Monterey County Weekly: Opening Performance of Philip Glass' Days and Nights Festival

August 24, 2011

After some minutes of civilized mingling and schmoozing outside on the plaza grounds of the Hidden Valley Music Seminars, attendees of last Friday’s very first performance of the very first Philip Glass Days and Nights Festival filed into the rustic wood performance hall, nearly filling the three-quarter surround seating arrangements, to take in the opening salvo of the festival. Set in the middle of the hexagonal floor space, a lustrous black Steinway & Sons piano. As backdrop to that, a black fabric curtain dotted with shiny white lights—a constellation indoors.

The opening performance of the music and arts festival was given to another performer. He was the highly regarded pianist Jon Klibonoff, who did a commanding take on Franz Schubert’s Impromptus, Op. 90, No. 3 in G-flat Major and No. 4 in A-flat Major. That was followed by a high-powered string quartet’s take on Dmitiri Shostakovich’s 1960 String Quartet No. 8 in C minor.

The quartet, called the Days and Nights Festival Players (pictured), included violinist Maria Bachmann, a proponent of new music and sometime Glass collaborator (he wrote “Sonata for Violin and Piano” for her) who’s been lauded by the Boston Globe as “a violinist of soul and patrician refinement”; Avery Fisher Career Grant-winning violinist Tim Fain, who could be seen and heard playing in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan as well as Cabrillo Music Festival’s Marin Alsop’s conducting of the Baltimore Orchestra; Grammy-winning producer and Grammy-nominated cellist Matt Haimovitz, who took Bach into clubs with his “Listening Room” tour and who’s been expounding new music for 20 years (though he started when he was 13); and viola player David Harding, a Juilliard School of Music alum (as is Glass) who’s played and recorded with trios and quartets across the globe.

Their performance of Shostakovich was woeful (the composer suffered much persecution under Communist Russia, according to local environmentalist Janet Brennan, who was in attendance), with sudden leaps of jabbing passages that sounded like a wild animal railing against its cage. At times it recalled Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho, the strings wildly stabbing at the air and at times it sounded like the perfect accompaniment for a high-speed car chase.

At intermission, dancer/gymnast/theater performer Saori Tsukada (partner in John Moran’s art and music performance pieces) said that she felt “absolutely, absolutely honored to be here. Three meals, [all the artists] eating together, rehearsals, chit-chat about music. There’s musicians rehearsing. I hear music from the East. I hear music from the West. I feel like I’m in the middle of music. That’s what makes it delicious.”

Then Philip Glass, in nonchalant fashion, approached and joined the conversation.

“The players love it,” he said. “They call [Hidden Valley] a paradise.” Later, two other performers would use that same word, “paradise,” to describe their residency there.

“I’m impressed with the audience,” Glass told the Weekly. “They’re very eager. We have a good sized audience.”

That might have been in reference to the Days and Nights Festival’s unforeseen competition with the Goliath of the Car Week events, which might have siphoned some of the air from the opening programs of the festival, though a nearly full house (300 capacity) indicated that enough people recognized and appreciated the more refined sounds of this type of affair over the roar and whir of classic cars. Or maybe people took in both.

At the beginning the second half of the program, Hidden Valley executive director Peter Menkel took center stage. He said a few terse and funny things by way of introduction, telling the assembly a festival origin story in which he said a man walked into his office and asked to look around the facilities.

“He said his name was Philip Glass,” Menkel recounted. So, as one might if a man named Philip Glass asks, Menkel obliged him a tour. When they got to the performance space, “There was a piano, in much the same place as this one here,” he said, indicating the lustrous black Steinway & Son baby grand behind him, and that Glass began to play it.

“He said ‘This is perfect,'” Menkel continued. Perfect for what? A festival, Glass told him then, that he wanted to put on in a year.

“My mouth said, ‘okay.’ My mind said, ‘impossible.’ But here we are.”

Then he gave the spotlight over to Glass, who said, humbly, a few gracious words.

“This has been a wonderful place for us [artists] to be,” he said, addressing Menkel. “A place to work, to put our heads at night, you’ve fed us.”

Then he made way for the third and final program of the night: violinist Bachmann and pianist Klibonoff, back to perform the Glass-composed Sonata for Violin and Piano (the one Glass wrote with Bachman in mind).

The first two movements of the piece were melancholy and contemplative, performed with precision and aching feeling, but the first part of the third movement of that score was a “wow” moment of speed and virtuosity. It created sparks, with Bachmann moving to the music like a willow tree in the wind. It wasn’t the first time the duo have performed it, as a recent comment on YouTube attests: “I saw Maria Bachmann and Jon Klibonoff play this at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC last Saturday. Simply amazing,” writes TheHalloweenFreak.

Then, Glass closed out the evening, performing two solo pieces—two variations of his own composition of “Metamorphosis.” The first one seemed less indulgent and focused than pianist Branka Parlic’s pretty definitive performance that you can see streaming on YouTube. But by the second version (or was it a second movement?) one realized that what he was doing was playing with the rhythm, a feat more pronounced on the second version, which sounded almost swinging, almost jazzy. That kind of infusion—jazz into a classical program—might be appreciated by fans of the last Carmel Bach Festival, which experimented with that same mixture, and whose executive director, Camille Kolles, was in the audience that night.

The festival, now occupying the local landscape without the traffic jam of Car Week, only gets more interesting, with a pair each of drive-in movies (Scorsese’s Kundun on Aug. 24 and Errol Morris’ Tabloid Aug. 25), chamber music performances (Aug. 26 and 27), dance choreography by Molissa Fenley and Co. (Aug. 27 and 28) and poetry at Henry Miller Library (Aug. 31).

Then there’s another weekend in September to close out this groundbreaking festival of the arts, all scored by Glass and other composers.

by Walter Ryce

View article at Monterey County Weekly

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