Concert Review: John Zorn’s Game Pieces (9/27/2013)

(See previous post for explanation of why there are no photos or videos in this blog article. Welcome to Wordville, population: 1871. If you find any photos or videos from this show, feel free to link to them in the blog comments!)

Friday night was our third night in a row at the Miller Theatre, and out of the three nights, it was the music I was most excited about: John Zorn’s Game Pieces. I was sadly in a lousy mood going into it, partly because of the e-mail I’d received from them and partly because I wasn’t looking forward to spending another 3-4 hours in such a hot and stuffy room (it had been so bad the night before, people were falling asleep left and right, and my friends had to miss pieces of music to go out and get fresh air). I felt bad for the musicians – you know if it’s hot and stuffy in the audience section, it’s ten times worse on stage since they’re higher up and constantly under all those hot lights.

It is really a shame that there are no videos available of most of these pieces, because some of them I feel are almost pointless to listen to without being able to see them. It is so much easier to understand what’s happening when you can see the musicians and the prompter/conductor/director. It’s also lots and lots of fun to watch these pieces! On this particular night we got an incredible array of pieces, the likes of which has not been seen probably since (more…)

Concert(s) Review: John Zorn All-Star Orchestra (9/25/2013) and Chamber Music Marathon (9/26/2013)

EDITED VERSION: This is an edited version of the original review after I received a take-down notice from someone named Charlotte at the Miller Theatre threatening to have me thrown out of the Game Pieces concert if I did not comply with their requests. I am not allowed to have so much as a cell phone pic from the Miller, so this post and the upcoming review of Game Pieces the next night will be completely free of anything but text. After that we will hopefully resume normal service, assuming I don’t get any more take-down notices from anyone else…

I’m sorry I took so long to re-post it, but I got the take-down notice shortly before heading out to dinner and the concert on Friday, and then on Saturday I spent eleven hours at the Metropolitan Museum for the epic all-day marathon there. All free time since then has been used for eating, sleeping, and digesting new music experiences.

On Wednesday and Thursday this week, it was time for a massive dose of John Zorn’s classical music, at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre. Wednesday night was the “All-Star Orchestra” and Thursday was billed as a chamber music marathon. Between the two nights we heard no less than seventeen of Zorn’s classical pieces, including many I’d never heard before and a few premieres that had never been performed before. It was a pretty special occasion for us devoted Zorn fans. I have met three people so far this week that have traveled to New York from another country just to see these Zorn@60 concerts, so it is really wonderful of Mr. Zorn to give us so much bang for the buck with these incredible marathon concerts. Some of the New Yorkers I’ve talked to are a bit blasé about it because he plays here a lot, but for those of us who can only come to NYC for special occasions, this has been an unparalleled week of music so far.

There was so much music and so much variety that I can’t possibly write about all of it, so I’ll have to pick and choose some favorites. My absolutely far-and-away favorite from Wednesday night was Kol Nidre. It was the first piece of Zorn’s that I ever heard performed live, at the 92nd Street Y back in 2006 (IIRC). That performance was a ~15-piece string orchestra conducted by Zorn himself, and it was the most intense piece of music I’d ever seen. I was very much looking forward to seeing it again with a large string ensemble. This time he had a BIG orchestra… I couldn’t even begin to count the musicians on stage, but the program listed over 50 string players. The sound was powerful, and they used that power to the fullest with sudden and intense swells in volume. David Fulmer did an excellent job conducting. I had goosebumps up and down my arms a few times because it was so emotionally arresting. I feel like having a little lie-down just thinking about that piece.

(“Kol Nidre” video removed per request of the Miller Theatre)

On the next night, my favorite pieces were all pieces which were new to me. I’d only heard four or five of the thirteen chamber music pieces before, and some of the new ones were just brilliant. I asked my friends after the show which pieces they liked the best and there were three that really (more…)

Concert(s) review: John Zorn at the Anthology Film Archives (9/21 & 9/22/2013)

This weekend my friends and I were lucky enough to see two “Essential Cinema” concerts and one screening/discussion with John Zorn at the Anthology Film Archives. Essential Cinema is what Zorn calls his concerts where he has a live band performing scores along with silent short films. I’d seen one of these concerts years ago at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect going in.

The theater at the AFA was fairly small, and the band set up directly beneath the screen, in front of the seats. The front row of seats was roped off, so we sat in the second row (hoping for the best view of the band in a darkened theater, since we are much more live music junkies than we are film junkies). It turned out that the front row was blocked off so that Zorn could sit there and conduct the band (and occasionally play his saxophone) while still being able to see the film as it was playing on the screen. This worked out pretty well for us as we had a great view of the conductor as well as the dimly-lit band.

He asked us at the beginning to turn off and put away our phones and cameras and “pretend it’s 1958″ and enjoy the show. So: I have no pictures or Youtube videos to share with you! I wasn’t about to go against his explicitly stated wishes while sitting two feet away from him.

Night One

On the first night, they played scores for five short films. The films we saw did not completely match the program, but I believe it was Joseph Cornell’s “Rose Hobart” as well as “Collage No. 36″; Harry Smith’s “Oz, the Tin Woodman’s Dream”; Wallace Berman’s “Aleph”; and Maya Deren’s “Ritual in Transfigured Time.”

Two of the films (I believe it was the Cornell films) had scores very reminiscent of the Gift or the Dreamers material – the band consisted of Jamie Saft (keys, guitar), Shanir Blumenkranz (bass), Marc Ribot (guitar), Tim Keiper (drums), Cyro Baptista (percussion), Kenny Wollesen (vibes) and Ikue Mori on laptop/electronics. They had a very lush, exotic sound, mostly pretty smooth but with the occasional crescendo of intensity.

One of the films – Harry Smith’s, if my memory serves me correctly – had a soundtrack consisting entirely of (more…)

Concert Review: John Zorn: The Hermetic Organ, St. Paul’s Chapel (9/23/2013)

Tonight I went to see John Zorn performing The Hermetic Organ at St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University in Manhattan. It’s the first of four concerts this week at Columbia which are part of the Zorn@60 series. The other three are coming up in the next few days, all at the Miller Theatre. On Wednesday Sept 25th: Orchestra; Thursday Sept 26th: Chamber music; and Friday Sept 27th: Game pieces. My friend Craig and I needed to pick up some tickets at the box office today and got to hear a few minutes of the orchestra rehearsing one of his pieces while we waited.

Fun fact: In addition to meaning something that is sealed tight, the word “hermetic” has another meaning: “of or relating to an ancient occult tradition encompassing alchemy, astrology, and theosophy. Esoteric; cryptic.” So now you can stop wondering why John Zorn has a thing for air-tight pipe organs, which doesn’t even make sense as a concept. You’re welcome!

There isn’t a lot of opportunity to take pictures or film at a concert like this – it’s quite dark, they ask you not to take photos, and it’s hard to see much of anything anyway. I did take one not-terribly-good photo before it started, just to give you an idea of the beautiful room where the concert took place. (The big silver poles were microphone stands, so maybe they are recording it for a 60th Birthday Celebration series? One can only hope!) The very center of the photo is where the console is that Zorn performed at.
St Paul Chapel

The Hermetic Organ is really a simple concept: John Zorn, solo, improvising on a pipe organ. But it’s very interesting, for a few reasons. One is that since pipe organs are often very different in size, scope, and capabilities, his performance may vary greatly depending on which pipe organ he plays. And of course, since it’s all improvised, it may be completely different from one day to the next even on the same organ. I’m not a musician or composer myself, but I guess that solo improvisation and composition are closely related for someone like Zorn. He’s compared playing a pipe organ to improvising with an orchestra – you have so many options available to you. And as I was listening to this concert, I really thought I was watching Zorn the composer more than Zorn the improviser. He’d layer things together, then throw in some melodies, experimentally, seeing what worked; occasionally he’d startle us with bursts of noise (and they can get quite loud in that room!). Really an interesting insight into (more…)