The Other Minds Music Festival's fundraiser, A New Music Seance, took place on Saturday at the Swedenborgian Church in Pacific/Presidio Heights.
San Francisco is filled with tucked away, beautiful little churches from the 19th century that feel like anachronisms, and I wonder how they survive other than renting themselves out for weddings and funerals.
Swedenborg was a brilliant, interesting character, though I'm still unclear why a church formed around him posthumously. According to the church's website (click here):
"The spiritual foundations of the worship practiced within this structure are found in the theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). Foremost among his ideas is a central perception that all life is spiritual and all things reveal something essential of the divine. Swedenborg believed the world had entered a new phase of spiritual potential during his own lifetime and that he had been called to the role of revelator."
What's most fascinating are the list of his admirers over the centuries. The website continues:
"As a celebrated scientist-turned-mystic whose extensive writings articulated a new understanding of Christianity, Swedenborg's ideas were championed by American Transcendentalist thinkers (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry James Sr., Bronson Alcott) and English Romanticists (William Blake, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Thomas Carlyle). In this century, Helen Keller, D.T. Suzuki, Jorge Luis Borges and William Butler Yeats are among dozens of significant minds who have drawn explicitly upon Swedenborg's religious insights."
The transcendental vision on Saturday belonged to Charles Amirkhanian who has devoted his life to presenting modern music that's slightly off the beaten track, whether on his decades-long KPFA radio show (which is now hosted by Richard Friedman on KALW) or through his Other Minds Music organization (click here for website) which records and preserves music, and holds an annual festival for composers from around the world.
Saturday's fare consisted of three separate concerts, starting at 2PM with Dane Rudhyar's Opus 1 from 1914, the Prayer, Lament and Death March for piano, and almost ending near 11PM with the world premiere of a "Tombeau for Violin and Piano" written by Ronald Bruce Smith.
About half of the pieces were performed by the incomparable Sarah Cahill, whose pre-Raphaelite beauty, musical brilliance, and magical aura never fail to astonish me. (Click here for her website and performing itinerary.)
The fact that she is a fan of this blog is also incalculably pleasing.
There was also a wonderful violinist, Kate Stenberg, who played a world premiere called "Rippling the Lamp" by Amirkhanian himself that thankfully was an absolutely beautiful piece of music, along with duets for piano-and-violin with the pianist Eva-Maria Zimmermann in music by Hovhaness, Josef Matthias Hauer, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, and Webern.
Zimmermann also had a chance to shine this year in solo piano pieces by Wladimir Vogel, George Antheil, and William Albright. Her ferocious playing of Antheil's Sonata No. 2 for violin, piano and drums was fun and exciting.
The three concerts were divided evenly between pieces by living and deceased composers, and a number of the former were on hand to hear their own works being played.
The composers and performers stood for a photo-op between concerts in the Swedenborgian Church garden (left to right: Eva-Maria Zimmermann, Ronald Bruce Smith, Phil Collins, Dan Becker, Sarah Cahill, Carl Stone, Kate Stenberg, and Charles Amirkhanian).
The "New Music" world is fairly small and it seems to function much like a loving family (with all the politics, good and bad, that implies) with not much money.
Victoria Shoemaker, for instance, who is the wife of the President of the Other Minds organization, cooked all day in the church kitchen...
...provisioning the performers, composers and stage crew with food and drink...
...culminating in a beautiful Mexican dinner...
...for a large group that even included the widow of Conlon Nancarrow, the recently deceased giant of 20th century music who specialized in fiendishly complex pieces for player piano, four of which were performed during the concerts.
The many highlights of the concert for me included Dane Rudhyar's "Prayer," Wladimir Vogel's "Nature Vivante," Hans Otte's "Das Buch der Klange #10," Frank Martin's "Preludes #7 and #8," Dan Becker's "Don't Make Me Go Back to LA," Ernst Bacon's "The Pig Town Fling," William Albright's "The Sleepwalker's Shuffle," Percy Grainger's "The Immovable Do," and Howard Skempton's "Well, Well, Cornelius."
The wild and funny Antheil Sonata #2 featuring Amirkhanian himself as the drum soloist was the perfect ending to a very long and satisfying day.