Tuesday, January 27, 2009
The World Premiere of A Sweeter Music
According to Gray Brechin's great book, "Imperial San Francisco," UC Berkeley has been an essential center of the United States military-industrial-academic complex since at least the Philippine-American War (1899-1902 with Americans slaughtering "insurgent" Filipinos until 1913). The university also gave birth and continues to sustain the nuclear arms race, which it has been spearheading since World War Two.
So it seems fitting that Sarah Cahill's "peace" commission, "A Sweeter Music," should be given its public birth at Hertz Hall on the UC Berkeley campus (click here for an earlier, more detailed explanation).
What was particularly exciting was looking at the program and seeing an asterisk, which meant "world premiere," and realizing that just about every piece at the concert was a World Premiere, something I've never seen before. In fact, Sarah only played about half of the music that's been commissioned so there are even more World Premieres left to hear for people in New York, Boston, Houston and Chicago where "A Sweeter Music" is traveling (click here for the calendar).
The concert itself was a triumph because most of the music was so good, with at least half of the pieces destined for a larger and longer life. I didn't care for the video art by John Sanborn because the music didn't need it. Part of the fun of great music is you get to envision it yourself.
I was invited to a post-concert party in the Berkeley Hills and bummed a ride from Luciano Chessa (above left), a wonderful Italian composer who lives in Berkeley and teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The party was filled with friends, family and composers from the afternoon's concert, including Mamoru Fujieda (above right) who wrote one of my favorite pieces, "The Olive Branch Speaks." It struck me as the most genuinely peaceful music of the day.
My real favorite of the concert was "There Is a Field" by Jerome Kitzke (above left) where he had Sarah play the piano, recite poetry (3 Whitmans, 1 Rumi) at the same time, drum on the head of the piano, shout, and sing/scat. She was fabulous and fearless with all of it, shifting as rapidly as the music from mournful to rocking and back again.
The lovely party was hosted by Sharon Mann (not pictured), who was Sarah's piano teacher when she was eight years old, and who currently teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. "She's the reason I'm a pianist," Sarah told me.