Inspired by others who are doing similar, I’m going to a post works by a different female composer every day for the rest of this month (March 2017). First up, Angélica Negrón, a composer whose music I heard performed on a few different programs back when I lived in NYC (click on her name in the word cloud to see my reviews from 2011 and 2013):


TRANSIT New Music had their first ever DoubleBill three-day festival over the weekend. DoubleBill is an ingenious concert series that has a five-year history of presenting the “latest offerings from composers” from around the world alongside recent works from NYC composers. Here’s my take on Concert 2, Australia/NYC, performed with excellent taste and skill by Sara Budde (clarinet), David Friend (piano), Evelyn Farny (cello), Joe Bergen (percussion), and Andie Springer (violin).


Onliving (2008/2013) by William Gardiner. World premiere of an arrangement of a longer piece.

Opens with piano, a repeating pattern in the right hand, short gestures from the left hand. The sound is gentle, major-ish, resonant. The others instruments join in, and the piece becomes more rhythmically active, louder, the scale more minor-tinged. Nonetheless it is always gentle, an ebb and flow of loudness, always a repeating pattern in the piano. Definitely a touch of minimalism.

Beginning to Collapse (2007) by Julian Day.

Pre-recorded track opens piece. Much different mood than first piece. Sparse, less activity, single notes, strings performing extended, slow downwards glissando. The track fades out, leaving complete silence, then fades back in (this happens several times). Cymbal roll quiet (soft mallets), extended. Crotales, high piano note alternating in quick, regular beat. The piece has a definite awareness of silence, as if both track and instruments trying not to obliterate it too much.

Kokain, Champagner und Beruhigungsmittel [Cocaine, Champagne and Sedative] (2013) by Tim Hansen. World premiere.

Short, quick gestures punctuate sustained notes; gestures’ character is playful, lusty. Piece is rhythmically complex, the group moving their bodies as a result of the effort to stay synced in the meter. Lots of bombast, especially from piano, and some kit playing. The clarinet and cello play stratospheric melody in unison, humorous ending as entire group plays last two, quick notes in unison, eliciting laughter from audience.


|D@L!/\/\P$3S7 ζf(f(2)) (2011) by Pat Muchmore.

I. High notes, dramatic crescendo into fast-paced rhythmic activity, a genteel tonal section punctuated by a cluster in the piano. A chill clarinet solo, abruptly interrupted by vibraphone. Moments when all are playing the same note, which then scatters out into thicker texture. A violent outburst, and then back to calm.  II. Shrill high note from the whole group, oscillating widely in vibraphone. A drastic drop to calm, eerie vibes solo. Strings abruptly switch to rhythmic sawing. Piece lives in the extremes.

Ulrikke (2008) by Matthew Welch for cello and percussion.

Gong-strike, light skittering on the cello. Vibraphone, wide vibrato. Cello plays a light melody in double stops. Vibe plays intermittent polychords. Cello plays melody reminiscent of Matthew’s opera  Borges and the Other. Vibes plays repeating upwards moving dreamy scale. More fully round sound than heretofore in the piece. Vibes now playing downward scale. Cello short-long melody with chords in vibes. Cello melody, quick-paced interlocking accompaniment from vibes. Folk and dreamscape hues.

What I’m Trying to Say Is… (2009) by Angélica Negrón.

Joe holds a red plastic toy to the microphone that says letters of the alphabet in a robotic voice, “i” and “u” (and “a” as a joke during the tuning). Bowing vibes. Ensemble playing light but active. Clarinetist speaking through mini megaphone, Joe popping bubble wrap into mic, the toy robot-voice again. Now David using megaphone, then violinist. Cool unison melody with cello and piano. Layering lines that don’t line up rhythmically, until they do. Piece has a fresh, light sound even with its heavier moments.

What I loved about this performance was that I was unable to make any sweeping generalizations (heaven forbid) about the two halves of the concert. The music really did run a gamut of styles and techniques, and I guess that is the beauty of the global “new music” scene,  that there is no overriding style; you’re always tuning your ears to new sounds.

It’s interesting, this idea of the composer performing alone onstage, simultaneously with her or his past self, whether immediate (via live looping) or more distant (via recorded track). This was the unifying feature of Instrument Unbound at 92Y Tribeca, which featured sets by composers Jennifer Stock (also the curator of the concert), Florent Ghys, Angélica Negrón, and Lesley Flanigan. It was composers unbound from the constraints of time, but also unbound from the often unwieldy act of performing with other people, a sort of streamlining of the creative process.

Jennifer Stock’s set was divided into five parts; in each, the electronic track enveloped her piano playing, often beginning and ending sections while she sat like us in the audience, listening. The music had major and minor scale hues, and was also open sounding (more sixths than thirds, e.g.). There were times of metrical activity, and times when the rhythmic element manifested itself more loosely. The energy of the music and the accompanying video was a notch above ambient, creating a subtle mood that nonetheless drew you in.

Florent Ghys’ set featured live looping of both his double bass playing and the video captured by the laptop sitting next to him. He achieved parts of this by using the iPad that was affixed to the front of his bass. There was a playful aspect to his set, the ebullient bass gestures repeating at a catchy beat, the videos of himself splitting in time with the music into four frames that spun and shrunk away into a white screen. After his set, the barefoot Ghys asked the audience to approach him with any feedback, as he was still experimenting with the technology.

As a matter of necessity, Angélica Negrón writes on her site that lately she has been thrust into the role of composer/performer; performing her music live by herself has become a “rite of passage” that her new songs must go through before she arranges them for others. A collector of toy instruments, her live performance featured a gentle layering of ethereal sound, her whispery singing floating in and out of the texture.

Lesley Flanigan is in many ways the perfect example of the solo composer/performer, building her own instruments and relying only on a PA system and microphone to broadcast her music to the audience. Flanigan creates her sounds by holding the microphone near her handmade speakers to achieve varying levels of feedback, which are then looped to create rich textures of sound. She also vocalizes into the microphone, the overall effect that of a dissipating intimacy.

Instrument Unbound told a compelling story of the writers of music, one in which both their process and sentiments were openly displayed on the stage. The audience saw, at least partially, the compositional process in action, and heard the composer’s voice directly, unaltered.

I’ve been helping out with the excellent Music at First Series this year, which is run and curated by my good friend, composer Wil Smith, and features the newest music and freshest talent that NYC has to offer in the way of experimental music.  Held at First Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn Heights (where Wil is also the organist), I was able to shoot some short video clips of both of the sets from the first performance of 2011, which you can see above (warning! the clip contains some strong language).

Pianist David Friend stunned with radical pieces and perfectly controlled energy.  The first piece on his set was Aorta, by fellow Transit member Daniel Wohl (I unfortunately didn’t get any video clips of this meditative piece, but I urge you to listen to it on Daniel’s website).  Next up was the churning Sensitive Spot by Kate Moore, which featured live David playing along with several pre-recorded Davids, all playing the same track.  Probably the most shocking piece on the set was JacobTV‘s Cities Change the Songs of Birds, in which sound-bytes of homeless and drug-addicted women from NYC talking about their lives are mercilessly played over a piano part that skillfully merges with the spoken word and transforms the women’s pain and bitterness into something astonishingly beautiful.  David’s belief in the message of this piece was palpable in his passionate performance.  Next up was the world premiere of Angélica Negrón‘s the peculiar purple pieman of porcupine peak for piano, electronics and desk bells, followed by Christopher Marianetti‘s I think it would be beating a dead dog if we do anything but present this statement, which had David playing an athletic piano part while also rhythmically speaking the title of the piece.

For the second set, singer and composer Corey Dargel charmed the audience with his six-song art/pop cycle, Hold Yourself Together, with Wil on synthesizers and James Moore on guitars.  This was the third time I’d heard this cycle, and I have to say I love it more each time I hear it.  The lyrics are witty and sad in the vein of Morrissey, and the music is so one-of-a-kind that it’s hard to capture in one word.  How about “artfully-structured catchy-pretty”?

Stay tuned for a review of yesterday’s Music at First concert, which featured soprano Mellissa Hughes and synthesizer-player Lorna Dune.  Upcoming MaF performances:

April 8th – Janus Trio and Mantra Percussion

May 20th – Margaret Lancaster and Eric km Clark‘s Deprivation Choir