Saturday, October 02, 2010

Rudhyar in Retrospect 3: The Other Minds Concerts

In the early 1970s, Rudhyar moved from Southern to Northern California. Charles Amirkhanian (above) was Music Director of KPFA-FM in Berkeley from 1969-1992, presiding over a golden age of local public radio, and in the early 1970s he devoted a number of broadcasts to Rudhyar's music and interviews with the composer. (You can listen to highlights at the RadiOM website by clicking here.) Listening to Rudhyar and Amirkhanian in a 1972 interview is a treat, especially hearing evidence that Rudhyar had left everything behind in the Old World except a thick French accent. It's also fascinating listening to a young Amirkhanian, whose entire life has been devoted to being a "seed-man" in the world of music. Not long after these interviews, Rudhyar embarked on another spurt of composing for the last ten years of his life, this time accompanied by grants, performances, and honors.

For the 25th anniversary of Rudhyar's death, Amirkhanian's Other Minds Music organization produced a concert of Rudhyar's music from both the 1920s and the 1970s in the Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco last Monday.

The small church turned out to be jammed to the gills for the performance, so I turned in my press ticket and promised to make it down the Peninsula on Wednesday evening for an encore performance in the Palo Alto suburb of Portola Valley.

Rudhyar's music from the 1920s and 1970s sounds remarkably similar, an attractively difficult mix of dissonance and beauty, with Scriabin as a model but sounding more like Charles Ives and Henry Cowell.

It also looks fiendishly difficult to play, particularly in its complicated counting. I asked Sarah Cahill (above with Other Minds Associate Director Adam Fong) if there were any special difficulties, and she replied in an email:
"Sometimes he writes about how he wants to convey the rhythms of non-verbal speech through music, so he never gives you a steady beat, but instead the music is always fluctuating and evolving through the kind of irregular rhythms we use in speech. For instance, in "Granites," if you look at the first page of the score, you'll notice there's no time signature. You'll also notice that he has measures with "3" over large brackets, entire phrases (meaning it's one huge triplet), and then sixteenth-note triplets within that and also groups of two and four sixteenth notes. That's difficult to play if you're counting precisely. But I don't think Rudhyar is like Elliott Carter, a composer who really demands a strict internal metronome. Both Leyla [his widow] and Deniz [an academic who's just written a biography], who guided me a bit in these performances, stressed that you have to feel it even more than counting strictly. But then, that "feeling" brings up another challenge: you'll see in the program notes for Transmutation that Rudhyar has a real plan for that set of seven pieces, and there has to be a real psychic transformation through the entire sequence. That is probably even more of a challenge than Rudhyar's rhythmic writing."

Valley Presbyterian Church in Portola Valley was spacious and fairly empty after the sold-out Swedenborgian performance, and the lighting of the trees behind the glass-backed altar by Allen Wilner was superb.

So were all the performers, including Julie Steinberg, piano and David Abel, violin (above) who played the opening "Poem for Violin and Piano" from 1920.

Sarah Cahill played the 1976 "Transmutation, tone sequence in seven moments" which had premiered in nearby Palo Alto. After intermission, she returned to the 1920s with "Stars from Pentagram No. 3" and "Granites." She seems to understand this kind of music as well as anyone in the world, and they were wonderful performances (click here for a Kosman review at SFGate confirming the impression).

The finale was his Second String Quartet from 1979 which was commissioned by the recently deceased Betty Freeman. The Ives Quartet (above) gave a great performance.

And so the seed continues to germinate.


momo said...

Thank you for the portrait of this fascinating person. I love the idea of a "seed person" and Sarah Cahill also seems to be one.

sfmike said...

Dear momo: Thanks for the kind words. These posts turned out to be an insane amount of work because every time I started researching one peripheral character, there would be a whole other branch appearing in the history of Theosophy and/or astrology. And yes, Sarah Cahill is definitely a "seed-woman."