Monday, March 04, 2013

BluePrint Performs Graffiti and Grand Central

BluePrint, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music's contemporary music ensemble, finished this season's Latin America theme concerts on Saturday evening with an ambitious pair of works by the Mexican (born in Chihuahua) Armando Luna and the American (born in New Jersey) Ian Dicke. The evening was called Tandy's Tango after a short, gentle piece by Lou Harrison for two guitars that opened the program.

This was followed by Luna's Graffiti, in 11 movements for 13 players, a fun, wild, raucous tribute to favorite composers that range from J.S. Bach to Benny Goodman to Alberto Ginastera. The individual composers' styles were easiest to pick out in the jazz selections devoted to Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea, Goodman and Gershwin. I could even make out the stylistic fingerprints of Bartok, Schnittke, and Shostakovich in their respective movements, but the Bach and Haydn sections were mostly loud, unrecognizable waves of sound that must have had some inner meaning for Luna, but were undecipherable for most of the audience.

To help people keep track of the composers, there were still projections of photography by Carlin Ma for each movement with the respective composer's name. It was a great idea, but I wanted to tell somebody to "pick a font and a color, stick with it, and make it legible," because about a third of the names were unreadable which was missing the point of the exercise.

The second half of the concert started with another gentle curtainraiser, Encantamiento by Daniel Catan for harp and flute, beautifully played by Carla Fabris and William Cedeno. This was followed by the world premiere of Ian Dicke's Grand Central, a four movement meditation on New York's Grand Central Station for chamber orchestra, recorded sound and video. Dicke had won the 2012 edition of the Conservatory's annual Jacqueline Hoefer Prize, where a graduate of the school is given a cash award, a week-long residency at the school, and a public performance and recording of a commissioned work. The great performance was under Blueprint's conductor and artistic director Nicole Paiement above, with her reliably great musicians who are a mixture of current students sprinkled with talented alumni.

The first movement, Solari di Udine, is dedicted to the Italian manufacturer who created split-flap departure boards for airports and train stations around the world before the arrival of digital displays. The twitchy, rhythmic music matched the flashing vintage video display of times and destinations perfectly, and was the most successful merging of music and screen. This was followed by two slower, soulful movements depicting the underground network of rail lines and the Grand Central Terminal. The music was evocative enough on its own that the arty black-and-white video of subway trains and speeded-up passengers in the Grand Central Terminal started to feel superfluous. In fact, the third movement, with is aching cello sounds, would probably have worked better accompanied by still photography rather than what look like outtakes from Koyaanisqatsi. The finale, Iron Horse, was a rollicking section dedicated to steam locomotives, and the driving music made me want to jump on a train that very moment.

The composer came onstage to enthusiastic, well-earned applause at the end, and though he looked to be about 16 years old, he's actually 30 and a professor at UC Riverside. I look forward to hearing more of his music.

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