Last night guitarist Giacomo Fiore returned to the Old First Concerts series at Old First Church for what was mostly a solo recital involving a repertoire that stretched back only about 35 years. The first half of his performance was on acoustic guitar, followed by three electric guitar selections after the intermission. The first of these included a duet with Larry Polansky, composer of the music being performed.
Interestingly enough, Polansky was responsible for the oldest and newest works on the program. For the acoustic portion Fiore presented his early (1978) “…getting rid of the glue….” The phrase comes from Henry Cowell’s description of John Cage and his “New York School” colleagues with specific regard to their rejection of classical structures as devices to bring coherence to their compositions.
The intermission was followed by the world premiere of two of Polansky’s “translations” for electric guitar of the music of earlier composers. The source for the first of these was a hymn by William Billings, in the course of which Fiore sang the hymn itself against Polansky’s paraphrase. The second was the far more ambitious “Angels,” scored for six muted trumpets by Carl Ruggles. After realizing that trying to account for six trumpets with six guitar strings would be a bit much, Polansky composed this “translation” as a duet, performing the second part with Fiore last night.
Both the acoustic and electronic selections were engaging. Fiore clearly enjoys performing Polansky’s music, and even the older piece shows considerable inventiveness without feeling the need to go overboard on dissonance or provocative sonorous effects. My only regret is that this music is not performed more often, allowing listeners to become more familiar with both the logic and the rhetoric behind Polansky’s approach to composition, so it is good that he has a champion in Fiore.
The other premiere on the program was the first West Coast performance of a composition discovered through Internet search. “Sparks” was composed by Dai Fujikura, a native of Japan now based in London. It makes extensive use of upper harmonics resulting from touching the string lightly at critical nodal points. These are the “sparks” that emanate from the strings, less “visible” when those strings are plucked in the usual manner. The work is thus a relatively quiet study in contrasts given a sensitive interpretation by Fiore.
The overall repertoire ranged from relatively conventional offerings, such as Peter Sculthorpe’s “From Kakadu,” with its evocations of the Australian landscape, and the Ciacona movement from Aaron Jay Kernis’ partita to the more avant-garde offerings of Christian Wolff and Lanier Sammons. Both “From Kakadu” and Wolff’s “Another Possibility” had been performed at Fiore’s Tangents Contemporary Guitar Series recital last August. On that occasion I was struck by Wolff’s approach to exploring the sonorities of the electric guitar. This time I was more interested in the extent to which he introduced an element of indeterminacy, writing exact pitches on the first page but specifying only the strings to be plucked on the second.
The most unique work on the program was Sammons’ “Pollical Variations,” described as being “for guitar and audience.” The score is a collection of short pieces, each of which concludes with a vamp transition. During that transition the audience is asked to vote (Facebook-style with raised and lowered thumbs) on what was just played. The result of the vote then determined the piece that Fiore next selected. The entire process was facilitated by a laptop, which displayed the score for each piece and responded to a keystroke indicating the result of the vote (assessed visually by Fiore) to determine what would be displayed. This amounted to an amusing bit of boundary-breaking with at least some sense of how what was being performed reflected a democratic assessment of taste.