More Minimalist Dessert

Minimalist Dessert
August 14, 2008
Saint Thomas More Chapel and Center at Yale

(pictures from the show here)

Frederic Rzewski (b.1938) studied at Harvard and Princeton, and then went to Europe as a Fulbright scholar.  He participated in the premiers of Stockhausen’s Klavierstück X and Plus Minus, taught composition at Yale, and was appointed a professor of composition at the Conservatoire Royal, Liège.  In 1966 he co-founded Musica Elettronica Viva (MEV) in Rome, an avant-garde ensemble using electronic and traditional instruments which offered New Music “happenings.”  MEV combined elements from academic and jazz/rock traditions, explored collective composition, and promoted socialist ideals.

Samuel Melville (1934–1971) was trained as a draftsman but quit his job to protest apartheid.  He joined radical groups opposing the Vietnam War and became interested in the story of George Metesky, a radical who had terrorized New York City with 37 bombings.  Melville began painting “George Metesky was here” on buildings, and by 1969 was a bomber and the principal conspirator in eight office building attacks.  Captured, convicted, and imprisoned, Melville was a key leader in the 1971 Attica Prison riots and was murdered there after the police counter-attack. His letters from prison were published with a foreword by William Kunstler.

As lovers will contrast their emotions in times of crisis, so am I dealing with my environment. In the indifferent brutality, incessant noise, the experimental chemistry of food, the ravings of lost hysterical men, I can act with clarity and meaning. I am deliberate–sometimes even calculating–seldom employing histrionics except as a test of the reactions of others. I read much, exercise, talk to guards and inmates, feeling for the inevitable direction of my life. Attica is in front of me.

Rzewski’s Coming Together and Attica use Melville’s letters as the basis for unison performance as well as a scaffold for improvisation.  Each musician independently and collectively contributes to the performance within the framework of the shared score.  The ensemble includes drones in C major, here supplied by sounds recorded in the Mohegan Sun Casino, July 2008.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was a key figure in the revival of British music in the 20th century. Vaughan Williams’ search for a personal musical voice led him to the concept of Musical Citizenship and the regenerative use of native resources, in his case Elizabethan and Jacobean music as well as folksong of the British Isles.  Vaughan Williams’ outlook was human and social rather than strictly musical.  He was interested in every situation, however humble, for which music was needed. The English Hymnal (1906) was one of his first editing projects, and even though he was not religious he composed several tunes (including For all the saints) and adapted 40 other folksongs for the hymnal.

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis for double string orchestra and string quartet (1910) is perhaps his first masterpiece. Vaughan Williams was drawn to Tallis’s hymn tunes in The Metrical Psalter of 1567; the Third Tune crystallized something essential within Vaughan Williams’ own musical style and became the seed idea of this Fantasia.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was flamboyant and shockingly vain, earning the sobriquet il Prete Rosso (the red priest).  He was a prodigious composer of more than 750 works and likely the most famous violinist of his time.  Vivaldi redefined the concerto and liberated orchestral melody from a single-octave ambitus.  His violin sonatas were closely studied by several Bach generations, and Mozart copied Vivaldi’s inventive use of chorus with orchestra.
His first teaching job was at the Ospedale della Pietà orphanage in Venice, founded in 1346 and known for its music. The orphans formed the choir and played in the orchestra, giving concerts from behind screened galleries, and featured Vivaldi’s new compositions including Concerto in B minor for 4 violins (RV 580).  It was published in the 1711 collection L’estro armonico which made Vivaldi’s reputation throughout Europe.  The individual “solo” parts of this Concerto are carefully integrated to portray both independence and collaboration within the arc of the musical idea.  Each player chooses how they will ornament, divide, or improvise within the framework of their written part.

– Program notes from Grove Dictionary of Music and Richard Gard

Musica Elettronica Viva di Yale
Richard Gard, conductor

Soprano: Evelyn Gard
Violin: Madeleine Gard, Jeffrey Keeler, Eleanor Knopp, Serge Senisek
Guitar: Liam Pierce
Electric violin: Jeffrey Keeler
Bass guitar: Daniel Bianchini
Oboe: Libby Van Cleve
Soprano saxophone: John Cizik
Bass clarinet: Kathryn Stover
Percussion: Jenny Cizik, Mike Longofono, John Young
Keyboards: Carlos Beltran, Richard Gard, Elizabeth Lorenzo, Laura Richling