Big Time Sensuality

I’ve experienced a stellar week of live performances here in New York, starting on Monday night at Madison Square Garden. Björk, joined by Wonderbrass and other special guests such as Min Xiao-Fen and Antony, delivered an amazing show. She belted out better-than-the-album versions of the soaring “Hyperballad” and chant-like “Declare Independence.” And who could have guessed that tunes sweetened with string orchestras in the studio, like “Jóga,” would actually sound good arranged for brass choir? But it was her performance of “Pluto”—a song well acquainted with the skip button on my CD player—that totally blew me away. It reinforced my belief that some pieces, no matter how well-recorded, just translate better live. (Someone’s camera phone managed to capture a minute of “Pluto,” but not the lung-pounding climax unfortunately. No lie, Björk is an amazing singer, but you really had to be there to experience the energy.)

The following evening my ears were treated to the final scene of Einstein on the Beach, as well as great performances by Theo Bleckmann and Carla Kihlstedt, both of whom played their own compositions. All of this was part of the MATA festival’s annual fundraiser, which felt like a new music love-in. Although I’m reaching saturation point, I’m planning to attend tonight’s installment of Darmstadt: Classics of the Avant-Garde. The gig features Blarvuster—think bagpipe-driven rock inspired by Balinese gamelan, but fun. The perfect wedding band if the mariachis are all booked up.

All of these concerts represent radically different modes of listener engagement, from shake-yer-ass and scream along to hushed contemplation of each exacting timbre. As a music creator, I think it’s important to immerse myself in both extremes and everything in between. I wish the uncontrollable excitement of a rock concert could be bottled and sprinkled over a decidedly more restrained Carnegie Hall affair. Of course I’d feel ridiculous jumping around during a William Bolcom piece, but it might be fun to give it a try before being shushed by some guy in a bowtie. Actually, I do vaguely remember a Brooklyn Philharmonic gig where a youngster was completely elated by a Steve Reich piece. Heck, I’ll take an uninhibited appreciative freak-out over a standing ovation anytime.

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