Talking Music at Davies Hall:
American Mavericks/Maverick Icons
with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony
Ruggles's Sun-treader, Ruth Crawford Seeger's Andante for Strings, Foss's Time Cycle, Meredith Monk's ATLAS, and Ives's Symphony No. 4.
June 9, 2000 Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, CA
reviewed by Pamela Z
(This review first appeared in 21st Century Music )
The June 9 before-and-after talks at Davies Symphony Hall were very good for contextualizing a program of Carl Ruggles, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Lukas Foss, Meredith Monk, and Charles Ives. Foss made some very welcome comments about his use of improvisation to "free his students from the tyranny of the printed page" and Meredith Monk talked about how her work is really about aural tradition and how she doesn't separate lyrical-ness from the process of developing vocal techniques. She spoke about how difficult it was at first for her to deal with people (members of San Francisco Symphony Chorus) who needed her music to be on paper in order to learn it, but how beautifully they got it once she sang with them and they got it in their bodies. Lou Harrison was also there for the after-concert question-and-answer, though his work was not programmed on this particular evening, and charmed everyone with his jovial responses to Michael Tilson Thomas (who, throughout the series showed himself to be quite knowlegable about and committed to this music). Lou said that he thought this "Maverick" business was really just about being interested in what it is that you are exploring to the extent that you stay with it even when that means you have to be totally alone. He said "All my friends call me a very 'interested person'!" (Later, backstage, I asked Meredith why she didn't just refuse to send a score and force them to learn it by call and response in rehearsal. Her answer was the obvious one. The chorus never has enough time to learn the material. They only had a few rehearsals with her, so it was important that they got the music before hand).
The before concert talk, by Susan Key, was a bit more academic, but livened up when Lukas Foss came on to discuss his work with her. It also included a Theremin demonstration, and a fascinating little factoid about Ives writing for the Theremin (or something quite like it) before it was invented, and then having to wait for the technology to exist before the piece could be realized.
The performances themselves were wonderful and at times thrilling. The Ruggles Sun-treader featured the bright and bombastic brass section. The strings in Crawford Seeger's Andante, sounded like a swarm of hovering bees. Truly. Laura Flanigan was again stunning with her performance of the Foss Time Cycle. Her stage presence is so much more musicianly than that of a lot of other classical soloists. She is completely present and her body completely involved even during the passages where she "lays out" while the orchestra plays those sparse and tasty little punctuated interludes. Monk's excerpts from Atlas were beautiful, and both the members of her ensemble and the members of the Chorus were very physically connected and wove marvelous textures with repeating phrases, overtone singing, and physical gestures. The Ives 4 was big and multi-layered -- including the chorus and the small string and harp section in the loft, and the subterranean percussion ensemble beneath the stage.
It was a very full concert!