Jonathan Wilkes is a graduate student in theory and composition at UC Davis. He earned a B.A. in music from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Piano Performance.
Articles by this Author
I don't understand the impetus behind many of the "themed" new music programs that are so prevalent. In 2006, for example, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players offered a program called "Blood and Glamour," which, despite some enjoyable electroacoustic music, featured neither blood nor glamour. Other Minds has its Séance series, consisting of three Saturday concerts performed in the amicable and cozy atmosphere of the Swedenborgian Church of San Francisco.
According to the bio for composer Mario Diaz de León in the latest program of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, heard Monday night in Herbst Theatre, he has achieved "fluency with a huge spectrum of musical effects, ranging from the most delicate chiaroscuro to the blinding intensity of the supernova, the black hole, and the eclipse."
Since I'm reviewing a concert with an overt (and laudable) political theme — BluePrint's Saturday evening concert at the San Francisco Conservatory, titled "The Urgency of Now ..." — I think it appropriate to ask a decidedly political but often ignored question: Why make a distinction between students and professionals in a concert program?
The Adorno Ensemble broke new ground at the de Young Museum on Friday, May 30, presenting musical, scholarly, and literary "Odes to Neruda." The Koret Auditorium, part of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, is a comfy little venue with giant padded seats. It feels like a library reading room that has been tiered steeply toward a stage. Cynthia Mei, Adorno's violinist and emcee for the evening, also played the role of stage manager, corralling various performers and presenters for an eclectic evening.
The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players performed its first concert of 2008 on Monday. Some last-minute changes to the program affected its theme, as the “Strongbox of American Music” was pried open to accommodate British and French composers who live in the U.S. But judging from the response, the audience didn’t mind the breach of security.
Programming contemporary works with standard repertoire seems tricky: The danger is that the new, unfamiliar piece might easily sound like commentary on the towering masterwork. (Imagine if a writer were forced to publish a novel as a foreword to Joyce’s Ulysses.)
A piano exhibits grand qualities: a sizable range, effortless intonation, and an immense harmonic palette. Yet the instrument has always been impaired by a tragic flaw — for all the discrete steps of its glorious black and white facade, it cannot produce sounds that glide smoothly and sweetly between any two of its 88 tempered tones. The cracks between the keys belie this solitary character, and for every key struck, whether by virtuoso fingertips or your cat's paw, the sounding note hopelessly decays toward infinity without ever truly connecting with another.