Friday, January 25, 2008

Morton Feldman and the Seattle Art Museum

This weekend is packed with music. The Seattle Chamber Players and On the Boards are featuring a festival of new music from American composers. Commentary and insights are coming from Alex Ross and Kyle Gann, two people who know the most about composers making waves in new music circles. At the same time Seattle Chamber Music will be wowing crowds at Benaroya Hall with more traditional offerings - Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn. Pianist and part time blogger Jeremy Denk, is performing Bach's Goldberg Variations.

Denk's thoughts on the Variations are well documented in a post from earlier this month.
The Goldberg Variations are (intake of breath, flip of hair, reluctant
uprise of gesturing arm) … is there any way out of this? … the Goldberg
Variations are … wait, hold on a moment, we needn’t bother to say, it
transcends saying, it’s effing ineffable! and don’t you know that in
place of speech we should roll our bloodshot eyes at the infinities we
receive through our retinae and via vibrations rammed up our ear canals
… does anyone have a Q-tip? … but here we go, out with it now, the
Goldberg Variations are (don’t just say it you idiot, slight pompous
lift to tone, now, give it some heft, some vavoom!): sublime, perfect, divine, magnificent. Whew. Don’t you feel better, now? Pat me on the back, I may have burped meanwhile.
But an event that has been overlooked is Sunday's all day Morton Feldman marathon at the Seattle Art Museum. Just like the events at On the Boards, new music expert, author and New Yorker critic Alex Ross will participate in a discussion on Morton Feldman's music. Later in the day, surrounded by paintings by Feldman's contemporaries, the Seattle Chamber Players perform Feldman pieces inspired by paintings and painters.

For instance, De Kooning, a piece for violin, piano, horn, percussion and cello, was inspired by watching William De Kooning paint. As is typical of Feldman's music the piece unfolds quietly and purposefully.

Feldman's affinity for the abstract expressionists significantly influenced many of Feldman's longer works from the 1970's including Rothko Chapel and Piano Piece to Philip Guston.

All the pieces on the program span Feldman's compositional output. Nature Pieces, a collection of short piano pieces was written in 1951 not too long after Feldman's first encounter with Anton Webern's Symphony and John Cage. Shortly after this meeting, Feldman moved into an apartment below Cage and began experimenting with Cage inspired musical formulas that cast off standard notation, harmony and even serial technique. Nature Pieces confirms the influence John Cage had on Feldman's music.

By contrast, one of Feldman's last pieces Palais de Mari, synthesizes the qualities of his longer compositions into a much shorter form. Coming in at around twenty four minutes, the work uses all of the elements that make up Feldman's mature style, which closely follows the minimalist sounds of the late 1980's.

Feldman's music and the Seattle Art Museum are perfectly matched. The Seattle Art Museum boasts one of the best collections of modern American art. Less than a year ago, "SAM" reopened sporting a new addition of understated beauty. The architecture's subtlety will surely compliment Feldman's penchant for pianissimo and ethereal dimensions.

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