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Week 1 in the Big Apple

Updated: Oct 31, 2018

I'm sat in a Brooklyn café surrounded by hipsters, so now seems like the perfect time to write all about myself. I arrived in New York over a week ago, and I've been stomping around Manhattan, experiencing as much stuff as I can.

I'm interested to explore how art is created and received here, as at the end of my stay I'll hear my first US commission performed by the Melodia Women's Choir of NYC. I met the choir for the first time last Monday, and it was wonderful to hear their interpretation of the piece, which is dedicated to Zitkala-Sa, who died 80 years ago. It's quite something hearing women's voices unite. The string quartet to accompany them will all be excellent women too. It's the first time I've seen a choir agree how to pronounce the text "women" by using the old feminist spelling "wimmin"!

The first gig I heard was David Bowie's album Low performed by members of Shearwater and Deerhoof in a shopping centre – an unusual combination, and some of my favourite musicians. Carlos Alomar, who created Bowie's rhythm guitar for that album, was there to conduct Warszawa. He said that when recording in Berlin they felt liberated artistically because back then "no one listened to the B-Side". And also because they had "half a million dollars". I think I've remembered that right. I was jet-lagged.

Another highlight was going to the Carnegie Hall as Missy Mazzoli's guest to hear the Rensselaer Orchestra perform her River Rouge Transfiguration, inspired by Detroit. It was full of energy and went beautifully with the expansive sounds of Sibelius's symphony no. 5 which followed.

It was great to talk to Missy about her Lunar Lab scheme which supports girls to explore composition in New York. I'd love to encourage apprenticeship structures in the UK so that more young women feel at home in these impressive concert halls. Seeing behind the scenes from an early age can have a lasting effect.

After the Carnegie concert, British composer Hannah Kendall showed me the Lincoln Centre, and most importantly the Negronis served there. I've been intrigued by Hannah's music for a long time, and I'm looking forward to learning more about what she's creating here in NYC.

We also discovered that we've been staying in the same part of London for the same number of years and never bumped into each other. It took being in a different country to actually meet!

At the end of the week I walked through Central Park as much as possible before packing my bags for Brooklyn. There's such a variety of birds here. Apparently the park falls on a migration path for them. It feels so strange to see woodpeckers in the middle of a city.

They're encouraging natural meadows to grow in certain parts. It does make me wonder what this land looked like when Zitkala-Sa was writing. Here's what she said of Missouri, in 'Why I am Pagan":

My heart and I lie small upon the earth like a grain of throbbing sand. [...]

At length, retracing the uncertain footpath scaling the precipitous embankment, I seek the level lands where grow the wild prairie flowers. And they, the lovely little folk, soothe my soul with their perfumed breath. Their quaint round faces of varied hue convince the heart which leaps with glad surprise that they, too, are living symbols of omnipotent thought. With a child's eager eye I drink in the myriad star shapes wrought in luxuriant color upon the green. Beautiful is the spiritual essence they embody.

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