Monday, November 10, 2008

No mercy in disharmony, no pity in screaming

One of the helpful PR people at The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra told me yesterday which Frank Zappa and Edgard Varese pieces are on the program Thursday night, along with Glenn Branca's symphony for 100 guitars “Symphony No. 13 (Hallucination City)” and the world premiere of Branca’s new work, the first movement of his “Symphony No. 14 (The Harmonic Series).”

The Zappa piece is "G-Spot Tornado." This is a really exciting piece of music. If you only follow one of the links I'm building into this piece, please go watch the Ensemble Modern performance, with Zappa conducting and two modern dancers knocking themselves out (almost, literally). This suggests what the SLSO is up against in performing this difficult piece of music.

Google also has turned up an old-school video to Zappa's own recording of "G-Spot Tornado" on a now-outmoded instrument, the synclavier. "Machines don't get drunk, stoned, or fired and don't need help to carry their families with them from here to everywhere in cases of emergency," Zappa remarked, sourly, in explaining his turn away from live musicians and toward a machine. Ensemble Modern - and, I predict, the SLSO - show that the living, breathing characters (that sometimes get drunk, stoned and/or fired) do a much better job.

The Varese piece on the program is "Arcana". has a recording of the piece streaming for free. I can see why Zappa loved this guy. A review of the 1927 premiere of "Arcana" by the Philadelphia Orchestra noted, “There was no mercy in its disharmony, no pity in its succession of screaming, clashing, clangorous discords. A series of gunpowder explosions might similarly overawe the ear.” To which I would only add, Not that that's a bad thing.

SLSO musical director David Robertson is conducting the Zappa and Varese pieces and the Branca premiere. As a special treat, David will play one of the 100 guitars in "Hallucination City," while John Myers conducts. Steve Mackey and John Patitucci also will join the guitar orchestra.

All this wild disharmony and hallucinations of guitars will go down this Thursday, November 13 at 8 p.m. at The Pageant, 6161 Delmar. Tickets are available online.


Portrait of Zappa by Romanian artist Lucian Tidorescu.

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