The words "late night" conjure up a time when the bright definition and sharp edges of Manhattan's skyline disappear into the darkening sky. So it's appropriate that when Great Performers decided to expand its mission with late-night shows to complement its regular programming, it did so by blurring a few boundaries.
The late-night concept began with the 2004 Mostly Mozart Festival, which brought audiences to the cabaret-like Kaplan Penthouse. The differences in ambience between that space and the more traditional Mozart Festival venues were, according to Jane S. Moss, Lincoln Center's Vice President for Programming, partly what made the shows a successful "multidimensional experience for our audiences."
The first three late-night shows this season, which will be held in the Allen Room, will complement Great Performers' current celebration of the music of Osvaldo Golijov, who was raised amid the Jewish community of La Plata, Argentina.
"We really wanted to create concerts that explored Golijov's roots and influences," says Moss.
David Krakauer's Klezmer Madness! begins the series on February 2, playing a Golijov composition written especially for the clarinetist, plus several other songs for which the composer feels a particular attachment.
Krakauer himself was born into a home where classical music reigned. As a teen he developed a second love, for jazz. He pursued successful careers in both fields, then began playing klezmer "as a hobby" at senior citizens' centers, where residents were nostalgic for the fading genre that had been born in Eastern European shtetls.
In the late 1980s, the clarinetist was asked by The Klezmatics to tour Europe with them. To the surprise of all, they found themselves performing for "thousands of screaming, dancing, partying, young, non-Jewish people," he recalls. The group helped fuel a revival of klezmer, and Krakauer says, "For me, I found a musical home where I could wear all my musical hats." Although he continues to love classical music and jazz, he adds that, when he plays klezmer, "I feel like I'm singing through the clarinet."
Krakauer's current Klezmer Madness! lineup includes the Jewish DJ-turntablist Socalled, with whom he has collaborated several times. By inserting sampling and hip-hop scratching into klezmer, it's as if the two have added a pacemaker to klezmer's aging heart‹it is still your bubbe's klezmer, but with some new get-up-and-go.
The other Golijov-related late-night shows this season will reflect the composer's Argentine influences, specifically the "nuevo tango" that has its roots in the music of Astor Piazzolla.
Tango was born amid the rough bars and brothels of Buenos Aires' waterfront in the late 19th century, but it soon became popular with Argentine high society and continues to have a cult-like following around the world.
Rock has dominated the charts for decades in tango's birthplace, but young people are newly appreciating the smoldering sexuality of tango. A cabal of musicians and producers have begun‹like Brazil's tropicalistas‹to reinvent their native music with influences from abroad. At the center of this constellation is the producer Gustavo Santaolalla, famous for his work with Latin alternative rock bands such as Mexico's Café Tacuba.
Santaolalla co-founded Bajofondo Tangoclub, which takes elements of tango‹the rhythm, the aching breaths of the bandoneón‹and swirls them into the synthesized sounds of electronica. Skittering down the road that was paved 50 years ago by Piazzolla, Bajofondo has reinvented tango with the help of rising young vocalists Cristobal Repetto and Adriana Varela.
Repetto‹looking more like a rock star than a tango icon‹has become the newest tango phenom in Argentina. His highly distinctive voice, assisted by Santaolalla's production, sounds as if it is channeling from the era of 78 rpm records. Playing with just an acoustic trio, the singer has begun to win over both young audiences and longtime devotees.
The final two performers in this late-night series will explore and modernize the same musical roots as Anglo-Asian choreographer Akram Khan, whose dance performance ma is featured in Great Performers' New Visions series in April.
The group Ghazal, which performs on April 25, is an unusual coming-together of two traditions: Persian and north Indian music. While the classical music of both cultures have common roots and similarities, sitar player Sujaat Husain Khan explains that Ghazal's music is essentially "a musical conversation" between himself and Kayhan Kalhor, who plays the Persian kamancheh.
Khan says that Kalhor called him in the mid-1990s to meet informally and the two began to play. They immediately realized that there was something magical between them and have since recorded three albums to international acclaim. Despite their different backgrounds, their improvised collaboration is "very natural," Khan says. "All the worthless barriers are trivial."
Unlike Western classical music, Indian and Persian classical music is performed with an emphasis on improvisation. "Each show of ours is absolutely brand new," Khan observes. "Otherwise I wouldn't have any fun."
The last show of the late-night series on April 26, by the south Indian ensemble Sapthaakshara, is also based on improvisation, but is somewhat untraditional in that the group is solely composed of percussionists. The group is led by T.H. "Vikku" Vinayakram, who is best known for his work with guitarist John McLaughlin's ensemble, Shakti, which melded jazz with both the more courtly Hindustani music of northern India and the more fiery Carnatic style of southern India. Vikku has also played with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart's Grammy-winning Planet Drum and Bill Laswell's Material.
Vikku is a celebrated master of the ghatam, a large clay pot that is fired with, among other things, egg. While it doesn't look like much more than a simple flower pot, artists such as Vikku play it with different parts of their hand, beating out a panoply of sounds as they navigate the complex matrices of south Indian rhythms.
Sapthaakshara's name is derived from the Malayalam word for the number seven‹there are seven players in the group and seven swaras or musical notes from which ragas are created. In addition to Vikku‹himself the son of a famous drummer‹the group has several noted young players, including three of his sons and one nephew.
So as the Allen Room's house lights go down for each of these late-night shows, the city's lights will rise‹accompanied by the fireworks of musical boundaries being spanned and exploded.
Marty Lipp writes a world-music column for Newsday.