Every year, Other Minds holds a Festival of new music, curated by Artistic Director Charles Amirkhanian, around an idea, theme, or group of composers. Known for featuring stellar guest performers, a significant number of world premieres, commissions, and productions that incorporate new technologies and multidisciplinary collaborations, the Other Minds Festival brings together composers representing all points of the musical spectrum and pushing the creative boundaries of their respective genres.
Single-minded and visionary composers are so often the ones most easily ignored by the changing currents of music taste. Ivan Wyschnegradsky (1893-1979) led a life characterized by exile and cultural exclusion; he was never part of any school, and the individuality of his work reflects his personal and lifelong determination to honor his deeply idiosyncratic muse. He was a founding father of microtonal composition and theory, yet he was at heart an expressionist, a spiritual descendant of Scriabin. Throughout his long life he sought audiences for his music but never compromised his artistic principles to gain the public ear. A mystical belief in the value of his work sustained him through these decades of neglect, affording his music surety and conviction.
Other Minds Festival 24 will include the first ever American retrospective of the works of Ivan Wyschnegradsky and a newly composed work by the California based composer Brain Baumbusch.
The major event of our 2018 season was Other Minds Festival 23 (performances April 9-14, 2018), devoted to text-sound compositional work utilizing “speech” as a musical medium–text, isolated phonemes, and other vocal utterances as sound material and structural elements. Much of this repertoire also involved aspects of electronic manipulation in live performance. Works by Amy X Neuburg, Pamela Z, Clark Coolidge, Alvin Curran, Anne Waldman, Sheila Davies Sumner, Susan Stone, and Mark Applebaum will receive their OM debuts. We presented historical work, including Austrian-born American composer Ernst Toch’s complete Gesprochene Musik (including its two rediscovered “lost” movements which accompany the better known “Geographical Fugue”), Kurt Schwitters’ notorious Ursonate (“Primeval Sonata”), and Virgil Thomson/Gertrude Stein’s delightful Capital Capitals.
Lou Silver Harrison (1917-2003) was a pioneering environmentalist, early advocate of gay rights, but most of all, one of America’s most original and maverick composers. He has been an inspiration to a generation of younger composers and world musicians, and his works have been celebrated worldwide in honor of his one hundredth birthday. Other Minds Festival 22 explored the vast range of his work, from intimate and exquisite chamber music to intricate, shimmering gamelans, and thunderous orchestral and percussion masterpieces. Also celebrated was the centennial of Isang Yun (1915-1995), a colleague and friend of Harrison whose work married Korean traditional to modernist European composition. Now revered as one of North and South Korea’s national treasures, Yun was also a kidnapped political prisoner and international cause célebre–a lightning rod and polarizing figure of the Cold War conflicts.
OM 21’s large roster of composers came from an eclectic range of musical backgrounds and styles, in works ranging from Gavin Bryar’s post-Renaissance inspired and labyrinthine harmonies of his Second Book of Madrigals to the eloquent and emotionally direct works of Meredith Monk. The recipient of numerous international awards and honors, she was presented a 2014 National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama. Also on the bill was Michael Gordon, who, in the words of the New Yorker merges “subtle rhythmic invention with incredible power in his music, embodying the fury of punk rock, the nervous brilliance of free jazz and the intransigence of classical modernism.” Making their OM debut was the ensemble, Nordic Voices, modern music specialists who, in addition to virtuosic displays of vocalism, incorporate speech, non-sung sounds, and overtone singing in their repertoire.
In the words of Other Minds Executive and Artistic Director Charles Amirkhanian, “As we look back at the nearly 200 composers we’ve brought to San Francisco for these gatherings, it seemed a good time to tip our hat to some of our most surprising discoveries who have gone on to make signal contributions to international concert life.” Tribute was paid to the late Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe, and the legendary Lou Harrison, whose final work, Scenes from Nek Chand, was composed for our 2002 festival. Among the many highlights were the U.S. premiere of Michael Nyman’s Symphony No. 2. The diverse roster of performers included the Del Sol String Quartet, National Steel just intonation guitar soloist David Tanenbaum, Miya Masaoka on koto, and Steven Kent on the infrequently encountered Australian didjeridu.
In celebration of the Bay Area’s heritage as a pioneering stronghold of arts and culture, for the first time the OM 19 Festival presented an entirely Northern California cast of composers, including Mark Applebaum, John Bischoff, Joseph Byrd, Charles Céleste Hutchins, Myra Melford, Roscoe Mitchell, Wendy Reid, and John Schott. The disparate experimental worlds of jazz, laptops, DJs, and improvisation were gathered together in one place. Donald Buchla, pioneering electronic composer and inventor or the seminal Buchla synthesizer was featured. In the works of Charles Céleste Hutchinson, the intersection of visual and musical elements was explored. Their work is eclectic and not categorized by one musical canon. Perhaps this very eclecticism is what defines the “Bay Area Tradition.” Arguably, OM 19’s most unique performer was African Grey Parrot, Lulu Reid.
World music offerings took center stage at OM 18 including a remarkable array of woodwinds, from the soprano recorder of the world’s most widely-hailed Baroque recorder player, Michala Petri, to Anna Petrini’s rare Paetzold contrabass recorder. The ultra-long Indian bansuri, producing a remarkably tender low register sound was presented by the great Indian classical music master, G.S. Sachdev, accompanied by Swapan Chaudhuri on tabla. The genre-busting Scandinavian folk music trio of violin, recorder and violin, Gáman (which is old Norse for “joy”) enlivened the festival with music from the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Denmark, and Sweden. Korean multidisciplinary artist, Dohee Lee, gave a world premiere of Ara (2013) accompanying herself on a newly designed instrument, the eye harp. Other featured performers were the noted new music specialists, vocalists Amy X. Neuburg and Pamela Z, and the William Winant Percussion Group.
In Scandinavia, a distinctive music has developed–a rich vein of experimentalism that has a personality all its own. Other Minds Festival 17 opened with the first American visit of a Norwegian sextet (soprano voice, clarinet, percussion, piano, guitar, and cello) palindromically-named asamisimasa. They opened the festival with music of their countryman Øyvind Torvund and Danish composer Simon Steen-Andersen. Newly invented instruments, aerosol cans and bullhorns, alongside conventional orchestral instruments, mirror the diversity of musical influences and quotations, ranging from Scandinavian folk music to Henry Purcell or Black Flag. American musical tradition was represented by several established composers including Harold Budd, Gloria Coates, John Kennedy, Ken Ueno, and by representatives of the next generation of composers, D. Edward Davis, John P. Hastings, Peter V. Svendsen, and Jen Wang.
Other Minds Festival 16 brought together a distinguished international group of composers and performers. Arguably, the best known of this OM 16’s composers was esteemed Dutch composer, Louis Andriessen. His work explores such disparate creative issues as the relation between music and politics, and the nature of time, velocity, and mortality. From the opposite end of the planet, a Balinese electric guitar trio led by I Wayan Balawan made its OM debut. Kyle Gann, composer and award winning music critic and author, has developed a unique rhythmic language, based on differing successive and simultaneous tempos which was developed from his study of Hopi, Zuni, and Pueblo Indian musics. Other prominent guest artists included composer Janice Giteck, the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Seattle Chamber Ensemble, and the return of OM favorite, the Del Sol String Quartet.
In 2010, to celebrate its crystal anniversary, the Other Minds Festival invited composer/performers from across the musical spectrum for its fifteenth year of the annual series. In retrospect, one might think OM has all along been employing a crystal ball to find our composer participants because so many have gone from scant name recognition to increasing prominence in the music scene. OM 15 presented a number of genre defying performers. From the world of new jazz, Edward “Kidd” Jordan, to the acclaimed Chinese-American composer Chou Wen Chung, “triple threat” violinist/vocalist/composer Carla Kihlstedt, Lisa Bielawa, winner of the 2o1o Rome Prize, to the radically spare post-minimalism of Tom Johnson, and the American premiere of Dutch filmmaker Frank Scheffer’s documentary on Edgard Varèse, OM 15 had it all (and then some).
When Other Minds held its first festival in 1993 it was with the intention of making the experience special not only for the audience but also the visiting composers. What would happen if we gave our guests four days of time together before our concerts without any agenda other than to bond with each other in a peaceful environment? To that end, we have been blessed to have the cooperation each year of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, which hosts creative individuals throughout the year and is one of the nation’s leading sites for the making of new literature, dance, music and visual art. Each of our visiting composers has been in residence from February 28 to March 4 on the spectacular 700-acre ranch in Woodside, California, getting to know one another’s music in an isolated setting with wonderful hiking, site specific sculpture, excellent meals and “The Gift of Time” to make connections that will last a lifetime.
During his visit to San Francisco last month, composer and and reed player Don Byron recalled that his experience at Other Minds 2 in 1995 changed his life. “I was on the cusp, still investing my time mostly as a player. But talking with Terry Riley, Lou Harrison, Tan Dun, Alvin Singleton, Muhal Richard Abrams and others at the ranch and listening to their work while sharing mine, I made a commitment to become more active as a composer. It was the big turning point for me-one of the most important experiences I’ve had as an artist.” Hearing this 13 years later brings me to the subject of Other minds 13. Throughout these years we’ve continued to bring San Francisco the most original thinkers in new music, most of whom wouldn’t have appeared here otherwise. And the results of our festival continue to resound elsewhere.
A gathering of so many composers and performers at an Other Minds Festival is a special occasion. It brings together the collective experience of such composers as Per Nørgård and Peter Sculthorpe, representing over 100 years of composing, and, when we add up that of the other guest composers and performers, literally thousands of years of new music mindfulness that animates this community for a special weekend in San Francisco. This past week, our guest composers have met in private conference at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside, to share their work and their life journeys in a way composers rarely are able to do. Invariably, our composers have told us that they truly appreciate this short but intense period of the time together and often make lifelong friendships that become a lasting reminder of their visit to the Bay Area.