Music Review
Pop Music Recital With a Classical Veneer
May 19, 2014

The Tribeca New Music Festival is one of the most clearly defined brands in New York’s teeming new-music scene. The festival’s preferred label is “avant pop,” defined as the merging of pop culture taste and classically honed craft. Saturday’s “Poetry in Motion,” an evening of new vocal music presented as part of a five-concert series at the Cell in Chelsea, was in many ways a typical sample. The songs by Andrew Norman, Christopher CerroneJacob CooperEric Shanfield and Ted Hearne were compact, direct and elegant; the soprano Mellissa Hughes performed them with grace and razor-sharp emotional acuity.

But for this music to qualify as avant-garde, it would require a more pathbreaking, icon-smashing sense of experimentation. Instead, the beautiful and polished recital seemed to offer a haute couture version of pop: songs you could call on to sweeten a commute, wallow in after a bitter breakup, or perhaps furnish a particularly hip coffee shop, but that — in color, texture and the occasional extravagant line — are full of luxury touches.

It helps that Ms. Hughes is a singer who inhabits each song so fully that it appears to be tailor-made for her. Making deft use of amplification, she created a beguiling array of expressions. Her delivery was languid in Mr. Cooper’s “Fame” and “Antique Windfall,” two songs set to gently pulsating electronic tracks; inscrutable and incantatory in Mr. Norman’s “Don’t Even Listen.” In the bluesy “Protection,” by Mr. Hearne — the lyrics by Meghan Deans describe a mermaid hoping for “the company of drowning” — there was an arresting contrast between Ms. Hughes’s straight-faced singing and the darker accompaniment by the pianist Karl Larson and the violinist Sarah Goldfeather (who also provided additional vocals).

Mr. Shanfield’s song cycle “Borrowed Love Poems,” based on texts by John Yau, was as engaging a pop ballad as any you’d hear on the radio, but the subtlety of the writing — an unmooring piano chord here, an unexpected vocal flourish there — and the thoughtfulness of Ms. Hughes’s and Mr. Larson’s delivery was ultimately that of the concert hall.

Those qualities were also finely balanced in Mr. Cerrone’s “I Will Learn to Love a Person,” based on words by Tao Lin, which was here performed in a version for soprano, piano and percussion (Matt Evans, meticulous and expressive). The music features daring vocal jumps and a vibraphone part that obsessively trails that of the piano, perfectly capturing a quintessentially millennial text that sounds like the rambling voice mail messages left by an obsessive lover.

Music Preview
Two New Music Festivals to Enliven New York Stages Electronics And Energy
April 23, 2014

Two contemporary music festivals – one built largely around stars of the burgeoning downtown and Brooklyn scenes, and one examining unusual corners of the composition world – will keep New York concert stages animated in May and June.

The starrier of them, the Tribeca New Music Festival, sets up shop at the Cell on May 14, with “Film to Stage,” a program overseen by Douglas J. Cuomo (who composed the theme music for “Sex and the City”), devoted mostly to works originally composed for film, by Carter Burwell, John Corigliano, Frank London, Rob Schwimmer, Bora Yoon, Huang Ruo and Mr. Cuomo himself.  Vicky Chow, the pianist in the Bang on a Can All Stars, will play a solo recital that includes the premiere of Florent Ghys’s “Poor Margie” and works by the Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy, Ryan Francis, Steve Reich and Christopher Cerrone (May 15).

Mr. Cerrone oversees a program of his own, with his own music sharing a bill with works by Jacob Cooper, Ted Hearne, Andrew Norman and Eric Shanfield, in performances by the soprano Mellissa Hughes, the percussionist Matt Evans, the violinist and singer Sarah Goldfeather, and the pianist Karl Larson (May 17). And two of the festival’s most alluring programs are recitals by string players who also compose. The violists Martha Mooke and Jessica Meyer will share a program of their own works (May 16), and the violinists Mary Rowell and Tracy Silverman will play their own music as well as scores by John Adams, Richard Einhorn, Howard Hersh, Nico Muhly and Terry Riley (May 18).

The Mise-en Music Festival, presented by the New York-based ensemble mis-en in a partnership with another New York group, the Momenta Quartet, and the Ensemble Paramirabo, from Canada, is part concert series, part master class and part contest.

The ensemble began its programming by asking composers to submit scores. All told, the players looked at 862 works by 702 composers from 65 countries. Works by 30 of the composers will be heard during the festival, which opens with a concert of music by living Korean composers at the Korean Cultural Service (June 19). The Ensemble Paramirabo will give the United States premieres of works by four Canadian composers (Maxime McKinley, Patrick Giguere, Michel Gonneville and Philippe Leroux) as well as the rock star turned classical composer Frank Zappa at the Americas Society (June 20).

The Momenta Quartet’s afternoon program at the Taipei Cultural Center will include works by two composers born in Taiwan, Fang-Wei and Annie Hui-Hsin; that evening, the festival will present works by the Danish composer Bent Sorensen at Scandinavia House (June 21). And all three ensembles will join forces for the festival’s finale, a six-hour marathon at the Tenri Cultural Institute (June 22).

Besides concerts, the festival offers workshops on improvisation, Korean traditional instruments, and ways of getting new sounds from orchestral instruments. The workshops are all at the Cell.


Music Review
Celebrating Electronics And Energy
May 24, 2011
New music is hardly scarce during the main part of the New York concert season, and spaces like Issue Project Room, Galapagos and the Tank specialize in it year round. But spring and summer are a virtually nonstop parade of festivals celebrating the experimental. Recent weeks have featured the MATA, Look & Listen and Keys to the Future festivals in rapid succession, and on Monday evening the Tribeca New Music Festival opened its 10th season with a tightly packed program performed by Ethel, the string quartet, and devoted almost entirely to premieres. 
Given that they were writing specifically for Ethel, the six composers who supplied new works (a seventh, Corey Dargel, performed an earlier song cycle) made the most of the quartet’s distinctive personality. This is a group that spends much of its time traveling the modern Silk Road, where caravans of avant-garde, pop, jazz and world music barter riffs and techniques. And its approach to sound — its players use electric instruments, often with processing devices — gives it an extraordinary flexibility. It prizes grittiness and punch as absolute values, but these expert players can produce a conventionally warm, unified tone when the music demands it.
Matt Marks, Anna Clyne and Judd Greenstein all produced works with electronic tracks as crucial thematic and textural elements. In “Mixtape” Mr. Marks used fragments of what he called “irredeemably banal pop songs” — the players’ guilty pleasures, apparently — in mash-ups that buried the tunes in reverberation, noise (wind sounds, for example) and light percussion, with string lines woven around their melodies. The original songs are inaudible but for stray slivers, and in the end they were beside the point: the attraction here was the energy and inventiveness of Mr. Marks’s scoring.
In Ms. Clyne’s “Shadow of the Words,” built around a straightforward, recorded reading of Baudelaire’s “Harmonies du Soir” (the electronic track also includes a hefty, rumbling bass line), the quartet writing is atmospheric and flexible, with acerbic, raucous stretches morphing into surprisingly traditional passages, including a lilting waltz.
Mr. Greenstein’s “Octet 1979,” named for the year of his birth and the vintage of the classic pop synthesizers he used to make the work’s electronic component, is a bright, amusing hybrid: though Mr. Greenstein said he thought of the quartet and synthesizer writing as a dialogue, the effect was more like an overarching, fluid commentary by the strings on the rhythmically tight sequences and buzzing timbres of the four synthesizer tracks.
Rick Baitz’s “Chthonic Dances” and Randall Woolf’s “Dream Manifold” draw on pop moves of different sorts. For Mr. Baitz, Brazilian rhythms (often in a pizzicato cello line, sometimes driven home by the full ensemble) underpin a chord progression that evokes the lively spirit of South African township rock in a bright-hued, vigorously melodic score. Mr. Woolf’s work, for quartet and piano (with Kathleen Supové playing the supple, jazzy piano line), is built on bluesy figures but morphs into an imaginative fantasy in which sliding string chords create the effect of slowed-down time.
Andy Akiho joined the quartet on steel pans for his own vital, dancelike “In/Ex-change.” And Mr. Dargel sang his “What Might Have Been,” a characteristically quirky overview of dysfunctional relationships.
The Tribeca New Music Festival continues through June 10 at various locations;



Music Preview
May 22, 2011

Tribeca New Music Festival
Steve Smith
Started in 2001 by Preston Stahly, a composer and the executive and artistic director of the New York Art Ensemble, the Tribeca New Music Festival has become one of the city’s most inviting contemporary-classical events. Last year this scrappy series outgrew its longtime home at the Flea Theater in TriBeCa, establishing an uptown beachhead at Merkin Concert Hall. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the festival makes an initial splash in two events at Merkin this week, followed by concerts in Brooklyn and Chelsea in subsequent weeks. The opening program on Monday features the indefatigable and eclectic string quartet Ethel, reviving an ambitious recent work by Corey Dargel and unveiling premieres by Randall Woolf, Anna Clyne, Matt Marks and Judd Greenstein, among others. And Thursday’s concert includes two groundbreaking bands built around the electric guitar: the protean guitar quartet Dither and the dreamy mixed consort Redhooker. 8 p.m. Monday and Thursday, Merkin Concert Hall, 129 West 67th Street, Manhattan, (212) 501- 3330,; $25-$30.


Music Review
Monday, June 7, 2010

New Portraits of Grief and Wanderlust
Chamber music concerts focusing on contemporary works often attract small audiences. But the organizers of the Tribeca New Music Festival needed to find a larger space this year after events sold out during the last two seasons at the Flea Theater downtown. The four-event festival began on Saturday evening at Merkin Concert Hall with an engaging concert by the stellar Jack Quartet, whose young members are vigorous and committed purveyors of new fare. Preston Stahly, the artistic director of the New York Art Ensemble, which presents the festival, hosted the event, during which each composer spoke briefly about his or her work.


The success of the festival, which was founded in 2001, no doubt stems both from high-quality performances and from its eclectic, anti-elitist “avant pop” programming ethos. The New York Art Ensemble’s Web site ( says: “Old academic habits die hard, and many students today are still getting caught in the old ‘my way or the highway’ mind-set. Much of academia still lives in denial.”
There was nothing academic about the visceral program on Saturday, which opened with Jeff Myers’s striking “Dopamine,” a harmonically rich work written during what Mr. Myers called 10 days of “ravenous composing.” Insistent cello motifs underpinned melodies in the upper strings, punctuated by energetic outbursts and elegiac passages. 

The JACK Quartet opened the 2010 Tribeca New Music Festival with performances of music by Lisa Bielawa, David Crowell, Shawn Jaeger, Jeff Myers, Chris Rogerson and Mick Rossi at Merkin Concert Hall on Saturday night.
There was a sense of Shostakovichian paranoia in the first movement of Mick Rossi’s String Quartet No. 3, which came next. The cello had an athletic workout during the first movement, full of frantic, scurrying figures. The repetitive second movement long outstayed its welcome; perhaps reflecting Mr. Rossi’s background as a frequent collaborator with Philip Glass, descending string motifs recurred incessantly over viola pizzicatos.
Chris Rogerson won the New York Art Ensemble’s 2010 competition for composers 21 and younger for his well-made String Quartet No. 1, here in its New York premiere. There were echoes of Bartok in the slashing figures of “Duel,” the vigorous first movement. Passages of haunting beauty in “Hymn,” the solemn second movement, gave way to “Dance,” the lively finale.
The singing traditions of the Old Regular Baptists in Appalachia inspired Shawn Jaeger’s “Wondering Eyes.” Introspective, mournful passages meshed into frantic fiddling in the evocative work, which received its premiere here.
Lisa Bielawa based “The Trojan Women,” an expressive quartet, on a score she wrote for a production of Euripides’ tragedy of the same name. JoAnne Akalaitis, the director, asked Ms. Bielawa to compose music that reflected different types of grief.
So “Hecuba,” the first movement, unfolds with stately sorrow. “Cassandra,” the second, dissolves into anguished intensity, and “Andromache,” the finale, delves into introspective pathos.
The concert ended with David Crowell’s cinematographic and Minimalist “Open Road,” an inspired work that evoked Mr. Crowell’s frequent road trips out West.
The Jack Quartet performed with dedication and understanding throughout the evening.
The next concert in the Tribeca New Music Festival is on Monday evening at Merkin Concert Hall, 129 West 67th Street, Manhattan; (212) 501-3330;