Saturday night in San Francisco offered an unusually large array of New Music concerts around town. There was a choice of the final night of the Other Minds Music Festival at the Jewish Community Center, a concert by the New Century Chamber Orchestra at Herbst Theatre featuring a mandolin concerto premiere by Mike Marshall, and a BluePrint concert at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music conducted by Nicole Paiement above. I chose the latter, and was happy with the decision, since Paiement offered a swift, energizing concert of three living composers that was fun and engaging.
The evening started with Eight Miniatures for Chamber Ensemble (Hommage a Stravinsky) by the 25-year-old Stefan Cwik above. In the program notes, Cwik notes that "Stravinsky's music was the largest influence upon me as a young and developing composer...although his influence can be heard in most if not all of my music, this piece is a purposeful and direct assimilation of the Stravinsky chamber music style." It is written for a flute, bassoon, violin, and piano, and when I told the composer that the performers had just played the hell out of his music, he enthusiastically agreed.
The musicians were Paula Brusky on bassoon (above left), Michael Williams on flute (above right), and Stephanie Bibbo on violin along with the indispensable Keisuke Nakagoshi on piano. They were marvelous, and by the end of the twenty-minute piece, it sounded plausible that this was some seriously undiscovered work by Stravinsky himself.
The SF Conservatory has begun bestowing an annual Hoefer Prize to composition alumni that involves a cash prize, a commission, and a week-long residency at the music school. This year the winner was Neil Rolnick (above, performing with the orchestra at his laptop) in a piece for chamber orchestra, three singers, and electronics called Anosmia, about a man losing his sense of smell and realizing how much he loves his partner who in a sense becomes his surrogate nose. According to the program notes:
"The overall project, MONO, has its genesis in my own loss of hearing in my left ear in 2008. This loss, and the accompanying white noise tinnitus in the affected ear, have made me very aware of the relativity of our perception...I began to wonder just how many of us there were co-existing with compromised perceptual equipment. I sent out requests on the net and via email, for people to send me stories of experiences which were analogous to my own: not totally disabling or life threatening, but a change in the way they perceive the world, and something they needed to learn to adjust to. It turns out there are quite a lot of us."
The vocal lines, which are doubled and echoed by the composer at his laptop, were for a baritone narrating and singing the character Andy who loses his sense of smell, along with two female backup singers who literally sing a "do wah" chorus throughout while echoing the baritone's lines. Daniel Cilli, above left, was magnificent and touching in the role, and though the audience had been handed a printout with the text, it was completely unnecessary. Cilli's English diction was some of the clearest I have ever heard and you could make out every word. Carrie Zhang (above right) and the always extraordinary Maya Kherani (not pictured) were The 2 Scents in an amusing performance.
The loss of smell starts ironically, with Andy traveling with his partner on a New York City rush hour subway car that is not crowded, the reason being that people have fled the unbearable stink of a homeless man who hasn't washed in too long, but our narrator can't smell it. The piece then turns into a lament for his nose and his loss, finally evolving into "a love song...describing how loss can lead to a deepening and strengthening of the bonds between two people." The fact that the loving partners are of the same sex, which goes unmentioned as a dramatic detail, was immensely cheering, and the accessible, rock and Broadway tinged classical music built to a beautiful climax. My friend Patrick Vaz thought the piece was too long and he wanted to know more about the affliction and less about domestic bliss, but that may say more about him than the work, which I thought was perfect.
The second half of the concert was devoted to Philip Glass's 2002 Concerto for Harpsichord and Orchestra with Christopher D. Lewis above as the soloist. The first movement was filled with snatches of music that sounded straight out of Glass's opera, Orphee, but the self plagiarism disappeared for the second movement which was extremely beautiful. The final movement featured Glass's usual driving pulse, but with a hint of bass boogie-woogie in the harpsichord part which was very amusing. All in all, it was a lovely concert.