At Other Minds, Anything (Still) Goes
By Georgia Rowe
March 8, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO - Every year about this time, the Other Minds Festival of Contemporary Music brings composers and performers from around the world to San Francisco for a week of residency and three nights of unabashed music-making. The results are always eclectic, and frequently revelatory; under Artistic Director Charles Amirkhanian, this year's edition - Other Minds 16 - demonstrated that new music thrives, and that this city remains a mecca for artists, iconoclasts and free thinkers.
Amirkhanian has an uncanny ability to identify important composers of the future while honoring the past; programs are divided between talent on the rise and new music's established composers. The first two concerts, March 3 and 4 at Kanbar Hall, featured Louis Andriessen and Han Bennink (from the Netherlands), I Wayan Balawan (Indonesia), Agata Zubel (Poland); Kyle Gann, Janice Giteck and David A. Jaffe (U.S.) A third concert, on March 5, offered additional works by Andriessen, Gann and Jason Moran.
A decided high point was the world premiere of "The Space Between Us," Jaffe's tribute to Henry Brant's pioneering work in spatial music. The composer's 20-minute opus places two string quartets - the Del Sol String Quartet, and members of the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble - on opposite sides of the hall, while a percussionist onstage (Andrew Schloss), sends remote electronic signals, via radio drum, to a piano, two xylophones and an array of overhead chimes (the installation was by Seattle composer/inventor Trimpin).
Jaffe's score introduces richly textured, eerily prolonged voicings from the strings, which are interrupted by urgent, rhythmic phrases tapped out by percussion. As the work moves toward a poised, luminous conclusion, the instruments seem to reach out to one another, as if longing for connection. The performance stretched the mind and beguiled the ear.