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92Y Concerts Presents New Music by Vijay Iyer

Creating a vibrant and dynamic future for classical music with a new commission from composer Vijay Iyer for the Brentano String Quartet

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“Time, Place, Action” Receives New York Premiere at 92Y

Posted on May 14, 2014 by 92nd Street Y

92nd Street Y’s commitment to the presentation of new music was center stage on March 1, 2014, when Vijay Iyer’s new composition, “Time, Place, Action” received its New York premiere at 92Y’s Kaufmann Concert Hall. The piece was performed by Iyer and the Brentano String Quartet, for whom it was written. An audience of 413 attended the concert, which also featured two works by Beethoven: the String Quartet in D major, Op. 18, No. 3, and the String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2.

Co-commissioned by 92Y, “Time, Place, Action” is a multi-movement piano quintet—dedicated to the memory of poet Amiri Baraka, who died this past January 9—that characteristically blends elements of improvisation and written-out music. As Iyer explains in a note, he aimed to put “the spirit of real-time invention in dialogue with the meticulous interpretative art of the string quartet.” Both the skeletal piano part and the strings’ more precisely notated music allow the players considerable freedom of expression. He goes on to write:

“What the two approaches have in common is a focus on the experience of sound in time; the priority in both cases is not only the articulation of form, but also a heightened attention to moment-to-moment interaction and the flow of aural sensation.

“That zone (between score and experience, let’s say) is where this piece is meant to dwell. In the best cases, composed material offers an opportunity for the performers’ own dynamic, interpersonal expressions of tone, texture, rhythm and energy, which are then put to use to highlight aspects of the compositional shape. These embodied realities of music—the human actions in time and place, which we as listeners hear, react to and empathize with ‘from the inside,’ as one neuroscientist put it—make performers more than mere interchangeable conduits for a composer’s intent. As a composer, I embrace those human realities; for me, composition is meant to serve performance, not vice versa. By highlighting the intentionality of the sound-making process, I strive to embrace each performer’s selfhood.

“In this piece, notated sections open up and transform through various real–time decision processes. The piano part is specified mostly in a skeletal form; as in much of the music I play, my role here consists of choices made and executed in the moment, in dialogue with the details of the composition. The harmonic language, derived from various overtone and undertone series related to the open strings, seeks to maximize resonance; this alternates with a more gestural vocabulary derived from my improvisational language. The overall shape is a mix-tape: a series of juxtaposed episodes through which a larger story emerges.”

In his review of the performance, Nate Chinen of the New York Times praised the collaboration between Iyer and the Brentano String Quartet, writing, “Not long into [the performance], there came a moment of deep, transfixing confluence between the composer and his partners for the evening, the Brentano String Quartet. It arrived in a largely improvised second movement, as a single sustained note slowly morphed into something as layered and ephemeral as a rolling cloud bank. Mr. Iyer’s first piano chord brought a bolt of clarity, and with it a blush of instant communion.”

92Y is grateful to New Music USA for its generous support of our long-standing commitment to new classical compositions. We look forward to continuing to serve as a leader in commissioning and presenting new works in the upcoming 2014-2015 season.


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Music and the Brain

Posted on May 12, 2014 by 92nd Street Y

On March 1, 2014, 92Y was proud to host a pre-concert talk about music and the brain featuring musician/composer Vijay Iyer, violinist Mark Steinberg of the Brentano String Quartet, and Ian Quinn of Yale University, moderated by Hanna Arie-Gaifman, the Director of 92Y’s Tisch Center for the Arts.

As part of 92Y’s Seven Days of Genius festival, the talk presented intriguing insights into the nature of improvisation, the cognitive connections between music and verbal language, and the process that the Brentano String Quartet experienced when first encountering Vijay Iyer’s new work, “Time, Place, Action,” composed for the Brentano String Quartet and Iyer on piano.

In thinking about his new piece, co-commissioned by 92Y, Iyer explained that he relied on his background as a jazz pianist in composing a work for the classically-oriented Brentano String Quartet. He wanted the new piece to provide an opportunity for the ensemble to listen and respond to the piece and one another in real-time, collapsing traditional categories of “written” and “improvised” music. 

By reinterpreting oppositional terms like written versus improvised and classical versus jazz, “Time, Place, Action” helped the Brentano String Quartet see their interactions with classical repertoire in a new and profound way.

Learn more about this conversation by checking out the video!


The 92nd Street Y’s Tisch Concert Series commissions two to three new works of solo and chamber music each season from the world’s leading composers, helping to support the creation of fresh, innovative classical music. In the 2013-2014 season, 92Y continues its tradition of bringing new music to audiences through the co-commissioning of a new work from Grammy-nominated jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer, who has been described by Pitchfork as “one of the most interesting and vital young pianists in jazz today,” by The New Yorker as one of “today’s most important pianists…extravagantly gifted…brilliantly eclectic,” and by the Los Angeles Weekly as “a boundless and deeply important young star.” Iyer, who was named a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, will create a piece for piano quintet, composed specifically for performance by Iyer himself at the piano, and the renowned Brentano String Quartet. 92Y serves as co-commissioner of this piece, in conjunction with several other United States presenting organizations.

The Brentano String Quartet has been described by the New York Times as performing with “a vigorous physical intensity that translates into sharply defined, dynamic interpretations.” Since its inception in 1992, the Quartet has appeared throughout the world to popular and critical acclaim, winning the first Cleveland Quartet Award and later the Naumburg Chamber Music Award. Today, as one of the best-known American string quartets, the Brentano String Quartet regularly works with some of the most important composers of our time; this is the second piece that Vijay Iyer has composed for them. Iyer and the Brentano String Quartet will come together at 92Y’s Kaufmann Concert Hall on March 1, 2014 for the piece’s New York premiere.

Vijay Iyer’s compositions cross genres, juxtaposing jazz, classical, pop, and world music into sounds that are groundbreaking and innovative. His diverse output extends beyond his numerous recordings to include collaborative projects that tackle real-world issues and inventive classical commissions. His previous work with the Brentano String Quartet, Mozart Effects (2011), was described as a “freewheeling, raucously joyful response” (Boston Globe) to a brief Mozart fragment, incorporating syncopated pop rhythms and jazz influences to form his unique interpretation of Mozart’s unfinished String Quartet in E minor from 1789. This example of boundary crossing is typical of Iyer’s classical compositions for small ensembles, and his new piano quintet is bound to deliver the same stylistic mix of fluid improvisation blended with emotional orchestrations and textures.

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Mozart Effects
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In 2011, Vijay Iyer was commissioned by the Brentano String Quartet to finish an unfinished Mozart fragment. The result, Mozart Effects, was recorded in December 2011 by the Brentano String Quartet. The first 1’20” is an unfinished Mozart fragment, and the rest is Iyer’s “response.”

Vijay Iyer Piano Quintet
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Composer and pianist Vijay Iyer speaks about his commissioned piano quintet for himself and the Brentano String Quartet, sharing ideas on paths this major new work may take.

Vijay Iyer: Playlist for an Extreme Occasion, Part Six

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Features: Vijay Iyer

The Silk Road Ensemble plays Vijay Iyer’s new composition, “Playlist for an Extreme Occasion, Part Six,” from their new album, “A Playlist Without Borders” (Sony).

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New York, New York

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Last update on May 14, 2014

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New York, New York
Founded in 1874, 92nd Street Y enriches lives, creates community and elevates humanity.  92Y promotes individual and family development and participation in civic life within the context of Jewish values and American pluralism.  More than 300,000 people visit 92Y’s New York City venue annually, and millions more join us through the Internet, satellite broadcasts and…


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