Monday, December 11, 2006
12th Other Minds Music Festival Part 2
The third and final concert of the Other Minds Music Festival was a Sunday matinee, and was probably the most interesting of the series.
Though I'm not a fan of lecturers telling what to listen for in a piece of music, nor panel discussions by composers trying to explain what their music is about, I had forgotten that the festival organizer Charles Amirkhanian used to be a KPFA radio host and that he is a superb interviewer, asking interesting questions with a grounding in dry humor.
The concert started off with a string quartet by the Canadian Ronald Bruce Smith (above, on the right) that he characterized as a mix of Ravel, Bill Evans and his own voice, and which he had written for the Del Sol String Quartet which was playing the piece. Though it was lovely, it still sounded a bit dry and academic, particularly next to the string quartet that followed by the great Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe (below, on the right).
The composer explained that his Quartet No. 16 ("one more and I'll be even with Beethoven, which is rather daunting") had a very explicit extra-musical program, being inspired by a book called "From Nothing to Zero." It's a collection of letters from mostly Muslim asylum seekers from countries like Afghanistan and Iraq who have been locked up for years in razor-wire detention camps in the Outback. Australia recently passed their twisted version of the Patriot Act called the Sedition Act, and several people wrote into newspapers after the quartet's premiere in Australia that Sculthorpe should be thrown into prison for Sedition. "Then there were letters following up asking whether the people who had applauded the quartet should be put into prison too," Sculthorpe added with a laugh.
The version heard at the Other Minds concert was the world premiere of a new version where an Aboriginal didgjeridu had been added to the score, with Stephen Kent playing the three differently tuned didjeridus in a virtuosic performance with the Del Sol String Quartet. Armirkhanian asked Sculthorpe how he could just add another instrument to a finished quartet, and the reply was that the piece had always moved with a low, resonant hum that tied it to the flat, Outback landscape and that the didjeridu fit his intention perfectly.
As it turned out, the didjeridu sounded completely organic, and the entire piece was indescribably beautiful. Amirkhanian, who tends to keep a poker face at these events, was blubbering with tears at the end of the performance.
At intermission, there was a special performance by a group of teenagers from Vacaville called VCS Radio Jazz from the Vacaville Christian Schools (click here for their interesting website).
Leave it to Amirkhanian to feature a Christian high school avant-garde music troupe in the atrium of the Jewish Community Center.
The group has been molded by a new music enthusiast named Ralph Martin (I believe that is him on the right in the photo above).
They were performing the World Premiere of their "Electrical Resonance Symphony" whose four movements were entitled "Alternating Current, Radio, The Ether, and Resonance" respectively.
It was astonishing both as a piece of music and as a performance, as the boys employed saxophones, trumpets, clarinets, guitar, bass, vintage microphones, radios, portable TVs, electric fans, laptops...
...not to mention two theremins, brilliantly played...
...and for the piece de resistance, a Tesla Coil that crackled away in awesome arcs for the final movement. The ghost of Tesla seems to be everywhere these days, in the dedication of this symphony, as the guiding spirit in Thomas Pynchon's new novel "Against The Day," and to ruminations about Free, Cheap Energy for All which Tesla had discovered and promised to the world before being thwarted by J.P. Morgan, Thomas Edison, and J. Edgar Hoover among many other villains. Click here for a YouTube video about the visionary which is fascinating.
The second half of the concert was devoted to a German duo called Moving Sounds, which consisted of Markus Stockhausen (son of the famous Karlheinz) on various trumpets and Tara Bouman on various styles of clarinet.
They played a series of short, meditative pieces that were surprisingly harmonic, and finished with an improvisation which they prefer to call "intuitive music" that was theatrical and moving, with Tara starting at the back of the auditorium slowly approaching Markus on stage as they "intuited" each other's presence. The fact that both of them are young, tall, gorgeous to look at, and with an undeniable stage presence helped bring the festival to a glamorous close.