Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Future Is Female and Streaming

Old First Concerts and Matthew Wolka, its Director, was hoping to open for socially distanced concerts at the Van Ness Avenue church this month, but have opted instead for live streaming on YouTube until the pandemic settles down, which it most assuredly has not. Click here to check out their schedule and get links for their live Friday night concerts.

Last Friday was the opener with pianist Sarah Cahill playing at a hastily conjured living room space with a strikingly beautiful rug in an Oakland home. Cahill's microphone didn't seem to work during her spoken introductions, but the sound coming from the piano was superb. The pieces were from Cahill's encyclopedic The Future Is Female concert tour which showcases works by women composers. With a couple of exceptions, I'd never heard of any of these composers, so it was a delight to hear such good music that has mostly rested in obscurity. So let's do an Internet Listicle of some of these composers.

Gabriela Ortiz
Born in 1964 in Mexico City to musician parents who toured with the legendary Los Folkloristas, Ortiz writes music high and low, from opera to film. Cahill played her Prelude and Etude No. 3 from 2011, complex music shot through with folkloric elements that is immediately engaging.

Margaret Bonds
Born in 1913 in Chicago, Margaret Bonds studied at "prejudiced" Northwestern University, and then headed for New York City where she became close friends with the poet Langston Hughes, among others. Cahill writes in her program notes: "Troubled Water, composed when Bonds was 54, is a rhapsodic adaptation of the Spiritual Wade in the Water. She seamlessly blends jazz harmonies and rhythms with more classical structures and techniques." Bonds died at age 59, shortly after Zubin Mehta and the LA Philharmonic premiered her Credo for chorus and orchestra in 1972.

Germaine Tailleferre
Born in 1893, Tailleferre studied at the Paris Conservatory from the age of 13 and was the only female member of "Les Six" which also included composers Louis Durey, Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, Georges Auric, and Arthur Honegger. Cahill played Tailleferre's three-movement 1957 Partita, French neoclassicism at its most elegant. She had a full, thriving compositional career that included famous ballets for everyone from the Ballets Russes in the 1920s to the Royal Ballet of Copenhagen in the 1940s. She died in 1983 and the fact that I have never heard a note of her music before this feels shameful.

Elizabeth A. Baker
Based in St. Petersberg, Florida, the “New Renaissance Artist” specializes in music for toy piano and electronics, makes films, and writes. Cahill played the 2015 Four Planes, which was a chance-based composition involving the concept of time which didn't leave much of a musical impression on me, but that could have been my fault.

Betsy Jolas
Born in Paris in 1926, Betsy Jolas moved to New York at age 14 and returned to Paris after college, studying with Milhaud and Messiaen. She has composed a huge catalogue of works ranging from chamber music to choral music and opera. Cahill played a short, sweet dance deconstruction, Tango Si from 1984

Sofia Gubaidulina
Born in 1931, Gubaidulina is a giant among living composers. A Russian religious mystic who was mostly blacklisted in her own country for the weirdness of her music, she was discovered by the West when in her 50s after violinist Gidon Kremer played her violin concerto all around the world. She moved to a German village near Hamburg in 1992 and has been composing ever since for a worldwide audience. Cahill played her 1962 Chaconne, one of Gubaidulina's early major piano pieces influenced by J.S. Bach. I've heard it performed before by Sarah and it usually overwhelms everything else on a program. This streaming concert was no exception.

Lois V Vierk
Born in 1951 in Illinois, Vierk studied at Cal Arts, became involved with Japanese music in Los Angeles and Tokyo, and eventually became a New York composer. The pianist Aki Takahashi commissioned her to write a piano piece based on a Beatles tune, and she chose She Loves You. The 1991 Yeah Yeah Yeah was the result, and though perfectly pleasant, I was hoping for more yeah yeah yeah energy.

Grazyna Bacewicz
Born into a musical family in 1909 in Lodz, Poland, Bacewicz was a violinist and composer whose music sounds like an Andrzej Wajda film if you had synesthesia. I'd never heard of her before last year's Bard Music West festival last year at the Noe Valley Ministry where she was the Featured Composer, and now her music is a welcome addition to any program as far as I'm concerned. Cahill played an early, 1934 Scherzo.

Elena Kats-Chernin
Born in Uzbekistan, Kats-Cherning studied music in Moscow until moving to Sydney at age 14. She studied and worked in Germany for 13 years as a young adult, and finally settled back in Australia. She's written six operas and every other kind of music, and I know none of it. Cahill played the 1996 Peggy's Rag, Peggy being the early 20th century Australian composer Peggy Granville-Hicks, who somebody needs to make a movie about. In truth, any of these composers have had lives fascinating enough to fill an entertaining bio-series on Netflix, and thanks to YouTube their musical works can finally be showcased for anyone interested in exploring.
Thanks go to Sarah for introducing them in the best way possible, through their music.

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