Critic’s Choice

Tue Mar 05, 2019 at 4:26 pm

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It looks as though composer/saxophonist John Zorn isn’t ready for his retrospective yet. Out of the seven Zorn works on his “Composer Portraits” concert Thursday at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, five will be world premieres. (The two “oldies” were composed, respectively, in 2018 and 2016.)

Once the personification of New York’s “downtown” aesthetic in new music, Zorn has been appearing up, down, and all around the town ever since the New York Philharmonic commissioned a piece from him in 1994, if not before. The Miller Theatre tribute, performed by new friends such as flutist Tara Helen O’Connor and the JACK Quartet and old friends such as bassist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz and bass trombonist Dave Taylor, brings this musical shaman to the uppitiest of uptown venues, nestled in the very halls of academe.

But Zorn remains the musician “who has embodied what it means to make outsider art,” as Miller Theatre’s executive director Melissa Smey puts it, even while becoming “the most embraced outsider I know.”  He has been a MacArthur Fellow, and received the William Schuman Award for an American composer “of lasting significance”—conferred by, guess who, Columbia University. It doesn’t seem to have dulled his edge in the slightest.

“Composer Portraits” presents music of John Zorn for various small ensembles, including five world premieres 8 p.m. Thursday at Miller Theatre, Columbia University. millertheatre.com; 212-854-7799.


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