Thursday, October 13, 2016

Quiet Music with the SF Contemporary Music Players

The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players opened their 46th annual season on Saturday in the Taube Atrium Theater on the top floor of the newly renovated Veterans Building. I had never been to one of their concerts, principally because they performed for years in the same building’s second floor Green Room which is a great place for parties but terrible for music. The Taube, with its sophisticated Meyer Sound System, is a huge acoustical leap for the organization, and they took advantage of it with soft, sophisticated music. (Pictured above left to right are artistic director Steven Schick, pianist Kate Campbell, violinist Susan Freier, cellist Stephen Harrison, bass clarinetist Peter Josheff, and alto flutist Tod Brody taking a bow after the first work on the program, Glimpse.)

Glimpse was a 2015 piece by percussionist Joe Pereira (above, with conductor and Artistic Director Steven Schick), seven short movements in a contemporary style I think of as Insect Music, which usually involves extended techniques for various instruments that sound like whispering, skittering creatures rather than traditional winds and strings.

It’s not my kind of music at all, which means nothing, but it did provide a sonic palate cleanser for a concert that featured quiet, delicate sounds all evening long. (Pictured above are Peter Josheff on bass clarinet and Tod Brody on alto flute.)

It was followed by guitarist David Tanenbaum and flutist Tod Brody playing the 1981 Toward the Sea by Toru Takemitsu. The Japanese composer’s usual ascetic style sounded positively lush and 19th Century Romantic after Glimpse.

My favorite work of the evening was the West Coast premiere of Sawdust on Ararat by composer Ken Ueno (above).

The 20-minute piece for seven instrumentalists began very softly, also sounding a bit like Insect Music, but soon blossomed into a complex “pocket concerto” for oboe (not clarinet, as the Financial Times misreported), accompanied by two cellos, two percussionists and a flute and clarinet. (Pictured above are Bill Kalinkos on clarinet and Crystal Pascucci on cello.)

The oboe was played by Claire Brazeau above in a superb, virtuosic performance in what sounded like very demanding music.

Near the end of the piece, the two percussionists, Nick Woodbury (pictured above left, with cellist Thalia Moore) and Loren Mach, wandered to two vestibules where two blocks of wood were clamped down and they sawed away as part of the musical texture, climaxing with a chunk of what looked like two-by-fours dropping to the floor with a satisfying clank. I’d like to hear the piece again.

The second half of the program was devoted to the 2013 In The Light of Air, a soft, spectral, 40-minute piece by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir for piano, harp, percussion, viola, cello and electronics.

There was also an “optional installation component” which in this case involved a subtle lighting scheme by the local composing genius and polymath David Coll above that evoked the aurora borealis. In the final movement, the lighting became interactive as percussionist Nick Woodbury played on various gongs, which was fun.

All the performers were wonderful, but I’d like to give a shout-out to pianist Kate Campbell above, who seemed to spend as much time plucking strings inside the piano as she did playiing on the keyboard, both of which she did with easy, unflappable grace.


The Opera Tattler said...

O heavens forfend, a oboe is certainly not clarinet!

I'm sorry to have missed this performance, and thanks for your detailed account.

Civic Center said...

Dear OT: Well, we all make major boo-boo's when trying to write up concerts, and there were a number of clarinets involved during the evening. But Alan Ulrich definitely had a definite brain fart when he wrote his review for The Financial Times, and because it's in print it will live forever.