Monday, March 12, 2012

American Mavericks: Chamber Music

Kithara, 03.11.2012 Kithara instrument by Harry Partch. American Mavericks festival at Davies Hall.Sunday afternoon I heard the 1st chamber music concert of the SF Symphony's American Mavericks series. Pianist Jeremy Denk played 5 short, colorful Cowell pieces with clarity. He jauntily pounded out tone clusters with his fists, elbows & forearms & played inside the piano with reserve. He made the melody of Episode emerge clearly out of its flurry of notes. For The Aeolian Harp, Mr. Denk removed the music rack & plucked the strings while holding down keys, making a quiet, antique & zither-like sound.

The 8 young performers of PARTCH, wearing old-timey clothes, created a theatrical performance out of a set of Harry Partch pieces with spoken texts evoking the Great Depression. In San Francisco, 2 performers dressed as newsies hawked local papers. By the Rivers of Babylon presented the world's most lugubrious sermon, accompanied by an organ-like instrument that plays microtones. Barstow exposed us to the dreariness & weariness of hitchhiking. The performers received enthusiastic applause, & audience members crowded to the edge of the stage to get a closer look at the unusual instruments before they were taken away.

After intermission, a string quartet drawn from the SF Symphony played Terry Riley's G Song, which sounded like a Bach chaconne. The quartet's silvery playing had a nice freedom. The final work was the latest incarnation of Morton Subotnick's Jacob's Room, a theatrical work for amplified voice, string quartet, keyboard & electronics, with a text about the holocaust. Vocalist Joan La Barbara interspersed recitation of the text with growling, inhaling, cooing & other extended vocal techniques, all of which she executed with smoothness & ease. She used separate microphones to make her voice come from opposite ends of the stage, & in 2 cadenzas her voice is electronically sampled & sent ricocheting around the hall. The instrumentalists spend much of the time stuck in a relentlessly churning pattern. A mood of fear dominates, though I did not feel like the work had enough ideas for its 30 minute length. The audience gave the performance a warm response & a scattered standing ovation.

Susan Key & Morton Subotnick, 03.11.2012 Susan Key interviewing Morton Subotnick in the Wattis Room at Davies Hall for the American Mavericks festival.Surprisingly, there were a lot of empty seats. Pre-concert, Susan Key interviewed Mr. Denk & Mr. Subotnick in the Wattis Room in front of a small audience. The interviews were also streamed live on the Web. Mr. Denk discussed his admiration for Charles Ives & told us that playing tone clusters with his fists was more painful than playing them with the forearms. Mr. Subotnick is an impressively vital 79-year-old, & at the end of his interview he pulled out his iPad & demoed an app he designed that allows children to sketch with music.

§ American Mavericks: Chamber Music featuring Joan La Barbara and members of the SFS

Jeffrey Milarsky, conductor
Joan La Barbara, vocalist
Jeremy Denk, piano
Members of the San Francisco Symphony

Henry Cowell
Selections for Solo Piano
Advertisement (1917), Episode (1921), The Banshee (1925), Exultation (1921), The Aeolian Harp (1923)
Jeremy Denk, piano

Harry Partch
Five Pieces
Sextet from Castor and Pollux (1952), San Francisco (1932), The Letter (1935), By the Rivers of Babylon (1931), Barstow (1941), Reprise: Sextet from Castor and Pollux

Terry Riley
G Song for String Quartet (1980)
Dan Carlson, Amy Hiraga, violins
Jonathan Vincocour, viola
Peter Wyrick, cello

Morton Subotnick
Jacob's Room: Monodrama (2012) (World Premiere; San Francisco Symphony Commission)
Joan La Barbara, vocalist
Jeffrey Milarsky, conductor
Jesse Stiles, music supervisor/electronics
Sam Oliver, Paul Brancato, violins
David Kim, viola
Margaret Tait, cello
Peter Grunberg, keyboard

Sun, Mar 11, 2012 2:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

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