Harry Partch’s Oedipus
Metropolitan Museum of Art
April 24, 1997
Harry Partch’s third and final version of Oedipus had it’s premiere at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 24, 1997. Many are unfamiliar with this work because excerpts have been only been available on out of print Gate 5 recordings. Except for a cassette of a murky Gate 5 recording, this was my first experience with this piece.
Joe Garcia (bass) as Oedipus cut though to the last seat (where I was) while some of the other actors were only notable in that they were impossible to hear. The actors read from scores. One might assume that this was because a lack of funds for a proper rehearsal.
There were some instruments that I’ve never seen or heard NewBand use in live performance. The custom made Tenor Violin is a substitution for the Adapted Violin. Twice during the performance, vertically challenged Theban stage hands trotted out with a stool and a music stand. Tenor violinist Gregory Hesselink’s accompanying parts were almost solos beneath the dialog.
When I visited an open house at the NewBand studio a while ago, I pressed my stomach against the side of the Marimba Eroica to feel/hear the instrument. This contrabass marimba produces notes so low that the room becomes part of the instrument. At the Met there was plenty of room for this instrument to be heard and plenty of opportunities in Oedipus for the Marimba Eroica to be thumped. The Adapted Guitars were also there, amplified to be heard above the ensemble. For most of the 90 minute piece, the music took a back seat to the dialog. There were textures that I haven’t heard elsewhere in Partch’s music: simple pre-minimalist plucking and strumming that didn’t divide the listener’s attention from the story. During the coda, the ensemble roared to life in typical Partch splendor. Hopefully NewBand director Dean Drummond has the financing to take these actors and musicians into the studio for a recording before they all go their separate ways.
Originally published on line at Juxtaposion Ezine.