All I Know³
Information, transmission, modulation, and noise – 3rd Edition

Nonsemble 6 : Pierrot Lunaire!

Pierrot Lunaire: Cover
These days I’m rarely blown away by a concert, especially new music concerts. Same old folks in the audience, musicians on stage staring befuddled and morose at their music stands. Nothing new, really. No electricity. Nothing to talk about later.

Not last night, however. Something different happened.

The local SF ensemble called Nonsemble 6 performed a staged version of Arnold Schoenberg’s 1912 Pierrot Lunaire. And it was over the top and beyond remarkable.

First of all, Pierrot  is one of my favorite pieces from that era. And, it’s 100 years old this year! (1912 was a remarkable year, because it’s also the birthyear of John Cage, Conlon Nancarrow, Peggy Glanville Hicks, and Alan Turing, in addition to Pierrot Lunaire!) Pierrot marks for sure the end of the 19th century and the beginning of modernism and the 20th C. It is cast in the shadows of  fin-de-siècle Vienna, bordering on the hysterical and histrionic. But it also makes a big break with the past. The music has no tonal center and defies analysis according to any system. And the text, German translations of the poems by the Belgian poet Albert Giraud, goes beyond symbolism and Dada into some Freudian nightmarish pre-surrealism:

Valse de Chopin:

Like a pallid drop of blood
Colors a sick man’s lips
So reposes in these tones
A charm seeking annihilation.

Wild air’s accords disorder
Despair’s glacial dream-
Like a pallid drop of blood
Colors a sick man’s lips

Hot and jocund, sweet and tasty
Melancholic dusty waltzes,
Never come into my senses!
Hasten me on my conception
Like a pallid drop of blood.

The other remarkable thing about the work is that Schoenberg requires a speaking voice that sometimes sings, but mostly mondestrunken.jpgspeaks, and the score notates the spoken text. This sprechtstimme, spoken voice, was intended for an actor, Albertine Zehme, and subsequently it has always been performed with a female voice. Schoenberg was very specific about how to perform the vocal part, but subsequent performances have taken liberties. Even Pierre Boulez has stated that it might be impossible to perform Pierrot exactly as Schoenberg requires:

In the Preface to the score Schoenberg provides the following instructions relative to Sprechstimme.

The melody given in the Sprechstimme by means for notes is not intended for singing (except for specially marked isolated exceptions). The task of the performer is to transform it into a speech-melody, taking into account the given pitch. this is achieved by:

I. Maintaining the rhythm as accurately as if one were singing, i.e. with no more freedom than would be allowed with singing melody;

II. Becoming acutely aware of the difference between singing tone and speaking tone: singing tone unalterably stays on the pitch, whereas speaking tone gives the pitch but immediately leaves it again by falling or rising. However, the performer must be very careful not to adopt a singsong speech pattern. That is not intended at all. Nor should one strive for realistic, natural speech. On the contrary, the difference between ordinary speaking and speaking that contributes to a musical form should become quite obvious. but it must never be reminiscent of singing.

Moreover, I stress the following concerning performances:

It is never the task of performers to recreate the mood and character of the individual pieces on the basis of the meaning of the words, but rather solely on the basis of the music. the extent to which the tone-painting-like rendering of the events and emotions of the text was important to the author is already found in the music. Where the performer finds it lacking, he should abstain from presenting something that was not intended by the author. He would not be adding, but rather detracting.

That said, Nonsemble 6 probably broke everything Schoenberg cautions against. But, as Boulez indicated, it’s probably totally impossible to satisfy the composer’s intentions here. The vocal part was sung more often than spoken, and the musicians added  more than detracting from the text. Other groups have tried to follow Schoenberg’s admonitions with little success, and so many recordings I’ve heard fail due to excessive singsong speech patterns.

Still, the performance was far more engaging, far more theatrical and powerful than anything I’ve heard or seen since! And what made it all even more incredible is that all the performers MEMORIZED their parts. They played without music stands, or sheet music, and therefore were free to move about the stage as part of the scene. And, they were costumed and face-painted!p41.jpg

Memorized their parts! That seems so impossible. The work is over 30 minutes, comprises 21 separate pieces with different instrumentations and complexities. And some of the pieces are extremely dense and complex, as shown on the right.

One has to wonder if this is really possible. I know I’m incapable of memorizing anything, especially music. But with memorization, especially something as complex as Pierrot Lunaire, how do we know the performance was note-perfect? (Does it matter?) It would be so easy to sorta make it up, and a player could have convinced themselves that they were playing the right notes, but, in fact, they’re not. Only a recording could tell for sure.

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, so lets assume it was 90% note-perfect. Still, that is quite an accomplishment. And even tho I thought I heard some things that I’d never heard before in the four or five recordings of Pierrot I own, ultimately these musicians created something totally spellbinding.

One recording I have is with Schoenberg conducting members of the Julliard Quartet and friends, recorded in 1951. It’s a scratchy transcription of the original disks, in mono. The voice is frightening. Not something you’d care to listen to for more than a few minutes. But I’m sure this is pretty close to what the composer intended.

My favorite rendition is by the Schönberg Ensemble with Barbara Sukowa, from 1994. Sukowa is an actress  and a singer, and in all the concert performances I’ve heard, this is the one that seems to convey Schoenberg’s intentions the best. And, it’s wonderfully recorded. (And out of print.)

The group Eighth Blackbird is touring with their production of Pierrot, with actors/dancers and speaker on stage. You can see some of their production here. Apparently they too have memorized the score and perform and act. Maybe this is where Nonsemble6 got the idea. Still, memorizing Schoenberg!?.

Again, Wow! What an event. What an experience!  Nonsemble 6 needs to videotape this!  There is a rehearsal on the first piece, Mondestrunken, on YouTube. But it’s just a rehearsal, even tho they are playing from memory.

SF Symphony :: Adams/Mahler

Sam Carl Adams

This weekend we heard the SF Symphony perform a new work by Sam Carl Adams, a young (27) composer from the Bay Area now living in Brooklyn. (He’s also the son of Berkeley composer John Adams and photographer Deborah O’Grady). MTT conducted a remarkable program that also included an exceptionally excellent performance of the Mahler 5th.

But Sam Adam’s work, Drift and Providence,  was the more remarkable. We tend to expect that, given the chance to compose a piece for full orchestra, a young composer will use that opportunity to throw everything they can think of at you, resulting in quite an unbearable mess. However, what I found remarkable about Sam’s piece is how restrained it was. Definitely a work of sonic colors and not tunes, it had a fairly wide palette, and with a vague reference to the sea there were some recognizable reminiscences of Debussy’s La Mer in the midst. But this only added to the mystery and flow of the piece.

There definitely was a flow, an inertia, that moved the ear along, traveling from one space to another. The SF Symphony is an extraordinary instrument to work with, and the sound colors Sam was able to extract from them here were fascinating, from the very first note (which MTT described as sounding like lighting a match), all the way thru its 20 minutes. And, I suspect that being a bass player, Sam’s ears are tuned to the lower registers better than most, so there were some great subsonics to savor and enjoy.

The words I jotted down on my program at the intermission were just these: colors, restraint, flow, and undertow. Bravos, Sam. And I’d love to hear this one again.

And now for the Mahler: The 5th is certainly a major work, and I’ve heard it many many times. It is one of my favorite Mahler symphonies, altho I tend to drift towards the 7th as being my personal favorite. The 7th is rarely performed, which is good.

trauermarch.jpgI first heard the 5th some 50 years ago in an old mono recording that my Dad had with  Bruno Walter and the NY Phil (or was it the Vienna?). I think it was recorded in the 40′s. I always considered that to be the definitive recording, altho Bernstein, Haitink, Scherchen, and MTT and others could claim the same. At least Walter knew Mahler, so maybe there was some special sauce in that early lo-fi recording. But I loved the “fat” sound of that trumpet in the first measures.

Still, the 5th does hold a special place in my own personal musical history, and I revere it highly. I’ve owned a study score most of my life, and take it with me to any live performance, as I did today. I’ve found that following the score definitely keeps one focused on the music and doesn’t permit the mind to wander. Besides, after buying a recording of a piece of music, I’ve always figured that also buying the score is the highest compliment you can pay to the composer.

And, what a score. So many notes! It always amazes me to think of the effort that Mahler made here, as in all his symphonies.

There’s not much I can say other than it seemed to be a flawless performance, which is what we expect from MTT and the SF Symphony playing Mahler.  One could quibble about a few things, but that’s what makes a live performance different and more exciting than a recording that has been edited and processed ad inf.  I will say that I’ve never quite understood the last movement. It seems to stick out as something having little to do with the emotional turmoil and anguish of the preceding four. It’s very odd, a real rousing and long, repetitive circus piece with a Hollywood ending. I tend to just focus on the impeccable orchestration when listening and try to ignore the basic question of why it’s there. (Which is why I like the 7th more, because it all seems to fit together better).

The first four movements are all, of course, infected with the dit-dit-dit-dah theme of another 5th, Beethoven’s. But how Mahler turns that motif around and around, from funeral march, to silly Tyrolean ditties, to the most serious and dramatic outbursts — it’s total magic. And, then there’s the 5th movement … oh well. It’s a mystery.

Bravo to MTT, the Symphony once again, and to Sam. A great time was had by all.

For a much more professional review of the performance, see Tommasini’s

Phil Ochs Movie

 Finally, there’s a movie about 60′s folk singer Phil Ochs.

Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune

And it was reviewed in today’s NY Times.

Two of my Greenwich Village in the ’60′s photos appear somewhere in the film. (I haven’t seen it yet.)

While I didn’t know Phil directly, I did see him often in NYC, usually at rallys, and have a couple of photos of him, altho the film doesn’t use these. They wanted iconic NYC and Village scenes.

Still, I knew people who knew him well, and I heard about his mental instability (this is around 1966), which led eventually to his suicide.

I’m glad he’s finally getting some recognition. A tragic figure of real significance. And apparently this film does him justice.

The film website (click on the photo) lists some show dates.

Dane Rudhyar

The San Jose Mercury News has a great article on the upcoming Dane Rudhyar Retrospective concerts next week.

It includes a YouTube Video of Sarah Cahill performing  Rudhyar’s “Yearning” from Pentagram IV at an earlier Other Minds Seance:

It is the music that Other Minds is revisiting, compositions from his early and his late-in-life work. The retrospective begins with a reception at 6:30 p.m. Monday in San Francisco’s Swedenborgian Church, 2107 Lyon St., with a panel discussion moderated by Other Minds artistic director Charles Amirkhanian and featuring the composer’s widow, Leyla Rudhyar Hill, and his biographer, Deniz Ertan of the University of Nottingham. In the concert that follows at 8 p.m., the Ives String Quartet will play Rudhyar’s “Crisis & Overcoming,” a string quartet written in 1979. Violinist David Abel and pianist Julie Steinberg will collaborate on “Poem for Violin and Piano” (1920), and Berkeley-based pianist and radio show host Sarah Cahill will play three solo works: “Transmutation,” a tone sequence in seven movements (1976); “Stars” from “Pentagram No. 3″ (1925) and “Granites” (1929).

Cahill, asked for her thoughts on Rudhyar’s musical language, spoke of the “atmospheric, layered sound world” he invented and said she was amazed that both the early and the late works seem to dip into the same pool of inspiration. She quoted his annotations from his “Transmutation” score: “The inspiration for the music stems from a sequence of psycho-spiritual states of consciousness, not from anything resembling physical movement. Music here is a nonverbal speech aiming at communicating or inciting inner experiences.”

Read the entire article here.

Sarah Does New York City

Sarah Cahill - NY TimesBerkeley’s national treasure, pianist Sarah Cahill, wowed ‘em in New York City last week, together with Carl Stone.

Here’s the NY Times review:

August 4, 2010

Laptop and Piano, Dispelling Traditions

Tune in to any pop radio station today, and the ubiquity of electronic music is evident in the Auto-Tune vocals and programmed beats of even the most banal hit single. Listen closely, and you realize that gifted pop producers routinely turn out sophisticated orchestrations that surpass the reckonings of avant-garde prophets like Busoni, Varèse and Stockhausen.

But within the classical mainstream, where physical exertion and virtuoso skill have never lost their primacy, electronic music retains an alien quality. Could any computer jockey hunched over a laptop, peering intently but otherwise inscrutable, produce sounds as rich and relatable as those of a performer busily (and visibly) working on a piano?

Creating music of charm, quirk and sublimity with a computer is no more unlikely a notion than making it on a ponderous wooden coffin with ivory keys, felt hammers and taut metal wires. Both contraptions express the imaginations of their programmers and operators: a point made during related performances by the pianist Sarah Cahill and the electronic composer Carl Stone on Tuesday night at the Stone, an austere East Village new-music laboratory.

Ms. Cahill, an eloquent and indefatigable new-music advocate from the San Francisco area, offered an appealing range of concise works during her set. Some were part of “A Sweeter Music,” her continuing project created in response to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. All had an approachability that neatly sidestepped notions of avant-garde formidability.

The cascading arpeggios of Eve Beglarian’s “Night Psalm,” based on a 16th-century antiphon from Augsburg Cathedral in Germany, had a plain-spoken, hymnlike radiance and zeal. Annie Gosfield’s “Five Characters Walk Into a Bar,” inspired by the five-character codes used by the Danish Resistance during World War II, wrangled knotty five-note clusters with an improviser’s sense of spontaneity and propulsion.

Five-note cells also popped up in selections from Mamoru Fujieda’s placid “Begonia in My Life,” music derived from biofeedback signals provided by the plant of the title. Ms. Cahill handled the fearsome polyrhythms of Guy Klucevsek’s rollicking “Don’t Let the Boogie Man Get You” with impressive ease, and sang as she played in three gemlike miniatures from Larry Polansky’s “B’midbar.” Terry Riley’s “Fandango on the Heaven Ladder” was a buoyantly cheeky conclusion.

…Read the Whole Thing

Garden Of Memory – New Music Circus

Monday (June 21, Summer Solstice) at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland , the 15th annual new music circus will happen.

Garden of Memory 2010 is always a lot of fun and has some amazing performers .. some of the best names in new music in the Bay Area.

Today’s NY Times had a piece about it, and one of its founders Sarah Cahill.

Sarah Cahill

Sarah Cahill, New Music’s Tireless Advocate

When she is at the keyboard, Sarah Cahill exudes self-confidence. At a recent recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with David Latulippe, a flutist, Ms. Cahill dashed off challenging works by Arvo Part and Terry Riley with an easy flamboyance that matched her bright orange dress.

But during the curtain call, another side of Ms. Cahill’s personality came through. With an awkward bow and a shy smile, she looked more like a student playing in public for the first time than a seasoned world-class performer.

Ms. Cahill has such a gentle demeanor that it can be hard to grasp the magnitude of her impact on the contemporary music scene — not only as a pianist but also as a champion of contemporary composers, a prolific events producer and an influential broadcaster of classical music.

Composers like Pauline Oliveros and Frederic Rzewski have dedicated works to her. John Adams wrote his 1977 piano piece “China Gates” for Ms. Cahill when she was just 17. (more…)

Help This Composer, Please.

John Luther AdamsJohn Luther Adams, who lives in Alaska, is in a strange predicament.

Recent winner of the prestigious Nemmers Prize for Composition, he still needs to raise $6,000 to help Cold Blue Music record and release his latest CD, Four Thousand Holes. (He doesn’t get any money from the prize for two years, after he completes a commission.)

So he turned to a new website that is trying to put artists and donors together to fund projects.

It’s called United States Artists, and the website is projectsite.unitedstatesartists.org

John’s project is detailed at Four Thousand Holes.

So if you’ve ever wanted to be a donor for an art project, or can help John out so we can all get to hear his latest music (which is spectacular), join the website and make a pledge. (Your money isn’t charged until the project gets fully funded in the allotted time.)

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like any of the listed projects are anywhere near attaining their goals. I wonder why that is? Could it be that this site is a well-kept secret?  I only found out about it today by a very stealthy route. They do need better publicity. So I’m doing my share.

There’s more about John Luther Adams at the American Music Center’s NewMusicBox website.

Breaking News: JLA’s project, Four Thousand Holes, has been fully funded! Hurrrahs all around! You still have a few days to contribute to the project and receive a signed copy of the CD once it’s released. http://projectsite.unitedstatesartists.org/project/four_thousand_holes       Congratulations, John!

Louis Andriessen on MFOM

Louis Andriessen

Dutch composer Louis Andriessen is being celebrated at a number of concert venues in New York city this week, and last. (Here’s more information about the Andriessen mini-festival in NYC: »link )

Which leaves us to wonder why NYC and not San Francisco? Andriessen’s music continues to be an important influence on many younger composers. And his influence is felt world wide. Much of his music from the 1980′s and 90′s broke with many European and academic traditions, and to this day still sounds new.

One of my favorite Andriessen works, from 1980, is de Tijd (Time). Extended chords held by a choir are punctuated by brass and percussion outbursts .. the weight of the sound builds, like some heavy, powerful machine plodding forward, step by step thru some force field. I had forgotten how much I liked this piece until I started thinking about putting an Andriessen work on this week’s MUSIC FROM OTHER MINDS program. It’s 43 minutes long, but it could go on forever.

After some further digging, trying to come up with a 10 minute piece to follow de Tijd, I found 3 a cappella songs by Philip Glass, on a new re-release on Orange Mountain Music.  The texts are by Leonard Cohen, Raymond Levesque, and Octavio Paz. Powerful enough on their own, it rounded out the program perfectly.

You can hear the program here: 

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I’m Listening to Q2 These Days

Lately I’ve taken to listening to the Q2 stream from WQXR in New York City. Now that WNYC (the major NPR station in NYC) has taken over the “classical music” station WQXR and made it non-commercial (and changed it’s on-air frequency from 96.3 to 105.9).

The WQXR offers two streams: It’s primary WQXR stream, which is like any classical music station, mostly the usual familiar stuff with lots of mindless chatter. (Why does so-called classical music have to be packaged this way!?)

But the other, alternate stream, which they call Q2, presents “500 years of new music”.  And what you can hear here is quite impressive. Here’s the list of what they’ve played so far today: playlist for 12/31

I don’t know who is programming Q2, but they’re doing a great job. Quite a mix of always interesting and unusual music. So I’ve taken to running the Q2 stream at our house these days. Since I mainly work from home, it’s on nearly all the time (I have replaced the FM tuner in my sound system with a laptop running Ubuntu Linux and streaming internet radio).

There are now a good handful of streams to listen to on the internet. Pandora, of course, is still a major resource. It’s great for Jazz and general popular music, but it’s classical library, while still growing, has problems, like too many repeated plays, and not playing an entire work but just single tracks, which makes mince meat of most music.

There’s also CounterStream from the American Music Center which plays a lot of music by composers and performers I’ve never heard of, which is good.

And, there’s sfSound Radio, a local stream of very experimental music, that is always surprising.

But I’m really enjoying Q2.

When I was growing up in New York (1950′s), WQXR, WNYC, WKCR, WNCN, WBAI, were all resources for hearing great music. WQXR eventually declined to become more of a “lifestyle” station, selling the stuff that seems to go with “classical music”. But that’s where I got my musical education. And it’s latest reincarnation, via WNYC, is a blessing.

By the way, the iTunes URL for the Q2 stream is http://wnyc2.streamguys.com:80/

Happy listening.

200!

Hard to believe, but I just finished producing the 200th MUSIC FROM OTHER MINDS program and put it in the mail to KALW across the bay in San Francisco for Friday’s broadcast (December 11, 11pm PST KALW 91.7).

Little did I know when we started this series on KALW in January 2005 that it would go this far. So here we are, about to begin our fifth year!

It’s still fun. And I’m still discovering new music.

Friday’s program features some releases from 2009, and starts with a preview of a release that will be available in January from Michigan-based OgreOgress – a premiere recording and first radio broadcast of the Bardo Sonata by Alan Hovhaness, performed by Paul Hersey. And there’s also music by Ingram Marshall, David Simons, Christopher Roberts, and Morton Feldman.

200!

So far we’ve broadcast over 600 pieces of music from nearly 250 composers:

John Luther Adams, Peter Adriaansz, Charles Amirkhanian, Beth Anderson, George Antheil, Mark Applebaum, Larry Austin, Richard Ayres, Milton Babbitt, Alexander Balanescu, Billy Bang, Jean Barraqué, David Beardsley, Dan Becker, David Behrman, Barbara Benary, Cathy Berberian, Luciano Berio, Johanna Beyer, Iva Bittová, Marc Blitzstein, Mark Blitzstein, David Borden, Pierre Boulez, Tim Brady, Henry Brant, Martin Bresnick, Chris Brown, Earle Brown, Galen Brown, Ryan Brown, Gavin Bryars, Michael Byron, John Cage, Cesar Camarero, Edmund Campion, Elliott Carter, Friedrich Cerha, Philip Corner, Mildred Couper, Henry Cowell, Rick Cox, Ruth Crawford, Alvin Curran, Roland Dahinden, Maria DeAlvear, Eric de, Donnacha Dennehy, Dennis DeSantis, Francis Dhomont, Kui Dong, William Duckworth, John Duncan, Henri Dutilleux, Julius Eastman, Brian Eno, Robert Erickson, Daniel David, Morton Feldman, Luc Ferrari, Michael Jon, Gordon Fitzell, Jim Fox, Dominic Frasca, Fred Frith, Ellen Fullman, Kyle Gann, Peter Garland, Anthony Genge, Philip Glass, Vladimir Godar, Manuel Goettsching, Malcom Goldstein, Daniel Goode, Michael Gordon, Gerard Grisey, Sofia Gubaidulina, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, Barry Guy, Lars-Petter Hagen, Cristobal Halffter, Frode Haltli, Mark Hand, Lou Harrison, Michael Harrison, Lejaren Hiller, Hirokazu Hiraishi, Christopher Hobbs, Heinz Holliger, Bryan Hollon, Eleanor Hovda, Alan Hovhaness, Melissa Hui, Charles Ives, Richard James, Leos Janacek, Dobromila Jaskot, Joan Jeanrenaud, Ben Johnston, Klaus Jorgensen, Dan Joseph, Mauricio Kagel, Elena Kats-Chernin, Mari Kimura, Guy Klucevsek, Charles Koechlin, Jo Kondo, Drew Krause, Hanna Kulenty, György Kurtag, David Lang, Thomas Larcher, Elodie Lauten, Daniel Lentz, Tania León, Arthur Levering, Jorge Liderman, György Ligeti, Pierre-Yves Mace, Bruno Maderna, David Mahler, Keeril Makan, Philippe Manoury, Tigran Mansurian, Igor Markevitch, Ingram Marshall, Steve Martland, Janis Mattox, Toshiro Mayuzumi, Colin McPhee, Marc Mellits, Olivier Messiaen,  Olivier Messiaen, Chris Miller, Jeff Morris, Stephen Mosko, Marjan Mozetich, Hyo-Shin Na, Conlon Nancarrow, The Necks, Olga Neuwrith, Phill Niblock, Per Nørgård, Michael Nyman, Pauline Oliveros, Erik Ona, Leo Ornstein, Hans Otte, Gerard Pape, Arvo Pärt, Harry Partch, Gerard Pesson, Steve Peters, Larry Polansky, Jonathan Pontier, Wendy Prezament, Alwynne Pritchard, Serge Prokofiev, John Prokop, Horatiu Radulescu, Maja Ratkje, Belinda Reynolds, Roger Reynolds, Eric Richards, Wolfgang Rihm, Terry Riley, Jean-Claude Risset, Curtis Roads, Christopher Roberts, Neil Rolnick, Ned Rorem, Daniel Bernard, Loren Rush, Jeffrey Ryan, Frederic Rzewski, Franco Saint, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Eleanor Sandresky, Somei Satoh, Giacinto Scelsi, R. Murray, Dieter Schnebel, John Schneider, Arnold Schoenberg, Phillip Schroeder, Stephen Scott, Peter Sculthorpe, Ralph Shapey, John Mark, Wayne Siegel, Valentin Silvestrov, David Simons, Charles Smith, Chas Smith, Linda Catlin, Ronald Bruce, Wadada Leo, Alessandro Solbiati, Bent Sørensen, Ann Southam, Robert W., Karlheinz Stockhausen, Markus Stockhausen, Carl Stone, Igor Stravinsky, Morton Subotnick, Mari Takano, Toru Takemitsu, Karen Tanaka, James Tenney, Michael Tenzer, Terre Thaemlitz, David Toub, Jason Treuting, Sachito Tsurumi, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Frances-Marie Uitti, Edgard Varese, Giovanni Verrando, Serge Verstockt, Claude Vivier, Kevin Volans, Zachary Watkins, Francis White, Ian Wilson, Erling Wold, Christian Wolff, Stefan Wolpe, Iannis Xenakis, Carolyn Yarnell, Chen Yi, Frank Zappa, Hervé Zénouda, Walter Zimmermann, Evan Ziporyn, Agata Zubel

(The complete list is on the website.)

Last Night – A House In Bali

A House in Bali - Evan ZiporynLast night we went to the much anticipated world stage permiere performance of Evan Ziporyn’s A HOUSE IN BALI in Berkeley.

And I was not disappointed. It was a major accomplishment, bringing together Balinese dancers, actors, Balinese ensemble Gamelan Salukat, Bang on a Can All-Stars, and a trio of exceptional singers.

Ziporyn’s music was outstanding in its counterplay between western and Balinese styles, and the music he composed for the on-stage gamelan was exciting. Musically, this was a very enjoyable event.

I wish I could say the same for the staging, which combined live video with a cramped set that attempted to show the house Colin McPhee built for himself in Bali. I found the video arbitrary and distracting, and not helpful in making it easier to understand the plot, which telescopes in time four major events that in real time occur over the 7 years McPhee spent in Bali: McPhee’s coming to Bali after rejecting a dull life in Paris, his disastrous attempt to build his house and the confrontation with local customs,  his relationship and mentoring of a Balinese boy (Samphi), and his eventual departure from paradise.

The video was shot in real time by stationary cameras on stage and by cameramen moving anachronistically thru the set. But the imagery most of the time made no sense, and for a long period the only image on the large overhead screen was McPhee’s bed. I failed to get the point.  After that I tried to ignore the video screen as much as possible. That wasn’t easy.

Still the music, and the dancing, were most exciting, and I found myself anticipating the next solo by the gamelan, which played with amazing gusto and flash. Which, perhaps, is another inherent problem when mixing musical cultures… that the new and fresh sounds (here, the gamelan) overpowered the familiar new music ensemble of violin, cello, electric guitar, vibraphone, piano, and bass, and at times was much more interesting.

The singers (Marc Molomot as McPhee, Anne Harley as Margaret Mead, and Timur Bekbosunov as Walter Spies) were excellent, altho their over-amplified voices sounded harsh and unnatural (but I have a natural aversion to amplification).

So even tho I have some reservations, I still can marvel at the accomplishment .. that it happened at all. I only hope that this work gets enough performances so that it can be gradually fine tuned. But, as we all know, works that involve so many diverse and special forces are somewhat doomed to few rare performances after the premiere. I only hope that Evan and company are able to interest and involve local gamelans to the work and guarantee future performances. I would love to see this again. But maybe without the video.

Still, two bravos and congratulations to all who worked so hard to put this on, and to Cal Performances for making it happen!

Leon the Lion

Leon Kirchner - photo by Jamie Cope

Composer Leon Kirchner died this week. He was 90 and lived in NYC. He  taught at UC Berkeley and Harvard, and studied with Arnold Schoenberg.

He taught many composers who came to public acclaim in the 1960′s-90′s.

Jeremy Denk has a farewell on his blog, Think Denk.

More at Sequenza 21.

Update: John Adams has written a recollection of his teacher on New Music Box.

Evan Ziporyn and A HOUSE IN BALI

Evan Ziporyn has an article about bringing the opera to Bali, and it’s on »New Music Box , and the page includes a link to a 40 minute excerpt from the opera!

So the question really is: why perform this opera in Bali, particularly once the economy went south and our funding shriveled? The subject itself demanded it: Colin McPhee left Bali in 1938 in part because, as he said, “I will always remain the outsider.” He never came back, though in his absence he became woven into the fabric of Balinese culture, deeply influencing not just Westerners like myself, but also many Balinese scholars and musicians, in a variety of ways. In Bali, heroes and ancestors are enshrined in house temples, inscribed into paintings, and invigorated anew through performance. I felt McPhee deserved the same treatment. I think of myself as one of McPhee’s spiritual descendants—part of an ongoing line of Westerners who follow in his footsteps, a composer coming to Bali to study gamelan, and then spending the rest of my life figuring out what it has to do with my own music. So from the beginning this felt like dharma, a duty I needed to at least try to fulfill.

…read the entire article.

Balinese Music, Downloads

While researching the Music From Other Minds programs I’m producing in preparation for Evan Ziporyn’s A HOUSE IN BALI (see earlier posts below), I came across this from Colin McPhee’s book:

I was a young composer, recently back in New York after student days in Paris, and the past two years had been filled with composing and the business of getting performances. It was quite by accident that I had heard the few gramophone records that were to change my life completely, bringing me out here in search of something quite indefinablemusic or experience, I could not at this moment say.

The records had been made in Bali, and the clear, metallic sounds of the music were like the stirring of a thousand bells, delicate, confused, with a sensuous charm, a mystery that was quite overpowering. I begged to keep the records for a few days, and as I played them over and over I became more and more enchanted with the sound. Who were the musicians? I wondered. How had this music come about? Above all, how was it possible, in this late day, for such a music to have been able to survive?

I returned the records, but I could not forget them.

As I read this, I wondered if any of the recordings McPhee refers to are available somewhere. It would be interesting to be able to present the sounds that he heard and found unforgettable.

Well, they are available. In 2001 World Arbiter Records in New York City released THE ROOTS OF GAMELAN, and it’s now available on iTunes! It includes many of the 1928 (lo fi 78 rpm) recordings made in Bali that McPhee heard in New York City in 1929 that led him to embark on a voyage to Bali. The CD also includes performances recorded in 1941 of McPhee’s transcriptions of Balinese ceremonial music for two pianos, and two for piano and flute. The pianists are McPhee and Benjamin Britten, and the flutist the famous virtuoso Georges Barrere.

So I went further into the World Arbiter catalog on iTunes and found the 1952 DANCES OF BALI, featuring the gamelan of Peliatan, which McPhee mentions in his book and help rebuild in the 1930′s, along with the master Balinese composer of gamelan,  I Wayan Lotring. The “fi” is much better in this recording.

I’ve been re-reading McPhee’s book and now to hear those recordings and the sound of the gamelan Peliatan that he talks about  is really exciting.  I’ll include some of these recordings in the next two radio broadcasts.

UPDATE: The folks at World Arbiter Records tell me that they are about to re-issue THE ROOTS OF GAMELAN with improved fidelity transfers and additional content. Stay tuned.

Download A HOUSE IN BALI

Colin McPhee’s 1947 memoir, A HOUSE IN BALI, long out of print, can be downloaded in full from the internet archive as a single PDF file.

This wonderful book is really worth reading.

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Richard Friedman lives in Oakland, CA, is a freelance tech writer/editor, web designer, photographer, is a Director of Other Minds, wrote his first computer program in 1962 for the IBM 650. It played dice. He is also a ham radio (AG6RF) operator, and he also takes a lot of photographs, composes music, and does a weekly radio program on KALW called Music From Other Minds.
He is not Kinky.

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