by Jason Gargano
CSO's new music director talks collaboration with nine-year-old MusicNOW fest
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.
Bryce Dessner collaborates with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for this year’s MusicNOW fest
0 Comments · Tuesday, March 18, 2014
On the eve of its ninth festival, MusicNOW founder and The National guitarist Bryce Dessner says after next year he’ll re-evaluate continuing the fest in its current state.
0 Comments · Wednesday, March 12, 2014
The recent $46 million
restoration/reinvention of Over-the-Rhine’s Washington Park is already
reaping artistic dividends — it’s responsible for a new musical tribute
to the transformative powers of landscape architecture.
by Mike Breen
An overview and sampling of the adventurous sounds you'll hear at this weekend's MusicNOW festival
Tonight marks the kick-off of MusicNOW, an adventurous
weekend of music that was started in 2006 by Cincinnati native and
guitarist for successful Indie Rock band The National, Bryce Dessner. The festival's
mission is "to present the best in contemporary music; to offer artists'
an opportunity to take risks; to commission new work."
That's a fair but lacking description of the festival, but
only because the programming isn't bounded by much other than the
desire to explore. MusicNOW has showcased numerous flavors of World
music, often new avant Chamber/Classical works, a "who's who" of the top
names in "Indie" music (Sufjan Stevens, St. Vincent, The National, Bon
Iver, Andrew Bird, Grizzly Bear), a few legends (Philip Glass, Kronos
Quartet) and newer and/or more obscure artists, meshing together to
offer Cincinnati music fans (and the many who come in from out of town) a
truly unique musical experience. Sold out audiences have seen
one-off performances and collaborations, including commissioned
works and world premieres.
Below is a sampling of some of the artists featured this
weekend — though with MusicNOW's encouragement of experimentalism, take
it as merely a surface introduction. The artists will more likely go
beyond any pigeonhole you can come up with, which is the best thing
• Tonight's kick-off is headlined by Anti- recording
artists Tinariwen, a Malian ensemble whose creative North African sounds
resulted in a Grammy in 2012 for its fifth album, Tassili. Read
CityBeat's interview with Tinariwen founder Ibrahim Ag Alhabib (via
translated email exchange) here.
Here's the official video for Tassili track "Iswegh Attay" (with translation!):
• Arcade Fire member Richard Reed Parry has been a part of
several MusicNOW festivals, composing commissioned works and playing
with bands like Little Scream and Bell Orchestre. This year, Reed
Parry will perform the songs of his Indie Folk project, Quiet River of
Dust. The project made it's live debut at the National-curated All
Tomorrow's Parties fest in the U.K. late last year (where Reed Parry
performed three very different sets) and a recording is presently in the
works. A review from the music blog Let's Get Cynical described it as
"a quirky and engaging performance – the first song I hear is about a
boy who gets lost at sea and turns into a fish, if you want some sort of
indication of what we’re working with. The fact that this is the trio’s
first ever show also highlights ATP as the kind of festival where you
get to see things you don’t get anywhere else." Kinda like MusicNOW.
• Rounding out tonight's opener is Buse and Gase, the
Brooklyn duo of Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez, who make trippy avant grade
music on various handmade instruments. The group name actually comes
from two of those instruments — the "buke" is described as a "six-string
baritone ukulele" and the "gase" is a guitar/bass guitar combo.
Here's Buse and Gase's official clip for the tune "General Dome."
• Saturday's headliner is MusicNOW 2013's most known
performer, Glen Hansard. The Irish singer/songwriter began catching
attention as a member of the group The Frames, then broke out on his own
and won an Academy Award for "Best Original Song" in 2008 for "Falling
Slowly" from the film Once, in which he also starred. Hansard's first
solo album, Rhythm and Repose, was released last summer on the Anti-
label (album bonus track "Come Away to the Water" was, oddly enough,
covered by Maroon 5 and Rozzi Crane on the soundtrack to the blockbuster
film The Hunger Games).
Here's the video for "High Hope" off of Hansard's solo debut.
• Saturday will also feature the performance of new works
composed by Dessner, Reed Parry and Serbian composer Aleksanda Vreblov.
The new pieces will be performed by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, which has
collaborated with everyone from the New York Philharmonic and Cincinnati native (and Jazz piano
master) Fred Hersch to Lou Reed,
Barbara Streisand and Talib Kweli. The organization works often with composers on new
Here's a clip of Dessner working with the Chorus on the piece "Tell the Way" in 2011.
The Chorus will be joined by young string ensemble The
Ariel Quartet, which formed in Israel and moved to the States in 2004.
Last year, the group was named "quartet-in-residence" at the University
of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. The quartet has won
numerous international awards for its work and has performed all over
the world. Also lending a hand with the new works is Shara Worden of
MusicNOW vets My Brightest Diamond.
Below is a clip of the Ariel Quartet performing Mozart.
• Last year, music now featured pioneering composer Philip
Glass. This year, Steve Reich plays the role of "legend" on
the bill. The Guardian's Andrew Clements once wrote that "There's just a
handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered
the direction of musical history. Steve Reich is one of them," while
many others consider Reich one of the world's greatest living composers.
Reich's experiments have been fearless and creatively fruitful and
influential, be it his early work with tape loops or his interactive
"Clapping Music," a 1972 piece performed entirely with handclaps.
Reich will join Sō Percussion for a performance of that piece and more, including a new commission from Daníel Bjarnason (the annual Esme Kenney Commission, named for a young student from School for Creative and Performing Arts student who was murdered in 2009).
The Brooklyn-based modern percussion group (featuring Eric Beach, Josh
Quillen, Adam Sliwinski and Jason Treuting) formed about a decade ago
around the collective influence of pioneering NeoClassical
experimentalists like Reich, John Cage, Kronos Quartet and others. Sō
has commissioned works from numerous composers and has also been acclaimed
for its own compositions. Outside of the modern Classical world, the
ensemble has collaborated with artists like Medeski, Martin and Wood,
Matmos and Dan Deacon.
Here's a cool mini-documentary from PitchforkTV about Reich and featuring Sō Percussion.
The three days of music are held at Memorial Hall, next to
Music Hall, but this year there will also be an art exhibition at
another great, vintage Over-the-Rhine venue, The Emery Theatre. An
exhibit of works by Nathlie Provosty and Jessie Henson will be up at the
Theatre Friday, 4-7 p.m., Saturday, 12-4 p.m. and Sunday, 1-7 p.m. Bryce
Dessner will perform at a "gallery party" on Sunday 4-6 p.m. The Emery
happenings are free and open to the public.
Click here for ticketing and further info.
North African group Tinariwen opens MusicNOW with true World music
0 Comments · Wednesday, April 10, 2013
The backstory of Tinariwen founder
Ibrahim Ag Alhabib is so cinematic in scope that it should be the basis
for an epic independent film.
Footage from MusicNOW's finale featuring Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner and Nico Muhly
If you were unable to attend Friday night's grand finale of the MusicNOW festival, featuring a "workshop" presentation of a new song cycle by The National's Bryce Desnner (also MusicNOW's proud papa), Nico Muhly and Indie superstar Sufjan Stevens, Pitchfork unearthed some footage of the concert on YouTube. The composition being performed in the first clip below is reportedly called "Venus." The others pieces in the clips below have (possibly working) titles that are also planets. Stevens' label Asthmatic Kitty wrote on its website that the piece is a "song-cycle loosely based on the planets." Here's more from the label on the composition and the rare performance dates of the piece all over the world. The trio will be performing their work in just a few select venues,
accompanied by a trombone choir, string quartet, and
drums/percussion/drum machine (played by the indefatigable James
McAlister). Selections from the song-cycle will be “live workshopped” at
Music Now festival in Cincinnati on March 30. Official performances are
scheduled in Eindhoven, Amsterdam, London, and Sydney. More details here.
Performances in Europe will be preceded by short string quartet works
by each collaborator, including two selections from Sufjan’s Run Rabbit Run project.
No other performances for this project have been scheduled and all
dates are sold out except Amsterdam, April 8th. Last chance to see
cosmic history happen here.Cincinnati, as it turns out, was very lucky to get an early look at this unique collaboration. Check out a few of the raw clips below.Maybe they should throw in a cover of this gem:
0 Comments · Wednesday, March 9, 2011
In 2006, Cincinnati native Bryce Dessner of The National launched the MusicNOW festival, bringing unique and creative artists and Indie music heavyweights to his hometown for a unique and subsequently much-anticipated springtime event. With a global profile as high as it's ever been, The National will headline MusicNOW 2011's final night May 15.
Art, dance and music intertwine in a blossoming visual art career
0 Comments · Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Jessica Dessner, a Brooklyn artist with a familiar last name in these parts, has a show of new drawings on display at Country Club gallery in Oakley. She has a varied arts background herself. She only recently took up drawing, after being commissioned by musician friend Sufjan Stevens. At Country Club, her show 'Before You Know' features 10 colored-pencil drawings.
Bryce Dessner brings unique MusicNOW fest back for fifth year
0 Comments · Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Cincinnati native Bryce Dessner's MusicNOW brainchild has evolved into one of the singular musical events in the Midwest, a multi-day festival featuring a like-minded collection of creatively adventurous musicians who relish the opportunity to partake in its laid-back, artist-friendly atmosphere. Dessner talks about his approach to MusicNOW, why Memorial Hall is the right venue and the upcoming album from his band, The National.
Kronos Quartet comes to Cincinnati to headline the annual MusicNOW festival
0 Comments · Wednesday, March 4, 2009
David Harrington, founder and leader of the world-famous (and world-traveled) Kronos Quartet, finds it hard to believe the group hasn't played Cincinnati since 1987. Kronos will be the headliner for both nights of the MusicNOW festival March 11-12 at Memorial Hall in Over-the-Rhine.