Thursday, June 30, 2011

Atlanta Summer Organ Festival

Maxine Thevenot presented an organ recital as part of the Atlanta Summer Organ Festival at the Cathedral of St. Philip.  The sanctuary at St. Philip is in a beautiful neo-Gothic style.  The church sits on a promontory on Peachtree St NW in Atlanta.  The Aeolian-Skinner organ is from 1962 and it has a wondrous sonority in the warm and reverberant acoustical environment in which it is located.  Pedal notes vibrate the chest like a train running through your living room.  The grounds of the church are also impressive.

The recital included works by Sixten, Ager, Vierne, Widor, Wolf, Vaughn Williams, and Togni.  Edmund Connolly was the baritone in Wolf’s Three Songs from the Spanish Lieder and in The Call by Vaughn Williams.  He and Thevenot have teamed previously and they have managed to work out the perfect balance between the organ and the human voice.  The recital was enjoyable if not particularly exciting. 

There was a reception for the artists afterward and they served great pastries, including light crème éclairs and puffs.  Who could complain?

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

SONICpalooza- poor camera phone but you get the idea

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SONICpalooza- I thought I died and went to heaven

Sonic Generator presented SONICpalooza at the Woodruff Arts Center.  From their website: Founded in 2006, Sonic Generator is the contemporary music ensemble-in-residence at Georgia Tech dedicated to using technology to transform the ways in which we compose, perform, and listen to music.

This was one incredible event.  It lasted from 2:00pm to 12:00 am, although I could only stay for five hours. 

The primary members of Sonic Generator are:
·         Ted Gurch, clarinet
·         Helen Hwaya Kim, violin
·         Brad Ritchie, cello
·         Jessica Peek Sherwood, flute
·         Tom Sherwood, percussion
·         Tim Whitehead, piano
·         Jason Freeman, electronics

The portion of the program that I was able to attend included these works:

2 pm
Steve Reich: Clapping Music
David Lang: Press Release
Steve Reich: Nagoya Marimbas
Tristan Perich: A/B/C/D
Philip Glass: Mad Rush

3 pm
Alvin Singleton: Secret Desire to be Black
Timothy Andres: Crashing through Fences
Jason Freeman: Sonorescence
Philip Glass: Quartet No. 5

4 pm
Steve Reich: Music for Pieces of Wood
Alexandra Gardner: Bloom
Phil Kline: The Last Buffalo
John Cage: Credo in US

5 pm
Marc Mellits: Tight Sweater
Mark Gresham: Genshi
John Luther Adams: Immeasurable Space of Tones

6 pm
David Lang: Child

7 pm
Bill Ryan: Simple Lines
George Lewis: Northstar Boogaloo
Philip Glass: Arabesque in Memoriam

Where to begin, where to begin…..  The Glass pieces were wonderful.  “Mad Rush”, a piece for solo piano, has lush melodies that are played against the backdrop of Glasses swirling scales.  The pianist (sorry I don’t have his name since I failed to keep a program) coaxed pianissimos and grand fortes from the piano.  In the rich acoustic environment, the music was good for trance induction.  Glasses Quartet No. 5 is a major late 20th century work.  It also has stunning melodies and the signature Glass waves of swirling sound.  This quartet also demonstrates the vision of the mature composer- it lacks some of the hard, almost aggressive, melodies of his earlier works.  The final Glass piece, “Arabesque in Memoriam”, is for solo flute.  It was composed in 1988, which is about 10-years before the quartet.  It is delicate and melodic, and was played to perfection by Jessica Peek Sherwood.  The Glass pieces alone were worth the price of admission, which, by the way, was free.

There were two Steve Reich pieces.  Reich was a pioneer in the latter half of the 20th century in the type of music that became known as minimalism.  Composers of this school often bristle at the title, but, like so many categorizations, it has a nice way of briefly summing up the nature of the music.  Reich’s “Clapping Music” is just that- two musicians clapping in intricate patterns that intrigue and explore the richness of simple rhythm.  According to Wikipedia “one performer claps a basic rhythm, a variation of the fundamental African bell pattern in 12/8 time, for the entirety of the piece. The other claps the same pattern, but after every 8 or 12 bars s/he shifts by one eighth note to the left. The two performers continue this until the second performer has shifted 12 eighth notes and is hence playing the pattern in unison with the first performer again (as at the beginning), some 144 bars later. The variation of the African bell pattern is minimal; it contains just one additional beat. However, this minimal addition results in a much more interesting piece from the point of view of the variation of syncopation as the piece progresses.  The musician’s hands must get to the point of spasm after playing this piece, but it also demonstrates their rhythmic skill.  The second Reich piece was “Music for Pieces of Wood.”  It is similar to “Clapping Music” in that it relies only on simple percussive instruments to make its point.  The musicians playing this piece were located on the balcony of the Woodruff atrium, which added to the richness of the sound in this reverberant space. 

Another rich piece of music was John Luther Adams “Immeasurable Space of Tones.” This piece is what I have come to know as “Space Music.” It has long and languorous melodies that change pitch very slowly and are handed off subtlety from one instrument to another.  The music is hypnotic and provides a great opportunity for the listener to float and be in the incredible moment of now.  Again the music benefitted from the rich acoustic environment. 

The final piece I will discuss is “Child” by David Lang.  “Child” is a powerful meditation on childhood and memory. Sweet and simple on the surface, the piece is made up of gentle musical fragments floating by, leaving faint traces of darkness in their wake. It was written in five separate parts.” One section is startling- in the midst of these beautiful sounds two drums intermittently break the beautiful stillness.  This music is gorgeous and worth repeated hearing. 

SONICpalooza was held in the Woodruff Arts Center atrium, which is the grand lobby area of Symphony Hall and the Alliance Theater.  It was set up with about thirty tables.  Food was served by vendors located on one of the plazas of the Center.  Listeners came in and left as they wished.  The performers were informally dressed and there was a five to fifteen minute break at the end of each hour.  This was not a formal classical music event but rather an interactive setting where musicians “hung around” after playing and were available for conversation.   Audience members were relaxed and ate when the urge struck them.  At the height of the afternoon, there were maybe 150 attendees.  With symphony orchestras in financial trouble across the country, maybe there is something to be learned from SONICpalooza dealing with audience comfort, informality, food, programming, and how to attract younger audiences. 

Finally, I have complained about the acoustics of Symphony Hall.  It is a dead space that provides minimal reverberation but lots of echo.  It is harsh and overly analytic.  I have been made more aware of its deficiencies after attending an Omaha Symphony concert is its magnificent Holland Performing Arts Center, which has a warm and reverberant auditorium.   In fact, I found the Woodruff atrium to have a more hospitable sound for chamber-sized ensembles than can be provided in Symphony Hall.  Given the economic conditions, a new hall for the ASO is likely out of the question.  But seeking some advice on how to improve the dead acoustics would be well worth the investment.  It would make the ASO sound like the top-flight ensemble it really is. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Joslyn Art Museum Omaha

Joslyn Museum in Omaha is in a perfectly preserved art deco building.  It was built out of pink marble and an addition was built in the 1990's.  While the addition doesn't particularly add to the edifice, it certainly does not detract either.  This is a real architectural gem. 

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