American Festival of Microtonal Music
May 27, 1999
Columbia University’s St. Paul’s Chapel
by David Beardsley
The combined tone colors of Anastasia Solberg’s viola and Greg Evans French Horn filled Columbia University’s St. Paul’s Chapel with Anton Rovner’s quarter tone Appel a deux. A dense rich work by this new microtonalist.
The next set was performed by the virtuoso AFMM quartet of Andrew Bolotowsky, flute, Michiyo Suzuki, clarinet, Anastasia Solberg, viola and AFMM director Johnny Reinhard, bassoon. Four works, spanning almost a thousand years and showing extreme tuning techniques. From the anonymous Pythagorean Hymnus und Organum (1000) and Coimbra Manuscript (1500) to the more recent Free Music, V.2 (Percy Granger, 1939) and the more extreme 31tet of Ivan Wyschnegradsky’s Etude Ultracromatique (1959) – this was an amazingly twisted programing decision. Also very good programing decision!
An early Harry Partch piece, Potion Scene (1931) was expertly performed by soprano Meredith Borden and violist Solberg. An amazing performance, there was no doubt that this was Partch! Originaly written during the same period as the Li Po songs for vocalist Rudolphine Radil, Partch rarely performed or even recorded this setting from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
A solo bassoon piece in 48tet for master bassoonist Johnny Reinhard by Joseph Person slid around target pitches and microtones hung in space due to the resonant ambience of St. Pauls. I hope this piece remains in Reinhard’s solo repertoire, I’d like to hear it again and it deserves to be heard again.
Finally, AFMM regular Skip LaPlante, tuned percussion performed Camping in the Backyard, a five movement 17tet masterpiece. Joining LaPlante, Bolotowsky and Reinhard was Mathew Fields on string bass. A joyous romp around the yard, my favorite was Raunchy Blues.
Lastly, I’d like to point out the amazing musicanship displayed by the AFMM musicans. Every year they effortlessly perform a stylistically wide range of music in a wide range or tunings. From alternate equal temperaments (today’s 17, 24, 31, 48) to the whole number ratios of just intonation (Partch’s 43 tones) and beyond, they make performing this music accurately seem easy.
I’m already looking forward to this falls AFMM Orchestral performances in October 1999.
Originally published on line at Juxtaposion Ezine.