Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Symphony is looking for a few good guitarists

Actually, the Symphony - the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, that is - is seeking 100 local electric guitarists and bassists.

No, SLSO is not adding a new guitar section, though that in itself is a nice thought for another day. It's recruiting players for a one-off performance with avant-garde composer and musician Glenn Branca.

Branca and SLSO will present his symphony for 100 guitars “Symphony No. 13 (Hallucination City)” at The Pageant, on Thursday, November 13 at 8 p.m. They also will perform the music of Frank Zappa and Edgard Varese - and the world premiere of Branca’s new work, the first movement of his “Symphony No. 14 (The Harmonic Series).”

“This is a completely different piece than what we performed at the former World Trade Center in 2001,” Branca says of "Hallucination City" in an SLSO press release.

“In 2001, I had never done anything like this before, so I had no idea what it would sound like. But I quickly realized that the sound is tremendous and there was a lot that could be done with 100 guitars, so I completely scrapped it and re-wrote it, and that is the piece you will play and hear on November 13th."

A New York Times review described that 2001 concert thusly: "Guitarists played chords or sometimes just notes, in unison, that slowly panned across the orchestra; a single note would be introduced by the basses, then picked up by guitars with a bright tone and completed by guitars with a deeper sound. A mottled swarm of bass would suddenly be sliced by ringing guitar tones, like a lightning bolt coming through darkening skies."

Branca is the inventor of an instrument I have never heard of (the Harmonics Guitar), a founding member of 70's No Wave bands I've never heard of (Theoretical Girls and The Static) and composer of many works I've never heard of - but if SLSO musical director David Robertson booked him, I can assure you he has wonderful things to offer us. (His website features sound samples of his work and video clips of that 2001 performance of "Hallucination City".)

"At the front of the stage Glenn clenches and unclenches, gesturing and gyrating before his ensemble, seemingly drawing wave after wave of sound into being through sheer force of will," a guitarist writes of a past Branca concert he played on in a tour diary. "From where I sit, the sound is awesome, a fierce roar with a halo of harmonics."

If you want on the SLSO gig, you must be able to read standard staff notation and follow a part measure by measure (there goes most of the local rock scene, including this hack chord chopper!).

There will be two rehearsals at Powell Hall: one on November 11 from 2 p.m. until midnight (ouch!), and a second on November 12 from 5 p.m. until midnight. Participants will also attend a sound check at the Pageant on November 13 from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m.

"Although compensation is not possible," says the SLSO PR, "food and drink will be supplied at all rehearsals and at the performance." Yes indeed, folks, this sounds like the old deal for opening acts at Cicero's basement: beer, pizza and "exposure." At least we're used to it.

Interested? contact Glenn Branca at for a detailed information sheet.
The Branca concert is part of the Saint Louis SymphonyOrchestra’s first Guitar Festival, a week of performances by guitarists Steve MacKay, Jason Vieaux, John Patitucci and violinist Leila Josefowicz.

Tickets for all performances may be purchased online at, by phone at 314-534-1700 or in person at 718 North Grand Blvd.

Photo of a rehearsal for a previous performance of "Hallucination City" from a guitarist's Flickr site.

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