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Classical Concert Previews: Kremerata Baltica, American Symphony Orchestra

Kremerata Baltica's new Weinberg CD
Even in New York City, it’s sometimes difficult to hear different music in our concert halls, forcing a search to find obscure or underperformed gems: thus, two concerts this week—Kremerata Baltica at the 92 ndStreet Y and the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall—are like manna from heaven.

The music of Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg—who died in 1996 at age 76—is having a welcome renaissance, both on disc (CD releases and a Blu-ray of his powerful opera The Passenger, all on the Neos label) and onstage (Lincoln Center Festival is bringing The Passenger to Park Avenue Armory this summer).

Violinist Gidon Kremer and his stalwart ensemble Kremerata Baltica—which have recorded five of Weinberg’s haunting modernist works for a February 18 release on the ECM label—perform January 30 at the 92nd St Y. On disc, Kremer and his cohorts play Weinberg’s virtuosic but humane music with a lot of passion, which will surely be in abundance on the 92nd Street Y stage: in addition to Weinberg’s Concertino and Symphony No. 10, the concert comprises Arvo Part’s Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten, Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, and Dmitri Shostakovich’s rarely-heard chamber opera, Antiformal Rayok.
Britten and Bridge, circa 1930
The American Symphony Orchestra’s artistic director, Leon Botstein, routinely curates the best classical programs in the city, and his orchestra’s January 31 Carnegie Hall performance is no exception. This England takes last year’s Britten Centenary as its jumping-off point to explore other avenues of 20th century British music, which is full of riches far beyond what’s usually heard from Britten and Edward Elgar.

Botstein has chosen carefully and well. Sir Arthur Bliss may have composed more memorable works than his score for the sci-fi movieThings to Come, but it’s certainly a tuneful diversion; Frank Bridge’s piano concerto Phantasm (with soloist Piers Lane) is a masterpiece, Robert Simpson’s Volcano is a solid left-field pick and William Walton’s Symphony No. 2, while not up to his glorious first symphony, is always worth hearing.

I for one would have loved to hear other eminent composers as Arnold Bax, Lennox Berkeley, Alan Rawsthorne or the seriously undervalued Malcolm Arnold and Edmund Rubbra, but Botstein’s picks demonstrate the depth and variety of England’s overlooked musical heritage.

Kremerata Baltica
92nd Street Y
Lexington Avenue and East 92nd St, New York, NY
January 30, 2014
American Symphony Orchestra
Carnegie Hall
7th Avenue and West 57th Street, New York, NY
January 31, 2014

Museum of the Moving Image Exhibits Indie Gaming

Gone Home

We live in a fascinating time for indie video game enthusiasts. Platforms like Steam and Good Ol Games have made distribution for small developers a cinch, while even monolith companies like Sony are championing games like Octodad: Dadliest Catch for their next gen systems. While the big titles will still grab up ad space and store shelves, small indie titles like Minecraft have shown the ingenuity, the power and the popularity of games developed outside major studios. What starts off as a bit of code on a computer one day becomes part of our cultural lexicon the next.

Highlighting these unique endeavors in electric entertainment, The Museum of the Moving Image (36-01 35 Avenue, Astoria, NY), in association with IndieCade: The International Festival of Independent Games, will be exhibiting Indie Essentials: 25 Must Play Video Games (December 14, 2013 - March 2, 2014).

These are games that reinvent classic formulas (Spelunky), encourage creativity and freedom (Minecraft), or completely subvert preconceived notions of what a video game can be (Gone Home and Quadrilateral Cowboy). Also featured will be past winners of the IndieCade Festival, which celebrates independent games and the designers behind them.

Other games being exhibited include:

  • Flower
  • Kentucky Route Zero
  • Diner Dash
  • Killer Queen Arcade
  • Dear Esther
  • Spaceteam

Jason Eppink, Museum of the Moving Image curator states that “the designers and developers of the games presented in Indie Essentials take daring creative risks to explore new forms and methods of play." “Independent games are a fountain of innovation and experimentation, advancing games as one of today’s most dynamic and important cultural forms.”

To learn more, go to:

IndieCade: The International Festival of Independent Games
December 14, 2013 - March 2, 2014

The Museum of the Moving Image
36-01 35th Ave
New York, NY 11106

The Resurrected Arcade: Part 1

Photo by Rishi Gandhi

I am not sure if I can truly call myself a filmmaker, but I knew that the experience I am about to recount to you could only be fully expressed through the medium of film. I am about to tell you how I came to create a film that would embody my own nostalgia, as well as the nostalgia of many people like me. Nostalgia and video are a potent duo, and the internet has made their relationship that much stronger. There are countless clips of people extolling their fondness for days pasts, of cartridges blown into, and of bosses long since defeated. A thriving second hand market makes putting that old Genesis or Turbografx back in your hands a cinch or you could just boot up an emulator. When such memories and appliances are easily regained, nostalgia is both de rigueur and dead.

Arcade A Go Go 7It’s easy to bring back any game you used to play, but what about the space that game used to inhabit? That is where the arcade comes in. It seems distant and strange now, but arcades were the lifeblood of the gaming industry and fandom. Even through the Playstation era people tried to search for “arcade perfect” conversions of titles. Arcade games were found in pizza places, movie theaters, and just about anywhere that had a wall socket and consumers, but the true arcade, that cacophonous mecca of tokens, was where the real action was.

But as time goes on, the impermanence of pleasure becomes all too apparent. Eventually the arcade became an outmoded relic now that home consoles and PCs were providing richer and more vibrant experiences that you didn’t have to keep plugging quarters into. By the early 00’s, the arcade had practically vanished from the American landscape. Some were demolished, some converted into stores, but some were too large to sweep away with the sands of time. Some arcades dot this country like the empty carapace shed off by some mammoth insect. This film is about one such arcade.

tekkenMy local arcade shut down in 2011, but had been atrophying for many years prior, as the arcade industry was dwindling. I regarded its closing as sad, but at least the place was now out of its misery. The once proud establishment still stands on a very busy stretch of road, across the street from a well patroned super market. For two years I would drive past the empty husk of a building without much thought given to it.  But one summer day I noticed something unusual, there were cars and trucks outside of what I assumed to be an abandoned building. I parked my car in a lot now cracked and overrun by weeds and walked inside, not knowing what to expect (raccoons? emptiness? my own death?).

What I saw my old arcade stuck in a sort of limbo. It was now being used as storage for arcade machines in need of repair by a distributor. Not totally dilapidated, but far from good shape, the old place was fully stocked with machines, but many of them in disrepair. I was practically awestruck. I walked through the cavernous complex and it made me think of the darkened corridors of Resident Evil or the lonely island of Myst. This space was both instantly familiar to me, but now upturned and alien. I had walked these grounds actively in my childhood, and now I returned, yet saw it for the first time.

Arcade A Go Go 5I knew this place was special. I felt like a young Bruce Wayne when he first tumbled into the cave that would become his base of operations, but my mission had not become clear to me yet. Areas that were once secret were laid bare. The once pitch black labyrinth that was the Laser Tag section was now an illuminated dumping ground for old Skee-Ball machines. The arcade machines that were once securely fastened to the wall were now mine to peer inside their silicon innards and take advantage of the Free Play mode.

I hurriedly took some pictures with my phone; savoring the site of old Neo Geo cabinets like Weegee photographing a crime scene. This was just laying the groundwork for what would come. At the time, there was no idea in my head about a film, but I knew there was something special about this place and these photos. I posted a few of the pictures on a message board dedicated to vintage gaming, not really expecting much of a reaction. I saw an outpouring of posters; some that went to that exact arcade, some that went to similar places, some that simply wanted to mourn the death of the American arcade, and remark at the machines frozen in dust. The gears started turning in my head.

I knew I had to return to the arcade and give life to a place all but forgotten that had once brought so many so much joy. While there have been films in the past about arcades, such as 100 Yen and King of Kong, I wanted this film to let the location speak for itself. The narrative arc would already be in the hearts of any person that used to go to an arcade. I knew what I had to do. I got in touch with my close friend and camera man, Rishi Gandhi, and we set out to begin our task...

The Great Flannel Way: "Jagged Little Pill" On Broadway

Nostalgia is a strange thing. It comes and goes in waves, but it is ever present. Through much of the late 90’s and early 00’s, there was a glut of 80’s nostalgia in the form of cartoon revivals, covers of popular songs, and so on. But 90’s nostalgia has stayed somewhat low key. Until now. Alanis Morissette, that Gen-X songsmith of perfectly unkempt locks, is now treading ground on the Great White Way.

Alanis’ 1995 album, Jagged Little Pill, will become Broadway musical, in the vein of Green Day’s American Idiot (which blazed the trail for this endeavor). Let’s let the press release take it away (emphasis mine):

“Seven-time Grammy Award winner Alanis Morissette will take her 1995 hit album, Jagged Little Pill, to the Broadway stage debuting a workshop production of the piece in 2014. The musical, also called “Jagged Little Pill,” will include the full song list from the album as well as tracks from the rest of her body of work and some new, original songs that she will compose specially for the stage production. Two-time Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner Tom Kitt (“Next To Normal”, Green Day’s “American Idiot”) has signed on to provide orchestrations and arrangements.

“...Jagged Little Pill” will be produced by veteran Broadway producer Vivek J. Tiwary, who saw success with a similar venture, Green Day’s “American Idiot,” and British-Malaysian producer Arvind Ethan David.”

Now if you excuse me, I have to go pitch a musical about 4 Non Blondes.

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