Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Concert Review: New Music from the West Coast – Chapel Performance Space at Good Shepherd Center, Seattle, 5/5/2012

A varied concert, though generally tranquil; by three different composers.

Music for qin, by Christopher Roberts

The Chinese music for this ancient stringed instrument often emphasizes its twanging bass notes, which sound oddly akin to Mississippi delta blues, and save the airy, ringing harmonics for special moments of surprising beauty – something of an ethereal special effect. Christopher’s music was the inverse. He created most of the (freeform) melodic material from the overtones, with only occasionally venturing into the bass reverberations. The result was deeply affecting, meditative sounds that revealed their Chinese and “new music” roots equally. He played four pieces that seemed to form a set (they are also together on a CD), lasting a little longer than thirty minutes, and this half of the concert was far too short.

(...not played by Christopher Roberts in this picture.)

Trombones, found objects and found sound by Nat Evans

After the intermission, Jeremiah Cawley and Ken Pendergrass (both on trombones) played the only ensemble piece in the concert, Nat Evans’ “Still Life with Transmigration”. Nat had provided prerecorded electronic ambience: peaceful nature sounds mixed with unidentifiable, mysterious drones – both akin to my “StormSound” music – over which they began the piece with summonings on two conch shells. These had microtonal intonations, which set up harmonic beats throughout the hall – a portentous introduction to the trombones. The trombone music itself was melodic, tranquil, and overlapped heterophonically, furthering the “otherworldly but of this world” atmosphere. For the last third of the piece, they set down their trombones and played the various natural objects scattered around the stage as percussion instruments: sticks, stones, and leafy branches all became part of an orchestra of organic sounds. One can of course rub stones together to make a sound, as well as striking them, and breaking sticks provides a percussion sound somewhat different from striking them as well. My only negative reaction to the piece was that Nat has scooped me; my piece “Four Places on Planet Earth” (to be played in my May 24th concert) also uses prerecorded nature sounds and mysterious drones (derived electronically from the same nature sounds), and “live” percussionists playing natural objects – but of course this kind of thing has been done before (it seems to be part of a possible “greening” of music) so I can’t really complain. It was a beautiful piece anyway…

Jim Fox's Pleasure of Being Lost

The last piece was a piano solo, “The pleasure of being lost” by Jim Fox, as played by Cristina Valdes. This was in several movements played right together; however, none of them were complete by themselves so they formed a single, longer movement with pauses between sections. I described the piece later as “the melodic language of Peter Garland, the harmonic language or Takemitsu, and the time extension of Morton Feldman” – something of a fusion of the triumvirate of piano music of the late 20th century brought into the 21st. Cristina commented that Jim Fox had said it was something like Bill Evans as played by Feldman, which is much the same idea stylistically. Simple melodic figures with complex, ambiguous harmonies, floated dreamily over silence; each seemed “lost” by itself but lead inexorably forward into the next one – and for the duration of the piece, time was suspended. It was around ten minutes long, but seemed both far longer and far shorter. I am looking forward to hearing more music by this composer (and want to hear more of the delicate touch of this pianist as well).

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