Tuesday, March 20, 2012

American Mavericks: Chamber Music featuring Meredith Monk

I was at the last American Mavericks concert Sunday afternoon. The program opened with Steve Reich's Music for Pieces of Wood, performed by 5 percussionists, each playing a pair of claves. They executed 3 cycles of layered, clicking patterns without a score. The 15 minute rendition sounded bright. Someone in the back of the orchestra spoke up loudly several times, & the lady in front of me exclaimed "dreadful" out loud.

Meredith Monk gave the premiere of her Realm Variations, for 7 singers & 7 instrumentalists. The piece features a long piccolo melody, played by Catherine Payne with a solid & seamless tone. The voices are used like instruments & sing nonsense syllables instead of words. The 20 minute piece has a drowsy, aimless mood. All the singers were very still, & it was fun to see The Standing Room on stage.

After intermission pianist Jeremy Denk joined 3 members of the SF Symphony for Echoi by Lukas Foss. The piece is sort of an evil jazz suite. The 4 musician seem to play sometimes with each other & sometimes in disregard of each other. The performance felt intelligent.  Mr. Denk played alertly, with his characteristically flamboyant releases. Cellist Peter Wyrick produced sounds by pressing down very hard on the strings with the fingers of his left hand. Clarinetist Carey Bell played beautifully pure & connected melodies & then made his instrument bark & squeal. In the 3rd movement he played directly into the piano & into the drumhead of the timpani. Jack Van Geem was an ambidextrous percussionist. The audience laughed when he threw a tantrum in the 4th movement & angrily struck the piano with mallets. He also played a garbage can lid.

There was a long break to rearrange the stage, then MTT led a chamber orchestra of about 20 in 2 settings of James Joyce poems by David Del Tredici. His music is harsh. The clashing high & low dissonances of Ecce Puer hurt my stomach. Soprano Kiera Duffy has a high, solid & steely voice, & she maintains a feeling of balance even when jumping between the extremes of her range. Some passages of Nightpiece had her sounding like a squeaky toy. I did not like the amplification of her voice. The other soloist was French horn player Nicole Cash, who played her quieter part with a mellow, rounded tone. The concert ran overtime, & my concert companion & left immediately after the piece was over & began jogging up Franklin Street to our next engagement.

§ American Mavericks: Chamber Music featuring Meredith Monk and members of the SFS
Members of the San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
Meredith Monk and Vocal Ensemble
Jeremy Denk, piano
Kiera Duffy, soprano

Steve Reich: Music for Pieces of Wood
Meredith Monk: Realm Variations (World Premiere; San Francisco Symphony commission)
Foss: Echoi
David del Tredici: Syzygy

Sun, Mar 18, 2012 2:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

 § Photo Credit: Jesse Frohman

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