Partch at REDCAT

Harry Partch (c. 1969), from the cover of The ...

Source: LA’s REDCAT.

PARTCH, the Grammy® winning and twice nominated new music ensemble returns to REDCAT, CalArts’ downtown center for contemporary arts, Friday, June 23 and Saturday June 24, 2017 at 8:30 pm.

The program includes Harry Partch’s score for the 1958 arthouse film WINDSONG (being performed in Los Angeles for the first time); Twelve Intrusions (yes, 12, not 11!); San Francisco; Sonata Dementia; and, to mark the centennial of Partch’s dear friend Lou Harrison, a performance of Harrison’s lyrical Suite for Violoncello & Harp. (More details are below)

PARTCH specializes in the music & instruments of the iconoclastic American Maverick composer Harry Partch, who created some of the most alluring and emotionally powerful music of the 20th century (between 1930 and 1972). Partch composed music for drama, dance-theater, multi-media, vocals and chamber music—all to be performed on the extraordinary orchestra of instruments that he designed and built himself, including the Adapted Viola (1930); Adapted Guitar I Kithara (1938); Chromelodeon (1941); Adapted Guitar II (1945); Harmonic Canons (1945); Diamond Marimba (1946); Adapted Guitar III (1950); Bass Marimba (1950); Cloud Chamber Bowls (1950); HypoBass (1950); Marimba Eroica (1951); Surrogate Kithara (1953); Spoils of War (1955) and the Boo (1955)—many of which PARTCH performs on today.

Notes on the June 2017 program:

Partch’s score for the 1958 art-house film WINDSONG, played in Los Angeles for the first time. The film is a retelling of Apollo’s amorous pursuit of the virgin Daphne, and as the composer tells it, “The music, in effect, is a collage of sounds. The film technique of fairly fast cuts is here translated into musical terms. The sudden shifts represent nature symbols of the film, as used for a dramatic purpose.” Thrilling percussion parts and atmospheric Harmonic Canon parts produce some of the composer’s most memorable mid-century music.

Twelve Intrusions (yes, 12, not 11!), is Partch’s second song cycle, featuring all of his instruments to date with the exception of the chromelodeon. Biographer Bob Gilmore commented, “In their quiet, forlorn way, the Intrusions (1949–50) are among the most compelling and beautiful of Partch’s works.” Though usually performed as a set of eleven, his 1951 first commercial 78rpm recording included the hilarious The Letter, as will this year’s REDCAT performance.

Sonata Dementia, Partch’s first extended abstract composition initially called Tonality Flux, the term he used for his brand of microtonal modulation. Its completion had to await the construction of the Bass Marimba & the Hypobass, and by the time the virtuosic “Mumbo-Jumbo…” vocal part had been added in 1950, it was renamed Sonata Dementia, perhaps reflecting the psychological stress the composer felt in his isolation at Gualala. The composer called it, “A satire on the world of singers and singing, music and dance; on concerts and concert audiences, where the occasional perception of an American word is an odd kind of shock. Also a satire on the world in general, on whimsy and caprice, on music in 43 tones to the octave, on people who conceive such things, on grand flourishes that lead to nothing, on satyrs, or on nothing.” PARTCH premiered the original version at REDCAT in 2006 as part of MicroFest.

The program opens with Partch’s atmospheric San Francisco – A Setting of the Cries of Two Newsboys on a Foggy Night in the ‘Twenties (1943). Setting the gliding contours of real human voices had partly inspired Partch’s famed microtonal scale, and the opening viola lines of San Francisco do, in fact, wordlessly depict the curbside sales pitch with uncanny accuracy. So accurate, in fact, that when reviewing the Carnegie Hall premiere for the New York Tribune, Lou Harrison wrote, “Mr. Partch has woven a spell of about the foggiest and dampest music I have ever heard. I got homesick.”