Musikfabrik and Delusion of the Fury

On July 23 and 24, Ensemble Musikfabrik (a contemporary music group from Cologne) performed Harry Partch’s final large-scale theater work, Delusion of the Fury as part of the 2015 Lincoln Center Festival. Since the work’s premiere in 1969 there have been only a handful of performances. This one is important to note because it’s the first performance in the United States featuring the near-complete replica set of Partch Instruments built by Thomas Meixner in 2012. The New York City performances were based upon the 2013 performance directed by Heiner Goebbels and produced by Ruhrtriennale, and although some aspects of the staging and costumes seemed arbitrary and distracting, the performance was executed with amazing musicality, impeccable precision, and the ensemble allowed Delusion to exert itself as a great work of art. Most importantly, the performance raises interesting questions about the legacy of Harry Partch now that more than one unique set of his instruments exists.

Ensemble Musikfrabrik’s Partch Instruments onstage at New York City Center (Photo by Steven N. Severinghaus)

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The Tinderland: A Tragicomic Cabaret

Last night I had the wonderful experience of seeing and hearing a cabaret show put on at The Duplex in the West Village in Manhattan. The show, The Tinderland: A Tragicomic Cabaret, featured David J. Baldwin (music director) along with R-Elle Fry, Amanda Tarver, and Timothy Stoddard singing solos, duets, and ensemble numbers all addressing the theme of dating and love in New York City. The Selections included a variety of pop hits such as “Stay With Me,” “Elastic Heart,” and “La Vie en rose” among others.

As I’m in the midst of a research project about Tin Pan Alley, I couldn’t help be be struck by the similarities between the tales of late-19th century New York City entertainment and the performance last night. What really struck me was how the show weaved together contemporary pop hits, classic ballads, standards, and even songs from movies to support a personal and relevant dramatic theme, and how it integrated and embraced the nature of a drinking establishment as performance venue.

Despite the many changes and twists and turns that we see and hear about in the American music scene, The Tinderland affirmed that some things are so good that they can and will remain for some time.

Transeamus: The Hilliard Ensemble’s Final Album

Tonight, in London, the Hilliard Ensemble will give their final scheduled performance before they retire. Since their founding in the 1970s, the Hilliard Ensemble have been vanguards of the early music movement and remained a powerful force throughout their 40-year history. At the end of October, the Hilliard Ensemble released their final album, Transeamus. The album (which was recorded in 2012) is a collection of English carols and motets from the 15th century and a stunningly appropriate cap to an amazing set of recordings. David James, countertenor of the group, summed up the essence of this recording’s context within the Hilliard Ensemble’s catalog:

The Hilliard Ensemble’s first ever recording contained music from the court of King Henry VIII and so it seemed appropriate for our final recording to return to our roots…

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Birdman: A Score for Drum Kit

birdman-movie-poster-1Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), a film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and starring Michael Keaton, is a surreal tale of a washed-up Hollywood action star who tries his hand at serious theater acting in New York City. The movie opened in mid-November and has been well received. I knew about the movie for a while but it wasn’t until I read Stephin Merritt’s review of the score that I was compelled to go see the movie—mostly to experience its soundtrack.

Birdman‘s soundtrack consists mostly of drum kit music composed by jazz drummer Antonio Sanchez, along with some “additional music” composed by both Joan Valent and Victor Hernandez Stumpfhauser, and some cuts of music by Mahler, Ravel, John Adams, and a couple other classical composers. This score of primarily drum kit work is a fascinating experiment because the music requires the film much more than the film requires the music. Additionally the work of multiple composers along with selections by a music supervisor are an interesting departure from what is the traditional model of film scoring. Continue reading

Barbershop Reality

Last night Oxygen network’s reality series Fix My Choir featured the Sweet Adelines International chorus Sirens of Gotham on the episode, “A Choir with Two Heads.” Fix My Choir‘s premise is Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child, and gospel musician Deitrick Haddon meeting with choirs across the country to help solve administrative and musical problems each group may have—basically making each choir more meaningful and enjoyable for its members. The episode featuring the Sirens of Gotham is perhaps the most public, non-comedic exposure for barbershop music in recent memory, and as someone who was peripherally involved in the creation of the show, it was also an interesting lesson in reality television.

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New York Polyphony Contributes to Christmas Creep

We all know about the Christmas Creep: that phenomenon of Christmas celebrations inching earlier and earlier into the year. There’s something a little unsettling about seeing Christmas decorations in the aisles of stores before Halloween. What happened to the halcyon days of waiting until Thanksgiving? This year New York Polyphony, the acclaimed vocal quartet, decided to contribute to the Christmas Creep by releasing their newest album, Sing Thee Nowell, in early September—and I couldn’t be more delighted.

Sing Thee NowellI’ve been following New York Polyphony for several years now, and I’ve always been impressed with their work. This album however, is excellent even by their already high standards. Sing The Nowell is a wonderful blend of old and new Christmas carols. In typical fashion for New York Polyphony, their recording features standards like Victoria’s “O Magnum Mysterium” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and works by contemporary composers such as Andrew Smith and Richard Bennett—whose Five Carols are excellently performed. But the real gems of this recording are Verdelot’s “Gabriel Archangelus” and several compositions and arrangements by members of the quartet.
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Iron & Wine (et al.) at BAM

Last night I attended one of several Nonesuch Records 50th Anniversary concerts taking place at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The featured artists were Devendra Banhart, Stephin Merritt, and Sam Beam (aka Iron & Wine). The opportunity to see these three artists on a single concert is extremely rare, so I’m fortunate to live in New York City. I’m also thankful for the heads up about the concert from my good friend Matthew, who by the way, introduced me to all three of these performers.
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Richard Buckner Living Room Concert

Last night I had the wonderful opportunity to see Richard Buckner live. When I lived in San Diego I saw him about three or four times. However, this time was different; instead of a club or bar, this performance was in a fan’s living room, and I was able to experience this talented artist in an entirely new way.
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A New Band of ‘Bots

Back in November 2013, I saw Compressorhead (the robot band) perform live in Union Square. Although robots will always be super cool, I was disappointed that someone would build a 78-fingered guitarist to perform “I Love Rock and Roll” and “Blitzkrieg Bop.” The music performed by robot bands should either be impossible or extremely difficult for humans to execute. Otherwise, what’s the point of building the machines?
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It’s my friends’ band (so of course my review is positive): Old Man Wizard’s UNFAVORABLE

At the beginning of November Old Man Wizard released their first album, Unfavorable. I’ve known the guys from Old Man Wizard for sometime (the bassist & I did our four years of music school together), and I even remember when they formed. From the start I had enjoyed Old Man Wizard. Their songs always had a good sense of development, and they combine the timbres of metal music with an extensive harmonic vocabulary and melodic interest. Additionally Old Man Wizard’s songs portray the events and lives of human beings and age-old professions, rather than vague, abstract concepts.
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