Musical ecstasy: Ecstatic Music Festival starts tonight

John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats. (Photo © 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

John Darnielle's band The Mountain Goats is one of the great acts in this year's Ecstatic Music Festival lineup. (Photo © 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

Friends have been asking for recommendations on what shows to check out in the second annual Ecstatic Music Festival at Merkin Concert Hall.

Sxip Shirey (© 2011, Steven P. Marsh)

The two-month festival, put together by Judd Greenstein and New Amsterdam Presents, an arm of the innovative New Amsterdam Records label, is an absolute must. It’s so chock full of great artist pairings that it’s tough to pick just one or two. Last year’s festival was strong, and the lineup this year looks even stronger. And ticket sales seem to reflect that, given that some of the shows have been sold out for awhile.

But some shows are still available, and tickets are around even for the sold-out gigs.

There’s one I’m really looking forward to is the Saturday, March 24 bill featuring The Mountain Goats, the homemade indie-rock project of John Darnielle, paired with the early music vocal quartet Anonymous Four. We’re not sure how this one will play out, but both groups are so good at what they do, and so genre-busting, that it should be remarkable.

Todd Reynolds (Photo © 2011, Steven P. Marsh)

Another highlight early in the festival is the amazingly indescribable music-maker Sxip Shirey and Angélica Negrón, with special guests electro-violinist Todd Reynolds, Noveller, Jonny Rodgers& Face the Music on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

And we don’t mean to give tonight’s opening show short shrift, but we have to think tickets for this one evaporated in seconds: Jherek Bischoff and the Wordless Music Orchestra, with special guests David Byrne, Craig Wedren, Greg Saunier, Mirah, Zac Pennington, and more. But if you’re willing to try to score a ticket, we’re sure it’ll be worthwhile!

For the full schedule, click through to the jump for the festival press release, courtesy of our pal, New Amsterdam publicist Jill Strominger.

2nd annual Ecstatic Music Festival starts this week in NYC!

Starting this Saturday, Feb. 4, the Kaufman Center, in association with New Amsterdam Presents, will present the second annual Ecstatic Music Festival at Merkin Concert Hall. From February 4 to March 28, the festival will host 11 concerts featuring collaborations between some of the most exciting musicians, from a variety of musical backgrounds, who are re-defining music today. Each concert will premiere new works written especially for these collaborations, building bridges between musicians from different backgrounds and providing artists the opportunity to grow in new directions. Audiences will have the opportunity to witness that growth as it occurs in front of them, live and on stage in one of New York’s great concert halls.

Last year’s festival was declared by the critics to be “too engaging, too thought-provoking, and too musically compelling to pass up” (Daniel Kushner, Huffington Post), featuring “the most bracing combinations of adventurous, fulfilling music in recent memory” (Joel Harrison, NPR). Full festival details below.

Q2 Music, the official digital venue of the Ecstatic Music Festival, will carry all of the New Sounds Live concerts on www.wqxr.org/q2music as live audio webcasts with host John Schaefer, and will also record all Ecstatic Music Festival concerts for on-demand streaming.

Ecstatic Music Festival 2012 Series Schedule

All concerts are at 7:30 pm at the Kaufman Center’s Merkin Concert Hall, located at 129 W. 67th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam.

Sat, 2/4/12

Jherek Bischoff and the Wordless Music Orchestra, with special guests David Byrne, Craig Wedren, Greg Saunier, Mirah, Zac Pennington, and more
A co-presentation with Wordless Music
Musical polymath Jherek Bischoff is joined by an all-star cast of guest vocalists from his new album Composed (spring 2012, Brassland), including David Byrne, Craig Wedren (Shudder To Think), Greg Saunier (Deerhoof), Mirah, Zac Pennington (Parenthetical Girls), and just added guests Carla Bozulich, Charlie Looker, Sam Mickens and more. This concert features the Wordless Music Orchestra, supplemented by a number of Bischoff’s long-time collaborators.

Tue, 2/7/12
Sxip Shirey and Angélica Negrón, with special guests Todd Reynolds, Noveller, Jonny Rodgers & Face the Music
The “mesmerizing” (New Yorker) multi-instrumentalist and composer Sxip Shirey teams up with Angélica Negrón, composer of “wistfully idiosyncratic and contemplative” (WQXR) music for an evening of fabulously eclectic and sonically wide-ranging collaboration. In addition to working together, they will be joined by a slate of special guests, including the violinist/composer/Ableton master Todd Reynolds, guitar sound-architect Noveller (“simultaneously soothing and mind-wrecking,” NY Press) and the wine-glass/guitar marvel Jonny Rodgers (“beautiful, fragile and consistently challenging,” New Haven Register). The teen alt-classical sensations Face the Music (“stunning,” “polished, exuberant,” New York Times) will give the world premiere of Angélica Negrón’s El Gran Caleidoscopio.

Wed, 2/8/12
Richard Reed Parry, Son Lux & yMusic
New Sounds® Live hosted by WNYC’s John Schaefer
Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire, Bell Orchestre) and Son Lux (aka Ryan Lott) are joined by yMusic, a “stunning sextet” (WQXR) of players who return to the Ecstatic Music Festival following last year’s collaboration with Shara Worden and Sarah Kirkland Snider. Parry, well-known for his work as part of the Grammy Award-winning Arcade Fire and the chamber collective Bell Orchestre, here takes on the role of composer, presenting a series of works for yMusic and its members utilizing the organic processes of the human body — heartbeats and breathing — to articulate the works’ progress. Son Lux will likewise have his yMusic compositions (the title track from their debut album, Beautiful Mechanical) performed, and will also present new arrangements from his recent album We Are Rising (“shamefully good,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer), which used yMusic as source material for its electronic compositions. Parry and Lott will also each write new works that incorporate each other into the process as vocalists, instrumentalists, or even as providers of source material for the new compositions.

Thu, 2/9/12
This Will Destroy You, Christopher Tignor/Slow Six & A Far Cry
The unique, “brilliant” (Boston Globe), self-conducted string orchestra A Far Cry joins forces with post-rock powerhouse This Will Destroy You and renowned composer Christopher Tignor with his band, Slow Six, for an evening of music that is large-scale in every sense. Tignor will offer his stunning work for string orchestra and electronics, Thunder Lay Down In the Heart, as well as new arrangements for Slow Six, “a compelling voice that supersedes the need for any words” (The Deli) with A Far Cry. This Will Destroy You, whose “immersive live performances and remarkable composition skills place them at the forefront of pioneering contemporary music” (The Austinist), will present new arrangements (by Tignor) of their atmospheric instrumental pieces, prominently featuring the strings of A Far Cry mixed with their usual layers of effects-laden guitar, keyboards, bass and drums.

Thu, 2/23/12
Nick Zammuto & Jason Treuting with janus, Daisy Press & Grey McMurray
New Sounds® Live hosted by WNYC’s John Schaefer
Nick Zammuto of The Books and Jason Treuting of So Percussion break away from their bands for an evening of spelling bees, homemade videos and fantastically-textured music, joined by janus trio, guitarist Grey McMurray and vocalist Daisy Press.

Sat, 2/25/12
Glasser & Roomful of Teeth
The polyglot vocal octet Roomful of Teeth returns to the Ecstatic Music Festival, presenting a new collaboration with Glasser (Cameron Mesirow), praised for her “beautiful songs, both sweet and abstract, deeply felt and anodyne” (NY Times). Roomful of Teeth will also present new work by Merrill Garbus (tUnE-yArDs) along with selections from their ever-growing catalogue of dynamic repertoire.

Thu, 3/1/12
Mariam Wallentin & Mikael Karlsson with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble
Mariam Wallentin, hailed for her “beyond gorgeous” voice (Prefix) in the band Wildbirds & Peacedrums (praised by Pitchfork as “highly complex and agile pop music”), teams up with acclaimed composer Mikael Karlsson to create a new song cycle, The Spirit & the Cloud, performed with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (“some of New York’s brightest, busiest players,” Time Out New York). The evening will also include a selection of Karlsson’s instrumental compositions and arrangements of Wildbirds & Peacedrums songs for Wallentin and ACME.

Sat, 3/17/12
Oneida & Rhys Chatham
Legendary composer Rhys Chatham, “who toys with the expectations of amplified guitars so mirthfully in his punk-influenced orchestrations” (New York Times), is joined by the “Brooklyn psych alchemists” (Pitchfork) Oneida, whose performance at the recent All Tomorrow’s Parties festival was called “some of the best music I heard all weekend” by Ben Ratliff in the New York Times.

Tue, 3/20/12
Dan Deacon, NOW Ensemble & the Calder Quartet
New Sounds® Live hosted by WNYC’s John Schaefer
Dan Deacon returns to the Ecstatic Music Festival after last year’s sold-out show, this time writing a series of new works for acclaimed chamber groups NOW Ensemble (“a deft young group gaining attention,” New Yorker) and the Calder Quartet (“outstanding,” New York Times), both for the individual ensembles and for the two together in a mini-chamber orchestra.

Sat, 3/24/12
The Mountain Goats & Anonymous 4
Co-commissioned by the Barbican
The Mountain Goats are joined by the vocal quartet Anonymous 4 in a collaborative presentation of songs from Transcendental Youth, a new work by John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats (“one of America’s most startling lyricists,” Boston Globe). Anonymous 4, celebrating their 25th anniversary, are famous for their purity of tone and astounding blend, gaining wide recognition for their intense scholarship and attention to historical context, both in medieval and early American repertoire. Transcendental Youth features new songs from Darnielle, heard here in special arrangements for voices, piano, and guitar by the acclaimed musical polymath Owen Pallett. The songs visit a small community on Puget Sound in Washington, north of Seattle at the foot of Glacier Peak, and are inhabited by the mournful voices of the isolated and the lost in motels and apartment complexes around Snohomish County. A short solo Mountain Goats set begins the evening, followed by Anonymous 4 performing selections from their rich catalog in a program curated by both Darnielle and A4, and concluding with the collaborative performance.

Wed, 3/28/12
Derek Bermel, Samson Young, Gaybird Leung, Du Yun, Music from China & Music from Copland House
Two venerable contemporary music ensembles, Music from Copland House and Music from China, offer world premieres by celebrated young composers Du Yun, Samson Young, Derek Bermel and Gaybird Leung. These four idiosyncratic composers — originally from Shanghai, Hong Kong and New York — will take radically different approaches to the challenge of composing for a blend of Chinese and Western instruments, along with electronics or their own voices, in some cases. Placed together collectively, along with other works that explore this mixed space, the concert will be a fascinating examination of the music that lives at multiple intersections, between China and the United States, and between classical and vernacular traditions.

Ticket Information:
11-concert festival pass: $175
Single tickets: $25
Subscriptions: $80 for 4 concerts
(Subscribers may purchase discounted $20 tickets to additional concerts)
Student tickets (in person sales only; ID required): $15

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