Wednesday, March 21, 2012

American Mavericks Festival Wrap-Up 2

In the middle of the American Mavericks Festival at the San Francisco Symphony last week, there was a concert featuring a starry alignment of legendary sopranos who had all forged their own maverick career paths: Jessye Norman, Joan La Barbara, and Meredith Monk, above left to right.

The trio came together for a selection from Song Books, John Cage's strange, ambitious set of musical and theatrical instructions for performers, and though a number of critics and audience members didn't get it at all, quite a few of us did. The theatrical staging by Yuval Sharon, with three onstage huts, video cameras, neon sculptures, props, and grand piano was thoroughly amusing. The spare and evocative sound world that was created by the three vocalists and a dozen instrumentalists, all doing their own thing at their own instructed, overlapping time, was beautiful and interesting, at least in the second performance on a Wednesday evening.

The performers looked like they were having a ball too. It was a wonderful introduction to the wacky work and mind of John Cage, and the thirty-minute duration was perfect, leaving one wanting more.

What took the Song Books performance to another level, though, was the presence of Jessye Norman, who made a regal entrance out of the central hut looking for all the world like the Goddess Isis. She played cards onstage, she typed at an amplified manual typewriter, and she sang snatches of music in pitches where she felt comfortable with her voice. Hearing that force-of-nature sound that is Jessye Norman's voice in full, comfortable throttle is something not to be missed in this lifetime. So if you live in or near New York, buy a ticket for the San Francisco Symphony's first Mavericks concert in Carnegie Hall next Tuesday, March 27th.

New York won't be getting pianist Jeremy Denk, above, who played Henry Cowell's Piano Concerto with fists, fingers and forearms in San Francisco. They also won't be getting Lukas Foss' 1960s Phorion, a fun, lunatic reworking of a Bach partita for monster orchestra that opened up the second half of the Cage Superstars program.

According to a recent pronouncement by a pair of Manhattan publicists to the arts blogging world, "New York has long been considered the cultural capital of America," so I am sure they won't be missing anything.

No comments: