Tag Archives: Zankel Hall

Glenn Kotche revisited: Spectaculs in concert with So Percussion

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Glenn Kotche

I have to confess that Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche‘s forays into New Music were beginning to rub me the wrong way.

Maybe it was the Delta faucet commercial that set me on edge. I can’t say for sure.

But it had begun to feel to me that he was trying far too hard to prove that he’s not just the drummer in one of the world’s best rock bands. He seemed to be crying out to be taken seriously as a percussionist with depth and breadth as well as great rock chops.

His most recent serious album, “Adventureland” (Cantaloupe Music, 2014), is well done and pleasant, but for some reason it never really grabbed me. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to appreciate it.

When I got the opportunity to attend a concert on Saturday in Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall the featured some of his work,  I decided to open my ears again.

I’m glad I did. Kotche’s work was a big part of what made the evening a spectacular musical event.

The evening opened with some older work — four selections from his 2011 Drumkit Quartets — performed by So Percussion (Eric Cha-Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, and Jason Treuting) alone.

So  Percussion clearly had an enormous amount of fun with the compositions. All of them featured a wide array of drums and myriad other percussion. The first, “Drumkit Quartet #50 (Leffinge, Chicago), kicked off with each member of the ensemble playing a hand-cranked siren, while the third, “Drumkit Quartet #51 (Tokyo, Brisbane, Berlin),” featured Japanese rock band Cibo Matto‘s Yuka Honda (who is married to Wilco guitarist Nels Cline) reciting haiku.

It’s no surprise that So  Percussion knew the pieces well, as the ensemble has recorded a “Drumkit Quartets” album due out Feb. 26 on Cantaloupe.

Kotche joined the ensemble for the world premiere of “Migrations,” a Carnegie Hall commission, that testified dramatically to Kotche’s admiration for minimalist composer Steve Reich with rhythms playfully produced on marimbas struck with fingertips and combs.

A hard-driving “Drumkit Quartet #1,” featuring a strobe-like animated film by Patrick Burns, closed the Kotche section of the show in memorable fashion.

The evening also featured a short piece by composer Steven Mackey, “Before It Is Time,” sung by Shara Worden, a performer and composer who works in rock and New Music like Kotche. (She performs in the rock world as My Brightest Diamond), in its New York premiere.

A 45-minute Worden song cycle, “Timeline” — commissioned jointly by Carnegie Hall and the University of Texas at Austin — closed out the evening. Worden sang and, at times played the guitar, a distracting move that took the focus off of the rhythms and interesting tonal qualities of the percussion, which included a mean steel drum number played by Quillen.

 

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Donnacha Dennehy and Alarm Will Sound leave us Hunger-ing for more

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Alarm Will Sound (Photo by Justin Bernhaut)

Famine isn’t a cheery topic. And when we’re talking about the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1852, it could seem like musty and old as well as unpleasant.

And, let’s face it, the Great Famine is not a happy subject.

Luckily, when the fantastic Irish composer and Crash Ensemble bandleader Donnacha Dennehy takes on the monumental subject, it assumes a magical, transcendent quality.

Dennehy and the awesome 20-member New Music ensemble Alarm Will Sound gave New York its first taste of The Hunger, a still in-progress theater piece that combines the ensemble with live singing by an Irish  sean nós singer and a mezzo-soprano, at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall on Saturday night, April 6.

We were mesmerized for all 45 minutes of urgent playing coupled with recordings of Irish sean nós singing and the keening of a mother for her dead child, along with and live singing by the extraordinary Rachel Calloway.

Calloway sang lyrics based on the first-hand accounts of the famine by the American nonconformist Asenath Nicholson, who spent two years in Ireland working with those dying of starvation. Her words in song are gripping, terrifying and urgent.

The piece is destined to be a full evening of performance by Alarm Will Sound, sean nós singer Iarla  Ó Lionáird and one of our very favorite mezzos, Dawn Upshaw. While Upshaw will likely put the finished work into an even higher category, we were mightily impressed with Calloway’s work on Saturday.

This taste leaves us starving to hear more.

While The Hunger was the marquee event of Saturday’s program, Alarm Will Sound got plenty of opportunity to show off its New Music chops in the first half, as well. The evening was intended to draw attention to the fact that the 12-year-old group, led by Alan Pierson (who also helms the Brooklyn Philharmonic), has amassed quite a bit of music written specifically for it.

One of its oldest commissions, David Lang‘s increase, composed in 2002, was the highlight of the first half. But the world premiere of the noisy, energetic Fly By Wire, by the suddenly ubiquitous Tyondai Braxton and New York premiere of Charles Wuorinen‘s Big Spinoff, were plenty of fun. Journeyman, composed by Alarm Will Sound’s pianist, John Orfe, also had its New York premiere Saturday.