After a Concert, a Nightcap to Demystify New Music

Conrad Tao
The New York Times

When a major orchestra performs the premiere of a new work, the piece is typically just dropped into an otherwise traditional program. The audience gets one crack at hearing it. And that’s that.

Enter the New York Philharmonic’s Nightcap series, a new venture whose aim is to acquaint audiences with living composers featured in subscription programs by way of cabaret-like, post-concert events at Lincoln Center’s intimate Kaplan Penthouse.
The inaugural Nightcap took place late Friday night, with an inventive, hourlong program organized by the 24-year-old composer Conrad Tao following a performance of his “Everything Must Go,” which had its premiere on Thursday as a kind of prelude to Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony.

Both Nightcap and another contemporary music series, Sound On — which has its debut on Sunday at the Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center, with a focus on the Dutch composer Louis Andriessen — take the place of Contact, the new-music series Alan Gilbert had introduced during his tenure as the Philharmonic’s music director. These new ventures are meant to be more informal. Still, Mr. Tao’s Nightcap could have used a little more music and a little less chitchat, though all the comments about the pieces were helpful. But demystifying contemporary music is essential work. Nightcap was a good start.

At the penthouse on Friday, Jaap van Zweden, the Philharmonic’s new music director, introduced Mr. Tao, whom he first got to know as a prodigious 16-year-old pianist. (He spends most his time on the concert pianist circuit.) Mr. van Zweden said that, having commissioned Mr. Tao several times over the years, he had asked him to write a piece inspired by the Bruckner symphony that would segue — without a pause — into its first movement. But, as he explained, he hoped the Philharmonic audience would sort of feel that the Bruckner “was inspired by Conrad.” If only Mr. van Zweden had thought to offer these charming, revealing comments to the audience at Geffen Hall the night of the premiere.
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