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New Music

There were two concerts in SF this week imported from NYC. I guess you could call them “new music” concerts, though both concerts transcended that label and were more like “cool, engaging music” concerts.

On Monday night Nico Muhly* came through with Doveman and Sam Amidon, violist Nadia Sirota and Oren Bloedowand played at the Swedish American Hall on Market. The crowd was a bit small, and the concert was a bit long, but there was a lot of good stuff. I’ve been interested in Nico’s music for a while now, and was happy to finally meet him and hear him live. He’s getting a lot of press and attention these days, but I think for good reason. He stands out me for several reasons. First, he seems to actually understand pitch and harmony and knows how to put both “up front” in his music — so rhythm and texture don’t COMPLETELY dominate like they do in 99.9% of “new music” I hear. It’s refreshing to my rhythmically battered ears. Second, he really has a quirky and distinctive compositional voice and seems to be concerned with interesting and peculiar things. In both of the big pieces he played “Keep in Touch” and “The Only Tune,” he moves from a kind of sensual vibe, to a fetishy vibe, to a SCARY vibe and back again. That scary side of beauty and sensuality and form comes up in some film and literature these days, but not a lot of music. It kind of reminds me of the intricate map of emotions Hume draws out in his Treatise on Human Nature. The corner of the map Nico is exploring seems to be: “Things are really gorgeous and feel really good … now what can happen from here?” Well, all sorts of things. I look forward to hearing more. The other folks in the band were distinctive: Sam had a haunting detached folk voice, Nadia rocked on viola. I couldn’t understand what Doveman was saying most of the time but it seemed to be ultra-emo. Definitely an original combination of traveling musicians.

*Fashion Note: Nico Muhly wore a floor-length shawl for the whole concert. Well done, sir.

On Thursday, Ronen Givoney brought his Wordless Music series to SF with a sold-out concert featuring the Magik*Magik Orchestra, Benjamin Shwartz**, Joan Jeanrenaud, and William Winant. Many more people from the SF scene were there (probably because many of their friends were playing in the show), along with hipsters, “new music” fans, and Radiohead fans. There was music by John Adams, Fred Frith, Mason Bates, Arvo Part, and Jonny Greenwood. The music wasn’t easy to listen to, but the audience was rapt. BEHOLD THE YOUNG AUDIENCE FOR ART MUSIC!!! Many orchestras are looking for them, and they were at the concert that night. I felt like I had finally made a sighting after a five-year quest for a rare type of iguana. Why did they show up? Because Ronen and Co. know what music these folks actually want to hear, and how to reach them. Exploring the links on this post might be a good start if you’re curious about what the YOUNG AUDINECE might be interested in hearing.

** Fashion Note: Benjamin Shwartz wore a black shirt and WHITE SKINNY PANTS at the concert. Nice.