* Notes *
The Wordless Music Series had a sold-out San Francisco debut at Herbst Theatre last night. The concert featured the very solid Magik*Magik Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Shwartz. The evening began with John Adams' Shaker Loops (1978) for string septet, that is, three violins, one viola, two celli, and one bass. The piece is characterized by a good deal of itchy relentlessness in the fast bits and sliding loops in the slower parts. I found the literalness of the piece, the title interpreted as sound, to be quite pleasing. The mania relieved by unison in the last movement was also enjoyable. I was less crazy about Save As (2005) by Fred Frith, the work reminded me of a performance piece for art school. The cellist and percussionist involved both had fun, they got to fling tin cans around and crumple paper. The best gag was when a ping pong ball was thrown, it made a very satisfying noise as it hit the stage.
My favorite piece of the evening was at the beginning of the second half, Arvo Pärt's gut wrenching Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten (1977) for string orchestra and percussion. Icarian Rhapsody (1999-2001) from young Mason Bates made little impression on me, though the music did evoke floating and waves. Radiohead lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood's Popcorn Superhet Receiver (2006) was less pretty. It started off insectile in the high strings, but with this floating over the warm glow of the low strings. The pizzicato parts were charming, especially a percussive flamenco-like section near the end. Overall the piece reminded me of being on an airplane and hearing the white noise in that situation as ethereal music.
The five works went together nicely, unlike how new music is often programmed. I much prefer this sort of concert to being tricked into hearing contemporary pieces because they are paired with famous classics. It was less jarring and there was not the palpable discomfort often felt in the symphony hall when anything 20th century or later is attempted.
* Tattling *
The audience was exceedingly well-behaved, there were absolutely no mobile phone rings, watch alarms, or talking aloud. The young woman next to me did text during the first half of the Frith, and whispered during Pärt. Another young woman behind me giggled at inopportune moments, but for the most part, one could have heard a pin drop during the rests. If only the audience at Davies could be this attentive!
I was in a roped-off section on the ground floor for press and such, and though I was mistakenly stopped before hopping over said rope, I still gleefully made my way to the very middle. Sidney Chen of The Standing Room stopped by to say hello, and noted that I was quite bold, and he sat on the aisle, being more demure or at least, wanting to make a better get-away. At intermission I was happy to see sfmike of Civic Center as well, where you can see both me and the inimitable Monsieur C.