Sunday, December 17, 2017

Douglas Messerli | "Pacific Music" (on Lou Harrison: Music of the Pacific)

by Douglas Messerli

Lou Harrison Lou Harrison: Music of the Pacific / Redcat (Roy and Edna Disney/Cal Arts Center), performance I attended with Pablo Capra was on December 9, 2017

Those acquainted with the music of noted American composer, Lou Harrison, will know that he was fascinated throughout his life with international music and instruments, and that he was particularly interested in Asian music, particularly the Javanese gamelan, after he worked with K. P. H. Notoprojo (also known as Pak Cokro).
     Last week, I attended my first Harrison concert, which was made up of works both for Western instruments and, in the second half, his beloved gamelons, bells, percussion instruments, and inverted bowls. The concert began with what was described as “Chamber Music,” pieces for French horn, trumpet, percussion, harp, and mandolin such as Clay’s Quintet (performed by Erin Poulin, Nicolas Bejarano, Jonathan Hepfer, Leila Bishop and Sean Hayward); a Varied Trio with violin, piano, and percussion (Nigel Deane, Vera Weber, and Katie Eikam); and Serenade for Guitar and Percussion (John Schneider and T. J. Troy). Although these works from 1978 and 1987, representing an earlier decade of his work when, after studying with both Arnold Schoenberg at UCLA, and Charles Ruggles, his microtomical works. 
     But it was the second half of the concert when a much larger contingent of performers that revealed the composer’s larger fascination with combining more Western-based instrumentation (soprano saxophone, cello, and violin) with the traditional Asian instrumentation. Each of the four later pieces—Philemon and Baukis (from 1992), Cornish Lancaran (1986), Basonto (1966, composed with Notoprojo), and Double Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Javanese Gamelan (1981-82)—were wonderful revelations.
     Having myself played baritone saxophone in high school, I was, of course, fascinated by the
German composer Ulrich Krieger’s wonderful playing of the soprano saxophone, as well as the choral chants of the members of the California Institute of Arts Contemporary Vocal Ensemble. But the true masterwork of this concert was the final, full-out combination of Western music
traditions and the Asian instrumentation. Just to watch the vast group of performers rushing back and forth to share the percussional gongs, bowls, drums, and Javanese Gamelans, all combined with the cello playing of Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick and violin contributions of Andrew McIntosh was a musical enchantment that’s very difficult to describe in words. The highly rhythmic patterns of the ancient world melds with Western classicism in a way that truly does describe the concert’s subtitle “Music of the Pacific.”
     While waiting in line to enter the Redcat theater, I spoke to the red-haired woman in front of me, who told me that she and husband had just driven in from the fire-plagued Ventura to attend the concert; her son—who I believe must be multi-talented long-haired Sean Hayward—she explained had gone to Indonesia to study the Gamelon. They should indeed be proud.
     This year, the 100th anniversary of Harrison’s birth, has been celebrated this year through the Los Angeles area, with a concert in Pasadena’s Boston Court, his interludes to his opera Young Caesar performed in June at Walt Disney Concert Hall, and other concerts in Santa Cruz, and Joshua Tree, where Harrison spent many of the last years of his life. I now wish I’d been able attend these other concerts as well, but feel blessed to have attended this Redcat performance.

Los Angeles, December 17, 2017
Reprinted from USTheater, Opera, and Performance (December 2017).

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