Monday, November 05, 2007
I'm going to see a performance of several Gavin Bryars pieces on Thursday at Roulette as part of the annual Interpretations series. It will only be the second time I've seen his music performed live.
I can clearly remember the first time I ever heard a piece of his, around 1980. I was sitting in our car (a yellow, 1979 Corolla) on 5th Ave and 98th St., waiting to pick up Linda from work. It was late afternoon and I was listening to WKCR's afternoon music program, hosted at the time by Gregory Sandow who was then also the contemporary classical critic for the Village Voice. He said, "All the time, my skeptical friends ask me, 'What modern piece compares with Beethoven?' and I usually play them this." Whereupon he proceeded to spin Bryars' "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet." I was entranced. Here was something that was essentially a process piece yet conveyed a huge emotional impact (and on the most anti-religious of listeners, no less). I picked it up at the Soho Music Gallery and recall having a little discussion there about Bryars and others with Zorn, who was an employee at the time. I think that's the only time I've ever spoken to him.
I was pretty well smitten with the LP, the Obscure release that paired "Jesus' Blood" with "The Sinking of the Titanic". There wasn't much other Bryars around in those days, though I snagged the other Obscure album, the one with his lovely "1,2, 1-2-3-4", which record was also my initial exposure to Christopher Hobbs. Fairly soon thereafter, I found what's still a small favorite, his "Hommages" issued by Les Disques du Crepuscule, four gorgeous works for piano, vibraphone (celesta?) and percussion--not sure if it's currently available on disc.
Around 1982, I went up to City College to attend an open rehearsal of his opera, "Medea", staged by Robert Wilson. The score was only performed on piano (with singers), but it was quite beautiful. Ah--just checked and here's Bryars on that very show:
Acts 1 and 2, plus Act 4 scene C (written in New York) and Act 5 scene C (the ending) were performed, with two piano accompaniment at the end of February 1982 following rehearsals at City College, New York with a mixture of students, semi-professional singers and singers, notably Wilhelmina Fernandez, who was originally cast as Medea.
I get the idea that a recording has never been issued?
Well, as we all know, soon thereafter Bryars signed with ECM and a slow downward spiral commenced. Things began well enough with "Three Viennese Dancers" and, at the time, I enjoyed a few of the subsequent works though I think I'd have trouble with them today. I doggedly stuck with him for a while (the lousy Point remakes of the two Obscure classics severely testing me, that utterly needless Tom Waits appearance.) There was one highlight: a brilliant version of "Titanic" on Les Disques du Crepuscule from 1990, a rendition I think is even better than the original. [Wow! just checking again, I discover that the "Hommages" album is due out on disc next week! Also, the LP had no personnel info and here I find out that John White and Dave Smith were among the players! Here's the promo:
Newly remastered CD edition of the lost yet influential album by acclaimed modern British composer Gavin Bryars. Originally released in November 1981 on Les Disques du Crepuscule, Hommages was recorded in Leicester in February 1981 and produced by noted Belgian composer Wim Mertens. The album was conceived as a series of diverse homages to other composers, which include Bill Evans (My First Homage), Ferruccio Busoni and Gustav Holst (The English Mail-Coach and The Vespertine Park) and Percy Grainger (Hi-Tremolo).
Featured musicians included Andrew Bilham, Ronald Reah, Andrew Renshaw, Nigel Shipway, Dave Smith, John White and Marie Wilson, as well as Gavin Bryars himself on piano and vibraphone. The album is the only one which documents the important period between Bryars' early experimental music and later works from Medea onwards, as well as his enthusiasm for small composer/performer ensembles.
This new 63 minute digital remaster of Hommages includes two bonus tracks composed and recorded by Bryars during the same period: Danse Dieppoise, and the lengthy piano piece Out Of Zaleski's Gazebo. The booklet features extensive notes by Gavin Bryars on the origin and performance of all six pieces, and preserves the original album cover artwork by Marc Borgers.
DUE OUT: NOVEMBER 12 2007.]
Anyway, I think I finally gave up after "A Man in a Room Gambling". Not that it was so bad--it wasn't--but his work had begun to pall. (I did like the Joseph Holbrooke disc from around '98, though).
What's being performed on Thursday, however, are four early works including the aforementioned "1,2 1-2-3-4" as well as "Pre-Medieval Metrics" (1970), "Made in Hong Kong" (1970) and "The Squirrel and the Rickety Rackety Bridge" (1971), all of which are being issued by Mode Records on a disc called "The Marvelous Aphorisms of Gavin Bryars". Actually, I'm not sure if all of those are scheduled...
We shall see, but I'm looking forward to it.
Also on the bill is a solo piano work by Maria de Alvear, a Spanish composer with whom I'm unfamiliar. I'm kind of guessing the sound will be something like a minimalist-influenced Rzewski, but I could be totally wrong.