This is not an event I would have considered attending on my own, so I'm thankful to a friend for inviting me to tag along. I'm unhip enough never to have been to the Hotel Utah, so it was an experience just to get my wrist stamped, to avoid stepping on the dog in the bar, & to catch the attention of the preoccupied bartenders. For once I can say that I was not one of the younger members of the crowd.
The show itself was a mixed bag, offering different types of performers & styles but not making up a cohesive evening of music. It was made even more bizarre by the surprise appearance of violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn, who is doing Tchaikovsky with the Symphony this week.
The line-up started with chamber works performed by musicians from the Magik*Magik Orchestra. Violinist Gloria Justen performed 3 of her own solo compositions. Each piece has a distinct character & allows the soloist to do a certain amount of showing off. Her performance also incorporated electronic effects. An oboe duo performed Ecstatic Dances (originally for 2 flutes) by the Australian composer Ross Edwards. The pieces are meant to evoke the natural landscape of Australia. They make extensive use of musical echoes. A guitar & flute duo performed a Terry Riley elegy called Francesco in Paraiso.
Next up was a lanky guitarist/singer/song-writer called Tom Brosseau who did about half a dozen songs. I have to admit that I couldn't tune into what he was doing, except to notice that all his songs rhyme. There seemed to be a heavy dose of irony going on, but I couldn't be sure. Hilary Hahn made her 1st appearance at this point, accompanying him tentatively.
Ms. Hahn then performed 2 solos. I had never heard her play before, & I almost fell over when she announced she would play Ernst's version of Schubert's Erlkönig. She has a super-clean technique, yet plays with an understated virtuosity. She is also young & cute, & I'll probably never see her so close up again. When she weirdly lost her place in the Ernst, she simply stopped, announced that the piece is not supposed to end that way, then started back on the right track. She followed this with a contrasting slow movement from an Ysaÿe sonata. At this moment one realized how delicate classical music is in performance. Noises coming from the bar easily & careless crushed the still & quiet mood she was trying to create.
Mr. Brousseau, perhaps unwisely, followed Ms. Hahn with a few more of his songs. Hauschka joined him on the piano for one song, as a way to make a transition to the final portion of the show, I suppose.
The show ended with Hauschka playing a set of his own compositions on the prepared piano. He was accompanied on several of them by an ensemble of 2 cellos, 2 violins & 2 oboes, again from the Magik*Magik orchestra. Ms. Hahn joined the ensemble for the final improvisatory number. Apparently Hauschka has his own band, but he was not able to bring them over from Germany.
Hauschka used an upright piano with the front removed & various items duct taped to the strings & soundboard. Otherwise, he played it liked a normal piano. The primary effect was to dampen the instrument, making it sound like a clavichord or an old saloon piano. I was disappointed not to witness any other extended piano techniques. I still remember what fun it was to see Marino Formenti pick up a hammer & use it on a piano.
Hauschka's music is minimalist in style. It's very friendly, with simple ideas that are pleasant to listen to. Development occurs through the repetition of motives. There is something genuine & sweet about both the music & the performer. Hauschka, speaking fine English, acknowledged his cousin in the audience, who had come all the way from their small home town of Ferndorf to see him. Hauschka also expressed his hope to talk with some of us afterward over a beer. & he really meant it.
I do have one big complaint to make about the show. The venue is really tiny, but for some reason the concert was still amplified. This makes no sense to me. Electronic amplification puts an extra layer of technology between the performer & the audience. Though making things louder, it results in the loss of detail. I think there were a lot of things I did not hear because of the unnecessary amplification. Ms. Hahn was the only performer who asked that her mic be cut, & I was so grateful.