S.F. Contemporary Music Players’ Season Is of Today ... and Tomorrow

Janos Gereben on May 6, 2019
A world premiere by David Chisholm and a celebration of Louis Andriessen’s 80th birthday are on the SFCMP schedule

Contemporary is no idle adjective in the name of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players. Even as the group approaches the half-century mark since its groundbreaking beginnings with the late Jean-Louis LeRoux, SFCMP’s next season is contemporary indeed, with an impressive lineup of today’s classical music and pointing to the future.

SFCMP Artistic Director Eric Dudley is proud of the organization’s 49th season, which features five world premieres, multimedia offerings, distinguished visiting and local guest artists and composers, and several special events and community engagement activities at four different venues in San Francisco and the Bay Area.

Dudley is especially excited about the first concert of the season, “Oceanic Migrations,” on Sept. 14, uniting the Contemporary Players with Splinter Reeds and the Grammy-winning Roomful of Teeth, recently described in The New Yorker as “a kind of lab experiment for the human voice. Its eight singers cover a five-octave range, from grunting lows to dog-whistle highs.

The Roomful of Teeth singers, to join SFCMP for the opening concert, show their instruments

“Three have perfect pitch, all have classical training, and [conductor Brad] Wells has brought in a succession of experts to teach them a bewildering range of other techniques: alpine yodeling, Bulgarian belting, Persian Tahrir, and Inuit and Tuvan throat singing, among others.”

Mainstage presentations at Cowell Theater at Fort Mason Cultural Center, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and The Flight Deck in downtown Oakland will be supplemented by community activity in the Womens’ Building in San Francisco’s Mission district and by SFCMP’s annual masterclass series and educational programs.

Before continuing with future events, let’s take a look at what’s coming up this week, still in the current season: “Guerilla Sounds: Julius Eastman’s Legacy” takes place at SFJAZZ on May 10 and 11, featuring works by Eastman, Sidney Corbett, Myra Melford, Fernanda Aoki Navarro, LJ White, Adam Strawbridge, and Wyatt Cannon.

“How Music is Made” composer talks and music demonstrations precede the concerts with Sidney Corbett on May 10 and Myra Melford on May 11.

Caroline Shaw performs with SFCMP | Credit: Kait Moreno/Caroline Shaw

For the 2019-2020 season, SFCMP is announcing a new series of creative partnerships, naming four artists as creative advisors:

- Vocalist, instrumentalist, and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw

- Guggenheim Fellow, composer, and member of SFJAZZ Collective Edward Simon

- MacArthur Grant recipient, composer, and performer Tyshawn Sorey

- Bay Area artist and recent Rome Prize recipient Pamela Z

Season highlights include commissioned world premieres by Michael Gordon (a concert-length work) and Australian composer David Chisholm; a community music event with the work of Bay Area composer Vivian Fung, including a participatory group composition designed by Jason Treuting; and a multimedia exploration of the work and influence of John Cage and Merce Cunningham, on the centennial of Cunningham’s birth.

“I’m especially looking forward,” Dudley says, “to the original choreography that Antoine Hunter will create with us, since it will bring immediacy and a whole new sensibility to the aesthetic around John Cage and Merce Cunningham’s work.”

Michael Gordon is commissioned for a concert-length work

Of Gordon, Dudley says, “his provocative musical language has helped to tectonically shift the direction of contemporary music over the last couple of decades. His handling of the topic of immigration, especially in the current climate, promises to be deeply considered — and I know that he’s approaching the commission as a kind of reflection on the breadth and history of immigration to this country — with Angel Island as one focal point, and with a number of other touchpoints as well.”

SFCMP pianist Kate Campbell will perform with Hunter, founder and artistic director of the Bay Area International Deaf Dance Festival. The concert includes performances of works by Anna Clyne and Bay Area composers Gloria Justen and David Coll.

Of the world premiere of a multi-media commission by Chisholm, Dudley says:

It will be a special sonic exploration. He plans to frame it as a series of micro-concertos for all of the lower-end extensions of the instruments involved: bass flute, contrabass clarinet, contrabassoon, and double bass, along with extreme low-register writing for harp and piano.

Set against accompanying electronics for four-channel audio, it will create a really unique sound world and an exciting interplay between the digital and the acoustic — and I know his work to be full of contrast and interest and am very much looking forward to what he’ll write for some specific players in the group.”