Monday, August 07, 2017

Al Fresco 3: Inuksuit at Land's End

In an interesting departure, the SFJAZZ Center hosted the composer John Luther Adams for a week-long residency in San Francisco, including a quartet of concerts at the Center, a six-hour "sound installation" at Grace Cathedral, and a free outdoor performance of the 2009 Inuksuit, written for 9 to 99 percussionists outdoors.

I went to the Inuksuit performance a couple of Sundays ago with a quartet of friends and thousands of strangers. (Click here for a two-minute video impression by Tony Hurd.)

The concert was advertised as taking place in the ruins of the Sutro Baths near Seal Rock, but the actual performance was on cliffside trails at Land's End stretching for about a quarter of a mile.

The 90-minute piece has an arresting beginning, where all the percussionists make the softest noises imaginable on a range of odd instruments from conch shells to plastic tubing.

The delicacy forces the audience to listen carefully, and to note the ambient natural sounds around them, in this case the wind, ocean, and foghorns while picking out the manufactured sounds of the musicians. The crowd was remarkably silent for the most part, keeping conversations to hushed whispers.

After about 20 minutes, the sound of gongs and other bright percussion instruments began drifting in from their various locations while retaining a mysterious gentleness.

Finally, the musicians take to drums and other instruments in a slowly rising crescendo.

I heard Inuksuit in 2012, performed in a grassy glade near Hertz Hall at UC Berkeley led by percussionist Steven Schick for whom it was originally written.

The climactic sections were more intense in the smaller Berkeley area, while the experience at Land's End with the composer in attendance sounded more diffuse and mysterious, which was fine since no performance is intended to sound the same.

It was also much warmer in Berkeley than during a bone-chilling, foggy San Francisco summer afternoon. Unlike the iron man above in his T-shirt, we had to leave before the end because we had foolishly not brought enough layers.

No comments: