Monthly Archives: July 2009

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Signal’s co-founders on their new Steve Reich commission

Composer Steve Reich, center, with Signal's co-founders Brad Lubman and Lauren Radnofsky. (Photo courtesy of Todd Reynolds)

Composer Steve Reich, center, with Signal's co-founders Brad Lubman and Lauren Radnofsky. (Photo courtesy of Todd Reynolds)

Signal has existed for little over a year. But in that time, the flexible New Music ensemble has developed a reputation as one of the finest interpreters of the canon. The group skillfully tackles the music of many of today’s greatest composers, but it’s closely identified with the work of Steve Reich — partly because composer-conductor Brad Lubman, one of Signal’s two co-founders, has long been associated with Steve and the Steve Reich Ensemble.

Signal had the honor of being the first ensemble other than eighth blackbird to play Steve’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet. It was an honor because eighth blackbird commissioned the piece and has control over who else can perform it. Signal did such a fine job with the piece, clearly illustrating its strong connections with Steve’s work — that I started wondering how long it would take before Signal would get its own piece from Steve.

I asked Signal’s other co-founder, cellist Lauren Radnofsky, that question, and was thrilled to learn that we were on the same page: a commission was in the works. Because the commission involved a Meet the Composer grant and a co-commissioner, the news had to stay under wraps until everything was nailed down. With today’s announcement of MTC’s grants, it’s no longer a secret.

Signal performing at (Le) Poisson Rouge.

Signal performing at (Le) Poisson Rouge.

Lauren and Brad filled in Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? about the exciting news in an email interview last night:

Q: How did Signal’s Steve Reich commission come about?

A: It was an idea we thought of early on, after Signal formed.  We love his music, so it seemed that he’d be the first and most obvious person to ask, especially given everyone’s association with him and his music — especially Brad, who has worked with Steve and premiered a number of his pieces over the last 14 years.

Q: What are the parameters of the piece? Is there a subject, context, or idea that you guys suggested, or is he totally on his own?

A: He’s totally on his own.

Q: Is there a title?

A: Not yet.

Q:  What’s the process? Is it collaborative or will Steve write and you guys will play it?

A: He writes, we play!

Q: Is he writing for a specific configuration of the group?

A: The exact instrumentation is not yet determined, but the piece will be for approximately 20 players.

Q: You describe it as a co-commission.

A: The other co-commissioner is MITO/Settembre Musica in Italy.

Q: How excited are you guys about this?

A: YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  We couldn’t be more excited!!!!!!!!!

Q:  When will it be premiered?

A: The premiere will be during the 2011-12 concert season.

Q: What are your plans for the work?

A: We’re working to plan tours in Europe, Asia, and the U.S. We would record the piece at a later date.

Hey, Strange Freaks — Stew and Heidi are really Making It

Stew at the Belasco Theatre's stage door after the final performance of "Passing Strange" last summer. (Copyright 2008, Steven P. Marsh)

Stew at the Belasco Theatre's stage door on July 20, 2008, after the final performance of "Passing Strange" last summer. (Photos copyright 2008, Steven P. Marsh)

If you’re a true Strange Freak — a fan of Stew, Heidi Rodewald and their extended theater family from the musical Passing Strange — you already know that Stew and Heidi aren’t resting on the laurels they received for that show. They have a new project in the works slated for a short run next February at St. Ann’s Warehouse, the arts center in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn.

Heidi Rodewald greets fans outside the Belasco Theatre.

Heidi Rodewald greets fans outside the Belasco Theatre.

But early this morning Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? exclusively revealed that the prestigious arts-funding organization Meet the Composer‘s grant program for 2009 includes an award to Stew and St. Ann’s for the show, called Making It. This is not their next play, which has commitments from The Public Theater in Manhattan. It’s a multi-media rock-show presentation (something that should seem familiar to anyone who’s seen Passing Strange) featuring a collage of song, text, and video tracing “the unlikely careers of Stew and Heidi from the dive rock clubs of Hollywood to the footlights of Broadway — with Stew as your helpful guide to Making It,” according to the St. Ann’s web site.

Meet the Composer today announced a slate of $450,000 in grants to 61 composers, performers and arts presenters. The the majority of the grant-winners are from the classical side of the contemporary music world. So it’s truly gratifying to see Stew, a remarkable talent from the pop world, recognized alongside composers like Steve Reich, John Harbison, David Lang and Julia Wolfe.

Tickets are available to St. Ann’s members now, and go on sale to the general public on Sept. 2. Click here to join St. Ann’s online and get immediate access to tickets for all of the upcoming shows there.

Congratulations to Stew and St. Ann’s!

EXCLUSIVE: Reich, Signal, Stew, ETHEL, Muhly, DuBois and more win Meet the Composer grants

Signal performing at (Le) Poisson Rouge.

Signal performing at (Le) Poisson Rouge.

It’s an exciting morning for new music. Meet the Composer, the leading new music commissioning organization, is announcing the winners of  $450,000 in grants to composers and performers for 2009, and Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? has the list first.

The list includes many of WYMMWIG? favorites like composers Steve Reich, David Lang, Julia Wolfe, Nico Muhly and R. Luke DuBois and performers like Signal, Talujon Percussion Quartet, ETHEL string quartet, Alarm Will Sound and So Percussion.

Awards also went to some pop and jazz projects, including Stew, the co-creator of the Broadway musical Passing Strange, and the Village Vanguard jazz club.

MTC doubled the pool of money this year as part of what it’s calling a “new music stimulus program,” awarding $300,000 to 31 composers through its Commissioning Music/USA program and a total of $150,000 to 30 NYC-based new music ensembles and presenters through Cary New Music Performance Fund.

MTC President Ed Harsh says: “At this critical moment for artists around the country, we wanted to be aggressive in multiplying the effect of Meet The Composer’s continuing programs. We are dedicated to keeping creative musicians on the job doing what they do best, which is to make music.”

The increased funding and extended deadlines this year flooded MTC with three times the usual number of applicants for composer awards.

Panelists for the first round of the composer awards were Christian Amigo, Elizabeth Brown, Conrad Cummings, Jenny Lin, Eleonor Sandresky, Steven Swartz, Theodore Wiprud, and Du Yun.  The panelists for the final round were Edmund Campion, Jeremy Geffen, Joan La Barbara, Oliver Lake, and Matt Haimovitz.

The committee that picked the performer winners was composed off Darcy James Argue, Allen Blustine, Margaret Leng Tan, and Randy Woolf.

See the full list of grantees after the jump. Continue reading

Steve Reich at MASS MoCA

Composers David Lang and Steve Reich at MASS MoCA on Saturday, July 25. (Copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Composers David Lang and Steve Reich discuss the life and work of artist Sol Lewitt, whose wall drawings are the subject of a retrospective at MASS MoCA. (Copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Every summer for eight years running, a New England museum of contemporary art becomes a museum of contemporary sound for a couple of weeks when Bang on a Can moves in.

This year’s festival started July 14 when NYC-based Bang on a Can’s founders Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe and David Lang, plus staff, and a crew of teachers joined  35 young musicians and composers at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in North Adams, Mass.

While there, the students, called fellows, spend their days working with faculty members — some of the best players, conductors and composers on the contemporary music scene today — and preparing music for two gallery recitals a day over the course of the 2 1/2 week program. It’s a musical boot camp, where the boundaries between work and play are happily blurred as participants flow from gallery recitals to concerts to informal jam sessions at working-class town taverns.

Every year, the festival also eatures a major figure from the contemporary music scene as special guest, an artist who typically interacts with the fellows and often plays with them onstage.

Performing Music for Pieces of Wood while the composer looks on.

Performing Music for Pieces of Wood in a gallery adjacent to the Sol Lewitt exhbit while the composer looks on.

This year’s festival is a little different. Steve Reich, a master of minimalism, who, like Meredith Monk, Don Byron, and Terry Riley, has been in a guest artists at previous Bang on a Can summer festivals, is more  featured artist. He made an appearance on Saturday, July 25, to reminisce about his friendship with the late Sol Lewitt, whose wall drawings are the subject of a massive retrospective show at the museum.

Sol Lewitt turned to bright colors in his later wall drawings, like these on the third floor of the MASS MoCA exhibit.

Sol Lewitt turned to bright colors in his later wall drawings, like these on the third floor of the MASS MoCA exhibit.

Reich was also feted with performances of his music in the gallery and the courtyard of the museum and in a more formal way with an evening concert including one of his best-known works, Music for 18 Musicians, and one of his toughest, Eight Lines.

Reich and wife Beryl Korot listen to David Cossin play drums.

Reich and wife Beryl Korot listen to a percussion performance in the MASS MoCA courtyard.

It was a splendid day, with lost of spirited playing. Reich looked quite pleased with the results, and I was thrilled to see the black box theater packed for the evening performance.

Bang on a Can’s rendition of Music for 18 Musicians (which actually involved 19 musicians in this particular presentation) was played well and with emotionally satisfying results. Eight Lines, written for eight players, but performed herre in a version for 16, came together well. It was a testament to the professionalism and dedication of the players that they were able to pull together a credible performance of the difficult piece in less than two weeks.

If you haven’t checked out MASS MoCA yet, I urge you to do it. The museum is spectacular and the art changes dramatically from year to year. And Bang on a Can’s festival, dubbed Banglewood as a play on the much more conventional Tanglewood Music Festival nearby, will open your eyes and ears.

The crowning achievement of each summer’s festival is the marathon. This year’s six-hour marathon runs from 4-10 p.m. this Saturday, Aug. 1, in the Hunter Center at MASS MoCA. It will feature a host of works, including George Antheil’s Ballet Mechanique and Shaker Loops, one of John Adams‘ early works. Tickets are available by clicking here. $24.

Jay-Z to replace Beastie Boys at All Points West

Jay-Z at last year's Glastonbury Festival.

Jay-Z at last year's Glastonbury Festival.

Hip hop superstar Jay-Z is stepping up to replace the Beastie Boys as the headliner for the opening night of this year’s All Points West Festival, organizers announced late last night.

APW, held at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, N.J. From July 31 to Aug 2, is the first American music festival to feature Jay-Z.

The Beastie Boys canceled tour dates and postponed the release of their new album after Adam “MCA” Yauch announced Monday that he needs treatment for cancer in his parotid gland and in a lymph node.

Jay-Z performed at a variety of overseas festivals last year, including the U.K.’s Glastonbury, Denmark’s Roskilde Festival, Norway’s Hove Festival and the O2 Wireless Festival in London.

The Grammy winning artist joins Tool (Saturday) and Coldplay (Sunday) as headliners of the three-day festival. Other performers over the course of the long weekend include Echo & The Bunnymen, My Bloody Valentine, Vampire Weekend, MGMT, MSTRKRFT, Gogol Bordello, The Black Keys, Fleet Foxes, Neko Case, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Arctic Monkeys.

While festival organizers clearly fee that Jay-Z’s unprecedented appearance will more than satisfy most ticketholders, they will issue refunds for single-day tickets because of the Beastie Boys cancellation. Refunds are available where the tickets were purchased.

Who will replace the Beastie Boys at All Points West?

The crowd at the 2008 All Points West festival.

The crowd at the 2008 All Points West festival.

If you have tickets to next weekend’s All Points West music festival on Liberty Island in Jersey City N.J., it’s disappointing news that the Beastie Boys have canceled their appearance in the wake of Adam “MCA” Yauch‘s announcement yesterday that he has cancer — described as a “very treatable” tumor in his salivary gland.

In addition to canceling shows, the venerable rap group has delayed the release of its new album, Hot Sauce Committee Part 1 to give Adam, who is 44 years old, time to recover from the surgery he needs.

To tide you over, here’s a taste of Too Many Rappers, a track from the now-delayed album:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

With opening night just 10 days away, the pressing question is who’s available to replace the Beasties as headliner for the huge festival? Can the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the night’s second-biggest act, step up to the top spot? It seems unlikely that Karen O and her quirky mates have broad enough appeal — especially with the Beasties’ older demographic — to satisfy the crowd.

Click through to the jump for a list of possible replacements at APW and to see MCA’s video announcement. Continue reading

Behind the scenes with Bang on a Can’s Asphalt Orchestra

Even though Midsummer Night Swing has only just begun its reign in Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park, it’s not to early to start thinking about its sister program, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, which knocks down the dance floor and turns the park into a concert venue in August.

We’re just three weeks away from the debut of Asphalt Orchestra, an out-of-the-ordinary marching band created by Bang on a Can to perform world premieres of works by Stew and Heidi Rodewald of Passing Strange fame, Tyondai of Battles and Goran Bregovic, along with tunes by Icelandic pop star Bjork, Swedish experimental metal band Meshuggah, Charles Mingus, Conlon Nancarrow and Frank Zappa.

While many marching bands are heavily choreographed, I’m guessing no other band will be under the dance direction of modern dance choreographer Susan Marshall.

Asphalt has already started rehearsing. And here, thanks to Time Out New York, is a behind-the-scenes video about the group.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Stew and Heidi are in good hands

Director Joanna Settle at the post-show talkback at the final Shakespeare on the Sound show. (Copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Director Joanna Settle at the post-show talkback at the final performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream for Shakespeare on the Sound. Jesse Perez (Puck) looks on. (Copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Director Joanna Settle says she first met Stew at NYC’s Public Theater in 2007, when she went to tell him to turn down the volume of the music for Passing Strange. She was in another theater in the building, working on what she called a “little genocide play” — aka the developmental production of Winter Miller’s In Darfur — and his rock music was just a little too loud to suit her at that moment.

Heidi Rodewald

Heidi Rodewald



After they got that out of the way, though, it seems that a great working relationship was born.

Judging from the way Joanna has continued to work with Stew, commissioning him to compose an original score for A Midsummer Night’s Dream,  her first production as artistic director of Connecticut’s Shakespeare on the Sound, it truly is a great relationship.

The score for the Shakespeare production, which closed on Sunday, was vintage Stew, full of the lush pop sounds that characterize his appealing work. (You’ll be able to judge for yourself soon, as the Shakespeare company is releasing a CD of Stew performing the songs.) It was perfectly paired with the Bard’s words, and organically integrated into the structure of the show. That was a treat, as I’ve seen too many outdoor Shakespeare productions into which some pop songs awkwardly shoehorned.

And the production, played out on a serpentine boardwalk of a stage, was imaginatively conceived and directed. It gives me high hopes for Stew and Heidi’s collaboration with Joanna.

Joanna Settle continues her conversation with the audience.

Joanna Settle continues her conversation with the audience.

As I’ve reported before on this blog, Joanna will continue to work with Stew. She’s signed on to direct the next play that Stew and his longtime collaborator Heidi Rodewald are working on. There’s no date or title announced, but it’s slated to be presented at The Public Theater.

It’s a good bet that we’ll get more clues about the nature of the new piece when Stew, Heidi and The Broadway Problem take the stage at Lincoln Center Out of Doors on Aug. 19.  Click here for more information.  The show will be at the bandshell in Damrosch Park at West 62nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue at the southwest corner of the Lincoln Center campus. The performance starts at  7 p.m. Free.

On the road again: Satan and Adam tour rescheduled

Adam Gussow and Sterling "Mr. Satan" Magee

Adam Gussow and Sterling "Mr. Satan" Magee

As promised, Satan and Adam have worked out their scheduling issues and will be on tour in August. And this is a don’t-miss tour, because it’s probably the last time Adam Gussow and Sterling “Mr. Satan” Magee will be able to play in the Northeast (or anywhere more than a day’s trip from Satan’s Florida home).

Here’s Adam’s explanation:

We have rescheduled three of the gigs from our postponed June tour, and added two new dates.  Although Sterling will still be able to play occasional out-of-town dates from this point on, the word from his sister down in Florida is that all future touring will need to keep him away from home no more than three nights.  This means that our dates in Philly, Portsmouth NH, and Piermont NY are the last time you will be able to see Satan and Adam in those areas, except for possible fly-in dates.  We hope you’ll take this opportunity to show up and pay your respects to the one and only Mr. Satan, guitar-man of Harlem.

Satan and Adam playing on the street.

Satan and Adam playing on the street.

So far, the tour is short and sweet:

8/12:  Virginia Beach, VA – Jewish Mother (9 PM)

8/13:  Philadelphia, PA – World Cafe Live (7:30 PM, with special guest Charlie Sayles)

8/14:  Portmouth, NH – The Press Room (9 PM)

8/15:  Piermont, NY – The Turning Point (8 PM)

8/17:  Atlanta, GA – “blue Monday” party for Atlanta Harmonica Enthusiasts and others (7:30).  For info, please contact Jim McBride:  This party is open to the public, but only if you purchase an advance ticket from Jim.  Space is limited.  Potluck + BYOB.

Stay tuned to Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? for updates and an in-depth interview with Adam. And check out Adam’s website for further information about Satan and Adam and Adam’s other endeavors.

An insider’s view of The Feelies

Glenn Mercer and Stanley Demeski.

Glenn Mercer and Stanley Demeski.

Katie Demeski

Katie Demeski

Katie Demeski, daughter of The Feelies drummer Stan Demeski, has come through as I hoped with a fastastic post on her blog about The Feelies’ Fourth of July Weekend shows at Maxwell’s. I’ll let her tell the story and try to get out of the way. Go, Katie:

So the Feelies shows came and went and, again, they were amazing. On the first night, three of my friends came. One of them, Matt, was even at the sound check. The sound check itself ran a little late, but in the first hour or so, Glenn started playing “Billie Jean”. Then Dave started singing in falsetto and playing his snare to the beat. It was absolutely hilarious and kind of made my day.

Anyway, so we ate at Maxwell’s and my other friends, Dan and Liebold arrived. It was pretty packed that night, but we were able to get pretty good spots. As for the actual show, this year the Feelies started things out with some more mellow songs like “When Company Comes,” and a cover of “Sunday Morning.” New additions to the lineup included “Egyptian Reggae”, “Moscow Nights”, “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey,” and “Invitation” (although, as mentioned in a previous entry, they added that song on New Year’s Eve). There was even one new song, “Bluer Skies” on which Brenda’s husband, Rich Barnes of Wild Carnation, even played keyboard on it while sitting on the little crate that is used as a step to get to the stage at Maxwell’s.

Friday night I went to the sound check with my dad because my mom and my brother were going to take the train after my mom got out of work. Anyway, Dave again started singing Michael Jackson when Andy the sound man told him he could sing into his mic if he wanted. So he sang “Thriller” and I felt the need to text Matt and inform him about it. I just chilled at Maxwell’s for most of the afternoon, reading Under the Banner of Heaven by John Krakauer. The show was pretty much the same as the day before, except I was standing next to a particularly obnoxious tall drunk man who got more and more drunk as the night progressed. Regardless it was fun.

On the Fourth of July, I took the train to Hoboken with my mom and brother and it was pretty damn crowded especially for the Hawthorne train station. My dad had asked me earlier in the week if I would help Bill’s nephew, Ben, film for his Feelies concert movie. Ben and his friend (Nick, I think?) had attatched a camera holder-thing to a pole and I was instructed to put the end of the pole in my pocket and film from a little farther away than I had been standing, using the screen on the camera to keep track of the shot. Ben also had all of the Feelies go into the dressing room alone and he filmed each of them for five minutes, not asking them any questions or anything. When Bill came out he said, “I feel violated.”

Thanks, Katie. You are awesome. Click here to read the rest of Katie’s entry.