Showing posts with label avant garde. Show all posts
Showing posts with label avant garde. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Swedish Radio Choir: leading in adventurous programming - another cool choir

The Swedish Radio Choir does not play it safe. They go all out for the rare, hard-hitting, obscure and difficult. And when a musical ensemble takes risks, it is memorable. Even a week later, my ears are still buzzing from some of the repertoire performed by The Swedish Radio Choir by Cal Performances at Hertz Hall on the UC Berkeley campus. It was also exciting to see Ragnar Bohlin, Chorus Director of the San Francisco Symphony as guest conductor. He has worked with the Radio Choir in the past and teamed up with them for their 2010 Spring tour.

Even though I have sung in choirs for over half of my life and have a deep love for this music, I would not consider myself a choral music specialist. However, I will usually be familiar with at least one or two selections on any given program. From this program, I only recognized the names of Gustav Mahler and Johann Sebastian Bach. It is always exciting to hear music that is completely new to the ears. The Radio Choir features Swedish compositions, rarely performed pieces of the great masters and relatively obscure composers from all over the world.

The piece that I can still hear buzzing in my ears and that I am most excited about is Anders Hillborg's "Mouyayoum," composed for 16-part-chorus without text [hear excerpts in video below].


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Kronos Quartet continues to push the boundaries of the string quartet

Jon Rose's "Music for 4 Fences"
Photo: Christina Johnson

It must be so much fun to be in the Kronos Quartet. Violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt and cellist Jeffrey Zeigler walk out on stage and just emanate cool. They wear denim and leather, have messy hair, awesome lighting, prerecorded electronic tracks and enjoy making noise, both traditionally beautiful and ugly. Oh, and they also dedicated their entire performance to the late historian Howard Zinn. These guys are hip. The best part is that three out of four of them are old enough to be my Dad. My Dad is cool, but certainly not like this. (Love you, Dad!)

Friday night I attended the third of four performances all featuring Jon Rose’s piece “Music from 4 Fences.” Each of the four nights also included compositions by Terry Riley, Damon Albarn of Blur & Gorillaz, (what doesn’t that guy do?) John Zorn, Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream soundtrack), and Bryce Dessner of The National. I got to hear the Mansell piece in all of its intense glory.

One of the more interesting pieces they played was commissioned for the Kronos a couple yeas ago by the Palestinian collective, the Ramallah Underground called “Tashweesh.”


Friday, September 26, 2008

The Thai Elephant Orchestra

I visited the San Francisco Asian Art Museum last night and, as typical, I parked myself next to the music section in the gift shop and checked out what they had.  After being entertained by some cool Afghan dance music, I found this (watch the video) and knew I had to tell you about it.

American Richard Lair has trained elephants how to play music in Northern Thailand, much like those that have been taught to paint.  Lair and his assistants teach the elephants how to play instruments and then conducts them in concerts for visitors.  These instruments are specially made elephant-sized traditional percussion and string Thai instruments. Other than the harmonica, which the elephant can grasp with the tip of its truck, the elephants play instruments that can be struck with either a mallet or with a bare trunk.

Lair says,
"For some of the elephants is just a job, but for four or five of them they really like to play, and two or three and absolute musical geniuses.
"The orchestra is interesting because the elephants don't play tunes, but what they really do have is a really strong sense of rhythm and that is really where the secret is.  I think the music is wonderful because it is not written down.  You really have to open up your mind and open up your heart because you never know where it's going."

I love where the narrator points out that the deity Ganesh is an elephant.  It's no surprise to many people, especially the musician in this video, that elephants can be accomplished musicians.

Read more about the elephants and their "imitation" of music in this article by composer, academic and producer of the Thai Elephant Orchestra records David Soldier.  You'll find the part on the Thai Elephants on page 4.  I don't know if anything can be called musical "imitation,"  but then it depends on your definition of music which is Soldier's whole point.

I definitely call what these elephants do music, but I don't know if I personally would listen to the whole CD at home.  But if and when I go to Thailand, I will gladly pay to see them perform,  but then again I feel that way about a lot of music I see around me.