The Indie Classical Crowd Celebrates an Iconic Venue
It wouldn’t be fair to let the month go by without a mention of the Times Arrow festival of 20th and 21st century music, a roughly ten-day celebration of the 250th anniversary of St. Paul’s Chapel downtown at Broadway just south of Vesey Street featuring a diverse cast of the classical and indie classical talent associated with its sister venue Trinity Church. It’s not clear if George Washington ever slept at the chapel. But he was a parishioner there, and if the sermons were boring, that could have happened at some point during his days as President.
The festival’s music was very forward-looking: new settings of Edgar Allen Poe phantasmagoria, the premiere of Laura Schwedinger’s opera Artemisia, about Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi…and the Bach Christmas Oratorio performed in two parts.
While catching every one of the concerts would have been a real marathon, the most enticing and rewarding show featured Sandbox Percussion and pianist Erika Dohi, backing soprano Elspeth Davis in a mesmerizingly psychedelic, often utterly chilling performance of George Crumb’s American Songbook. Crumb’s reinvention of old Appalachian folk tunes began with one of the percussionists furiously cranking what looked like a giant music box cylinder to create a whistling wind effect early in the sepulchrally spacious interpretation of Poor Wayfaring Stranger. Dohi’s similarly ghostly, starlit restraint in Crumb’s creepy recasting of the lullaby All the Pretty Little Horses was just as impactful. As the suite went on, gongs were employed and a dusky, doomed ambience prevailed. Dohi is tackling a much more physically taxing piece, a Luciano Berio Sequenza this afternoon, Jan 29 at 3 PM at Spectrum on an eclectic solo piano triplebill. Joseph Liccardo plays Bach; Lisa Moore plays Martin Bresnick; cover is $15
It was fun to kick off the new year at one of the festival’s first installments, watching Chris Reynolds circle around a thornily and vividly, perplexingly repetitive Caroline Shaw solo piano number. Finally, finally, there came a point where there was a big, almost chaotic breakthrough, all the more potent for the meticulousness he had brought to the piece up to that point. And it was just as rewarding, midway through the festival, to witness soprano Sarah Brailey and pianist Lynn Baker negotiate the stylistic shifts and emotional dynamics of art-songs by Schoenberg, Kurt Weill and Charles Ives, a lustrously uneasy version of the iconic The Housatonic At Stockbridge as a centerpiece.