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Uncanny Songs

Before she moved to London as a third-year undergraduate student less than a decade ago, Na’ama Zisser had never even been to the opera. This week sees the production of her very own, “Mamzer Bastard,” by London’s Royal Opera House at the Hackney Empire. Taking place within an orthodox Hasidic community and featuring Jewish cantorial […]

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A Memory of Violence

The Berlin-based, American composer Mark Barden writes music that is both technically refined and irresistibly gripping. He has an ear for rhythmic propulsion and microtonal chords that make sense and sound beautiful without falling into Spectral stereotypes. I met him one afternoon at his apartment in Sonnenallee, a wide Berlin avenue full of falafel shops […]

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How Things Align

I met the composer Raven Chacon one afternoon in the library of the American Academy in Berlin, where he is currently a fellow. Normally based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Chacon creates stereophonic, tactile music, as well as sound and visual installations. Over coffee, we talked about small town touring, the definition of composing, and negotiations […]

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“I’m a happy woman, I’m a happy woman.” Meredith Monk’s sudden singsong was the first and only instance of actual words to be heard throughout an evening of vocal sound. This interlude, in which Monk’s voice was accompanied by soft piano chords, was one of the most touching segments of a Monk work that I […]

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Degrees of Density

“99 percent of the day, we are in the thinking mode,” Peter Ablinger tells me across a table in the lobby of our hotel in Bergen. “And in opposition to that, if we decide now to be silent for a few seconds. Just…” His voice drifts off and he raises his eyebrows in anticipation. For […]

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Constructed Deconstruction

In four separate, darkened rooms sit five performers. One prepared piano, a Hardanger fiddle, clarinet, and guitar with electronics. It’s a chamber concert for wanderers, with each instrument piped into the other rooms via wires and speakers. The format has been exploded, and while the fragmentary sounds of Stephen Mediell’s “Metrics,” which they’re performing, are […]

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Weather Systems

I’m on the train to Hamburg, listening to Nico Muhly’s opera “Two Boys” and struggling to form an opinion about it. Some of the composition sounds plain to my ears, and the lines of the detective, sung with wide vibrato, sound a little silly, but there are also gorgeous choral moments. In interviews, Muhly frequently […]

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Sensual Narratives

The music of Jay Schwartz is hedonistic. You listen to it, and when you’re finished you can’t wait to listen to it again. His SoundCloud page becomes an almost physical addiction. It envelopes you in shimmering glissandi of infinite complexity, teases you with the briefest glimpses of tonal intervals, and rewards you with the endorphin […]