Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Don't let's start

On Phawker, an interview with They Might Be Giants. The maestros of off-kilter pop play two shows this evening, at 7:30 and 11:30, at the TLA. New Year's Eve shows have long been a TMBG tradition; the last Philly one happened about ten years ago.

During the interview, John Linnell frequently slipped into speaking in a kind of "Behind the Music" announcer-voice. This is indicated with italics perhaps once in the transcript; in reality, it occurred considerably more often.

See you in 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A new wrinkle

A bit of non-music-related writing: for the Winter 2008-09 issue of MBA Jungle, I wrote a short piece on the etiquette of the "business kiss," and a longer feature on the pros and cons of MBA rotational programs. Different from my usual stuff, of course, but both were a lot of fun to research and report.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Off the wall

Can music and pictures coexist? A review of concerts by Network for New Music and Jason Moran for Broad Street Review, in which I examine the interaction between music and image during concerts held in art galleries.

Jason Moran's performance was one of the finest I heard this year, but I found the video art that accompanied his concert distracting. The Network concert was a nice exposure to the work of Sherif Habashi and Jennie Thwing, but also a mixed bag in terms of interaction with the artwork. Both featured pre-concert talks -- by the composers at the Network concert, and by David Adler with Moran and his concert -- that were tremendously revealing.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Let men their songs employ

From a few days ago, a review of the Philly Pops' holiday program for the Bulletin -- now with newly-revamped website. The Pops' show contained numerous jokes about lederhosen; I considered adding some of my own but thought better of it.

I also had to refrain from including an extended passage on Peter Nero's version of "White Christmas," the spacey feeling of which came from playing the opening passage with a whole-tone scale, long used to conjure images of aliens and other worlds. I wish I could remember which familiar tune Prof. Duckworth adapted in the same fashion during my first year of undergraduate music theory, but that memory seems to have been lost to the ages.

Hopefully forthcoming: an article for Broad Street Review reflecting on several concerts held among art exhibits. Image vs. sound, with various forms of abstraction: how do these kind of multimedia events play out? Stay tuned.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Top 10

Philadelphia Orchestra w/ Time for Three, Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto 4-3. Verizon Hall, Philadelphia, January 12.

Society for New Music, Marc Mellits’ Second String Quartet. Hendricks Chapel, Syracuse, January 27.

Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, The Rite of Spring. Mulroy Civic Center, Syracuse, March 14.

Stew and the cast of “Passing Strange,” “My Keys/It’s Alright.” Belasco Theatre, New York City, March 29.

Bucknell University Rooke Chapel Choir, Eleanor Daley’s “Do Not Stand By My Grave and Weep.” Weis Center, Lewisburg, PA, May 18.

Andrew Bird, “Armchairs.” Electric Factory, Philadelphia, August 9.

Nico Muhly w/ Sam Amidon, Nadia Sirota, et al, “The Only Tune.” First Unitarian Church, Philadelphia, August 22.

Philadelphia Orchestra w/ Martha Argerich, Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto. Verizon Hall, Philadelphia, October 6.

American Composers Orchestra w/ Seth Josel, Keeril Makan’s Dream Lightly. International House, Philadelphia, November 18.

Jason Moran w/ the Bandwagon, Bill Frisell and Alicia Hall. Philadelphia Museum of Art, December 12.


I wondered last week if my list of the ten best performances I've seen would need some adjusting after this past weekend. It does.

I actually took in three concerts (an offer to see this group came up at the last minute), and though all three had strong points, I was most consistently thrilled and excited by Jason Moran's performance at the Art Museum. His commissioned piece, inspired by the Gee's Bend quilt exhibit and a visit to the Alabama town where the quilts were constructed, was a dizzyingly eclectic display, and the crowd, mostly gathered on the steps in the Museum's Great Hall, was enthralled throughout. So Moran, his backing group the Bandwagon, guitarist Bill Frisell, and soprano Alicia Hall take the Number 10 spot on my list (it's based on chronology, not quality). A formal review of the concert is forthcoming.

Kudoes also to Symphony in C, the training orchestra based in Camden. Their version of Sibelius' Fifth Symphony was very, very fine indeed: an honorable mention, if I were to tack one onto my list. In both the Sibelius and the Grieg piano concerto, the Symphony had some of the best pianissimos I'd heard in quite a while -- a good sign for this young group and for the big-name orchestras who will one day inherit some of its players.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The air of other planets

A double dose today on Phawker: first, the latest edition of Paperboy, which includes a digest of PW's cover story on UFO sightings in the Philly area and the enthusiasts who track them. Writer Steven Wells has made a niche of skewering American subcultures, but this story cuts deeper (and weirder) by just letting the abductees tell their own stories.

Also, a Q&A with Shara Worden, the singer/songwriter behind My Brightest Diamond. She's a very thoughtful, inspired performer with deep roots in opera and art-song, and we talked at length about her favorite classical composers and their impact on her. I would have loved to have heard that reconciliation-recital a few years back with the Purcell, Piaf and Weill songs. I'll just have to settle for the Piaf cover at Friday's show.

Photo by Matt Wignall.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

When does it end?

..."it" being the musical year, as opposed to the calendar year. I ask because I've assembled my ten favorite performances of the year, and I'm wondering when it's appropriate to post. I'm likely to take in a few more concerts before 2008 is through (including one this weekend which I previewed for a local newspaper), so I don't want to close off the list prematurely. One ten-item list recently appeared from a much loved and respected source, and I feel relatively sure he'd be open to having a strong December performance bump one from earlier in the year off the list. Whatever the case, I have my list ready. Okay, Philly-area music groups (these two in particular): make me change my mind.

Monday, December 08, 2008


What does hope sound like? A preview of Symphony in C's Dec. 13 concert, featuring Clint Needham's "Radiant Nation," written for the Courier-Post. December 7, 2008.

I mention Needham's current playlist in the article, but I wasn't able to include some of his recent classical favorites: Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts, Vaughan Williams' Vagabond Songs, and the DVD of John Adams' Doctor Atomic. Apart from a setting of Walt Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" for baritone and orchestra (available on his Myspace) Needham hasn't done much vocal writing and was at a loss to explain his current infatuation with opera. We didn't much discuss his upcoming projects, but I can only hope there will be a flowering of busy, energetic vocal music in the future.

Also, big ups to Frank Ticheli, a band and wind ensemble composer who has had an impact on Needham's development, as well as my own.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Society Hill happenings

With a rehearsal and performance with the Choral Arts Society, I thought my weekend would be too booked for any concert attendance. Happily, I had Friday evening free and was able to take in a show by a tight, thoughtful jazz quartet, Shot x Shot. My review just went up on Phawker.

I'm glad that I was finally able to attend a concert presented by Bowerbird, a local outfit that puts on jazz and avant-garde music and dance events in some unlikely spots. One November concert was held at the museum across from my apartment, but I still couldn't go. Though their musical offerings have been mostly of the non-notated variety, their director gave me a little hint about some future programming: Morton Feldman's Second String Quartet. That's what I'm talkin' about.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Yuletide splendor

In the Bulletin's Winter Culture Guide, I have previews of holiday concerts by the Mendelssohn Club and the Philadelphia Singers. Great programs both, with several contemporary pieces -- Stephen Paulus and Steven Heitzig by the Singers, Glenn Rudolph and Anthony Mosakowski by the Mendelssohn Club -- balancing older, more traditional works.

Also, after a Thanksgiving hiatus, Paperboy went up on Phawker yesterday. Food, gifts, pretty typical holiday stuff -- with an extra note of sadness on account of former CP editor Brian Hickey, who I hope will soon return to blogging and dispensing badassery here. Get well soon, Brian.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Southern rock, Northern hospitality

On Phawker, a little preview for The Modern Society, a band out of Atlanta that's trooped north to play The Khyber tonight. Fans of Kings of Leon and the Whigs (also from Atlanta) will find a lot to enjoy, or at least to nod their heads to while frowning slightly. Jangly-pop enthusiasts should be able to dig it as well; I think triangulating The Modern Society between KoL, REM, and the Goo Goo Dolls has them pretty much pegged.

Forthcoming: even more concert previews, including pieces on a strong, young orchestra from the other side of the river and on holiday programs by several Philly choral groups.

Current/recent listening: Ligeti Cello Concerto, Apti by Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition, selections by Kyle Bartlett.