March 25, 2006

Music Review: "In C" by Terry Riley

On Monday Night, students & faculty at CalArts performed at Disney Concert Hall in L.A., as part of their Minimalist Jukebox. This is what Mark Sweed, of the Los Angeles Times, wrote about it:

Terry Riley's "In C," written in 1964 and the piece that launched the movement, followed after intermission and was played big. It looked as if the entire student body and faculty of CalArts' music department was on stage. In case the Guinness Book of Records is interested, there were 124 performers: five pianos, 11 clarinets and 11 guitars (acoustic and electric), seven trombones among the large brass contingent, 20 singers, a small string section and too much percussion to count.

David Rosenboom, the violist on the historic first recording of the piece, conducted. With him were two more "In C" veterans. Stuart Dempster was trombone on the recording and in the San Francisco premiere. Pianist Katrina Krimsky (then known as Margaret Hassell) played the pulse on the recording and again Monday night, knocking out steady Cs as surely as she had nearly four decades ago.

"In C," in which 53 short phrases in or around C major are freely repeated over the pulse, is usually a small ensemble jam. Here, Rosenboom more carefully molded it, indicating when sections should begin changing figures lest so large an orchestra seem chaotic.

Lost in the grand scheme and grand sound was a bit of the detail that can make "In C" so fascinating. But gained from this 800-pound-gorilla version was an incomparable sense of grandeur, with Rosenboom turning the score into a 21st century concerto for orchestra while nonetheless maintaining a strong sense of authenticity.

At times, the majesty of the music was astonishing. When the longest and most harmonically complex figure (No. 35) dominated, Rosenboom emphasized the brass, and the score sounded like the end of Wagner's "Das Rheingold" writ large and Postmodern. I particularly loved the timpani, which grounded the sound. The only thing missing was the Disney organ.

Monday's audience — just as encouragingly mixed if not quite as affectedly hipster as the Orb crowd — was alert, open-eared and excited, the Philharmonic's future.


Date: Thu, 23 Mar 2006 13:53:44 -0800 (PST)
From:Send an Instant Message "Jonathan Shapiro" <>
Subject: Re: Fwd: Look what the LATimes thought of CalArts' Performance at Disney
To:"James Welsch" <>
People should really stop doing In C with as many
people as possible. Ironically I am performing in one
of those on April 3rd. I am sure it will suck.


Date: Fri, 24 Mar 2006 08:29:24 -0800 (PST)
From:Send an Instant Message "Jonathan Shapiro" <>
Subject: Re: Fwd: Look what the LATimes thought of CalArts' Performance at Disney
To:"James Welsch" <>
Since when do you trust music critics?  Well organized
or not, I feel the oversize version of that piece
takes away a lot from it. 1st movement of whale music
is awesome, I'm working on it, I'll let you know about
weird things. Can't wait to see more.

With Mr Shapiro, I have performed (as opposed to just 'played') In C twice, both with what apparently were medium-sized ensembles. Two of the most famous recordings, the genus (with CalArts' David Rosenboom on Viola, mentioned above), & Bang on a Can's trendy one from a few years ago, overdub their ensembles to create the effect of hugeness. The real innovation with
Bang on a Can's, I thought, was subtlety. The genus one sounds like a lot of hippies blasting saxophones. Bang on a Can takes the 53 fragments & really molds them into an atmosphere. Of course, when a master post-minimalist (maximalist?) orchestrator like John Adams is writing for a 100 piece orchestra, most of the individuals are playing at something subtle, to add up to the fuller texture. It sounds to me like Rosenboom was using the two-page score of In C as a ready-made hour-long 100-piece work for postminimalist grandeur. By having some sort of conductor's dictatorship, he can loosely organize the shape of something with an instrumentation so massive, that it would take Adams months to notate to a score.


Date: Sun, 26 Mar 2006 13:07:27 -0800 (PST)
From:Send an Instant Message "Melinda Rice" <>
Subject: Re: O it was lost for ever! and we found it not: Music Review: "In C" by Terry Riley
To:"James Welsch" <>
Rosenboom's arrangement of IN C was met with enjoyment for a few reasons. One is the piece's ability to support many conceptions of itself. Another us because it was a spectacle, in the style of old World Fairs and such, We were amazingly large, for a group playing with some freedom, and a unified pulse.

The performance of the piece also stirred up some dissent because Terry Riley asks that each player take responsibility for making decisions about the direction of the music. In a performance of IN C following these instructions, no one really knows what it is going to sound like from a harmonic or rhythmic standpoint. What you can count on is the trancelike feeling of the piece. Riley created a little maze, and musicians travel through it exploring their own sounds within the group as much as the cells Riley wrote.

No comments: