Thursday, November 4, 2021

The CMG Concert Calendar: November

I should disclaim: I may not actually be at every single one of these concerts. There will be a few with overlapping times. This is my perfect-world list -- if I didn't have to obey the laws of space and time, I would make sure to be at every single one of these performances.

RECURRING

MET OPERAS (all month, I'm too lazy to write out the dates)

Met Opera House | $37 and up
cond. Robertson; Blue, Brugger, Moore, Graves; Ballentine, Owens, Walker
I had a phase with this show, but I only got to see the Broadway version in LA. I'm sure it'll live up to the reviews -- I'm a huge fan of both Angel Blue and Eric Owens.

Met Opera House | $30 and up
cond. Kim; Hartig, Lombardi; Castronovo, Ruciński, Birch Elliott, N. Brownlee
I'm taking a good friend of mine to this. She's never seen an opera. Really, is there a better first opera than the Zeffirelli Bohème? I can't give away any of the plot -- my friend is going to be reading this. I chose this cast very deliberately: Charles Castronovo is supposed to be fabulous. Plus, Nick Brownlee is an old studio member from LA Opera, I remember being very impressed every time I saw him -- it must have been three or four times.

Met Opera House | $30 and up
cond. Nézet-Séguin; Morley; Orliński, Banks, Hopkins, Berg
My best friend and I saw a few snippets of a Eurydice-in-progress at Caramoor a few summers ago. We liked it. I couldn't be in LA for the premiere, but I've only heard good things. It'll be my first time hearing Jakub Józef Orliński live -- that's been a long time coming.

--

A FEW PERFORMANCES

November 5 & 6 | The Lab at Alchemical Studios | $20
The folks over at Pleiades Project are friends, but don't let my insistence on ethical disclosure mitigate my actual excitement for the event. I haven't seen a work of musical theater (not counting opera) in at least a year, likely more. And this performance falls into my favorite genre: exhaustively researched, politically charged historical comedy. In my opinion, laughing pairs best with thinking and learning. At time of writing, this is tomorrow, and I'm psyched.

November 10, 12, 14mat | Peter Jay Sharp Theater | $40
An obscure baroque opera that seems to follow me around, Rossi's L'Orfeo is a delightful piece, if not as earth-shattering as Monteverdi's. The only CD of the full opera is garbage, so I always appreciate an opportunity to refresh my memories. I'm going with another friend who played in the pit with me in college -- and she's getting me in for free 😊
EDIT 11/11: I'm seeing this tomorrow, and I just found out that Julie Roset -- a superstar French soprano whose light, clear voice I've gushed about since her first solo album dropped in 2020 -- is playing the lead role of Euridice. Turns out she's finishing up a degree at Juilliard. I couldn't be more excited.

November 6, 7mat | St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church | $15 and up
It was Meistersinger or this. I can't choose Wagner over Monteverdi, it's against my moral code. I don't know the sixth book as well on the whole -- I'm more of a four-and-five person -- but I'm never not excited for Monteverdi. Bring on the ohimès.

--

ONE PERFORMANCE

November 6 | Alice Tully Hall | $20
A couple of my best friends are playing in this concert, but it would be on my radar even if that weren't the case. Nothing hits me quite like historically informed early Classical music -- done right, its energy is contagious. I'm not sure exactly when Pablo Heras-Casado got into early music, but he does it now and he does it well.

November 6 | Good Shepherd - Faith Presbyterian Church
Okay, I'm going to be very frank: I can't make this one, I have to support my friends over at Juilliard. But as I said in the last post, I'm a very, very big fan of The Sebastians. They have ideas, interesting ones. This program celebrates newly-400-year-old French poet Jean de la Fontaine and intersperses music and story. I really, really wish I could be in two places at once -- this will be a recurring theme.

November 11 | Church of St. Luke in the Fields | $25
Sherezade Panthaki, soprano
Sherry Panthaki is my former voice teacher, so of course I'm going to this. But again, I'm really, really, really excited. Hearing one's teacher sing is one of life's simple joys -- teachers teach their own technique, and thus are the closest to a perfect example any struggling student will get.

November 14mat | Merkin Hall at Kaufman Center | $25 and up
Another conflict of interest -- the conductor is one of my best friends from school. But he conducts a mean orchestra, and his programming beats the shit out of that of most other ensembles in this city -- and he knows that I wouldn't say that if I didn't mean it from the bottom of my heart.

November 15 | Alice Tully Hall | $30
Nicholas Swensen, viola
Heldenleben is a guilty pleasure. It's big, and loud, and bombastic, and yet so well-constructed. Probably too big for Alice Tully Hall, but the much of the beauty of the piece comes from having your eardrums blown to bits. Also, since I'm not seeing Meistersinger, this is my chance to see Antonio Pappano before he takes another 25-year hiatus from New York (please don't, Tony). 

November 18 | The Sheen Center for Thought & Culture | $30
November 21 | Flushing Town Hall | $25
Most of these concerts have been on my radar for a while. I found out about this performance approximately an hour ago, and it may be the one I'm most excited for this entire month. The Cramer Quartet get rave reviews everywhere they go. The Haydn Seven Last Words are among the finest quartet pieces ever written. That lineup of composers is so New York -- plus, bonus points on new music for old instruments, the Cramer Quartet play on classical setups. Plus, one of my dearest friends and collaborators is designing projections. Camilla, if you read this: why didn't you tell me about this sooner???

Monday, November 1, 2021

Some October Highlights and Beyond

New York's "leading young early-music ensemble"
perhaps looking a touch younger than they do today
(God, I'm going to get myself killed one of these days...)

For someone who insisted that he was re-taking the classical criticism world by storm, I've been pretty quiet these past five or so weeks. Time, it stops for no one. Motivation has been hard to come by. I know I'll never have more time for personal projects than I do right now, and yet every time I think about, say, writing a full-length article, my stomach turns. I feel somewhere on the cusp of too busy, burnt out, and just plain lazy -- but some of those things are constants in my life.

I've still been going to concerts -- it's not like I have so many other hobbies. A few highlights from the past month:

  • The Sebastians performing music by Bach and friends with live-produced paintings. Embarrassingly, I actually still owe them a review -- they were kind enough to give me a press ticket. A lovely program, lovely playing, lovely conversation after. You'll read more on them soon, but for now: Daniel, Nick, Ezra, Jeff, and Karl, if you're reading this, consider me your biggest fan.
  • Terence Blanchard's Fire Shut Up In My Bones at the Met -- standing room only. Absolutely destroyed my lower back, but well worth the pain.
  • Voces8 later that same day. My first time seeing them live. Left me conflicted, but satisfied.
  • Robert Ashley's eL/Aficionado at Roulette in Brooklyn. My date, editor, friend, and once review topic Anna Heflin wrote a phenomenal review that followed the strange format of the piece.
  • Brahms chamber music with Garrick Ohlsson and the Tákacs Quartet. Tákacs plays Brahms in a way that makes me think they excel at Bártok (they do). Slightly choppy, but hey, Brahms is comfort food -- a slightly soggy French fry is better than no French fry at all.

And then, all of a sudden, it was November. Spooky, huh?

Clearly, I'm a little tired of the conventional review. I mean, the joy of reviewing comes from some idea that one's opinion matters. I've asked myself this question for the the last eighteen months -- why does it matter what I think? -- and I still can't figure it out.

So instead, I'm going to approach the concert from the other side: looking forward. I'm in the process of assembling a list of the concerts that I'm most excited for this month. Think of it as the Classical Music Geek concert calendar, a curated selection from other NYC-area lists, highly targeted Facebook ads, and things my friends are performing. (Just because I'm quick to disclose a conflict of interest doesn't mean I'm not also super excited.) Hopefully, I can provide some value to the reader, not just to the performer -- although, every time a performer quotes me in the Press section of their website, my heart does sing a little bit.

But that's too many words for right now -- first, sleep. Look out for that calendar in the next couple days.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

We're Back!

This was the part of my recital where I got to wail like a sad Irish fisherman -- fol-ee-o-ho-ro...
(Three Sean-Nós Songs by Rosśa Crean; projections by Camilla Tassi;)

Good news, guys: I still exist!

I think you deserve a quick update. The recital I was musing about in my last post (ten! months ago) happened, and that random Galician piece made it onto the program. I graduated. I live in New York now.

I've been writing some. Aside from the obligatory papers to finish my degree (good riddance), I've started contributing and editing for a nine-month-old publication called Which Sinfonia, founded by a composer (and now friend) who I reviewed on the first concert of my 2019 summer gauntlet -- yeah, remember that?

By the end of that summer, my writing was in the best shape of my life -- try writing 25,000 words in three months, yours might be too. But, predictably, it slipped. There were more important things to do during the pandemic.

I'm out of practice. I haven't had an easy write in, say, a year. Every time I sit down to write a piece -- profile, review, just general thoughts -- it feels like pulling teeth, and I'm never satisfied with the product. My editors tell me not to be so hard on myself, but I feel that reading one's own writing is like listening to one's own singing: it takes many years of self-loathing to finally accept that maybe, just maybe, there's a good kernel in there. But just because I'm aware of the process doesn't make me hate my writing any less!

All this to say: if I'm ever going to inhabit the niche sphere of music journalism, it's high time I start writing again. The NYC concert scene may not be back to normal, but thanks to extensive research, I've been making it to four or five performances a week. I've now seen my first live jazz, new music, early music, orchestra, choir since concert halls reopened. I still love going to concerts just as much as before, and it's time I shared that love once again.

I'm going to apologize in advance for some of the things I'm going to make you read. There will be bad pieces of writing. There will be lines so cliché they make you cringe. Consider it your good deed for the day: you're helping a young writer break through an impasse. Pat yourself on the back.

I'm not going to hold myself to the same standard as I did in 2019. I've got a job to work, adulting to do, burnout to cope with. But as of today, this site is officially active once again. Laissez les bons temps rouler.

The Geek is back.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

What I've Been Up To

Very few good things happened in the last few months. This photo was one of them.

Hello again!

I know it's been awhile. Like the rest of the world, COVID kind of put me in a rut. But I decided that was okay. Instead of guilting myself, I laid myself down in my rut, covered myself in dirt and leaves, and hibernated for a good few months. Proverbially (mostly).

But now, I'm in paper-writing hell. And writing academic papers just makes me miss writing what I love: reviews, recommendations, things that are strictly just-for-fun and don't involve in-depth analyses of Tristan und Isolde. That opera is such a clusterfuck -- for the love of god, not even one cadence? (Please, whatever deities that be, make it so my music theory professor never reads this.)

So here's a fun little update on what I've been up to since my last post six(!) months ago.

Virtual Ensembles
I hate them. They're not the same. Don't let anyone tell you that they're similar, or a good substitute. They are a band-aid on a bullet wound. But I'm doing them anyway to feel something, anything.

I'm lucky to have a quartet with friends who also hate virtual ensembles, but are doing them anyway to feel something, anything. Here is our first venture, some Poulenc from back in [July? August? Summer.].

This was the first time I put on concert black since the pandemic started.
I never expected to have such emotions over a literal black T-shirt.

In a few weeks, you can hear me in an entirely virtual production of Dido and Aeneas. I will be listening, but not before a nice strong martini. Listening to recordings of oneself is actual, verified torture.

Summer Classes
Only one of them. Chemistry for Music Majors.

Cooking
More than any person who lives alone should.

A Pseudo-Musicology Talk
My favorite concert series from last summer, ChamberQUEER, went virtual this summer with two weeks of ChamberQUEERantine performances and talks.

My friend A.Z. and I decided to do some sort of free-form talk about queer online musical spaces (a lot of adjectives, I know) because neither of us had picked up our instruments in months. What resulted was something that would make actual academics scream. But hey, it was pretty fun. And then we went to the after-party Zoom and got cross-examined by someone who I assume was an off-duty (but barely) trial lawyer.

Peep my now-broken brown chair :'(

Convincing Myself That I Want To Sing for a Living
And then having a crisis and talking myself out of that prospect three weeks later. At least for now ;)

A Backyard Production of Dido and Aeneas
Furnished informally by the Yale Music Department, performed socially distanced in the department chair's backyard. I was the drunken sailor, complete with an empty bottle of Laphroaig (expensive taste!).

Deep Dives for Recital Rep
Perhaps the biggest loss for me in the COVID era has been opportunities to conduct. Last March and April, I was supposed to conduct the Yale Glee Club on tour and conduct a fully-staged production of Stravinsky's Pulcinella. With undergrads unilaterally barred from in-person performance here, there are simply no real conducting opportunities.

My senior project was going to be a performance of Buxtehude's Membra jesu nostri -- five vocalists, one on a part, plus a seven- or eight-person instrumental ensemble. But of course, that's not allowed. And I was sad and angry about that for awhile. And I said fuck it, I'm not jumping through hoops to try to get an ensemble for my project. I'm going at it alone.

So I started developing a program for solo, unaccompanied voice, partially inspired by one of my favorite albums: Marc Mauillon's Songline: itinéraire monodique. The program isn't totally set yet, but here's a sneak peek at a relatively new addition, a gorgeous cantiga de amigo by thirteenth-century(?) Galician(??) composer Martin Codax. This song is part of a set that may be the only surviving Galician secular songs in history -- that is, if Codax was indeed Galician.


Anyway, that's about it from me. Hopefully, I'll be writing more in the coming months -- I'm coming up on a winter break where I'll have nothing to do but practice my *top-secret* recital repertoire. Hope you all stay safe and healthy, both physically and mentally!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Anniversaries

Thanks for the memories, I guess
(jeez Snapchat way to put me in a bad mood)

Believe it or not, today marks exactly one year since I embarked on #1Summer50Concerts. In a way, it's Classical Music Geek's first anniversary, too -- I had a couple posts before that, but May 28, 2019 was the real, no-turning-back launch.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that the much-awaited sequel to #1Summer50Concerts is a summer where in-person live music doesn't exist at all. I miss concert halls. SO much. I've been watching livestreams, of course, and pre-recorded concerts. They're not the same. I don't expect them to be the same. And frankly, I can't find it in me to review them because, as I said in my last post, the fact that they exist supersedes quality. Performers are trying to make us happier, trying to help us cope, and evaluating their performances feels short-sighted and wholly irrelevant in such a crazy time.

I don't really have much to say -- nothing's happened except that I've turned into a grandma who sleeps till noon, cooks a lot, goes on the same daily walk, and still doesn't practice. It was a nice life for the first couple weeks. I'm bored now. Maybe it's time to start practicing.

I'm going to try to keep posting through the summer, but there's only so many times I can write the same "5 Things You Should Listen To This Week" article. For now, a Mozart aria that's been stuck in my head for days, taken from a concert that my best friend and I watched together over Zoom two nights ago (if you're wondering how that works: "3...2....1....go!" *press play together*). Sabine and Raphaël are among the more powerful musical power couples of today.


Anyway, happy anniversary to me. Here's to many more years of blogging, most of them hopefully better than 2020. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Collective Corona Memory | Pandemic Musings

Igor Levit on Twitter: "Heute Abend wieder: Livestream Hauskonzert ...
Igor Levit's recording setup
I've had a lot of time to think lately. Here are some of my thoughts. Disclaimer: they're not so optimistic.

Every night since the world started quarantining, German-Russian pianist Igor Levit has been reliably livestreaming short Twitter concerts from the living room of his tiny Munich apartment. Nothing extravagant, just a piano, an iPhone whose microphone occasionally cuts out, and a musician determined to improve someone’s—anyone’s—day. On one evening, Brahms’s left-hand arrangement of the Bach Chaconne. On another, some short selections of Schubert. To celebrate his 32nd straight day of streaming, Levit played Beethoven’s bizarre 32nd piano sonata for nearly 20,000 viewers.

Some musicians, like Levit, have been alarmingly productive in quarantine; others (myself included) not so much. As COVID-19 wiped my calendar cleaner than I’d seen it since middle school (from 20 hours of orchestra, choir, and opera rehearsal per week to a big, fat zero), I started to panic . But my solace fell in watching others make the music that I couldn’t; Levit and his colleagues came to the rescue, helping me to have the best of all possible quarantines in this best of all possible worlds (as my Grandpa Paul would have said, “How do you like them apples, Leibniz?”).

Concert halls all over the world are shuttered for the foreseeable future. Musical organizations lay on the verge of financial ruin, trying to retain their solvency without crucial revenue from the final three months of their seasons. Musicians are doing their best to make ends meet even though the market for their services has suddenly dried up.

And yet, one could argue that there is no better time to be a consumer of classical music. As physical concert halls close their doors, virtual concert halls have opened their Zoom rooms, scratching audiences’ itch for live music. Scroll through Facebook on any given day and you’ll find musical gems scattered among the fear and apprehension. A violinist friend playing a minute of a Kesha cover to a backing track. A full rebroadcast from a summer festival whose 2020 iteration has already been canceled. A piece of Renaissance polyphony rewritten as a handwashing song.

A favorite of mine from Singapore's Red Dot Baroque

Like everyone, I’m trying my best to live “in the moment” right now. Yet I can’t help but wonder how this crazy time will live on in the collective memories of musicians and musical consumers alike. People are more willing than ever to embrace the Internet as a means of sharing their musical talents with the world. But, despite this zeal, distanced live music now feels less like a serendipitous outpouring of artistic inspiration than a manifestation of crisis.

Take Igor Levit. I’ve been watching his livestreams as often as I can make the time. The idea of someone playing music for me in real time brings me some meaningful amount of solace as I’m quarantined alone in my apartment. But after COVID-19 is gone, I’ll probably never reach for those archived recordings. Why would I choose Levit recorded on an iPhone when I could listen to any of his masterfully engineered, “just one more take” studio albums?

Levit is doing the best he can in the face of crisis. But right now, we’re measuring “quality” on a different scale than usual. The mere existence of live performances supersedes our conventional notions of musical quality — who cares if these performances aren’t studio- or stage-quality as long as I can watch them from my living room? But five, ten, twenty years from now, once COVID is but a section in our history textbooks and we have renewed access to the live music we currently lack, will anyone remember the art that we are now finding so meaningful, or will we see it as compromised and unpolished? Will anyone want to remember that art, let alone anything of this traumatic era?

We’ve been continually looking to the Spanish flu of 1918 as a reference point. But another tragedy of the time offers damning clues as to what might happen to corona art. In 1914, at the start of World War I, the British army sent Harold Triggs to fight in the trenches of Ypres, Belgium. He brought with him a modified cello, little more than a hollow box outfitted with four strings and an endpin. The instrument brought joy to those rendered listless by an otherwise bleak battle theater. But after the war, it sat untouched on a luthier’s shelf for a hundred years before British cellist Stephen Isserlis used it to record part of an album of WWI-era music. Even then, the trench cello was merely a tool to recreate the historical soundscape of a generation that had since passed — no one who was alive during The Great War wanted to revive music that was so inexorably associated with trauma, loss, and suffering.


The trench cello may have been a viable wartime alternative to a Stradivari, but once the guns fell silent this ingenious instrument almost instantaneously became nothing but an artifact. I’m worried the same will happen for hundreds of innovative COVID-era projects, simply because they were realized in a time when resources were thin. Large-scale “corona” commissioning projects. Daily pajama-clad practice sessions from isolation. Multi-tracked videos captioned “Day __ in Quarantine.” All the tidbits that brought the world some semblance of light in a dark time, forgotten and gathering cyber-dust on a Facebook server in Altoona, Iowa.

The massive amounts of musical content that I’ve seen in the last six weeks have made me laugh, cry, ooh, and aah. After this period is over, of course I’m going to remember the suffering, the loss. But I want to remember the silver linings, too. And COVID-music is perhaps the biggest silver lining I’ve seen so far.

Everything from these few months will be labeled “corona,” whether it’s culture, politics, or cooking (who could forget when the world turned to sourdough for comfort?). It’s up to future us whether we probe beyond that label into the content itself.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

A Birthday Zoom | Pandemic Musings

And that was just page 1

My aunt turned 55 a couple days ago, so today she threw a "soirée" (3pm for me, 9pm for some, noon for others) to celebrate. The fine print: "Everyone (kids and adults!) is encouraged (not required) to give a little performance of music, poetry, etc., max 4 minutes."

My brother and I cobbled together a movement of the Byrd Mass for Four Voices -- we were planning on doing it anyway (just for funsies), but we figured that would take some of the performance anxiety out of the equation. Turns out, Zoom thinks the video sounds much different than we wanted it to. Oh well.

Here are a few other things that happened:

A Nobel Prize-winning physicist presented a fascinating experiment in relativity as he attempted to orchestrate a Zoom performance of his favorite Hungarian round. Only about half of the 20-some people in the call knew Hungarian. Maybe a third knew how to operate Zoom. Needless to say, it was not together. But hey, it was fun.

A couple of my cousins played a movement (the first 57 seconds) of John Cage's 4'33'', at which point the chat blew up -- "What happened?" "I think we lost them!" "Oh no!" I tried to assure everyone that this was according to plan. No one believed me.

A few great performances of Suzuki book Bach minuets. Makes me hopeful for the next generation of musicians.

Lots of poetry, some uplifting, some dour. You can really tell who is taking this quarantine in stride and who has had enough already.

A performance by one of these people who "just started learning guitar" but is already quite good -- if you're reading this, I envy you.

So many people talking over each other. SO. Many.

It was fun. Hopefully the next one won't have to be on Zoom.