* Notes *
The American Mavericks Festival at San Francisco Symphony had one last performance yesterday before heading on tour. The chamber music program included pieces by Steve Reich, Meredith Monk (pictured left), Lukas Foss, and David Del Tredici. The afternoon began with Reich's Music for Pieces of Wood (1973), which was played by Jack Van Geem, Raymond Froehlich, David Herbert, Tom Hemphill, and James Lee Wyatt III. These five musicians used claves of varying sizes to hit out various patterns. One person would start and then the others would join in one by one. It seemed simultaneously very simple and very complex, and the effect was meditative and pleasing.
The second piece that followed was newest by nearly forty years, in fact this was the first performance of Monk's Realm Variations (2012). The instrumentalists included Catherine Payne, piccolo; Nadja Tichman, violin; Adam Smyla, viola; Bruce Roberts, horn; Stephen Paulson, bassoon; Steve Sánchez, contrabass clarinet and B-flat clarinet; and Jieyin Wu, harp. Payne was featured, along with the voices of Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble. Monk's alto is distinctive, and was easily picked out from the other five voices. The music has an elemental quality to it, at times serene, and at others rather strident.
After the intermission came Foss' Echoi, which included the talents of Jeremy Denk, piano; Jack Van Geem, percussion; Carey Bell, clarinet; and Peter Wyrick, cello. The music was seemed rather fun to play, and third movement was perhaps most amusing. Denk plays in a showy manner, but it suited the piece just fine.
The final work was Del Tredici's Syzygy, scored for 21 musicians, including a soprano. Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the two contrast-filled songs, settings of poems by James Joyce. Kiera Duffy's voice seemed icy and hard, the amplification made her sound a bit harsh. Nicole Cash's horn playing was rather warm and round.
There was a lot of talking, and many people were sternly hushed. The woman in front of me in W 19 loudly asked both the people around her if the Reich "was good." Perhaps if she had bothered to listen, she could have formed her own opinion.