We had a wonderful weekend in Cincinnati as Artist in Residence with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra during their inaugural collaboration with Bryce Dessner’s MusicNOW festival. To say it was daring and exciting does it no justice – it was the collision of two musical galaxies whose sum was greater than its parts. Where else would you hear a set by Will Oldham followed by Penderecki’s Polymorphia? The 3,500-seat hall was packed with young hipsters rubbing elbows with well-heeled symphony patrons, each getting a good dose of the other’s medicine. It was both young and old, dressed down and dressed up, and the special allowance of alcoholic beverages inside the hall (usually forbidden) was a welcome social lubricant.
We kicked off the weekend by opening the CSO concert with Bryce’s Murder Ballades, and then the symphony came out to play Bryce’s St. Carolyn by the Sea with Bryce and Aaron Dessner on electric guitars. As a continuation of the portraits theme (Lincoln Portrait on the November concert with Maya Angelou narrating), the symphony commissioned and premiered Nico Muhly’s Pleasure Ground, a musical portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted, and David Lang’s mountain. The traditional classical symphony concert format was spiced up with pre-concert and intermission performances in the lobby by indie artists Little Lights, Olga Bell, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and a surprise set by Bryce and Aaron with The National’s Bryan Devendorf in the lobby during intermission.
We spent the following Monday and Tuesday teaching students some Counting Duets and visiting College Conservatory of Music for a seminar. Michael, Nick and Tim took me to visit their old hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant, where the owner still remembered their usual orders. We also spent a whimsical evening reading chamber music with Classical Revolution at local watering hole The Listing Loon. Nothing like turning Mozart into a drinking game…