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Triple Play at Café Du Nord

Classical Revolution

Date: Mon November 30, 2009 8:00pm

Two things in common among the three acts to be featured at San Francisco’s Café du Nord at the end of November are telegraphed in the hyphen-heavy of the Classical Revolution event: “A Triple-Bill of Post-Classical Composer Ensembles.” But there’s a third, perhaps more revealing element. All three composers — Matt McBane, George Hurd, and Jack Curtis Dubowsky — have written for film. Indeed, there’s something in their various connections of classical forms and instrumentation to electronic and computerized devices and rock and improvisation that evokes visual imagery, and at times might even be enhanced by it.

For the retro-noir movie The Paw, McBane deployed prepared piano, trumpet, and string orchestra. He has also composed for choreographers and founded the Carlsbad Music Festival in San Diego County, devoted to what’s called “alternative classical music.” Within his Brooklyn-based band Build, which he's bringing to the Cafe du Nord and Northern California for the very first time, McBane plays violin. Perhaps the most acoustic and least electronically dependent of the triple-bill groups, Build has been located by the New York Times as "a stone's throw from chamber music," with the stone coming somewhere between rock and Reich. Some of Build’s haunting, artfully layered shorter pieces have been employed as interstitial music by NPR.

San Francisco-based George Hurd has created what might be termed Smooth New Music for dramatic and documentary film, as well as for local theatrical productions. He further explores these shimmery acoustics with his George Hurd Ensemble, bonding string instruments with piano and electronics. He grew up in Chicago playing drums and viola, before extending his interest to drum machines and other synthesizing devices.

The films for which Jack Curtis Dubowsky has created scores have showcased homosexual themes from dramatic and comic perspectives. The music of his Ensemble features a strong foundation of drum (Fred Morgan) and bass (Dubowsky), under imaginative synthesizer patterns (also worked by Dubowsky), with expressive and sometimes rib-tickling input from trombone and a vocal effects processor (Hall Goff). The bicoastal composer studied composition at the San Francisco Conservatory and writes and teaches about both music and film at New York University.

Jeff Kaliss has written about opera and other classical forms for the Marin Independent-Journal and The Oakland Tribune. He is based in San Francisco, and also covers jazz, world music, country, rock, film, theater, and other entertainment. The second edition of his authorized biography of Sly & the Family Stone was published by Backbeat Books.


I would venture to say the reason all three have written for film says much about artistic and musical opportunities for American composers today. Believe me, we would love to get more commissions from ballet companies, theatre groups, touring soloists, and orchestras. While film and media work is also difficult to get (and very time consuming, taking away the chance to work on other pieces), at least it's something creative and productive. Britten, Prokofiev, Glass, Muhly, Corigliano, Goldenthal, Bach, and Beethoven have all written for film. (Oh, Bach and Beethoven? Have you seen The Paper Chase or A Clockwork Orange?)

To me, one interesting thing is how film music may differ (or not) from a composer's concert music, or music they perform themselves. Or how one composer like Sakamoto might travel from the pop world (YMO) to the concert world, while another might make the journey in reverse (Barber? Adagio for Strings William Orbit remix?).

OK. Now for the obligatory links!

The Ensemble myspace page
The Ensemble album:
Soundtrack (since you mentioned it): That Man Peter Berlin
Rock Haven