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August 22, 2014
By Allen Morrison | Music

A Laura Nyro Tribute Album
© Everett Collection Historical / Alamy

Despite her inimitable voice and phrasing, Laura Nyro is better known as the writer of other people’s hits (e.g., “Wedding Bell Blues” by the 5th Dimension, “Stoney End” by Barbra Streisand). The greatest pop experimenters of the 1970s—including Joni Mitchell, Donald Fagen and Elton John—have acknowledged her influence. As a performer, however, she remained relatively obscure, never achieving a Top 40 single or gold album and drawing only a small but fervent cult following before her life was cut short by cancer in 1997 at age 49.

The music world is finally repaying its long-overdue debt with the release of Map to the Treasure—Laura Nyro Reimagined (September 9). It’s a labor of love by two Grammy winners, pianist-composer Billy Childs and Larry Klein, who once talked with Nyro about producing what would have been her last album. The guest list includes singers Esperanza Spalding, Rickie Lee Jones and Lisa Fischer (of 20 Feet from Stardom fame) and musicians Yo-Yo Ma, Wayne Shorter and Chris Botti.

Nyro’s body of work is deeper and darker than her upbeat hits (for others) might indicate. That’s especially evident in the album’s closer, Alison Krauss’s haunting minor-key, country-blues interpretation of “And When I Die.” “We conceived the new version with Alison in mind,” Klein says, “praying that she would do it.” Prayers answered.

June 19, 2014
By Ingrid Skjong | Music

Music and Culture in Québec
Festival d’ete de Québec

When it comes to music festivals, bigger isn’t always better. But when a sizable lineup still manages to feel well edited, as it does at the Festival d’été de Québec (July 3–13)—Canada’s largest outdoor music event—everyone wins.

“Diversity defines us and the program reflects it,” says CEO Daniel Gélinas. “Music is everywhere! Our festival is for the trend-setters, the followers, the curious—all of them.”

More than 300 shows featuring a thousand artists will take to ten indoor and outdoor stages throughout downtown Québec City for 11 days. Ambitious? Certainly. But with the historic capital as its backdrop—and a wealth of street performances and activities held throughout the city—the 47-year-old festival has a charming feel that is difficult to find elsewhere.

Lady Gaga, Blondie, Billy Joel, Queens of the Stone Age and ’90s grunge band Soundgarden headline. A tribute show pays homage to French-Canadian singer-songwriter, actor and poet Félix Leclerc, giving a nod to the happening’s hometown; Nigerian guitarist Bombino and Ivory Coast reggae singer Tiken Jah Fakoly represent a global contingent. The John Pizzarelli Quartet jazz troupe will play, as will British blues great John Mayall (both at the Impérial de Québec theater, which is pictured above).

“Staying on top is the most challenging aspect of putting together a festival like [this one],” says programming director Louis Bellavance. “We need to reinvent ourselves constantly in order to stay ahead. It’s all about balance.” We can’t wait to listen. infofestival.com.

March 31, 2014
By Sasha Levine | Music

Olympus Music Festival
Photo courtesy of Constantine Onishchenko ©2013.

Future virtuosos of classical music will take the stage at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall on April 9 for the eighth annual Musical Olympus Festival. Five award-winning musicians, all between 20 and 30 years of age, will showcase their talent in a mix of solo and ensemble performances. The group—Marc Bouchkov (violin, France), Rémi Geniet (piano, France), Igor Eliseev (double bass, Russia), Nathalie Mittelbach (mezzo-soprano, Switzerland) and Vassilena Serafimova (percussion, Bulgaria)—will tackle works by the likes of Bruch, Brahms, Haydn and Rachmaninoff.

“Our goal is to present a program that is well balanced between classical music and newer, progressive tendencies,” says Irina Nikitina, president of the Musical Olympus Foundation. “We give a chance for each of the performers to play the music that corresponds to his [or her] character.”

Founded in St. Petersburg in 1995, the foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the arts and culture in Russia and the world through classical music. With awards competitions, festivals and scholarships, it identifies and supports exceptionally talented young instrumental soloists and chamber ensembles that show potential—and make certain they have an audience.

“Classical music, more than any other kind of entertaining music, reaches the inner world of a person,” says Nikitina. “It is more spiritual—it is called classical because it speaks of eternal truth.” 881 Seventh Ave.; 212-535-1059; musicalolympus.org.

February 05, 2013
By Ingrid Skjong | Arts + Culture, Music

Lola Astanova
Photo © 2013 ManhattanSociety.com by Gregory Partanio

Lola Astanova began playing the piano at the age of six. Her mother, a piano teacher, hesitated at first, but her father insisted. The 28-year-old, who was born in Uzbekistan and moved to Houston, Texas, when she was 17, is now considered one of the most exciting pianists in music.

Astanova, who normally practices three hours a day, is as comfortable playing a pop hit as she is a classical masterpiece. (Watch the YouTube clip of her tackling a version of Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music.”) She appeared with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in January at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall to play Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. Wearing a gray dress by Catherine Malandrino and dangerously lofty high heels that somehow failed to slow her feet on the pedals, she riveted the crowd with her signature full-body style and sprinting fingers.

Her upcoming schedule is punctuated by private performances, arts support (she wants to inspire children to be musical) and work on her HD digital series La Musique et L’Ardeur. She will perform George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with the Palm Beach Symphony on March 28 in Palm Beach. A summer European tour is on the books followed by Australia in the fall. We caught up with Astanova to talk music, fashion and future plans.

Q: Some would describe your artistic style as unconventional.

A: I never really thought about it, but since people try to describe it as that I actually take it as a compliment. This is simply the way I happen to feel this music—I think it’s very dramatic, very passionate and sometimes can be very physical. I don’t think about being theatrical. I would have to actually think about not playing the way I do!

Q: Which of your performances have been particularly memorable?

A: Carnegie Hall [where she played last year for the first time] was a very special night for me. The energy was just amazing. I played a tribute to [Vladimir] Horowitz.

Q: Do you remember what you wore?

A: I do remember. I was wearing two gowns. One was by Roberto Cavalli and the other was by Marc Bouwer. I do love fashion. I experiment with it. I think that fashion goes really well with music; Rachmaninoff goes perfectly with Chanel.

Q: You stayed out of competitions throughout your career. Why?

A: I happen to think that there is more than one way of playing. For me it’s more important to be able to express yourself freely and play the way you feel and not be judged by an artificial set of rules that is irrelevant today. It’s not about academia. It’s not about playing the right notes or following the score exactly. You have to obviously know what’s in the score and the rules, but, if you need to, you also need to be able to break the rules.

Q: What do you strive for when you play?

A: I want to make sure that every concert becomes special for the audience and that I put the ultimate effort into it. I don’t want everything to become mechanical. I don’t want to just do it as a job.

lolaastanova.com.

January 08, 2013
By Erin Schumaker | Music

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Vivian Johnson

In Baja California, just 45 miles north of Cabo San Lucas’s raucous glitz, sits Todos Santos, a sleepy surfing and art haven slowly gaining the attention of boldface names seeking authentic Mexican culture. Among those who have fallen in love with the town is R.E.M guitarist Peter Buck, who liked the old colonial hamlet so much, he bought a house there and founded the Todos Santos Music Festival in 2012 with his fiancée, Chloe Johnson.

The festival, which draws both locals and expats alike and takes place at the historic Hotel California, will be held during three weekends in January and features artists like the Posies, Alejandro Escovedo, Chuck Prophet and Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3, as well as two bands from Mexico City, Twin Tones and Torreblanca. “It is an amazing opportunity to introduce tourists to some very cool Mexican music, but also a great opportunity for people from Baja to see indie music from the mainland of Mexico,” Johnson says. “It is fairly rare for those kinds of bands to tour in Baja.”

Best of all, a trip to this musical paradise is for a good cause. All proceeds are donated to the Palapa Society, a nonprofit organization that provides after-school programs and scholarships to local children. Last year the festival raised $50,000—enough money for the program to double its enrollment. January 10–12, 17–20 and 24–26; todossantosmusicfestival.com.

Where to stay: Rancho Pescadero, a nearby boutique hotel and festival sponsor, is hosting a private acoustic show and dinner with Ken Stringfellow of the Posies on January 16, as well as offering hotel guests VIP access to the festival at large. Rooms start at $185; Camino a la Playa, Pescadero; 910-300-8891; ranchopescadero.com.

March 06, 2012
By Sarah Gold | Music

The 2012 Savannah Music Festival Kicks Off
Courtesy Savannah Music Festival

One of the biggest cross-genre music fetes in the country, the Savannah Music Festival kicks off its tenth anniversary on March 22. The celebration starts with a bang; on opening night at the city’s Trustees Theater, Wynton Marsalis leads the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra through a revue of new and traditional big-band swing. The lineup over the next 16 days takes place at venues throughout the city and runs the gamut from gospel to salsa, string quartets to zydeco. Among the highlights are an acoustic double bill with venerable troubadours Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt (pictured above, March 24); country-rock indie darlings Futurebirds (March 29); and several performances by renowned classical violinist Daniel Hope.savannahmusicfestival.org.

February 15, 2012
By Jamie Wiebe | Music

Music:Rufus Wainwright’s New York City Opera Premiere
Robert Workman

After recent turns in Faust and La Bohème, soprano superstar Melody Moore is returning to the New York City Opera to headline the U.S. premiere of indie legend Rufus Wainwright’s first opera, Prima Donna. The French libretto follows aging soprano Régine Saint Laurent (portrayed by Moore) in her attempts to regain fame in 1970s Paris. Wainwright himself found fame in the late ‘90s as a pianist/singer-songwriter/Renaissance Man; since then, he’s released eight albums and two DVDs, won two Juno awards for Best Alternative Album (one for Rufus Wainwright in 1999 and another for Poses in 2002), garnered multiple acting credits and—of coursepenned the critically-lauded Prima Donna. His musical pedigree (he’s the son of folk singers Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle) and flair for orchestral pop make for an easy transition to the live stage. Englishman Tim Albery, a longtime advocate for innovative new opera, is directing the production, which opens February 19 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House. Together, Wainwright, Albery and Moore weave betrayal, nostalgia and loss into an emotional tapestry celebrated as “a love song to opera.” Tickets $25; February 19, 21, 23 and 25; nycopera.org

February 02, 2012
By Jordan Kisner | Music

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Courtesy Craig T. Mathew / Mathew Imaging, Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.

When a famous composer’s centennial rolls around, it’s safe to expect a year full of festivals and seasonal programming featuring his great works. The Los Angeles Philharmonic is paying an ambitiously comprehensive tribute for the 100th anniversary of Gustav Mahler’s death, collaborating with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra to perform all nine of Mahler’s formidable symphonies in just three weeks. Conducted by the Philharmonic’s Music Director Gustavo Dudamel, who burst onto the international conducting scene by winning the inaugural Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition in 2004, the Mahler festival is winding to a close, with only Symphonies No. 8 and 9 remaining. The Ninth is the most beloved of Mahler’s symphonies, but the February 4 performance of Mahler’s Eighth (the Symphony of a Thousand) will be something to see: Both orchestras will combine with a chorus of 800-plus soloists, making for over a thousand performers in the historic Shrine Auditorium.

Once they finish in Los Angeles, the orchestras depart for Caracas, Venezuela, where they’ll do it all over again—but in only seven days. We wish them luck! laphil.com.

August 17, 2011
By Marnie Hanel | Music

20110818-dd-music.jpg
Walking the line between the screen and studio. Photo © Dustin Cohen

It's a big week for The Dude. Not only is The Big Lebowski (1998) finally out on Blu-Ray, but also the movie's fearless front man, Jeff Bridges, is out of the recording studio: Blue Note Records just released the actor's 11-track, self-titled album. On the boot heels of his Oscar-winning performance as country singer Bad Blake in 2009's Crazy Heart, Bridges, 61, took a year off acting to collaborate with producer T Bone Burnett on the record. Burnett wrote the original music for the film with the late Stephen Bruton, on whom Bridges's hard-living character was based. As a tribute, two of the songs on Bridges' new album are ones Bruton originally intended for Crazy Heart. As for the other tracks, the actor says he's been fiddling with them for years. Although it's a departure from Be Here Soon, the indie-blues album Bridges released in 2000, the new record isn't strictly country. With its easy swagger and offhand depth, more than anything, it's definitively Bridges. The cult hero turned national treasure is ever the ambassador of cool. The Jeff Bridges album, $10; jeffbridges.com. The Big Lebowski: Limited Edition, $17; amazon.com.

On that note: Touring the Southern Blues Trail

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