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Friday, May 20, 2016

Festival Preview: The Importance of Having Biennials

The New York Philharmonic gears up for its second NYPhil Biennial.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Refracted: NY Phil Biennial curator and Philharmonic composer-in-residence
Esa-Pekka Salonen gets Superconductor'd. 
Photo alteration by the author.
It is admirable for an orchestra to dedicate its time and programming, even for a short while to music of our time. That is the agenda for the second-ever NYPhil Biennial, which starts next Monday night at the 92nd St. Y and promises two weeks of cutting-edge music, contemporary performance ensembles and a slew of works receiving their world or New York premieres.

Your Biennial Overview:
Unlike the 2014 Biennial, this year's model is a little more restrained. For one thing, the flow of modernity is interrupted by several old-school concerts: performances of Holst's The Planets by the full orchestra at David Geffen Hall and the Philharmonic's annual free Memorial Day Concert at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, which is a trubute to late music director Kurt Masur. And then there's a concert of Vivaldi and Grieg, which is quite lovely but hardly cutting edge.

This Biennial is curated by Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Finnish composer who is currently in residence with the Philharmonic. For this year's festivities, Mr. Salonen has built a festival that strts with chamber music and builds slowly toward operatic and orchestral concerts. With a bewildering array of programs, concerts, venues and concepts to choose from, here is your Superconductor guide to the 2016 NYPhil Biennial.

The Biennial Begins:
Four premieres kick off this year's festival on May 23, played by the adroit members of the JACK Quartet at the usually staid 92nd Street Y. The concert features two works by Cenk Ergün, Intonations by Derek Bermel and the marvelously titled Euler Lattice Spirals Scenery by Marc Sabat. This cutting-edge ensemble should make an excellent argument for this new music.

All Around the Town:
The Philharmonic is sprinkling its Biennial offerings around New York, representing at:
  • National Sawdust with programs by violinist Jennifer Koh (May 24 and 31) and the New York Electro-Acoustic Music Festival which runs June 5-7. 
  • The Greene Space features singers and artists from the Yale School of Music with music by that old Eli, Charles Ives and premieres by Aaron Jay Kernis, David Lang and otehr contemporary composers.
  • Miller Theater with a concert by the Orchestra of the  League of Composers (June 1) playing works by Pulitzer Prize winners Charles Wuorinen and Paul Moravec and others.
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art hosts Ligeti Forward (June 3-5), celebrating the earth-shaking legacy of Hungarian composer Gyorgi Ligeti.
  • The new Whitney offers a concert by the Aspen Music Festival players (June 8) with music by Stucky, Salonen and others. 
  • A concert by The Knights at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater (June 9) features five premieres including works by Charles Wuorinen and Nico Muhly and looks like a can't-miss.
The Importance of Staging Opera:
The premiere at this year's Biennial that may have the biggest impact is The Importance of Being Earnest, an opera by  Gerald Barry based on the play by Oscar Wilde. This New York premiere is staged by director Ramin Gray, and conducted by Ivan Valkov, the opera is a whirligig satire of British social convention, with Wilde's delicious plot mixing identities, social stations and the old contrivance of a baby left in a handbag. Performances are June 2-4 at the Rose Theater.

The Big Finish:
The event kicks in for real on June 10 and 11, with  concerts at David Geffen Hall, the Philharmonic's home turf. On June 10, Alan Gilbert leads a program featuring two new concertos: a Trombone Concerto by William Bolcom and a Concerto for Percussionist, String Orchestra and Brass by New York's own John Corigliano.

The Saturday concert includes Messagesquisse by Pierre Boulez, the New York premiere of Stucky's Second Concerto for Orchestra and the U.S. premiere of Per Nørgård's Symphony No. 8. Saturday also features a free matinee concert by the Aspen Music Festival players, with works by Esa-Pekka Salonen and Steven Stucky on the program. 

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