The legendary multi-hyphenate (composer-singer-choreographer-filmmaker-multimedia-what-have-you) Meredith Monk, above, gave a concert at the Unitarian church on Franklin and Geary on Friday evening. The performance was a prequel to a weekend workshop she was offering the public called "Dancing Voice, Singing Body" for the California Institute of Integral Studies.
The latter is a hippie-dippie college at 10th and Mission, specializing in the fusion of East and West, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year (click here for their website). The Dyan Cannon lookalike above, wearing The Key to Wisdom around her neck, gave a brief introduction and then Monk appeared.
The audience was younger and more hipster than is usual for classical musical concerts, but Monk has been synthesizing and inventing all kinds of music since the 1960s so it seemed appropriate.
I was running late to the concert and arrived with just a minute to spare, which is not the best idea when seating is General Admission, but the incomparable Patrick Vaz (above, click here for "Reverberate Hills") had actually saved me a seat in the second row on the aisle, which turned out to be perfection.
At the "American Mavericks" summer festival offered by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony about a decade ago, one of the highlights was a number of excerpts from Monk's evening-length opera, "Atlas," which tells a mystical story mostly through a small cast singing nonsense syllables. Though that sounds strange, it actually works, at least on the recording I bought.
Having never seen or heard the woman live, I was a little apprehensive that the concert would be boring or simply not my cup of tea, but my fears turned out to be groundless. Monk is an extraordinary performer, holding the stage effortlessly whether singing solo (both a capella and accompanying herself on the piano) or joined by a talented quartet of colleagues.
My friend Sidney Chen, above, is part of a new music group called M6 which is specializing in Monk's work over the decades and he's written a few fascinating pieces about the complexity involved in learning her music:
"Though there's a certain amount of freedom, there's no randomness at all. Depending on the piece, the structure can expand or contract a certain amount, depending on the individual performance. But only through rehearsing and performing these pieces has the essence of the structure, proportion and form really become apparent and internalized. What I've come to realize is that this process is the nuts-and-bolts work of building a legacy."
Click here and here for more detailed posts on the adventures of the new ensemble.
The first half of the program on Friday evening was Monk singing solo, and at age 65 her voice is still a wonder. In the second half, she was joined by various colleagues, including one of the original stars of the opera "Atlas," Randall Wong (above).
The two of them performed a very tricky call-and-response duet that fell apart in the middle, which caused them to break down in giggles before starting over. Oddly enough, it was one of the highlights of the evening.
The program ranged over the course of her entire 40-year career, including "Three Heavens and Hells for 4 Voices," and ending with a piece from "Impermanence," her recent musical meditation on the death of her partner five years ago. If you ever get a chance to see the woman in person, I can't recommend the experience highly enough.