Wednesday, August 29, 7:30 P.M.
Works of Ben Johnston, Henry Cowell, Harry Partch, and Stefano Scodanibbio.
ProgramCanzoniere messicano: Besame mucho (2004) Stefano Scodanibbio Quartet Euphometric (1916-1919) Henry Cowell Two Studies on Ancient Greek (1946/1997) Harry Partch String Quartet No. 5 ("Lonesome Valley") (1979) Ben Johnston
Composers have often commented on the frequently proposed category of Experimental Music. It might have been Edgard Varèse ‐ often placed in that category, and known to test his music exhaustively down to single chords and combinations of overtones ‐ who insisted that experiments are done in private, in the workshop, and that what is presented publicly is instead a composition, an experience shared, a conclusion, however provisionally drawn.
In the second of this season’s concerst, with the Kepler Quartet as guests, it will be worthwhile to keep in mind the interesting reasons that artists work with unaccustomed principles, shapes, modes of discourse whose discovery, while it may cost them days of uncertainty and pure speculation, are at the service of a drive we call artistic, with results often unfamiliar in a welcome and rewarding way.
In encountering the music of Ben Johnston we may read in many accounts of his compositions descriptions of method which are in fact very complex. We admire his patience in pursuing solutions to dense problems both metaphysical and mathematical. But in hearing his work we are immediately impressed that these novel constructive investigations have sought lucid structure, aurally intelligible surface ‐ the pure pleasure of hearing tones combining differently but convincingly.
Johnston has lived to find microtonal thinking pervasive in many forms of music. Some of its presence in the music of today’s composers is little more than nervously modish, but some represents real determination to organize and make perspicuous a whole realm of new tonal relationships. Rock and jazz are also engaged ‐ the hottest young jazz composer of the moment, Jason Collier, has published on YouTube arrangements which modulate microtonally with the sophistication of a Ben Johnston quartet!
Any expansion of vocabulary benefits the art, especially when its appearance is generated by expressive drive. Ben Johnston’s fifth quartet will sound beautiful and natural to most of our listeners, partly because the Experiments remain in his studio.