A crowded schedule that's worth the effort, from Anthony Braxton to Portishead to Anna Netrebko to Philip Glass
There’s too much to hear: that’s the first empirical fact to absorb about the coming music season in New York. From a consumer perspective the problem is compounded by the amount of effort it can take to see just the best stuff: tickets purchased online weeks or months in advance, forcing you to tick a date on the calendar when you really have no idea what work will have in store for you that day; or else the intellectual endurance required while trekking to the same venue over the course of multiple nights to see a single cycle of performances. Who has the time to plan for such extravagances, let alone commit them?
These obstacles, among others, are why we can start to sleepwalk through the season. Sometimes the path of least resistance means being dragged to something only when someone calls you with an extra ticket. Even music critics do this; listen hard in the lobby of the Metropolitan Opera during intermission, and you can hear one writer humble-bragging to another about something that practically nobody else made it out to hear but was brilliant (and the other writer kicking himself). But that’s the other side of this embarrassment-of-riches deal: if you make the effort to think ahead, the city’s musical culture tends to reward you handsomely.
What follows is a list of engagements—from rap to jazz to opera and onto the unclassifiable—that require a bit of forethought to attend, but that also stand a good chance of being the things you’ll talk everyone’s ear off about during the holiday season.
This weekend’s 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks has kicked local institutions and artists into commemorative and/or contemplative action. (The free-to-see aspect of these events augurs for early arrival, in all cases.) The New York Philharmonic will play Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”) at Lincoln Center on Saturday evening. Tickets will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis at the box office beginning at 4 p.m.—though the expected overflow-crowd will watch and listen to the performance via a multimedia hookup in Lincoln Plaza.
On Sunday, the commemoration day itself, composer Daniel Felsenfeld has organized an ambitious full-day marathon of music at the Joyce Soho. Laurie Anderson, Justin V. Bond, Nico Muhly (among many, many others) are set to perform. (You can donate to offset the costs of the project, too.)
If you feel like sneaking out mid-day, you should head to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to hear Wordless Music’s presentation of William Basinski’s “The Disintegration Loops.” This work, originally created by playing compromised analog tapes over and over until they actually fell apart, was conceived in the direct aftermath of the attacks, though it will now be brought to life by live musicians—another take on the symphony as resurrection. (A live webcast will be carried by WNYC.)
Miller Theater mounts a sneak attack on the “new music” classical calendar the very next week. Before the official season opens at the New York Philharmonic and Brooklyn Academy of Music, the small venue at Columbia University is presenting the U.S. premiere of a mammoth piece by the radically complex James Dillon. His “Nine Rivers” cycle—almost 30 years in the composing—premiered this Spring to raves in the U.K., under the auspices of the BBC, after several prior cancellations plagued the composer’s ambitious video-art-infused project (which is scored for over 50 musicians). Instead of the originally intended three-hour plus marathon, Miller is presenting "Nine Rivers" over the course of three nights. (The small theater has to completely retrofit its stage to accommodate each evening’s requirements.) Ticket packages for all three nights are still available, as are single night-sales, though this event seems destined to have one of those long, night-of “standby” lines, in which laggard planners pray for ticket buyers to magically fail to show.
The All Tomorrow’s Parties festival crew returns to America, and specifically the East Coast, at the end of September. This serial, weekend-long festival has established its aesthetic bona fides on several fronts, and on multiple continents, over the last decade. Unimpeachable artists curate the roster across multiple stages, in addition to headlining (this time the duties are being executed by Portishead), while, in between the bands, the audience is subjected to absolutely zero in the way of corporate-sponsor hucksterism. The Friday-Saturday-Sunday package at Asbury Park, New Jersey runs around $250 this year, which sounds like a lot by pop music standards, until you realize how much a value each day is. Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum is playing sets on two nights (the better to make sure all fans are accommodated).
Public Enemy—still an act to be reckoned with live and in the studio (check their formidable 2007 album, How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?)—will play Fear of a Black Planet in its entirety. Company Flow and Ultramagnetic MCs fill out the fest’s hip-hop cred, while post-punk/indie hero Steve Albini’s longtime (and, yes, best-ever) band, Shellac, will make a rare local appearance. (Shellac will also play a one-off show at Brooklyn’s Bell House on the sidelines of A.T.P.) There are always surprises and new discoveries to be made at A.T.P., as well: the avant-rock/free-jazz power trio led by genius session guitarist Marc Ribot (he plays on all your favorite Tom Waits records) will be there, auditioning for the larger public they deserve. All that, plus you get the chance to shack up with lovers and/or friends in a local hotel room for a weekend.
Hurry back to New York after that, though: a promising new production of The Threepenny Opera opens at B.A.M. on Oct. 4. Musical theater and opera types (and film directors like G.W. Pabst) have waged a nearly-century-long battle over how to define this stage-piece-with-music written by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. Is it an opera, a musical, a play with songs? Experimental theater mainstay Robert Wilson is capable of blowing the debate open to an entirely new dimension.
There are some other familiar names during B.A.M.’s season-long Next Wave festival—for example, John Hurt in Krapp’s Last Tape by Samuel Beckett—but the sleeper hit of the whole thing could be the November-bowing multimedia performance piece Brooklyn Babylon, for which the painter Danijel Zezelj will work the stage like a canvas while the Secret Society big band led by Grammy-nominated composer Darcy James Argue premieres his latest compositions.
Speaking of pandemonium in Brooklyn, the scrappy venue Roulette relocates, this season, to crisp new digs in the borough from its (somewhat dingy) former location in Manhattan. The grand unveiling/reopening happens in September, with performances by Lou Reed and others—but the most Roulette-y happening of the fall looks to be a four-night festival of works by composer Anthony Braxton, from Oct. 5-8. Improvisation, dance, and sundry other disciplines will, properly, be part of this survey of an American composer who recognizes no boundaries. The highlight, though, should be a partial presentation of the Braxton experimental opera Trillium J on October 8th.
Of course there’s “regular” opera to be excited about, too. Anna Netrebko will open the Met’s season this year as the title character in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena. The soprano had a hit with the same composer’s Don Pasquale last year. Though this Tudor-centric piece is tragic as opposed to comic, Netrebko’s stage-animal quality will likely project all the way to the big house’s back rows once again. (Speaking of which: if you’ve never been to the opera before and want to start with something in the standard repertory, you could do much worse than claiming one of those inexpensive Family Circle seats for this run, or else a standing-room ticket, on the day of any performance.) Information and tickets are here.
But the most exciting revival of the Met’s season comes in November. Philip Glass’s opera about Gandhi, Satyagraha, was a predictable hit with critics and a surprise hit with sold-out audiences the last time it appeared here. Both the Donizetti and the Glass operas will be presented in movie theaters in New York and around the world, as part of the Met’s “Live in HD” series. If tickets sell out for the live experience, the movie theater experience can be a rewarding (and cost-effective) substitute.
November also brings the season's most important operatic world premiere. Nico Muhly's first big stage work, Two Boys, premiered to a good deal of global chatter in London this summer—and will arrive locally at the Met in the 2013 season. Until then, we have Muhly Operatic Opus No. 2 to tide us over: "Dark Sisters" will hit Gotham Chamber Opera starting Nov. 9th.
Finally, as something of a respite from events and shows that require long-range planning, we have The Stone. There are no advance ticket sales here; you just show up. As I wrote earlier this week, star violinist Hilary Hahn will be making her first appearance at John Zorn’s assertively casual black box space for creative music exploration in October. But she’s hardly that month’s only draw at the venue where most sets are a mere $10 cover. Vernon Reid, ex-guitar mastermind of Living Colour, plays in a jazzier but no less intense context on Oct. 1. Mary Halvorson, one of our leading next-gen guitar visionaries, brings her critically acclaimed quintet on Oct. 14th. Late in the month, drone-based composer David First makes a rare appearance in New York. (His first band, The Notekillers, inspired a young Thurston Moore to start playing in bands, in the late '70s.) And one of the season’s most promising jazz dates would have to be when MacArthur genius Jason Moran sits down to play The Stone’s Yamaha on December 11th. (Again, you can’t buy tickets for this intimate club date, so you might want to show up an hour ahead of time and queue up outside.) Get everything you need to plan it here.
Other dates are bound to pop up as the season gets underway and further announcements are made—that’s the inevitability of New York in the fall. Tom Waits has a new record out in October, for one thing. Will New York receive a secret, week-of-release show from the infrequent but storied performer? Impossible to say (and the relevant publicists have been immune to my pestering so far). But even if that does happen, gaining entry to that show will take way more in the way of effort than figuring out how to make time for some of the city’s more out-of-the-way experiences. The regular calendar of this town will take care of you, even when it intimidates.