June 15: Day 3, soundOn, a new music festival at the Athenaeum, People’s Concert and “The Chord Catalogue;” evening.
Earlier, I blogged from Saturday morning’s community workshop, when visiting musicians from San Diego sat in on the workshop to play Terry Riley’s modern masterpiece “In C,” which he wrote in 1964. Now, I’m reporting on the performance, a few hours after the workshop, and a second piece that anyone who loves the TV show “Numb3rs” might — or might not — enjoy or at least appreciate.
To refresh your memory: “In C” is a great game. The so-called “score,” on just one 8 1/2 x 11 sheet, consists of 53 separate musical phrases or patterns. Each musician plays all the patterns in sequence exactly as written, but each decides on the volume and how many times to repeat the pattern. One of the players — flutist Lisa Cella in this case — is the leader. She starts the action, and as she progresses, all the other players must stay within two or three patterns of where she is (and of course, the score doesn’t tell her where to go). She also stops the action, ending the piece.
Riley composed this piece with no indication of how many people should play it or what instruments should be included. In the workshop, 13 musicians participated; in tonight’s concert, 17: two cellos, four violins, four guitars (three electric, one acoustic), flute, recorder, piano, electronic keyboard, celesta and vibraphone.
The juggling act for musicians is considerable. They must play their own phrases and listen not only to where the leader is but also where everyone is — without the benefit of a conductor or the road signs of a traditional score, in which each bar is numbered and tempos and dynamics are indicated. “In C” never stops for pauses or silences.
Let’s not forget that the players are also aiming for non-technical results, in this roiling, action-packed — and beautiful — work. In “In C,” the rubber hits the road, the men are separated from boys (and the female equivalent), and stuff hits the fan, if it doesn’t work.