Exterior of the Elbphilharmonie, designed by architect Herzog & de Meuron | Credit: Josef Woodard

This edition of ON the Beat was originally emailed to subscribers on June 1, 2023. To receive Josef Woodard’s music newsletter in your inbox each Thursday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.

When you find yourself in Hamburg, Germany, there are plenty of attractions and allurements keep the tourist busy and on the streets. One can easily stroll from the central train station to the quite refined art museum Hamburger Kunsthalle — well-stocked with paintings from the group Der Blaue Reiter group and a room full of Max Beckmanns, for instance. Head into the city proper and catch what’s left of the Beatles incubator, the Indra Club; take in regional food and Bavariana at the Hofbräu Wirtshaus Speersort; or even swing through the micro-red-light-district avenue of the Herbertstraße, just to say you did.

But the glorious and inspiring main attraction in the city for the past several years is down by the water, where the vast, expansive, and generally stunning Elbphilharmonie makes its dramatic presence known. (My Hamburger friend Marie informs me that its local nickname is “Elphi.”) Not unlike the painful yet ultimately ecstatic birth of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Elbphilharmonie (architect, Herzog & de Meuron) was a massive project that exceeded its budget and deadline, with some public consternation. But all was forgiven when it opened to great fanfare, internationally — it is now considered one of the world’s greatest concert halls. Whether or not you can get tickets to orchestral concerts here — they are still in demand six years after the grand unveiling — visiting the tall, dazzling, ship-shaped structure is a treat unto itself.

Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra at the Elbphilharmonie | Credit: Courtesy

Recently, I had the serendipitous pleasure of being in the city on the day when Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra, under Kent Nagano’s bold guidance, gave a Sunday morning concert in its now-famed Grosser Saal (Great Hall) to open the Hamburg Music Festival. The extra-juicy musical menu included a substantial reading of lesser-known Brahms and Beethoven, for standards’ sake, but more importantly, the home court premiere of Sean Shepherd’s powerful and semi-epic An einem klaren Tag (On a Clear Day), a substantial new work for orchestra, cellist (Jan Vogler), and expanded chorus — including a surprising nimble youth chorus taking on a complex score.

Kent Nagano conducts the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra at the Elbphilharmonie. | Credit: Courtesy

On a Clear Day, with planetary-conscious texts by poet Ulla Hahn (plus one by Walt Whitman), was premiered by this orchestra in Carnegie Hall a week earlier, moving from an old-school bastion of a concert hall to a brand-new one. The Elbphilharmonie seemed the perfect site for an opus that freely — but purposefully — blends conventional and inventive compositional tactics. The work, by turns stark and sternum-rattlingly dense, dissonant and consonant, challenging and soothing on the ear, truly sang in this room.

For orchestral music aficionados, tourists, and destination architecture-seekers alike, this grand hall in Hamburg is well worth the pilgrimage, with the Hofbräu and Kunsthalle on the side.

Our columnist, Josef Woodard, at the Elbphilharmonie | Credit: Josef Woodard

Brazilian Waxings

Os Mutantes at SOhO on May 25, 2023 | Credit: Josef Woodard

Os Mutantes snuck into SOhO last week, courtesy of the good folks from the hip Bay Area–based promoter (((folkYEAH!))), and it made for a grand, typically genre-busting time for all in the house — apparently onstage, as well. With this group, a unique Brazilian concoction of a band, trying to work up an accurate description with dipping into hyphens, hybrids, and deep Brazilian history is challenging, if not pointless.

One word does sum things up, to some degree: Tropicália, the vibrant rebel genre out of Brazil in the late ’60s that merged native sounds from that hyper-enriched musical country, Beatles influence (which is an eclectic brew into itself), psychedelia, honeycomb vocal harmonies, and other species tossed into the ever-shifting stylistic pot. Two of my personal favorite byproducts of the movement are Caetano Veloso and the quirky genius Tom Zé, both still kicking and restlessly creating as we live and breathe.

Nearly six decades later, this incarnation of Os Mutantes revolves mostly around the sole charter member, Sérgio Dias Baptista, who sat down on the job at SOhO but was a fount of energy and charisma. (Original singer Rita Lee died just last month, at 75.) Baptista peeled off ripe electric guitar solos and generally led the charge of the steamy and musical six-piece band, bolstered by harmonized parts sometimes echoing the Mamas & the Papas or CSN, with a Brazilian rock accent. Catching this live slice of Brazilian history made for a special, culture-sweeping, and dance-inductive night out.


Asleep at the Wheel | Credit: Courtesy

Founded by luthier and acoustic guitar enthusiast Kevin Gillies, the S.B. Acoustic series had cast a generous light on the art of string wizards on the global acoustic guitar scene since 2016 — at the Alhecama Theatre and at SOhO more recently. It closes up shop Sunday night at SOhO, with the return of Carl Verheyen. If his “day job” has been as guitarist for the smart-pop band Supertramp, Verheyen brings it on in a flashier, more personal way as a guitarist with marquis power all his own.
Asleep at the Wheel, the venerable hipster variation on the western swing theme, pays a rare visit to Santa Barbara at the Lobero next Thursday, June 8.

And on the “serious music” side of town, a teaser of the impending summer classical music lands at the Music Academy’s idyllic Miraflores campus with this Saturday’s opening fundraising Gala shindig. Cocktail-attired and cocktail-offered attendees will feast on fine cuisine, music from legendary soprano (and MA alum) Michelle Bradley, pianist Natasha Kislenko, piano alum Vassily Primakov, and the children of Sing!, plus a toast to CEO Scott Reed, in his last year at the helm.

Last but hardly least, check out this year’s Ojai Music Festival, starting next Thursday, June 8, through the weekend, with Rhiannon Giddens changing things up this year in the musical director hot seat (see story).


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