “To Breath,” “To My Heart at the Close of Day,” and “To ‘Yes’.” (Free, with donations encouraged; arizonachambermusic.org)

Saturday, January 16, 8pm

The poise, precision, and passion Ekmeles brings to even the thorniest works in its repertoire makes everything this new-music vocal consort does compelling, and during this pandemic non-season the group has developed a knack for making distinctive streaming experiences that involve both live and pre-recorded portions. The newest event, Guide, includes compositions by Cassandra Miller, Martin Iddon, Kayleigh Butcher and Bethany Younge, and Jessie Marino, with an opening audiovisual set by Phong Tran. If you can’t watch live, the program will be available on-demand for one week. (Free; ekmeles.com)

Castle of Our Skins
Monday, January 18, 7:30pm

Castle of Our Skins, a Boston organization dedicated to advancing Black artistry and cultural curiosity, collaborates with young players from from City Strings United, Boston City-Wide String Orchestra, and Boston String Academy for the latest Stringfest event presented by Celebrity Series. Castle of Our Skins fields a string quartet in pieces by Valerie Coleman, Monthati Masebe, and Eleanor Alberga, and then musters the student players for the world premiere of Anthem for Go, by Jessica Mays. You’ll also want to mark your calendar now for another Castle of Our Skins event presented by Celebrity Series on Feb. 4, showcasing music by Daniel Bernard Roumain and George Walker. (Free; celebrityseries.org)

The Last Word.