Cellist & Composer Mike Block Reinvents Concert Series at Brooklyn Lyceum
What would happen if an Arab folk musician, a chart-topping rock guitarist and a Grammy-nominated classical violinist decided to play each other's music? And co-write a new piece? And even cover a Justin Bieber song? Who knows...and that's exactly the point of GALA/NYC, a one-of-a-kind performance series at the Brooklyn Lyceum that will preview for four concerts in May with a full season of twice-monthly shows to begin in September. The first shows will take place on Saturday evenings at 8 pm on May 7, 14, 21 and 28.
Anchored and developed by the versatile Juilliard-trained cellist and composer Mike Block-hailed by Yo Yo Ma as "the ideal 21st century musician"-the concert series expands the musical conversation to create an artistically multi-lingual program that's intimate, immediate and interactive. Drawing performers from a wide swath of musical styles and arts disciplines, GALA/NYC serves as a platform for artists to collaborate and connect with one another, and with the audience, in a unique and spontaneous way.
"At the highest level, GALA/NYC is about a personal interaction between the specific artists," he says. "It's not an academic exercise about how can we combine genres but a dialogue shaped by peoples' individual backgrounds, responses and influences." Equally important to Block is involving the audience in the artistic process. "I want to break down the barrier between audiences and performers so it becomes one creative community. The audience can influence the direction the show takes."
To open a more direct communication between musicians and concertgoers, the program will always include an improvisational element guided by audience members. Also, Block will keep a blog during rehearsals that reveal collaborations in real-time and viewers can give their input on the music being created. Responses to the concert preparations can actually influence the final performances. Block's blog will feature interviews with upcoming guest artists and GALA/NYC shows will be streamed live on the Internet so that people outside of New York can get in on the action.
The remarkable range of artists includes multiple Grammy winners and nominees as well as other world-class musicians from diverse backgrounds. The concerts in May will feature Aaron Dugan, guitarist for the Top-40 band Matisyahu; jazz saxophonist Seamus Blake, a member of the Grammy-winning Mingus Big Band; and Classical Grammy nominees-Russian violin soloist Anastasia Khitruk, and the Enso String Quartet. Among the other outstanding performers scheduled are: Aoife O'Donovan, vocalist for the Alt-Bluegrass band Crooked Still; Jay Foote, bassist for pop singer-songwriter Diane Birch; Mathias Kunzli, a percussionist for Lauryn Hill and Moby; Japanese folk and jazz flutist Kaoru Watanabe; Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh and his City Band; Kristin Andreassen, a folk singer-songwriter with Uncle Earl; and Shane Shanahan, a percussionist who performs regularly with Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble and for the Broadway show "Shrek."
Beyond music, GALA/NYC will regularly reach into other art forms: a hip-hop dance duo, improvisational comedians, and Kevork Mourad, a visual artist who illustrates live with music, are slated to take part.
With such a deep pool of diverse talent, New York is the perfect spot to launch and support Block's endeavor. Block's own career trajectory as a cellist, singer, composer and educator frequently takes a border crossing path. While still a Julliard student, he joined Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, a collective of accomplished musicians, composers, arrangers, visual artists and storytellers from more than 20 countries. Shortly thereafter he joined Mark O'Connor's Appalachia Waltz Trio, which relies on American traditional music to inform a new American classical genre. Additionally, he has toured extensively with Darol Anger's Republic of Strings, a creative quartet that mingled bluegrass, jazz, classical, pop and world music; and The Knights, a New York-based chamber ensemble that cultivates collaborative music-making and seeks to creatively engage audiences.
In 2009, he founded the Mike Block String Camp in Vero Beach, Florida, to empower students to compose, arrange, learn, and perform music from different styles, all by ear. Block is also the Lead Teaching Artist for Silk Road Connect. A groundbreaking partnership between the New York Department of Education and the Silk Road Project, the program brings musicians from different parts of the world into 6th grade classes of the city's public schools. For Block, GALA/NYC is an opportunity to continue these explorations with all the people and artists in New York.