Jherek Bischoff and the Wordless Music Orchestra open the 2012 Ecstatic Music Festival

This year’s edition of Ecstatic Music Festival just started and even if it won’t feature Judd Greenstein’s—it’s curator—dream lineup, it’s still pretty awesome. Indeed 150 performers and composers will collaborate on 11 shows to give us a vivid snapshot of the indie, or post-classical scene: Sxip Shirey, Angélica Negrón, Nick Zammuto,  Jason Treuting,  Janus Trio, Daisy Press, the Calder Quartet, Grey McMurray, Oneida, Rhys Chatham, and The Mountain Goats to name a few.

The festival (running through March 28) opened with an evening dedicated to Jherek Bischoff’s music: his compositions and his arrangements. Bischoff, apart from being a composer and an instrumentalist (ukulele, double bass, guitar, etc.) is also an arranger and producer involved a plethora of projects which list would probably fill the rest of this page. Joining him on stage was the Wordless Music Orchestra conducted by Joshua Kohl as well as guest vocalists including David Byrne, Craig Wedren (Shudder To Think), Greg Saunier (Deerhoof), Mirah, Zac Pennington (Parenthetical Girls), Carla Bozulich, Charlie Looker, Sam Mickens, Paris Hurley, Steven Reker and Jen Goma.

Jherek Bischoff and the Wordless Music Orchestra – Photo by David Andrako

The first half of the concert was dedicated to songs composed by Bischoff and one was immediately struck by their sober elegance: the haunting falsetto of Your Ghost, the lyricism of The Nest, the tongue-in-cheek drama of Young and Lovely, and Bischoff’s overall taste for parallel harmonies. I was not familiar with Bischoff’s music before the concert and I was happily surprised by his orchestration chops, even if, at times, the glockenspiel was pervasive.

The second half, on the other hand, showcased songs written by Bischoff’s friends and orchestrated by him. It was an interesting experience to have the same performers back on stage, but to perform their own music this time. Not that they weren’t convincing during the first half but the performance/creation dichotomy tickled one’s interest anew. The large roster of songwriters also made for a greater variety from the Brazilian grooves of The Country of the Future by Mirah Zeitlyn (hats off to Sam Boshnack for the trumpet solo), to the free flowing, translucent harmonies of Craig Wedren’s Heaven Sent, or the britpopy motoric drive of For All the Final Girls by Zac Pennington, whose energy and charisma made Jarvis Cocker look like Lana Del Rey… Carla Bozulich’s gripping performance of The Blue Room was definitely a highlight of the entire evening, her husky voice intensely delivering gut-wrenching lyrics.

Carla Bozulich and the Wordless Music Orchestra – Photo by David Andrako

The orchestra itself was impeccable throughout the concert and was very at ease with this kind of repertoire. Indeed, regardless of what people might say or think, it is not a given for a classically trained orchestra to be able to perform pop/rock infused pieces in a convincing manner. Wordless Music Orchestra did, and extremely well. Joshua Kohl’s enthusiasm was contagious and Paris Hurley’s lead was remarkable.

Holy sh*t it’s David Byrne… – Photo by David Andrako

This opening night was a success for so many reasons: the quality of the performances, the craft of the songwriting, the curating, the successful collaboration between Bischoff and the Wordless Music Orchestra, etc. A favorable omen for the weeks of music that will follow. For those of you who couldn’t make this sold out show, Q2 is generously hosting the live capture of this event here.

Take a look at the upcoming concerts here, or come back often to read our reviews. We’ll try not to miss any of them…

Thomas Deneuville, the founder and editor of I care if you listen, is a French-born composer living in NY. Find him on Twitter: @tonalfreak