Daily Archives: July 6, 2010

Quest for the grail: Lincoln Center Out of Doors version of A Crimson Grail for 200 electric guitars to be released on Nonesuch

It’s been a long time coming. First it was rained out in 2008. Finally, after a great deal of additional planning and with the blessing of the weatherman, Ronen Givony of Wordless Music and Bill Bragin, director of public programming at Lincoln Center, managed to stage the NYC version of Rhys Chatham‘s A Crimson Grail for 200 Electric Guitars (Outdoor Version) at Lincoln Center Out of Doors last season. (Loyal Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? readers will remember our coverage.)

Composer Rhys Chatham conducts his A Crimson Grail at Lincoln Center Out of Doors in 2009. (Copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

On Sept. 14, a recording of that monumental performance is being released by Nonesuch. What a long, strange trip it’s been.

The magnificent, drone-based piece was mind-blowing in performance. Damrosch Park seemed ready to levitate from the amazing sonic pressure from the volunteer guitarists (plus 16 bassists and the sound of one hi-hat cymbal keeping the beat). I’ve heard the recording of the indoor Paris version of the piece, and while it’s amazing, it doesn’t quite do justice to the work. But I have high hopes that Nonesuch’s effort will top that.

Here’s the press release:

Nonesuch Records releases A Crimson Grail—Rhys Chatham’s work for large electric guitar orchestra—on September 14, 2010. Written in 2005 as a commission for the city of Paris, A Crimson Grail premiered at the basilica of Sacré-Coeur. It was created to work with the specific architecture of the basilica, making use of its natural 15-second reverberation time. The musicians surrounded the audience, creating an antiphonal effect with the sound moving around the space from area to area. Scored for as many as four hundred guitarists, an orchestra of approximately 125 musicians performed the premiere, to great acclaim.

The Dallas Observer said of a recording of that concert, “Beautifully intricate and harmonically dense, A Crimson Grail is nearly ambient in tone while pursuing a beauty that never seems beyond its scope.” When Lincoln Center Out of Doors and Wordless Music invited Chatham to mount A Crimson Grail in New York at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival, the composition had to be completely reworked for the acoustics of an exterior, non-reverberant setting. The Nonesuch recording captures the subsequent 2009 performance, in Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park, with 200 electric guitars, 16 electric basses, 5 conductors, and percussion.

Rhys Chatham is a composer, guitarist, and trumpet player from Manhattan, currently living in Paris. He was the founder of the music program at The Kitchen in downtown Manhattan in 1971 and was its music director between 1971–73 and 1977–80. While at The Kitchen he was responsible for programming more than 250 concerts of living composers including the NEW MUSIC / NEW YORK Festival, which was the prototype upon which the NEW MUSIC AMERICA Festival was later based. Chatham studied under, was influenced by, or has collaborated with Maryanne Amacher, Don Cherry, Tony Conrad, Jon Hassell, Charlemagne Palestine, Eliane Radigue, Terry Riley, Frederic Rzewski, Morton Subotnick, Serge Tcherepnin, and La Monte Young, among many others.

Click through to the jump for Givoney’s personal account of the journey from an idea in 2007 to a reality n 2009.

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Beirut and WOOM play The Music Hall of Williamsburg

With his rotary valve flugelhorn (no, it's not a trumpet!) slung jauntily over his shoulder, Beirut frontman Zach Condon is a devil-may-care showman. (Photos copyright 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

If you felt old at last night’s Beirut show at The Music Hall of Williamsburg, there was a reason. Elise, a fan in the crowd at my side pointed this out, saying that she felt like the oldest person in the room, even though she appeared barely older than the band’s 24-year-old frontman Zach Condon.

The boys of Beirut.

The explanation is simple: The first night of the two-night, sold-out stand at Beirut’s home venue was essentially designated youth night. Beirut’s record label, BaDaBing, arranged for Monday night’s show as an 18-and-older gig and a block of tickets was sold at the box office only for the bargain price of $9.99 to give young fans a chance to see what one critic has dubbed “the best indie rock band of the 19th century.”

BaDaBing head Ben Goldberg, explains:

Hey everyone, the first show on July 5th is an 18+ show, the second is 21+. We wanted to make sure all those of you without credit cards of your own or superspeed internet connections are able to potentially get tickets, hence why the $9.99 is only available at the box office and won’t carry any handling fees.

Looking forward to seeing all you pale skins’ post-Independence day sunburns!

–ba da ben

Last night’s show was simply amazing. Beirut played a solid 90-minute set, kicking things off with “Elephant Gun” and romping through a sing-along set of all the band’s best-loved songs. It seemed far too short, but satisfying all the same. (And selling out @MusicHallofWB for two nights in a row seems like quite an accomplishment for a band that hasn’t released a proper album since 2007 and probably won’t have the next one ready until Spring 2011!)

Zach exudes a charm and confidence that belies his age. He appears comfortable onstage and has the swagger of a latter-day Sinatra. He’s not so much electrifying as he is charming and seductive. His warm style and the band’s tightness won a lot of love from the audience.

If I had ever imagined that flugelhorn and trumpet would someday become this hip, I might have thought twice about giving up playing brass after high school. Zach and his bandmates are among a number of influential young musicians who have managed to make the rock world safe for old-school instruments — French horn, trumpet, flugelhorn, accordion, ukulele and trombone.

We didn’t shoot any video last night, but lots of other concertgoers had video cameras. Here’s one of “The Penalty” posted by a fan known on Twitter as @projectnrm. The sound quality doesn’t really do the performance justice, but no matter, the enthusiasm is there:

WOOM is always in motion. The band's scrappy, bare-knuckled sound is irresistible.

Openers WOOM, a silly but joyous husband-and-wife band, charmed the crowd with a nice set of DIY beats coupled with Sara Magenheimer‘s vocals and Eben Portnoy‘s scratchy guitar riffs.

In addition to their usual repertoire, they debuted their version of Elizabeth Cotten‘s folk tune “Freight Train” last night. Though it had some rough edges, it was an intelligent and entertaining deconstruction of a song that’s been covered by many artists over the years, including Joan Baez, the Grateful Dead and even Laura Veirs, with the highly recognizable chorus: “When I die, Lord, bury me deep/Way down on old Chestnut Street/So I can hear old No. 9/As she goes rolling by.”

WOOM’s first full-length album, Muu’s Way, is out today on BaDaBing. It’s available from Amazon.com and other music outlets.

Click through to the jump for more photos from last night’s show. Continue reading