From time to time, Other Minds is presented with an opportunity, or finds an excuse, to produce a new music concert or event outside of our normal presentations. We have commissioned new work by major composers like Henry Brant’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Ice Field in 2001. We have produced concerts of work better presented outside the usual group of music venues in the Bay Area, like Rhys Chatham’s A Secret Rose, at the historic Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, CA. We have produced retrospectives of challenging work well outside the mainstream, like our Fluxus Semicentenary in 2011. If the work has value, makes us think, and pushes the boundaries, you’ll find us in the mix.
When conductor/pianist Dennis Russell Davies directed our Lou Harrison concert in February he said, “You know I’m retiring from my regular [conducting] gig in Linz, and now I’d like to do a benefit for Other Minds.” So in December, 2017, he and his partner Maki Namekawa, both of whom work closely with Philip Glass, flew back to the Bay Area from Austria to perform a special concert of Glass’ music for two pianos in a very intimate setting for our fans. The event, honoring Glass’ eightieth birthday, took place Wednesday, December 6, 2017, at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Berkeley. It featured the suites from Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles and La Belle et la Bête for two pianos and wind octet in its American premiere. In addition, a major work composed for the Davies-Namekawa Duo, which Dennis fondly calls “a real barnburner!”–Four Movements for Two Pianos concluded the program.
In the first West Coast performance of A Secret Rose, written for an orchestra of 100 electric guitars, Rhys Chatham performed and conducted this groundbreaking work at the historic Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, CA on Sunday, November 17th. Immediately after the official call for guitarists, Other Minds received over 150 applicants from all over the world, a great number of which came from Oakland and surrounding East Bay communities. Chatham’s work is best known for combining the raw and relentless aggression of punk with the hypnotic drone minimalism of the sixties and seventies downtown New York scene. A cast of notable musicians from bands such as Guided By Voices, Akron/Family, Tristeza, Hrsta, Sutekh Hexen, and Girls Against Boys will help perform the hour-long piece.
Conlon Nancarrow was not big on celebrating birthdays. Nevertheless, a centennial is an occasion for paying tribute to his life and music, and a good reason to reunite and reminisce. The ingenious complexity of Nancarrow’s Studies for Player Piano, giving composers a way to activate several melodies at simultaneously different tempi, has been one of the most pivotal achievements in music’s last century. But Nancarrow’s rhythmic prowess would be merely clinical technique in the hands of a lesser mind. Conlon took his mastery of counterpoint from two years of study under Roger Sessions, a deep influence from Bach and Stravinsky along with jazz artists Louis Armstrong and Earl Fatha’ Hines, his experience as a jazz trumpeter, and his studies of the perception of time melded these into one of the most listenable and striking oeuvres in 20th Century music.
Inevitably, the question is asked, “What is Fluxus?” According to Webster’s dictionary, a state of flux is a state of constant and continuous change. Simply stated, a Fluxus performance is one in which attention is paid to something simultaneously both ordinary and extraordinary. In 2011, Other Minds presented a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Fluxus. The three-day series at SOMArts in San Francisco included performances in person by Alison Knowles, film screenings, a special exhibition curated by Other Minds, a radio tribute, and new realizations of groundbreaking Fluxus works by Knowles, La Monte Young, Yoko Ono and George Brecht. Host Charles Amirkhanian delved into the world of Fluxus in interviews with Knowles and her daughter Hannah Higgins, author of Fluxus Experience.
When classical composer Alan Hovhaness died in 2000, he left a legacy that reflected both his prodigious composing abilities as well as his trailblazing interest in music from around the world. Having written over 400 works that included operas, symphonies, concertos, oratorios, chamber works, and orchestral pieces, Hovhaness incorporated Indian, Korean, Japanese, and Armenian influences into his repertoire, forming a canon that is best described as world classical music. Considering his ability to shape the forms of classical music to his diverse inspirations, Hovhaness was not taken seriously by many in the classical world. However, his insistence on writing music that was accessible to both performers and listeners has ensured that his works—many of which have never been performed in public—will continue to influence future generations of classical musicians.
Harold Bloom, the writer and literary critic, would have us believe that great poets necessarily struggle to overcome the influences of their predecessors: that 19th-Century Romantic poets worked under the constant shadow of John Milton, and, perhaps (by interpolation), that mid-20th Century composers had always to deal with the music of Arnold Schoenberg…or that contemporary composers might critique themselves with Pierre Boulez or György Ligeti in mind. Fortunately, for those of us who prefer not to constantly bear the weight of music history upon our shoulders, a spirit of exploration and experiment has come to define a musical tradition in America. For that, we believe we are most indebted to Henry Cowell.
Henry Brant, America’s pioneer explorer and practitioner of 20th Century spatial music, was born in Montreal in 1913 of American parents and began to compose at the age of eight. In 1929 he moved to New York where for the next 20 years he composed and conducted for radio, films, ballet and jazz groups, at the same time composing experimentally for the concert hall. From 1947 to 1955 he taught orchestration at the Juilliard School and Columbia University. At Bennington College, from 1957 to 1980, he taught composition. He received honors from numerous organizations including the Ford Foundation, Fromm Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts and Koussevitzky awards and the American Music Center’s Letter of Distinction.