Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Community and nature as art form

In December 1967 CBC Radio broadcast Glenn Gould's radio documentary Idea of North, the first of three "contrapuntal pieces for radio" that made up what he referred to as his Solitude Trilogy. These works should be considered not only musical compositions in themselves, argues Friedemann Sallis in an important article, but also as important part of Gould's performance legacy.

In this tradition comes Aleksandra Vrebalov's The Sea Ranch Songs with the Kronos Quartet, to be released on September 30, 2016. "The production of place in music" is Sallis's subtitle, and that's what Vrebalov has created, in collaboration with videographer Andrew Lyndon. I haven't yet had a chance to see Lyndon's video, so I've experienced only the audio portion of this project, which certainly underlines the connection with Gould. Vrebalov brings the same passion to this portrait of a community, the same overlapping voices and natural and man-made sounds, that come together with all of the sounds of a string quartet (and what a string quartet!) to etch the place in our minds as something rare and special.  And Sea Ranch, on the Pacific Coast in Sonoma County, is clearly a special place.

John Lambert Pearson - originally posted to Flickr as Sea Ranch Panoramic Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

One of my favourite tracks is Fort Ross Chorale, which combines the sound of the church bell from Fort Ross, a 19th century Russian settlement, with a beautiful and sad liturgical chorus. But all of these vignettes become works of music and works of art. Vrebalov weaves this story and many others into her music: Sea Ranch residents reminiscing; Lorin Smith, medicine man of the Pomo Kashia Indians, singing the Welcoming Song; archaeologist Mike Lane reciting numbers that represent the land and the community; architect Donlyn Lyndon, who helped design Condominium One, the design of which brought fame to the community fifty years ago; many natural sounds, from coyotes to the many inhabitants of the tidal pools. I look forward to Lyndon's video, but I feel that I've already visited Sea Ranch and know many of its secrets.

The Kronos Quartet continue their genre-busting work in yet another amazing project. They've brought the classic attributes of one of the most important artistic forms of the Enlightenment, the civilized and passionate conversation of two violins, a viola and a cello, into so many parts of a modern world that can use as much enlightenment as it can get. We're lucky to have them.

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