New Music, Coast to Coast

Euan Murdoch is travelling Around the World in 60 Days and blogging about it…


Kronos Quartet at Carnegie Hall

Kronos Quartet at Carnegie Hall

Kronos is renowned for stretching the genre and presenting entire programmes of new music. Last Friday’s late-night performance at Zankel Hall, part of the Carnegie Hall complex, was no exception and included several world premieres. The major work by Serbian-born composer Aleksandra Vrebalov was called Babylon, Our Own. It showcased the virtuosity and versatility of klezmer clarinettist David Krakauer. The New York Times critic wrote, ‘…in this piece it (his clarinet) sounded by turns like a bird, an oboe, a soprano and a car horn’. As we have come to expect, the impact of the music was heightened by the excellent lighting and sound.

Sadly, this was cellist Jeff Zeigler’s final New York performance with Kronos as he is leaving to pursue other creative interests. He was given the final say with a hauntingly beautiful performance of Terry Riley’s One Earth, One People, One Love. David Harrington referred to it as “…the earth mother of all cello solos in the quartet repertory” and we responded by rising to our feet in unison.

A sample of Kronos performing Terry Riley’s One Earth, One People, One Love:

I really enjoyed my time in New York, it has a restless vibe that is infectious and leaves you open to experience new things. It truly doesn’t sleep! After this concert and a farewell reception for Jeff, I made my way back to my apartment on the Upper West Side via Broadway to pack my bags for an early departure. I’ll be back soon to explore all the new places that are popping up all over the city where artists and audiences can get closer to the music and try new things.

Flying coast to coast across America reminds you of what a vast country this is. Arriving in San Francisco and turning our clocks back gave us a few more hours to explore the sights before nightfall. After the intensity of New York, there is a real sense of space here and a more laid-back vibe. In stark contrast to this John Adams’ Absolute Jest for string quartet and symphony orchestra is an exhilarating and energetic ride. St Lawrence String Quartet, based in the Bay Area at Stanford Universty in the heart of Silicon Valley, has championed the chamber music of Adams and this partnership with the wonderful San Francisco Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas had us on the edges of our seats. The work juxtaposes Beethoven’s and Adams’ creative genius with excerpts drawn from Beethoven scherzos. The orchestration was colourful and vivid and I cannot wait to hear the recording that was captured live once it’s released. It was a thrill to meet the composer after the concert at Davies Symphony Hall and to spend the next day with the Quartet at Stanford.

San Fransisco Symphony with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas rehearsing with John Adams pictured in the foreground Davies Symphony Hall.

San Francisco Symphony Orchestra rehearsing with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, with John Adams pictured in the foreground at Davies Symphony Hall.

Talking about venues…the brand new Bing Concert Hall at Stanford is remarkable. It’s designed by the same architects as Zankel Hall and the acoustician is Dr Yasuhisa Toyota whose other American projects include Disney Hall in LA and the New World Symphony SoundSpace in Miami. It boasts 360 degree intimacy and has 844 seats arranged in a ‘vineyard’ format, bringing the artists and audiences closer to each other. Stanford Live is the programme that enlivens the space and it aims to deepen the engagement between the campus and the Bay Area community. With such an extraordinary meeting place, the future seems full of possibility!

The new Bing Concert Hall at Stanford.

The new Bing Concert Hall at Stanford.

The Bay Area has a number of well-endowed, campus-based performing arts complexes and music festivals. I look forward to visiting several of them this week before I wing my way home to New Zealand. Just looking at their line-ups for the coming season makes my mouth water.

 – Euan, 07.05.2013

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