Foreign Bodies, Music on Fire .. Esa-Pekka Salonen

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the New York Philharmonic in “Foreign Bodies” at David Geffen Hall, 6/9/ 18. Photo by Chris Lee

The three pieces on the June 8 concert were New York premieres in whole or part, and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen composed two of them. Foreign Bodies opened on a full stage  and above it a giant screen, the canvas for live-feed images of colorful filaments, pick-up sticks, morphing boxes and flaming orange peaks. The orange above seemed to speak to the bold orange proscenium extension, so far unused. Later in the concert, it would be the setting for an awesome dance.

A Foreign Bodies mixtape from the NYPhil offers the entire composition as three separate files on Spotify.

The screen had vanished along with about 1/3 of the orchestra when young soloist Pekka Kuusisto entered. Kuusisto gently combined his instrument with his whistling to begin the Violin Concerto by Daníel Bjarnason. The music shifted like weather, stirring the space, becoming gauzy then gathering weight. This piece was my favorite. Until what came next.

“Watch for the orange stage,” says the Foreign Bodies brochure handed out at the door, “a possible representation of a volcanic eruption.” Two Boston Ballet dancers on the bright colored strip at the stage lip and opened “Obsidian Tear,” choreography by Wayne McGregor to music by Salonen. A single violinist in a First Tier box  played the first movement, Lachen verlernt (Laughing Unlearnt), energetically. When the music segued into Nyx for orchestra, half of dozen more male dancers appeared and the music grew massive with a wide trombone section that I loved. Very physical, this music! and the dance is powerful and athletic. It ranges from violent to tender with turns and leaps that in a romantic context would seem like pure grace.

David Geffen Hall can seem blank and boxy, but the colors and lighting transformed it for me. I sat in a great seat, nicely priced.

Two Francs in New York with Bechet Music

Last night saxophonist Olivier Franc and pianist Jean Baptiste Franc came from Paris to Triad with a Sidney Bechet (1897-1959) show. Born in New Orleans and died in Paris, Bechet was a musical original who played clarinet and soprano sax.

Triad  on W 72nd Street feels like Paris or maybe Berlin between the wars, ideal for Olivier’s magnificent tone and Bechet’s melodies — Passport to Paradise, Casbah, I’ll Be Proud of You/Sweet Louisiana, Petite Fleur and more. JB emerges as more than an accompanist. He dedicated his first solo of the evening, Anitra’s Dance, to Donald Lambert (1904-62), the barely-recorded, first-class stride pianist from Newark, NJ.

It turns out that over Memorial Day weekend, JB won first place in the Old Time Piano Competition in Oxford MS. A five-hour video of the finals is here. At 26:30 into the file, JB begins Anitra’s Dance at a sedate tempo. Do not be fooled. At 4:02:00 (yes, 3 1/2 hours later), he is back to play the Weather Bird Rag as a piano solo. Famously recorded by Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines, JB says that Armstrong composed it on a riverboat the Mississippi. Finally I highly recommend JB’s out chorus of a Chopin waltz just after 4:10:00. The audience can’t wait til the end to applaud.

At Triad the Francs invited New York pianist Allan Tate to the stage for a couple of tunes and a three-man encore. Mysteriously, every week Facebook sends me a tally of the visitors to Allan Tate’s home page so we have a connection, though he wasn’t aware of it, and I felt very happy to introduce myself.

After the show the Francs’ albums were for sale individually on CDs and all together on a thumb drive. Pull it apart and plug one side into a USB port and listen again and again. That’s what I’ve been doing. C’est ce que je fais et je l’aime!