Last week at New Music USA we had the pleasure of hosting Michalis Karakatsanis, Director of the Cyprus Music Information Centre, as part of the Office Exchange Program of the International Association of Music Information Centres (IAMIC). Through this program—which, you may recall, is what enabled me to travel to Germany and to Norway—guests spend a week learning about how their colleagues work and are immersed into the host country’s (or, at least, the host city’s) new music culture. When I went to Germany, I stretched my experiences as far as I could by travelling to the Donaueschinger Musiktage after a week crammed full of meetings and concerts in Bonn and Cologne plus a brief side trip to Dusseldorf. In Norway, however, I stayed in Oslo the whole time; there was a ton to do there and I barely scratched the surface. In the previous exchanges I’ve coordinated for visitors from Poland, Belgium, and Germany, it was sometimes possible to work in jaunts to other cities along the Northeast Corridor. In an ideal world, I’d love to be able to send an exchange guest off to the Twin Cities as well as to various places along the West Coast. But the United States is a big country and the logistics as well as the finances for such excursions would be a hurdle.
This time we stuck to New York City, but, as per usual, it turned out to be a pretty packed week nevertheless. In addition to having Michalis spend time with everyone on our team, to get a better sense of what we do, as well as witness an entire grant panel from start to finish, I shepherded him around to meetings with a variety of music organizations, and filled his ears with live new American music almost every night in as many formats as possible given the limited time of his visit. On his docket were performances by a chorus, a jazz quartet, indie rock bands, and several different chamber groups. Thanks to the generosity of the groups and/or the venues in which they were performing, he was able to attend these events for free.
In the original plan, he was scheduled to arrive here a few weeks earlier, and I’m disappointed that he wasn’t here to hear the American Composers Orchestra’s most recent concert which offered such a wide range of what composers in this country are writing for the orchestra as well as one of the classics of our repertoire—Charles Ives’s Third Symphony. Thankfully, however, the original plan fell through and he missed Hurricane Sandy and its immediate aftermath. That said, it was disheartening that there were no orchestral performances of American music in New York City last week. The New York Philharmonic was doing a Brahms marathon. And although the Cleveland Orchestra, which was visiting Carnegie Hall, did a new work, it was by German composer Matthias Pintscher. Since Pintscher now lives in New York City—he moved here in 2008—he could technically qualify as an American composer, but since he already had a firmly established reputation in Europe before he emigrated, it seemed more appropriate to take my European guest to hear music by composers he would not have previously been exposed to.
It was a whirlwind. Every evening there were several equally viable options to choose from. On Monday night, I took him to Roulette to hear Face The Music, a group comprising young musicians from elementary to high school age who exclusively perform the music of living composers. While I was floored by their performance of the Fifth String Quartet of Philip Glass (admittedly a composer whom Michalis had heard of before), I was blown away by their inclusion of a work by 11-year-old composer named Abe Gold who not only crafted some extremely inventive sonic depictions of life in New York City, but also wowed the audience with comments before his performance in which he described being inspired by the recent Cindy Sherman exhibition at MoMA. The Metropolis Ensemble has also performed Gold’s music this year, but this was the first time I had heard any of it. I’m eager to hear more.
On Tuesday, Michalis went to hear Sybarite5, winners of the 2011 Concert Artist Guild competition, perform premieres by Mohammed Fairouz, Dan Visconti, and Francis Schwartz for their Carnegie Hall debut at Zankel Hall. On Wednesday he wanted a night off to connect with a friend who is now living here, but on Thursday night the regime continued with the Da Capo Chamber Players at Merkin Concert Hall. They played music by Charles Wuorinen, Michael Gordon, Anna Clyne, Christopher Theofanidis, Elliott Carter, and Steve Reich. On Friday night, to make up for lost time, I took him to two concerts. First was a performance of all new unaccompanied choral works by C4, the Choral Composer-Conductor Collective at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields. This performance also afforded me an opportunity to tell him about and give him a recording of Wuorinen’s Mass which was composed to inaugurate the reopening of the church after a serious fire in the early 1980s. (It was one of 42 CDs I wrangled up for him to take back to Nicosia, which hopefully will cover some of the ground that we were unable to cover in person at live performances.) Then, we went to the Village Vanguard to catch the late set of the Greg Osby Quartet. On Saturday, some other colleagues of mine arranged for him to attend the Dither Quartet’s marathon at the Invisible Dog Arts Center, and then Grace Potter and The Nocturnals plus the Stepkids at The Beacon Theatre; these groups are not yet on my own musical radar but I love the Beacon. I still remember the first time I was there, more than 30 years ago, to hear Chinese opera. At the time it seemed a fait accompli that this beautiful venue was slated to be torn down and replaced by a fast food fried chicken emporium. Luckily, that birdbrained plan was averted.
But now Michalis is back home and life here returns to normal—well, my version of normal, which admittedly is actually not all that different from the week he was with us. A lot of ground was covered, but inevitably a lot was left out. If you were given the task of hosting someone for a week and introducing that person to American music, what would you include? What would you leave out? I would appreciate the input since I hope to be doing this again next year!