Nauraushan Presbyterian Church
Pearl River, N.Y.
June 14, 1997
In my experience, Newband concerts are totally microtonal or at least in the just intonation of Harry Partch’s 43 notes to the octave. The first half of this concert, focusing on Stefani Starin’s flute playing, had a few pieces that were not microtonal. The opening composition, Katherine Hoover’s Kokopeli, for solo flute had a strong Native American feel. An impressionistic Toward The Sea by Toru Takemitsu (quartertones?) also featured the appropriately liquid harp playing of Nina Kellman. Chansons Madecasses by Maurice Ravel for voice (Sondra Stowe), flute & piccolo (Starin), cello (John Whitfield) and piano (Christopher Oldfather) was the darker section of the program. After the Hoover and Takemitsu, it didn’t do too much for me. I guess I wasn’t in the mood for Ravel.
In classical Indian music, improvisation is all important. But L’Aube Enchantee Sur le Raga Todi by Ravi Shankar is an arrangement of Raga Todi for flute and harp. Even so, the piece was given a spontaneous interpretation by Starin and Kellman.
In 1978 Newband leader Dean Drummond invented and built the Harry Partch inspired zoomoozophone, a 31 tone-to-the octave instrument with 129 aluminum tubes. The instrument is divided into five sections with a total length of 20 feet and can be played by more than one person. After intermission Newband performed Drummond’s arrangements of Partch’s Two Studies on Ancient Greek Scales for zoomoozophone and flute and also ‘Round Midnight by Thelonius Monk for zoomoozophone and pizzicato (plucked) cello. Dominic Donato was the second zoomoozophonist. Even though both of these pieces can be heard on recordings by Newband, don’t miss any opportunity to hear the zoomoozophone. The instrument can be bowed or struck with a mallet and the resulting shimmering glow is heavenly.
Drummond’s Before The Last Laugh started life as a live soundtrack to F.W. Murnau’s silent film of the same name – Der Letzte Mann. Apparently Dean felt that the composition had a life of it’s own as a concert piece. Before The Last Laugh works very well in that function. Stylistically, the piece shows the composer to have his own style that has little in common with Partch except for the tuning and a willingness to push the envelope. Personally, I’d really like to hear this compositon three or four more times.
Drummond was a member of the Partch ensemble in Partch’s final years, appearing on the pathetically out of print Columbia recording of the World of Harry Partch (the recording is stunning, the situation is not). Delusion of the Fury is also long out of print on Columbia. Yo! Columbia! What’s the problem? When CRI releases four cd’s of Partch material in the Fall of ’97, Columbia will be alone in not keeping the music of Harry Partch in print. Hmm…during my rant, I seemed to drift so far from my review that the earth has dwindled to a small speck far below me and all I can see are stars…. (everything seems to be in print in 2011.)
Meanwhile back in Pearl River…
Although Newband has been the caretaker of the Harry Partch instruments since 1990, this was the only work at this concert to use any of the legendary instruments. Nina Kellman and Michael Lipsey performed on harmonic canons, a 44 string zither (or harp). flute – Stefani Starin, cello – John Whitfield, synth – Christopher Oldfather, zoomoozophone and percussion – Frank Cassara and Dominic Donato with composer Dean Drummond conducting.
Picks: Takemitsu, Shankar, Partch, Monk and Drummond.
Newband has three recordings:
The most recent is Dance of the Seven Veils (Music and Arts, CD-931) including Castor and Pollux (Harry Partch), Southern Ephemera (Anne LeBarron), Archipelago (Elizabeth Brown), and Dace of the Seven Veils (Dean Drummond).
Previous recordings include Microtonal Works by (Mode 18) Partch (Two Studies on Ancient Greek Scales), Cage (Haikai for Flute and Zoomoozophone), La Barbara (Silent Scroll), and Drummond (Columbus and Incredible Time (to live and die) and Newband Plays Microtonal Works by (Mode 33) Monk (‘Round Midnight) Mathew Rosenblum (Circadian Rhythms), Drummond (Different Drums for Different Strokes) and Pugliese (Freeze). Newband is also on Julia Wolf’s Steam, a track off the Bang on a Can organizer’s cd Arsenal of Democracy (Point Music)
Originally published on line at Juxtaposion Ezine.