Tonight marks the kick-off of MusicNOW, an adventurous weekend of music that was started in 2006 by Cincinnati native and guitarist for successful Indie Rock band The National, Bryce Dessner. The festival's mission is "to present the best in contemporary music; to offer artists' an opportunity to take risks; to commission new work."
That's a fair but lacking description of the festival, but only because the programming isn't bounded by much other than the desire to explore. MusicNOW has showcased numerous flavors of World music, often new avant Chamber/Classical works, a "who's who" of the top names in "Indie" music (Sufjan Stevens, St. Vincent, The National, Bon Iver, Andrew Bird, Grizzly Bear), a few legends (Philip Glass, Kronos Quartet) and newer and/or more obscure artists, meshing together to offer Cincinnati music fans (and the many who come in from out of town) a truly unique musical experience. Sold out audiences have seen one-off performances and collaborations, including commissioned works and world premieres.
Below is a sampling of some of the artists featured this weekend — though with MusicNOW's encouragement of experimentalism, take it as merely a surface introduction. The artists will more likely go beyond any pigeonhole you can come up with, which is the best thing about MusicNOW.
• Tonight's kick-off is headlined by Anti- recording artists Tinariwen, a Malian ensemble whose creative North African sounds resulted in a Grammy in 2012 for its fifth album, Tassili. Read CityBeat's interview with Tinariwen founder Ibrahim Ag Alhabib (via translated email exchange) here.
Here's the official video for Tassili track "Iswegh Attay" (with translation!):
• Arcade Fire member Richard Reed Parry has been a part of several MusicNOW festivals, composing commissioned works and playing with bands like Little Scream and Bell Orchestre. This year, Reed Parry will perform the songs of his Indie Folk project, Quiet River of Dust. The project made it's live debut at the National-curated All Tomorrow's Parties fest in the U.K. late last year (where Reed Parry performed three very different sets) and a recording is presently in the works. A review from the music blog Let's Get Cynical described it as "a quirky and engaging performance – the first song I hear is about a boy who gets lost at sea and turns into a fish, if you want some sort of indication of what we’re working with. The fact that this is the trio’s first ever show also highlights ATP as the kind of festival where you get to see things you don’t get anywhere else." Kinda like MusicNOW.
• Rounding out tonight's opener is Buse and Gase, the Brooklyn duo of Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez, who make trippy avant grade music on various handmade instruments. The group name actually comes from two of those instruments — the "buke" is described as a "six-string baritone ukulele" and the "gase" is a guitar/bass guitar combo.
Here's Buse and Gase's official clip for the tune "General Dome."
• Saturday's headliner is MusicNOW 2013's most known performer, Glen Hansard. The Irish singer/songwriter began catching attention as a member of the group The Frames, then broke out on his own and won an Academy Award for "Best Original Song" in 2008 for "Falling Slowly" from the film Once, in which he also starred. Hansard's first solo album, Rhythm and Repose, was released last summer on the Anti- label (album bonus track "Come Away to the Water" was, oddly enough, covered by Maroon 5 and Rozzi Crane on the soundtrack to the blockbuster film The Hunger Games).
Here's the video for "High Hope" off of Hansard's solo debut.
• Saturday will also feature the performance of new works composed by Dessner, Reed Parry and Serbian composer Aleksanda Vreblov. The new pieces will be performed by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, which has collaborated with everyone from the New York Philharmonic and Cincinnati native (and Jazz piano master) Fred Hersch to Lou Reed, Barbara Streisand and Talib Kweli. The organization works often with composers on new pieces.
Here's a clip of Dessner working with the Chorus on the piece "Tell the Way" in 2011.
The Chorus will be joined by young string ensemble The Ariel Quartet, which formed in Israel and moved to the States in 2004. Last year, the group was named "quartet-in-residence" at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. The quartet has won numerous international awards for its work and has performed all over the world. Also lending a hand with the new works is Shara Worden of MusicNOW vets My Brightest Diamond.
Below is a clip of the Ariel Quartet performing Mozart.
• Last year, music now featured pioneering composer Philip Glass. This year, Steve Reich plays the role of "legend" on the bill. The Guardian's Andrew Clements once wrote that "There's just a handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history. Steve Reich is one of them," while many others consider Reich one of the world's greatest living composers. Reich's experiments have been fearless and creatively fruitful and influential, be it his early work with tape loops or his interactive "Clapping Music," a 1972 piece performed entirely with handclaps.
Reich will join Sō Percussion for a performance of that piece and more, including a
new commission from Daníel Bjarnason (the annual Esme Kenney Commission, named for a young student from School for Creative and Performing Arts student who was murderedin 2009). The Brooklyn-based modern percussion group (featuring Eric Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski and Jason Treuting) formed about a decade ago around the collective influence of pioneering NeoClassical experimentalists like Reich, John Cage, Kronos Quartet and others. Sō has commissioned works from numerous composers and has also been acclaimed for its own compositions. Outside of the modern Classical world, the ensemble has collaborated with artists like Medeski, Martin and Wood, Matmos and Dan Deacon.
Here's a cool mini-documentary from PitchforkTV about Reich and featuring Sō Percussion.
The three days of music are held at Memorial Hall, next to Music Hall, but this year there will also be an art exhibition at another great, vintage Over-the-Rhine venue, The Emery Theatre. An exhibit of works by Nathlie Provosty and Jessie Henson will be up at the Theatre Friday, 4-7 p.m., Saturday, 12-4 p.m. and Sunday, 1-7 p.m. Bryce Dessner will perform at a "gallery party" on Sunday 4-6 p.m. The Emery happenings are free and open to the public.