March 4, 5, 6, 2010
Jewish Community Center San Francisco, CA
1. "Streichquartett 11 (1998-2000)
Jurg Frey Composer from Switzerland
This was performed by Quatuor Bozzini, a string quartet, from Montreal. Well, what can I say. This is one of those pieces that are smarter than I. It was really slow and really quiet and that didn’t change one iota throughout. The woman next to me loved it and she is a musician. As a listener only, I just didn’t hear all that I should have, I guess. Apparently there was movement — quiet chord changes. Oh dear. I decided that there must be a difference between meditative and mind-numbing. I found this the latter. The man behind me whose stomach was rumbling add a certain percussive element which I liked.
2. "Twilight Colors" (2007)
Chou Wen-chung, composer
Born in China but has lived in the US since 1946. He is 87 years old and couldn’t be here because of health issues. This was performed by the Left Coast Ensemble (6 musicians: violin, viola, cello, clarinet,oboe and flute), based in San Francisco. This was another piece focused on bleakness and inspired by the changing sky over the Hudson River Valley. He quotes, "in the darkness, a thread of light." That sums it up for me. I did like it as there were 4 movements and some change of instruments – like French horn and bass clarinet. It was not all draggy and that’s a good thing.
3. "The Willows Are New" (1957) by Chou Wen-chung
Nice piece and the pianist, Eva -Maria Zimmermann, was great. More about her on tomorrows concert notes.
4. "Kafka Songs" (2001-03)
Composer: Lisa Bielawa from New York
Performer: Carla Kihlstedt – voice and violin
This was the highlight of the evening for me. Not only did Carla sound good, she also looked great. And I know this is a shallow observation. She wore a long dress and was barefoot. Perfect to counteract the highbrow new musicy experience. The program notes say that Lisa took quotes from Kafka and Carla sang these quotes while playing the violin. For example: "And this time I only recognized these old games after being with them for such a long time. I rubbed my fingertips to erase the shame." Nice.
1. "Mobiles in Mobili" (2006)
Pre-recorded media by Natasha Barrett from Norway.
This was a nice piece performed by Natasha sitting at a console in front of the stage. Lots of sounds, timbres, textures.
2. Kidd Jordan, saxophone with William Parker, bass and Warrren Smith, drums. The first a piece that Kidd said he composed 2 days ago, but my sense was that it was mostly improvised and good stuff at that. Kidd is from New Orleans and I met him years ago when George Lewis played with him, Muhal, Ajaramu, and some other AACM musicians at the New Orleans Jazz Festival. Kidd’s, now 74 years old is a fine sax player and the music was great. The second piece: "A Ballad for Trane." I guess I must mention that their presence at this Festival falls into the usual routine of hiring an group of older Black Jazz Musicians to perform at an otherwise all white bunch of people usually much younger. It’s as though they never seem to hire young black musicians or performers. Why not? I see this over and over again. There are plenty of black performers and composers around – Anthony Davis, James Newton, Tyshawn Sorey, and Darius Jones come easily to mind.
3. "Kernel Expansion" (2009)
Composer and performer, Natasha Barrett
More of the same as mentioned before, except this was a longer piece. There were eight speakers set up around the concert hall which made the nice sounds she created very effective.
4. Now to my favorite piece of the entire Festival. I am now obsessed with the work of this composer and plan to find and listen to all that I can.
Composer (and god bless him) Pawel Mykietyn from Poland
Performed by Eva-Marie Zimmermann, piano and pre-recorded media.
I didn’t take any notes as I was riveted listening every minute. It began with a huge boom which caused the people next to me to jump. I was reminded of that startling part of "Rites of Spring." The pre-recorded music continued for a bit when Eva-Maria began to play beautifully. Both played together and apart throughout. Can’t describe it at all. But the good news is that I spoke with Pawel and he said he would send me a CD. Apparently the Polish government would not allow him to bring CDs into the US. I have scoured the internet and found 1 Kronos Qt. DVD which includes him in a series of Polish composers. Of course, I ordered it. From the program notes: "It starts out with a bang and out of it a chord crystallizes. This chord returns again and again throughout the piece, and sounds as if it originated both from outer space and from the inner womb." A bit lofty but so is the music. The next piece by him was "String Quartet No. 2" (2006) which I also loved. This was performed by the Del Sol Quartet from SF. It was also gorgeous. Again, I didn’t take notes but the difference for me between the music by the other string groups and Pawel’s music was gigantic. We should all hear more of this music and I will try to help make this happen somehow/somewhere. The notes say it is "a fantasy in microtonal harmonics." New music AND lovely.
the last night. Two of these three performances were wonderful.
1. "When Heron Sings Blue" (2010)
Gyan Riley, composer and guitar
Timb Harris, violin and viola
Scott Amendola, percussion
Michael Manring, electric bass
I loved this ensemble. Young, smart, fabulous performers, and compositions. The bass player is an additional musician to this trio and I thought a great addition. Gyan is a wonderful guitarist, Timb played beautifully, and Scott is always a marvel – one of those rare percussionists who plays with both great nuance and power.
2. "Combinations" (2003)
Tom Johnson, composer
Performed by the Quatuor Bozzini
This is all about formulas. His influence is John Cage and it shows all over the place. Big concept and really really hard to listen to. 24 permutations of A, B, C D. I liked this first set – a little Reichian, some varied dynamics and I like the sound. Then there were the other 4 sets. All very very academic and that’s not a compliment. As I mentioned to Charles A., I wouldn’t buy the CD, but still nice to know about. Experimentation must continue even though I don’t like all of it: what do I know anyway.
3. "Eggs and Baskets" (1987)
This second piece by Tom Johnson was another little mathematic game.
4. "Pandemonium" (2010)
Composer: Carla Kihlstedt
Performers: Rova Saxophone Quartet with two readers Matthias Bossi (Carla’s husband) and Joan Mankin
This was really good and very interesting. Carla explained that the inspiration for this piece was a book given to her by her father when she was very young: "Pandemonium" by Humphrey Jennings that documents "the coming of the machine as seen by contemporary observers" between 1660 and 1886. The readers brought to vibrant life quotes from book and the four saxophones beautifully illustrated Carla’s compositions.
I am glad I was there and plan to go next year. Not only to hear the music but also to see old friends and meet some new ones from our wonderful contemporary music world. I met Amy X Neuburg who is a vocalist. I learned that she also performed on Robert Ashley’s "Now Eleanor’s’ Idea" and I am a great fan of Ashley. He can do no wrong. Saw Carl Stone who now lives mostly in Japan, said hello to Paul Dresher whose work I have admired for years and Tom Steenland who runs the Starkland label And Charles Amirkanian. I so admire what he accomplishes and also as a person. He runs the show without braggadocio. All his time on the stage making announcements and so forth are carried out efficiently and unassumingly.