At the beginning of next month, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) will launch its 46th season by making it clear that “contemporary” is still the operative adjective in the group’s name. Three of the works on the program are less that five years old. One will be a world premiere, and another will be given its West Coast premiere. Only one piece will be by a composer who is no longer alive; and that piece reaches back to the distant past of 1981, meaning that many reading this were not yet born at that time.
The one “blast from the past” is a piece that may be close enough to having achieved “classic status” that it has its own Wikipedia page. This is Toru Takemitsu’s “Toward the Sea,” first composed in 1981 as a duo for alto flute and guitar. Two subsequent versions were written, one in 1981 and the other in 1989. However, the original version will be performed by SFCMP with David Tanenbaum on guitar and Tod Brody on alto flute. The piece was commissioned by Greenpeace for its Save the Whales campaign; and it was inspired by Herman Melville’s novel, Moby-Dick. However, it also involves an exercise in “musical spelling,” since the letter “S” corresponds to the German “Es” pitch class, which is E-flat. Thus, the motif from E-flat to E natural to A is a key element throughout the three parts of the composition.
The world premiere will be “Glimpse,” completed by California percussionist Joseph Pereira in 2015. This seventeen-minute piece explores different aspects of sonic coloration without utilizing percussion. Rather, Pereira scored it for a quintet of alto flute (Brody), bass clarinet (Peter Josheff), piano (Kate Campbell), violin (Susan Freier), and cello (Stephen Harrison).
The West Coast premiere will be “Sawdust on Ararat,” completed by Ken Ueno earlier this year. Ueno has a great interest in unconventional performance techniques, and he frequently pursues those interests through his own work as a vocalist. However, “Sawdust on Ararat” is a twenty-minute instrumental septet scored for flute (Brody), oboe (Claire Brazeau), clarinet (Bill Kalinkos), two cellos (Thalia Moore and Crystal Pascucci), and two percussionists (Nick Woodbury and Loren Mach).
The major work on the program will be In the Light of Air, a unified tetralogy of four individual movements connected seamlessly by transitions. The title of the movements are “Luminance,” “Serenity,” Existence,” and “Remembrance.” The entire piece is framed by a prologue and an epilogue. The work was completed by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir in 2013. It was scored for viola (Freier), cello (Harrison), piano (Campbell), harp (Karen Gottlieb), and percussion (Woodbury). Over the course of 40 minutes, the piece establishes a journey through sonic landscapes, defined, like other works on the program, through sonic coloration. In addition, SFCMP has designed a subtly undulating lighting plan for the performance.
The concert will be presented in the new Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theatre in the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera on the fourth floor of the Veterans Building, located on the southwest corner of Van Ness Avenue and McAllister Street. The lighting plan was designed explicitly for this venue. The program will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 8. However, ticket-holders may also attend an informal pre-concert discussion with the musicians led by Artistic Director Steven Schick. This will begin at 6:30 p.m. In addition there will be two events free and open to the general public during the afternoon. The first will be an open dress rehearsal of “Sawdust on Ararat,” beginning at 4 p.m. (also in the Atrium Theater). This will be followed by the second event at 4:30 p.m., when Ueno and Pereira will discuss the topic “How Music is Made,” facilitated by Schick.
General admission for this concert will be $35 with a $15 rate for students. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through an Eventbrite event page. In addition, because this is the first concert, subscriptions to the entire 2016–17 season are still on sale. The full subscription offers six concerts, one film screening, and two community events. Prices are $170 for general admission and $85 for students. These may also be purchased online through a separate Eventbrite event page, which also enumerates several other subscriber benefits.