Last night at the Noe Valley Ministry, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) presented the rescheduled program entitled Fire and Water, Shadows and Dust. More precisely, the program was presented by two of the players, Meredith Clark on harp and Tod Brody alternating between flute and alto flute. The selections included both duo and solo performances.
Where the solos were concerned, the program provided an opportunity to listen to the first two of the compositions that Luciano Berio entitled “Sequenza.” Berio composed fourteen of these pieces, each requiring different solo “instrumentation” (scare quotes because the fourth composition was for female voice). The first of these pieces, composed in 1958 and revised in 1992, was for flute; and the second, composed in 1963, was composed for harp.
Berio created these pieces to explore the capacity of each the instruments for exploring a wide diversity of sonorities, many (if not most) of which involved sounds not usually associated with the instrument. Given the distance of five years between the first two “Sequenza” compositions, it is unlikely that Berio viewed them as a “matched set;” but, fortuitously enough, they happened to align with last night’s performers.
For those unfamiliar with these compositions, each was its own adventurous journey of discovery, as much for the listener as for the performer. Having one performed on either side of the intermission allowed those in the audience to reflect on the “sonorous scope” of the first as preparation for the same scope of diversity of the second. Taken together, the pieces celebrated the capacity of each of the instruments for “non-standard” performance techniques.
Clark presented two additional solo offerings. The first of these was Suzanne Farrin’s “Polvere et Ombra” (dust and shadow), a reflection on a sonnet by Petrarch. In the second half of the program, she performed a “micro-suite” entitled Three Lil Pretties, composed by Marcus Norris and receiving its world premiere. Both of these pieces followed up on Berio’s “mission,” exploring performance techniques for the harp that one was unlikely to encounter in a symphony orchestra performance. Brody’s other solo performance presented Jennifer Higdon’s “rapid.fire,” a reflection on inner-city crime composed in 1992.
Arnold Böcklin’s “Faun and whistling blackbird” (from the Wikipedia page of Böcklin’s paintings)
Among the duo selections, the most familiar to me was the final offering, the flute-harp version of Toru Takemitsu’s “Toward the Sea,” whose movement titles suggest an American perspective of the Atlantic Ocean (rather than a Japanese view of the Pacific). The program began with Salvatore Sciarrino’s “Fauno che fischia a un merlo” (faun, the whistling blackbird), the title of a painting completed by Arnold Böcklin in 1865. (It would not be out of the question to suggest that this canvas may have inspired Stéphane Mallarmé “L’Après-midi d’un faune” poem, the inspiration for Claude Debussy’s composition and the choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky.) The other duo performance presented three of the movements from Roberto Sierra’s Flower Pieces collection: “Lilacs,” “Forsythia’s,” and “Marigolds.”
Taking the entire experience as a whole, none of the selections overstayed its welcome; and the opportunity to experience a generous share of extended techniques for both instruments was thoroughly refreshing.