MusicNOW is back. And once again, it is being presented in collaboration with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
You remember MusicNOW, right? Created by Cincinnati native Bryce Dessner (The National) in 2006, it brought to Cincinnati a who’s who of contemporary music. Some was rock-based. Some had a tinge of folk. But what really defined the music was its willingness to make adventurous forays from genre to genre. For those of us who write about music, it was a challenge to describe the performances. But for those in the audience, the concerts were intoxicating in the way they toyed with our musical expectations.
Like so many of other things, though, the 2020 edition of MusicNOW was a victim of the COVID pandemic. Even before that, it was an amorphous entry on the annual music calendar. In 2014, the festival became co-presentation with the Cincinnati Symphony. But in 2018, MusicNOW was merged into The National’s Homecoming Festival. Then it disappeared for a year. Then came 2020.
The 2021 MusicNOW is not as large as some earlier festivals have been. But it is being co-presented by the CSO again.
Best of all is that this new MusicNOW is the same delicious three-ring musical circus it has been in past years; a musical free-for-all with performances by gifted and forward-thinking musicians. On paper, the combinations of musicians may look unlikely. But as anyone who has attended a previous MusicNOW performance knows, it is that unusual mix of artists that makes for the extraordinary musical experiences.
"We juxtapose different musical languages for people who come to us from folk or rock or indie rock or country," said CSO music director Louis Langrée, speaking by phone from Paris. "And suddenly they discover that a classical orchestra is very different from what they imagined. That the orchestra can be quiet and beautiful. But here, they may find that an orchestra can be raw and shocking, too."
This year’s festival is back in Music Hall September 24-25, with a pair of performances in Springer Auditorium and two more late-night performances in Music Hall’s Wilks Studio.
The Friday night concert will feature "folk supergroup" Bonny Light Horsemen, whose set will feature new orchestrations by Dessner.
"You know, we adamantly told our copywriter not to use that word 'supergroup,'" said Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats) who, along with Anaïs Mitchell ("Hadestown") and Josh Kaufman (The National) make up the trio. "It makes this sound like a side-project or a casual group. We’re not."
What they are, though, is a group of singer/songwriters who have a way of making traditional music sound like something completely fresh, as if it were an outgrowth of the modern day.
Also on the Friday program is pianist Daniil Trifonov performing Beethoven’s "Piano Concerto No. 4." Interestingly, that same piece of music was on the program the last time Maestro Langrée conducted the full CSO on March 1, 2020.
Trifonov is back on the Saturday evening program, as well, performing Beethoven’s "Piano Concerto No. 2." Sō Percussion will also join the CSO to play David Lang’s "man made."
"Please don’t forget to mention Bryce Dessner’s 'Quilting,'" said Langrée. "It is a wonderful piece of music. It has been performed a few places. But it is a premiere for me."
Sō Percussion also performs in the 10 p.m. Friday Wilks Studio concert, while Saturday’s Wilks concert features the Erika Dohi Trio.
"We do this because there is always so much new music in the world," said Langrée, who will lead both Springer Auditorium concerts. "You need 20 lives of a very intense schedule to explore it all. And even then, you couldn’t do it all. So with MusicNOW, we make a start."
If you go:
When: 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., September 14-15
Where: Music Hall, 1241 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine; Springer Auditorium (7:30 concerts), Wilks Studio (10 p.m. concerts)
Tickets: $14-$99 (Springer Auditorium), $20 (Wilks Studio)
Information: 513-381-3300; cincinnatisymphony.org
MusicNOW may conclude on September 25, but the CSO’s bold programming continues at 7:30 p.m. October 1 as the orchestra’s creative partner Matthias Pintscher leads a program called "Contemporary Colors: The Sound & The Ecstasy." The program includes works by Olga Neuwirth, Helmutt Lachenmann, Alexander Scriabin and Pintscher’s "NUR." Guest artists are Inon Barnatan (piano) and Henrik Heide (flute).