Tag: highlights


Before we sing another chorus of “Auld Lang Syne” and bring the curtain down on 2018, we have an annual tradition among the staff here at New Music USA of revisiting some of the tracks that caught our ears and hung on for any number of good reasons. Don’t see a 2018 favorite of yours? We hope you’ll tell us more about it below in the comments so we can all give it a listen.

PLUS: New this year, you can stream the entire mix using our playlist feature. This listening option will allow you to easily save tracks to your own playlist as well.

Happy Holidays from New Music USA!!


Jennifer Jolley: Prisoner of Conscience

Album: Motherland
New Focus Recordings

Purchase via Amazon / iTunes / Bandcamp
The score on ISSUU

I know that Quince’s second album made our list last year, but to me their latest (Motherland) is, to recontextualize Mao Tse Tung, a “great leap forward.” The centerpiece of this third Quince disc (featuring four recent compositions by four different women for unaccompanied female vocal quartet) is Jennifer Jolley’s Prisoner of Conscience, a substantive musical response to the 2012 trial and imprisonment of three members of the Putin-defying Russian punk band Pussy Riot. Though it was composed back in 2015, Jolley’s not-fit-for-radio-airplay, eight-movement cantata with spoken-word interludes is the ideal soundtrack and perhaps balm for our current “toxic” (to replay the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year) times.

—Frank J. Oteri, Composer Advocate and Co-Editor, NewMusicBox

12 Little Spells

Esperanza Spalding: 12 Little Spells

Album: 12 Little Spells
Concord Records

Purchase via Amazon / iTunes

“Grounded sensation of perpetual connection with the immensity of the external world,” reads the photo accompanying the release of “12 Little Spells,” an overture dedicated to the thoracic spine. With it, Esperanza Spalding conjures the grounding, expansive, connecting force of the twelve vertebrae between the pelvis and the base of the skull that anchor the ribcage and protect the spinal cord. This spell/song has cinematic swells that feel like breathing, like unfurling, like taking a giant full-body morning stretch while returning to your corporeality after a deep sleep. Spalding’s voice, supported by strings and guitar and bass and brass, stretches and expands alongside her lyrics.

On her website, Spalding writes that the concept behind her newest album, 12 Little Spells, came to her as an embodied tingling healing sensation. She touches upon her initiation into reiki and writes that she wanted to “harness these 12 little sensation-revelations into sounds, words, imagery, and performance that activates this healing, tingling effect in others.” For me, this collection of spells feels more like a grimoire than an album in the best possible way. If you are a body in need of some magical grooves, I would highly recommend treating yourself to a meditative hour of musical healing, courtesy of Esperanza Spalding’s 12 Little Spells.

—Mallory Tyler, Administrative Associate


Jlin: Abyss of Doubt

Album: Autobiography
Planet Mu

Purchase via Bandcamp / direct

Admit it, we’ve all been there. That’s what makes this short, intense track so compelling. Suggested listening mode is loud and with good headphones for the most dramatic impact.

After working in steel factory in Gary, Indiana, Jlin has taken the electronic music world by storm. An indefatigable touring performer, she’s been on the road almost constantly since May 2017. Despite that, she still found time for collaborating with choreographer Wayne McGregor on a major new work, Autobiography, from which this track and album resulted.

—Eddy Ficklin, Director of Platform

This is Not a Land of Kings

Gelsey Bell: This is Not a Land of Kings
Gelsey Bell, Amber Gray, Grace McLean (vocals)

Album: This is Not a Land of Kings
Gold Bolus Recordings

Purchase via Bandcamp

Admittedly, I’m a sucker for the center of the Venn diagram of folk, a capella, experimental, female vocals. On this track and across the entire short EP, Gelsey, Amber, and Grace demonstrate the full expressive power of the human voice. Extended techniques mingle effortlessly with deeply satisfying consonant and dissonant harmonies. This track helps me suspend time for a moment before I get back to “rolling up [my] sleeves.”

—Megan Ihnen, Content Associate

The Landscape Scrolls

Peter Garland: mid-day
John Lane, percussion

Album: The Landscape Scrolls

Purchase via Amazon / iTunes / Bandcamp

In the chaos of modern life which often sets my mind skipping, I found Peter Garland’s The Landscape Scrolls to be a recording which instantly focused my ear and attention. Spare lines of distinctly diverse timbres fuel the five-movement, 50-minute-long piece, expertly delivered by percussionist John Lane. In this setting, Garland’s musical imagination cuts an aural path that is striking for its clarity of expression and inspired in its cumulative effect. I have yet to find the lucidity many have achieved through the practices of yoga or meditation, but the resonances in The Landscape Scrolls shush the contemporary noise machine and offer up a centering sonic touchstone.

—Molly Sheridan, Director of Content

A Very Wandelweiser Christmas

Franz Xaver Gruber, arr. Meaghan Burke: Silent Night
The Rhythm Method

Album: A Very Wandelweiser Christmas

Purchase via Bandcamp

The Rhythm Method are, individually and collectively, fierce, fearless, and virtuosic performers. They’re also a group of players who are unapologetically stylistically omnivorous and versatile, and have a definite sense of humor – which shows in their choice to release that rare animal, a new music Christmas album. (The last one I remember is Jerseyband’s Christmasband… in 2001? Which is also awesome but on a completely different level, volume-wise, to this one.) The quartet describe this album as “a cheeky but earnest tribute to the ethereal, soul-flossing music of the Wandelweiser composers’ collective” drawing on “those composers’ deep engagement with silence and slowness, with gentleness and the sort of beauty you have to lean in to hear.” If you like your holly jolly on the quieter, experimental, ASMR side, this is for you.

—Eileen Mack, Software Engineer and Platform Strategist

Yo Soy La Tradicion

Miguel Zenon: Viejo
Miguel Zenon and Spektral Quartet

Album: Yo Soy La Tradicion
Miel Music

Purchase via Amazon / iTunes

Miguel Zenon has for many years used his enormous artistic vision to draw attention to the music from his own cultural heritage. This collaboration with the Spektral Quartet is a striking addition to his body of work. This entire album is worthy of some deep listening, and it was recorded just at the time Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, making the project all the more compelling. I chose this particular track because it demonstrates a more introspective side of the music, which often goes unnoticed.

—Deborah Steinglass, Interim CEO

Book of Travelers

Gabriel Kahane: Model Trains

Album: Book of Travelers
Nonesuch Records

Purchase via Amazon / iTunes / Bandcamp

Gabriel Kahane is such a phenomenal storyteller. On the album Book of Travelers, he captures many personalities and snapshots of lives within the romanticism of long-distance train journeys throughout America. In “Model Trains,he relates the story of a train-loving husband and father who goes slowly mad after hitting his head. The harmonic palette one might liken to romantic art song, which is probably what carried the story so poignantly for me upon first hearing it.

—Amber Evans, Grantmaking Associate


Julia Holter: Chaitius

Album: Aviary

Purchase via Amazon / iTunes / Bandcamp

I’ve always really enjoyed Julia Holter’s work, and her new album, Aviary, is stunning. Each track offers its own beautiful, terrifying, and joyous world, worth multiple listens. I was initially taken by “Everyday is an Emergency,” which is full of bagpipe, brute-i-full amazingness. However the energy and chaotic-ness of “Chiatius” grabbed my attention. It delivers something of a more classical vibe mashup. It’s as if there are multiple pieces overlapping, ebbing and flowing over the top of each other.

—Scott Winship, Director of Grantmaking Programs

Words After Music: Stories from the Archive

On May 19, 2015, NewMusicBox hosted its first live event which featured performances and stories as told by three incredibly compelling and diverse music makers: Gabriel Kahane, Matana Roberts, and Joan Tower. The evening was filled with laughter and poignant reflections, and throughout the month of August we will be posting each of the 20-minutes sets for you to enjoy.

In addition, we took the opportunity to dig through the NewMusicBox archives and reflect a bit on the phenomenal stories composers and performers have told us over the years. Since May 1999 when the site first launched, we have profiled hundreds of artists, presenting in-depth conversations with them through text and video and showcasing their music. In the early years, fans used to frequently ask if we hoped one day to be successful enough to have a print version, but this never made much sense to us. It is a magazine about music, after all. That readers are able to hear the work we cover for themselves is one of its greatest features, not a flaw.

And so for sixteen years we’ve carted our recording equipment all around the country and—even though we joke about how these interviews always seem to take place on the hottest or coldest day of the year, in a 6th floor walk up, or on the exact day the next-door neighbor decides to start a complete apartment renovation with a jackhammer—the fact is that the invitation we have been given to step into artists’ homes, their lives and their work, can’t be beat.

Since the beginning, it’s been very important to us that NewMusicBox let’s music makers speak for themselves, and they have told us some unforgettable anecdotes. We’ve loved being able to share those experiences with you online. Here are a few highlights.

2010: Favorite Things And Inspirations

A favorite album from 2010:

A favorite article from that year: Can’t Get You Out Of My Head: Melody and the Brain.


2010 was significant for me personally since I officially began working at The Box that year. Although I had written for NewMusicBox a couple of times in the recent past (Molly is the most excellent and highly persuasive of editors), it was great to be amongst friends, and to have the opportunity to edit articles, wander around behind the scenes of Counterstream Radio, and write on a regular basis about a variety of topics—both serious and not so much—of my own choosing. It’s a pretty darn excellent gig.
At that time, Molly, Frank, and I would go out to tape interviews as a team (now that we have streamlined our equipment a bit, we either travel solo or in pairs in the name of efficiency), and the first one I got to tag along on was a talk with the inspiring Bunita Marcus, who also happens to have the most lovely composing space I’ve seen. There was another really great one with Henry Threadgill in one of New York City’s oldest cafes, as well as a memorable one which involved a field trip to Yale to talk with Chris Theofanidis.
2010 saw some exciting high-profile acceptance for jazz creators, talk of digital piracy, and an incredibly open and honest account of soldiering through an awkward moment.
I love it when composers are honored in huge ways and are willing to talk to us about it themselves; it happens more often than you might expect. Sometimes an artist decides to mix things up, make major life changes and get super real about it, too. When all is said and done though, there’s nothing quite like a composer with a really great sense of humor.
Additional NewMusicBox @ 15 Posts

The 5 Stages of Donating:
1. Denial – That big purple donate button doesn’t really exist.
2. Anger – Why are there so many non-profits out there asking for my money?!
3. Bargaining – They don’t really need my money anyway. All the programs will exist whether I donate or not. Right? RIGHT?!
4. Depression – There’s so little support for artists in this country.
5. Acceptance – New Music USA is one of the few organizations that works to increase opportunities for artists and grow the audience for new American music. If I can, I need to support them financially so that they can keep doing what they do for the field.

You Don’t Say! Quotable Quotes from NewMusicBox

Quotable quote
In its 15-year history, composers, musicians, and industry professionals have shared countless pearls of wisdom with NewMusicBox, but these are some that have become particularly quotable quotes around the office, starting with one I used to keep on a sticky note posted above my desk.

Tania Leon on composer camps:
Despite of our talking about Uptown, Downtown, Midtown, whatever town you’re talking about, the point is that there are some people who are completely out of town, even when they are in town.


Ornette Coleman on love, war, and music:
The sound is made from the instrument. The ideas are made from your brain. The ideas and the sound actually meet. They don’t necessarily meet to make love. Sometimes they’re meeting to make war.


Brian Ferneyhough on label avoidance:
No, I don’t put a label on it because when you put a label on something, you’ve canned it. I know that the present-day world of commerce cans things and I’m sure it’s very good that they can things for us. They radiate them and do various things to normalize them and make square tomatoes that fit more adequately in the boxes available to them. That’s not my concern. Art is about questioning how things fit together, it’s not about making them fit together better.


Nico Muhly on being a “classical” composer:
The best way to make there not be that much of a distinction, even if you feel there might be a teeny one, is to put your fingers in your ears and say, “La-la-la-la-lah.” I’m so uninterested. It’s essentially like being from somewhere. I feel like I’m very proudly from the classical tradition. It’s like being from Nebraska. Like you are from there if you’re from there. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have a productive life somewhere else. The notion of your genre being something that you have to actively perform, I think is pretty vile.


Milton Babbitt on encounters with new genres:
I don’t even know what hip-hop is, to be honest with you. Do you understand hip-hop? What is all this scratching of records?


Elliott Carter on minimalism:
I have a feeling about it that is very strong and it’s probably not correct. And that is that we are surrounded by a world of minimalism. All that junk mail I get every single day repeats; when I look at television I see the same advertisement. I try to follow the movie that’s being shown, but I’m being told about cat food every five minutes. That is minimalism. I don’t want it and I don’t like it. And it’s a way of making an impression that doesn’t impress me. In fact, I do everything to avoid it. I turn off the television until it’s over. I refuse to be advertised to.


Philip Glass on success:
The main thing is to love the work that you do because you may get no other reward. And if you don’t need any other reward except the satisfaction of the music, then you’re always winning. And that was true for me when I was 30. I was out playing music and I thought I was successful when I was 30! I had an audience. I had an ensemble. I was going from city to city playing music. I couldn’t make a living, but that was not the issue for me. People always say, “Well, when were you successful?” and I say, “Well, I always thought I was!” They said, “No, no, when did you make money?” “Oh! Much later.”


Mario Davidovsky on popularity:
I think there is a certain danger when we say, “Did you write a book? How many books you sold? Two. Well, then the book stinks. How many books? Two million; yes, that’s a great book.” This is a completely zombie consumerism way of judging, which we are going to pay for.


John Luther Adams on career and creativity:
No one ever told me that I could have a career as a composer. No one ever told me I couldn’t. I just didn’t think in those terms, and I made all the wrong choices every step of the way. I made all the wrong career choices and I didn’t know what I was doing, but I think the music knew where it wanted me to go. By a series of happy accidents, and a few conscious choices and maybe the peculiarities of my own psyche, I kept making all the wrong choices, and that’s turned out to be the best possible thing that could have happened for the music and for the composer.


Charles Wuorinen on descriptive opinion:
There’s no embarrassment about using the most primitive forms of description and in committing every form of that basic fallacy which says, “My reaction to a composition, or any artwork, is a property of that work. So, if I think a piece is ugly—if my response to a piece is ‘It is ugly,’ then it is, objectively.” That’s an impossibility, it just is! I thought we had been through that many, many decades, not to say centuries, ago, but now it’s all back. And so, “If I think a piece is sad, then it has the property of sadness.” That’s asinine!


Glenn Branca on improvisation:
Would you want to read an improvised, collaborated novel? I mean, I don’t know if you read. I read a lot. And I can tell you right now, I would not want to read something that was written by five people improvising.


Willie Colón on where life meets the music:
[W]e get into a big bar fight. We’re out on the sidewalk. … By the end, me and Hector [LaVoe] are fighting in the middle of a circle. Long story short, everybody gets beat up pretty bad and I get thrown in the alley in the garbage. The union delegate is making his rounds and he says, “Hey, that’s Willie Colón there.” And they say, “I don’t give a hell if he’s Willie Shit.” Anyway, he cleans me up and takes me back to the hotel. The place where that happened was on Calle Luna. So that’s where “Calle Luna Calle Sol” came from. It was after a real good bucket of whoop ass we got. It made me think chromatically.


Sxip Shirey on effective experimentalism in music:
If you take a child from the city and show it a horse, that’s an experimental moment, but the child doesn’t go, “Hmm, let me think about the entire history of evolution and how horses came to…”—No. What they do is say, “Oh my God, that’s so huge and frightening and I want to get closer to it.” So I want to create music and art that is totally huge and frightening, but also so delicious and wonderful that it makes you want to be part of it.


Wendy Carlos on the fundamental role of music:
An essential part of music is to connect with our shared inner feelings, to recognize the connections and know that you’re not alone. We’re born alone; we die alone. In between we have music, and a great gift it is, too. It’s in there with our social structures: families and friends and loved ones, a shared humanity. I like to think of it as the old metaphor of two ships at sea. We flash our signal lights as we pass one another. It makes life less lonely. It’s wired into us. If music were taken away from us, I do believe we would invent it again. In a few generations, we would develop it all over again.

Choral Glories in 2011

Now that the final flurry of holiday concerts is almost over, I’m taking a pause to reflect on the many accomplishments I witnessed in the choral field during 2011. Choral music has experienced an astonishing year, claiming its place as a vital and evolving form that touches and engages millions of participants and audiences.

One highlight has been a full year of choral programming on New York’s classical music station, WQXR. Each week on the program The Choral Mix, host Ken Tritle has explored “the vibrant and transformative world of choral music,” delving into a variety of topics punctuated by choral performances–both live and recorded. I sang in one of these–the first live broadcast of The Choral Mix from The Greene Space, WQXR’s performance space, in a program of works by Brahms. With a small live audience around us, four remote control cameras streamed the singers across the Internet. I was even able to view an archival version as soon as I got home from the performance.

Although The Choral Mix content veers toward early and classical repertoire, contemporary work was also featured throughout the year. The program on August 14 was devoted completely to 20th-century American music. Contemporary American composers also appeared throughout the year, including Tan Dun and David Lang in the “Choral Passion” program and Paul Moravec in a Memorial Day tribute. The Choral Mix airs at the marginal times of 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. on Sundays, but programs are available anytime on the WQXR website.

A new development this year was the first Sing New York festival, culminating in a Choral Finale attracting more than 600 singers from choirs all over the New York area. Nine conductors led singers through significant choral repertoire in a great atmosphere of choral unity. Organizers of the event, the New York Choral Consortium, are planning the second Sing New York festival for summer 2012 and anticipate that American choral music will have a stronger presence in the Choral Finale. The video below shows conductor Cynthia Powell leading the massed singers in He, Watching Over Israel, from Mendelssohn’s Elijah.

In other good news, I’m thrilled to see choral groups featured in the recently announced first round of 2012 NEA music grants, although I would be happier if there were more of them; out of 127 funded projects, about 12 are choral. Contemporary American music shows up in several funded projects, including Santa Anna (California-based Pacific Choral’s commission, performance, and recording of a work by Frank Ticheli), as well as a project of Minneapolis-based Vocal Essence with jazz trumpeter and composer Hannibal Lokumbe.

Individual choral artists also received some major recognition this year. Conductor Francisco Núñez received a MacArthur “Genius Award” for his work as artistic director of the Young People’s Chorus of New York. Noted for its outstanding work with young people, the choir’s consistent commitment to contemporary choral work in the Transient Glory program deserves acclaim. Watch video of Núñez talking about the choir and the award.

Finally, this year showed that some recognition can be a long time coming. The Catholic Church recently announced that Pope Benedict plans to canonize Hildegard von Bingen and make her a Doctor of the Church. As the earliest known composer of sacred music in the Roman Catholic tradition and one whose works still play a vital role in the repertoire today, this acknowledgement is welcome, although more than eight centuries too late for Hildegard!

One final cause for celebration for me is being able to share my love of choral music on NewMusicBox.

Happy Holidays to all.

What are your musical highlights of 2011?