Sunday, September 13, 2009

2nd day of Crumb



I drove up a few nights ago with a van of music composition students to see a few performances of George Crumb's pieces with him in attendance. The Grusin Music Hall was very nice, located on campus at Colorado University in Boulder. The first piece was "The Ghosts of Alhambra,"a setting of Federico Garcia Lorca poem's to music with a baritone singer, nylon string guitar and multi-percussion. The singer occasionally played percussion, like finger cymbals and clave, and the guitarist used some extended techniques, with knocking on the wood and playing with a glass slide. The percussion set up was pretty big, with congas, bongos, cymbals, vibes, bells, shakers, claves, and a lot more! It was a pretty mind blowing experience, especially considering it was a world première. This was sung in spanish, the original language of the poems. The guitarist was David Starobin, which I was told is a well known contemporary music enthusiast that has had hundreds of pieces commissioned for him to play.

The second piece was my favorite, featuring four handed piano playing, with an amplified piano. This was an older work titled "Celestial Mechanics" written in 1979, and was four movements long, with a rotating cast of six piano players. All of the movements were named after stars, and it sounded like outer space music. A lot of contemporary and/or avant garde music gets the nomenclature of "outer space sounds," but truly, these sounds reminded me of a dark and very empty starry black night. The majority of the piece was played inside the piano, with the occasional bass note struck, high pitched chord, or repetitive idea. The piece featured a lot of subtle sounds, and unfortunately was disrupted for me a few times by obnoxious audience members not following performance etiquette.

The last piece was another setting of a Lorca poems,"Sun and Shadow," written in the past year, and performance by George Crumb's daughter Ann singing the soprano part, and piano accompaniment. The piece was sung in english this time, and had humor in it, for instance the second movement "The Fly" consisted of the vocalist humming and buzzing with her mouth. Between movements the piano player left some of the music backstage and unceremoniously went back to retrieve the missing parts.

After the performance my teacher Paul Elwood introduced me to some "harmonic chanters" a term new to me, but basically "throat singing." They made me aware of a vocalist known as David Hykes that performs and writes music for a harmonic choir, a choir of people that do throat sing. I knew one could do a lot more with this vocal technique, and finally have heard someone that is really extending the range of what can be done. This is very beautiful music so I recommend checking it out! All in all a great evening of music, and a pleasure to see George Crumb and hear his music. The Kronos quartet is coming in a few weeks to play Black Angels, and I hope I can go!

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