Over the past several years the members of the sfSoundGroup have visited the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) Concert Hall to give recitals in a program series entitled Small Packages. These were based on a call-and-response organization. The first program in the series, performed in January of 2010, featured György Ligeti’s “Chamber Concerto” for thirteen instruments (which he completed in 1970); and the “responses” were short pieces commissioned for ten composers to prepare using one or more of the instruments in the Ligeti ensemble. This was followed in March of 2011 by Small Packages 2.0 (Beta). The parenthesis was probably intended to reflect that fact that, in this case, the “call” was an indeterminate graphic score, “December 1952,” one of the seven pieces that Earle Brown collected under the title Folio; and the “responses” were provided by eight students in the SFCM Composition Department, all given complete freedom to determine how they would use Brown’s score as a point of departure.
Next month sfSoundGroup will return to SFCM with a new installment in the Small Packages series. This time the “call” will come from two different works by composers whose approaches to making music differed significantly. The first of these is “Kontra-Punkte,” completed in 1953, which Karlheinz Stockhausen listed as the first entry in his personal catalog of works. His own description of this music, which is included on the Wikipedia page for the composition, is as follows:
… a series of the most concealed and also the most conspicuous transformations and renewals—with no predictable end. The same thing is never heard twice. Yet there is a distinct feeling of never falling out of an unmistakable construction of the utmost homogeneity. An underlying force that holds things together—related proportions: a structure. Not the same Gestalten in a changing light. But rather this: various Gestalten in the same light, that permeates everything.
The “lexical primitives” for the creation of this piece are pitch classes, durations, dynamic levels, and six categories of timbres provided by the ten instruments for which the work is scored.
The second composition was written by Gérard Grisey, who studied with both Ligeti and Stockhausen in Darmstadt in 1972. Perhaps in reaction to the fact that much of his study at Darmstadt tended to focus on new ways to work with the notation of music, Grisey chose a different direction in which he chose to ground his own “lexical primitives” on the physical properties of sound and the representation of those properties through the constructs of mathematical physics. This approach came to be known as “musique spectrale” (spectral music); and, over the course of a relatively short life (Grisey died of an aneurysm at the age of 52 in 1998), he created a six-piece cycle called Les espaces acoustiques (the acoustic spaces). The second of these, “Périodes” (periods), composed in 1974 for flute, clarinet, trombone, violin, viola, cello, and bass, will serve as the second “call” for the next Small Packages concert.
There will be five “responses” to these two “calls.” Four of them will be by sfSoundGroup members: cellist Monica Scott, saxophonist John Ingle, clarinetist Matt Ingalls, and oboist Kyle Bruckmann. As sfSoundGroup performers, all four of them all well versed in dealing with complex notation (including indeterminate graphics), extended performance techniques, and improvisation. The fifth contributing composer will be Christopher Burns, well acquainted with the physics of sound through his past work as Technical Director of the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) at Stanford University. Burns now teaches music composition and technology at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.
This new installment of Small Packages will take place at 8 p.m. on Sunday, August 24. The performance will again be given in the SFCM Concert Hall at 50 Oak Street, a short walk from the Van Ness Muni station. Tickets will be sold for $15 with a special $8 rate for the underemployed.