Thursday, March 10, 2016
Other Minds Festival 21
The opening night concert of last weekend's 21st annual Other Minds Festival featured a starry group of composers from around the world: Lasse Thoresen (Norway), Cecilie Ore (Norway), Gavin Bryars (England), Phil Kline (USA), Michael Gordon (USA), John Oswald (Canada), Larry Polansky (USA), Oliver Lake (USA)...
...along with Nicole Lizee (Canada) and Meredith Monk (USA) above, with the latter "National Treasure" being given a career retrospective of her own on the third and final concert of the festival.
Friday's opener at the SFJAZZ Center, hosted by Festival creator Charles Amirkhanian above, was in many respects a typical Other Minds Festival concert: filled with fascinating new sounds and performers, overlong, interesting, boring, and everything in between.
The first half of the concert featured the Norwesgian a capella sextet Nordic Voices. The first two short 2012 pieces were by Lasse Thoresen. Solben was a sun prayer that sounded like a spectral Scandinavian folk hymn, and it was marvelous. Equally wonderful was his Himmelske Fader, another folk based prayer, this time to the Heavenly Father, and the Nordic Voices for whom it was written gave a shimmering performance. This was followed by Dead Pope on Trial!, a world premiere cantata by Cecelia Ore, written by the Norwegian composer in English. The half-hour piece is something of a ghoulish shaggy pope story depicting the true story of Pope Formosus (891 to 896) who had enough political enemies that his corpse was exhumed and put on trial before his mutilated remains were thrown into the Tiber River, not once but twice before being restored to rest in St. Peter's. The piece sounded a bit like David Lang in its insistence on repeated words and syllables, but it was absorbing, amusing, and the English diction of the Nordic Voices was amazingly clear.
Clarity was not the case for the five madrigals by Gavin Bryars from poems by Petrarch where not a single syllable (in Italian, no less) could be discerned. The music was monotone and dull, and I bailed after the second one. The final madrigal was a world premiere written in honor of Benjamin Amirkhanian's 100th birthday, which was a lovely gesture, but it was very long and the audience stumbled out to the bar after a one-and-three-quarter hour first half.
Charles Amirkhanian acknowledged the lateness of the hour at the beginning of the second half, which he noted was "mercifully short, you should be getting out of here before 2AM." In truth, the second half consisted of two substantial pieces for recorded text and string quartet played by the Flux Quartet above.
They started with Last Words, a world premiere by Phil Kline, using an assemblage of public pronouncements by William Burroughs, which was successful if you were a Burroughs Junky and not so much if you were not.
The final work of the evening, taking us past the 11PM mark, was Michael Gordon's 2006 The Sad Park, a four-movement, miminalist tinged work for string quartet and modified recordings of children's reactions to seeing the 9/11 attacks from their school in Battery Park. Reading a description in the program, I thought to myself, "Be ready to flee. Sentimental 9/11 porn, with children," but the music itself was captivating and I happily, grudgingly stayed to the end.