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Queens Chronicle

The ‘new music’ you won’t hear on the radio

Queens New Music Festival brings contemporary-classical artists together to celebrate the borough

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Posted: Thursday, May 16, 2013 10:30 am

When you search “New Music” on Google, the results are overwhelming. New hip-hop, pop, Latin, new wave, classical and other genres are listed for what seems to be an infinite number of pages. But while none of these genres are new music, they aren’t entirely wrong either, as the new music genre cannot be confined or compared to any other music type.

New music is classical, in that many composers write for violin, piano or flute, but it is also pop in that it uses electronic sounds and riffs; even still, it is also opera, rock, hip-hop and other music types.

The definition of “new music” is quite muddled and yet it is — and has been — a developing culture, a culture that will be showcased at the 2nd Annual Queens New Music Festival starting May 16.

“New music, quite simply, is music of our time,” said Patrick Castillo, a composer for one of the performances at the festival, said. “Genrefication is sort of dissolving.”

“The idea was to only have new work,” said Allen Schulz, co-founder of Random Access Music, the group of Queens-based composers hosting the festival. “So a group can’t just come in playing Beethoven. We wanted group performances to be by all living composers in classical style.”

The origin of the New Music Festival came about after one too many trips across the river to Manhattan.

“There is a whole group of classical-style musicians and composers living and working in Queens, but we rarely perform here,” Schulz said. “In every one of those groups, we talk about there being no venues in Queens. In the rest of the city on any given night, you can go listen to music in Manhattan or Brooklyn but you can never do that here, which is where the idea for the festival came about.” The festival will run through May 19 with nine groups performing in total.

“When we curated the event, we asked people to send in proposals,” Schulz said. “We got at least 50 proposals and culled it down to nine. Diversity was the main key in choosing the nine but artistic quality as well. We didn’t want four or five groups that played the same kind of music.”

One of the nine, the Brooklyn-based Two Sides Sounding, will explore life in Brooklyn and Queens in a multimedia performance entitled “BrooklynQueens Expressway.”

“I was thinking about the connection of the two boroughs and Daniel Neer [the lyricist] was thinking of writing a new piece,” Two Sides Sounding co-founder and vocalist Eleanor Taylor said.

Neer partnered up with composer Robinson McClellan to create a 30-minute ode to the expressway that connects the neighboring boroughs. The group, which was founded in 2005, will also perform two pieces in response to Hurricane Sandy.

“We have one called ‘Far Rockaway’ and another called ‘Red Hook’,” Taylor said. “Chandler Carter composed “Far Rockaway” and it’s based on a poem written by Daniel Neer. It’s a beautiful poem and has kind of a lullaby feel to it.”

In addition to these pieces, Two Sides Sounding will perform Tom Cipullo’s “G is for Grimy: An Ode to the G Train,” Eric Moe’s “Rapid Transit” and Gabriel Kahane’s “Coney Island Avenue” on May 18 starting at 1 p.m.

One of the more unexpected groups is the Kaufman Music Center’s Face the Music, an alt-classical ensemble of more than 115 kids from in and around the city. For the festival, three string quartets — the Face the Music Quartet, the Pannonia Quartet and the Sorpresa Quartet — will perform May 17 at 8 p.m.

“If you think about the simplicity of pop music, there is always a techno kind of beat,” Irene Chun, a cellist in the Pannonia Quartet, said. “That beat is a bit more obvious in that style and the fact that you’re incorporating the new technology, like with David Guetta, you don’t have to be experienced in classical music to appreciate new music because it’s so unique.”

Chun, who joined Face the Music when she was in sixth grade, is from Flushing and now in eighth grade. Along with the other musicians, she will play a stream of constant sixteenth notes where, instead of the beat time running at the standard “one, two, three,” it goes at a much faster, “one-e-and-a, two-e-and-a, three e-and-a.”

On May 19 at 1 p.m., Castillo is performing with violinist and fiancÈe Karen Kim and poet Keno Evol for a program inspired by the avante garde composer John Cage’s work.

The trio first performed together at an experimental salon in Minneapolis, where they reside.

Staying true to Cage’s form, in addition to live music, the performance will include pre-composed fragments, found sounds and live audio processing systems.

“Every day we have these magical experiences,” Castillo said. “There will be a street musician playing Bob Dylan and then a car horn going off that just happens to go well with the G chord in the song. I don’t think that diminishes the music in any way. All of these things integrate into this miraculous moment. To create that kind of experience, seeing how that changes experience is endlessly interesting.”

Among others, Evol will perform his poem “The Violins Who Were Blind When the Thunderstorms Hit,” a piece that explores God, life and their meanings, accompanied by Kim on violin.

“The spoken word piece has shape-shifted a few times; different violinists approached it in different ways,” Castillo said. “When we put this together, we just sort of decided to let him do his thing and Karen do her thing.”

Passes for the entire weekend or a single day are available online in addition to tickets for an individual performance and at the door.

Queens New Music Fest

When: May 16-May 19, times vary.

Where: Queens Secret Theater, 44-02 23rd Street

Tickets: prices vary

queensnewmusicfestival.org

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