Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hidden Worlds at SoundBox

San Francisco Symphony's SoundBox presented an inventive program called Hidden Worlds this weekend that included percussionists breaking wine glasses and flower pots, a flautist singing into her instrument, and an electrified tuba cadenza. The most traditional use of instruments seemed to be in the opener, a chamber version of the Villa-Lobos Bachanas Brasilieras No. 2: The Little Train of Caipira played by Barbara Bogatin on cello and Robin Sutherland on piano.

This was the curtain-raiser for the Music as machinery segment of the evening, which featured Oscillate, a 2012 strings and percussion piece by Andy Akiho. This was where the breakage occurred, with the fabulous Symphony percussionist Jacob Nissly dominating the performance. The conductor was the 33-year-old Christopher Rountree above, one of the founders of the hugely praised wild Up chamber ensemble in Los Angeles. The 20-minute Oscillate passed the first test of any complex piece of music heard for the first time, which is that I wanted to hear it again.

After intermission, we were treated to Music underwater, with pianists Robin Sutherland and Nicholas Pavkovic joining a chamber orchestra for Saint-Saens' Aquarium.

This was followed by George Crumb's Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale) that spanned the beginning and end of time with a meditation on the sea in the middle. The instrumentalists were Linda Lukas on flute, Gwendolyn Mok on piano, and David Goldblatt on cello, and at various moments they had their instruments sounding like uncanny approximations of humpback whales. Crumb's music has never done much for me before, but I loved this theatrical piece and its gentle strangeness.

Crumb asked the three performers to do all kinds of odd things, including climbing inside the piano, whistling, singing, and playing the occasional bit of percussion, and the extraordinary musicians responded fearlessly and sensitively.

After another intermission, we were offered Music inside the mind, in the form of are you experienced?, a David Lang piece from 1987 for narrator, chamber orchestra and the aforementioned electrified tuba.

Olive Mitra above was the narrator on a platform in the middle of the audience, authoritatively intoning quasi-poetic nonsense about losing one's mind...

...and the semi-minimalist music was varied and fun in an expert performance from Rountree, Jeffrey Anderson on tuba, and members of the SF Symphony.

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