MusicNOW Festival returns to Cincinnati at Music Hall, September 24-25

MusicNOW is back. And again, it is presented in conjunction with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

You remember MusicNOW, don’t you? Created by Bryce Dessner (The National) from Cincinnati (The National) in 2006, it brought Cincinnati a who’s who of contemporary music. Some were based on rock. Some had a folkloric tinge. But what really defined the music was its drive to make adventurous genre-to-genre forays. For those of us who write about music, it was a challenge to describe the performances. But for the audience, the concerts were intoxicating in the way they played with our musical expectations.

Like so many other things, however, the 2020 edition of MusicNOW fell victim to the COVID pandemic. Even before that, it was an amorphous entry into the annual music calendar. In 2014, the festival became a co-presentation with the Cincinnati Symphony. But in 2018, MusicNOW merged with the National’s Homecoming Festival. Then he disappeared for a year. Then came 2020.

MusicNOW 2021 is not as big as some previous festivals. But it is again co-presented by the CSO.

Best of all is that this new MusicNOW is the same delicious three-ring musical circus that it has been in recent years; free music for all with performances by talented and avant-garde musicians. On paper, combinations of musicians may seem improbable. But as anyone who has attended a previous performance of MusicNOW knows, it is this unusual mix of artists that creates extraordinary musical experiences.

“We juxtapose different musical languages ​​for people who come to us from folk or rock or indie rock or country,” said CSO musical director Louis Langrée, speaking by phone from Paris. “And suddenly they find that a classical orchestra is very different than they imagined. That the orchestra can be calm and beautiful. But here they can find that an orchestra can also be raw and shocking.”

This year’s festival returns to Music Hall on September 24-25, with two performances at the Springer Auditorium and two more nightly performances at Wilks Studio in Music Hall.

The Friday night concert will feature “folk supergroup” Bonny Light Horsemen, whose set will include new orchestrations from Dessner.

Bonny Light Horseman (from L, Eric D. Johnson, Anaïs Mitchell, Josh Kaufman) joins the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on September 24 as the MusicNOW festival returns to Music Hall.

“You know, we categorically told our editor not to use that word ‘supergroup’,” said Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats) who, along with Anaïs Mitchell (“Hadestown”) and Josh Kaufman (The National) form the trio. . “It makes it look like a side project or a relaxed band. We’re not.”

What they are, however, is a group of songwriters who have a way of making traditional music sound like something completely fresh, like it’s a modern day outgrowth.

Also on the Friday program, pianist Daniil Trifonov performs Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 4”. Interestingly, that same piece of music was on the program the last time Maestro Langrée led the full show jumping on March 1, 2020.

Trifonov is also back on the Saturday night program, performing Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 2”. Sō Percussion will also join the CSO to play “man made” by David Lang.

Russian composer and pianist Daniil Trifonov joins the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on September 24 and 25 to perform a pair of Beethoven piano concertos, # 4 (Friday) and # 2 (Saturday).

“Don’t forget to mention Bryce Dessner’s ‘Quilting’,” Langrée said. “It’s a wonderful piece of music. It’s been played in a few places. But it’s a first for me.”

Sō Percussion also performs in the Friday 10 p.m. concert at Wilks Studio, while Saturday’s Wilks concert features the Erika Dohi Trio.

“We are doing this because there is always so much new music in the world,” said Langrée, who will conduct both concerts at the Auditorium Springer. “You need 20 lifetimes of a busy schedule to explore it all. And even then, you couldn’t do it all. So with MusicNOW, we start.”

If you are going to:

What: MusicNOW

When: 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., September 14-15

Or: Music Hall, 1241 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine; Auditorium Springer (7:30 a.m. concerts), Wilks Studio (10 p.m. concerts)

Tickets: $ 14 to $ 99 (Auditorium Springer), $ 20 (Studio Wilks)

Information: 513-381-3300;

MusicNOW may end on September 25, but the CSO’s bold line-up continues at 7:30 p.m. on October 1 as the orchestra’s creative partner Matthias Pintscher conducts a program called “Contemporary Colors: Sound and Ecstasy. “. The program includes works by Olga Neuwirth, Helmutt Lachenmann, Alexander Scriabin and “NUR” by Pintscher. The guest artists are Inon Barnatan (piano) and Henrik Heide (flute).

About Selena J. Killeen

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