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NY Phil Biennial
Alex Ross | The Rest is Noise | 29 May 2013

The New York Philharmonic has found a splendid way to mark the anniversary of the Rite. No, they're not playing the piece; rather, they have announced details of the new-music Biennial, to be held in late May and early June, 2014. In a culture saturated in nostalgia for a nineteenth-century past, the Rite signaled that new visions were not only possible but essential: it commenced a reordering of the repertory and of the very mindset of the classical orchestra. I can think of no finer tribute to the spirit of the work than to focus relentlessly on the new — and the Philharmonic, to its credit, is doing so.

The main events are these: 1) an Alan Gilbert-led program that includes the world première of Christopher Rouse's Fourth Symphony, the local première of Peter Eötvös's DoReMi, and two works culled from a "national open call for scores"; 2) a Matthias Pintscher-led program with Elliott Carter's Instances (his second-to-last work), another open-call score, and Pintscher's own Reflections on Narcissus; 3) a Bang on the Can collaboration, featuring Julia Wolfe's Anthracite Fields and Steven Mackey's Dreamhouse; 4) a CONTACT! program at the Museum of Modern Art, duplicating Pintscher's Beyond Recall project, which will have its début in Salzburg this August; 5) a second CONTACT!, at the new SubCulture venue, featuring solo works by younger Americans (Oscar Bettison, Ryan Brown, Michael Hersch, Chris Kapica, Eric Nathan, Paola Prestini); 6) an Orchestra of St. Luke's event centered on the influence of Pierre Boulez, with works of Holliger, Mantovani, Dalbavie, and Manoury; 7) a second St. Luke's concert, this one centered on George Benjamin, with works of Colin Matthews, Helen Grime, and Ryan Wigglesworth; 8) a staged production of HK Gruber's Gloria—a pigtale; 9) a Gotham Chamber Opera Poe double-bill of Toshio Hosokawa's The Raven and André Caplet's Conte fantastique; 10) a Marino Fromenti recital, centered on contemporary echoes of Liszt; 11) the American Composers Orchestra Underwood New Music Readings, now under the Biennial umbrella; 12) a Special Music High School / Face the Music program focusing on very young composers, alongside Vijay Iyer and Huang Ruo; and 13) and another event focused on elementary and middle-school composers.

What I like about this undertaking — the Philharmonic's most ambitious effort on behalf of new music since Jacob Druckman's Horizons festivals of the 1980s — is its concentrated time-frame. It has the potential to break out of the classical ghetto and into the consciousness of cultured New Yorkers. While there are a fair number of familiar names in the programs, the open-call scheme creates an opportunity for real discoveries. I also like the interlacing of European and American new-music worlds, which too often stand apart, and the collaborative atmosphere, with various institutions large and small (Lincoln Center, Juilliard, MoMA, the Met Museum, the 92nd St. Y, St. Luke's, Gotham, Bang on a Can, the ACO, the Kaufman Center) brought into the mix. Women are underrepresented, but they are not invisible. In all, this is a significant step forward for the orchestra.