Deader Than Black

If you are in or around New York City for the next week, and need relief from honoring the birth of Christ by buying as much shit as you can with money you don’t have, then head over to Film Forum. From today through November 30, they are showing the hilarious, deader-than-dead-pan comedies of Aki Kaurismäki.

I’m personally fond of these movies, they are some of the funniest I’ve seen, and this scene in particular from La vie de Bohème has been indispensable in illustrating how misguided some musical compositions can be, as found for example in my recent review of Daniil Trifonov’s Piano Concerto.



Mahler: The Movie

My friends at, who stream and record excellent classical music concerts, and now offering their first film:

Holy shit, how could you not watch that? Russell’s version of Mahler’s life is, unsurprisingly, a bit deranged, but that’s why we love him, and love Mahler. Do check it out, and all the other great music medici has to offer—the other new addition is concerts from Carnegie Hall.

Synchronicity, Perhaps

That’s what Sting called it, something like the coincidental but powerful meshing of myriad gears, all moving at different rates and towards different purposes, but at certain points all notching their teeth simultaneously, and all moving to the next slot at the same time. An unsustainable moment …

There must be other words for it, in other languages. How would you describe the experience I had just minutes before sitting down to right this, of leaving several hours of a screening of Christian Marclay’s The Clock in the David Rubenstein Atrium, and crossing the expansive of Lincoln Center to the library, to find a book on John Cage and do some note- and stock-taking? From a comfortable and mesmerizing darkness to a brightly-lit and almost empty space — I felt I was walking through de Chiricho’s “Delights of the Poet.”


The Clock will be showing for free in the Atrium, daily from July 13 to August 1, from 8am to 10pm Tuesdays through Thursdays and continuously from 8am through to 10pm on Friday to Sunday weekends (closed Mondays, full information here). Think about that last piece of the schedule, because this is a work that lasts twenty-four hours and was one of the major events of 2011 when it was on view at the Paula Cooper Gallery. 

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This is a centerpiece event and part of the Lincoln Center Festival, which itself synchronizes with Mostly Mozart in both time and space. Theatrical events like Allan Cummings one-man MacBeth have garnered a lot of attention, but, from what may strike you as my oddball perspective, this looks like a good mix:

July 20 – Curtis Mayfield tribute

Through July 22 – Paris Opera Ballet

July 19 – 22 – Kaija Saariaho’s Émilie

July 28 – Free Mostly Mozart Preview

August 10-11 – Lutoslawski, Bartok and Mozart

August 14-15 – The quietly great Rudolf Buchbinder

August 22 – 24 – Mark Morris’ Dido and Aeneas

And from the start of August through the end of Mostly Mozart, there is a focus on birdsong in both the sense of having it captured in music and in the abstract, through an installation by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller at the Park Avenue Armory, The Murder of Crows. Like The Clock, this is a work that includes sound and music, and has musical thinking but is not a pure composition. I’ll be examining it before it opens and, like the Marclay work, will be exploring it in my column at ClassicalTV. But do mark your calendars, and tell the The Big City sent you.

Between Sneezes

This April is the cruelest month for anyone with seasonal allergies, which are the worst I can remember and so bad that people who have never had allergies, now have allergies! One of the minor inconveniences of the New York City climate moving towards sub-tropical, although having that lilac tree fully in bloom on the corner of Court Street and 2nd Place is a benefit.

I recommend you alleviate your suffering by finding shelter and distraction with these, sorry about all the conflicts, but didn’t the man say life was about making choices? Choose wisely:

April 13: Pianist Thomas Schultz is bring a fascinating program of older and futuristic, and fully pianistic, to Weill Recital Hall at 8pm. He will be playing Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Hyo-shin Na and John Cage’s “Two Pieces for Piano” from 1945.

April 14: A run of great looking live music begins at, with a concert from Midori. The next day, Valery Gergiev celebrates Russian Easter with a series of four concerts of music by Prokofiev, all streaming live. Subscribe to view new on-demand additions, like Lohengrin and Robert Wilson’s mesmerizing Pelleas et Mélisande.

Han Bennink LaGuardia


April 17 – April 21 Live, in front of your eyes or just in your ears at home, World’s Greatest Radio Station™ WKCR has made the wonderful decision to hold a Han Bennink festival. Starting precisely at the start of the 17th and running through the 21st, it will be Han Bennink radio — nothing but the best of a particular and important flavor of modern jazz. Bennink is one of the great drummers, and what makes him so is not just his skill and energy as a musician and his imagination and sensitivity as an improviser and accompanist, but his intelligent and warm sense of humor. He brings a sense of loving irreverence and iconoclasm to everything he does, and that’s something that jazz, often deathly self-serious about itself, sorely needs (and why musicians like Bennink, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Lester Bowie have made listeners, critics and other musicians so often uncomfortable in the past). The festival should cover music from Eric Dolphy, Dexter Gordon, Peter Brötzman and Sonny Rollins to his great partnerships with the likes of Steve Lacy, Misha Mengleberg and Roswell Rudd. And if you like what you hear, you can see him live for his 70th birthday concert. The details:

April 21, 7:30pm, The Italian Academy of Columbia University, 1161 Amsterdam Avenue. $25 general admission tickets here.

Agata zubel 4

April 18 & 19 The Austrian Cultural Forum has been producing excellent programs of music this year, and up next is composer and singer Agata Zugel. These free (FREE!) concerts feature a premiere of hers along with music by Kurtag, Sciarrino and other ultra-contemporary voices. For a taste of what an exciting performer Zubel is, go here.

April 19 Pianist Jenny Q Chai will be at Zankel Hall, at 7:30pm. Chai is a powerful and lucid player, already distinguished in the music of Debussy and Ligeti, and an important participant in the ongoing and welcome review of Liszt as a proto-Modernist. This recital program is dense with premieres — Marco Stroppa, Injyun Kim, Ashley Fu-Tsun Wang — and contemporary classics from Messiaen and the above composers, with Schumann’s Kreisleriana. Strongly recommended.

April 19 Just as strongly recommended, and upstairs in Carnegie Hall, the American Symphony Orchestra and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus will be celebrating the incomparable music of George Crumb, with performances of Variazioni, Echoes of TIme and the River, and Star-Child. That’s where I’ll be.

April 20 That I am Critic-in-Residence at Galapagos Art space, that I am a critic at all, means that I advocate for things that are worth you time and money. And the Prison Life concert from Ransom Wilson’s Le Train Bleu ensemble and Corey Dargel is something I am advocating for as what may be the single most exciting and stimulating concert program in NYC this year. Dargel is premiering songs from the last words of Texas death row inmates and will be handling the vocals for Fred Rzeski’s “Coming Together” and “Attica,” and the night is fully rounded out with Jacob TV’s “Grab It” and Michael Gordon’s seminal “Yo Shakespeare.” My column at Classical TV next week will be an interview with Dargel and Ransom, but plan ahead for this already.

April 20 Opening at the QUAD Cinema is the film “Downtown Express,” staring violinist Philippe Quint, paired with Nellie McKay. What sets this melodrama apart is how integral music, and the life of a musicians, with all its conflicts and difficulties and joys, is to the story.

Quint wil also be playing music at the Upper West Side Apple Store on April 26, at 7pm.

April 20 Music at First, one of the best performance values in NYC, continues their spring season with a double-bill of Florent Ghys and Face The Music. Ghys makes lyrical, dancing music with double-bass, electronics and looping, and Face The Music is a great new music ensemble of teenagers. They’re off the streets and out of the garages and playing Steve Reich and such. For $10!

April 20 More free music, and more Sciarrino, brought to you by the Talea Ensemble and your tax dollars. At the DiMenna Center, 450 West 37th, 8pm, hear Grisey, Adán and Sciarrino’s great Infinito Nero. FREE!

April 21 The final Early Music concert from Miller Theatre this season is the great group Stile Antico, at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin at 8pm. They will be singing English and Flemish Renaissance polyphony, and if you know what that means you’ll be buying tickets right now, and if you don’t be advised that it is beautiful music that, in these voices, is incredibly vibrant and human. They also have a fine new record out, Tune thy Musicke to thy Heart, a collection of English sacred music that they perform with the string ensemble Fretwork. This is a quietly lovely recording, the music comes in short pieces, with simple, direct expression, more like the songs we are used to hearing than the abstract beauity of liturgical music sung a cappella. A recommended disc for anyone interested in this era and style of music.

April 25 Gil Morgenstern’s Reflections Series balances the head and the heart, the ears and the mind, and concludes this season with Shades of Ravel, which means Maurice, Bill Evans, Tallieferre, and Amy Beach. WMP Concert Hall, 7:30pm.

April 25 – 28 One of the major events of the year, Robert Ashley’s The Old Man Lives in Concrete four straight nights at Roulette. A previous version of this work was staged at LaMama in 2009, but it has now been reworked, and this is something of an antidote in conception, composition and staging to the Ring. Ashley has produced eight major new sections, and two will be performed each night. Self-evidently important, and self-recommending.

Square Bob

April 28 If you have the strength (I will likely not), get to Alice Tully Hall where Bang on a Can is putting on a show for their 25th year, and their strong new release, Big, Beautiful Dark and Scary. Punchy ideas, brilliant colors, bouncing beats, you know what to expect.

You can always sleep all summer …


Shostakovich: Symphony No. 1, Symphony No. 3, Vasily Petrenko, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra

Vasily Petrenko’s ongoing Shostakovich cycle has been one of the more satisfying events in the classical music business over the past couple of years. Naxos has gone from being the little record label that could — putting out satisfactory recordings of the standard repertoire using solid but unknown musicians — to an ambitious distributor and taste-maker. They are successful and important, and not only have they achieved enough to embark on a second Shostakovich Symphony cycle, but this new one with Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra has been bracing.

Petrenko, like Haitink before him, has had a consistent interpretive view, but unlike Haitink he has shown himself to be more emotionally committed, digging into each quick change and schizophrenic juxtaposition in the music. And his sincere pleasure in the music shows in couplings like these. The Symphony No. 1 is a great work, rivaling Mahler’s as the finest first symphony from any composer. The vivaciousness, clarity and structural understanding that the musicians bring to the work extends the the Symphony No 3, a propaganda work that is often hoary and unlistenable in performance. Shostakovich is a warts and all composer, and usually we have to endure the warts, but on this disc there are none, just different types of satisfaction — there is enough loveliness in this rendition that I feel I’m hearing it for the first time. I’m eagerly awaiting what Petrenko does with the Seventh.

It's Harder To Write a Song Than a Sonata

The previous episode of Treme was the most well made and fully realized of the season so far (Patrick and Josh break it down, as always, at A Blog Supreme). It’s taken four episodes for this season to lay out its materials, and they are finally starting to come together.

The best moments of the series have, sadly, been the ones that surround death, especially the gripping, beautiful and extraordinarily melancholy and hopeful conclusion to the first season:

(which matched the final moments of the finale of season four of The Wire for complexity, poetry and mystery:

the only equals to the final sequence of Antonioni’s L’Eclisse):

In Treme, death means music, means the musicians and the culture, and, in what seems to be working out as a long-range structure, means individual cops and lawyers (Terry and Toni). It also means incipient exploitation and corruption, and that’s also burgeoning.

Musically, two thoughts. One is that I hope that the producers make Delmon more interesting musically. Now that we see his journey, the kind of rote stuff they’re sticking us with isn’t bearing the weight of the story. He’s like an opera character, and the music needs to make us know and believe what’s happening inside him. The brand of modern jazz he’s playing is irritatingly stuck in the Woody Shaw model, great as it is but also too out of date to be contemporary. That he pulls out some Jelly Roll Morton hints at where he’s going (the episode before, Delmon was talking about Morton’s Library of Congress recordings, but never gives us a hint of how beautifully, spectacularly vulgar they are – and by the way, $19.98 is epic value for these!) , but compared to the brief power of Mississippi Fred McDowell we get over his stereo, he’s a baby trying to be a man.

Annie’s musical/personal journey, so often secondary to the plot, is actually much more interesting and realized than most everything else on the show. Her interest in getting further in her career, and her stab at writing a song, are so well done that anyone watching will appreciate that it’s probably harder to write a song than a sonata.