The Excitement of Open Music

I just now got out of a three-and-a-half-hour rehearsal for the concert I’m presenting next week, of my Open Instrumentation Ensemble at Bard. December 14 at 7:30 in Bard Hall, we’ll be presenting the following marathon program:

Philip Glass: Music in Fifths

Willy Berliner: Persistence of Vision*

Samuel Vriezen: The Weather Riots

Frederic Rzewski: Attica

Brian Baumbusch: Cyclical Counterpoint with Sangse*

Rzewski: Les Moutons de Panurge

Julius Eastman: Gay Guerrilla

Jonathan Nocera: Blues for Julius Eastman*

Rhys Chatham: Guitar Trio

Terry Riley: In C

The pieces with asterisks are by Bard students, written for the ensemble. The historical highlight is Eastman’s Gay Guerrilla, which is scored for multiples of any instrument; he always performed it with pianos, and we’re giving what is, as far as I know, the world premiere of an electric guitar version. The students love the piece (you’ll note one of them wrote a piece dedicated to Julius), and they did a dynamite job of playing it tonight. When they started echoing the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” back and forth, which Julius subverted as a gay manifesto, it was a goosebump moment, and I suddenly felt his sardonic spirit fill the room. To be an audience of one at such a performance (since the other players had gone home) was a humbling privilege. I hadn’t directed an ensemble since 1976 – the year I gave the Dallas premieres of some pieces by Reich, Glass, and Riley at Carruth Auditorium at SMU – and I have little experience to remind me how fulfilling it is.

I’m also very proud that these students will graduate free from the academic fallacy that a score must be a complete and detailed reflection of a predetermined sonic image; that they’ll always know that compelling music can be made with repeat signs, gradual processes, and considerable performer latitude, and that it can be a real blast to try out the same music with a variety of different instrumentations, and with diverse dynamic shadings. The student pieces allow lots of performer decisions, and the composers have had fun experimenting with different rules and combinations in rehearsal – so utterly different from the classical experience in which they’re expected to notate every nuance for professional players who will execute their notation with computer-like precision. The students’ enthusiasm and dedication have astonished me, and made me proud that I have this important Downtown repertoire, and attitude, to pass on to them.


  1. says

    This sounds like a fantastic concert.
    Do you know an open instrumentation Rzewski piece for amateurs which consists of a single melody which everybody starts at the same time and when somebody makes a mistake they just pick up where they left off and continue? The result is that the one line diverges into a canon on the basis of who makes mistakes when. . .
    We played it in a Graduate Composition Seminar class at NEC, and it was kind of cool. Anyway, I was reminded of it by your program, but I can’t remember what it was called. I probably still have a score somewhere, but it would be in some random stack of papers in my parents’ attic.
    KG replies: That’s Les Moutons de Panurge. We’re doing it.

  2. David D. McIntire says

    if it’s possible, it would be great to have some of these posted to Postclassic Radio, if the concert is recorded. Especially the guitar version of the Julius Eastman. It’s just the kind of program I’d love to do myself someday. Not that anyone particularly wants me to…

  3. robin engelman says

    Is the Eastman piece playable on traditional percussion instruments? (other than piano)
    If so, is it published? By whom?
    KG replies: I imagine it could be done on mallet percussion. The piece expands up to nine separate lines, and he did it on four pianos by having people play more than one. Nothing of his is published, but Xeroxes of the ms.’s are circulating.