It’s the most wonderful time of the year: When you’re filling up lists And your listing consists of the best you can heeeeeeeeaarrrr… It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
By this point in the year, most publications have published their lists of the best performances and recordings from the preceding 12 months… well in advance of the year’s actual conclusion. By that standard I’m late—but let’s just say I prefer to wait until a year is completely done, or as close as feasibly possible, before turning the proverbial calendar page. I’ll be publishing my list of 2018’s most memorable events tomorrow (Dec. 27), following by recordings on Friday (Dec. 28).
For reasons that should be clear, I neither considered nor included National Sawdust events and recordings in the lists to come. Still, as a judicious, independent-minded arts consumer, I feel compelled to cite a handful of projects that under different circumstances might well have ended up on one or another of my year-end tallies.
The first of three chamber-music bills celebrating John Corigliano, one of America’s most eminent composers, was built around Mr. Tamborine Man, a song cycle in which Bob Dylan’s lyrics served as pure poetry—and what had begun as an audacious gambit came to seem prescient in the wake of Dylan’s Nobel Prize. The evening offered potent performances by soprano Lindsay Kesselman, the chamber ensemble Contemporaneous, and, in other works, pianist Molly Morkoski… and I had the privilege of chatting with Corigliano onstage.
Gyan Riley: Sprig National Sawdust Tracks March 20, 2018
Guitarist and composer Gyan Riley, son and collaborator of minimalist icon Terry Riley, plied an eclectic mix of influences on Sprig, the first solo album he issued after transplanting himself to Brooklyn. Befitting the album title, each elegant piece on the all-acoustic session winds and twists organically into something fresh and verdant—and with each copy sold, Riley donated money to a forest-renewal initiative.
More than just a pair of exciting chamber-music programs – though undoubtedly they were that! – what the enterprising violinist Jennifer Koh offered with Limitless was a quiet manifesto about inclusivity in choosing as her collaborators a slate of accomplished composer-performers: Zosha Di Castri, Missy Mazzoli, Qasim Naqvi, Lu Wang, Lisa Bielawa, Vijay Iyer, Tyshawn Sorey, Nina C. Young, and Du Yun. The programs were deeply personal; the impact was universal and revelatory.
Jonah Sirota: Strong Sad National Sawdust Tracks June 22, 2018
Newly emancipated from his long and distinguished service in the recently and amicably disbanded Chiara Quartet, violist Jonah Sirota wasted no time in producing his debut solo album: an engrossing collection of contemporary elegies composed by Valgeir Sigurðsson, Rodney Lister, A.J. McCaffrey, Paola Prestini, Nico Muhly, Robert Sirota (Jonah’s father), and himself—both alone and jointly with Kurt Knecht, his partner in the duo Mondegreen.
Tashi Wada & Nue + Todd Barton and the Kesh Ensemble National Sawdust Oct. 2, 2018
This heady double bill, curated by the important and consistently fascinating New York record label RVNG Intl., featured hypnotic sets by two otherworldly ensembles. Nue, assembled for the label’s novel FRKWYS series of collaborations between elder artists and younger disciples, brought together the versatile musician Tashi Wada and his father, Fluxus artist Yoshi Wada, in a blissful mix with Julia Holter and Corey Fogel. Sharing the bill was Todd Barton, a pioneering electronic composer, whose Kesh Ensemble performed the mesmerizing invented folk songs and dances Barton had created with the late novelist Ursula K. LeGuin.
Wayne Horvitz: Those Who Remain National Sawdust Tracks Oct. 12, 2018
Among the composers who participated in New York City’s explosive downtown-music scene of the ’70s and ’80s, keyboardist Wayne Horvitz always demonstrated a knack for crafting lean, stripped-down music that hinted strongly at broader possibilities. Here, Horvitz’s sound achieves its maximalist potential, in Those Who Remain, an evocative concerto played by the inimitable electric guitarist Bill Frisell with the Seattle Symphony, and These Hills of Glory, a moody quintet for improvising soloist and strings, interpreted by nimble clarinetist Beth Fleenor and the Mivos Quartet.
Jeffrey Zeigler and Golden Hornet: The Sound of Science National Sawdust Tracks Nov. 9, 2018
Dynamic cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, formerly of Kronos Quartet and presently head of the National Sawdust Tracks label, partners with Graham Reynolds of Austin composer laboratory Golden Hornet to produce a recital program with a twist. Each of the seven diverse composers involved in The Sound of Science – Reynolds, Yuka C. Honda, Foday Musa Suso, Felipe Pérez Santiago, Maja Ratkje, Sarah Lipstate, and Paola Prestini – looks to a prominent scientist or mathematician for inspiration… and sometimes for methods and sounds. The results are instantly appealing, and endlessly involving.
Steve Smith is director of publications for National Sawdust and editor of National Sawdust Log. He previously worked as a freelance contributor to The New York Times, and as a staff writer and editor for the Boston Globe and Time Out New York. www.nightafternight.com
Peter Margasak reports on doings at the 2019 Borealis festival, an annual event in Bergen, Norway, that nurtures and showcases experimental music while also examining its social dimensions and implications.
https://nationalsawdust.org/thelog/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Jennifer-Walshe-inset.jpg600900Peter Margasakhttps://nationalsawdust.org/thelog/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/national-sawdust-log.pngPeter Margasak2019-03-18 18:00:042019-03-18 18:12:23In Review: Borealis Festival
Brin Solomon reviews a concert by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a foundational force in U.S. music history, celebrating the legacy of the similarly iconic composer-arranger Harry T. Burleigh at Zankel Hall.
Brin Solomon reviews a Composer Portrait concert featuring music by Wang Lu, as performed by members of the International Contemporary Ensemble and Yarn/Wire at Miller Theatre on Feb. 21.
https://nationalsawdust.org/thelog/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Wang-banner.jpg8001500Brin Solomonhttps://nationalsawdust.org/thelog/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/national-sawdust-log.pngBrin Solomon2019-02-26 15:00:262019-03-05 11:05:29In Review: Wang Lu Composer Portrait
For musicians of older generations, to watch Face the Music handle improvisation-based works by black female composers at National Sawdust on Feb. 11 was to attempt to mute one's envy, critic and musician Jennifer Gersten asserts.
https://nationalsawdust.org/thelog/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Face-inset-2.jpg600900Jennifer Gerstenhttps://nationalsawdust.org/thelog/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/national-sawdust-log.pngJennifer Gersten2019-02-15 16:00:542019-02-26 15:38:25In Review: Face the Music