This past November San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) presented a program entitled Re-Tuning and Refiguration, which surveyed different alternatives to the equal-tempered chromatic scale. The title of the next program will be Temporal Excursions; and, in a similar vein, it will explore unconventional approaches to rhythmic patterns. The pioneer of such explorations is probably Conlon Nancarrow, whose experiments with rhythm could only be satisfactorily pursued by punching his own player piano rolls. Unconventional durations could be representing them as lengths, which could be constructed with the sort of instruments used at a drafting board to realize ratios involving irrational, as well as rational, numbers.
The program will begin with Nancarrow’s “Study No. 3a,” the first of the five movements of his Boogie-Woogie Suite. The foundation for each of the movements is the steady pulse of a “boogie bass,” which one would encounter in recorded performances of pianists such as Jimmy Yancy, Fats Waller, James P. Johnson, and Art Tatum. However, as an essay by James Tenney observed, that bass line runs along at “superhuman speed,” above which rhythmically independent voices are added. By the end of “Study No. 3a,” eight of those independent voices are in play.
Rather than bringing a player piano to the concert, SFCMP will perform Evan Ziporyn’s realization for chamber ensemble, which he composed in 2013. (Nancarrow began creating his piano rolls in 1939.) Executing all of those rhythmically independent voices is likely to be a challenging undertaking. The good news is that the SFCMP musicians always seem to be up for ambitious challenges. Indeed, those challenges will continue with the second work on the program, the world premiere of “Polytempo Music” by Brian Baumbusch.
The program will then conclude with “Catch & Release.” This is a three-movement composition with a duration of about twenty minutes, which Esa-Pekka Salonen composed for the 2006 Crusell Music Festival in Finland, where it was performed by the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra. The music was scored for the same ensemble of seven musicians that were required to perform Igor Stravinsky’s L'Histoire du soldat: clarinet, bassoon, cornet, trombone, percussion, violin, and bass. The SFCMP performance will mark the Bay Area premiere of this composition.
This program will be presented in the Taube Atrium Theater, which is part of the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera, located in the Veterans Building (on the fourth floor) at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. The performance will begin at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 13. Doors will open early for the How Music is Made pre-concert talk, which will begin at 7 p.m. General admission will be $35 with a $15 rate for students. Tickets may be purchased through a City Box Office Web page.