Sunday, September 17, 2017

Robot-Voice Quartet


Robot-Voice Quartet: The Week’s 8 Best Classical Music Moments on YouTube

Simon Rattle leading his first concert as chief conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra on Thursday.CreditTolga Akmen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Our critics and reporters offer a glimpse of what’s delighted them on YouTube. Read the rest of our classical music coverage here.


Cues From Techno

Simon Rattle took up the baton on Thursday for his first concert as the new chief conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. The program, made up entirely of British composers, included Thomas Adés’s “Asyla,” a work Mr. Rattle has championed since his days at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. (He’s most recently been the leader of the Berlin Philharmonic.) The third movement of the piece, “Ecstacio,” takes its cues from techno and other styles of dance music. In a truly thumping performance, Mr. Rattle brought some of the sweaty, wide-eyed intensity of Berlin’s dance floors back to London with him. MATTHEW ANDERSON


Two-Guitar Attack

Mixing classical composition with pop-world flavors is nothing new. Philip Glass worked with Linda Ronstadt in the 1980s. The Bang On A Can All-Stars have played works by artists like Tyondai Braxton, formerly of the indie-rock band Battles. The group Happy Placesucceeds at fusing experimental rock and chamber music by keeping all the required instrumental skills in-house. The two-guitar, two-drummer quartet can handle the quick changes in composer-percussionist Will Mason’s writing — so there isn’t any need for guest stars on a track like “ihm” (captured in a recent live performance for the website ThrdCoast). Nearly two minutes into the piece, Andrew Smiley joins Will Chapin in playing guitar chords. But a pair of Mr. Smiley’s guitar strings are tuned a quarter-tone sharper than Mr. Chapin’s, keeping their synchronization from seeming too settled. The cathartic two-guitar attack has the feel of avant-rock, while the astringent harmony recalls experiments by Charles Ives. SETH COLTER WALLS


Music of Subdued Resignation

Perusing listings for the coming New York concert season, it’s a little deflating to see both visiting orchestras and our own Philharmonic presenting many programs dominated by familiar symphonies and concertos. What about countless overlooked works by important composers? I can’t remember the last time I heard a performance of Walter Piston’s remarkable 1957 Viola Concerto. This piece shows Piston in his elegant American Neo-Classical vein. The first movement is pensive yet episodic; the finale is like a spirited Rondo, though the restrained overall mood somehow comes through. The glory of the work is the middle movement, an “Adagio con fantasia,” music of subdued resignation in a pungently tonal harmonic language. Here’s a sensitive 2011 performance by the Bogota Philharmonic. Listen to the passage where the violist (Anibal Dos Santos) plays one of the most sadly beautiful melodies. ANTHONY TOMMASINI


Hymns As Themes

While on the topic of overlooked works, I wonder what’s happened to Virgil Thomson’s utterly original Symphony on a Hymn Tune. Though completed in 1928, the piece did not have its official premiere until 1945, when Thomson conducted it with the New York Philharmonic. But a four-hand piano arrangement circulated in the 1930s and influenced composers like Copland, who was struck by the music’s daring simplicity and hints of brass bands, church choirs and more. Thomson uses a couple of favorite hymns as themes, often milking the tunes for motivic bits that are spun into intricate passages. In this winning performance by the New Zealand Symphony, listen to the first rendering of a hymn tune in warm strings, with one phrase tweaked in “wrong-note” dissonance for brass and winds; then, at 6:58, catch the stubborn tangle of counterpoint that ends the opening movement. ANTHONY TOMMASINI


Snowfall Fantasia

Following an extended trip to Italy in 1841, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel composed “Das Jahr,” a musical diary of solo-piano pieces corresponding to the months of the year. This week I had the pleasure of teaching the cycle’s final month, “December,” to my music history students. It is a gem of a work, opening with a fantasia of flurrying 16th notes that echo snowfall. But the most powerful moment comes in Hensel’s gorgeous variations on the Christmas chorale “Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her,” which recalls the Bach revival championed by her more famous brother, Felix. “Das Jahr” also serves as a reminder of how women composers have disappeared from the historical record: Though Hensel may have initially intended it for publication, the manuscript was forgotten for nearly 150 years, until it was rediscovered in the 1980s. WILLIAM ROBIN


Vocal Gymnastics

If you plan to attend Michel van der Aa’s multimedia opera “Blank Out,”playing at the Park Avenue Armory from Sept. 21 to 27, you may want to bone up a bit on this composer’s inventive style. In excerpts from the 2002 chamber opera “One,” Mr. van der Aa’s technical command proves perfectly suited to the astonishing virtuosity of Barbara Hannigan, the contemporary-music diva of the moment. Listen especially to a remarkable display of vocal gymnastics in which Ms. Hannigan sings against film of herself, jumping from live to film and back, note by note, with uncanny ease and fluidity even when the speed is doubled. JAMES R. OESTREICH


Celestial Apotheosis

Watch every “Star Wars” movie in the span of one week — as I did to write about the New York Philharmonic’s film-in-concert series of the original trilogy and “The Force Awakens” — and you’ll be left humming John Williams’s soundtrack for days. The themes are easy to love and impossible to forget, executed with much of the sophistication of Wagner’s leitmotifs in the “Ring” cycle. One of my favorites is the love theme for Han Solo and Princess Leia, which is reminiscent of Romantic-era music. Early in “The Empire Strikes Back,” the theme subtly underscores their flirtatious banter; in the final scene, it reaches a full swell, with the beauty and power of a Tchaikovsky ballet’s apotheosis. JOSHUA BARONE


Robot-Voice Quartet

“This Is My Scary Robot Voice,” which the young Argus Quartet played at one of the Miller Theater’s intimate Pop-Up concerts this week, slyly reveals some of the personality of its composer, Kerrith Livengood. One of the Argus players told the audience that Ms. Livengood overcomes her deep shyness by imagining she’s talking in artificially inflated voices. Those voices, in turn, infuse this piece. Its sketchy-seeming rhythms are based on the rhythms of speech: The instrumentalists are instructed to play as though they’re saying aloud phrases like “This is my nor-mal speak-ing voice,” “This is my or-din-ar-y qui-et speak-ing voice” or, loudly, “THIS IS MY SCA-RY RO-BOT VOICE,” enunciating with their bows every musical “syllable.” This moment brings out the robot voice, in full cry. ZACHARY WOOLFE

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