Monday, June 21, 2010

So Percussion and Matmos at the Rec Center Studio

To be a hip classical act these days, you have to collaborate with or somehow involve cutting-edge indie-rock or electronica in your music. It's the zeitgeist. It's in the air. The reasons are economic- arts institutions desperately want to tap into the well-heeled 20-something "hipster" demographic, who often go to a lot of concerts but rarely step foot in concert halls; or they are natural- many young composers simply are part of the demographic themselves. This fad is pervasive: (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York is the venue, New Amsterdam Records the record label (or trying to be, anyway). New music group Alarm Will Sound tours with the Dirty Projectors, and the hottest young composers today have extensive hipster street cred. Nico Muhly, recently commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera (I know, it's insane), has worked extensively as a producer for Jonsi and Sigur Ros (if you're a indie-rock novice, that's the Icelandic band that became famous for singing an album in a made-up language), and Mason Bates- recently named composer in residence of the Chicago Symphony by Ricardo Muti (!!!!!)- is a "serious composer by day, DJ by night."

If the last two accomplishments seem kind of absurd, well, they are- the Met? Really? One of the most conservative classical institutions in the country?- but good for them. They got ahead of the trend and went with it.

So Percussion

This is all leading up to a concert this Wednesday in Echo Park that is straight out of (Le) Poisson Rouge (literally). So Percussion is a leading avant-garde percussion quartet out of Yale by way of Brooklyn which made a name for itself doing with the music of David Lang et al. The tour promotes their collaboration with electronica duo Matmos. I have no idea what this concert is going to be like or sound like. But it's in Echo Park at the Rec Center Studio, so I know the type of people that will be there.

The concert is Wednesday, June 23rd, at 8:30 pm

Saturday, June 19, 2010

In Frequency in LA

One of the fun thing about having a blog is now I get to plug crazy obscure underground new music concerts. If I do this enough, hopefully people will start giving me free stuff. First I'll probably have to find some readers though. Second I will have to find people who go to new music concerts.

I'll start with my friend Andrea Moore's new group, In Frequency. The concert is - tonight! Oh crap! Well, if you're going to miss that, I will point out she also has a blog, where I think she makes some interesting and valid- if high-falutin'- and generally much more insightful points than me about the state of classical new music. Where they need my help is in integrating the blog into the rest of the web site. But, contrary to all appearances, I'm trying to be a musician here, not a web designer.

The concert will include Stefan Wolpe's String Quartet, written in 1969 while he was suffering from Parkinson's disease. A delightfully radical, rarely played composer who came of age in Weimar Germany, his music from the twenties is some of the most seriously out stuff of the period. Unfortunately, this piece is from 1960s New York- but I'm still very curious.

So I know my first few posts are about pretty (novelty size irony-quotes) "complicated" music, or as most people refer to it, "music that sounds bad." I don't want to give the impression that this is my only interest. There are many great opportunities for hilarious blog posts just around the corner...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Oh hi, Ojai

The Ojai Music Festival has had some exemplary music direction in the recent years, the bizarrely funky Libbey Bowl stage being graced with the likes of eighth blackbird, Robert Spano, Pierre Boulez, and Pierre-Laurent Aimard. Then this year, apparently addressing fears that the festival might become too relevant, we got George Benjamin, who almost succeeded in programming an entire festival without the corrupting influence of a triad (and he would of gotten away with it too, were it not for those meddling kids! Meaning, Frank Zappa).

I was prepared for this, so I trouped off to the final concert of (brace yourself) Ligeti, Messiaen, Knussen, and of course George Benjamin (with a smattering of Boulez thrown in for good measure) armed with a steely Sancerre to complement the icy coldness of European modernism.

Now I always thought the whole point of the Ojai Music festival was to picnic on wine and cheese while listening to modernist excess under the stars, but apparently the city of Ojai has different ideas, as ushers actually confiscated my friend's (who is a professor a very prestigious school of music, mind you) unfinished Malbec. This is still hard for me to wrap my mind around, as I've yet to hear a concert that isn't substantially improved by fine wine, but luckily for me and the middle-aged new music aficionados secretly sipping wine from styrofoam coffee cups around me (frat boy style), we avoided arrest.

What I was wondering about while I was listening to the birds and Ligeti's Chamber Concerto was wafting oh-so-softly in the background (while I love the piece, and the Ensemble Modern played brilliantly, its triple pianissimo dynamics just doesn't seem like the best outdoors programming decision somehow): who are these people sitting around me that would come out to this thing. I mean, I knew the 30 members of the LA new music community in attendance- who were the other 700 people? Did they know what they were getting into? I asked the woman sitting next to me this very question. She won her tickets on the radio. But she was none-the-less weirdly enthusiastic.

I think I was more interested in my wine and cheese (Ossau-Iraty). George Benjamin seemed to meet all the stereotypes and expectations of European new music. Thank God for Messiaen, but if this is what passes for cutting edge in "Old Europe," bring on Dawn Upshaw and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, 2011.