Friday, March 24, 2006

Dating Narcisse

Mason Bates' Omnivorous Furniture
Oakland East Bay Symphony
Paramount Theatre, Oakland
Tonight! Friday March 24, 8pm

Paul Taylor Dancing
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Film Screening Room
Monday March 27, 7pm

Paul Taylor Dance Company
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
March 28 - April 2
(not so free)

Alonzo King's Lines Ballet
Spring Home Season
April 13 - 16
(easter weekend? who's that figure fleeing the church?)

Kronos Quartet
(with Matmos!)
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
April 21 - 22
(fingers crossed, fingers crossed...)

Paufve | Dance
The Big Squeeze
Shawl Anderson Dance Center
April 21 - 23, 26 - 28
(your chance to hear the Op. 1)

Cal Performances presents...
Hubbard Street Dance Company
Zellerbach Hall, UCBerkeley
May 5 - 6

See you there!

Why such the dancing fool you may ask? Coverage! Reportage! Somebody's got to do it, (Ms. Howard is taking a break) and besides, Narcisse and I just loooooove dancers...

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Enter: Narcisse

She writes on the back of a Stieglitz postcard--
Is SHE me? A great photograph will always cause me to wonder. Is it me? My favorite photos place me in the picture regardless of time, place or scene, regardless of specificity or abstraction. Months ago, I stared at Irving Penn's portrait of Stravinsky and wondered where to find me. In the hands? The ear? Somewhere behind the eyes? If a photograph fails to stroke my narcissism, then it is no good. The piece I own, for example, is ME through someone else's lens, but there are days when she is not me at all. And so I must look again.
Who looks at photographs as if looking in a mirror? As a critical technique, it is vain and narcissistic, but it assesses the work fairly quickly. Likes and dislikes are grounded in concrete, yet imaginative, reasoning. Can the method apply to music? Can I find the ME in a piece of music or in a performance? Does a composition or performer leave room or create space for me to enter and roam around? Such questions are easily measured and will hone my own aesthetics, which seem to be going through a huge transformation.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Locked in the Garage

Just to give electronic musicians a really good laugh... I am devoting all my spare minutes in (here's the laugh) GarageBand, attempting to stitch together a piece for a choreographer. As I rhapsodized to a friend yesterday, the work is painstaking and sometimes frustrating (I am definitely learning on the go) but also completely satisfying. The hours disappear. I speak to no one. Maybe I'm turning into the lonely composer.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006


I boycotted the last Contemporary Players concert, partly for personal reasons, and partly because the season opener left me feeling so indifferent. This past Monday night, I braved the rainstorm and returned to Yerba Buena for the fourth and penultimate concert of their 2005-06 season. To be honest, I went to hear one piece, Charles Wuorinen's Percussion Quartet, a work written in 1994 but that sounds like good ol' mid-twentieth-century modernism to my ears. That no one (in the program note or pre-concert talk) breathed John Cage's name astonished me; Wuorinen obviously learned well from Cage's Constructions (which date, yes, from the 1930s/40s) where interlocking rhythmic textures require a feisty, high-energy style of playing.

It is precisely that kind of playing that I have found lacking in these concerts--except from the percussionists. They rarely let me down. Christopher Froh brings a refreshing giddiness to every performance, almost effortlessly serving the virtuosic demands of the music. Effortlessness is both a technique and an attitude that all performers of "new music" need to convey. When the player seems at ease, regardless of the flurry of notes, the quick change of sticks, or the fiercely erratic tempi, the listener can make much more "sense" of the music. The performance of the Wuorinen only occasionally demonstrated this; a couple of the players sometimes looked a bit frantic, as if wound a little too tight. (Here again is an instance where I would prefer no conductor; or at least, I would prefer a conductor who didn't contribute to the feeling of being "on the edge" with a challenging piece.) Musically, however, the Wuorinen was the highlight of the evening, with a range-pushing exploration of melody, timbre and texture that matched its rhythmic complexities. (What, do you think drummers just keep a beat?)

Carla Kihlstedt performed what will likely be the concert's most talked about feat, a thoroughly convincing sing-and-play* of San Francisco composer Lisa Bielawa's Kafka Songs. Classical musicians rarely assume dual roles; they tend to stick, like specialists, to the instrument in which they've been trained or schooled. Kihlstedt, a violinist with a varied musical background, was thus the ideal muse for the Kafka Songs, a full-fledged song cycle that the soloist both plays and sings. The miniatures "Couriers," "Ghosts," and "Finally" provided just enough of a tuneful hook or rhythmic beat to balance the more avant-garde vocal music clich├ęs--some of Bjork's recent work came to mind, an association that I attribute more to Kihlstedt's performance style than to the compositions themselves. Other songs tended to meander and only served to remind me that, unlike a classically trained singer, Kihlstedt's voice lacks bloom. (And I do like a voice that blooms...) That aside, she enunciated the texts clearly and navigated a spectrum of violin playing techniques with an ease that wowed the audience. (Oh, I eavesdrop at intermission.)

Julia Wolfe's Dark Full Ride opened the program. This is minimalism at its most predictable, driving and loud but predictable, nonetheless. (Somehow, I never find Steve Reich predictable, but, sigh, that is for another post.) Comprised of mostly the same players as in the Wuorinen, the piece at least allowed drummers to be drummers: the laid-back nodding of heads indicated that they fully enjoyed the ride. Did I? Well, let's just say it was a Long Full Wait for the Wuorinen.

*At the conservatory, my advanced musicianship teacher loved to assign devilish sing-and-plays. Brahms, Ives, Debussy, nothing was off limits. (I actually did feel sorry for the non-keyboardists.) Being a pianist, I received no slack: one mid-term she required me to sing and play Ives' "Maple Leaves." In solfege, natch. Last summer I dedicated a performance of "Memories A" (accompanying myself on toy piano) to her.

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