Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Lull in Menlo

My wife and I are on spring break this week, enjoying the hospitality of my aunt Miriam in Menlo Park. Appropriately, I spent the plane trip reading Joel Sachs' excellent biography of Henry Cowell, A Man Made of Music. Much of Cowell's childhood was spent in Menlo Park not far from here. Yesterday was a hiking day covering Angel Island and John Muir Woods, and on the drive we passed the San Quentin State Prison where Cowell was imprisoned for four years on a morals charge.

I've been catching up on much-needed practice for my recital at CCM in three weeks, playing on Miriam's 100 year old Henry F Miller piano. It's a real workhorse—heavy action, and a boomy sound that the aging dampers struggle to contain that leaks out and fills her living room with glorious resonance. We've been to a couple musical events—last Sunday we were at George Lopez's recital at CNMAT. He played four piano pieces written in the last ten years, including powerful performances of Sylvan Pieces by Cindy Cox and "at the cusp of dawn, a breath" by Vineet Shende. Sylvan Pieces were inspired walking through the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Each of the five pieces begins simply, in the middle of the piano, before rapidly spiraling outward. My wife called it "inspired minimalism" because of how clear the development process seems to the listener. Lopez was at his best in Shende's piece, with exotic Indian-inspired sounds that produced hypnotic sound world on the piano. Unfortunately the Young Chang piano and the acoustics in the small hall made an uncomfortable fit for this piece.

My brother plays violin in the orchestra at UC Berkeley where he's a PhD student in statistics, and we headed over to the orchestra lunchtime concert on Wednesday. I've found that university orchestras are particularly responsive to a good conductor. David Milnes is not a demonstrative conductor on stage, but he gets a great result from the orchestra. They began with a relatively new work, Wide sea, changeful heaven by Reynold Tharp, with thick orchestra textures and scalar melodies that explored the outer registers. It reminded me of Ligeti, although Tharp's voice is indisputably original. The bulk of the program was the Stravinsky Symphony in Three Movements, which was despatched with flair and not a little dollop of humor.

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