reCONTACT!

Alan Gilbert Conducts the New York Philharmonic's New Music Series

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The New York Philharmonic’s new music series CONTACT! returns to Q2 with Music Director Alan Gilbert conducting the second concert of its inaugural season. Listen in Thursday, April 22 at 7 p.m., or during an encore presentation Saturday, April 24 at 4 p.m., for world premieres of works by Nico Muhly, Matthias Pintscher, and Sean Shepherd. Read what bloggers are saying about the concerts which took place at Symphony Space on April 16 and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 17.

Q2 is thrilled to continue partnering with the New York Philharmonic and its commitment to commissioning works from today’s young and emerging composers. In this second installment, each composer participates in a Q&A and contributes a personal introduction to his or her work, making each CONTACT! concert experience candid, refreshing, and unique. The first CONTACT! concert at Symphony Space featured world premieres by Lei Liang, Marc-André Dalbavie, Arlene Sierra, and Arthur Kampela and generated great critical acclaim both in the press and blogging community (hear more from Q2 about that past concert, including composer interviews and repertoire excerpts).

You can hear the entire performance on Q2 April 22 at 7 p.m., or April 24 at 4 p.m. In addition, Q2 will be adding these world premieres to our ongoing programming, along with other works by Muhly, Pintscher, and Shepherd for a limited time following the April 22 webcast. You can hear Q2 any time through our pop-audio player or through iTunes.

Just click on the name to read what bloggers are writing about CONTACT! As always we welcome your reaction to the New York Philharmonic's latest installment in its commitment to world premieres and emerging composers. 

Sean Shepherd | "Whose Philharmonic Is It?" from NewMusicBox.com
Jonathan Marx | "Sean Shepherd Steps Out with N.Y. Phil Commission" from BMI.com
Lucid Culture | "The New York Philharmonic's CONTACT! Demystified" from lucidculture.wordpress.com

Sean Shepherd | "Whose Philharmonic Is It?" from NewMusicBox.com

Leave it to this orchestra. Whatever it does, the New York Philharmonic seems to garner attention. Of course it's hardly surprising, considering that the local press amounts to the de facto national arts reporting machine, and nearly all of the classical music business—artist management, public relations, publishing, licensing—is a mere bike ride away from ol' Avery Fisher Hall. It's a large, busy organization with a multifaceted mission; a big fish in a big town, yes, but it's also just steps away from the performing arts organization with the largest operating budget in the country and a quick zip to what must be just about the busiest presenter of concert music in the world. As the oldest orchestra in the U.S. (by a long distance: the only one closer to age 200 than 100) it might enjoy a certain grandfather status among its peers, but as the institution of the professional orchestra is always in a kind of slow flux, one can only attempt to retro-flux and imagine a pre-civil war Philharmonic throwing gala concerts, giving the U.S. premiere of Beethoven's Ninth in Battery Park. Brahms's symphonies were yet still in the future. 

Like many top American ensembles, the Philharmonic has fluctuated between worship of the glorious past (pretty damn good, no?) and the altogether messier business of interacting with these living guys (I'll give it to them, we can be unpleasant!); sometimes the pendulum swings by the decade and sometimes by the week. We see and read about it all. One year the New York Philharmonic is publicly lauded for following the hearts and minds of its musician-members for choosing an elder-statesman to lead its ranks and provide stability, and the next year the old guy is doing entirely too much Tchaikovsky! The throngs are bored, old man. This is New York, after all (and we've already forgotten that the old man and his band can do a Daphnis for the ages, and that Daphnis pays the bills). It might be the Philharmonic, but somehow New York doesn't always want to claim it: it's never our Philharmonic. I've been to Cleveland and Boston, and it's not tough to see the hometown swagger those groups rightly maintain. New Yorkers cherish their institutions as much as anyone, but it seems, in the end, a tough love: Watch them closely and hold their feet to the fire whenever necessary. 

So, by the time Alan Gilbert, the next Bernstein all wrapped in the violin section's swaddling clothes, came in from Harvard and Sweden, the somber, serious hero to save the swerving rusted jalopy from the free fall and fiery inferno of utter artistic stagnation with a Single. Opening. Concert., he certainly had our attention. The myth, ridiculous as it was, is dutifully being slowly chipped away at, one week at a time, hopefully to be replaced with something more balanced and complex, more of a complete picture. More worthy of dinner conversation. 

When mythical Maestro Gilbert the Re(tro)former announced his plans to put new music on the the orchestra's agenda and on the payroll in a way not seen since the eras of Mr. Mehta and Mr. Boulez, many commentators reacted positively, connecting his good track record and genuine interests to a thread running intermittently through the Philharmonic's own history. But much to my horror was a slowly emerging din of a totally different sort: from the loosely gathered new music community, residing in—where else?—but New York. Composers and performers young and old, a bit on blogs and a bit in person, were slowly starting to decide what they thought, and for a while (months before the first CONTACT! concert) the answer seemed clear: thanks, but no thanks. 

You see, here in New York, we're full up. No need, not for us. Not one more composer, no new ensemble, and certainly not from them. My friend Judd Greenstein actually makes the fair point quite succinctly. "There is a major dearth of new orchestra music in this city. So why go and start a New Music Ensemble when we're already packed to the gills with nimbler acts and groups with dedicated followings?" Then quickly comes the old "copycat" attack—pointing to but one program, while simultaneously noting that CONTACT!'s offerings aren't already rivaling those of the Green Umbrella in Los Angeles, a series with a 25-year history, and the obvious shining star for presenting new music to an orchestral audience in this country. I point also toward the Chicago Symphony's younger MusicNOW Series as a flexible model that has seen its way through a big transition in that organization. And in Europe? The mighty Berliner Philharmoniker counts no less than 25 dedicated chamber groups, some with their own management and touring schedule, and when gathered onstage, somehow are able to find their seats and form an orchestra. Is this the beginning of the end for the the New York Philharmonic? Cutting things down, Mahler Eight fading from ours ears and memories... I think rather the opposite. A dedicated new music series looks to me more like the beginning of a beginning, so I'm content wait and see what unfolds on the larger Avery Fisher stage. But you'll certainly see me at Le Grand Macabrenext month and at Kraft next season. 

But the kinds of comments from New Yorkers that worry me the most, and those that, from my vantage point, bear the least sense of context in terms of what happens in the city or the world, are those that attempt to place CONTACT! and its programming in an unsavory and outdated light: the two-party system of Uptown-istan and the Downtown-icrats. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. No one ever decided to make their first experiments in sound, whether on a piano or a harmonica, with that absurd, creation-killing dialectic in mind. Those terms, while novel in describing a real situation at the time, really came to be more about power (funding, posts, tastemaking, access to the press) than they ever expressed about art. Forty years later, what was accomplished? Lines in the sand, awkward cocktail parties, and a lot of pain for the embittered and bedraggled artists, some of whom sadly became a cause célèbre with no cause left to remember. I’m disturbed by any such notion these days. I trek to Galapagos for a New Amsterdam Records release party for Nadia Sirota's new album, five years in the making, enjoy myself, and celebrate their good will toward new music just as readily as I walk to Roulette to hear the Talea Ensemble pay tribute to the prematurely deceased Italian Fausto Romitelli. Or to hear Wet Ink passionately bring Austrian Beat Furrer's slow/fast undulations and cycles forth, Sequitur playing Sebastian Currier’s brilliant chamber music, ICE playing Kaija Saariaho's. Judd is right! There’s more than enough, but who is to stop us from attending, from cheering, from celebrating the glut? The thick, creamy soups always taste best. 

As I type quietly in rehearsal, watching Alan Gilbert draw Matthias's heavenly harmonies forth from some of the best players anywhere, I revel, truly revel, in the sound. CONTACT! is joining a crowded subway car, and I'm going to celebrate the company.

Read more from NewMusicBox »

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Jonathan Marx | "Sean Shepherd Steps Out with N.Y. Phil Commission" from BMI.com

When it comes to getting their music heard, aspiring songwriters have it fairly easy. They can just pick up a guitar and start playing. It’s a lot tougher for an up-and-coming composer — the creative process is time-intensive, not to mention that staging a performance involves countless logistical and financial hurdles.

So imagine composer Sean Shepherd’s surprise and elation when he learned that he’d won a high-profile commission from the New York Philharmonic. On April 16 at Manhattan’s Symphony Space, a scaled-down version of the orchestra will perform his piece These Particular Circumstances as part of its new music series, CONTACT! Shepherd’s music will be featured alongside works by six other composers, all of whom represent the leading edge in contemporary classical music.

“It really is a rare opportunity for someone my age,” says the 30-year-old composer, who is completing his doctoral degree at Cornell University. “[In the last few years] I feel like I’ve gone from being a student in a cocoon to stepping out of my safety zone. I’ve never been commissioned for a piece this big, and at 15 to 20 minutes long, it requires a certain level of commitment: I have to make every minute that I add to piece even more interesting, as if it were a movie.”

This isn’t Shepherd’s first performance by a major American orchestra: Already in the past year, the National Symphony Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra have presented his works. But in many ways, this latest commission represents a big step forward.

“The N.Y. Phil has taken it upon themselves to celebrate every one of the composers taking part in Contact! I wished that happened more often. Orchestras can’t just keep looking at the past, which is one of the reasons this project has been so admirable. The more that organizations like the N.Y. Phil promote new music, the more it will be possible for other orchestras to take risks — and for members of the audience to embrace what they hear.”

Read more from BMI.com »

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Lucid Culture | "The New York Philharmonic's CONTACT! Demystified" from lucidculture.wordpress.com

The New York Philharmonic’s debut performance of Contact!, their new series dedicated to cutting-edge music by contemporary composers got off to an auspicious start at Symphony Space last December. They’re doing another program at Symphony Space featuring pieces by Nico Muhly, Matthias Pintscher and Sean Shepherd this Friday, April 16 at 8, which we’ll be liveblogging (wave to us up in the balcony but please don’t disturb your neighbor). The program repeats at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 7 PM on the 17th. John Mangum, the orchestra’s Artistic Administrator, didn’t let a computer crash stop him from helping us shed some light on what promises to be an equally auspicious performance:

Q: The first question is the most crucial one: are tickets still available for the April 16 show at Symphony Space and the one on the 17th at the Metropolitan Museum of Art?

A: Yes.

Q: The New York Philharmonic are not strangers to championing contemporary composers. Other than the fact that Contact! so far has featured pieces for smaller ensembles, what differentiates this series from other programs featuring the avant-garde?

A: The Contact! series for the current season, 2009/10, features exclusively commissioned works – each program is comprised entirely of world premieres. In future seasons, we’re looking at expanding the series’ mandate to make room for some of the classics from the last two decades. For example, in November 2010, we’ll have a program pairing a world premiere by Magnus Lindberg with the “Quatre chants pour franchir le seiul” (“Four Songs for Crossing the Threshhold”), the last work of Magnus’ teacher, the pivotal French composer Gerard Grisey, which he completed in 1994.

Q: Is there a common link between the composers that led to their selection for this program? Or a common thread, musical or thematic, that links the compositions?

A: They’re all crucial voices from among the younger generations of composers living and working in the New York area – both Matthias Pintscher and Nico Muhly are here in the City, and Sean Shepherd, who recently graduated from Juilliard, is working at Cornell with Steven Stucky and Roberto Sierra. The striking thing is how different each composer’s approach is, and that really comes to the fore when their works are placed on the same program. It makes a strong statement about the variety and vitality of music today.

Q: What criteria and whose decisions determine who gets a commission from the NY Phil as Muhly, Shepherd and Pintscher have here? Is there a line around the block, or is is the secret star chamber that decides immune to persuasion?

A: We try to be really aware of who is out there. Members of the Orchestra,Magnus Lindberg (our Composer-in-Residence), Alan Gilbert (our Music Director), and I all play a part. We meet, talk, look at scores – both those we’ve requested and those that have just come in unsolicited – and make the decision based on what turns us on. It’s exciting to be part of creating new art, and we want to share that excitement with our audiences.

Q: The debut of Contact! had minimalism, an intricate rondo, horizontal music, orchestrated Mongolian throat-singing chants and a jungly thicket of Brazilian percussion. What do audiences have to look forward to in this program?

A: Matthias’ piece is a wonderfully refined, tremendously thoughtful setting of sacred Hebrew texts for our Artist-in-Residence Thomas Hampson. There are strikingly beautiful sonorities, and really sophisticated use of the instrumental ensemble. Sean’s work is very energetic, full of all sorts of references to itself and other pieces. It’s a piece in seven sections, with a real arc, a real shape to it, and the use of the ensemble is, like Matthias’ work, again very sophisticated, though the result is different. Nico’s piece also has that same sense of energy and structure – there seems to be something about New York that brings this energy, this life out in composers.

Q: The ensemble was divided into unusual permutations last time around – for example, one of the pieces featured four string quartets with a bass at each end of the stage. Can the audience expect any such thing like on this bill?

A: The ensembles for these three pieces are similar, so there won’t be that kind of contrast like we had last time, with Lei Liang’s piece for four string quartets and two double basses. The contrast in this program comes from the different styles of the three composers, and it is striking.

Q: This is the first time Contact! has featured vocal music – will there be vocal music at upcoming performances?

A:Yes. On the November program next season, the Grisey work is for high soprano and ensemble.

Q: Why do this at Symphony Space and the Met? Why not just stay home at Avery Fisher Hall?

A: We really wanted to take this project out into the city, and after considering several different venues, these two proved ideal for a variety of practical and artistic reasons. At Symphony Space, the programming is a good fit with the work Laura Kaminsky, their artistic director, is doing there. It’s also right in the heart of the Upper West Side, close to Columbia as well. At the Met Museum, I like the statement it makes – we’re putting contemporary music on stage there, streaming new art into the flow and tradition of millennia of artistic achievement. That you literally go from ancient Egypt to New York, 2010 – I think that’s pretty cool.

Read more from Lucid Culture »

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