What’s your idea of holiday music? For a lot of people, it’s this:
That may be the worst song I’ve ever heard, be thankful I didn’t embed the album version. And before you say anything, there is no competition from Wham! They lack the completely inappropriate hard-rock bludgeon.
Or, there’s Senator Orrin Hatch’s new Hanukkah song (I do not exaggerate when I write that I am deeply embarrassed for Jeffrey Goldberg both promoting his part in its creation and offering his appreciation for the music. The combination of Hatch condescending to educate ‘secular Jews’ about their own culture and the mechanical, stupid and over-sold songwriting is nauseating, and Goldberg’s inability to listen to this in any critical way is another indication to me that I am correct when I argue that developing aesthetic judgement helps one think critically about political subjects).
In standard fare there’s the usual over-roasted, mushy chestnuts, the annual Messiahs, even the occasional gem. There’s an interesting and aesthetically fitting tradition in Japan of performing the Beethoven Ninth Symphony on New Year’s Eve. But if you’re looking both for something to celebrate the season and stay off the beaten track, there’s festivals, and by that I mean the good old-fashioned, New Media kind.
New York City public radio station WNYC bought classical music station WQXR from The New York Times this fall, and moved it up the dial to 105.9. The purchase saved the station and hopefully will make for more interesting music programming (programming and hosting positions were advertised through the fall, but, sadly and frustratingly, The Big City was never considered). One exciting change is the development of Q2, the station’s on-line broadcaster, and even more exciting is that today marks the start of a weeklong festival devoted to Steve Reich, Maximum Reich. You can listen via iTunes classical radio or through the station’s site, www.wqxr.org/q2/. The schedule is a little difficult to track; Nadia Sirota hosts everyday at midnight, 10AM and 6PM, a different recording of Music For 18 Musicians is featured daily at 10PM, interviews with Reich are presented at 2AM, noon and 8PM. In addition, there is a daily focus on different aspects of his work, although no specific times are given. Sit down, boot up, and tune in.
WKCR’s annual Bach Festival begins on the 21st and continues through the end of the year. It lasts longer and is more satisfying than the Yule Log. While it may seem like ten days of Bach is too much to endure, the experience of turning on the radio, or tuning in with your computer, over the course of the Festival is beyond rewarding. Bach’s output was as varied as it was vast, and the vitality, beauty and charm of the music are constant.
If you’re in the New York City area and want to get out of the house, try the 2009 Blip Festival, held this year at The Bell House in Gowanus, Brooklyn December 17-19. Music made with 8-bit computers and bent circuit deviousness, this will give you some idea of the wonderfully naive sound and infectious spirit of fun of this music:
The New York Philharmonic naming Alan Gilbert as their new music director was an enduring gift to all music loving New Yorkers, and Gilbert himself has instituted a new offering as well, the CONTACT! series promoting new music. The first of the two in the series will be performed next week, on the 17th and 19th, with Magnus Lindberg hosting and conducting. That this series exists is a truly auspicious thing and another reason to be excited about the Philharmonic. This orchestra is returning to cultural relevancy and that is nothing but a grand benefit for the city.
And lest you think me Scrooge or the Grinch, there is actual Holiday music on the horizon as well, events that, along with all the above, are on my Critic’s Calendar. This Saturday, arguably the world’s leading vocal ensemble, the Tallis Scholars, is performing Josquin’s Mass for the Virgin Mary at, appropriately, the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, as part of Miller Theater’s Early Music series. Readers of this blog are well aware that Miller is a leader in presenting great works of contemporary music, but they also are leaders in the local Early Music scene, and I think that is a natural fit. Both musics tend to reveal the process by which they are made in performance and so are similarly stimulating to listeners.
The following Sunday, John Adams‘ contemporary masterpiece of the Nativity, El Nino, appears at Carnegie Hall, with the composer conducting, and Dawn Upshaw, Michelle DeYoung and Eric Owens as soloists. It’s not clear if the performance will include the Peter Sellars’ film and staging, but even without those the music is marvelous and absolutely seasonal. If you’re tired of Handel, see this.
To bring this round-up full circle, we must turn to the world beyond the Hudson River and Atlantic Ocean. While locally based streaming radio is available anywhere in the world there is an internet connection, a human connection, a human gathering in the spirit of the season takes place all over the country and in Europe and Australia as well, unsilent night. This is not only local to so many, and free, but anyone with a boom box can participate in the music making. This year’s event in New York City is Saturday, the 12th, but check your local listings, gather and enjoy.