Greenlief @ 50

On Tuesday, I attended the fourth greelief@50 concert, a series marking the birthday of local musician and composer Phillip Greenlief. We haven’t actually played together, but have been on the same program several times, and we have crossed paths and numerous Bay Area new-music events over the last few years. The show took place at The Uptown in (downtown) Oakland.

The opening set was a performance by Weasel Walter/Devin Hoff/Darren Johnston/Damon Smith. I hesitate to say whether or not it was an improvisation set because they did have scores, but in any case it had the sound and structure of a free jazz improvisation set. The best moment was when a particularly dense section suddenly gave way to a tenor solo, and then back to the full ensemble just as suddenly.

The main set was a large ensemble, consisting of orchesperry (named for local musician Matthew Sperry) and the Cardew Choir. In total, this was indeed a large ensemble.

I’m not sure what the lab coats were about.

The group performed several compositions by Greenlief, who conducted in bold and dramatic style. Of particular note was the second piece, which opened with percussion and a string sound that seemed electronic. This was followed by a saxophone solo that was rather melodic, a voice solo, and then bursts of sound from various musicians. The piece then built up towards the standard loud and dense improvisation, before quickly coming to a close. The piece was rather short, so short that it seemed the audience wasn’t sure it was over, and performer Bob Marsh had to cue the audience to applaud.

Another piece of note, for me at least, was Monument, dedicated to work of artist Eva Hesse, whose work I have seen on several occasions here in San Francisco and elsewhere. The piece was “dedicated to the electronic musicians in the ensemble”, and featured the electronic sounds and textures to which we at CatSynth have become very accustomed – so that hearing synthesizers and processors in the midst of a large mostly-acoustic concert can have a very familiar and inviting quality – especially when one thinks about in the context of modern and contemporary visual art.

As is often the case, there are a fair number of familiar faces at these performances, so a certain amount of time is spent being social in addition to the music itself. Nothing wrong with that, though it was a Tuesday and I ended up not staying very long.

NOTE: this was the 800th post for CatSynth

Festival of Contemporary Music, San Francisco

Last night I got out to hear the second concert in the 6th Annual Festival of Contemporary Music hosted by the New Music Forum. That is quite a grand name, and of course the festival gave but a small sampling of contemporary music.

By coincidence, this was at the Community Music Center, the same location as the Edgetone New Music Summit. Although both ostensibly “new music,” this program had a much more traditional feel to it.

The second night focused on pieces for piano, electronics and wind ensemble, all instrumentation I have experience with (as opposed to my more limited experience with string ensembles). The programming seemed to have been done to balance the instrumentation, rather than the pieces themselves, with one piano, one digital media piece, and a piece for wind ensemble in each half.

The second half opened with a virtuosic and theatric performance by pianist Jerry Kuderna of Schematic Nocturne by Bruce Bennet, and probably the best performance of the evening. It was followed by Staring at the Sun, a piece for “stereo digital audio media” by Andrew Cole. It interesting how programs are finally catching up to the contemporary world and no longer calling such pieces “tape music.” I did recognize in Cole’s piece many examples of key clicks and other extended woodwind techniques, which made it fit better into the full program than just a piece for computer-generated sounds. The final piece, Woodwind Quintet by Martha Stoddard was a departure from the rest of the evening in that it was the only piece with multiple movements, and also had a more traditional feel, with traditional harmonies, Middle Eastern scales, and other elements that almost made it seem like the curators were saying “now that you have sat through all this new music, here is something simpler to enjoy.” But of course, I came specifically to hear “new music”, so I preferred the earlier pieces.