“Kagel Nacht” – by Mary Jane Leach

Last Wednesday (4/27) the Capital District was treated to one the best new music events I’ve seen in ages, at the Grand Street Community Arts Center by Kagel Nacht, an ensemble dedicated to presenting the work of Mauricio Kagel. Kagel (1931-2008) was born in Argentina, but spent most of his adult life in Cologne, Germany. He was one of the major composers of the last fifty years, but unfortunately is not very well known in the United States. I keep forgetting this, as I lived in Cologne for two years, where he was ever-present in the music scene, as well as teaching at the Musik Hochschule, where seemingly every young composer studied with him. He wrote in numerous styles, but is best known for his music theatre works, most of which have a gentle humor. (Many of his earnest students write very serious humorous work.)

It is his theatrical works that Kagel Nacht presents. They toured up and down the east coast this April in a converted school bus fueled by vegetable oil, transporting the ensemble, as well as their many costumes, sets, and spotlights.

It is unusual to have full-throated theatrical performances in new music, but Kagel Nacht delivers in spades, helped in no small part by Rick Burkhardt, an Obie-winning playwright and performer, who delivered virtuosic performances. The whole ensemble, though, performed well, both musically and theatrically.

The evening was seamless, one piece leading directly to the next. A big hit with the younger set (under ten years old) was Acustica Jukebox, which had “song” buttons to be punched that would then trigger songs/events, including at one point, a succession of toy lambs that tumbled out of the set. The night ended with an absurdist ballet performed by the men in the ensemble.

To wrap up, it was an excellent night out. Next time Kagel Nacht is in town, be sure to look it up.


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