Sunday, June 7, 2020

Bang On A Can Marathon: Jun 14 | Kathy Hinde and Igor Levit Performan Erik Satie's "Vexations": May 30 & Jun 12 | Alex Ross "Music During a Pandemic" & The Guardian's “'Quarantine Soirées': Classical Music and Opera to Stream at Home”

With concert halls and opera houses closed, organizations and musicians across the world are presenting content online, opening their digital archives to the public or live streaming new or recently performed concerts. The classical music world has particularly taken to the opportunity, with pieces like the New York Times', “The Coronavirus Hasn’t Slowed Classical Music”, detailing the calendar hardly less busy than before the conditions of the pandemic prevented the scale and volumes that classical music commonly demands for its successful live realization. Two exceptional resources for navigating this abundance can be found in The Guardian's “Quarantine Soirées: Classical Music and Opera to Stream at Home”, and Alex Ross’ ongoing and regularly updated Music During A Pandemic listings. For further reading, Ross' New Yorker piece, “Coronavirus Concerts: The Music World Contends with the Pandemic”, drawing attention to the Berlin Philharmonic positioning themselves at the head of the charge. As Ross recounts, early in the month of March the Philharmonic went ahead with its scheduled program, performing works by Luciano Berio, and Béla Bartók, in a hall devoid of attendees and streaming the event online as one of the first events of its kind. In their case the facilities were already in place; Berlin’s Digital Concert Hall, with its transparent sound and elegant cinematography, had already established a place of notoriety in the classical music world. Ordinarily there would be a performance fee to stream the event, but the Philharmonic offered this concert without charge, and for the following month, opened its entire archive free of charge to all. Not limited to Berlin, the Paris Philharmonic have also outdone themselves. Among numerous other offerings from their archives, including significant performances available in their Concert du Jour, the audacity of their staging of Karlheinz Stockhausen's Samstag aus "Licht", can't be overstated. As only one of the seven days of this conceptual opera cycle by Stockhausen, this particularly massive undertaking is as bewildering as it is rare in its realization. Much in the same way as both of the above institutions, The Metropolitan Opera have opened their archives of past performances. Their existing video on demand rentals are an abundant resource, as are the free-of-charge Nightly Met Opera Streams. Running for 24 hours only, on June 20th and 21st, The Met will be presenting their 2019, and 2011 performances of Philip Glass' "Akhnaten" and "Satyagraha" respectively. A opportunity for a wider audience to experience what The New York Times claimed from it's original performance, "Akhaten Puts You on Philip Glass Time".

The BBC have also opened up their coffers, though not as broadly, with scattered offerings like the Aurora’s landmark Orchestral Theatre staging of Hector Berlioz’s "Symphonie Fantastique" at the 2019 BBC Proms, and the Chamber Music Highlights from Switzerland series. Which includes the Swiss Chamber Soloists performing Arnold Schönberg's stunning "String Trio", among a set of four other arrangements of chamber works. BBC have also relaunched their Live from Wigmore Hall weekly concert series, streaming on their site and BBC Radio 3. Regionally, we have offerings like Seattle Symphony's weekly streaming of performances from their archives. Which to date have included notable performances from the past year. A trio of which, Gustav Mahler’s "Symphony No.1", Alexander Scriabin's "Poem of Ecstasy", and Igor Stravinsky’s astounding "The Rite of Spring", were a pleasure to return to after having seen them performed live in the previous season. Incontestably inspiring the durational and indeterminant works of his contemporary Marcel Duchamp, and the later 20th century explorations of Morton Feldman and John Cage, Erik Satie's "Vexations", has always loomed as the insurmountable holy mountain of minimalism. This past month sees two intrepid explorers looking to tackle its peak. Audiovisual artist Kathy Hinde has chosen to parcel the composition's load, organizing it's 840 iterations onto a body of performers scattered around the world. Randomly selected from 76 different contributors recorded over the months of April to May. As close as anything could be called to dauntless and downright swashbuckling in the classical music world, German-Russian pianist Igor Levit, who Alex Ross called "Like No Other Pianist", is to tackle the work single handed. The Guardian's interview with "Igor Levit: 'These Concerts Were Life-Saving for Me'", following his monthlong series of Hauskonzertes, performed every day, spanning March 14th through April 20h, was a rehearsal of sorts in stamina for the phenomenal undertaking to come. Again we have Alex Ross writing on Levit's herculean undertaking “Live Stream: A Pianist’s Marathon of “Vexations". Which was presented through The Gilmour's mission in developing and promoting world-class keyboard musical experiences, wherein Levit performed "Vexations" solo as a 22 hour marathon on May 30th.

Another extended duration performance spanning a more reserved 7 to 12 hours, (though they have stretched it to over 24 hours in the past), is the annual ritual of the Bang on a Can Marathon. The New York ensemble have been the locus of the New Music movement for some decades now, largely centered around late 20th and 21st Century American composers as the highest profile contemporary ensemble with "A Quarter-Century Of Banging, and Still as Fresh as Ever". Their status enhanced for not only tackling some of the century's more notoriously difficult composers, but also pieces of exceptional duration in their marathon performances. To quote from the Bang on a Can site; "Since the marathon's inception in 1987, it has included an astounding range of revolutionary music and musicians. From John Cage to John Zorn, from minimalism's godfather Terry Riley to Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, from the 30-voice Finnish shouting choir Huutajat to the hyper-mathematical brutalism of Iannis Xenakis, from the political sophistication of pianist Frederic Rzewski, to the high energy strumming of Japan's Kazue Sawai Ensemble, from the eastern European minimalism of Arvo Pärt, to the brainy rituals of Karlheinz Stockhausen, and the turntable manipulations of artist Christian Marclay". Again, it is not at all unexpected that Alex Ross has been following the marathon performances from their early years. His reporting as the classical columnist for The New Yorker, in pieces like "Very Big Bang" from 2007, "Bang Theory" from 2013, and more recently including them in his "Concerts in the Void", often acting as the wider introduction to their modus operandi. Bang on a Can's focus most clearly expressed in the cross-genre-and-disciplinary nature of their marathon incarnation, with each iteration mapping new byways to, "Bang on a Can Marathon Fuses Classical, Experimental and Rock". The duration of these daylong performances is less of what distinguishes them, but instead it is the diversity of their annual selections on offer, "From Roars to Rhythmic Mallets, a Day for Savoring Exploration". Streaming again June 14th, this year's iteration tackles the added complexity of the necessity of separate locales, and contributes an additional layer to “The Bang on a Can Marathon, Still Lovably Scruffy Online”.