Alan Pierson is the conductor and artistic director of both the Brooklyn Philharmonic and Alarm Will Sound. The Brooklyn Phil’s headline concert on June 8 [sold out] and 9 at BAM, entitled “You’re Causing Quite a Disturbance,” will feature an original collaboration between Erykah Badu and composer Ted Hearne, inspired by Erykah’s album, New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War.
How did this project come about? The Brooklyn Phil has been doing some pretty bold programs this season, but this one seems to be on a different level, musically, conceptually, and logistically.
Yasiin Bey and his mom, Umi, introduced me to Erykah last summer after her show at the Afropunk Festival. Richard Dare had sent me her “Window Seat” video, and I thought she’d be a fascinating choice for a Brooklyn Phil collaborator. Yasiin, Umi, and I talked to Erykah about what the Brooklyn Phil was doing, and she immediately suggested New Amerykah as ground for an orchestral collaboration. I thought it was a great idea; the sonic richness and conceptual ambitions of those albums made them ripe for a symphonic treatment.
If television’s IFC produced operas in addition to off-kilter films and quirky sitcoms, composer Jason Cady’s Happiness is the Problem might be a prominent member of the program lineup. Released on January 15 via composer Aaron Siegel’s LockStep Records, the opera boasts a decidedly eccentric plot: three unemployed roommates living Greenpoint, Brooklyn find an unconventional way to overcome their financial woes.
In 1904 the Swiss adventurer Isabelle Eberhardt (born 1877) drowned in a flash flood in the Sahara, only 27 years old. For four years she’d traversed the desert on horseback, dressed as a man, smoking, drinking, and even gaining access to a Sufi brotherhood. She documented her travels in journals and short stories, and her last writings had to be pulled from the water and dried. Eberhardt inspired many artists, such as Missy Mazzoli, whose opera Song from the Uproar was premiered at the Kitchen New York in February 2012, and released on cd eight months later by New Amsterdam.
On Friday, September 21, composer Rebecca Brandt held a release party for her album Numbers and Shapes at the swanky Galapagos venue in Brooklyn. She and her ensemble played every one of the 14 pieces from the album. Before her group’s performance were two other acts.
The Awakening Orchestra is a twenty-piece jazz big band, the brainchild of composer/conductor Kyle Saulnier. He juxtaposes traditional jazz structures with moments when the entire band plays freely, making “weird” noises with their instruments, often using extended techniques such as key-clicking and overblowing. Although effective as a compositional technique, this “free” jazz idea was sometimes a bit overused, and the overall impact of the Awakening Orchestra was a little bit too much constant blare and blast. Even an initially slow and somber love song gradually grew into the same stereotypical bombast as the rest of the set. There were some great solos—the whole band is made up of individually talented musicians. But they didn’t always cohere as a unit. When the final piece of the set required them to play in close, chorale-like harmonies, they were noticeably out of tune for the first several bars. However, despite my occasional reservations, Saulnier’s group was an excellent, energetic choice to kick off the evening.