NYO2 with Esperanza Spalding at Carnegie Hall

NY02 with Esperanza Spalding - Carnegie Hall - Feast of Music Jul 20  2017  8-13 PMFor five years now, the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America (or NYO-USA for short) has been providing teenagers the opportunity to hone their music skills with professional musicians, culminating in a performance at Carnegie Hall and an international tour. Last year, Carnegie's Weill Music Institute expanded the initiative with a new program for even younger musicians, called NYO2. Made up of kids aged 14-17 from a diverse set of backgrounds - often from communities without classical music training opportunities - the fellows spent three weeks in residence at Purchase College in Westchester where they rehearsed with musicians from some of the top orchestras in the country, including more than a dozen from the Philadelphia Orchestra

The program culminated Thursday night with a performance at Carnegie Hall that featured the Philadelphia musicians playing alongside their younger counterparts. For the first part, they were joined onstage by the ebullient Esperanza Spalding, here playing electric bass. Spalding, who in her younger days was the concertmaster of her local community orchestra, performed several of her own compositions, along with a cover of Wayne Shorter's "Endangered Species", to which she added her own lyrics. In between songs, she gushed about how amazing the kids were in rehearsal, and tried her best to get the audience to start a dance party with the rocking "Good Lava" from last year's Emily's D+Evolution

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Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner and James McAlister Revive "Planetarium" at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!

Planetarium with Sufjan Sevens - BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn - Feast of Music Jul 18  2017 Jul 18  2017  9-14 PMWhen Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner and James McAlister first performed their collaboration Planetarium at BAM in 2013, we were blown away by the experience, which seamlessly blended elements of classical, pop, rock, and electronics, accompanied by some pretty awesome visuals. As we said at the time:

"This was edgy rock and pop, and its straightforward presentation enabled it to breathe and communicate without being suffocated by mists of pretension. Lush harmonies melded together with a luxurious flow and were enhanced by the smoky projections on stage; you couldn’t help but be moved by the aural and visual spectacle."

Last month, Planetarium was finally released as an album, and to mark the occasion, Sufjan, Nico, Bryce and James brought their live show (sans lasers) back to NYC last night with a benefit concert at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn. The standing room-only crowd was enthusiastic from the start, cheering wildly after the big numbers "Jupiter" and "Saturn." In between songs, Sufjan held sway like a made-for-TV astronomer while making numerous oblique references to the challenging times we live in, encouraging us to look to the stars to remind us that the universe is much bigger - and vastly more open - than we are. 

Watch a performance of "Mercury" from Monday's Late Show here. More pics below and on the photo page

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Lincoln Center Festival: Bang on a Can All-Stars with Gong Linna and Ornette Coleman's Chamber Music

CLOUD_SBP4072Photo: Stephanie Berger

The 22nd edition of the Lincoln Center Festival kicked off last week, bringing it's usual surfeit of starry theater and ballet companies to the various houses of the Lincoln Center campus left otherwise vacant for the summer. Amidst these, there were a pair of musical offerings that straddled the worlds of jazz, contemporary classical, and world music. 

On Friday, I went to the John Jay Theater to see the Bang on a Can All Stars perform with Chinese vocalist Gong Linna, who's become something of a sensation in her home country for her charismatic stage presence and acrobatic singing. They met while the All-Stars were touring China a few years ago and, after after BOAC founders David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon sat down with Gong and her husband, composer Lao Luo, (a.k.a. Robert Zollitsch) they came up with the 12 part song cycle Cloud River Mountain. Collaboration is nothing new for the Bang on a Can trio - previous efforts include The Carbon Copy Building (1999), Lost Objects (2001), and Shelter (2005) - but it was Lao who was instrumental in integrating the unique harmonies and rhythms of Chinese music.

The songs were sung in a mix of English and Mandarin, with lyrics drawn mostly from the mythological poetry of Qu Yuan, written during the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). It was difficult to follow without supertitles or any kind of house lighting to read the translations in the program, but Gong's theatrical performance - matched by her flamboyant costumes - was captivating in its own way. As for the music, it ranged from Julia's "Into the Clouds", which raged with Patti Smith-like intensity, to Michael's persistent, heavy-handed "River", to David's quiet, haunting "Girl With Mountain." For an encore, Gong performed the wild, frenetic folk song "Tan Te", which first catapulted her to stardom.

Meanwhile, David, Julia, Michael and the All Stars have all decamped to North Adams, where they'll be ensconced at Mass MoCA for the next three weeks at the Bang on a Can Summer Festival, culminating in the annual Summer Marathon on August 6 with guest composer Louis Andriessen. Details available on their website. More pics here.

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Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 with Roy Ayers at Central Park Summerstage

Seun Kuti - Summerstage - Feast of Music Jul 16  2017  5-46 PM Jul 16  2017  6-07 PM
It's been six years since I last saw Seun Kuti play Celebrate Brooklyn with Egypt 80, the backing band of his famous father, the late Afropop pioneer Fela Kuti. So, it was good to see him back at Central Park Summerstage on Sunday, strutting across the stage in a blue patterned jumpsuit that looked like it had been pulled straight from his father's old closet. Seun, now 34, has already been at this for more than 20 years, and now that he's the same age as his father was in is prime, there's really no separation between them. Jazz and funk legend Roy Ayers opened with his own sublime set, singing classics like "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" while accompanying himself on vibes.

More pics below and on the photo page

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