Thursday, May 30, 2019

[2] Uri Caine Trio at The Stone @ Mannes | #1Summer50Concerts

WHO: Uri Caine Trio (Uri Caine, piano; Mark Helias, bass; Ben Perowsky, drums)
WHERE: The Stone at The New School
WHEN: May 29, 2019, 8:30pm

I only decided I was going to this concert about 2 hours before it actually started. And I was almost late because I spent too long looking for the nonexistent lunchbox section at TJ Maxx.

Ah, the joys of adulting.

Admittedly, I didn't know a ton about Uri Caine before showing up to his concert last night. I knew was a pianist, and that he had done a jazz Mahler album that I've been meaning to listen to for years, and that was about it. I don't know why his week-long residency at Mannes didn't get more press -- the audience was maybe half full, only about 30 people. But that didn't stop the trio from taking the audience on an adventure to remember.

After sitting down at their instruments, the players began to noodle around, as is common for the first minute or two of a jazz set. But they kept noodling longer than that until eventually Perowsky began to play in something resembling a steady four-beat, seemingly on the fly. The other two adjusted their fooling around slowly, almost imperceptibly, until eventually the entire trio was synced. It was the kind of thing that leaves the audience with jaws on the ground; I know I was in total awe.

*applause* "Quick, take a photo, my phone is dead!" *band starts to pack up* "What, now?" "Yes!" *fumbling with phone*  -- an actual conversation my date and I had yesterday

The word that pops to mind when describing the trio is deft. Their entire set was full of tact and panache, and each player performed to his fullest without detracting from the others. Even at times when the music entered a "free" state similar to the opening of the set, it seemed like the players were aware of each others' improvisations -- perhaps that explains how they always found a common beat after a few seconds, even though Caine's gaze was glued to his hands and Helias never once opened his eyes.

Caine's improvised riffs very much evoked his career as a classical composer; though I didn't know he was classically trained when I saw him, there were a few moments where I turned to my date and mouthed "Debussy? Stravinsky? Messiaen?" and she smiled and nodded in corroboration. A disciple of George Crumb, Caine's claims to fame are his reworkings of classical music: not just Mahler, but Wagner, Schumann, Mozart, and even Bach's Goldberg Variations. One riff in particular from last night's concert evoked a dreaded piano solo from Stravinsky's Petrushka.

Helias's bass lines were creatively realized, if a bit stodgy. He, unlike many jazz bassists, was equally apt with a bow as pizzicato -- his bowed walking bass was refreshing. Perowsky left no timbre unexplored on his kit, from the side of the crash cymbal to the stands of his drums. His wrists alone were something to write home about; when he wanted a crash, but not too loud, he would tense his wrist completely and essentially push the cymbal down with his stick, muffling the sound just enough.

They played for an hour without stopping. The lines between actual charts and improvised filler material were blurry; that being said, the charts ranged from up-tempo rock-with-jazz-chords-sounding romps to the usual swing patterns. The final minute consisted of a series of dominant-tonic progressions -- literally V-I-V-I etc. -- but each time he played it he added more notes until he ended up with cluster-cluster-cluster-cluster. Take that, Mozart.

If you get a chance to see Uri Caine and any cohort of his, you should jump on that opportunity. His music has charisma and charm; it's nouveau-jazz without being inaccessible. And now that I've bought a lunchbox as well, my life is complete -- except for the fact that I forgot to bring it (with my lunch inside) to work today. Sigh.

The trim matches my backpack!

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

[1] S.E.M. Ensemble at Bohemian National Hall | #1Summer50Concerts

WHO: S.E.M. Ensemble
WHAT: New York - Ostrava: Influences and Initiatives
WHERE: Bohemian National Hall
WHEN: May 28, 2019, 7:30pm

Yes, last night I chose a new music concert over the New York Phil playing Beethoven's Eroica. But I saw the Phil do Eroica last season. And at this rate, I'll probably get to see it next season. And the next season. Ad nauseum.

Besides which, this concert had the universal college-student trump card: it was free.

As New York's new music ensembles go, S.E.M. is ancient. Founded shortly after Czech composer Petr Kotík moved stateside in 1969, they were -- and are -- closely linked with the American experimentalists that make baby boomers wrinkle their noses. They now perform regularly, mostly in Brooklyn Heights's Willow Place Auditorium (best described as a cross between a parochial school auditorium and a YMCA basketball court -- one of my favorite quirky concert venues in NYC).

Not pictured: the gymnastics mats piled in the back left corner

The program was composed of new pieces written by students of S.E.M.'s biennial Ostrava Days festival along with older stalwarts of the ensemble's repertoire. Particularly of note was violist-and-composer-on-the-side Anna Heflin's Included/Excluded (2019), which found a string quartet sitting with their backs to one another, each playing a fiendishly difficult and independent line. Then, all of a sudden, one of the violinists shouted: "CHAIR!"

I was sort of confused -- maybe she said "share" or something like that? No, she said it again, "CHAIR!" at which point the cellist began clapping at rhythmically constant, but seemingly arbitrary intervals. A couple minutes later, the cellist launched into a tirade about how people who drop dead on the street are still expected to make polite banter with passers-by. It was absurdism at its finest; I found myself scratching my head, but oddly and thoroughly satisfied.

Other highlights included Alvin Lucier's Navigations for Strings (1991), a piece which consists primarily of ever-so-slightly compressing and widening microtones; if you listen carefully, you can hear the sound oscillations getting faster and slower with the changing dissonances. Kotík and Wolff's pairings of pieces each displayed a very distinct narrative of their compositional evolutions.

But, perhaps most amusing of all was the final piece, Earle Brown's Available Forms I (1961). The sheet music of the piece takes the form of six unbound pages, each with five "events." The events can happen in any order, the pages can be played in any order, with any number of repetitions. Kotík had constructed a nifty music stand-mounted cardboard contraption with which he could show the orchestra how to move between pages; the events were shown with the fingers of his non-baton hand.

Overall, a great start to the project. If you're in the mood for something a little weirder, S.E.M. is your group. Oh, and be sure to take a visit to the Bohemian National Hall on E 73rd St -- it's the only consulate-plus-cultural-center-plus-restaurant you'll ever visit, I assure you.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Preview: What I'm Looking Forward To This Summer | #1Summer50Concerts

I've spent the last few months sifting through calendars and articles in hopes of even finding 50 concerts to go to this summer. Most big cities' classical music scenes dry up in the summer as orchestras take up residency at festivals in the quaint countryside. I'm glad to say, though, that NYC's summer music scene is active as always. Here are a few things I'm looking forward to seeing this summer:
  • The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra's annual two-concert series at Carnegie Hall, led this year by music director Yannick Nézét-Seguin. The first concert is a program of Ravel, Dutilleux, and Debussy with soprano Isabel Leonard (June 3); the second is Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Met regular Elīna Garanča paired with Bruckner's Symphony No. 7 (June 14)
  • The premiere of David Lang's opera prisoner of the state, directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer and performed by a cast of New York opera regulars accompanied by the New York Philharmonic (June 6-8, David Geffen Hall)
  • Avant-garde vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth's premiere of Bryce Dessner and Korde Arrington Tuttle's piece Triptych, based on photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe (June 6-8, Brooklyn Academy of Music)
  • Mitsuko Uchida's rescheduled all-Schubert Carnegie Hall program (June 16)
  • Three-time Tony Award-nominee Dave Malloy's new musical Octet, inspired by internet comment boards and scored for eight solo a cappella voices (through June 16, Signature Theater)
  • Orchestra of St. Luke's Bach celebration, which includes a program of Bach's orchestral music (June 13, Zankel Hall @ Carnegie Hall), a performance of the Goldberg Variations by French harpsichordist Pierre Hantaï (June 19, DiMenna Center), and OSL music director Bernard Labadie's own orchestration of the Goldberg Variations (June 20, Zankel Hall @ Carnegie Hall)
  • The free Naumburg Orchestral Concert series at the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center, which includes performances by New-York based ensemble The Knights (June 17), the Venice Baroque Orchestra (July 10), Boston-based string orchestra A Far Cry (July 18), the Orchestra of St. Luke's (July 30), and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (Aug 6)
  • The three NYC performances of Will Crutchfield's period bel-canto opera and oratorio festival Teatro Nuovo: a double bill of Donizetti's rarely-heard Symphony in E minor and Rossini's Stabat mater (June 27, Church of the Heavenly Rest), followed by Rossini's La gazza ladra (July 17, Rose Theater @ Jazz at Lincoln Center) and Bellini's La straniera (July 18, Rose Theater @ Jazz at Lincoln Center)
  • Celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, including the New York City Opera's premiere of Iain Bell's Stonewall (June 21-28, Rose Theater @ Jazz at Lincoln Center), as well as the LGBT-themed New York Festival of Song (June 11 and 25, LGBT Center)
  • Jazz club residencies by Joey Alexander (June 6-9, Blue Note), Brad Mehldau (June 18-23, Village Vanguard), The Bad Plus (July 25-30, Jazz Standard), Billy Childs (July 11-14, Jazz Standard), Vijay Iyer (July 16-21, Village Vanguard), and so many more!
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. I hope you're as excited as I am!