from Thursday, August20th of the year2009.
So, the new Alice Tully Hall sounds fantastic. My friend Elena and I sat in literally the last row all the way to the left for the John Adams chamber music concert featuring the ICE ensemble. The sound doesn’t have to be great in the last seat in the house (I saw the Kronos Hvartet from the last seat at BAM’s Harvey Theater and I couldn’t hear squat) but the sound was excellent. In this post I want to touch on three issues. Number one: The fucking café in the new Alice Tully Hall, which continues to be terrible. Number two: John Adams and Synthesizers. Number three: new music leather and hair.
Number One: The fucking café in the New Alice Tully Hall, which continues to be terrible. I want to love this place. I want this place to be everything I need out of life: a place to relax and kill time in between various things to do at Lincoln Center. During Lincoln Center festival, in particular, stuff is happening all the time; it’s very smart to have a central place where you can get a sammich and cappuccino. I have blogged about my experience there before, and was glad to see upon arrival that the Officious Homosexual was nowhere to be seen. Excellent. So, I sat down with my laptop, and started looking for an outlet. Okay, not so many outlets. I worked off of battery power for a while until I saw some of the ICE kids (one of whom was the unbelievably fabulously named David Byrd-Marrow, an effortlessly well-intoned horn player) and then I got shy and nervous and started hunting aggressively for a place to recharge. Now. There is an outlet “” a pair of outlets in the corner of the café. I go over there, plug in. I’m there for an hour, I have my meeting, I order multiple cappuccinos, I order food. As I turned my attention to something online (which now works there, wirelessly and without great effort), a small woman came over to me and said that I was not allowed to plug in my laptop. Excuse me? It sucks for me and it sucks for her: we are both victims. Clearly, she doesn’t personally care if I plug in my laptop. But somewhere, in some office somewhere in Lincoln Center, there is somebody who has decided, presumably with a grimly autoformatted document generated on Microsoft Word on their PC, that it is Not Allowed to have a Laptop (or “any other device”) plugged in in the single pair of outlets in the corner of at65, the café in Alice Tully Hall. I wasn’t about to confront this poor woman, because I know how that conversation goes (“it’s not my rules”) . Short of the “take me to your leader” conversation, I decided to put a pin in it and take it 2 tha web. If any reader in this space can explain this rule to me, holla in the comments. Also forward to me all relevant .docz.
Number Two: John Adams and Synthesizers. Adams has used synthesizers in, like, most of his mature works. They creep in even in early works like Harmonium (1980); they comprise the body of his Hoodoo Zephyr (1993), and they appear as more naturalized orchestral citizens in Nixon in China, Slominsky’s Earbox, The Death of Qlinghoffer, etc.
John Adams Tourist Song from Hoodoo Zephyr
See, so, it’s like, you know, a piece for synthesizer. I like Adams’s shamelessness about putting MIDI on his website, including even the dreaded MIDI saxophone. And the dreaded MIDI hi-hat. And I like how it’s integral to his compositional process and how that trickles down into MIDI keyboards turning up in the ensemble. My big question was: how is this stuff going to age? Check out this second movement from GnarlÃ½ Buttons, one of the pieces from Monday’s programme:
John Adams 2. Mad Cow from Gnarly Buttons
So, it’s something interesting to think about. It’s from 1996; when you put a clarinet in a piece, you don’t think, how is this going to age (even though the clarinet was the new toy in Mozart’s time), and yet, thinking about synthesizers there is this idea of a time capsule. Check out this aria from Klinghoffer:
John Adams It Is As If Our Earthy Life Were Spent Miserably from The Death of Klinghoffer
And you think, well, it’s a gorgeous piece of music. It’s got this Alto RhapsodÃ½ stylez male chorus in the back, a really unexpected pants role Palestinian terrorist, Alice Goodman’s twisty, imagistic poetry: everything you want from stuff. And yet: synth tom-tom? I think that this opera will be around in 500 years (the last eight minute aria is some of the best Adams music that there is), and I wonder what the music director of, like, the West Baghdad Community Opera in 2449 Anno Domini is going to do to rescue those MIDI tom-toms from themselves. Here is that last chorus:
John Adams You Embraced Them from The Death of Klinghoffer
This is some beautiful vocal writing, some exciting synthesized piano, some great use of 60’s soul backup vocals, and wonderful lyrics from miss thing. When she says spinal column? Somebody at Trinity College, Cambridge, needs to send that heifer an extra treacle sponge for that. So good. And when she says, “long-imagined son” at the end (5:45 into the excerpt), I still get a little weepy.
Now you all recall that everybody lost their damn minds over Klinghoffer “” Adams sort of alludes to this on his website. It was anti-semitic, it was naÃ¯ve, it was this, it was that. Didn’t the ADL, like, picket the San Francisco performances? The BSO didn’t sing the choruses after 9/11 never 4get? It’s beyond gorgeous, it’s a fascinatingly difficult work, and there are four or five moments in it that haunt me daily “” I think I wouldn’t be brave enough to think about writing an opera without this work existing on CD. You all need to get on it: at the low low price of $16 (I think I paid $40 for it at the Tower Records on Newbury Street, just to put a date on my own ass) it’s well worth it, even if you skip over the synth tom-toms. And young composers: get into these problematic works. If the ADL cared enough to protest, if people will take five minutes out of their lives to hate on it, it’s probably worth digging a little deeper into that pumpkin patch.
Number Three: new music leather and hair. New Music concerts are so problematic for clothing. For those of you not in the communityâ„¢ let me break it down. Before the show, somebody says, “hey guys, what are we going to wear?” at which point you are presented with one of three options. Option the first: Street Clothes. Option the second: all-black. Option the third: black bottoms, “colored tops.” This is what we had going on with the ICE ensemble (somebody from ICE PR – call me. Do you wish to be referred to as just “Ice?” Saying “ICE Ensemble” is like saying “ATM Machine”) the other night, who looked great! It reminded me of the 90’s, in a weird way, but they were rocking it out. However, their second cellist (not the deliciously named Kivie Cahn-Lipman, whom I sort of know) had New Music Mohawk. I ignored it because he sounded awesome on Shaker Loops and also, from the worst seat in the house, looked like he might be fine (?) but then: Michael Collins, a wonderful (and older) clarinettist, is gonna take to the stage talm bout a Leather Blazer. Now girl. The leather blazer signifies so much. Can’t we leave it in the 90’s signifier bin? Along with the khaki, the double polo, the cowrie necklace? From here on out for all new music shows? There is something so performatively New Music about it that it made how well u played the concertino compete for mental real estate, because I was watching u play it in a leather blazer.
This is my Alice Tully + Heat Stroke inspired rant for the month. Thank you for your kind attention. I think that the French people who moved across the hall from me are having an orgy. I am going to put tape on the windows and get into the fancy chardonnay.