Fortunately there are plenty of fresh musical escapes available this weekend that can provide hours of respite — including a comprehensive history of the world’s worst orchestra, an evening-length program of women composers and a six-hour marathon of adventurous virtuosos. Here are four suggestions for a musically rewarding weekend — plus one for the next.
"The World's Worst: A Guide to the Portsmouth Sinfonia"
They filled the rows with eager listeners (with twice as many ears) at their Royal Albert Hall premiere. Their debut LP of “popular classics,” produced by Brian Eno, sold in the thousands. And accounts of their performances through the 1970s read like lists of superlatives — albeit more in the key of the title of this engrossing history of the Portsmouth Sinfonia. Conceived in 1970 by experimental composer Gavin Bryars and a gang of his students from the Portsmouth College of Art, the Sinfonia self-identified as “the orchestra that can’t play,” thanks to its open membership policy and strict emphasis on “passion rather than proficiency.”
Members — most amateurs, some not — had only to meet one requirement: complete unfamiliarity with their selected instrument. “We’re not against good orchestras, and we’re not a caricature of a straight orchestra either,” co-founder and spokesperson Robin Mortimore told Rolling Stone in 1975. “We’re playing it straight and as well as we can. We’re just not very good, that’s all.” Thus, the Sinfonia’s tortured-but-well-meaning accounts of “popular classics” such as Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” Beethoven’s Fifth, Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto land somewhere between high camp and high art.
This volume, edited by Christopher M. Reeves and Aaron Walker, collects photographs, posters, articles, correspondences, ephemera and essays from members of the orchestra, and is a lot easier to read than their music is to listen to. As Mortimore wrote, “You may find a freshness and excitement in its simplicity. Or you may not.”
Available via Soberscove Press.
Sarah Cahill, "The Future Is Female"
On June 5 at 11 p.m. Eastern time, you can catch a special live-stream performance by the keen and captivating pianist Sarah Cahill of selections from her ambitious performance project “The Future Is Female.”
Described by Cahill as “a ritual installation and communal feminist immersive listening experience,” this evening-length edition of the program (which in its full form can run between four and seven hours) will highlight the work of female composers from the 20th and 21st centuries, including Grazyna Bacewicz’s Scherzo (1934), Margaret Bonds’s “Troubled Water” (1967), Gabriela Ortiz’s “Preludio y Estudio 3” (2011), Elizabeth A. Baker’s “Four Planes” (2015) and several others.
Thomas Adès, "The Exterminating Angel"
The Met’s reliably compelling Nightly Met Opera Streams continues this weekend, with its 2015 production of Verdi’s “Otello” streaming on Saturday evening, and a 2008 production of Massenet’s “Thaïs” (starring Renée Fleming) on Sunday. But free up some time in your Friday evening (or the subsequent 23 hours) to take in the 2017 North American premiere of British composer Thomas Adès’s “The Exterminating Angel.”
Based on Luis Buñuel’s 1964 film (and twice as long), the opera throws a high-society dinner party that gradually darkens into something more like a self-served prison term, as one by one, the guests find themselves unable to leave. The horrors of this absurd stasis are heightened by Adès’s unsettling score, by turns eerie and stormy, with strange voices (like that of the ondes Martenot!) creeping in from the corners. It would feel like any ol’ critique of the elite until you realize you, too, have been unable to leave your seat.
Streams begin at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time and are accessible for on-demand viewing until 6:30 p.m. Eastern time the following day at metopera.com.
Philadelphia Orchestra, "HearNOW: An At-Home Gala"
Gala season may not be gathering up your weekends this year (or ever), but on June 6, Philadelphia Orchestra music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin hosts “HearNOW: An At-Home Gala,” a star-studded free live-stream event that will showcase a mix of live and prerecorded appearances and performances by Wynton Marsalis, Steve Martin, Nicola Benedetti and Lang Lang. Also on the virtual program is a “specially produced cinematic performance” of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” and the world premiere of composer (and Imani Winds founder) Valerie Coleman’s “Seven O’clock Shout,” a tribute to front line workers battling the covid-19 pandemic “written specifically for musicians performing and recording while social distancing.” It’s a big night on a little screen.
Bang On A Can Online Marathon
And if you’re already planning ahead to next weekend (how exactly are you doing that?), reserve the house laptop on June 14 from 3 to 9 p.m. for the second Bang on a Can Online Marathon. The virtually stacked lineup of 25 live performers includes Rhiannon Giddens, Roscoe Mitchell, Nico Muhly, Conrad Tao and Pamela Z as well as 11 world premieres, 1o of which were commissioned just for the occasion from composers including Žibuoklė Martinaitytė, Tomeka Reid, Shara Nova, Aaron Garcia and Leila Adu.
The last one was a day-blurring and occasionally revelatory pleasure — and at the very least beats double-checking your daisy count.
Watch at marathon2020.bangonacan.org.