Louis Langrée is well aware of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's rich history. The CSO's freshly minted music director also knows part of that history includes the nurturing of contemporary composers and their often unconventional works.
Enter MusicNOW, Bryce Dessner's 9-year-old festival of adventurous sounds. (Read our conversation with Dessner here.) This year's sonic extravaganza includes the CSO's take on new pieces by such esteemed composers as Nico Muhly and David Lang, as well as the title work from Dessner's new Classical album, St. Carolyn by the Sea.
CityBeat recently connected with the genial Langrée — who spoke in self-described "primitive" English by phone from Paris — to discuss the CSO's collaboration with MusicNOW.
CityBeat: Before we get into MusicNOW, I'm curious about your initial impressions of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Why were you interested in coming on as music director?
Louis Langrée: The fame the orchestra is really big. Everybody knows it's a major orchestra. But then making music with them was a completely different experience because, yes, they have the qualities of all major American orchestras — precision, clarity of the attack of the situation. But they have also from their heritage, in their DNA, this German conception of sound, that you build the sound from the base of the harmony. That means the density of the sound is something absolutely remarkable, and that's rare in the United States. I think it has to do with the tradition, the roots, of this orchestra and also, of course, about the quality and the spirit of the musicians, which is really wonderful.
CB: Why were you interested in collaborating with MusicNOW and taking on a festival of contemporary music?
LL: One of the strengths of the orchestra is to have supported and commissioned and performed contemporary music from their very early age. Having given the American premiere Mahler Third, Mahler Fifth, Stravinsky coming to Cincinnati before he was considered a giant, having premiered (Aaron Copland's ) "Lincoln Portrait," having commissioned (Copland's) "Fanfare for a Common Man" and many other pieces and many more recent pieces. That's why I wanted to open my tenure as music director with eighth blackbird and Jennifer Higdon concerto piece. It shows that we should support, play, commission and perform contemporary music — and, of course, contemporary American music.
CB: What was it like collaborating with Bryce?
LL: Meeting Bryce was a wonderful. His French is perfect. Especially compared to my primitive English. (Laughs). I like his attitude in making music and experimentation. And any strong institution should be also a place of experimentation. Music is not something you put in a museum. It's alive. And then we should perform contemporary music like Classical music and perform Beethoven music, not forgetting that he only composed contemporary music. All the composers — Mozart, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Bartok — composed contemporary music, so we have to continue it. He's very focused and concentrated, but on the other hand the spectrum was quite bright. I think we have arrived on wonderful programs — very challenging, but very exciting.
CB: What makes him unique as a composer?
LL: He knows how to make an orchestra sound. It's a very clear and precise writing but at the same time there is so much flexibility in the variations of colors written and the flow of the music. It's always quite exciting to study a piece and hear it. Having the privilege of working with the composer is something wonderful because there are so many questions I would like to ask of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, and of course it's impossible. So being able to ask the composer and to hear his answers is just wonderful.
Bryce is someone who has great harmonic taste, and I think for the orchestra it's wonderful because you can express yourself much easier. I think he's very much like his music — a very welcoming man, a very open, very luminous person. I see that in his music, which is not always the case with composers. With him, I get the feeling he's one with his music.
CB: How has the orchestra responded to playing these new, sometimes challenging pieces?
LL: Any new piece you don't know what to expect. What I've found is that these musicians are very open-minded, they are very generous and positive in their attitude and are eager to try any new experience. It's a privilege to perform these two concerts of new music, but it's also very challenging, so you have to be very practical.
CB: And what's the experience been like for you?
LL: It's a great responsibility when you conduct a piece, but it's also a great privilege that today's major American composers are willing to write for us. To be sharing this experiment and experience in concert, to be a part of MusicNOW, is really something beautiful.
MusicNOW's 2014 festival begins tonight and continues tomorrow. Visit musicnowfestival.org for tickets and full programming details.
The weekend after the big Bunbury Music Festival at the Sawyer Point/Yeatman’s Cove parks along the riverfront, another festival by the same fest organizers, Buckle Up, is set to make its debut. This morning, the full lineup and schedule for the Country/Americana fest was announced.
Friday, July 18: Alabama, Eli Young Band, Jamey Johnson, Marty Stuart, Ashley Monroe, Eric Pasley, Chris Janson, The Cadillac Three, Sturgill Simpson, Old Dominion, The Railers, Son of Fathers, David Fanning, Jamie Lynn Spears, Joshua Scott Jones, Pistol Holler, Jeremy Pinnell & The 55's, Sara Haze, Phillip Fox Band, Tyler Childers & The FoodStamps, The Dan Varner Band, Ashley Martin, Kaitlyn Baker, Alexis Gomez, Lonesome Jared & The Heartattacks, Messerly and Ewing, and Andrew Hibbard
Saturday, July 19: Willie Nelson / Alison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas, Old Crow Medicine Show, Emmylou Harris, Drive-By Truckers, Kristian Bush, Houndmouth, The Lone Bellow, The Spirit Family Reunion, Sleepy Man Banjo Boys, Joe Pug, Lera Lynn, Natalie Stovall and the Drive, Caitlyn Smith, The Tillers, Tall Heights, The 23 String Band, Buffalo Wabs & The Price Hill Hustle, Kentucky Timbre, Coralee and the Townies, Arlo McKinley & the Lonesome, Al Scorch, Shiny and the Spoon, The Carolines, Dean Fields, and Wild Carrot
Sunday, July 20: The Band Perry, Thompson Square, David Nail, Corey Smith, Dylan Scott, Sam Hunt, Blackjack Billy, Dallas Smith, JT Hodges, Chase Bryant, Logan Brill, Lyndsey Highlander, Abigail Rose, Noah Smith, Ruth Collins, Bobby Mackey, Straw Boss, The Kentucky Struts, Ty Bates, Carly Pearce, Jetset Getset, Honey & Houston, Zack Dubois, and Max Fender
Tickets for the Buckle Up Festival are available now ($55 for one day/$130 for a three-day pass, but prices go up after Memorial Day). For tickets and more info (including the daily schedule), visit buckleupfestival.com.
CincyMusic.com, a website dedicated to all things related to Greater Cincinnati music, launched in early 2012 (or, rather, relaunched, after purchasing the domain name from the previous owner, who’d let the site go dormant). Since then, the site — which has features, interviews, show listings, downloads and more — has continually expanded its brand by sponsoring numerous events and consistently growing its site and presence in the local community.
Last year, the CincyMusic empire expanded into terrestrial radio, presenting a local music-focussed show on Clear Channel local Alternative music station The Project (heard on 100.7 and 106.3). CincyMusic Spotlight airs every Sunday on The Project at midnight; on the Monday following each show, the programs are available for download as podcasts.
Now, WNKU — the Northern Kentucky-based public radio station with a long history of playing music by area artists — welcomes the CincyMusic crew on board for another weekly show, CincyMusic.com Soundcheck, which will “focus on local artists that are performing that weekend, releasing new material, or are just worthy of a little extra attention.”
Also hosted by CincyMusic Spotlight DJ Venomous Valdez, CincyMusic Soundcheck is slated to air every Thursday at 10 p.m. beginning this week (March 13). The shows can be heard on WNKU’s various over-the-air frequencies around the region (89.7 FM locally), as well as streaming on wnku.org. If you can’t listen, podcasts of the WNKU shows will be available here. (You can subscribe so you are alerted each time a new show is posted.)
Artists interested in submitting material for airplay on the WNKU show can do so here.
The release of the self-titled debut album from Cincinnati trio Tweens is just about a month away now. The music site Stereogum recently premiered the trio’s first music video for new album single, “Be Mean,” a great introduction to the band’s classic-Pop-meets-classic-Punk style (or “Trash Pop,” as they like to call it).
The buzz around Tweens, which scored the “New Artist of the Year” award at the 2014 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, continues to grow across the nation, with more and more music press and online outlets heaping praise on the both the band's recordings and live shows. That buzz should be almost deafening when Tweens’ debut LP is finally released on April 8 through Frenchkiss Records. The band’s usually packed tour schedule is about to get extra-busy with the new release just on the horizon, beginning with a head-spinning six performances during next week’s South By Southwest music fest/conference in Texas.
Click here to read CityBeat's most recent interview with Tweens.
In March of 1999, after running the Cincinnati-based Shake It Records label for several years, brothers Jim and Darren Blase opened a new record store in the Northside neighborhood. The store, also called Shake It Records, was an instant hit with local record-buyers, offering a huge chunk of vinyl alongside their CD stock, as well as books, magazines and various musical merchandise (among many other items).
Since then, word of Shake It’s awesomeness has spread far and wide — the well-stocked and unique shop has often earned nods in the national press as one of the best record stores in the country, and music heads from across the region always make trips to Shake It when in Cincinnati (or they make trips just to go Shake It). Indie Rock star/hardcore record lover Bob Pollard, for example, comes down from Dayton often and frequently leaves with a big stack of LPs for his (surely gargantuan) collection.
The beloved shop has also regularly featured in-store performances from both local artists and national touring acts (a Tegan and Sara in-store a few years ago drew the attention of local TV news stations because of the huge turnout to meet the Pop duo). To celebrate its 15th anniversary — a remarkable milestone considering Shake It’s rise coincided with the rise of digital music and the alleged death march of brick-and-mortar record stores — Shake it will be presenting a string of performances throughout March.
The free, intimate shows kick off tomorrow (Saturday, March 1) with a 7 p.m. performance from Cincinnati Pop/Rock guitar/songwriting legend Rob Fetters. Fetters, who kicked off the 2014 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards in January with a surprise performance, will be supporting his latest solo release, Saint Ain’t, and you’re bound to hear a few songs from his expansive songwriting legacy with the bands The Raisins, psychodots and The Bears.
Shake It recently released the schedule of in-store performances for the rest of the month, with more to be added. Not that an excuse is needed for a Shake It visit, but the following events are great chances to stop in and wish the store a happy birthday.
March 15: Cincy Honky Tonk ensemble Jeremy Pinnell & The 55's (7 p.m.)
March 19: Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, supporting his third solo release, Rock ’n’ Roll Blues, which comes out March 18. (time TBA)
March 21: Northern Kentucky singer/songwriter Daniel Martin Moore, who’s released acclaimed material through the Sub Pop label, and “Friends.” (8 p.m.)
March 22: The Shake It label’s biggest success story, Cincy rockers Wussy, who will preview their new album, Attica, which releases nationally on May 6. (7 p.m.)
March 29: Covington Indie Rock crew Frontier Folk Nebraska, whose releases are distributed through the Shake It label. (7 p.m.)
In November 2013, Cincinnati’s Punk Rock scene lost one of their own when Dave McClain, a former member of several local outfits (including Martin Luther and the Kings and The Zvills), passed away. On that November night, a wife lost her husband, children lost their father and an entire music scene lost a brother. So they've rallied to raise money the best way they know how — by putting together an amazing live music and art event to honor McClain’s memory.
On Friday night, Cincy punks will take over Newport's Southgate House Revival for McClainica, a one night celebration of McClain’s life and legacy, as well as a fundraiser for McClain’s wife and children. Cincinnati Punk Rock has stepped up to stuff the lineup with performances by Martin Luther and the Kings, The Zvills, Rev. Fear and the Nightmares, The Nothing and Total Dudes. Many of McClain’s friends and former bandmates will be on the stage to honor his memory, making for performances that are sure to be intense and memorable.
McClain was known for having a big heart and several local artists have responded in kind. The show will also feature a silent art auction with work of all mediums and the offerings are more than just fine art. If you’ve ever been in the market for a Punk Rock quilt for example, McClainica will have one up for grabs. (Here are some samples of the artwork that will be available at the show.)
McClain’s loss affected many people; he was loved by all those who knew him. But with this show, his friends and family are trying to preserve McClain’s memory and celebrate his life. And they’d like to share that with all who attend.
All proceeds from the show and art auction will go straight to McClain’s family, so the art and music will come with a side of warm and fuzzies. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $10.
One of the Queen City’s greatest musical exports, The Afghan Whigs, have just unveiled the music video for their new single, “Algiers.” The track is taken from the band’s forthcoming Do to the Beast album, the Whigs' first all-new full-length release in 16 years. The album is due for release April 15 on Sub Pop Records, the label that first exposed the band to a worldwide audience in the early ’90s.
During the Whigs’ global reunion tour a couple of years ago, the band released a pair of singles (covers of songs by Frank Ocean and Marie Queenie Lyons), but this is the first new original tune to surface since "Magazine" and "I'm A Soldier,” both recorded for the 2007 Rhino Records retrospective, Unbreakable.
Here is the intense, spaghetti western-inspired video for the new track:
The band previously announced appearances at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival on April 11 and April 18. Several other tour dates on the west and east coasts have been announced; click here for the rundown (no Ohio/Midwestern dates yet).
Pre-orders for the 10-track Do to the Beast are open at iTunes and here directly through Sub Pop. Pre-order the album on iTunes and receive an instant download of “Algiers.” Pre-order the LP on Sub Pop to receive the “Loser Edition” on colored vinyl.
Whigs frontman Greg Dulli chatted with Entertainment Weekly about the new Whigs' happenings for an article posted online today. Meanwhile, Rolling Stone has the details on some of the musicians on Beast and why original guitarist Rick McCollum is not on the new album.
Creative Cincinnati MC Buggs Tha Rocka has just released a video for his “State of Hip-Hop Freestyle” track, featuring sounds from the late, great J. Dilla and taken from 2012’s The Wrath of Zeus mixtape, which was hosted by DJ Clockwork and is available for free download here.
The “State of Hip Hop” clip was shot in Amsterdam by Snow Rowe, who also performs/records with the great local Hip Hop crew Valley High. Rowe’s video for Valley High’s “8 Ball” won the inaugural “Best Music Video” prize at the recent Cincinnati Entertainment Awards.
Buggs Tha Rocka took home the 2014 “Hip Hop” Cincinnati Entertainment Award (his second win in a row) and he has video evidence to prove it:
Besides being rid of this depressing winter weather, there's another great reason for local music fans to be excited about the coming spring. One of the more celebrated and acclaimed bands in and outside of Cincinnati, Wussy, will release its new album, Attica, on May 6. The recording will be the band’s fifth full-length of all new material and is once again being issued on the local label Shake It Records.
Below is a “rough mix” of the Attica track “To the Lightning.”
Shake It has also announced that Wussy — which scored both Artist of the Year and Album of the Year (for Strawberry) honors at the 2013 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards — will have its excellent 2007 album Left for Dead re-issued on “baby blue” vinyl in honor of 2014’s international Record Store Day (April 19).
Click here for Wussy’s comprehensive website for more info and to sample music from throughout the band’s entire career.
Cincinnati Hip Hop MC Santino Corleon’s latest music video, “Night Still Young,” is one of the five music videos by emerging artists currently featured in MTVu.com’s “The Freshmen” competition. If the 2013 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards nominee beats out the other nominees in the weekly contest, the clip will be put into “on-air rotation” on MTV’s television networks.
Click here to check out the clip on MTVu.com and to vote now (and repeatedly — there appears to be no voting limits). Voting ends this Friday at 2 p.m.
The track “Night Still Young” is featured on Corleon’s most recent mixtape, Keep the Change, which is available for free download here. Below is the audio for “Night Still Young.”