For the Solstice, a Bach Appearance on the G Train

December 25th, 2012

New York became an outdoor concert hall on Friday, when Make Music Winter organized events in public spaces in the city for the winter solstice.  The next event?  The next solstice: June 21, 2013.   

‘THRU-LINE’

Brooklyn-Bound G Train

Slowly, surely, it began dawning on the G train passengers on Friday afternoon. These were not ordinary subway buskers. This was no accident. Something was going on.

For an hour musicians tag-teamed from stop to stop in the first car of the train in a continuously repeating performance of the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1.

In G.

The performance, called “Thru-Line,” started at the Court Square station in Queens heading south into Brooklyn. A musician would enter the first car and play as much of the prelude as time allowed. At the next stop the player would step off, to be replaced by someone else. The process repeated itself.

“I’m confused,” said a 15-year-old boy named Mohammed. “Why are the musicians at every stop? I’ve never seen anything like this.”

If only Mohammed had known that it was the day of Make Music Winter, the second annual winter solstice musical celebration that is an offshoot of the long-running Make Music New York event in the summer. Public events were happening around the city.

The performance in the G train was devised by the composer James Holt. No cellos were seen playing the cello suite, but it is music often transposed for other instruments. Mostly other string players took part: violinists and violists, but also several guitarists, a flutist, a harmonica and an accordion player.

Some musicians had the piece memorized. Others taped the music to a pole or door between cars or had someone hold it. Often the playing was too quiet for anyone except those nearby to hear, but the performances were usually met with a smattering of applause. Every rendition had a different tempo, and the musicians rarely reached the end of the movement before having to rush off when reaching their stops, leading to some fairly imaginative made-up endings.

Brian Krinke, a violinist and teacher, led off the proceedings, with his 6-year-old daughter, Meredith, holding the music. He hopped off at the Greenpoint Avenue station and waved to his daughter Amelia, 8, as she got on to play the prelude on the viola, a red-and-green mitten dangling from her fingering hand.

Mr. Holt declared himself satisfied. “I was trying to give riders of the subway a little gift for this hour,” he said. DANIEL J. WAKIN

‘THE GAITS’

High Line

New Yorkers love the High Line, the elevated park built on an old freight rail line on Manhattan’s Far West Side. But the High Line was a chilly place to be on Friday afternoon when the walkway was swept by wintry gusts.

Still, an intrepid group of people showed up to take part in “The Gaits,” a kind of environmental piece created by three composers, Lainie Fefferman, Jascha Narveson and Cameron Britt, along with Daniel Iglesia, who creates music and sound installations in which people and computers interact.

What they created here, as part of Make Music Winter, was a free iPhone app. Participants were given small sets of speakers that could be attached to their coats or backpacks, or held by hand. As you began the walk at the southern end of the High Line, near Gansevoort Street, your every footstep or hand twist kicked the app into action, and you heard various sounds — clinking, chimes, splashing water, car horns, chords on electric guitar and, in a novel touch, occasional rounds of applause. The idea was to walk the length of the High Line to its upper end, near 30th Street.

There were 52 sets of speakers available. But those without could hear the sounds from speakers worn by their fellow strollers. Of course conversation and other urban noise became part of the piece, something John Cage would have relished. At the end, as everyone gathered, “The Gaits” culminated in a sustained, shimmering chord, before individual apps wound down, the sounds disintegrated, and everyone headed off to find a place to warm up and maybe have some coffee. ANTHONY TOMMASINI

‘WINTERIZE’

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

The rain let up by midmorning on Friday, leaving a raw, gray noon. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden had a gloomy feel, with bare trees and windswept lawns.

Only lack of snow kept it from being the ideal scene for the baritone Christopher Dylan Herbert’s brave and, in all senses, chilling outdoor performance of Schubert’s “Winterreise.” Part of Make Music Winter, Mr. Herbert’s “Winterreise” — or “Winterize,” as the organizers called it — found a bleak setting that seemed conjured out of Wilhelm Müller’s despondent poems.

A crowd followed Mr. Herbert to locations around the garden, from a sundial to a quiet brook, as he gave an elegantly lean performance that would have been impressive in any context but was remarkable under these conditions. The audience members carried hand-held radios tuned to Timothy Long’s piano accompaniment, which had been electronically altered by Jonathan Zalben, sometimes made to sound like a fortepiano, sometimes like a celesta, sometimes like strings. (J. J. Hudson was the production’s director.)

The static of the radios, like surface noise from an old LP, added to the melancholy, as did the juxtaposition of their scratchy faintness and Mr. Herbert’s hearty yet poignantly isolated presence. Near the end of the cycle, in front of a still fountain, he flung out the final word of “Der Wegweiser” with a quiet disgust that was startling, given the performance’s intimacy. You have not truly experienced “Winterreise” until you have stood three or four feet from the singer, his breath visible in the cold. ZACHARY WOOLFE

‘GAMELAN WALK’

SoHo

On one of the more quiet cobblestoned streets in SoHo, Kiki de Montparnasse is a boutique selling upscale lingerie, bondage articles and vibrators. But around dusk on Friday afternoon a man with flowing hair and an orange jacket zipped up against the winter chill was testing vibrations of a different kind, as he tapped and pounded on the store’s cast-iron facade with the heel of his hand. After a while he bounded across the street with a satisfied smile to rejoin a small group of men and women who were also drumming on the historic cast-iron-front buildings. “That one sounds lovely,” he said with the appreciative tone of a connoisseur. “It hasn’t been painted so much as to deaden the resonance.”

All were participants in the “Gamelan Walk” organized for the second year in a row by Daniel Goode, a composer and SoHo resident, as part of Make Music Winter, which turned the 19th-century buildings into musical instruments.

Molded in cast iron to imitate the elegant Italian and French Renaissance inexpensively, the facades are bolted onto brick buildings and painted to look like stone. As a result there are hollow spaces that resonate richly when struck. Especially the rectangular panels that imitate stone effectively become self-contained resonance chambers, each with a distinctive pitch.

A group of about 20 followed Mr. Goode along a carefully planned route that took in some of the best-sounding buildings along Broome, Greene, Wooster and Spring Streets. He provided little rhythmic instruction, and there was a haphazard quality about the improvised drumming of most of his followers that drew threatening stares from security guards in the chic boutiques. In an area so intent on the pursuit of surface beauty, there was something quietly subversive in focusing on its inner sound. CORRINA da FONSECA-WOLLHEIM

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.