2015 Festival Press
I Care If You Listen: “2015 Look and Listen Festival Opens at BRIC Arts Media,” 5/21
New York Classical Review: “Cuckson, Sorey and friends wrap Look and Listen Festival with enlightening program,” 5/4
The New Yorker: Classical Music Listings
New York Times: Classical and Opera Listings, 4/30
2014 Festival Press
The New Yorker: “Goings On About Town: Classical Music” 4/28
New York Times: “Look & Listen Music Festival to Spread to Brooklyn” by Allan Kozinn 2/28
Time Out New York: “Critics Pick Classical Music Listing” 4/25
Brooklyn Vegan: “Look & Listen Festival Begins This Weekend” 4/25
2013 Festival Press
The New Yorker: “Classical Music: Look & Listen Festival” 5/10
2012 Festival Press
New York Times: “The Pleasure of Performing Composers” by Allan Kozinn 5/15
New York Times: “Drumming with Only Minimal Planning” by Allan Kozinn 5/14
New York Times: “Classical Music/Opera Listings for May 11 – 17″ 5/10
New York Times: “Festivals Are the Newest Thing for New Music” by Daniel J. Wakin 5/10
Time Out New York, Classical & Opera Event Listing 5/2
2010 Festival Reviews
2009 Festival Preview Links
Time Out NY Preview Feature, May, 2007
by Steve Smith
New York City is hardly lacking in new-music concerts. Indeed, partisans and curiosity seekers are presented with so many options that it can be all too easy to overlook worthy offerings. Among the most appealing choices season after season is the short but eventful Look & Listen Festival, a six-year-old series in which a diverse range of new works are served up in the intimate settings of local modern-art galleries.
The festival defines new music in refreshingly inclusive terms, taking full measure of the current blurring of borders between contemporary-classical composers, post-rock chamber ensembles and ambient-music performers. Composers, musicians, artists and journalists are on hand each night for freewheeling conversations about the creative process and the works on the program.
Thursday night’s concert promises a world premiere by John Zorn – performed by the Sappho Ensemble, a quintet of women vocalists – as well as contributions from the Eclipse String Quartet and the extraordinarily busy International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). Inventive saxophonist Brian Sacawa and two excellent string quartets, the Daedalus and the Flux, play on Friday night; that program includes music by Annie Gosfeld and Alexandra Gardner, as well as a new piece by Look & Listen Prize winner Izzi Ramkissoon. An eclectic Saturday-night bill includes Clogs, Ethel, QQQ and So Percussion, ensembles particularly adept at tearing down musical walls.
SEEN AND HEARD
INTERNATIONAL CONCERT REVIEW ~ Look and Listen Festival 2005 (II):
Robert Miller Gallery, New York City,
16 April, 2005 (BH)
For the final night of the Look and Listen Festival, organizer and composer David Gordon enticed two ensembles, eighth blackbird and So Percussion, to deliver a white-hot concert notable for both the caliber of the playing and the breadth of the composers. Tonight’s untitled ambient work was by Joshua Hilson, and perhaps I was immersed in conversation, but I confess it was so ambient (i.e., quiet) that it mostly escaped detection. (Perhaps that was the intent.) In any case, I will take this opportunity to thank Mr. Hilson for his outstanding work as expert sound engineer during the festival – and given the surfeit of electronics, this is not an insignificant role.
I have heard George Perle’s witty, concise Critical Moments 2 several times, but not as astonishingly as here, when eighth blackbird amazingly played it without music. In nine brief sections, Perle shows an elegant, Webern-like sensitivity to texture, but with more florid lines – and much more humor. I especially like Perle’s deadpan snare drum (here, the exacting Matthew Duvall), which comes and goes like a shy guest at a party who unexpectedly spills a drink and then doesn’t know what to do. In any case, I can’t imagine a more persuasive reading, with each of the six players listening to and cueing each other in a model of chamber music rapport. The balance of the group, all marvelous, are Molly Alicia Barth on flutes, Michael Maccaferri on clarinets, Matt Albert on violin and viola, Nicholas Photinos on cello, and Lisa Kaplan on piano.
David Lang is infatuated with brake drums, or so it might seem in the wake of Cheating, Lying, Stealing (in which drums are struck with sticks) and in tonight’s gorgeous Little Eye, in which the four percussionists rub the metal surfaces, producing what the composer describes as a “dirty sparkle.” It is a totally intriguing sound, here used to evoke the sense of time passing, perhaps gently but a bit aimlessly. With Wendy Sutter giving solemn weight to the introspective, slightly melancholy cello line over the percussion, one could imagine someone practicing Bach upstairs, while someone downstairs is puttering around, clearing away dishes. Like Morton Feldman and others, Little Eye celebrates contemplation, boredom, and languor in a seemingly static ritual that is actually teeming with tiny events.
Just prior to the highly anticipated performance of Steve Reich’s rarely done Four Organs, So Percussion suffered an equipment malfunction, but mild disappointment quickly disappeared when Douglas Perkins, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting, and Lawson White ripped into the blitzkrieg that is Part I of Reich’s Drumming. Their ferocity was highlighted in the first five minutes, when one of the drumsticks split in half and flew into the audience. Reich’s hypnotic masterpiece of phase-shifting is even more effective in the context of the entire hour-long piece, but I doubt anyone could resist the precision and energy here.
In a talk before the second half, I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Lang, composer Aaron Jay Kernis (whose Trio in Red was performed on the previous night), and artists Judy Glantzman and John Torreano, all of whom contributed humorous insights discussing the crosscurrents shared by art and music. When the concert resumed, eighth blackbird upped the energy level with Jennifer Higdon’s pulsating Zaka, with some vivid flute shrieks by Ms. Barth. This likeable work has fast-forming melodic lines sailing over an irresistible rhythmic drive. The title is an imagined definition of the word zaka: “To do the following almost simultaneously and with great speed: zap, sock, race, turn, drop, sprint,” and all of these seemed to be happening in eighth blackbird’s nonstop fireworks.
By contrast, David Gordon’s Drops is a shimmering study for violin and percussion inspired by the “dropping” of sticks on a bass drum, creating a delicate shower of small sounds. Violinist Sally Koo and percussionist Jason Treuting (of the So players) created a sometimes hushed catalogue of timbres. Ms. Koo often explored the lustrous upper reaches of her instrument, while Mr. Treuting gently drew a bow across bells and drum edges. The quiet, mirrored surface was a perfectly timed oasis after the Higdon.
Rzewski’s Coming Together uses as its burning core, a letter written to the New York Times by Sam Melville, a political prisoner killed in 1971 in the Attica prison riots. The eight implacably powerful sentences follow:
I think the combination of age and a greater coming together is responsible for the speed of the passing time. It’s six months now, and I can tell you truthfully, few periods of my life have passed so quickly. I am in excellent physical and emotional health. There are doubtless subtle surprises ahead, but I feel secure and ready. As lovers will contrast their emotions in times of crisis, so I am dealing with my environment. In the indifferent brutality, the incessant noise, the experimental chemistry of food, the ravings of lost hysterical men, I can act with clarity and meaning. I am deliberate, sometimes even calculating, seldom employing histrionics except as a test of the reactions of others. I read much, exercise, talk to guards and inmates, feeling for the inevitable direction of my life.
Rzewski originally conceived the work for a single speaker who intones the text, with the instruments in long repetitive phrases which build as the entire ensemble gradually escalates to the stormy ending. Mr. Albert, who is the violinist for the group, has distributed the text amongst the six musicians who are outfitted with head microphones, which amplifies the emotional intensity. The piece began quietly, but inexorably reached an almost hysterical pitch, with portions of the text being shouted within the squall of ostinatos. I can hardly imagine a more appropriate ending to this festival – jarring, virtuosic, and memorable.
SEEN AND HEARD
INTERNATIONAL CONCERT REVIEW~ Look and Listen Festival 2005 (I): Robert Miller Gallery, New York City, 14 April, 2005 (BH)
A goldmine of off-the-beaten-track programming, the 2005 Look and Listen Festival swung into action with an edgy work by Ryan Dorin playing on speakers while the audience was assembling. Dorin, a composer studying at New York University, used a computer to alter a single Dragnet radio broadcast (the show aired from 1949-57), transforming Jack Webb’s “staccato, matter-of-fact speech delivery” (and for the health-conscious, excising the original advertisements for Chesterfield cigarettes). Although designed as an ambient work, it was compelling enough to warrant a further, more focused hearing. The program proper began with a vigorous reading of Nancarrow’s String Quartet No. 1, a 1945 piece as devilish as his player piano studies, with layered canons and ostinatos mingling with jazz to create a unique texture, like Bartók on steroids. Despite musicians’ increasing comfort with many of Nancarrow’s ideas, it is still astonishing to watch a group tackle this work. From the first phrase, the excellent Daedalus String Quartet marched into Nancarrow’s witty intricacies as if they had played them for decades, digressing for some soulfulness in the more blues-oriented second movement. The finale has a jaw-dropping eight-voice canon, created by each instrument playing double-stops that never ceases to amaze if done well, and the marvelous Daedalus players had confidence to spare.
Feldman’s Structures is surprisingly short – only about six minutes compared to the six hours of his notorious Second String Quartet – so those anticipating being in the gallery until after midnight needn’t have worried. In a complete about-face from the Nancarrow, the Daedalus players showed subtle empathy for this tiny, crystalline dessert, its sparse language a beautiful tonic after the Nancarrow.
After a brief keynote address by Meredith Monk, who addressed the concept of creativity before passionately exhorting the audience to encourage young people to see art and hear concerts (always a welcome idea), she and her expert vocalists offered nine sections from her 1988 Book of Days. Among a number of influences, one could hear echoes of Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne, as well as Steve Reich (perhaps his Tehellim), with perhaps a little Arvo Pärt and some Tibetan chanting. Some of the sections are a capella, and almost all are treacherously difficult, but her troupe sings them with a nonchalance that shows the result of hundreds of rehearsal hours. The solo turns were immaculately in tune, and the group blend had an almost otherworldly purity. The performers are veterans with Monk’s idiom, but I was particularly struck by Allison Sniffin, whose unearthly tone (with no vibrato) at first sounded like something generated by her keyboard, and Theo Bleckmann, whose soft tenor has a playful quality well-suited to the gentle lilt of the “Travellers” sections.
At the break, composer Steven Mackey hosted an informative and hilarious talk with artist Laurie Fendrich offering comments on visual artists who long to be musicians, cellist Joan Jeanrenaud putting forth some keen observations about improvisation, and Mr. Mackey relating how he and Ms. Monk once met in a Miami swimming pool at two in the morning. The discussion extended the evening by a bit, but it was so entertaining that no one seemed to mind.
Ms. Jeanrenaud, formerly of the Kronos Quartet, has of late plunged further into the world of cello and electronics, and to conclude the evening offered two examples of her own work, also featured on a recently released recording. Written in 2002, Vermont Rules (here “rules” is a verb) commemorates a beloved dog who spent thirteen years with his owner, and is now memorialized by this winsome set of variations, freely covering all sorts of musical territory from blues and impressionism, to Arabic music and Bach. Strange Toys was conceived as a duet for choreographer Cid Pearlman, and is a set of six two-minute pieces, each of which uses combinations of pizzicato, harmonics and bowing with a different technique of electronic looping. Both works featured Jeanrenaud’s sensuous cello mingling with electronics generated in real time, with phrases that one had just heard, reappearing later. After some prolonged applause, she offered a short piece written for Mr. Mackey, a generous end to a generous evening.