New Music in a New Scene in Brooklyn

National Sawdust
Tonalities and dissonance

It was fitting that Canadian composer Tim Brady should have the premier of his Third Symphony in a new space in Williamsburg that itself premiered earlier this month.  National Sawdust opened with considerable publicity after a long period of gestation. We saw it for the first time Thursday with a performance curated by David T Little employing his own Newspeak ensemble of 11 musicians and the highly trained Choir of Trinity Wall Street with 16 singers. 

Brady’s symphony is based on “Symphony” a long poem by Chilean writer Elias Letelier that describes the terror of living under Pinochet.  It is an hour long piece, symphonic in concept, with the choir taking the role of a component of the orchestra.  I thought the piece sounded like a cross between Philip Glass and Nico Mulhy.  The choir sang tonalities while the instruments played dissonance.  Tonality clashed with atonality, reflecting political tensions, strife and tragedy. 

The pace was at time furious, throbbing, the sounds lively, consuming, the tonal qualities of the choir strong, clear, piercing at times, but always there.  The conducting of Julian Wachner kept this long piece of music under tight control.  

There were eight sections, some distinct, others folded back on the material, so there were themes we heard through much of the music, a unifying idea.  The range of sounds included an interlude made by a high amplification of a guitar string being scratched.  It was suitable for torture. 

I thought the piece satisfying, engaging, musically interesting.  It would have been better if we had a program that contained the words.  There was no program at all.  It was online only.  

The space was handsome, but not awesome. It was intimate, seating about 175 including a balcony space.  The singers, players and the elaborate collection of percussion equipment and the electronics took up about half the floor area.  There was only room for two rows of folding chairs.  Considering the size of the space, there was no need for amplification.  The voices were given an echo that was effective in the first section.  I think the piece would have been more dramatic if the singers and instruments were scattered around a larger space such as the Park Avenue Armory.  

The walls and ceiling of National Sawdust were of a high tech material that worked well.  It is an easy space, pleasant, warm, and sure to be popular with musicians and audience.  It sure is an improvement over the dingy bars that have been hosting performances of new music.  It is just off the L line at Bedford Avenue.  There is a bar and soon there will be a restaurant.  National Sawdust, 60 N 6th Street, Williamsburgh.  See