An update on Luna.

Luna on the beanbag chair

It’s a sad tale of two cats these days. Luna continues to herself, beautiful, elegant and enjoying the small sites and pleasures in the world, as in this photo taken Saturday of her sitting on her beanbag chair in the studio. Something out the window caught her attention.

At other times, however, it is impossible not to see her continuing decline. This was especially the case yesterday. She was tired, with very little energy, and getting a bit frightened and skittish – I can’t begin to imagine how frightening and disconcerting this experience is for her. But she still continues to enjoy a few of her low-energy favorite things, like sitting on her throne and getting pets and scritches.

Luna with throne and scritches.

We have moved the “throne” pillow to the floor as she prefers not to jump anymore. I have also spent more time sitting with her on the floor, even spending a portion of some nights sleeping not he floor with her. We are getting towards the end, painful as it is to admit it. But she is still holding onto life and our connection, and I want to make her remaining time as comfortable as possible. I love her very much, and want her to know that she is still loved.

It’s been difficult emotionally to deal with her illness and decline. I see the cat that I’ve known for years, and think of all the memories, and that it will come to an end in the near future. And that each meal, each small activity, takes on an added gravity. There is also a lot of anger. Some at myself for not noticing this early enough to head it off, probably in late 2014 or early 2015. Some of the anger is at the world, where horrible people are thriving while the sweetest creature I have ever known is facing an early and difficult death. It’s taking its toll. I will be pulling back a bit from live shows – and I will continue to work through the backlog of reviews and reports, so it will seem like I’m as busy as ever. But much of the time will in fact be with Luna over the coming weeks.

Thank you for your continued purrs, thoughts, and vibes. 💕

SF Symphony Celebrates the Music of Steve Reich

This past September, the San Francisco Symphony celebrated the 80th birthday of composer Steve Reich with a week of performances, culminating in an all-Reich program on Sunday, September 11.

Steve Reich
[Steve Reich. Photo by Jeffrey Herman. Courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony.]

The diverse program features a variety of works from his oeuvre. It began with Six Marimbas, a piece originally scored and titled in 1973 Six Pianos. It has the classic Reich sound of repeated but slowly evolving patterns that form a continuously moving harmony throughout the piece. I thought it was particularly well suited to the marimbas, which provide a percussive texture for the lines and a lightness for the harmony. I have not heard the original for pianos, but I can imagine it was a bit heavier.

Six Marimbas was followed by Electronic Counterpoint, featuring Derek Johnson on guitar. In addition to Johnson’s live performance, the piece includes multiple pre-recorded lines to form the counterpoint texture. It is also broken up into movements and involves the development of melodic and harmonic themes that give it a more traditional quality despite the unusual orchestration.

After the intermission, Steve Reich joined Michael Tilson Thomas (aka “MTT”) for an impromptu performance of Clapping Music. This is a fun piece, and it was great to see him perform it. In some ways, this piece formed the center of the “celebration” aspect of the concert, with a long ovation following the performance.

The formal program resumed with Different Trains, performed by the Kronos Quartet with pre-recorded voices. This is a much heavier piece. It combines the sounds of trains with the live quartet and vocal recordings. It starts somewhat nostalgic with reminiscing of train trips across the United States, including New York and Los Angeles, but takes a darker turn as the voices and sounds turn to memories of the trains carrying Jews to the concentration camps during the Holocaust. It then returns to the U.S. in the final movement but with the awareness that the memories of train rides have starkly different meanings depending on time and place.

Interestingly, the original program featured WTC 9/11, a powerful piece that would have had additional resonance and symbolism coming on the fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It was replaced by Different Trains – both pieces were originally written for and performed by the Kronos Quartet. There wasn’t any official mention of why the switch occurred. WTC 9/11 is a dark and difficult piece, even more so than Different Trains, and perhaps it was felt the anniversary was a distraction from the celebration of Reich’s full life and work.

The final piece of the evening was Reich’s Double Sextet, a piece that features two identical sextets – flute, clarinet, violin, piano, vibraphone, and cello. For this entirely live version, members of the SF Symphony were joined by Eighth Blackbird. The two groups formed the dueling sextets that played similar but different parts that proceeded a variety of interlocking rhythms and harmonies. The mixed instrumentation also gave it a more complex timbre than Six Marimbas (which sounded like a single instrument). It was also a more recent piece, composed in 2008, using the contrapuntal techniques he had developed in the earlier works.

I am glad that we were able to attend and be part of this event. I had studied Steve Reich as a composer and music student, and heard some of these pieces before, but not in a single unified symphonic setting. It was a fitting tribute.

Vinny Golia Large Ensemble

To mark the composer, multi-instrumentalist and band-leader Vinny Golia’s 70th year, over 70 musicians gathered together for the largest of Vinny Golia Large Ensembles. The event took place at the Finnish Kaleva Hall in Berkeley, California.

Vinny Golia large ensemble
[Photo by Charles Smith]

The ensemble was arranged into sections based on instrument group, e.g., percussion, guitars, winds, brass, electronics. I was in the “piano” group rather than the electronics, since I had opted to read standard notation rather than graphical scores. None the less, I brought a tiny setup to this “yuge” ensemble: a Roland “Boutique” JP-08 and a Moog Mother-32.

Mother 32 and Roland JP-08

The two-hour long performance consisted of 25 or so pieces composed by Golia, a mixture of standard notation, graphics and instructions. He conducted the ensemble quite closely, selecting pieces, encouraging sections to emerge, and singling out folks for solos. Musically, the sound has a film-score-like quality. Given the length and duration, there was the hazard of the ensemble degenerating into a loud morass of free improvisation. Golia’s conducting – which he was quite meticulous about with us during rehearsal – and the various solos punctuating the sound helped prevent that from happening.

Golia himself performed during the set, using his trademark array of reed instruments, including the multiple saxophones and the visually striking contralto clarinet.

[Photo by Charles Smith]


Not surprisingly, the woodwinds were featured prominently. But he also made extensive use of the guitars – something I was able to experience up close given my position behind them.

Overall, it was quite an experience to be part of and to hear this ensemble, which brought together so many familiar faces from the Bay Area new-music scene, and some new artists I had never met.

Here is the official list of musicians from the program. It includes some who were not there, and unfortunately misses a couple who were.

Composer, Director:
Vinny Golia

Aaron Bennet, Beth Schenck, Collette McCaslin, Dan Plonsey, David Slusser, Henry Juntz, Isaac Narell, John Vaughn, Jon Raskin, Joseph Nobel, Josh Allen, Joshua Marshall, Kersti Abrams, Phillip Greenlief, Rent Romus, Steve Adams, Tom Weeks.

Frances Rodriguez, Jaroba, Michelle Hardy, Phillip Gelb, Rachel Condry, Tom Bickley

Ben Zucker, George Moore, Heikki Koskinen, Ron Heglin

Drums & Percussion:
Aaron Levin, Donald Robinson, Jason Levis, Jordon Glenn, Mark Pino, Tim DeCillis, Vijay Anderson, William Winant

Strings and Basses:
Henry Kaiser, Kelley Kipperman, Matt Small, Neal Trembath, Steve Horowitz, Gabby Fluke-Mogul, Tara Flandreau, Shanna Sordahl

Alex Yeung, Amy Reed, Aaron-Rodni Rodriguez, Bill Wolter, John Finkbeiner, Leland Vendermeulen, Myles Boisen, Peter Whitehead, Robin Walsh, Roger Kim, Ross Hammond

Other Instruments:
Amanda Chaudhary, Andrew Jamieson, Andrew Joron, Bryan Day, Cheryl Leonard, David Samas, Derek Drudge, Gregory Scharpen, Jake Rodriguez, Philip Everett, Scott Looney, Soo-yeon Lyoh, Tania Chen, Thomas Dimuzio.