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CincyMusic.com’s Complete Guide to MusicNOW 2015

CincyMusic.com’s Complete Guide to MusicNOW 2015
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When Bryce Dessner of The National started MusicNOW in 2006, it was a small two-night event held at the Contemporary Arts Center. Over the past decade, it’s become a landmark annual affair, internationally renowned for commissioning new works by classical music’s most innovative composers and bringing many of the world’s best musicians to Over the Rhine each spring. Now in its tenth year, the festival has expanded to a full five nights, and has managed to fit everything from punk rock to avant garde percussion to symphonic majesty all under the same canopy. Many familiar faces return--Nico Muhly, Sufjan Stevens, So Percussion, and James McVinnie, just to name a few. And as always, it should be a week filled with unique and unexpected collaborations. 

Wednesday, March 11th
Cloud Nothings with Will Butler
8:00 PM, The Woodward Theater, 1404 Main St.
$18, 21+

MusicNOW starts on a particularly loud note with Cleveland rockers Cloud Nothings and Arcade Fire guitarist Will Butler. Cloud Nothings, currently a power trio, bring the noisy post-hardcore of last year’s Here And Nowhere Else and the scorched-earth breakdowns on 2012’s Attack on Memory. Singer, guitarist, and songwriter Dylan Baldi expresses the simultaneous frustration and ennui of post-recession twentysomethings, most notably in the extended vocal cord workout “Wasted Days.”

Butler is stepping out from his day job headlining arenas and festivals with Arcade Fire, and this visit is part of his first solo tour. His MusicNOW appearance will be his first concert after the release of his Merge Records debut album Policy. It’s a patchwork record, ranging from the retro soul of “Witness” to the bouncy synthpop of “Anna” and the disco-tinged “Something’s Coming.” If recent setlists are any indication, he’ll also play material from his recent project which found him daily composing songs based off of articles in The Guardian.

Thursday, March 12th
Jeff Ziegler with concert:nova
8:00 PM, The Woodward Theater, 1404 Main St.
$20 to $25, $12 students, 21+

Jeff Ziegler, the former cellist for the peerless classical titans Kronos Quartet, will perform a slate of contemporary music with Cincinnati’s own concert:nova ensemble. The full program for this event has not been published yet, but it promises pieces by Caroline Shaw, Bryce Dessner, Richard Reed Parry (also of Arcade Fire), and Derek Charke. 

The Penny Serfs
10:00 PM, MOTR Pub, 1345 Main St.
Free, 21+

After the concert:nova event at The Woodward wraps up, head across the street to MOTR for the only free show of the week. The Penny Serfs are an indie rock quartet hailing from the Iowa side of the Quad Cities. Their newest EP, a self-titled affair was released in January, following last year’s Like Eating Glass. Their poppy melodies are joined with wry lyrics and rich arrangements. 

Friday, March 13th
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
with The National, Caroline Shaw, Mina Tindle, James McVinnie, Yuki Numata Resnick
7:00 PM, Cincinnati Music Hall, 1241 Elm St.
$25 to $97, $80 two-day pass, all ages

MusicNOW moves to the big stage for night three. Violinist Yuki Numata Resnick will perform a brief recital at 7:00, followed at 7:30 by James McVinnie, a MusicNOW alumnus and former organist for Westminster Abbey in London. At 8:00, the Symphony opens with “Tuning Up” by Edgar Varèse, which is indeed a play on the pre-concert tuning of an orchestra. Bryce Dessner once again gets to use the MusicNOW stage to showcase his own impressive work, this year in the form of the intense and dissonant “Lachrimae.” The piece culls unearthly and unusual sounds from the ensemble’s string players, with spooky harmonics representing the titular weeping. Along with “St. Carolyn by the Sea” (performed at last year’s festival), the work was included on his joint Deutsche Grammophon release with composer and Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood.

World-renowned violinist and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw will be present to give the world premiere of her new piece Lo, her first work for a full orchestra. She declines to label it a concerto, and has said that her solo part is only “vaguely written out, only the parts that [the orchestra] really need. A lot of it is left open.” Mina Tindle will perform a short set in the lobby at intermission, a teaser for her Sunday night Memorial Hall appearance.

The second half opens with Christopher Rouse’s “The Infernal Machine.” Originally composed as a standalone work, the percussion-centric piece now makes up the second movement of his “Phantasmata” triptych.  Marquee act The National will perform a short set with orchestral accompaniment, and early press promises classics such as “Runaway” “England,” and “About Today.” This marks the group’s first MusicNOW appearance since 2011, and their first hometown show since July of 2013. The evening closes with John Adams’s “Short Ride In A Fast Machine,” one of the most revered modern classical compositions. True to its name, it’s a brisk, joyous fanfare with a propulsive mechanical rhythm that threatens to overturn.

Saturday, March 14th
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
with Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, So Percussion, Timo Andres, Lanzendorf
7:00 PM, Cincinnati Music Hall, 1241 Elm St.
$25 to $97, $80 two-day pass, all ages 

Prior to the Saturday Orchestra concert, New York ensemble So Percussion will take to the stage at 7 PM for a performance of Dessner’s “Music for Wood and Strings.” Immediately afterwards, the young composer Timo Andres will give a short recital upstairs in the Corbett Tower at 7:30. The Symphony’s portion commences with a world premiere by Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason entitled “Collider.” The piece uses an unusually large configuration of musicians, and was conceptually inspired by particle accelerators.

“Planetarium” by Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, and Nico Muhly first saw the light of day at 2012’s festival, when the trio workshopped it at Memorial Hall, and it returns after three years of performances around the world. It is unclear exactly which of the planet-themed songs will be included in this “Planetarium Suite,” but it’s been specially arranged for orchestra by Muhly. At intermission, Lanzendorf will perform in the Music Hall lobby. There is little information available about this mystery act, but indications seem to be that we could see a repeat of last year’s impromptu jam from members of The National.

David Lang’s breathtaking “mountain” saw its premiere at last year’s festival, and this year the orchestra and So Percussion will showcase his concerto “man made.” The work is intended as a companion to his Pulitzer Prize-winning “the little match girl passion,” and is an attempt to fit the ensemble’s unique instrumentation into a more formal orchestral setting. The symphonic portion of the festival closes with another Edgar Varèse composition, “Ameriques,” a quirky single-movement piece that was his first completed work after moving to the United States in 1917. Notably (and peculiarly), the score calls for a police siren. It ends with a long series of frightening, crashing atonal chords.

Sunday, March 15th
Perfume Genius, The Lone Bellow, Mina Tindle
7:00 PM, Memorial Hall, 1225 Elm St.
$25, all ages

MusicNOW 2015 closes out at Memorial Hall, the festival’s longtime home. Mina Tindle, who also performs during intermission on Friday, will open the evening. She’s a minor star in her native France, and it’s no wonder. Her songs are centered on her arresting voice, and often paired with clever conceptual videos, always exploding into memorable pop hooks. 

Mike Hadreas, better known as Perfume Genius, will make his first Cincinnati stop since the release of last year’s remarkable LP Too Bright. Universally acclaimed as one of the best albums of the year, it often juxtaposes disarmingly pretty vocals and piano chords with unsettling lyrics and dissonant slashes of noise. Raw, honest, and stunning, this is a dark horse contender for the best set of the weekend.

MusicNOW comes to a close with a performance by Brooklyn folk rock group The Lone Bellow whose newest release, Then Came the Morning, was produced by National member Aaron Dessner. Their songs boil over into enormous singalong choruses, anchored by the striking harmonies of the group’s core trio. It should prove to be a boisterous and satisfying end to an exhausting week of music.