2017 Summer Music Preview

Celebrate Brooklyn 2016
It's Memorial Day weekend, which means it's time for the music to head outdoors into the parks, piers and schoolyards throughout the five boroughs (and beyond). As is our catholic, omnivorous nature here at FoM, our picks for the summer of '17 rolls everything up into just two categories: Free (or mostly free) and Not Free. Don't forget your sunblock.

(Mostly) Free:

Celebrate Brooklyn: (June 7-August 12) The city's best outdoor music series returns to the Prospect Park Bandshell for its 39th year on June 7 with a free show by Brooklyn soul rockers Lake Street Dive. Other highlights from the worlds of indie, folk, jazz and world music include Yeasayer, Poliça and Cymbals Eat Guitars (June 22), Andrew Bird and Esperanza Spalding (July 28), Béla Fleck (August 3) and Youssou N'Dour (August 12). Not to mention benefit concerts by Conor Oberst, Sufjan Stevens, and Fleet Foxes. 

Summerstage (June 3-September 2): This sprawling series reaches into all five boroughs with a potpourri of shows that run the gamut of rock, opera, R&B and more. Highlights include the Met Opera Recital Series (12-24) the Robert Glasper Experiment (June 25), and a Fela Kuti tribute with Roy Ayers and Seun Kuti (July 16).

NY Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks (June 13-18): Alan Gilbert has made it a hallmark of his tenure as the NY Phil's music director to conduct the annual parks concerts himself, which have typically been handled by a string of B-list guest conductors. (Gilbert grew up in NYC, and the parks concerts were formative experiences for him.) Bring your blanket and come cheer Alan one last time as he closes out his 8 year run with an American-flavored program of music by Bernstein, Gershwin and Dvorák (the "New World" symphony). Followed by fireworks, of course. 

Make Music New York (June 21): Celebrate the longest day of the year with this citywide musical happening, with performances on street corners and in the parks. Grab an instrument and join in! 

Warm Up at MoMA PS1 (July 1-September 2): Now in it's 20th year, the summer's best outdoor dance party returns to Long Island City with eight Saturdays of DJ's and live acts performing in the courtyard of MoMA PS1. Tickets ($18-$22) include museum admission. (LI City residents get in for free.)

Lincoln Center Out of Doors (July 26-August 13): This year's Damrosch Park season includes performances by Angelique Kidjo (August 2), Rumer w/special guest Dionne Warwick (July 29), Nick Lowe (August 5), and a tribute to Pauline Oliveros (July 28). 

Charlie Parker Jazz Festival (August 24-27): The summer winds down with the 25th edition of this always-superb free weekend of jazz, which this year expands to four days with the Anat Cohen Tentet, Lee Konitz, Terry Lyne Carrington, Tia Fuller, Lou Donaldson, Joshua Redman, and others. 

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Antonia Bennett at the Cafe Carlyle

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If the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, then Antonia Bennett should be able to lay claim to some of the ripest fruit in jazz vocals. The daughter of legendary singer Tony Bennett, Antonia has been opening for her father on tour for the past decade while steadily building her own career. With her famous father seated at a front row table, Antonia made her debut at the Café Carlyle last Tuesday, backed by her seasoned trio (Spike Willner, piano, Paul Newinsky, bass, Anthony Pinciotti, drums.)

To cut to the chase: Bennett's thin, high-pitched voice bears little resemblance to her father's honeyed warmth and booming power, but her command of the Great American Songbook was rock solid, even displaying a bit of Brazilian flair in Gershwin's "Fascinating Rhythm" and Jobim's own "No More Blues." And, just in case we needed any reminder of her peerless pedigree, Bennett peppered her songs with casual anecdotes about the famous personalities who used to stop by the house, such as Rosemary Clooney and Frank Sinatra. That's the kind of lustre any singer should be so lucky to have rub off on them.

Antonia Bennett appears at the Carlyle through June 3. Tickets and info available on the Carlyle's website. More pics on the photo page


NY Philharmonic's CONTACT! at National Sawdust

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As Alan Gilbert winds down his eight-year tenure as the NY Philharmonic's music director over the next few weeks (Damn, where does the time go?), the Phil is marking the occasion with a series of concerts that kicked off two weeks ago with choral works by Beethoven and Schoenberg, continues next week with a concert performance of Das Rheingold, and wraps up with a "Concert for Unity" featuring musicians from around the world playing alongside the Philharmonic. Not to mention tomorrow's free Memorial Day Concert at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the annual series of parks concerts (June 13-16), all led by Gilbert. 

At risk of being lost in this hive of activity are Alan's significant efforts on behalf of new music, of which he has programmed more than any Philharmonic music director since Pierre Boulez, while simultaneously managing to avoid alienating core audiences. In addition to the 50+ world premieres the Phil has presented during Gilbert's tenure, he introduced two new series devoted to new music: the Biennial in 2014 (repeated last year) and CONTACT!, which started in Alan's first season and features Philharmonic musicians performing at venues around the city. The Phil has already announced that despite Alan's departure, both series will return next season. 

This season's final CONTACT! performance, which took place Monday night at Williamsburg's National Sawdust, featured three works by composers all in their mid-30's: Eric Wubbels' katachi: etudes for ensembles, Sam Pluta's jazz-inspired binary/momentary ii: flow state/joy state, and David Fulmer's Sky's Acetylene, featuring the Phil's principal flutist, Mindy Kaufman, on two flutes and piccolo. All three composers were there to introduce their works, in portentous academic language that focused on the technical aspects of their music, rather than its emotional content.

More engaging was Jacob Druckman's Come Round (1992), a set of variations which, while unapologetically modern, had a symmetry and tightness that the other works on the program lacked. (As the Phil's composer-in-residence in the 1980's, Druckman (1928-96) created the Horizons new music series, which has often been cited as an inspiration for CONTACT!) Although the ensemble was ostensibly led by conductor Jeffrey Milarsky, the driving force was Druckman's son Daniel, the Phil's Associate Principal Percussionist, who commanded a huge battery of instruments including marimba, bass drum, and Chinese gongs. Druckman's conviction and sense of purpose was palpable; you couldn't ask for a more authentic performance. 

More pics on the photo page. More info about Alan Gilbert's final weeks as music director here


New York Philharmonic Has Breakfast at Tiffany's

by Nick Stubblefield

IMG_5128The moment the heavy string vibrato and lush jazz harmonies of "Moon River" hit my eardrums at the New York Philharmonic's live play-a-long to Breakfast at Tiffany's Thursday night at David Geffen Hall, I was instantly transported to a different era. It's just so 1960s, I thought, knowing of course that composer Henry Mancini's beloved compositions largely defined the sound of that decade. The Philharmonic wasn't exactly in their element on a jazz and Latin-infused score, but they rose to the occasion with verve, and the result was a marvel.

Mancini's score calls for different instrumentation than a standard orchestra set-up. It's heavy on percussion -- there were drumsets and lots of sparkling vibraphone. In the party scenes, brightly-timbred piano held down groovy bossa-nova riffs. Saxophone and other brass played so loudly at times that the film's dialogue was largely inaudible -- a minor burr remedied with subtitles on the large projector screen. The score is also rich with the twinkling sonorities of vibraphones, harps, and high-register piano, all in high-definition thanks to the orchestra's crisp and precise playing. 

Notwithstanding the mallet work (pure ear candy!) and rick-rollicking percussion in the party scenes, the strings provided the emotional weight to the film. Breakfast at Tiffany's carefully balances sadness and humor, and the string players maintained that balance with sublime phrasing and dynamic contrasts. They entered the opening of “Moon River” refrain with a delicate, yet thick vibrato that evoked the sensitive nature of the film's protagonists. Unctuous vibrato is often associated with those saccharine, gauzy B-movies of old, but here the strings succeeded in conjuring feelings of longing and sadness, touching even the hardened heart.

There's no question that orchestras, like most musical performances, are best heard live. Recorded film scores, however, are destined for playback through theater speakers, or worse – through a TV. A live performance of a film score is something cinephiles or music listeners would likely appreciate deeply and should experience at any opportunity.