Sunday, April 13, 2008

Meredith Monk and The Integrals

The legendary multi-hyphenate (composer-singer-choreographer-filmmaker-multimedia-what-have-you) Meredith Monk, above, gave a concert at the Unitarian church on Franklin and Geary on Friday evening. The performance was a prequel to a weekend workshop she was offering the public called "Dancing Voice, Singing Body" for the California Institute of Integral Studies.

The latter is a hippie-dippie college at 10th and Mission, specializing in the fusion of East and West, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year (click here for their website). The Dyan Cannon lookalike above, wearing The Key to Wisdom around her neck, gave a brief introduction and then Monk appeared.

The audience was younger and more hipster than is usual for classical musical concerts, but Monk has been synthesizing and inventing all kinds of music since the 1960s so it seemed appropriate.

I was running late to the concert and arrived with just a minute to spare, which is not the best idea when seating is General Admission, but the incomparable Patrick Vaz (above, click here for "Reverberate Hills") had actually saved me a seat in the second row on the aisle, which turned out to be perfection.

At the "American Mavericks" summer festival offered by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony about a decade ago, one of the highlights was a number of excerpts from Monk's evening-length opera, "Atlas," which tells a mystical story mostly through a small cast singing nonsense syllables. Though that sounds strange, it actually works, at least on the recording I bought.

Having never seen or heard the woman live, I was a little apprehensive that the concert would be boring or simply not my cup of tea, but my fears turned out to be groundless. Monk is an extraordinary performer, holding the stage effortlessly whether singing solo (both a capella and accompanying herself on the piano) or joined by a talented quartet of colleagues.

My friend Sidney Chen, above, is part of a new music group called M6 which is specializing in Monk's work over the decades and he's written a few fascinating pieces about the complexity involved in learning her music:
"Though there's a certain amount of freedom, there's no randomness at all. Depending on the piece, the structure can expand or contract a certain amount, depending on the individual performance. But only through rehearsing and performing these pieces has the essence of the structure, proportion and form really become apparent and internalized. What I've come to realize is that this process is the nuts-and-bolts work of building a legacy."

Click here and here for more detailed posts on the adventures of the new ensemble.

The first half of the program on Friday evening was Monk singing solo, and at age 65 her voice is still a wonder. In the second half, she was joined by various colleagues, including one of the original stars of the opera "Atlas," Randall Wong (above).

The two of them performed a very tricky call-and-response duet that fell apart in the middle, which caused them to break down in giggles before starting over. Oddly enough, it was one of the highlights of the evening.

The program ranged over the course of her entire 40-year career, including "Three Heavens and Hells for 4 Voices," and ending with a piece from "Impermanence," her recent musical meditation on the death of her partner five years ago. If you ever get a chance to see the woman in person, I can't recommend the experience highly enough.


Henry Holland said...

The audience was younger and more hipster than is usual for classical musical concerts

I'm not sure that the two gents, hot as they are, qualify as "younger" but it seems the "hipster" part is covered by the Loverboy t-shirt, worn, I'm *sure*, in a "Hahahaha, they're so bad, they're good" kind of ironic way.

Or maybe that's what was on top of the laundry pile when he was getting dressed!

Les said...

Oh, I LOVE Monk's work. Especially Atlas. You're so lucky to see her in person! I haven't had that privilege yet.

The blond woman on stage singing is Dina Emmerson who performs a lot in the Bay Area. I like her work a lot. She sang with Monk for a while and also with Cirque du Soleil. Now she's in the new music scene. She has a great voice.

Les said...

Err, Dina is the blond woman with glasses and a black dress towards the bottom of your post.

sfmike said...

Dear Les: Check out Monk's personal website for her schedule because I noticed she was about to embark on a tour all over Europe, and it might even be convenient for you to go to one of her workshops.

Dear Henry: Compared to the usual classical music demographics, the two dudes in the T-shirts are virtually children. But please play nice. I take lots of photos of strangers and try my best to select ones that won't hold anyone up to scorn or snark.

namastenancy said...

I wanted so much to go to these workshops but figured that I had way too much to do with school and getting ready for next week's show. Now you make me all sorry that I didn't take the time (goes off to cry in her wine).
Great write up, as always!

rchrd said...

FYI, your "Dyan Cannon lookalike" is Sylvia Nakkach, Bay Area composer, performer, and music therapist.
Her website

sfmike said...

Dear Richard: Thanks for the link.