An enterprising New York City publicist named Amanda recently contacted a number of Bay Area journalists and bloggers and asked if we wanted to interview anyone connected with a "Wordless Music" concert at the Herbst Theatre in the Veterans Building on Thursday.
Charlise, the indispensable Opera Tattler (above), was first out of the gate with a long interview of Ronen Givony (click here). He founded the Wordless Music series in New York to try to bridge "the gap between musical genres, since we're in the 21st century and the distinctions between classical, jazz, and rock are disappearing."
After a few successful concerts in New York, he decided to bring the show to San Francisco...
...and enlisted the help of a brand-new chamber outfit called The Magik*Magik Orchestra which includes some of the starriest musicians in the Bay Area, including percussionist William Winant and cellist Joan Jeanrenaud who was the Kronos Quartet's original cellist.
The concert started with John Adams' "Shaker Loops" for string septet, which was how the modern classic was written before being expanded for a larger orchestra, and the performance was a complete treat.
This was followed by Winant and Jeanrenaud playing "Save As," a recent composition by the English guitarist and composer Fred Firth. I thought the piece was a bit silly, but it was fun seeing Joan Jeanrenaud for the first time channeling her Rocker Chick personality into the cello performance, and Winant is simply a master.
The second half was devoted to three pieces for string orchestra by Arvo Part, Mason Bates and Jonny Greenwood of the rock band Radiohead.
When I asked the conductor Benjamin Shwartz (above), who also is the Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, what his favorite and least favorite "crossover" pieces were by classical and rock composers, he had a good answer:
"I find that music that tries to crossover from classical to popular or in the other direction tends to disappoint. What I find stimulating is music that isn't easily branded as either. The music of Aphex Twin, especially the album Drukqs, is more imaginative than half of the music on concert stages today. Likewise, many composers these days are deeply inspired by popular music but take it in much more creative directions."
The Greenwood piece, "Popcorn Superhet Receiver," turned out to be fascinating. If you've seen the Paul Anderson movie "There Will Be Blood" with Daniel Day-Lewis, you've heard the music which was already composed before the director decided to use it for his long, wordless scenes. It may be one of the most audacious uses of "modern" music in a film since Kubrick stole Ligeti's music for "2001."
The concert was sold out, by the way, either because of Amanda's sterling publicity work, or because people were desperate to get a close-up look of Jonny Greenwood who was in attendance. Either way, it was an auspicious start for a brand-new orchestra, and I can't wait to see what they do next.