Saw a beautiful little show last night, dubbed "Efterkids." A six-piece string section from P.S. 859 (aka the Special Music School), a K-8 school for gifted kids in Manhattan, played live to a couple of videos by the Danish band Efterklang, who just released a new album, Magic Chairs, on 4AD. It was so sweet and moving, this cranky old rock journo admits he almost got a little teary.
I don't like to make such direct comparisons when an artist has such a clear and particular vision, but to shorthand it, Efterklang has the monotonal grandeur of the National, Radiohead's reinventive rock textures and the spooky hinterland grace of Sigur Ros. But there's a twinkling charm at its core, something those other artists lack. Efterklang is navigating that increasingly busy channel between rock and classical, and their music is lit from within by a gently incandescent soulfulness. (You can hear their song "Modern Drift" here.)
Before the show, the Efterklangers spoke to the audience and musicians via Instant Messenger, their smiling faces beamed large on the 20-foot screen. They had learned how to play music in public school, too, and their delight about this event was palpable, even through 4,000 miles of internet connection.
Then, with a grown-up conductor leading them, the kids ran through "Full Moon" and "Natural Tune" twice along with a specially made video of Efterklang playing in a studio, minus the strings. It's pretty tricky for any musician to play along to a track, maybe more so for those who are used to the fluid tempo variations of classical music; in most situations like this, the conductor would have a click track in his or her headphones. So the kids were a little tentative the first time through, but the second time they nailed it. They played them twice because the performance was being recorded for a "4AD Session" that will go online next month. You'll have to pay a small fee to watch the video, but it'll be worth it: the money goes to the Special Music School.
The hi-tech, 21st century-ness of it, combined with the remarkable poise and chops of these kids, was fascinating in itself. For the players, I'd guess this was a refreshing change from the usual classical repertoire and it must have kindled the idea that classical music can be a living thing, contemporary, able to interact with modern technology. Things like this, along with the success of the Wordless Music series, suggest a very bright future for new music.
But what hit me emotionally wasn't just the music, but the contrast between the moody, grown-up band on the screen, making this plaintive music, and the relative innocence of the twelve- and thirteen-year-olds seated before us in a little black-box theatre in Lincoln Center. As Efterklang sang lines like, "I don't know if it's coming back/I gave away the faith/and I don't know if it's still around," I thought about how the kids probably couldn't fully relate to the emotions in the music, and how bittersweet it was that they soon would.
Efterklang is just about to begin an American tour. I'm seeing them in New York and I recommend you catch them in your town. Schools who are interested in doing an Efterkids event should contact Adam Farrell at 4AD.