Wednesday, December 20, 2023

SFCMP: Progressive Rock Meets High Modernism

Following up in RE:voicing, the first program in the 53rd concert season of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) in Grace Cathedral last month, the ensemble will present its second program, RE:visitations at the more conventional venue of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). The “visitations” involve an encounter between the worlds of Progressive Rock and High Modernism. Each of those worlds is oriented by a “distinguished representative.”

Where rock is involved, that representative is Frank Zappa, while advanced modernism is represented by Pierre Boulez. Many might view the two as an “odd couple;” but, back when I was a researcher at the Information Sciences Institute of the University of Southern California, I was fortunate enough to attend a dialog between the two of them, which took place at the University of California at Los Angeles. This was probably the most agreeable encounter of “opposites” that I ever had an opportunity to witness.

In that context I can appreciate that the final two works on the RE:visitations program will be compositions by Boulez and Zappa, both of which were completed in 1984. Boulez’ “Dérive 1” was scored for the five instruments selected by Arnold Schoenberg for his Pierrot Lunaire with a vibraphone added for good measure. The duration of most performances runs between seven and eight minutes. (For those curious about the Boulez catalog, there is a “Dérive 2,” whose history is more elaborate. It was scored for eleven instruments, and it was originally completed in 1988. Boulez then revised it in 2002, followed by an expanded and final version, completed in 2006.)

Cover of The Perfect Stranger album (fair use to illustrate the audio recording in question)

“Dérive 1” will be followed by Zappa’s “The Perfect Stranger,” the opening track on his album of the same title. It was scored for 28 musicians; and Zappa described the content as “post-Varese with frequent gestures of acknowledge towards Messiaen.” These two pieces will be preceded by a work from the following decade, Steve Mackey’s 1997 “San Francisco,” which finds a “middle ground” between Boulez and Zappa with instrumentation for electric guitar and cello.

The first half of the program will feature world premiere performances of works by two of the SFCM students in the Technology and Applied Composition Program. Specifics have not yet been finalized. These new pieces will be preceded by Missy Mazzoli’s “Tooth and Nail,” scored for solo viola and electronics. The first half will then conclude with Louis Andriessen’s “Life,” which he composed for the soundtrack of a film by Marijke van Warmerdam. That film will be screened as part of the performance.

This program will take place on Saturday, January 27, at 8 p.m. in the SFCM Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, which is located at 50 Oak Street, a short walk from the Van Ness Muni station. As usual, the program will be preceded at 7 p.m. by a How Music is Made discussion with Artistic Director Eric Dudley in conversation with participating SFCMP musicians. General admission will be $35 with a $40 VIP rate, and $15 for students. Tickets may be purchased online through a City Box Office event page.

No comments: