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.