Friday, June 24, 2005

Composers Symposium – day two: a humbling experience

The second day of the symposium began with more presentations by participating composers. Humbling in many ways… I don't have time to make meaningful comments about most of the work I heard, plus it seems ridiculous to go into it since most readers are unlikely to ever have a chance to hear the music? Sad, but true. Anyway, I will mention one composer who kicked my ass to the city limits. John Mayrose is another composer/guitarist, and he is part of an ensemble called pulsoptional. Someday I'll be able to write fast music, and if I'm lucky it will sound like his. Check out his website, you can listen to his piece "trigger" there…

We spent the afternoon in a session with the guest composer, Osvaldo Golijov. He is in town for the performance of his enormous work, La Pasión según San Marcos (St. Mark Passion). Symposium participants got a real treat by having access to a rehearsal, a preview performance, and the big show – so we got to hear the piece live three times. It's quite incredible. There are lots of reviews online so I won't try to describe it, but I will mention that the Schola Cantorum de Caracas (a choir from Caracas, Venezuela) was incredible. The writing and performing added up to, no joke, the most incredible choral singing in the universe. The discussion with Golijov was wide-ranging, and totally inspiring. He has an incredibly healthy perspective about assimilating popular elements in so-called "art music." In fact, when he was asked, "Is it classical music?" He responded by asking, "What's classical?" Then he went on to make the distinction between "popular" and "classical" as residing in the presence of a transformative experience. I'm misquoting, but he basically suggested that what makes a "serious" work is that it changes the listener. You are different at the end of a piece then you were at the beginning, whereas with a pop song, for example, you're pretty much who you were three minutes before. I can easily think of a few exceptions (maybe I'll link to some later if I have time), but I think the gist of what he was saying was right on. It's not about style or genre, it's about content. He recently wrote a collection of songs for Dawn Upshaw, the recording will be released in September. He played some of them for us, and they were pretty incredible. I'm eager to see how that project will be received by critics… The ensemble includes accordion with live processing, and some laptop stuff – even drum loops. They are beautifully put together, and Upshaw's singing is truly wild.

At night, we attended the performance of La Pasion, as well as a post-concert party at the Hilton next to the concert hall. It was a pretty dry affair at first, so a few of us went to a nearby microbrewery instead, we stopped by the Hilton later and found that the percussionists from the concert had taken over the stage from the band, and were providing much more irresistible dance music. After the party, they returned to the University Inn (a slightly retro-fitted dorm where most of us are staying) and the party went on until the wee hours: drumming, singing, dancing… I think they taught us a lesson in how to enjoy life. No joke.

No comments: