The most prestigious "new music" festival in San Francisco, Other Minds (click here for their website), has been installed for the weekend at the new Jewish Community Center at the corner of California and Presidio.
The organizer of the event is Charles Amirkhanian, a composer, former KPFA radio host, archivist, and all-around genius/provocateur who invites anywhere from six to a dozen composers from around the world every year to spend a private week at the sumptuous Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside, followed by public concerts of their music.
Though the 450-seat hall wasn't full on either Friday or Saturday night, there was still quite an amazing turnout for a stormy holiday weekend with concerts featuring Modern Classical Music.
Amirkhanian likes to mix up the roster of composers not just by nationality but by age, mixing older established masters such as the Danish Per Norgard (pictured above)...
...with younger musicians, such as the Norwegian composer/vocalist Maja Ratkje, above on the right.
The first half of Friday's concert featured the Del Sol String Quartet performing with their usual virtuosity (click here for their website). They played a violin and piano duet by the Australian Peter Sculthorpe, and the recently composed Quartet No. 10 by Norgard. They were both lovely, almost traditional pieces, but the highlight for me was Maja Ratkje's "gagaku variations" for accordion and string quartet, partly because of the Norwegian accordion soloist Frode Haltli.
He not only looked like a young Peter Berlin, but he coaxed sounds out of what is considered a humble instrument that were almost unbelievable. At times, the accordion sounded as if an entire orchestra were playing a complex piece by Ligeti, but in truth it was only Frode.
I didn't stay for the second half of the concert, partly because of the weather, and partly because Other Minds concerts are notorious for going on much too long. A friend who did stay wrote:
"Too bad you missed the fire alarm that interrupted the Daniel David Feinsmith premiere of his "Elohim" quartet last night. I overheard someone say to David as we were waiting outside in the rain, "Well at least they got most of the way through the piece, right?" to which Mr. Feinsmith responded, "no, they're about 1/3 of the way through." It turns out we had only heard 2.5 of EIGHT!!! movements, of which "the last is the longest." It wasn't a bad piece, though; just a little long, and it felt longer because it was at the end of a long program that included a fire alarm."
Saturday evening's concert started with a three-movement a capella choral piece by Per Norgard called "Wie ein Kind" that was performed by a San Francisco chorus named Volti (click here for their website) that specializes in new music.
The middle movement was from a Rilke poem, and the two outer movements were from the schizophrenic Swiss artist Adolph Wolfli (1864-1930) who was Norgard's inspiration for a number of works in the 1980s. The final verse, as printed in the program, goes as follows:
"G'ganggali ging g'gangali g'gang
g'gang g'g'g'g'g'gang g'gang
g'gang galili ging g'g'g'g'g'gali ging
g'gung g'gung g' "
The piece was wonderful, as it turned out, and the performance by Volti was perfection. Please bring them back, Mr. Amirkhanian.
Special props to Lara Bruckmann above who sang beautifully and on pitch when called for and cackled/sang like a madwoman when that was also required.
This was followed by a series of pieces by Maja Ratkje which had been written for a Norwegian trio consisting of a saxophone, accordion, and double bass called POING, with vocal contributions and "found sounds" by the composer herself.
Though some of the music tried my patience...
...the performers themselves were extraordinary to watch and hear, and of course anything involving Frode Haltli is essential.