reCONTACT! and the Blogging Community

The Blogosphere Reacts to the New York Philharmonic's New Music Series

Monday, April 19, 2010 - 11:04 AM

Hear the New York Philharmonic’s second CONTACT! concert this week on Q2, and read what the blogosphere is saying right now.

The second CONTACT! concert has already generated quite a bit of buzz. Read what’s been written so far. Q2 will be updating this page as more reactions and insights are posted. Were you at the concert? Have an opinion? Tell Q2 what you think and be a part of our new music community.

Miss the concert? Hear the CONTACT! performance this Thursday, April 22 at 7PM with an encore presentation Saturday, April 24 at 4PM. More from Q2’s coverage of CONTACT! here.


Just click on the name to read from CONTACT! bloggers such as:

Christian Casey, of File Under?
Christian Carey, on Twitter
Helen Cronin, of NYU Troubadour
Andrew Frisicano, of Brooklyn Vegan
George Grella, of The Big City
Albert Imperato, of Gramophone 
Lucid Culture
Monotonous Forest
Edward Ortiz, of 21Q
Alex Ross, of The New Yorker
Vivien Schweitzer, of The New York Times
Sean Shepherd
Anastasia Tsioulcas, on Twitter


Christian Casey, of File Under?

The New York Philharmonic has made significant strides to renew its commitment to contemporary classical music this season. Curated by composer-in-residence Magnus Lindberg and conducted by music director Alan Gilbert, Friday April 16th’s Contact! series performance was a compelling program stirringly performed.

Musicians of the NYPO, Alan Gilbert, and Sean Shepherd (photo: Stephanie Berger)

Sean Shepherd’s These Particular Circumstances proved a vibrant opener. A bassoonist as well as a composer, he’s a fine orchestrator. Its also clear that, while at Cornell for his DMA, he learned a lot about Lutoslawski from Steven Stucky, as his language incorporates insights from both composers. Shepherd’s music has a wonderful way of making the orchestra shimmer. He took advantage of the chamber orchestra’s lither scoring, providing deft contrapuntal passages for winds and solo strings. At the same time, These Particular Circumstances displays considerable power in its tutti passages, reminding us that the ensemble for Contact! is a formidable assembly.

Nico Muhly made a point of complementing his former Juilliard classmate from the stage, pointing out that Shepherd’s high-lying passages create such a signature sound that, when he learned he was following him on the program, he decided to ‘give the violins a break.’ True, with a darker hued string section led by the violas, his work Detailed Instructions takes on a sound world that stood apart from the other pieces on the program. Muhly is post-minimal in orientation. And while a couple of the composers in the audience who sat near me groused at intermission that his work is ‘indebted to Philip Glass,’ what they didn’t seem to hear was Muhly’s playful departures from mainstream minimalism.

Instead of Glass’ symmetrical use of ostinati, Muhly’s repeating figures dart in and out of the ‘expected phrase lengths,’ creating delightful surprises and heady syncopations. In the more reposeful central section, he channeled an appealing lyricism from his recent pop-based excursions into a spacious orchestral mold. The third section gave the NYPO musicians a chance to up the bpm quotient, in a breakneck paced, dazzling finale. Make no mistake, Muhly is no mere retro-minimalist; quite the contrary, he’s a compelling new voice on the scene.

Alan Gilbert and Thomas Hampson (photo: Stephanie Berger)

Matthias Pintscher composed Songs from Solomon’s Garden for the NYPO’s artist-in-residence, baritone Thomas Hampson. A setting of texts from the Song of Solomon in Hebrew, the work was simultaneously sensuous and inquisitive. Pintscher deftly juxtaposes cantabile passages with spikier ones, creating an impressively varied orchestral palette. And while Solomon’s Garden never even flirts with neoromanticism, it has a far more lyrical impulse than some of Pintscher’s other, in this writer’s opinion less congenial, vocal writing. Hampson sang the challenging, chromatic, and wide ranging  part with commitment, subtlety, and musicality. At a stage in his career when he certainly needn’t take on learning new works, Hampson’s willingness to participate in Contact! so enthusiastically is admirable.

Gilbert has done a remarkable job in a short amount of time crafting a fine contemporary ensemble with these Philharmonic members. He elicited powerful, clear, and engaging performances throughout the program. Its worth noting that the NYPO is getting into the spirit and has been very supportive of Contact!. The organization went all out to publicize the show, in the process making a zealous case for new music’s relevancy in the broader cultural life of the city. And they did a good job incorporating multimedia into the PR mix; we posted some of the flipcam videos on the front page in advance of the performance.

Enlisting WNYC’s John Schaefer as host and onstage interviewer was a nice touch. Schaefer kept things moving breezily while eliciting both bon mots and aesthetic observations from each artist and composer. WNYC/WQXR’s contemporary internet station, Q2, will be broadcasting the concert on Thursday, April 22 at 7 p.m. or Saturday, April 24 at 4 p.m.

After the concert, the whole audience was invited to stay and chat at a reception.  Everyone was even treated to a free beer. What’s not to like?

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Christian Casey, on Twitter

gearing up for @nypo Contact! at @symphonyspace
3:55 PM Apr 16th via mobile web

enjoyed the first half of #contact! - nice @nicomuhly piece!
6:16 PM Apr 16th via mobile web

@anastasiat i'm at #contact too - did you like sean's piece?
6:19 PM Apr 16th via mobile web

@nicomuhly congrats on the #contact! perf. enjoyed the piece.
1:12 PM Apr 17th via mobile web

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Helen Cronin, of NYU Troubadour

For the neophyte, trying to figure out the new music scene can be both confusing and overwhelming. The many splintered traditions as well as the huge variety of music out there can make it quite intimidating to get an idea of the bigger picture. That’s why the new Contact! Series organized by Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic has the potential to be a dynamic force in getting people interested in new music. Between the first concert in December and the second April 16th and 17th, 7 commissioned new works by 7 different composers were premiered by members of the New York Philharmonic. Alan Gilbert and composer-in-residence Magnus Lindberg chose a wide variety of composers that painted a nice picture of the different facets of composition today. The concert on April 16th and 17th (Friday at Symphony Space and Saturday at the Rainey Auditorium at The Metropolitan Museum of Art) featured new works by young composers Sam Shepard, Nico Muhly, and Matthias Pinscher. Each piece was a startlingly different take on the heritage of esoteric music in the West.

Shepard’s piece, These Particular Circumstances is best described as neo-Impressionist, drawing inspiration from and even quoting Debussy and Ravel. The piece’s seamless seven movement structure, would have been more interesting if one could have told Floating apart from Grinding. There were lovely moments and details in the piece, but there was something wanting in its overall structure. Nico Muhly’s Detailed Instructions drew obvious inspiration from minimalism, jazz and even indie rock, but found its own identity by creating a mood and staying within it. Though developmentally static the piece still grabbed the audience’s attention with its changing orchestration. Matthias Pinscher’s piece songs from Solomon’s garden featured baritone Thomas Hampson singing Hebrew text from the Songs of Solomon. The strong vocal line was backed by diverse orchestration, at times sparse and at others dissonantly dramatic, evoking quite a varied and interesting garden.

Beyond the pieces themselves, the concert was particularly impressive for the laidback and intimate feel generated by conductor Alan Gilbert. His amusing pre-performance interviews with each of the composers and obvious enthusiasm for the project did away with much of the stuffy institutionalism that can characterize Lincoln Center. One can only hope these concerts will continue with this enthusiastic and welcoming take on new music that encourages strangers to become fans.

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Andrew Frisicano, of Brooklyn Vegan

NYP rehearsing Nico's "Detailed Instructions" (via @nicomuhly)

Members of New York Philharmonic and conductor/NYP music director Alan Gilbert premiered new works by Nico Muhly, Matthias Pintscher and Sean Shepherd at Symphony Space last Friday (4/16). The show was the second edition of NYP's CONTACT! series, which comissions new music from young composers and debuted in December. Online radio station Q2 will be broadcasting the performance, which included live interviews conducted by WNYC's John Schaefer, on Thursday, April 22nd at 7 pm and Saturday, April 24th at 4pm.

With a darker hued string section led by the violas, [Nico Muhly] work Detailed Instructions takes on a sound world that stood apart from the other pieces on the program. Muhly is post-minimal in orientation. And while a couple of the composers in the audience who sat near me groused at intermission that his work is 'indebted to Philip Glass,' what they didn't seem to hear was Muhly's playful departures from mainstream minimalism.

Instead of Glass' symmetrical use of ostinati, Muhly's repeating figures dart in and out of the 'expected phrase lengths,' creating delightful surprises and heady syncopations. In the more reposeful central section, he channeled an appealing lyricism from his recent pop-based excursions into a spacious orchestral mold. The third section gave the NYPO musicians a chance to up the bpm quotient, in a breakneck paced, dazzling finale. Make no mistake, Muhly is no mere retro-minimalist; quite the contrary, he's a compelling new voice on the scene. [File Under?]

As mentioned before, Nico Muhly's arrangements can be found on the new records by Jonsi and Sam Amidon. The Symphony Space show was followed by a performance at Metropolitan Museum of Art the day after, which was the last Contact! show of the NY Phil "season" (which runs through July). The series picks up again with three new commissions next December. Pictures from Friday's show are below...

Sean Shephard on the right

 

 

New York Philharmonic Artist-in-Residence Thomas Hampson

Matthias Pintscher, center

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George Grella, of The Big City blog

CONTACT! Live Blogging: Prelude

April 16, 2010 - Ensconced in a cozy balcony seat, watching people file in. . . About fifteen minutes until the stated curtain time. . . Musicians warming up onstage include harp, vibes, clarinet, bassoon and cello. . . no way to know what they are playing, but I keep hearing fragments of what sounds like Le Sacre du Printemps . . . but that’s actually not for a few more weeks during the Russian Stravinsky Festival…

CONTACT! Live Blogging, 1

April 16, 2010 - Nicely mixed crowd, young and old coming in.  Haven’t spotted any of my fellow cranks . . . er, critics tonight.  There’s more Andriessen at Carnegie tonight, of course.  I had been planning on attending the Andriessen concert at Zankel Saturday night, but then this happened:

Volcanic eruption in Iceland

But that’s what us live bloggers are for, to fill the gaps.

Maestro Gilbert has now taken the stage to address some remarks to the audience.  The gist: he’s excited about leading a concert of contemporary music as part of the New York Philharmonic.  John Schaefer is offering some opening remarks as well. The program is as follows:

  • Sean Sheperd; These Particular Circumstances (a seven section work)
  • Nico Muhly; Detailed Instructions, for orchestra
  • Matthias Pintscher; Songs from Solomon’s Garden; featuring Thomas Hampson singing

Sean Sheperd is now onstage to talk about his piece, and there’s a bit of flirting with feedback.  Next post will be as the music is playing.

CONTACT! Live Blogging; “These Particular Circumstances”

April 16, 2010, 8:13PM – Concertmaster takes the stage, ensemble tunes . . . Gilbert takes a bow . . . and we’re off . . .

. . . Briefly clangorous opening gesture, followed by quiet little turns in the winds, like Lutoslawski’s ad lib music . . . music builds to some brief moments both of intensity and sonority . . . the music is quiet colorful, with a really expressive language and a commitment to dramatic gestures . . . keep thinking of Lutoslawski, a great and important master of making music with a chaotic aspect yet still in complete overall control of his materials and structures, and very fine example to emulate . . . now the instruments trade off a rapidly rising run, which turns into a quote from The Planets, a charming surprise . . . rapid, bright and lively . . . now there’s a slightly boozy quality to the music the strings (a quartet with bass) are playing, and I’m always in favor of that . . . fascinating orchestration here, trills, chattering and percussion, has a real physical quality, you can almost smell and taste it . . . dialogue between muted trumpet and cello in high register . . . music is now pensive, going effectively through a variety of emotional states, neither rushing nor lingering . . . the writing is imaginative and active while feeling organic, never arbitrary . . . first bit of post-Minimal language, interesting that it’s taken so long to appear in a piece by an American composer just over 30 . . . two fairly young people leaving, Philistines! . . .  no, I didn’t shout . . . this part is making a deliberate, fanfare like statement, feels like a coda . . . good call on that coda, if I may say so.  Generous and deserved applause, very well-crafted piece, really holds the attention.  Nice to hear this kind of contemporary neo-Romanticism.  Playing by the Philharmonic ensemble seemed totally sharp, confident and controlled.

CONTACT! Live Blogging; “Detailed Instructions”

April 16, 2010, 8:36PM - As the musicians change for the Muhly piece, John Schaefer has a few words on stage with Magnus Lindberg . . . Lindberg is talking about the importance and legacy of what he calls the “sinfonietta” world, which is essentially the chamber orchestra, colorful but small ensembles, cheaper to run, flexible, great for contemporary composers . . . Muhly and Schaefer are talking about why he replaced violins with violas . . . hey, I like the viola, leave it alone, Schaefer, if it’s good enough for Mozart and the Symphony of Psalms, it’s good enough for you, buddy . . . Beguiling start to this piece, a gentle, short lyric over an odd-metered, shuffling pulse in the percussion, notes rising in the instruments, working together at times and bumping into each other as well . . . syncopated eighth note pulses in the woodwinds, like what David Lang does, with a hint of a long-toned horn melody . . . basic rhythmic pulse is being passed around, as well as this intriguing, mournful melodic gesture, rising in short intervals, almost keening higher than falling in a large interval . . . the music seems to be in a constant state of transition, which is something that music can do so well as an art form . . . now the textures are thinning out, more dissonance is coming in, emotions are attenuating . . .

. . . 2nd movement; slow, quiet, ringing, a simple line in the piccolo, sounds almost like a Lou Harrison symphony . . . a full-fledged piccolo solo over slowly shifting bed of music, limpid sound shapes drifting right and left across the aural horizon . . . quite lovely this . . . this is really a pleasure to listen to, building beautiful textures, sensations and sonorities . . . also has that thing John Adams does so well, the yearning, willful melody over a rich bed of sound, the sound is sympathetic but they seem to occupy different worlds, an interesting idea of coordination and society, one’s place in the universe, or the actual location of one’s navel, found while gazing at it . . . tuba burbles, english horn sighs, bucolic final bars . . .

. . . 3rd movement . . . quarter note pulse, kicked around with a few extra eighth notes . . . piano pulses and arpeggiates, flutes spell out chords, clarinets chug underneath . . . this is Muhly as post-Minimalist, combing procedures from Reich and Adams . . . the music is clearly made here but seems to have a little less focus, as if he’s sure he wants the notes laid out the way they are, but not sure why there should be any notes at all . . . structurally, he’s recalling the first movement now, binding things together with purpose . . . ends a little abruptly . . . lots of good music in that piece, some lovely, complex expressions.  Take a bow, Nico . . .

. . . and . . . intermission.  Be back in a bit, peeps and tweeps and sheeps.

CONTACT! Live Blogging; “Songs From Solomon’s Garden”

April 16, 2010, 9:27PM - . . .  Schaefer and Gilbert are speaking prior to this last piece, with text in Hebrew from the Megillah . . . the great Thomas Hampson singing for the premier, Pintscher must be ecstatic . . . I would be; man-crush on Hampson is totally acceptable . . . Hampson even taller than Gilbert, okay no more gossip, time for music . . . opens a capella . . . the music is quiet, bracing, astringent, a bit spectral in it’s idiom . . . mysterious, evocative timbres, clouds of sound . . . apologies I can’t follow text and comment on what Pintscher says about the words with his music, too many things to do! . . . langorous feeling has now become agitated and intense as the text sings of the objects of desire; this desire is fervid, aggressive, even angry, perhaps self-consuming . . . chattering oboe brings us back to a point of exhalation, but not relaxation . . . Pintscher has established an underlying tension that is quite powerful, I am quite actively interested in hearing how he resolves it, or even if he bothers to . . . Hampson really committed to the music, it’s new so clearly cannot be totally incorporated, but his concentration on the part is balanced with real ideas about expression and interpretation, such an impressive musician . . . the instruments, especially woodwinds, are now commenting more actively on the singing, the idea seems to be taking place very much in an internal, mental space, this is very much like an extended operatic monologue, with the character searching himself, it’s dramatic and gradually becoming ever more gripping . . . a short, echt-Romantic string line there, and the uncanny sound of a wah-ing trumpet, I’m thinking of Berio now . . . this is music where the ear, and listening, must take some moments to adapt, but now it sounds natural, logical and is developing real power . . . quiet yet intense, Hampson in falsetto, string harmonics and a whispering growl from the contrabassoon, don’t want to breath and miss any moment . . . wow, this part is so good it could go on forever . . . and what a way to end!  An alluring, entrancing work, full of secrets, really needs to be heard again and again.

Quite a concert, different and as impressive as the first one in the series, probably tighter and freer playing with Gilbert conducting, a great range of music and determined focus. You can still hear these pieces in concert, Saturday night at the Metropolitan Museum, and you can tune in next week to Q2 for the rebroadcast.  Now, time for a beer . . .

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Albert Imperato, of Gramophone

Six concerts in eight days (Including three world premieres and one New York premiere)

April 19th, 2010, 2:39pm GMT - I’m not sure what my record is for number of concerts attended in the course of a week, but last night’s CONTACT! concert by the New York Philharmonic was my sixth in eight days. The past two days alone featured a major New York premiere and three world premieres – an embarrassment of riches!

It began last Friday in Philadelphia where I heard pianist Yefim “Fima” Bronfman in recital (Fima is a client of our company, 21C Media Group). Fima’s superhuman technique was jaw-dropping, especially in the Prokofiev Second Sonata as well as a Lizst arrangement of a Paganini piece he played as one of three encores. Hearing him in such an intimate space (the Perelman Theater in the Kimmel Center) only added to the forcefulness of the experience. The next night I heard Chanticleer (another client) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The singing was characteristically resplendent, but once again the setting heightened the experience: twilight in the glass-enclosed Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where shafts of rich-colored light flooded the space and colored the rapturous sounds that were ringing in the air.

The next day it was a Thomas Hampson recital at Alice Tully Hall (Hampson is also a client – sorry!). The program was equal parts Barber and Schumann. The Schumann portion was revelatory for me: 20 Heine songs that in a later incarnation would become his famed Dichterliebe. The directness of the songs and the richness of their emotion – all delivered with Hampson’s probing intelligence, superb German and burnished tone – were transporting.

My partner Brian in front of the line waiting to get tickets
for Alan Gilbert and the Juilliard Orchestra at Alice Tully Hall

I returned to Alice Tully Hall the next night to hear (another client) Alan Gilbert conduct the Juilliard Orchestra. Wow, those kids can play! The program presented such a wonderful opportunity to explore four very different types of expression, beginning with Ligeti’s otherworldly Atmospheres, and moving on to Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto (soloist Michael Brown played with great confidence and rhythmic flair) and Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces. Based on Alan’s recent performances (and recording) of Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces with the NY Phil, and his Schoenberg performances with Juilliard (his alma mater), I find myself craving hearing Alan conducting more Second Viennese School music (did I really just write that?). The final piece was Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony, played with such rich character that the music was stuck in my head all week.

I grew tired as the week moved on and thought it might be time to spend a night at home, but Mark Swed’s detailed Los Angeles Times review of Louis Andriessen’s Dante-inspired La Commedia – cleverly posted on Facebook by Carnegie Hall’s Jeremy Geffen – lured me out of the house Thursday night for this important New York premiere. I don’t know enough about Andriessen’s music to call this opera the Dutch composer’s “magnum opus,” as some critics have described it, but I can say that I found it highly original and strangely moving, drawing upon a large variety of inspirations and styles that only a master could integrate (Reinbert de Leeuw’s expert conducting certainly helped the cause). I actually loved the darkness of the first half of the work, with Andriessen drawing up appropriately hellish sounds to match the text from Dante’s Inferno, the biblical Psalms, and the Dutch poet Joost van den Vondel’s Lucifer. I secretly delighted that some concertgoers headed for the doors, sometimes a sign that something really significant is happening on stage! Deep, grinding woodwind sounds and crashing clusters of brass conveyed the sulfurous atmosphere of the texts (some of these blasts reminded me very much of the blocks of chords that make up so much of Messiaen’s music). Those who fled the hall missed the sensuous appeal of Part IV, “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” and the soaring beauty of soprano Claron McFadden’s voice in the finale, “Eternal Light.” As in life, experiencing the darkness of Andriessen’s vision only heightened the transcendent quality of the work’s sublime moments.

Where am I now? Okay, Friday evening. The New York Philharmonic’s CONTACT! series, composed entirely of new works commissioned by the Philharmonic, is a major initiative by Alan in his first year as Music Director. Composer-in-Residence Magnus Lindberg was on hand last night at Symphony Space (30 blocks north of the orchestra’s usual residence at Lincoln Center) to explain the reasoning behind the second of this year’s two programs (he conducted the first program in the fall, and Alan conducted all of the works last night), noting that he had selected these gifted young composers to show something of the extraordinary variety of sounds that make up the contemporary music scene today.

The format of these CONTACT! programs is great, with informal and illuminating commentary from the stage last night provided by Alan, Magnus, John Schaeffer of WNYC radio, and the featured composers, Sean Shephard, Nico Muhly and Matthias Pintscher. I found all three works enormously appealing, each – to illustrate Lindberg’s point – complementing the other with their contrasting sonorities and rhythms.

I had never heard Sean Shepherd’s music before, but what I heard made me want to hear more. The title of his work, These Particular Circumstances, in seven uninterrupted episodes, was a reference to the specific requirements of writing for a chamber-sized group of Philharmonic musicians. The episodes, to quote the program, were, by turns “floating, circling, spinning, grinding, sinking, teetering, soaring,” with a few quick quotations from other composers (including Holst’s The Planets) that made some in the audience (including me) laugh. Nico Muhly’s three-movement Detailed Instructions evoked varied landscapes (and skyscapes) seen through the window of a moving train: the influence of Adams and Glass were apparent, the latter in terms of the music’s repetitive figures and sweetly melancholic tone.

I was most moved by Matthias Pintscher’s songs from Solomon’s garden, a setting from the Shir ha-Shirim, the Song of Solomon. Before the performance Pintscher talked about the extraordinary precision of the Hebrew language and called the text “perhaps the most beautiful love poetry ever written.” Hampson had, in interviews, said that he found Hebrew to be an enormously beautiful language, and his singing of it last night was ardent, intense, and, for me, deeply stirring. The writing was clearly complex and challenging, but Gilbert and the musicians played it with extraordinary authority. The sonorities didn’t conjure up daytime sensuousness, but rather, the deep mysteries of the night. It was hauntingly beautiful.

I was very impressed by the turnout – lots from the young and hip set that orchestras would love to see at all their concerts – and by how many music industry people were on hand: other composers, performers, critics, music publishing people, etc. My business partner and best buddy, Glenn Petry, was there, too, and wrote me an e-mail this morning, which I briefly excerpt here: “Last night was a blast. Can you believe that crowd was hanging around talking about the NY Phil and new music? Was that a mirage? A dream? I can't believe it. It's amazing. Now the only thing left to do is to take that show on the road. Downtown! Brooklyn!! Maybe even Queens, the Bronx!”

Media note: you can hear this CONTACT! concert on-line at WQXR’s Q2 channel on Thursday, April 22 at 7 pm or Saturday, April 24 at 4 pm.

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Lucid Culture

The New York Philharmonic’s Contact! At Symphony Space, NYC 4/16/10

We’ve just wrapped up liveblogging this, explaining why everything here is in the present tense. The program has been a trio of world premieres, Alan Gilbert conducting ensembles of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra doing their frequent Contact! program of avant-garde pieces from acclaimed contemporary composers, WNYC’s John Schaefer (this guy gets around, huh?)  introducing each piece briefly in a discussion with its composer. Pre-concert sounds fluttering around the stage sounded menacingly enticing…

Sean Shepherd – These Particular Circumstances in seven uninterrupted episodes:

It’s a small ensemble – about fifteen performers. A fugue between fluttery strings and bells gives way to a couple of little horror movie crescendos (does this guy have a film music background? It would seem so). Suspenseful tradeoffs between individual voices, less for the sake of texture than to maintain suspense, it would seem. A series of animated, creepy crescendos – now this is fun! Straight out of Bernard Herrmann… Now a twisted little march – reminds of the one in Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony but less savage….lots of ensemble interplay, strings handing off to brass etc., ominous and full of tritones, it’s a Sam Fuller movie….the sections of the suite segue into each other seamlessly. Now it’s variations on a twisted little fanfare, down to moody strings with those bells delivering the dread – this crew is quietly and methodically having a blast with this! A bit of boogie-woogie piano opening a chase scene picked up by the strings…

Time to build the suspense some more, pensive, gentle little codas growing in intensity. Where’s Bogey when we need him? A matter-of-factly clanging, metallic bell-driven conclusion gets a standing ovation from what looks to be a sold out house (missed all of the John Schaefer/Sean Shepherd onstage interview while unplugging and making room for unexpected seatholders – supposedly the balcony was going to be the bloggers’ peanut gallery).

Magnus Lindberg (the Phil’s Composer-in-Residence) supposedly is responsible for this bill – he lets his taste be his guide (good taste!). He reminds that recent writing for smaller ensembles really took off in the 60s (he didn’t say this, but it’s harder to sell something new and strange to a full orchestra than it is to simply cobble together an ensemble half the size).   

Nico Muhly – Detailed Instructions, for orchestra:

Muhly is a ham, gets a lot of laughs out of the crowd talking beforehand – but he doesn’t give anything away. For this piece, violas substitute for violins in this particular ensemble. Interesting interlocking rhythm between strings and brass, into a circular, looping staccato passage for the winds over gentle string/brass swells…the winds work their way into the swells, every section stepping on the last beat of the previous note. Muhly said there wouldn’t be any detail in this and he wasn’t lying. It’s clever and well thought-out and holds the listener with its rhythmic devices rather than any particularly compelling melodic ideas….now they’ve got a nice atmospheric passage going on with flute accents (wait, this wasn’t supposed to be ornamented at all, ha!).

Second movement starts out pensive and sostenuto…Gilbert really has his hands full with the tricky rhythm but he’s got them legatissimo here…makes it look easy. It’s not. In the movie, if this was a movie, this would be the scene before the funeral, lulling but with the flute keeping everybody awake….sans flute it goes warmly lower, a tone poem, harp and low horn voices at the top/bottom of the spectrum.

Third movement is a gypsy dance, basically, keyboard bouncing around, flute carrying the melody…a suspenseful trombone/cello dialogue….Muhly likes to run a riff over and over again against a tonal wash….flute and harp now running the loop – and a cold ending. The crowd likes it but isn’t blown away – but then the piece wasn’t written to blow anybody away.

The machine says 58 minutes worth of juice left, so we should be able to stay live for the whole thing…

Matthias Pintscher
- Songs from Solomon’s Garden featuring baritone and NY Phil Artist-in-Residence Thomas Hampson:

Larger ensemble than for the previous two (more strings). This seems as if it might be intended as a Song of Solomon type thing, Hampson singing in Hebrew, not one of his usual languages (it’s tempting to say “ca m’est hebreu”)…voice out in front of sparse percussive accents and little fluttery runs up the scale from the high strings….stark astringent washes with the occasional burbling accent and the first of probably several big crescendos…the vocal part seems forced, it doesn’t move around much or ask the singer to add much of anything in the way of character or individuality. The instrumental passages, by contrast are getting creepier and creepier, little jumps against the ambience…oooh a morbid swell, the temperature just dipped thirty degrees in here…and the occasional little macabre piano accent. With the addition of the vocal part, is this supposed to be some sort of study in contrasts?

A lull, a burst of drums, Santa has fallen all the way down into the fireplace. Now he’s up and dusted himself and creeping around again…and now he’s singing….and not singing…pianissimo upper-register atmospherics swirling and whooshing…no disrespect to Hampson, he’s doing what he does well but the vocals in this one were superfluous – first adventurous ensemble to do this as the eerie soundtrack piece that it is gets a prize!

Q2 will broadcast the performance on April 22 at 7 PM and also on April 22 at 4 PM – the care they’ve taken to make sure they get a good recording (virtually all of the instruments have been close-miked) is pretty extraordinary.

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Monotonous Forest

New music from the Philharmonic, round two

If the second installment in the New York Philharmonic's Contact! series ended up as something of a mixed bag, never mind: both the orchestra and music director Alan Gilbert should be commended as strongly as possible for continuing the series.  Certainly the audience is there; Symphony Space was sold out.  And just to be clear: to hear fresh thoughts from young composers is not only exciting from a listener's point of view, but should be an essential part of the orchestra's mission.  And it didn't hurt that the musicianship was at a uniformly high level.

Maestro Gilbert led members of the orchestra in three world premieres, by Sean Shepherd, Nico Muhly and Matthias Pintscher.  Of the three, Pintscher's songs from solomon's garden made the strongest impression, with Thomas Hampson as the baritone soloist.  Pintscher called the texts some of the most "beautiful love poetry ever written," and Hampson, singing the texts in Hebrew, bore this out with some deliciously fluid singing.  And as in his other works (e.g., his Five Orchestral Pieces from 1997), Pintscher has a keen ear for arresting orchestral colors.  Afterward, I recalled last fall's opening night at the Philharmonic, when Renée Fleming sang some seldom-done Messiaen.  It is heartening to hear world-class artists give care, passion and artistry to unfamiliar pieces.

The host for the evening was WNYC's John Schaefer, always comfortable onstage eliciting offbeat comments from composers.  In a humorous introduction, Shepherd explained that his title, These Particular Circumstances, came to him when he was observing the untitled piece in rehearsal.  It is an accomplished effort in seven sections: “floating, circling, spinning, grinding, sinking, teetering, soaring," and combines some ferocious gestures with musical quotations (including an amusing one from Holst's The Planets).

Muhly's Detailed Instructions is in three movements, with a slightly unusual orchestration (no violins), and he also got some laughs with his easygoing preface.  The first movement has a sweetly pulsating texture, the middle sounds slightly Copland-esque, and the last clearly nods to Philip Glass.  The ovations for the two were long and loud, and again, a concert like this is exactly the kind of risk-taking in which the Philharmonic should be engaged.  To judge from the audience response, the risk is paying off, bigtime.

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Vivien Schweitzer

3 Premieres Highlight New-Music Concert

The New York Philharmonic’s sold-out concert in its new-music series “Contact!” at Symphony Space on Friday evening had an air of excitement and a refreshing informality.

Alan Gilbert inaugurated the admirable series this season, his first as music director of the Philharmonic. He has said that the Philharmonic musicians expressed interest in forming a contemporary-music group, and to judge from the eclectic and youthful crowd on Friday there is certainly an audience eager to hear them.

Photo: Stefan Cohen for The New York Times
“Contact!,” with Matthias Pintscher, left, the conductor Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic, at Symphony Space.

Mr. Gilbert conducted a chamber orchestra in three premieres, each prefaced by a lively onstage discussion between the composer and the WNYC radio host John Schaefer. The concert opened with “These Particular Circumstances, ” by Sean Shepherd, a 30-year-old bassoonist and composer from a family of Nevada ranchers.

The “act of composition,” Mr. Shepherd has said, “is a visual one.” The subtitles of his one-movement work — “Floating, Circling, Spinning. Grinding, Sinking, Teetering, Soaring” — reflect the moods of its seven sections. “Teetering,” for example, evoked a tightrope image, and the upward motion of the final section, a soaring sensation. There were plenty of striking moments within the detailed, busy work, with its kaleidoscopic use of orchestral color. But some of the linking passages felt less cohesive.

In Nico Muhly’s arresting “Detailed Instructions” he eliminates the violins and doubles up on violas and cellos. During the preperformance chat Mr. Muhly, a 28-year-old American, described some of his more unusual musical directives, like asking the flute to play with a “dusky vibrato.”

“All the Way Up,” the work’s first movement, had a forward momentum, with jaunty wind fragments and a lively mood. “Tilt Your Head,” the second section, was particularly striking, with a piccolo solo and an ambient, dreamy mood. In a Philharmonic podcast Mr. Muhly described it as “very peaced-out Vermont starscape music.” In the finale, “Can’t Wait,” the energy of the first movement was reintroduced with rhythmically driven motifs.

Matthias Pintscher’s “songs from Solomon’s garden,” for baritone and chamber orchestra, came after intermission, with the baritone Thomas Hampson, the Philharmonic’s resident artist this season, as soloist. Mr. Pintscher, a German composer now based in New York and Paris, described the Hebrew texts from Chapter 2 of the Song of Songs as the “most beautiful love poetry ever written.”

“Every word is like a little island,” he added.

The expressive vocal line, sensitively sung by Mr. Hampson, traversed intimate and dramatic arches, beginning with an evocative solo and peaking to an urgent middle section with the text “I adjure you, O maidens of Jerusalem ... do not wake or rouse love until it please!”

The ensemble accompaniment mirrored the vocal line at times and took on a different character during several orchestral interludes, with both quiet and spare textures and more colorful climactic moments. The work faded to a gentle close with Mr. Hampson’s final, whispered note.

 
Alan Gilbert inaugurated the admirable series this season, his first as music director of the Philharmonic. He has said that the Philharmonic musicians expressed interest in forming a contemporary-music group, and to judge from the eclectic and youthful crowd on Friday there is certainly an audience eager to hear them.

Mr. Gilbert conducted a chamber orchestra in three premieres, each prefaced by a lively onstage discussion between the composer and the WNYC radio host John Schaefer. The concert opened with “These Particular Circumstances, ” by Sean Shepherd, a 30-year-old bassoonist and composer from a family of Nevada ranchers.

The “act of composition,” Mr. Shepherd has said, “is a visual one.” The subtitles of his one-movement work — “Floating, Circling, Spinning. Grinding, Sinking, Teetering, Soaring” — reflect the moods of its seven sections. “Teetering,” for example, evoked a tightrope image, and the upward motion of the final section, a soaring sensation. There were plenty of striking moments within the detailed, busy work, with its kaleidoscopic use of orchestral color. But some of the linking passages felt less cohesive.

In Nico Muhly’s arresting “Detailed Instructions” he eliminates the violins and doubles up on violas and cellos. During the preperformance chat Mr. Muhly, a 28-year-old American, described some of his more unusual musical directives, like asking the flute to play with a “dusky vibrato.”

“All the Way Up,” the work’s first movement, had a forward momentum, with jaunty wind fragments and a lively mood. “Tilt Your Head,” the second section, was particularly striking, with a piccolo solo and an ambient, dreamy mood. In a Philharmonic podcast Mr. Muhly described it as “very peaced-out Vermont starscape music.” In the finale, “Can’t Wait,” the energy of the first movement was reintroduced with rhythmically driven motifs.

Matthias Pintscher’s “songs from Solomon’s garden,” for baritone and chamber orchestra, came after intermission, with the baritone Thomas Hampson, the Philharmonic’s resident artist this season, as soloist. Mr. Pintscher, a German composer now based in New York and Paris, described the Hebrew texts from Chapter 2 of the Song of Songs as the “most beautiful love poetry ever written.”

“Every word is like a little island,” he added.

The expressive vocal line, sensitively sung by Mr. Hampson, traversed intimate and dramatic arches, beginning with an evocative solo and peaking to an urgent middle section with the text “I adjure you, O maidens of Jerusalem ... do not wake or rouse love until it please!”

The ensemble accompaniment mirrored the vocal line at times and took on a different character during several orchestral interludes, with both quiet and spare textures and more colorful climactic moments. The work faded to a gentle close with Mr. Hampson’s final, whispered note.

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Edward Ortiz, of 21Q

It's safe to say that few classical music composers are as hot right now as 28-year-old composer Nico Muhly.
In the above clip, Muhly talks about composing. And the way he describes the composing process is as interesting and fresh as is the quality of his music.

Muhly recently had his piece "Detailed Instructions" performed at the New York Philharmonic's "Contact!" new music series, at Symphony Space.

The three movement work is curiously absent of violins. Instead, Muhly doubles up on violas and cellos.

The show at Symphony Space was a sell out.

And that says tons about what is happening in contemporary classical music.

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Alex Ross, of The New Yorker

Brazen: Louis Andriessen’s “La Commedia,” at Carnegie, and other premières.

...In the midst of the Andriessen festivities, the New York Philharmonic presented the second concert in its fitful new contemporary series, “CONTACT!” Alan Gilbert conducted new works by Sean Shepherd and Nico Muhly, who both studied at Juilliard in the early aughts, and one by Matthias Pintscher, a rising star of German music who has lately migrated to New York. Each piece had the virtue of unpredictability. Shepherd’s “These Particular Circumstances” started out in threatening thickets of complexity, then grew increasingly boisterous, to the point that it threw in a quotation from “The Planets.” Muhly’s “Detailed Instructions,” by contrast, proceeded from peppy ostinatos to a haunting nocturnal meditation, with flute and piccolo lines glimmering against inky chords of lower brass and strings. Pintscher’s “Songs from Solomon’s Garden”—a setting of part of the Song of Solomon, with Thomas Hampson as the vocal soloist—combined a familiar modernistic pointillism with mesmerizing sustained tones and murmurs of fragmentary melody....

 

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Sean Shepherd

My Job, My Life

One of the things I'm starting to realize about orchestra commissions (he noted smugly): they're a lot of work. Before the piece, after the piece, work. The absolute worst is during the piece. You put down your work (on the piece) to pick up some work (for the piece). And then leading up to the performance, the steady work. The several emails an hour kind of work (by then, others are at work on the piece). And THEN...

It's all over, and they are still working. Onto next week's show they must hustle, which also has been on the books for years and there's lots for them to do.

Every commission is different. But with a large organization there are a lot of people...wait for it...working on our behalf. Do remember: it's not their piece that's getting played. No need for them to get their fanciest suits cleaned—they're busy backstage or front of house. I checked "@nyphil.org" in my Gmail account to take a quick peek at some numbers. I've met or been in email contact with some 25 staffers (not including one musician) at the New York Philharmonic, including the entire Artistic Administration staff, much of Marketing, several in Public Relations, all of Publications, the Personnel Manger, Operations Mangers, and all of the Librarians (even with some while they were on tour in January). Phone calls while in Nevada over Christmas, lots of sending large files via YouSendIt while I was writing the piece in Canada. The New York Philharmonic and I have exchanged more than 300 emails. At the end, I get a CD that will be dear to me indeed. They don't seem to get much of a break, let alone contemplate the end.

And this is the best part: many of the conversations started with the approximated sentiment: "We have an idea, and we'd love to know if you're interested in discussing..." How could I possibly not be interested in discussing whatever it is, when it's the commissioning body that's coming up with the ideas that aid my cause? Ideas for promotion: YouTube. Ideas for marketing: MixTape CD giveaway on Facebook. Ideas for final thoughts: FlipCam. None of them were even close to being mine. From what I've seen, it's an organization that is embracing a "go get that new audience" attitude as well as any, without altering the prestige of the brand. The young, confident, intelligent staff in the Communications and Marketing departments seem to be chomping at the bit to do their part, and they see CONTACT! as an ideal place to enact an out-of-the-(mail)box approach. It's worked for the present: Friday night tickets for CONTACT! are getting harder to come by, but I'll venture that following these new avenues—the New York Phil is on Twitter. I'm not surprised, although even one year ago, I'd never have imagined—and others as they come along, make their biggest payoff in the slow churn. In one year, maybe 30 new subscribers. In ten, dream big. Maybe a hundred times that—the sky's the limit with free social media, right?

In the end, it's about being professional, in the best sense of the word. It's what I really like about all this work. Digging around for answers, getting it right, going back and forth with several good options. Collaboration, consensus, continuous revision. Although such events could describe an artistic partnership, it also describes the process that Eric Sellen, the publications editor of the Cleveland Orchestra, and I had on creating and printing program notes for a new piece of mine that they performed. It took about three weeks and about 20 emails, and since I knew that having a beautiful result in hand at the concert would be a given, I enjoyed the whole process for what it was. Not that I don't like being an amateur/liebhaber: doing it for the joy of doing it. Writing pieces for friends, putting on concerts. But doing it for joy makes for low motivation when the joy's not there. People get busy, they drop out. I was also a student for several centuries, and became a little too used to those systems of motivation (coaxing with peanuts, threatening with grades), and often find that outside that rubric, many students simply aren't motivated to be artists. Simply put, I find that I'm enjoying working with people who have a job. I feel immediately encouraged to respond professionally, and feel a kind of security in knowing what's expected of me: no less than my absolute best. By the time I arrive for the piece to be performed, I already have lots of friends in the building. It's amazing how quickly a feeling of trust in those we collaborate with bears fruit.

Some pretty spectacular fruit has been brought forth this week in rehearsals with the musicians. I've had a lot of rehearsal time (more than four hours!) and that process—going from the first reading (where all the pieces are there but the puzzle doesn't yet fit right) toward a thing far beyond what I was capable of imagining by the end of the week—is my favorite part of being a composer. For a musician, it's the daily grind, but for me as a composer, it's pure magic, the miracle drug that keeps me from looking for a new job. But I know this high has to get me through my daily grind for many months to come. That sense of trust that I worked to build by writing the absolutely best piece I could muster and by working very hard on making parts that help, not hinder, their efforts is especially gratifying when the group is a bit smaller. My piece is for 17 players, and I made efforts to meet them all the first day. Over the week, our work has only gotten more personal. Phil Smith and Chris Lamb, the orchestra's longtime Principal Trumpet and Percussionist, both came to find me yesterday, and we chatted about balances and fiber mutes and low crotales when bowed. The engaged attitude of the players—consummate professionals—is icing on the cake, and only serves to heighten my sense of connecting the music I wrote with the people I wrote it for. Although the concerts are a natural and obvious way of bringing the experience of this commission process to an end, I love the rehearsal phase—watching the flowers grow—the most. We spent the last 30 minutes of my dress rehearsal with the players in charge: "Alan, I'd love it if we could try that transition at...." Fine tuning an already wonderful sound, it was chamber music with an orchestra.

The first story I ever heard about Alan Gilbert was now several years ago. I don't remember if he had been named to the Music Director post yet or not, but he had come to do a week with the orchestra and the rep included the Ligeti Violin Concerto. It was one of those stories: he'd done Ligeti before but never this piece, was very busy in Sweden, something with the publisher... Anyway, he didn't get to see the score until a few days before the first rehearsal, but by the time he showed up in New York on some red-eye flight, he really owned it and worked brilliantly with the orchestra, drawing them out and encouraging those extra efforts that are required on such a difficult but worthy score. I assume it's mostly true, but even if it wasn't, these are the kinds of myths composers should be spreading about the still relatively rare young conductors who make new music a priority, simply because they're interested in it. At a quick lunch yesterday between rehearsals, while discussing CONTACT! with several of us, he sat back and reminded himself, "Can you believe we're doing seven premieres this year? Even I can't always imagine it." I hadn't met him until last week, and it was obvious to me what put him in his Philharmonic post in five minutes. His musicality emanates from his body and gestures in concerts—that I'd seen. He was prepared and relaxed, knew what to do where at that stage of rehearsal, and worked quickly and efficiently.

Now that we are into the final stretch, Alan and I are humming at a special wordless frequency. It's my piece, and it's his score—he owns it. We float along in music: I wrote the best damn piece I could write, and he's doing the best damn job he can do. In the first rehearsal, I started making notes, only to realize that within minutes, I was crossing them out again! He was saying everything I was thinking, and the musicians responded like a Maserati doing 165 mph on the Autobahn. Now after two more, they've carried the piece beyond my conceptions—my three months of experiments in the silent lab. Frankenstein fully is realized, the monster lives!, and his name is These Particular Circumstances.

It's amazing how our thoughts, perceptions, and emotions regarding the exact same object change over the course of time. After the initial pop of excitement, I began to get nervous about this piece. Very nervous. I felt the pressure build as I saw the others who were commissioned, went to press events, started getting contracts with deadlines in them. It started to get bigger and bigger in my mind. I also began the harrowing transition from 13 years of student life toward something completely unknown while packing some heavy baggage, like $83,530 of student debt (payment due please), and no present need to be anywhere specific for the first time ever. I started feeling the ground slip away and realized I was way out on one of those cliffs where Wile E. Coyote might find himself. I understood that a misfire piece, while not a good prospect, surely wouldn't mean the end of Sean the composer, but I became determined to find my personal definition of a bulls-eye. The piece became my grand salvation and distraction, and by the time had come for me to write it, I understood that if I wanted to keep writing music under any circumstance like this for a long time, this piece had better be all I had to give. If not my best work, certainly my best effort. I felt that I was writing for my life.

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Anastasia Tsioulcas, on Twitter

On my way, hurriedly, uptown to livetweet the @nyphil #contact show. Phone only tonight, so I'm absolving myself in advance for typos. #lazy
4:58 PM Apr 16th via Twitterrific

What is it with new music and the smocks? @nyphil #contact
5:06 PM Apr 16th via Twitterrific

But more important: 3 world premieres by Sean Shepherd, Nico Muhly & Matthias Pintscher. @nyphil #contact
5:09 PM Apr 16th via Twitterrific

Heresy as a program-note writer: I like hearing composers & artists *speak*.
5:13 PM Apr 16th via Twitterrific

Shepherd: so impressed by sweetness & clarity of oboeist Liang Wang's sound. @nyphil #contact
5:16 PM Apr 16th via Twitterrific

Really like the rhythmic ideas and certainly colors in Shepherd's piece. @nyphil #contact
5:34 PM Apr 16th via Twitterrific

J Schaefer & Magnus Lindberg talking about ensemble size in new music. What about simple matters of economics and scale? @nyphil #contact
5:41 PM Apr 16th via Twitterrific

RT @Q2music John schaefer is wearing a jacket!!! This is a first among firsts. @nyphil #contact
5:44 PM Apr 16th via Twitterrific

Got slightly impatient with Nico Muhly's 1st- & 3rd-movement P. Glassisms, but loved the melancholy & yet so vital.
6:15 PM Apr 16th via Twitterrific

Should note, though, that even those Glassisms were set off kilter in interesting ways. @nyphil #contact
6:19 PM Apr 16th via Twitterrific

@CBCarey yes.
6:28 PM Apr 16th via Twitterrific in reply to CBCarey

Interesting for A Gilbert to repeatedly emphasize that M Pinscher's work needs more than one go-through to start to digest. @nyphil #contact
6:30 PM Apr 16th via Twitterrific

Pinscher's talks of richness of Hebrew: each word an "island of meaning." Don't know enough to agree/disagree, but I'm intrigued. @nyphil
6:37 PM Apr 16th via Twitterrific

Several aspects of this setting of Song of Solomon that are surprising. Starting with choice of baritone. I'm too literal. @nyphil #contact
6:43 PM Apr 16th via Twitterrific

Nonetheless, flashes of magic, especially in sustained strings in Pintscher. @nyphil #contact
6:55 PM Apr 16th via Twitterrific

@andrewpatner Well, most of excerpts in this Pintscher were most decidedly from the male POV. @nyphil #contact 1/2
about 21 hours ago via TweetDeck in reply to andrewpatner

@andrewpatner & interesting re Hebrew--I imagine that language richness is much like that in Arabic--i.e., root words. 2/2
about 21 hours ago via TweetDeck in reply to andrewpatner

@chadherzog Aw, thanks! Glad to be at a venue/event where it was possible. @nyphil #contact #nicetobeawayfromlincolncenterrestrictions
about 21 hours ago via TweetDeck in reply to chadherzog

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Comments [1]

So, I heard the recontact concert last night. Terrific.

But, the music pieces need to be available via archive. I mean, you know, I am wanting to hear a piece several times before I buy it. An that is the mission of Public Radio in music: inspire people to support the work of artists and composers by buying the music.

Also. This concert was presented on Q2, not WNYC. I have "known" and corresponded with John Schaefer for years. He has been my greatest music teacher. When I went all digital,he helped me with what Mahler to buy, same with Tangerine Dream. But, John is not from Q2. The "host" should be someone connected with Q2.

The closest we have to a personal face for Q2 is Nadia Sirota. I think that she should be the "host" for these concerts. She certainly is musically deep enough to stand there and speak with Maestro Gilbert. These concerts are few enough with plenty of time in between concerts to avoid scheduling conflicts when Nadia is not available. It should not be hard to find times when Nadia and the NY Phil and Maestro Gilbert are available.

Apr. 23 2010 11:03 AM

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