MACRO/MICRO explores place and perspective. Zoom around the planet and experience music through differing frames of reference—from nosebleed heights and otherworldly realms down to the minutest cellular level.
SoundBox opens at the horizon line.
HAYDN Adagio–Allegro, from Symphony No. 6, Le Matin 1761 | 6 mins
This is the opening work of a triptych of “Times of the Day” symphonies: No. 6, Le Matin (The Morning); No. 7, Le Midi (The Noon); and No. 8, Le Soir (The Evening). Le Matin opens with a sunrise, with the violins entering as softly as possible then slowly expanding to include the full group in a brilliant blaze of sound. This breaks immediately into a rollicking section that sees the flute taking charge, then passing off the melody to the oboe . . . these are the first of many solos that will jump out during this piece. Unpredictability was always a potent weapon in Haydn’s arsenal, and we are treated to an unexpected, smile-inducing moment when the horn plays a “false start” before the flute and strings properly take over—it's not a mistake!
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Bredon Hill, from On Wenlock Edge 1909/1924 | 7 mins
Vaughan Williams used poetry from English poet A.E. Housman’s collection A Shropshire Lad as the text for this song cycle. The final effect is an ingenuous balance of English sophistication and plain down-to-earthness, thanks to the composer's clever instrumental effects and his no-fuss setting of the words to music.
CHRISTOPHER ROUSE Ku-Ka-Ilimoku 1978 | 5 mins
Christopher on Ku-Ka-Ilimoku: In Hawaiian mythology, Ku is perhaps the most fundamental and important of gods, occupying a place similar to that of Zeus in Greek mythology or Odin in Norse legend. Ku is manifested in several forms: as Ku-Ka-Ilimoku he represents the god of war. Thus this work for percussion ensemble is best viewed as a savage, propulsive war dance. Hawaiian chants are often based on as few as two pitches, and Hawaiian percussion emphasizes short, repetitive patterns. Underlying this surface simplicity is a wealth of subtle rhythmic inflection and variation. Rouse incorporates this diversity to great effect, creating a tightly knit, exhilarating work. Although indigenous instruments are not employed, the timbre of their voices is evoked. The dynamic power of the Western instruments adds an intense level of ferocity to the proceedings.—Reprinted by kind permission of Christopher Rouse
Our second act whisks us off to South America through musical depictions of folk and mythological scenes.
GABRIELA LENA FRANK Milagrito—Danza de Tingo María and Milagrito—Sombras de Amantaní, from Milagros 2010 | 4 mins
Gabriela offers her portrayal of the selections performed tonight as follows: Milagros (Miracles) is inspired by my mother’s homeland of Perú. It has been a remarkable, often difficult, yet always a joyous experience for me to visit, again and again, this small Andean nation that is home to not only foggy desert coasts but also Amazonian wetlands. Usually a religious and marvelous occurrence, milagro here refers to the sights and sounds of Perú’s daily life, both past and present, that I’ve stumbled upon in my travels. While probably ordinary to others, to me, as a gringa-latina, they are quietly miraculous.
Milagrito—Danza de Tingo María (Dance of Tingo María): As one who avoids the largely impenetrable selvas, or jungles, I did take away a strong impression of this border jungle town as lively and cacophonous. The relentless rhythm and the melodic line of pizzicatos inspired by water drums drive this movement.
Milagrito—Sombras de Amantaní (Shadows of Amantaní): The remarkable starry nights of this barren island in Lake Titicaca between Perú and Bolivia made for eerie shadows that I could not dodge on my nocturnal walks.—Gabriela Lena Frank
OSVALDO GOLIJOV Lúa Descolorida, from La Pasíon Según San Marcos 2000 | 6 mins
Osvaldo Golijov’s La Pasíon según San Marcos is a Spanish-language adaptation of the Saint Mark Passion. The composer offers these comments: I want to record—like Rembrandt recorded the Jews—I want to record the Christians, simply that. For instance, my great grandmother had a picture of “Jeremiah Lamenting the Fall of Jerusalem” by Rembrandt—it's the greatest Jewish picture ever, and he was not a Jew, but he lived amongst them—I cannot aspire to be Rembrandt but if at least one section of the Passion has the truth about Christianity that Rembrandt's paintings have about Judaism, I'll be all right—that's enough.
Lúa descolorida (Moon, colorless) depicts Peter’s lament after having denied Jesus, defining despair in a way that is simultaneously tender and tragic. The musical setting is a constellation of clearly defined symbols that affirm contradictory things, becoming in the end a suspended question mark. The song is at once a slow-motion ride in a cosmic horse, an homage to Couperin's melismas in his Lessons of Tenebrae, and velvet bells coming from three different churches. In tonight’s SoundBox setting, the singer appeals to the pale moon for it to take her spirit away from the pains of the world.—Osvaldo Golijov
GABRIELA LENA FRANK Chasqui and Coqueteos, from Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout 2001 | 6 mins
Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout draws inspiration from the idea of mestizaje as envisioned by Peruvian writer José María Arguedas, where cultures can coexist without the subjugation of one by the other. As such, this piece mixes elements from the western classical and Andean folk music traditions.
Chasqui depicts a legenday figure from the Inca period, the chasqui runner, who sprinted great distances to deliver messages between towns separated from one another by the Andean peaks. The chasqui needed to travel light. Hence, I take artistic license to imagine his choice of instruments to be the charango, a high-pitched cousin of the guitar, and the lightweight bamboo quena flute, both of which are featured in this movement.
Coqueteos is a flirtatious love song sung by gallant men known as romanceros. As such, it is direct in its harmonic expression, bold, and festive. The romanceros sing in harmony with one another against a backdrop of guitars which I think of as a vendaval de guitarras (storm of guitars).—G.L.F.
Tonight’s final act features music that has gone where no man has gone before. In 1977, NASA sent two probes—Voyager 1 and Voyager 2—on an interstellar mission. NASA described the mission like this: “Both Voyagers are headed towards the outer boundary of the solar system in search of the heliopause, the region where . . . the beginning of interstellar space can be sensed. The heliopause has never been reached by any spacecraft." In 2013, NASA confirmed that Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 had officially left our solar system. Each of the Voyagers were equipped with a message for intelligent beings that might exist beyond the cosmos. Among the messages on The Golden Record was “Music from Earth," which featured both J.S. Bach pieces performed here tonight.
J.S. BACH Gavotte en Rondeau, from Partita No. 3 in E Major for Solo Violin, BWV 1006 1720 | 3 mins
Whomever first played Johann Sebastian Bach’s violin partitas must have been a virtuoso of exorbitant abilities, capable of negotiating the formidable technical demands, which Bach employs lavishly to express rich polyphonic textures. To a large extent, these works draw on the soloist's mastery of the art of illusion. The violin is at heart a melody instrument, and although it has four strings and is therefore physically capable of sounding more than one note concurrently, it can only do so within limits. Bach deftly provides the violinist with music full of challenges and possibilities that call for a truly adept, imaginative violinist. His Partita No. 3 in E major for Solo Violin includes the famous Gavotte en Rondeau movement played tonight, in which a foursquare, rustic theme alternates with contrasting episodes.
J.S. BACH Prelude and Fugue No. 1 in C Major, from Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, BMV 870 1740 | 5 mins
At thirty-seven, J.S. Bach completed a massive project to which he gave this grand title <<deep breath>>: “THE WELL-TEMPERED CLAVIER, or Preludes and Fugues through all the tones and semitones both as regards the tertia major or Ut Re Mi, and as concerns the tertia minor or Re Mi Fa. For the Use and Profit of Musical Youth Desirous of Learning, as well as for the Pastime of those Already Skilled in this Study, drawn up and written by Johann Sebastian Bach, Capellmeister to his Serene Highness the Prince of Anhalt-Cöthen, etc., and Director of His Chamber Music. Anno 1722.” In short, a set of preludes and fugues, one in each major and each minor key. The expressive range of Well-Tempered Clavier is wide and held in the highest esteem (by listeners and potential aliens alike). Tonight we hear the Prelude and Fugue No. 1 in C Major: The prelude, a gracefully flowing dance, introduces a fine, sturdy fugue with a forthright theme broken by a brief rest that helps keep the texture transparent.
We close SoundBox at the cellular level, with composer (and SoundBox curator) Mason Bates’s depiction of the development of computer circuitry based on the architecture of the human brain.
MASON BATES The Rise of Exotic Computing 2013 | 12 mins
Mason on The Rise of Exotic Computing: This short and visceral sinfonietta was inspired by the notion of synthetic or exotic computing, which allows for computer code to grow itself in a kind of organic way. Hence the motifs of the piece quickly spread from instrument to instrument as the piece unfolds in an infectious manner. Like a self-replicating synthetic computer, the material of this work insidiously jumps from instrument to instrument. It was premiered by members of the Pittsburgh Symphony in a club called Static, so it lives quite close to the world of techno.—Mason Bates
IT’S OVER. FOR NOW. See you at the next SoundBox on February 10 & 11: Emergent.
Jeanette Yu is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.