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Monday, December 20, 2004
More on Huntington: The Difficult Stuff

In trying to give you the flavour of Huntington this year, I needs must lean a little on other reviewers. Here’s Canning:
It's in the nature of experiments that some don't work. Such was the case with the Friday night program. Traditionally, this is Huntington's most challenging, but this year's proved a penitential, way-too-long and incoherent ragbag of disparate modernist styles. Today, John Cage's dated oeuvre scarcely seems worth reviving - his notorious "silent" piece 4'33 was "performed" in abbreviated form and as ambient taped mumbling, suggesting that Tognetti takes Cage no more seriously than I do - and Varese's supposedly seminal Poeme Electronique now sounds like a very old, overlong gag.
Let’s agree about the Varèse: it starts with a badly recorded bit of Sibelius and degenerates from there. But there were pieces that, first of all, were modern and not necessarily performed on the Friday night and they weren’t all rubbish. Among the most intriguing was Andrew Ford’s (excerpts from) Manhattan Epiphanies. I was fortunate enough to be able to hear the section titled ‘Blue Poles’ in rehearsal so that, on second hearing – the live performance – the piece came alive for me. (Also see Josh dated 25 February 2004.)

There was another work by Ford, earlier in the proceedings. His ‘Snatches of Old Lauds’, for bass clarinet and drone, had me smiling joyfully on Thursday morning. My notes refer to ‘The Scottish nature of the satisfyingly deep twirls’.

Andrew Ford is another of Australia’s treasures. Not only were his works performed but he introduced a two-hour programme, recorded at Huntington and broadcast on National Radio two days later, with short pieces from the performers and interviews with, amongst others, Richard Tognetti (of course), Katie and Ty Noonan, Teddy Tahu Rhodes and the journalists I have quoted elsewhere.

The birds also seemed to enjoy many of the pieces, in particular the magical atmosphere created by Peteris Vasks’s Sonata for Double Bass, performed by Maxime Bibeau. The second movement opened beyond the bridge and the sliding introductions were refreshing and exciting. At times, I was reminded of one of Bach’s works for unaccompanied cello.

Then there was Somei Satoh’s Bird in Warped Time II played by Aiko Goto (violin) and Clemens Leske (piano). I have no personal notes for this piece, except to record that the birds, again, seemed very satisfied. I heard another member of the audience describe it as ‘ ‘Smile through your toothache’ music’, whatever that meant.

Covell, but not Canning, acknowledges Ross Edwards’s ‘Tyalgam Mantras’, a piece performed entirely in the dark at the start of the Friday concert. It was scored for didge, violins, viola, cello, percussionists (2) and handbells. The work had an ethereal feel; several concert-goers I spoke to had liked it (and they said this before I told them, truthfully, that I was one of the handbell players). This was also rated ‘a beautiful performance’ by one of the cognoscenti.

Charles Ives was reputed to have told his audiences to ‘stand up and take your dissonances like a man’. His Three places in New England must, initially, have been very challenging. Apparently George, Charles father, used to ‘stand [the] young Charles next to him at the piano and have him sing in one key while he [George] played in another’. This explains a lot: the sound of bands playing different tunes against each other in this work might be one of the reasons Tognetti finds it hilarious. A second, however, is certain not to be that it costs $A4000 to give a public performance of the work.

Both Covell and Canning remark on the ‘extract’ (1’ 30”) from Cage’s 4’ 33”. Well, I thought it was such a piss-poor performance that I didn’t even notice it, particularly as Clemens Leske was buried in the orchestra, not on show like a ‘proper’ soloist. Since it is really an audience-participation work (the pianist sits at the piano for the given time without doing anything), we might have been given the opportunity to learn a few new Aussie terms of derision. No such luck.

Cage’s satirical work Credo in Us, using a (slightly) prepared piano was a bit more thought-provoking, though. Does the ‘Us’ mean ‘The US’ or does it have a more ‘general meaning, ‘…humanistically proving allegiance to the first person plural’ as the programme notes put it?

[A thousand apologies for not getting the links right. I've tested them and they work fine in isolation. When I paste them in my blog, they don't work. Aargh! You can find the articles by googling for 'Canning Huntington bow ties' (Canning) and 'Covell SMH genug' (Covell) - Josh]

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