A Hauntingly Thrilling Performance by One of the World’s Foremost Composer-Performers

by delarue

Saturday night in Manhattan, the ultimate place to be for music was at Merkin Concert Hall, where one of the world’s most distinctively brilliant composer-performers, Missy Mazzoli, put on a spellbinding show. Even better, the concert was recorded and will air and stream at a future date on John Schaefer’s New Sounds Live on WNYC..

The famous press quote about Mazzoli is that she’s New York’s Mozart, but her work has much more in common with Bartok, with a bristling, sometimes stark, sometimes downright harrowing interweave.

Mazzoli is a band person. Watching her elegant, terse phrasing on a concert grand piano, from a comfortable auditorium seat, was in many ways 180 degrees from seeing her do the same thing on her trusty Nord Electro at the kind of dodgy Williamsburg industrial spaces where her art-rock group Victrola used to play over a decade ago. They would soon change their name to Victoire, put out a great album….and then Mazzoli would go on to a fearsome career as a composer of darkly historical new opera, among other things.

She set a tone of persistent, pensive unease with her dynamic opening number, A Thousand Tongues, ranging from dusky horizontality to moments of gritty insistence and occasional white-knuckle franticness. Again, Mazzoli was abetted by the mixer – she has a vast library of samples, and employs them orchestrally – as well as by her longtime Victoire bandmate, violinist Olivia De Prato. The two made a mini-suite out of Tooth and Nail, Vespers for Violin and Orrizonte, shifting from broodingly sparse interludes, to starry stillness and more creepily kinetic phrasing, De Prato expertly enhancing the enigmatic haze with her ghostly harmonics, microtonally swooping accents and occasional slashing flurry of notes. Mazzoli wound up the set with the viscerally aching, persistent modal gloom of A Song for Mick Kelly, De Prato adding textures from a wintry whisper to a rather savage coda.

This concert was part of the ongoing mostly-monthly Ecstatic Music series at Merkin Concert Hall. The next one, scheduled for April 2 at 7:30 PM with Canadian instrumentalists Bell Orchestre and Metropolis Ensemble; has been cancelled.