Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mason Bates, Mark Applebaum, Adorno Ensemble at Knuth

Thursday October 23, 2008.

"Elektro/Acoustik" (sic) Works by Mark Applebaum & Mason Bates, Presented by The Adorno Ensemble, New Music Ensemble-in-Residence at SF State. Knuth Hall.

Here's Mason Bates with a piece of gear!  Ah, new music.  Well I asked him to pose.  So, partially my fault.  "Mason Bates at Winter NAMM!"   He deserves a better picture.

His website spash page says "Choose one: Electronica / Classical."  Ah the irony.  Do we need to choose?  Mason has been, as a composer, a proponent of combining electronica and classical forms.  He has been fortunate to have found a great number of artistic directors to program and commission his classical pieces which incorporate electronics.  While classical pieces with tape have been around for decades (Morton Subotnick, Milton Babbitt, Vladimir Ussachevsky and so on), Mason and his contemporaries like Nico Muhly from the joint Columbia/Juilliard program have been enjoying newly-hip success and academic encouragement with the live instruments/prerecorded-electronic sounds combo.  Mason's upcoming performances include Chanticleer, Winston-Salem Symphony, The California Symphony, even MTT and the San Francisco Symphony.  And he's still young and fluffy.  Am I jealous?  Yes.  As near as I can tell, the joint Columbia/Juilliard program and composition faculty offer an entrée into a world of opportunity unlike anything else in this country.  He's also won both the Rome Prize and the American Academy in Berlin Prize.  Mason's upcoming performance schedule blows away that of composition professors twice his age.

Not quite twice his age, but on the composition faculty at Stanford, is Mark Applebaum.  While not really young and fluffy, he does have big hair, and colorful homemade gear!
Um, is that a toilet float?
Here he is bowing the Mousketier.

Oh yes and a loop station.

Mason performed three "interludes" on his laptop and controller gizmo throughout the program.  His "White Lies for Lomax" was a tender, intriguing piece for solo piano beautifully executed by Keisuke Nakagoshi.  Keisuke and I were both Composition majors at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) at the same time.  He now works there as an accompanist.  He is a gifted, brilliant pianist.

Mark Applebaum's "Theme in Search of Variations II" for violin, clarinet, cello, piano, and percussion began in a conventional "new music" style.  Applebaum was a protégé in San Diego of "new complexity" composer Brian Ferneyhough, who subsequently brought him to Stanford. (Check out this photo of the pair from Applebaum's website!)  Pleasantly, this piece redeemed itself, ending twinkly and celestial.

Applebaum's "Mousketier Praxis" was an improvisation by the composer/instrument builder on his Mousketier.  Its clever sounds spoke of terminal hippie wanting a light show.  Here multimedia would have been to the benefit of all involved, appropriate, and not merely tacked on.  Mark's Mousketier proved to be its own popular petting zoo after the concert as well.

Mason Bate's "Red River" for violin, clarinet, piano, cello, and electronics (prerecorded) closed the show.  I really liked this piece.  It was captivating and restful and I may have nodded off through part of it but I awoke very slowly and I found it quite transportational and beautiful.

Following the concert was a reception in the grandest manner of SF State, which the composers did not attend, although they were plenty approachable and chatty as they packed up their gear in the concert hall.  The reception afforded something of a little SFCM Class Reunion!  For me, it's great and exciting to see SFCM alumni involved with new music in San Francisco.

Left to right, Cellist and IDM Conoisseur Alex Keitel, Composer-Author-Blogger Jack Curtis Dubowsky, Pianist and SFCM Poster Model Keisuke Nakagoshi.
Wonderful violist Michi Aceret!
In closing, I'd like to harp on the fact that to me, this was a choice event.  This is one of the nation's top up-and-coming composers, wonderful performers, all for free.  You'd expect it to be packed to the gills.  Nah.  Perhaps when it has the imprimatur of MTT and The SF Symphony, they'll buy tickets.  It also reminds me of the old adage I coined myself summer 2001 at Aspen:  "Beethoven, $60.  New Music, Free."  People will pay for the old classics, but you can't give away new original art music.  Mark Applebaum could pull in more gawkers with the Mousketier at an arts and crafts fair in Mill Valley than at Knuth Hall.  Mason Bates could get more people dancing at 111 Minna.  And by the same token, they're not handing out Rome Prizes or American Academy Music Awards on the street.  So why is the concert hall empty?  Isn't this San Francisco, great cosmopolitan center for the arts?  

No comments: