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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Year In Reviews: New Music in 2015

The music of the future--today on Superconductor.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The amazing instruments of Harry Partch (seated.)
Photo from Partch.org

From the appointment of Esa-Pekka Salonen as Composer-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic to the astonishing return of Peter Schickele and P.D.Q. Bach (with a new Schickele work on the horizon, more on that later) this was an interesting year for new music. Pierre Boulez celebrated an important birthday and quietly retired from conducting.



Bright young voices like Nico Muhly and Sean Shepherd continued to make music. And Lincoln Center had to institute a "no weapons" policy for the opening night of its screening of the scores of The Lord of the Rings, showing that some people will insist on bringing halberds to a concert hall. Here's the best in the nebulous, catch-all category of "new music" for 2015 on Superconductor.

American Modern Ensemble at SubCulture
"Sidney Boquiren's new work ...in a mirror dimly... followed, a bold quintet that opened with percussive "Bartok snaps" in the low instruments. As the liner notes provided revealed, Mr. Boquiren's work was inspired by the recent incidents of police brutality and retaliatory murder that have scarred New York recently, and the "snaps" may indicate the sound of gunfire."

The New York Philharmonic plays Salonen's Nyx
"Nyx is dense and ever-shifting, with complex counterpoint for the strings that counterpunches with eruptions of sound from brass and percussion. The principal thematic material was explored by most of the orchestral soloists, with the clarinet taking the lead. The main theme was worked thoroughly in the strings, who played as a dense carpet of sound before reducing themselves to an intimate octet."

Music of Japan at CONTACT!
This was the first U.S. performance of Misato Mochizuki's Si bleue, si calme, another work inspired by the power of the ocean. In Ms. Mochizuki's work, a thunderous tone cluster of percussion, heavy brass and low wind burst forth with the crash of a breaking wave. This yielded to an eight-beat passage that allowed the players to extrapolate the main thematic material before being interrupted by another crash and roll of sound.

Gotham Chamber Opera's last show: The Tempest Songbook
"At Friday's performance, no-one in the Met Museum's Grace Rainey Rodgers Auditorium was sure if the work had begun. Instead of tuning up, the little chamber ensemble on stage right played deep, dark drones, the first of Ms. Saariaho's contributions to the score. "

Meredith Monk's WEAVE at Carnegie Hall
Ms. Monk built her work organically. Tiny phrases in the opening blossomed into fulsome flowers as the orchestral texture expanded upon itself. Each phrase uttered by the singers was eventually echoed, supported and even supplanted by the chorus and orchestra. Plucked strings, a pair of pianos and an array of tuned percussion provided wordless phrases of their own.  Each movement of WEAVE built on the ones that came before. At the end, only the voices remained.

Harry Partch's Delusion of the Fury at Lincoln Center Festival
"Under the direction of Heiner Goebbels, the musicians of the Ensemble crowded onto the stage, moving through what looked at first like a bewildering junk-shop pile of these Partchian instruments. They included the "cloud-chamber bowls", hanging, suspended glass vessels that emitted tones when struck, the dinosaur-sized "marimba eroica" and the wonderfully named "boo", a sort of tiered xylophone made from cut bamboo tubes."

Julia Wolfe's Steel Hammer at BAM
"Six actors danced and sung the parts of the players in the show. Eric Berryman took the role of John himself, swinging that railroad maul, chugging in a railroad line with the other actors. collapsing to the stage in repeated enactments of the heart attack that felled Henry and occasional reflections on the 500-plus versions of the story that Ms. Wolfe mined to create her work."

P.D.Q. Bach returns to Town Hall
"After halftime and a break for juice, cookies and domestic wine, the second half opened with Mr. Schickele's Uptown Hoedown, a cheerful bastardization of American folk themes, classical melodies and baroque favorites like "Turkey in the Straw." Mr. Schickele's gift for weaving themes together was on full display here, as the New York Pick-Up Ensemble showed why they were selected from the marketplace for working musicians that still exists at the southern end of 14th St."

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.