Hypnagogic hallucinations are vivid, bizarre sensory experiences that can arise on the edge of sleep. They can immerse us into into weird worlds, stretching a few moments of real time into what may feel like hours. They may seem surreal, even magical — testaments to the ineffable power of the subconscious.

These phenomena came to mind listening to Matthias Pintscher’s new cello concerto, “un despertar” (“an awakening”), which received its world premiere Thursday night via the Boston Symphony Orchestra, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, and guest conductor François-Xavier Roth. Though not a direct adaptation of the Octavio Paz poem from which it takes its title, the concerto encompasses the untethered, hazy feeling of the text. Weilerstein, a profoundly physical player with a dark and intoxicating timbre, was the perfect guide through the piece’s nebulous and unpredictable sonic landscape. Music seems to move through her viscerally.

For the Boston Globe. March 24, 2017.


Big Ears Festival: eighth blackbird and Bonnie “Prince” Billy

The composer David Rakowski recently tweeted, “The problem with having genres is that people claim to bend them all the time. Can we create delightful arabesques with them instead?” On Night 2 of the 2016 Big Ears Festival, new music sextet eighth blackbird, which has directed the Ojai Music Festival and been in residence at the Curtis School of Music, got up on stage of the Tennessee Theater and played as the backing band for Bonnie “Prince” Billy. If the players weren’t having the time of their lives, they were doing an Oscar-worthy job of faking it. Delightful is a good word to describe it.

read the rest at I Care if you Listen

Concert review: March 26, New York Philharmonic

Toward the end of the penultimate movement of the New York Philharmonic’s world premiere performance of John Adams’ Scheherazade.2 at Lincoln Center, violinist Leila Josefowicz stood silent at the front of the stage. She bent slightly forward, clutching her instrument by her side. The strings rustled menacingly, encroaching and retreating again with conductor Alan Gilbert’s gestures, before the full force of the orchestra blasted her and all of Avery Fisher Hall with a condemning, sneering chord. Josefowicz slowly tilted her head back, eyes closed, as blows of horns, percussion, and cimbalom rained down. When she did raise her violin to play again, her notes were muted, gagged but refusing to be silent.

Read the rest at SFCV!

Jagged Textures and Dreamy Supplications – The Boston Musical Intelligencer

“Program books for choir concerts are typically thick with texts, translations, notes, personnel and advertisements. As I’ve observed in my more than a decade of singing in choirs, listeners at said concerts often spend the entire duration with their noses buried in these weighty tomes. Boston Choral Ensemble has wised to this phenomenon, wants to save some trees, or both. There were no notes or translations to be found in the single-sheet program for Long, Long Night, the conclusion to their 2014-2015 season; instead, texts appeared and disappeared on a projection screen next to the singers. The fortunate audience in the South End’s Holy Cross Cathedral Sunday had no choice but to look up.

The auditioned ensemble’s approximately 35 members are mostly in their 20s and 30s. Since joining as artistic director four years ago, Andrew Shenton has built programs consistently been heavy on the music of his native England, but Sunday’s was by no means monotonous. The singers confidently presented the dreamily jagged textures of John Tavener (1944-2013) and the soaring supplications of John Taverner (1490-1545). If you’re feeling confused by those names, try teleporting from Art of Europe at the MFA to the fifth floor of the ICA, and that might produce a similar effect to that of hearing Taverner and Tavener back to back.”

Read the rest at Boston Musical Intelligencer!

Jagged Textures and Dreamy Supplications – The Boston Musical Intelligencer

Sufjan Stevens, April 17, Cleveland

Published on Fearless and Loathing.

It was April and raining, and I was alone in the third row of Cleveland’s cavernous Masonic Auditorium. Well, not exactly alone. It seemed like half of Oberlin was there, but I wasn’t sitting next to any of them. I hadn’t managed to find a ticket-buying buddy back in January when they went on sale, so there I was, third row and alone but not alone, hoping Sufjan Stevens would include me in some transcendent constellation of humanity.

I thought he might be going for the plain and simple feel of his new album Carrie & Lowell, which has been widely praised for its bare-bones instrumentation, gutting and personal lyrics, and intimacy. However, no matter how hard I tried to find it, there was little of that intimacy between myself and the people on stage in the elaborately choreographed, cued, and layered spectacle. So much for third row.

Stevens himself shattered cliché with his songwriting, spinning faded images from a spattering of words in a soft, slightly off-key but evocative falsetto croon. Hissing synthesizer and rumbling bass added a new dimension to some songs that on the album were fragile guitar skeletons, such as “All Of Me Wants All Of You” and “Should Have Known Better.” Long, tall video screens shaped like church windows displayed pastel projections and grainy home movies of Stevens’s childhood behind the musicians.

“Drawn to the Blood” lost none of its emotional punch with the addition of more volume, more texture, and a vaguely detuned piano welling up under the finale, rolling like sweet bells jangled. “Carrie & Lowell,” in its tenuous but lush optimism, sounded more like “Chicago” than the bright, blocky rendition of “Chicago” he played later. The energetic treatment jarred sometimes, as in “Fourth of July.” When sung over rollicking drums and full electric guitar power, the mantra of “We’re all gonna die” sounded too blasé.

“No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross” followed “Fourth of July,” with just Stevens and band member Dawn Landis on stage standing behind microphones, and I’m glad they did nothing to that. Sweet and straightforward, it found the loose thread in the audience and pulled it until most of us were falling apart.

After playing most of Carrie & Lowell out of order, he took a detour through some older cuts. “The Owl and the Tanager,” hypnotic and dark in piano and solo voice for its first minutes, flew into a wash of cymbals which came on, raged and rattled, and died down as quickly as a summer storm. Some of his Seven Swans selections, like “In the Devil’s Territory” and “Sister,” might have been more on target with a little less bombast.

More worrisome was “Blue Bucket of Gold.” It closes the album with a deep but soft howl of guitar and strings that in the live show was a high-octane, burning and flashing vortex of pounding drums and screaming instruments. The wall of video screens blinked on and off in lurid color and blinding white while mirrored balls sent little pops of light into my eyes so quickly that I had to shut them for the rest of the song. I hope no one in the audience was prone to seizures.

After a hauntingly reverberating “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois” and an overstuffed “The Dress Looks Nice on You,” the show ended with “Chicago.” I got up and joined the small crowd of Obies dancing and singing “All things go, all things go,” at the back of the floor level, and found more connection than I could have imagined — albeit with the other people experiencing it with me, not with the man on stage, who may as well have been behind glass.

I walked out feeling cheated and angry at myself for feeling cheated. Everything had gone right: the visuals had been beautiful, his banter about dead skin cells was poignant; his wispy voice should have been able to shine through the haze for more than a few brief moments. Yet I was left cold. How did this happen? I’m still trying to figure it out, and wondering if I was the only one in the audience who felt that way.

Those seeking a more personal experience would do well to check out opener Cold Specks, Somali-Canadian doom soul songstress Ladan Hussein. She softly twisted back and forth behind her mic, darkly musing in a seething alto about decapitating her lover in his sleep on top of booming drums and clean, cold guitar. She slid out from behind her mic to sing a cappella, working the protest chants of “Hands up, don’t shoot, I can’t breathe” into the end of her final song. The audience was almost entirely united in silence, leaning forward to pick up on every word. Hers is the kind of voice that could shout from the rafters, but you’d think it was singing to you and you alone.

Review: Bang on a Can All-Stars, Oberlin, Feb. 28

Those unfamiliar with Bang On a Can All-Stars would not have been able to tell what they were about to hear from the cornucopia of instruments strewn around the stage of Oberlin College’s Finney Chapel on February 28. A cello and bass lay on their sides, an electric guitar sat on a stand, and a playground of percussion occupied more space than your average New York studio apartment. Is the All-Stars really a “contemporary classical” (those dreaded two words) group? Is it a rock band? Will guitarist Mark Stewart ever lose his long mane of formerly red, now grey, hair? After over 20 years, these questions remain unanswered.

One certainty: Bang on a Can All-Stars is a group of musicians with an electrifying stage presence.  They have a self-possessed but rarely complacent vibe about them, confidently skipping through time signatures and harmonies, always conveying the joy they take in sharing their bright, colorful music with their audience.

The group has gone through numerous personnel changes (only Stewart and bassist Robert Black remain of the original lineup), performed countless concerts, premiered bucketfuls of new works, and even transformed into cartoon characters for an appearance on PBS’s Arthur. Their brand of post-minimalism sometimes seems as set in stone as sonata form, but just as there are very good sonatas, there is very good post-minimalism.

Read the rest over at SFCV!