Thursday, March 01, 2012

An American Mavericks Preview

The San Francisco Symphony is embarking next week on a reprise of its legendary 2000 American Mavericks festival, and I have one piece of advice: Buy a $100 Mavericks Pass now, and I mean immediately after reading this, because according to Meredith above, tickets for the two concerts featuring Jessye Norman are selling out fast. The Mavericks Pass is good for a single ticket to every performance, which amounts to ten performances of six different programs, and it is probably the best deal right now in all of San Francisco.

The box office is open from 10AM to 6PM, and the phone number to call is (415) 864-6000. If you have already bought a Mavericks Pass but haven't yet redeemed your tickets, particularly for the performances of the 10th and 14th, do it now because these are shaping up to be some of the coolest concerts in San Francisco Symphony history.

I bought a $75 Mavericks Pass for a boyfriend and myself in 2000 for ten separate concerts, and it was one of the most invigorating experiences of our listening lives, introducing me to the music of Meredith Monk, George Antheil, Lou Harrison, John Cage, Henry Cowell, Edgar Varese, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley's In C in a play-your-own-instrument version that could have been a disaster but was instead one of the most immersive, enthralling experiences imaginable.

Michael Tilson Thomas above genuinely loves this often difficult music and the spirit is infectious both onstage and in the audience, which at the 2000 festival was different (slightly sexier and smarter looking) than the usual Symphony crowd. Plus, with a Pass, you ran into the same people night after night and the Festival became a major shared social experience, with everyone arguing over their favorites and dislikes. The programs were also so eclectic that if you were bored with one piece, you knew there was always something coming along right after that was bound to be interesting. The entire experience was brain-clearing and delightful.

2012's American Mavericks Festival sequel starts with a prequel of sorts, free to Mavericks Pass holders: an organ recital this Sunday afternoon, March 4th featuring music by composer Mason Bates among others. It will be played by Isabelle Demers, a student of Paul Jacobs (above), who will be featured in the official Opening Concert on Thursday evening, March 8th. That program starts off with Copland's early, modernist Orchestral Variations, follows with Lou Harrison's delightful, gamelan-style Concerto for Organ with Percussion Orchestra, and ends with a reprise of Henry Brant's A Concord Symphony, a hugely ambitious orchestration of Charles Ives' hugely ambitious Concord Sonata for piano.

On Saturday, March 10th, the festival becomes seriously starry with the convergence of three of the most iconic female singers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries: Joan La Barbara, Meredith Monk, and Jessye Norman vocalizing and acting with each other and a dozen instrumentalists in a selection from John Cage's Songbooks. Both La Barbara and Monk are composers themselves so this is not uncharted territory, but for Norman it looks like a new adventure. Check out the funny and charming video of La Barbara and Norman above talking about the challenges inherent in Cage's instructions.

Also on the program is Lukas Foss' 1967 Phorion which is described on as follows: "Phorion is derived from the Greek for "stolen goods." The work is based entirely on music "stolen" from the Prelude of Johann Sebastian Bach's Partita for Violin in E major. Foss notes that the work was inspired by a dream of torrents of Baroque sixteenth notes being washed ashore by ocean waves and then being drawn back into the sea."

This will be followed by Henry Cowell's wild and beautiful Piano Concerto played by the blogger cum New Yorker writer cum concert pianist Jeremy Denk above, in a photo from 2007 when he was playing Mozart piano concertos, beautifully, for San Francisco's Summer in the City concerts.

After the Summit of Smart Sopranos, the orchestra will play Carl Ruggles' Sun-treader, just in case one had not been sufficiently sated. Again, if you haven't yet redeemed your Mavericks Pass tickets for the 10th or 14th, do it immediately over the phone at (415) 864-6000, and ditto for buying an entire Pass.

Sunday afternoon the 11th at 2PM brings a chamber music concert that starts with Jeremy Denk returning to play solo piano pieces by Henry Cowell, which is extraordinary music whenever I have heard it played by Sarah Cahill. This will be followed by the revolutionary San Francisco composer Terry Riley with his 1978 G String for String Quartet, his first string quartet and the first of many collaborations with the Kronos Quartet who were in residence at Mills College while he was teaching there. To top it off, there is a world premiere by early electronics composer Morton Subotnick, a reduction of his opera Jacob's Room into a monodrama for a single singer, the legendary Joan La Barbara above who has also been his wife since the late 1970s.

The program ends with a special appearance by the Los Angeles based group PARTCH who hold an annual concert devoted to the wildly eccentric and influential Californian composer, Harry Partch, who created his own musical instruments with alternate tunings. The group is bringing the original Partch constructed instruments with them, and according to Brian at Out West Arts, the group hosts some of the most reliably memorable annual musical concerts in Los Angeles (click here). Though I have read about him for years, I have never heard Partch's music live or recorded so this is going to be a special treat.

The festival continues on Thursday, March 15th (repeated on Friday and Saturday) with two world premieres by local composers Mason Bates and John Adams (above left and right) who both have long associations with the Symphony. Bates has created a piece for organ, chorus and electronics called Mass Transmission with a program about Dutch children exiles in Indonesia and the use of radio to communicate with them. Click here for a video where he explains it all to you while looking like an undiscovered brother of Luke and Owen Wilson.

John Adams, according to a lively video explanation of his new work (click here) has written his own version of Pulcinella, where Stravinsky fractured some Italian baroque tunes through his own musical sensibility. In this case, it is the "quicksilver" scherzos of Beethoven's late quartets that is being filtered through Adams' musical brain, and I can't wait to hear it. Just to add to the sense of occasion, the soloists are the St. Lawrence String Quartet playing within the larger orchestra. This is going to be a major event.

After the premieres, the superstar pianist Emanuel Ax above will be the soloist for Morton Feldman's Piano and Orchestra. I am a terrible, shy interviewer and one of my few attempts was with Mr. Ax in 2008 where I ended the short interview with the question, "Why is the New York Philharmonic programming so conservative?" and he took it personally. So let me repeat, Mr. Ax, you're not the dull one as your adventurous repertory in San Francisco over the years demonstrates.

To end the concert, the orchestra will be playing Frank Zappa's favorite composer, Edgar Varese, in his over-the-top, "ear-shattering" Ameriques.

The final chamber concert on Sunday, March 18th, sounds as interesting on paper as the rest of the festival programs. First off, it starts with a world premiere commission from Meredith Monk above, which is a very big deal. This is like getting to see Martha Graham premiere a new dance while she could still move well.

The remainder of the program is an early Steve Reich piece, Music for Pieces of Wood, Lukas Foss' Echoi with Jeremy Denk returning again as piano soloist, and ending with David Del Trecici's early vocal piece to James Joyce, Syzygy.

Did I mention that all this is available for $100, and that the festival is going on to Chicago, Ann Arbor, and Carnegie Hall after the initial premieres here, and that some of these performances are probably going to end up being in history books? You have been advised.


ST said...

As a prelude to the Mavericks Festival may I also recommend that Lou Harrison fans not miss the world premiere of the feature documentary "LOU HARRISON: A World of Music" on Tuesday, March 6th at the Castro Theatre, with a special live performance by composer Terry Riley playing the theatre's historic Wurlitzer organ!

Tickets and information:

The film, directed and produced by Eva Soltes, is an in-depth biography of Lou Harrison and all proceeds from the event will support Harrison House Music & Arts, an artist residency and performance program that keeps Harrison's legacy alive by supporting the work of gifted artists.

cubbie said...

i love that first photo so much!

sfmike said...

Dear cubbie: So do I. Meredith is probably my favorite box office person in San Francisco because she's always full of useful information and loves what she's doing.

Dear ST: Thanks for the link to the Lou Harrison documentary screening at the Castro, though the pricing at $25-$125 seems a little steep.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Fantastic preview, as Janos told his entire mailing list!