Category: Arts and Entertainment

Photo courtesy of Marilyn Nonken

Marilyn Nonken’s Fight for “New” Music

As two star-crossed lovers sang pleading lines of despair, I took a survey of the audience around me. Besides the gentleman fast-asleep on my right (he got started five minutes into Act I) and the three composition students I recognized from Music Theory III, there was a noticeable dearth in the Met Opera’s seats. Maybe it had something to do with it being a lethargic Wednesday night, or perhaps it was indicative of declining ticket sales. More likely, though, the timeliness of the opera was to blame: it – Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de loin – was written in 2000.

Contemporary music is thwarted by negative stereotypes. Concert-goers think of it as generally unpleasant and discordant – something to be avoided as much as possible. Concert programming confirms these negative beliefs. “Beethoven, Mozart, and ever more Beethoven!” ticket sales scream.

So, what is a contemporary performer to do? The pianist and musicologist Marilyn Nonken (GSAS 1999, Historical Musicology) believes acceptance problems can be solved through education.

Nonken’s recent book, The Spectral Piano: From Liszt, Scriabin, and Debussy to the Digital Age, challenges the “unmusical” claims about modern music.

“I think there are misconceptions about what contemporary music is, that newer music simply isn’t musical in the same way,” she explains with a tone that shows her passion for the music.

“I suppose why I talk so much historically about contemporary music relating to the past is to try to get away from that idea.”

Nonken presents challenging ideas in her work. She believes that musicians can look back at composers such as Liszt, Scriabin, and Debussy and find “through-lines” to the present-day. Their music works through ideas similar to the ones electronic music composers are grappling with today; “New” Music is not as new as some may think.

Not many musicians see “New” Music the same way that Nonken does. Instead, most musicians prefer to play what she calls “great” music, i.e. the standard, traditional repertoire of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven et al. Nonken believes pedagogues are responsible for this trend.

“Within any music school there will be teachers who will tell their students don’t waste your time [playing contemporary music]. Don’t do that, it’s not worth it,” she tells me, sarcastically pantomiming the uneasiness of teachers telling their students not to touch “New” Music.  

“There’s this idea that if the player is really gifted and really talented that they should be playing ‘better,’ older music.”

What Nonken describes as the “business of piano” – to prepare for and win competitions – is the culprit for these teachers’ beliefs.

“You can’t play Feldman for the Van Cliburn,” Nonken jokingly gibes.

Pianists will not prepare programs including much music written post-1945, such as Feldman’s works, for the Van Cliburn competition because of the ideas on what “great” music is. They simply won’t win if they do.

As the Director of Piano Studies at NYU, Nonken fights against misconceptions about contemporary music. For instance, she requires graduate piano students to play a work written after 1945 for their auditions. One student, who did not have any music post-1945 in their repertoire, suggested “playing” an especially famous silent work.

“Someone wanted to bring in Cage’s 4’ 33” — I would take it!” Nonken enthusiastically yet with a hint of frustration exclaims.

“Bring that to your audition just to make that statement — if that’s the best you can do, play that! It’s the mindset, so I think that’s something always to fight.”

Nonken’s interest in championing new works began while she was at The Eastman School of Music. Unlike many of her peers, who were spending hours practicing “great” music, Nonken was giving life to the scores of her classmates — in practice rooms, dorm rooms, and cafes. She was excited by these collaborations.

“I actually found that this music was really interesting — this process of working with composers is interesting. You can actually make a difference, you could play a piece that’s never been played,” Nonken fondly recalls.

Without her, their music would have remained black dots and lines on a page. By realizing their works, Nonken gave her classmates the chance to develop their skills.

She even won competitions for her peers with her recordings. Nonken found value and meaning performing their works — an importance she says she would not have felt as “the nine-millionth person that year playing” famous, traditional repertoire.

Nonken has continued performing and premiering new works since her years at Eastman. When I walked into the lobby of her East Village studio, I was amazed by the number of CDs on display. Recordings of modern works by Morton Feldman, Tristan Murail, and Joshua Fineberg stared back at me – all physically representing Nonken’s support for modern music.

CDs on Shelf

Nonken’s recordings become the definitive versions of each new work. With that she sees a definite responsibility – a duty perhaps not as apparent in playing the standard repertoire.

“I don’t think that responsibility is there when you’re playing music of Chopin or Beethoven because there’s a million recordings out there,” she explains to me, recognizing that that may sound sacrilegious to many musicians.

“But if you go out there and play a piece that people might not have another chance to hear and don’t really do it well, in a way that’s representative – if you turn people off – you’ve blown that opportunity for that composer to make their case.”


Recent portents seem to indicate newfound acceptance. Despite Nonken’s quip, the 2017 Van Cliburn competition is commissioning Marc-André Hamelin to write a piece for the preliminary round. Miller Theatre is continuing their “Composer Portraits” series this season, which highlights the works of living composers. And the Met Opera, ever a bastion of “great” music, has staged works by contemporary composers, such as John Adams’s Death of Klinghoffer, Nico Muhly’s Two Boys, and the aforementioned L’Amour de loin, in recent years.

Yet, these are exceptions. Musicians and audiences still maintain a preference for “great” music. They want it to be played as much as possible in concert halls, with “New” Music ousted as a distantly removed, unapproachable Other.

Nonken continues to crusade against the notion that “New” Music is not worthwhile to listen to – in her teachings, writings, recordings, and performances. Championing the music of today, Nonken is building the “great” repertoire of tomorrow.

She encourages you to hear her play music by Tristan Murail at Spectrum on February 11 at 7 PM. Come listen as she continues her fight against misconceptions about “New” Music.

“How Eye Hear It” runs alternate Sundays. To contact the writer or submit a piece of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com

Photo Courtesy of CUBE

Step into another world and dive into wonderland with Columbia University Ballet Ensemble (CUBE)!

In this stressful time of the year, CUBE delivered a much-needed, light-hearted rendition of Alice In Wonderland, brightening up finals season. On December 8th and 9th, ballet dancers in CUBE took on the enchanting characters we all love, and turned them into delightful dancers. The performance featured a beautiful, expressive Alice, danced by Kasey Broekema, wandering her way through Wonderland, meeting characters such as the time-absorbed white rabbit, danced by Kyryk Pavlovsky, the mysterious Caterpillar, danced by Sophia Salingaros, the playful Mad Hatter, danced by Trevor Menders, and of course the feisty and elegant Queen of Hearts, danced by Anna McEvoy-Melo. The dancers playing lead roles were evidently accomplished and skilled as they pirouetted on pointe or leaped across the stage in their challenging choreography. Their acting and expression through their bodies brought the characters to life as well.

CUBE is lauded for their ability to integrate all levels of dancers while creating a cohesive piece. Alice in Wonderland was the  perfect example of how to do just that. With beautiful choreography for each dancer, CUBE highlighted everyone in all their dances, from Flamingos to Flowers to Cards.

Opening night was full of excitement and energy. The expressiveness of the dancers particularly stood out as they told the story of Alice falling through the rabbit hole to trying to save the Knave from the wrath of the queen. I only wish there were a larger audience to cheer on their work. CUBE’s Alice in Wonderland was a laudable and charming performance that left me wanting to follow the Alice down the rabbit hole to wonderland.

Haley So is a first year in SEAS who wishes she could dance and be as fierce as the Queen of Hearts.

Photo Courtesy of Columbia Band Alumni

In a tip sent to The Lion, the Columbia University Marching Band has been blocked from hosting this semester’s Orgo Night in Butler 209.

Orgo Night is supposed to take place in Butler 209 at 11:59PM on 12/15. During the event, the band comments and jokes about past events on campus while helping students destress through their performances. They also perform various songs from their collection. An example of a past Orgo Night event can be found here.

The band has posted an official response to the administration’s decision:

Official Statement on Administrative Skullfuckery:

On Wednesday, December 7th, we, the leadership of the Columbia University Marching Band, the Cleverest Band in the WorldTM, received an “invitation” to meet with Provost John Coatsworth and Vice Provost and Head Librarian Ann Thornton. The original correspondence cited a desire to discuss “the band’s usage of Butler library,” with no further details provided. The meeting was held on Friday, December 9th—less than a week prior to Orgo Night.

In the meeting, Vice Provost Ann Thornton immediately informed us that Orgo Night could no longer take place in Butler, where it has been held for the last forty years. When we asked why our event, only six days away, was suddenly under fire, Vice Provost Thornton cited that Orgo Night was “a disruption of a crucial study space during an already stressful time of year,” as if kicking us out will make finals week in Butler any less stressful.

After a long and contentious meeting, the Provost and Vice Provost offered that the band and the administration take the weekend to consider their positions, formulate possible compromises, and reconvene on the following Monday, December 12th.

At this second meeting, we came prepared with a set of concessions in order to preserve the core tenet of the Orgo Night tradition: its location, Butler 209. Despite our willingness to compromise, the Provost and Vice Provost remained entirely steadfast in their position. They were unwilling to consider our proposals, and failed to offer any compromises of their own or show any understanding of our position, which is that Orgo Night held anywhere but Butler 209 is simply not Orgo Night. We were not only blindsided by their unwillingness to compromise as per our previous agreement, but we were also disturbed by the blatant lack of respect for what has become a widely-beloved campus tradition.

The tradition of having Orgo Night in Butler 209 dates back to 1975, when the Marching Band stormed Butler the night before the Organic Chemistry exam. Since then, this event has become an institutionalized tradition, adopted by the Columbia administration and recognized for what it is: a communal experience that lets everyone blow off some stress during finals week, turning

“Stress Central” into a place of singing, dancing, and Donald Trump jokes. Butler Library is an iconic location on campus, and in choosing to enter Butler, the Band disrupts not just a library but also this campus’s pervasive stress culture (where the fourth ranked school in the nation is officially ranked number one). Orgo Night is an event that is meant to remind students that it is perfectly acceptable to sidestep studying for a much-needed and well-deserved break. Seeing as Orgo Night’s presence in Butler has historically lasted no longer than 45 minutes, its benefits as a destressing mechanism and a community-building event far outweigh the cost of disrupting one reading room in one of the many study spaces on campus for less than an hour.

We are, above all else, shocked at the Provost and Vice Provost’s disrespect for their own students. Not only are they undermining a decades-long tradition on a campus infamously devoid of school spirit, but they are also making it clear to Columbia at large that fostering a community is not their priority. Furthermore, we hope this serves as a case study on the Columbia administration’s preferred method of perniciously encroaching on its own principles of “free expression”. While we appreciate their ambition in attempting to make Surf n’ Turf Columbia’s only campus tradition, we, in conjunction with our Alumni network, vow to keep fighting the good fight against the War on Fun.

Sincerely and g(tb)2 ,
The Board of the Columbia University Marching Band
P.S. CUMB to Orgo Night. Thursday, December 15, 11:59 PM.

 

 

Photo by Victoria Robson

As Columbia Ballet Collaborative’s performers extended their bodies in beautiful shapes at their 2016 Fall Performances, it’s easy to see the elegance, strength, and fluidity ballet dancers are known for.  While students of Columbia University and Barnard College comprise CBC, they proved that dedicating themselves to academia does not make them any less dancers. They commanded the stage at Manhattan Movement and Arts Center on November 18th and 19th with an air of professionalism. Yet they kept a youthful, fresh take on ballet, melding the traditional to modern with impeccable technique and a focus on the articulations in the music to produce more profound pieces. Their fall performances offered six pieces filled edgy and creative choreography.

The opening piece, “Symphony in G,” choreographed by Amy Hall Garner, showcased the lines of the dancers. Dressed in simple black and pancaked skin colored pointe shoes, the dancers played off the the trills and fermatas of Mozart’s music with quick footwork and moments of soaring through the air. Solos and pas de deuxs were precise and outlined each dancer. With Garner’s close attention to the nuances in the music, the piece was as if the music came to life, that the music was made for the dancers. This high energy choreography not only set the scene with beautiful technique, but also the avant garde direction for the rest of the show.

Add a little heavy metal and pure expression of the music and you’ll get “A Single Marble Block,” a fierce student-choreographed piece by Sadi Mosko CC’17 featuring movement in the dancers as well as across the stage. It began with the howling wind paired with shaking motions and isolations from the dancers. She played with the sound and bass of Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days” as well as light to create an intricate and eccentric piece. Between bursts of light, the dancers reacted to each other as they traveled from corner to corner as a unit, or perhaps as a ‘single block,’ breaking apart at times, offering deep contrast to the unity.

“No Mud No Lotus,” choreographed by Ursula Verduzco, was truly a stunning piece with a beautiful message. It began with a downpour of rain and crashing thunder where in the spotlight, individuals danced against the rain. The sense of conflict depicted from the expressive dancers and the sultry music and thunder fell away as the piece went on. It transitioned into a light and harmonious dance where the performers bourreed and pirouetted with the smooth picks of the guitar that mimicked the sound of rain. Their colorful costumes brought a swirl of hues in the enlivened dance. The piece ended in the same thunderstorm at the beginning, but with the dancer loving the rain this time. A little shift in perspective -no mud no lotus- is sometimes all you need.

Contrasting with the fluidity of the previous piece, Andrew Harper pushed the boundaries in his piece, “Lost in Space.” It was innovative and fun to say the least. Each dancer, dressed in everyday clothes, seemed to resemble us in life. Dancers were plugged into earphones where sometimes their music synced up and other times the individual voices sang out slightly different from the rest. The dancing was more freeform and expressive in individuality. The music, “American Pie,”  and moments of individual expression alludes to the uniqueness of members in a community. They follow their own beat. But, there are also moments where the voices come together to create a powerful unity between the dancers.

“Moonlight & Sonatas,” choreographed by Kevin Jenkins, featured two pairs in an elegant derivation of classical ballet. The dancers built contrast between sharpness during quick movements with smooth slows. With their impeccable technique and partnering, the dancers created an illusion of slipping out of control, only to join into flowing, free releases of tension. They created beautiful imagery and gave attention to even the slightest hand flicks, letting the movement reverberate through the body. In the intimate theater, the audience could hear the breaths of the dancers, confirming the difficulty that they make look easy.

The last piece ended the show with a display of intricate footwork and showed just how incredible the dancers in CBC are. “Us,” choreographed by Miro Magloire, took three of Bach’s preludes and fugues and showcased something different with each: gracefulness and repetition, unity and technique, and quick mirrorings with crisscrossing and weaving movements. They played on shapes, repetition, and footwork, creating a dynamic piece. It’s difficulty was evident yet the dancers were pleasant and never fatigued, always expressing themselvesto the fullest. It perfectly closed the show by leaving the audience wowed.

CBC’s fall performances were refreshing and impressive. Ballet dancers are incredible, and dancers in the Columbia Ballet Collaborative are no exception, as they showcased a new take on the traditional ballet in their stunning fall performances. Take innovative choreographers and strong, graceful dancers, and you’ll create beautiful art.

Haley So is a freshman in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Although a lover of science and math, she can’t live without a little art, ballet, or music.

Welcome, welcome to theater! After going over our last guide to discounted Broadway tickets, we realized that there are even more resources out there for students to utilize to get cheaper tickets to both Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.
Run by Columbia, the Arts Initiative provides students with discounted tickets, most of which can then be picked up at the TIC in Lerner. This is a great way to get tickets, but you have to be fast because they do sell out quite quickly.
If you’ve got luck and persistence, Broadway Direct has online lotteries for most performances of some of the biggest productions around, including The Lion King and Cats. Depending on the show, winners pay anywhere from $10-$40 for their seats, which is more than half off regular pricing.
Being a theater-goer and being a student at the same time isn’t always easy on the wallet, and the Roundabout Theatre Company understands that. So, if you’re between the ages of 18-35, you can be part of their low-price ticket program, HipTix, for free. By becoming a HipTix member, you can buy up to two $25 tickets to each Roundabout Theatre production. While these tickets may not be orchestra seats (unless you upgrade your membership to Gold or Platinum), you can’t beat the price.
Offering discounted tickets for both Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, Tix4Students is another website which allows students to purchase show tickets without leaving the comfort of their dorm room. By linking students to offers and giving them a member discount code, ticket prices through this site range from $25-$70, depending on the production and location of the seats.
General Broadway Lotteries:
Some productions choose to host lotteries for tickets on their own personally-tailored sites instead of using Broadway Direct or TodayTix. It can be hard to find these lotteries sometimes, or just plain annoying to google them everyday. So, here are all the ones with individual sites for your convenience:

 

Updated January 26, 2017