Could you introduce yourself and Face the Music to our readers?
My name is Vasudevan Panicker, but my friends call me Vasu. I’m a musician and native New Yorker who focuses on creating and sharing modern music. Lately, my music practice requires me to tap in and to let go—when I feel good, my music is good. I also work for New Music’s teenage dream-team, Face the Music. Jenny Undercofler directs and conducts this group of 75 kids, most of whom are from New York City’s public schools. So far this season, the group has given 23 concerts, and we have 3 more to go! The kids rehearse at-least once a week, with some rehearsing up to 3 times a week. A sample of this season’s rep includes “Double Sextet” by Steve Reich, “Glassworks” by Philip Glass, “Horses of Instruction” by Steve Martland and collaborations with Angélica Negrón and LJOVA.
Before Face the Music was born, classical pre-college students were only taught the 3 B’s. Generally, young classical students are programmed to believe that nothing exists after that. Despite New Music having gained tons of popularity over the past 20 years, this is still the pre-dominant belief in our society, and in classical music culture and other sub-cultures. How many times a week do you have to explain to people what “New Music” or “Contemporary Classical” is? Lots of young people, after going through classical pre-college and conservatory training, get out and just don’t understand that the old 19th-20th century model of a classical performing career doesn’t work anymore. Then Jenny Undercofler came along and was like “Na, this has to change.”
CDs are not live music. CDs have to compete for our attention in ways that concerts never do. They not only have to draw us away from the myriad attention-demanding devices that proliferate our lives but also have to hold that attention, even if peripherally, for an hour. What may work brilliantly in a performance setting may be challenging as a recording, and I fear that is the case with this CD. Here we have an award-winning, highly-lauded ensemble performing wonderful music at an extremely high level on a debut CD that unfortunately falls flat. I have the strong sense that if I were to hear this music live I would be riveted, but at the end of the day Group Theory fails to hold my attention.
The group counter)induction was formed in 1998 and has seen its profile steadily increase over its lifespan. Three composers are listed in its ranks, alongside piano, violin, viola, cello, and clarinet, and that seems no small point. Performers often benefit greatly in working closely with composers, and the adeptness with which c)i tackles the music of both the resident and outside composers seems to be a result of this relationship. Moreover, composers often know what other composers are doing much better than performers, and this seems to have influenced their programming decisions over the years.
Welcome to the first live blogging event on I Care if You Listen! We are at the World Financial Center covering the 25th Bang on a Can Marathon… The full program is here. I’m going to put the freshest stuff on top, OK? Just scroll down to see the previous sets…
Due to a loss of Wifi, I wasn’t able to live blog the 10 pm set but I will write down some notes later on… I will also publish a recap video soon. Thank you for following this live blogging post!
New set, new composer: Akiko Ushijima. Ushijima’s piece Distorting melody was receiving its US premiere and was performed by the BOAC All-Stars. Witty, colorful, brief–I’d love to hear more of her music…
The next piece on the program was sunray by David Lang, written as a birthday present for his father–present in the room tonight. Lang’s intro to the piece was a lesson in creativity: confronted with the approaching deadline, Lang decided to write what was in front of him: Sun Dry Cleaners, the dry cleaning place across the street from his composing desk in Massachusetts (this was during the BOAC Summer Festival). The piece was to be about a sunray made physical.
Kris Davis Massive Thread is now performing Massive Thread for six pianos. Although two might have been enough so far…
Kris Davis' Massive Thread
The initial chaos led to an almost Debussy-esque motif that grew as it got repeated by the 6 pianos in unison. The granitic structure collapsed and was replaced by shimmering licks. OK.
Maya Beiser is now about to perform Just Ancient Loops by Michael Harrison with film by Bill Morrison. An iPad on a tripod was just brought on stage and is now sitting in front of the empty stool. No paper for her tonight.
Brief introduction by Harrison and Morrison and a tambura (shruti box) is heard in the PA. Beiser walks in and start playing (she is actually recording) a line in pizzicatto. As soon as she is done, she picks her bow and starts playing a very modal and lyrical line on top of the pizz line… Harrison said that the total of cello lines throughout the piece will amount to 20. The first movement of this 25min piece is very lively and melodic so far. The movie projected behind Beiser is a collection of beautiful black and white shots of the moon.
Maya Beiser, movie by Bill Morrison
The second, slower movement was a wonderful opportunity to enjoy Beiser’s gorgeous tone and lyricism. The third movement recalls the initial material and its raag quality. [Read more →]
“In 1967, a young astronomer detected in the heavens a rapidly varying radio signal, in the form of periodic impulses 1.3 seconds apart. The discovery caused a sensation. The impulses were so regular that for a while they were taken to be signals coming from extraterrestrial civilisations. Then astrophysicists revealed a truth that was just as surprising: the signals were being emitted by a pulsar, the fantastic compact residue created by the supernova explosions that long ago disintegrated the massive stars.” -Jean-Pierre Luminet, Astrophysicist at the Paris-Meudon Observatory
Theory and aesthetics in new music are two very, very different things. There’s what goes in to a piece of music, and there’s what comes out, and keeping the two a healthy distance apart has been the sensible option since 1908 at the latest. Music is for the listener, after all, and in a sense the question of (for instance) how Stravinsky constructed his Requiem matters precisely as little as whether or not the Monkees wrote their own songs. The complex machinations of the compositional process should never come to obscure a resulting piece of music’s aesthetic worth. At least, that’s the theory.
The more I’ve listened to Richard Beaudoin’s new pair of CDs Microtimings, the more I’ve started to take Beaudoin’s compositions as direct challenges to the argument above. The pieces have been constructed according to a very particular and rather strange procedure, and this procedure is, as far as I’m concerned, all but inseparable from the listening experience. Go on, the pieces seem to say: appreciate us without thinking about how we were made. Put the concept aside, and just listen to the music. You can’t, can you? No? OK then.
Richard Beaudoin – Photo by Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
With the 25th Bang on a Can (BOAC) Marathon taking place at the end of the week (Sunday, June 17—see the full program here) we thought that Evan Ziporyn would be a great candidate for a 5-question interview. He kindly took the time to answer them and shared much more than we could have hoped…
You’ve been part of the BOAC Marathon since its first installment in 1987, in the Exit Art Gallery in Soho. How did you end up playing this gig at the time and how was it?
I’d been working with Michael Gordon since 1980, we met backstage at a new music concert at Yale, where we had a ‘where have you been all my life’ moment after hearing each other’s music for the first time. And I’d done numerous projects with all of them throughout the 80s, including the pre-Bang “Composers Banging on Cans” concert at Cooper-Hewitt Museum in 1986. By then I had moved to the west coast but had kept in close contact with them all, I’d fly back to play with Michael’s band, etc. This wasn’t hard because we only had about 3 concerts a year…
Also, as you probably know, the idea of the marathon came from Martin Bresnick’s Sheep’s Clothing ensemble at Yale, which did an annual all-night concert in the late 70s and early 80s. Martin went on leave in 1980, I ran the group in his absence, and Michael came to all the concerts – after that David [Lang] arrived in New Haven and also became very active in that group – so we all were aware of the benefits of marathon concerts.
Still, that first Bang marathon was memorable to me for a number of reasons – a lot of my heroes were there, Reich & Cage & Milton Babbitt – it was amazing to me to be in the same room with them, let alone on a program with them. I met Robert Black there, he performed immediately before me, and of course I’m still working with him in the All-stars now. And I’ll always remember Babbitt speaking before his piece, saying “I’m sorry I got here late, but I got lost – I’ve never been this far downtown before!”
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