Thursday, January 25, 2018

another Lou Harrison centenary concert

I couldn't resist this. I don't count myself a big fan of or expert on Lou Harrison's music, but I've always enjoyed listening to it.

A full slate of tasks and errands to do on Wednesday, plus a heavy rainstorm, made the trip up to the city seem wearisome and tightly-scheduled enough that I thought of skipping out on it, but in the end I applied the General Grant theory of how to get somewhere (just point yourself in the right direction and go), and since where I had to be was just outside a BART station at the unusually late starting time of 8:30, it worked. Indeed, the introducer thanked the audience for coming out in the heavy rain, which makes a change from introducers thanking us for coming out instead of watching some sporting event, which they invariably do when possible.

The performers were a passel of folks I know from Garden of Memory and other newer-music events: pianist Sarah Cahill, violinist Kate Steinberg, William Winant and his Percussion Group, and the more conventionally respectable Alexander String Quartet. So we had small-ensemble chamber music pieces for piano, string quartet, and parts of the previous combined with various percussion instruments, including a full gamelan, which occupied large swathes of the stage. This led to exchanges like this, when Cahill as emcee of the show asked Winant to explain what he'd be playing:
CAHILL: So these are rice bowls?
WINANT: Yep, everyday rice bowls in various sizes. Played with chopsticks.
CAHILL: Where did they come from?
WINANT: They came from Lou Harrison's kitchen. So did the baking pans over there.
As with Lou's teacher Henry Cowell pressing his forearms on the piano keyboard, or his fellow student John Cage fastening small bits of hardware to its strings, this found-materials battery - which also included a set of auto brake drums Lou salvaged from a junkyard - produced not a raucous din but gentle tinkles and washes of sound. Of all the attractive pieces, the best was a 1986 work called Varied Trio, for violin, piano, and the assorted percussion. As in some similar Cowell pieces, one performer or another would sit out some of the brief movements.

The concert was overambitious in one respect: intended to last 60-75 minutes, it went close to two hours, which is a long time to go without an intermission, especially after 8:30.

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