The 16th Annual Other Minds Music Festival kindly hired me to do some freelance photography for them this year, which allowed me to watch and hear all four evenings of music-making by contemporary composers (above, flanked by Artistic Director Charles Amirkhanian on the right) and a host of performers from around the world. It was an extraordinary festival, with a higher success ratio than usual for this kind of event. Keep in mind, though, that I am not objective after four straight days around these musical artists. Consider this a report of what you missed rather than a review.
Each of the three concerts started off with an interview by Amirkhanian (above right) with the featured composers for that evening. Thursday's opening concert featured (left to right) the Dutch composer of the moment, Louis Andriessen, the American Kyle Gann, the Polish vocalist and composer Agata Zubel, and the Seattle-via-BayArea Janice Giteck.
After a funny, pre-recorded deconstruction of the "Star Spangled Banner" by Anthony Gnazzo, the concert started with Triskaidekaphonia, a short piece for alternately tuned piano by Kyle Gann (above left) that cleared everyone's hearing with its gentle exploration of the many tones between notes, played by Aron Kallay.
This was followed by a violin and piano duet from the late 1960s by Andriessen called Le voile du bonheur, played brilliantly by one of the composer's muses, violinist Monica Germino (above left with David Jaffe) who put down her instrument for the third movement and sang a "teenage tune" about flirting with Bertie.
The main performers of the evening, the Seattle Chamber Players, then played Gann's Kierkegaard, Walking, a charming ramble through an imagined Copenhagen. They were later joined by Loren Mach and Joel Davel on percussion with Eric Zivian on piano for Andriessen's Zilver, a wildly contrasting piece of music where the quartet plays "a long melody in slow musical motion" and the percussion plays "increasingly fast staccato chords." It was bracing trying to figure out which strand to listen to, the lyrical or the strident, or both.
After intermission, Agata Zubel (above center, flanked by Janice Giteck and Richard Friedman) joined the Seattle Chamber Players for Cascando. Georgia Rowe wrote about the performance in the subscriber-only Musical America:
"The festival’s other great discovery was Zubel. The Polish composer-vocalist introduced her brilliant Cascando, a 2007 song cycle for strings, woodwinds and voice that incorporates texts by Samuel Beckett. The score employs an astonishing range of vocal sounds: cries, whispers, pure tone and Sprechgesang, and Zubel delivered them all in a riveting performance. Her voice – a vibrant, voluptuous, precise soprano – is a marvel, and with the Seattle Chamber Players, for whom the work was written, her voicing of the Beckett texts shone against the odd effects and abrupt rhythmic shifts of the instrumental parts."
The final work was Janice Gitek's Ishi (Yahi for 'man'), a six movement piece for the Seattle Chamber Players that sounded terribly conservative after everything that preceded it, but as the music went on, the sincerity and sheer beauty of the musical writing swept away all objections. Ishi, (above right) the last Stone Age Indian living on the continent, spent his final years with the Anthropology Department at UCSF in what is now called Sutro Forest. The music was a poignant reminder of his unspeakably sad story.