Wordless Music is devoted to the idea that the sound worlds of classical and contemporary instrumental music – in genres such as indie rock and electronic music – share more in common than conventional thinking might suggest. To illustrate the continuity between these worlds, the series pairs rock and electronic musicians in an intimate concert setting with more traditionally understood classical music performers.
The goal: to bring audiences together, and to introduce listeners from both sound worlds to composers that they might otherwise not encounter, for a completely new concert experience. In so doing, Wordless Music seeks to demonstrate that the various boundaries and genre distinctions separating music today – popular and classical; uptown and downtown; high art and low – are artificial constructions in need of dismantling.
Wordless Music Orchestra is the house band of New York City’s Wordless Music series, which was founded by non-musician Ronen Givony in 2006 and has since presented concerts in museums, churches, nightclubs, and out of doors, pairing artists from the sound worlds of so-called classical, electronic, and rock music. Comprising New York’s most omnivorous young musicians, and members of groups such as Alarm Will Sound, ACME, and Ensemble Signal, the orchestra presented its first concerts over two sold-out nights in January 2008 under conductor Brad Lubman, with the U.S. premiere of Jonny Greenwood’s Popcorn Superhet Receiver, on a program with music of Gavin Bryars and John Adams.
In 2009, Arvo Pärt’s Symphony No. 4 (“Los Angeles”) had its New York premiere by Wordless Music Orchestra under conductor Jeffrey Milarsky in two concerts at which the orchestra also played alongside the Japanese instrumental noise-rock band MONO. These shows with MONO were recorded and released by Temporary Residence as Holy Ground: NYC Live with the Wordless Music Orchestra, a limited-edition CD/DVD/LP set. Also in 2009, the orchestra recorded with Tyondai Braxton for Central Market, the composer’s solo debut on Warp Records, and went on tour with Braxton to Alice Tully Hall in New York, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
In 2010, the Wordless Music Orchestra performed alongside the Hilliard Ensemble and Latvian National Choir as part of Lincoln Center’s inaugural White Light Festival, in world premiere compositions for orchestra and voices by Kjartan Sveinsson and Jónsi Birgisson of Sigur Rós with his partner, Alex Somers; and the following year at the Guggenheim Museum rotunda in a unique collaboration with Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster for Gavin Bryars’ The Sinking of the Titanic.
On September 11, 2011, Wordless Music Orchestra performed a memorial concert for the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks in the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with the world premiere orchestration of William Basinski’s Disintegration Loop 1.1. In 2012, the orchestra returned to the Met Museum to play with the Danish indie-pop band Efterklang; performed the U.S. premiere of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s The Miners’ Hymns (with film by Bill Morrison) at the Winter Garden; and played with songwriter Jherek Bischoff as part of the Ecstatic Music Festival.
In 2013, the orchestra performed a world premiere live score to the film Beasts of the Southern Wild for an outdoor audience of 7,000 at Prospect Park in Brooklyn; with the legendary Kranky ambient duo Stars of the Lid at Brooklyn’s Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help; with the UK electronic band Goldfrapp for the group’s album release show at the Beacon Theatre; and with musical icon John Cale for songs from Cale’s classic album Paris 1919, as part of the BAM Next Wave Festival.
In 2014, WMO performed with Jonny Greenwood at the Big Ears festival in Knoxville, and in the U.S. live score premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. Also in 2014, WMO made its Australian debut with Max Richter at the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne Recital Centre. In 2015, the orchestra made its Los Angeles debut with composer/conductor Mica Levi in the U.S. live premiere of Under the Skin; performed the U.S. premiere of Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves; and reprised its collaboration with Benh Zeitlin and Dan Romer for an encore of Beasts of the Southern Wild in New Orleans.
In 2016-17, Wordless Music Orchestra performs world premiere live scores for Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life and Voyage of Time as part of the BAM Next Wave Festival and 2017 Melbourne Festival; Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, Ryan Coogler’s Creed, Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, and Ava DuVernay’s Selma.
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