A Musical Solstice Spectacle Sprawls Across New York

Posted June 22, 2018 4:43 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — Many dozens of free performances of every kind — surf rock, punk cabaret, mandolin orchestra, Bach — fill the city from dawn to nightfall each summer solstice for Make Music New York. The organizers and audiences got a gift this year Thursday: clear, warm weather, the humidity manageable and the sounds, as ever, sweet. Here is a small sampling of the offerings.

Riverside Park, 4:30 p.m.

The driving rays of sunlight proved slightly uncomfortable on the pier jutting out of Riverside Park near West 70th Street in Manhattan. But the environment also served as a fitting partner for the brightly insistent music of Terry Riley. Two of his mid-1990s compositions for piano for four hands — “Tango Doble Ladiado” and “Jaztine” — were performed by student musicians at the start of a program, “On the Waterfront,” that also included works by Philip Glass, Nico Muhly and Meredith Monk. In “Tango,” Ethan Lang and Ella Kronman navigated Riley’s tricky syncopations with impressive poise. In “Jaztine,” Emily Trong and Griffin Strout showed a practiced facility in some of its composer’s more booming expressions, though they also treated a quieter middle section with the appropriate sense of wandering calm. It provided a sense of relief, momentarily, from the glare of the sun.


9/11 Memorial, 5 p.m.

Bach composed the 48 preludes and fugues of the “The Well-Tempered Clavier” for “the use and profit of the musical youth,” as he wrote on the title page of Book I. He would have been gratified that many students were part of the roster of pianists who performed almost all these pieces over three hours — starting with Samuel Fisher. Seated at a piano placed near a corner of the memorial plaza, 12-year-old Fisher performed the Prelude and Fugue No. 1 in C from Book I with a nice, light touch and flow. Simultaneously, at a second piano near another corner, Birgit Matzerath, a veteran teacher, played preludes and fugues from Book II. So it continued for “WTC@WTC,” with some 30 pianists, young and old, amateur and professional, taking turns. The sounds of cascading water in the memorial’s reflecting pools mingled with the music as visitors stopped to listen.


Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 7 p.m.

Linguist Shigeru Miyagawa was present at the formal Osborne Garden here for music inspired by his theory that there are aspects of human speech closely aligned with bird song. Pete M. Wyer’s “Twilight Chorus (for Humans)” began with a group of singers standing in front of the audience, which was seated on the long, rectangular lawn. The performers dispersed, birdlike, to corners of the crowd as they sang sudden bursts of little melodic fragments on nonsense syllables. (“Ha! Ha!” “Wee-buh.”) Building to more sustained tones, and overlapping in fragile harmonies, the singers formed a circle around the listeners, as real birds happily tweeted in the surrounding trees.


Muscota Marsh, 7:45 p.m.

John Hastings describes his 45-minute piece “Muscota Marsh Harmony” as “a sonic ‘scrim’ over the environment” for which it was conceived: Muscota Marsh in Inwood, an inviting park at the northern tip of Manhattan that opened a few years ago overlooking a reed-bordered section of Harlem River. The piece involved four singers who mostly roamed about separately — sometimes singing written-out sustained tones and phrases, other times their own favorite melodies like “Graceland” and “Tomorrow.” At one point they gathered together for an extended episode of droning, solemn music. Their singing mingled with the spoken voices of Inwood residents recorded in interviews, played through speakers carried by four roving operators. But the sounds of residents enjoying the park during the performance also became part of the piece: jabbering boys with bikes; mothers with babies in strollers; toddlers who approached the singers to hear booming operatic tones close up. Just as Hastings had intended.


Gowanus Canal, 8:30 p.m.

Composer and multi-instrumentalist Elliott Sharp creates dramatically varying energies, some of them intense. For “Swamped,” he fashioned a twilight experimentalism: a quickly changeable sound that stopped just short of bleakness. As kayakers on the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn towed Sharp, on electric guitar, and a series of floating amplifiers past a crowd of onlookers, he finger-tapped some muted, mutant trills. As the amps trailed behind him, the music echoed off the banks of the canal and nearby buildings, giving hints of canonic motion. Soon, the boats were too far away for those onshore to hear. But as the crew returned to its starting point, about 15 minutes later, Sharp could be heard playing resonant sustained tones, suggestive of a journey nearing its close.