Friday, August 22, 2008

The Wordless Music Series Featuring Works by Jonny Greenwood and more @ the Herbst Theatre, SF

The evening began with the beautiful, minimalist masterpiece "Shaker Loops", composed by John Adams, infamous for it's 1st movement's appearance in the Bukowski biopic, "Barfly"from 1987. The rigorous, dueling cello counterpoint earned nods of approval from the rock-bred crowd, hoping for a peak at their Radiohead hero, Jonny Greenwood.
This sweet cultural collision is one of the most fascinating aspects of a series like this. Someone like Jonny Greenwood, whose other role as lead guitarist in one of the biggest bands on the planet has the ability to expose the rockers to the more academic and sublime sounds of new music. Though much of the crowd seemed to be craning their necks around looking to see who might be in the audience and waiting for the final piece, I'm sure they left enlightened and with a head full of sound from a different place.

Next up was the amusing Fred Frith piece, "Save As", which paired silliness with profound melody. The percussionist was a total joy to watch as he toppled coffee cans, dropped ping-pong balls and played impossible vibraphone sequences along with sprays and punctuations of explosive percussion. The timbre of the treated cello implied amplified distortion only to reveal the recurring melody which resolved nicely to leave us with something beautiful to take away.
Arvo Part's "Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten" was a stately, sombre, pure musical form one might expect from a Part piece. Magik* Magik Orchestra rose to the majestic occasion.
Next up was Mason Bates's "Icarian Rhapsody" for string orchestra, which was an exquisite surprise from a young, San Francisco based composer who made an appearance during the ovation following.

Finally, Jonny Greenwood's "Popcorn Superhet Receiver" concluded the evening with it's Penderecki-inspired journey through sound. Screeching tense passages relieved by soaring, smeary, woozy glissandi recalled his other role's use of trailing ebow guitars and Ondes Martenot. The thrilled crowd seemed especially psyched during the pizzicato section of the piece in which the string players played their instruments like guitars, creating an energetic rock energy during this otherwise otherworldy, austere sonic place.
The 'head fans got what they came for and so much more. As Greenwood is in town for his band's headline appearance at Golden Gate Park the following evening, he poked his head out from the balcony,during the ovation, looking pleased, alongside Michael Tilson Thomas, conducter of the SF Symphony.

Props go to Benjamin Shwartz, conductor and the excellent Magik*Magik Orchestra. Much thanks to Terra Reneau and Ronen Givony for making this happen.

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