On a breathtakingly beautiful Monday afternoon, there was a free concert on the UC Berkeley campus at the Faculty Glen behind Hertz Hall.
The music was an hour-long performance of Inuksuit, a percussion piece by John Luther Adams (the OTHER, Alaskan composer named John Adams) that was meant to be played by anywhere from 9 to 99 percussionists, depending upon the site.
The piece was written for Steven Schick, above on a bullhorn announcing the concert was to begin. Adams wrote it as a wedding present for Schick and his wife Brenda, who were married in 2007. In an entertaining interview with Cal Performances (click here), Schick explains:
"I walked from San Diego to San Francisco to propose to her. Part of the rationale was to listen to the way the California coast sounds and to make recordings and to think of the enormous change in my life and to give it the appropriate weight. And this was at the time that this piece was gestating with John. And that walk and what I heard and our conversations along the way–I phoned him on the day that I climbed over the last hill and saw the Bay–being outdoors and those sounds were incredibly important part of the gestation of this piece."
The piece was performed last week at the Ojai Festival in Southern California with 48 percussionists and the UC Berkeley version, billed as Ojai North!, featured 21. Schick explains:
"That’s appropriate. Matias and I walked many different sites on campus and we eventually decided to use the beautiful glade outside Hertz Hall. And that’s a spot that if you put 48 people it will be a racket; there’s no real place to put 48 people. 21 is right for a smaller space. But 21 musicians is still larger than what premiered the work – we were 18 at Banff in 2009. John has said that it is site determined rather than site specific. That means it’s not designed for a single spot, it’s designed to conform to a spot."
Inuksuit starts off so quietly, with whooshing soft wind sounds, that your hearing immediately recalibrates to listen more carefully, and the ambient sounds of dogs, people walking, a train whistle a mile west, all become part of the musical palette.
Some listeners laid themselves out on the lawn in the center of the glen and let the various sounds wash over them.
Others walked around the perimeter pathway focusing on individual performers tucked into the woods.
One of the loveliest sights were the pair of kids above who were banging sticks on a log to add to the occasion.
When the first drums started playing about twenty minutes into the piece, it was a thrilling moment, and the piece continued to climax over the next hour, with sirens, conch shells, gongs, marimbas, you name it, shimmering away around the crowd, until the sound died into a tinkling silence moments before the nearby Carillon started its 6PM bell ringing.
Steven Schick is the new artistic director of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and I have a double request for him. Could you please bring this to San Francisco's Golden Gate Park in a space big enough to accommodate 99 players. And can I play one of the sirens?