Dumbo music fest features new work on ancient flute

The Brooklyn Paper
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Here is a concert you can really barge in on.

Brooklyn’s floating concert hall Bargemusic, which has been rocking in the water off of Fulton Ferry landing for 37 years, is hosting its annual floating festival of new works for the new year from Jan. 1–4. The boat’s director said it is a good way to follow up the venue’s New Year’s Eve Bach concert the night before.

“We’re closing out the year with some cheers for our old friend Bach, and then starting the new year with some new pieces,” said Mark Peskanov, Bargemusic’s artistic director.

This year’s Here and Now Winter Festival will include new works by Australian composers Rob Davidson and Brett Dean, chamber violinist Jesse Mills, and boundary pusher Annie Gosfield, whose work will fuse cello and electronic sounds.

Some of the compositions will be having their world premiere, while others will be heard in New York for the first time. The pieces vary greatly in terms of sound and style, and Peskanov said there will be something for everyone.

“It’s going to be for all different tastes,” he said.

One composer who definitely qualifies as different is James Schlefer. His work “Brooklyn Tsuru no Sugomori” is a solo composition for the shakuhachi, a wooden flute of Japanese origin. Schlefer, who was born and raised in Brooklyn Heights, has been playing the instrument for 35 years and teaches lessons in addition to performing across the country.

First used by Buddhist monks on their path to enlightenment, the shakuhachi makes a whimsical sound reminiscent of water fowl, Schlefer said. His newest piece roughly translates to “life of the cranes” and is based on ancient compositions, but with a modern twist.

“This is the Brooklyn version,” Schlefer said.

Part of a trilogy of similarly conceived works, “Brooklyn Tsuru no Sugomori” tells the sonic story of two cranes finding each other and living out their lives together. The flute’s sounds imitate vocal noises made by the crane as well as the flapping of its wings.

Schlefer, who is classically trained on the western flute in addition to holding a “grand master” certificate in the ancient Japanese version, said he tries to merge the old and new with all of his work.

“It’s a blending of classic Japanese chamber music with western classical music,” he said.

And though the two disciplines are unique, they still share certain elements, he said.

“Even though there’s a great many differences, the expression of the human experience through sound is often the same,” he said.

Here and Now Festival at Bargemusic [Fulton Ferry Landing near the corner of Old Fulton and Water streets in Dumbo, (718) 624–4924,]. Jan. 1–3 at 8 pm, and Jan. 4 at 4 pm. $35 per night ($30 seniors, $15 students).

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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