The Partch group and Lyris Quartet Partch: Daphne of the Dunes (music by Ben Johnston and Harry Partch) / performed at Redcat (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater), Los Angeles / the performance I attended was on June 15th, 2018
To play out the encounter of Apollo, the god of music (and Zeus’ son) who fell in love with the river Naiad Daphne, the performers used comic masks, and presented the work itself in a somewhat comic manner—despite the beautiful shower of quivering music, particularly when Ray played Chromelodeon, with Barnes on the Diamond Marimba, and John Schneider on Viola—that satirized “music’s” attempt to charm the hard-hearted woman, who was protected by an arrow of lead by showing brief scenes from Hitchcock's and other films.
presented in a Sprechstimme-like performance by guitarist
John Schneider, the words are almost laughable. But Partch
allows us after the original statement to hear the echoes of
those words, by repeating them with emotionally-charged
aftertones and dramatic additions (“ha-ha-ha” “dum-de-dum,”
etc.) that transform them into haunting expressions of fear
Yet, somehow, that appeared to have missing from this performance, in part, because John Schneider cut most of his commentary, and it seemed as if the whole piece had somehow been cut back. Perhaps it was just that, since this was the last piece of the evening, my mind was still filled with the sounds and sensations of the other works I describe below; but I do feel the small choreographic additions to this piece, probably inspired by the fact that the dancers had temporarily joined the company for the evening, literalized these pieces and stole some of the haunting quietude surrounding these pencil and ink musings.
Indeed, the Partch works seemed, this time around, almost an afterthought to the great works that began the evening concert. Performed by Lyris Quartet (Sara Andon, James Sullivan, John Stehney, and Scott Worthington, Ben Johnston’s String Quartet No. 9 (1988) and the American premier of the same composer’s Octet (1999/2000) were clearly the featured pieces of the concert.
where Johnston achieves a real compositional tour de
force in creating a six-minute movement, the pitch world
of which remains entirely between middle C and the C an
octave above and yet retains our interest throughout. Here
the richness of just intonation with its luminous pure intervals
and their microtonal variants, lets us hear as never before one
of Western music’s familiar clichés: the C major scale. Like
all of Johnston’s best music, this movement looks both
backward (to a musical heritage that he feels is still vital to
our contemporary world) and forward, to a world of new
sounds and untried harmonies that will continue to engage us
as his compositional achievement becomes better known.