New Music Festival Introduces Sounds of a New Century

The brand new SONiC (Sounds of a New Century) festival is an ambitious debut on the music scene that counts rock stars among its orchestral composers and robotics in scores that will be both heard and seen.

Representing what a new generation of composers are doing in the first decade of the 21st century, this nine-day collage is curated by composer Derek Bermel and pianist Stephen Gosling and produced by New York’s American Composers Orchestra.

The orchestra has been an advocate for emerging composers since 1977 and in 2010, snapped up George Manahan as music director and conductor after his 13 years at New York City Opera, which was known for presenting many 20th century works.

Bermel, a creative advisor to American Composers Orchestra, keeps his ear to the ground for new sounds and aims to disabuse audiences of the notion that composers are dead, white males.

“When Mozart was alive, music was about the living,” he pointed out, and went on to estimate that a quarter to a third of the composers in the festival are women. SONiC is also tuned in to a relatively young heartbeat — all 120 composers featured are age 40 or younger.

The festival organizers hope audiences realize that music — like art, film and any other creative medium — is a reflection of what’s happening in society. Globalization and a disregard for genres is reflected in the kick-off Carnegie Hall concert on Oct. 14, “21st Firsts,” when the American Composers Orchestra will perform works for amplified viola (Kenji Bunch), electronics (Alex Temple) and the ancient Chinese instrument, the Qin, in a multimedia work Wang Lu conceived for video and orchestra.

WATCH VIDEO: Composer Kenji Bunch

Kenji Bunch on his new work, “The Devil’s Box”, and why 19th century American preachers referred to the violin as such.Video courtesy of the SONiC festival

Audiences can choose sets at Extended Play, a 12-hour marathon on Oct. 16 at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, hosted by JACK Quartet, which performs throughout the day. While New Yorkers can drop in on this renown quartet at local haunts such as Le Poisson Rouge and The Kitchen in addition to Carnegie Hall, European audiences catch them in recital halls and opera houses such as London’s Wigmore Hall, or with legendary pianist Maurizio Pollini at Berlin’s Staatsoper Unter den Linden and Milan’s Teatro alla Scala.

“Tractus” (2001) score for ensemble and robots. Courtesy of Victor Adán.

Talea Ensemble will present perhaps the marathon’s most unusual world premiere, Tractus (2011). To create the work for ensemble and remote-controlled robots, the Mexican composer collaborated with robotics engineer and installation artist Douglas Repetto, a professor at Columbia and founder of Dorkbot. As Talea Enemble performs alongside four ten-foot by 4-foot transparent canvases, the robots will paint them in response to the music.

LISTEN:Schisma” by composer Victor Adán; the Talea Ensemble will perform the world premiere of Adán’s “Tractus” (2011) on Oct. 16. [powerpress]

Fans who missed Radiohead’s surprise New York appearances at Roseland or those who were riveted by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s spine-tingling score for “There Will Be Blood” will not want to miss the ensemble Either/Or’s performance of Greenwood’s “smear,” which features two ondes martenots, the oldest electronic instrument, which like the theremin, was patented in 1928.

WATCH VIDEO: Jonny Greenwood’s “Smear”

The ensemble Either/Or will perform the U.S. premiere of Jonny Greenwood’s “smear” on Oct. 17. YouTube/DiGioN83

Like any new festival seeking to gain audiences for non-mainstream material, SONiC also includes an evening so accessible as to dub it American Pie. The free finale evening in the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden will be hosted by WNYC’s John Schaefer. Guitarists and twin brothers Bryce and Aaron Dessner of the Brooklyn indie rock group, The National, join the American Composers Orchestra to perform St. Carolyn by the Sea, a new orchestral work by Bryce Dessner inspired by Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur.

WATCH VIDEO: Composer Bryce Dessner

The National’s Bryce Dessner, who has written works for the American Composers Orchestra and for the Grammy Award-winning Brooklyn Youth Chorus, speaks about composing for orchestras. Video courtesy of the SONiC festival


MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.


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