Saturday, March 12, 2011

Other Minds Music Festival: Saturday, March 5

The final concert of the 16th Annual Other Minds Music Festival devoted the first half of the evening to the music of the 70-year-old Dutch composer Louis Andriessen (above). Alex Ross at The New Yorker wrote an interesting essay about the composer last year, starting off with a description of a 1969 protest where "a group of radical young Dutch musicians ran amok at the Concertgebouw, the fabled Amsterdam concert hall. At the start of a performance by the Concertgebouw Orchestra, the troublemakers, who included the composers Louis Andriessen and Reinbert de Leeuw, began making noise with nutcrackers, rattles, bicycle horns, and other devices. They also distributed leaflets denouncing the orchestra as a “status symbol of the ruling élite."

Ross continues:
"Carnegie’s recent survey of Andriessen’s work and that of his colleagues and protégés, de Leeuw among them, has revealed an undiminished capacity for making mischief. The composer still resists Romantic trappings, favoring what he has called a “terrifying twenty-first-century orchestra” of electric guitar, keyboards and Hammond organ, saxophones, bongos, and other non-Wagnerian instruments. He likes amplified, pop-style voices better than pure-toned, vibrato-heavy ones. His pantheon of idols has Bach and Stravinsky at the center, but also makes room for Count Basie, Charlie Parker, and the Motown greats. At the age of seventy, he remains a bit of a badass."
The first two pieces were the 2005 solo violin Xenia, where Monica Germino (above center) gave another wonderful performance that included her singing in the final movement, and then she was joined by the vocalist Cristina Zavalloni (above right) in the 1998 Passeggiata in Tram in America e ritorno from surrealist poetry by the mad Italian poet Dino Campana.

A larger ensemble appeared for the 2003 Letter from Cathy, which is a short, witty setting of a postcard sent to Andriessen by the legendary new music vocalist Cathy Berberian, who was once married to Luciano Berio, one of Andriessen's teachers.

The Andriessen set ended with an improvisation by the composer at piano and his muse Cristina Zavalloni vocalising in what sounded like a high-wire act. Joshua Kosman at the San Francisco Chronicle describes it:
"Andriessen began his session with angular repeated chords that sounded like the start of one of his aggressive instrumental scores. But by the time Zavalloni made her entrance, babbling in tongues and emitting vocal glissandos, the accompaniment had broadened into a sort of unsteady chorale. The music that followed ranged hyperactively from fractured torch songs in French and Italian to machine-gun bursts of vocal effects and stuttered phrases. Turning on a dime from one strain to the next, the performers followed one other's lead with uncanny fluidity."

Kyle Gann (above) is as known for his music writing as his actual music. He was a brilliant, entertaining "downtown music vs. uptown music" polemicist for decades at the New York Village Voice, and currently writes the PostClassic blog when he's not writing books about John Cage or teaching students at Bard College. The second half of the concert started with his 2000 piano solo Time Does Not Exist, another gentle reverie that almost got lost between the intense theatrics of Andriessen and the driving jazz of Jason Moran who followed him.

Time Does Not Exist was played by pianist Sarah Cahill above, and in a note to me after I asked her about the music, she wrote:
"At the opening panel, Kyle described the piece as being about the experience of psychotherapy-- how ideas and memories cycle back and repeat over and over, but slightly altered-- and confessed that he actually felt uncomfortable now with people listening to it, so he wanted me to play it as quietly as possible. I've performed it in recitals, and also recorded it, but there was something magical about performing in this context on Saturday, partly because it was sandwiched between louder, more dramatic pieces. Charles Amirkhanian deserves credit for having the foresight to know in advance how the very different pieces on the program that night would offset each other so well in juxtaposition. Kyle puts very few dynamic or expressive markings in the score, so there's a lot of interpretive leeway. A lot of the challenge is deciding how to balance chords, whether to bring out the tenor or the alto voice in a chord progression, if you pull away from the climax or move towards it. Kyle writes beautifully for the piano, and it's always tremendously rewarding to play his music."

Jason Moran (above with orange cap) premiered a half-hour piece called Slang with Moran on piano, Tarus Mateen on bass, Nasheet Waits on drums, Mary Halvorson on guitar, and Alicia Hall Moran as the vocalist.

2010 was an outrageously successful year for Moran. He received the MacArthur Fellowship "genius" grant, while his recording with The Bandwagon, Ten, won just about every Best Jazz Album of the Year award.

Slang featured prerecorded recitations of jazz-related slang words by what sounded like clueless sociologists and eager children which would segue into musical responses by the ensemble, and exquisite, deadpan vocalising by Alicia Hall Moran (above center). It was a wonderful performance and a great finale for the festival.


Brian said...

OOh do I love Andriessen and Zavalloni. Wish I had been there. Hearing her sing Dante in his take on the Divine Tragedy is an all-time highlight for me.

Civic Center said...

Dear Brian: I envy you hearing "La Commedia."