NewMusicBoxOffice: Extramusical Marketing At Its Very Best

Timberbrit

I don’t know if concert presenters are sensing a mid-season fatigue on the part of concertgoers, but March seems to be shaping up into a heavily theme-driven month for new music here in the Big Apple. Whether or not you’re a fan of these gimmicky strategies for packaging a concert, in the end it’s still all about the music, plus the marketing department gets to have a little fun, too.

Let’s kick things off with what’s being promoted under an eye-catching one-word banner: Erotica. Now that I have your attention, it appears the Fireworks ensemble is trying some PR pyrotechnics to get butts in seats, and you can’t blame them for trying something a little risqué. In the end you’re going to get treated to Frank Zappa’s G-Spot Tornado as well as the titillatingly titled Lick by Julia Wolf. Jacob Druckman’s Valentine and David del Tredici’s Sweet Gwendolyn and the Countess are paired will the classic tease Dance of the Seven Veils and a performance of Bolero which may induce visions of Bo Derek in slow-mo. Derek Bermel’s Coming Together completes the program. Ahem. Absolutely no comment. (March 7 info).

Moving right along to another PR person’s wet dream we have Timberbrit (March 16 info). That’s right, this simi-staged opera follows the turbulent life of Britney Spears and longtime friend and former lover Justin Timberlake. The way things have been shaping up for the real-life Britney, I’m sure this libretto practically wrote itself. Regardless, kudos to composer Jacob Cooper for actually doing what has probably crossed the mind of many. The lives of former Mousketeers sure make for ripe melodrama.

From the profane to the insane, we now move on to the embodiment of both realms: Let’s talk politics. Ensemble π’s The Rest is Silence program not only manages to spoof Alex Ross’s catchphrase, it delivers the U.S. premiere of Frederic Rzewski’s Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier. Other politically motivated fare includes John Harbison’s Abu Ghraib and a new piece for two voices and computer-generated sound called Far From Home by Kristin Norderval. Ensemble π continues to assert its political bent by performing Shostakovich’s second piano trio and portions of South African animation artist William Kentridge’s 9 Drawings for Projection, which traces his country’s transition from apartheid to democracy. It will be screened paired with a live performance of fellow countryman Philip Miller’s score (March 1 info).

Roscoe Mitchell
Roscoe Mitchell

My favorite extramusical ploy this month comes from Berkeley, California, and involves fine gastronomical pleasures. As if to prove that the San Francisco Bay Area still houses the nation’s largest coterie of tree-hugging hippies, shakuhachi guru extraordinaire Philip Gelb pairs creative music with local, seasonal, not to mention organic, vegan cuisine. This month, his privately hosted series welcomes AACM legend Roscoe Mitchell (March 1). So if the handmade tempeh and tofu doesn’t leave your mouth watering (the menu includes flavorful touches like maitake mushrooms and sichuan peppercorns—zing!), the homemade cashew-based ice cream dessert should do the job. If you can’t make it to this show, check Gelb’s MySapce page for upcoming concert-cum-dinner party delicacies.

Thankfully, not all the marketing mavens have been taking serious doses of thematic-laden steroids. There are many straight-up gigs worth checking out in March. In fact, those hippies over there in Fog City are going to have to choose between this year’s Other Minds festival (March 6 – 8 info), now in its thirteen iteration, and the brand-spanking-new upstart POW! (March 6 – 8 info), a so-called performance art mini-festival. Even though Other Minds is now officially a teenager, you’ll probably get more smart-alecky talkback from the new kid on the block—if that’s what you’re into. To make the decision even harder, SF JAZZ kicks off its spring season with a program called Orchestral Innovators featuring Travis Sullivan’s Björkestra and the Realistic Orchestra (March 6 info). Not too far down the road is the Sacramento Sound Art Festival, as well (March 7 and 8 info). Luckily, the all-day Switchboard Music Festival seems to be running unopposed, so far (March 30 info).

Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys
Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys

For a modern day, burlesque-tinged take on gesamtkunstwerk, head to Framingham, Massachusetts, for the Carnal Carnival featuring Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys, Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band, and troupes of hula-hoopers, belly dancers, jugglers, etc. (March 1 info). This year’s SXSW festival in Austin is going to be a lot of fun, too. Guitarist C E Whalen and the guys from So Percussion will bang out some Steve Reich tunes (March 12). The following day the composer will be interviewed by Thurston Moore at the Convention Center as part of the conference component (March 13 info).

There’s an interesting mini-festival of music happening in Chicago in conjunction with The Renaissance Society’s exhibition of work by Trisha Donnelly. She’s been known to work in the mediums of sound and performance in the past, but she has a knack for keeping folks in the art world guessing. However the show turns out, the Millennium Chamber Players take over the gallery to play some works by well-know modernists and younger folks like Carmel Raz, Sarah Ritch, and Ayaka Nishina (March 16 info). Then, local improv outfit Noamnesia is joined by Rome-based Ossatura to shake things up (March 18 info). But if you want your sound art experience more far flung, pack your bags for South Africa to hangout with Brandon LaBelle and a pack of other sonic luminaries for Fear of the Known—Unyazi Extreme Listening Festival and Symposium 2008 (March 12 – 16 info).

Ezra Laderman
Ezra Laderman

Sure, the Elliott Carter centennial celebrations are already out of the gates, but it’s also time to celebrate the 20th anniversary of composer Ezra Laderman’s arrival at Yale. Faculty, students, and alumni musicians descend upon Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall to perform works by their esteemed mentor, including the New York premiere of Interior Landscapes II for two pianos, composed last year. The university is planning a free downloadable podcast for the occasion, as well (available here). But if it’s Carter you crave, I’d suggest a gig in Philadelphia. Network for New Music has gathered ten pieces dedicated to American music’s patriarch by an impressive range of fellow composers that includes Milton Babbitt, Uri Caine, Jeffery Cotton, Alvin Curran, Jeremy Gill, Jennifer Higdon, Jeffrey Mumford, Augusta Read Thomas, Maurice Wright, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Interspersed with other pieces by Carter, this program should prove quite a workout for pianists Marilyn Nonken and Stephen Gosling (March 2 info).

Feldman fans in North Carolina take note, this one is going to make your year. Morty’s rockin’ Patterns in a Chromatic Field is being performed by the unflappable Charles Curtis on cello with Aleck Karis at the ivories (March 22 info). The same pair recorded the piece for Tzadik a few years back, so they’ve got the 80-plus minute tune under their fingers. It should be a great gig.

Over in New Mexico, power strips and surge protectors are being gathered up for the Santa Fe International Festival of Electroacoustic Music (March 28 and 29 info). The live concerts feature pieces by early electronics pioneer Gordon Mumma and composer/sound artist Olivia Block. Also, a sound installation by Brooklyn-based Michael Dotolo will grace the College of Santa Fe’s Atrium Sound Space as part of the festival (February 29 – April 10 info). All of us online can tune in to the broadcasted portion of the festival which takes place every Sunday evening throughout the month of March (info, tune in). Happy listening.