Covering Feldman, Garland and the Beatles
By Mark Swed
From calendarlive.com (LA Times) - November 14, 2006
Aki Takahashi, who made a rare Los Angeles appearance at REDCAT on Sunday night, is an elegant pianist with an incandescent tone and the patience of a saint. When she brings into being an exquisite, weightless chord and allows it to slowly die out, radiant overtones linger amazingly long in the air like an unforgettable supernatural scent. She is — no surprise — a friend of meditative, abstract, poetic composers in her native Japan and the world over. But she has her quirks. In 1989, she began her "Hyper Beatles" project, persuading John Cage, Kaija Saariaho, Pauline Oliveros, Alvin Lucier, Tan Dun, Terry Riley, Toru Takemitsu and 40 other unlikely experimentalists, East and West, to make arrangements of Beatles songs for her. Takahashi's REDCAT recital was her first local appearance since 1985, when she participated in the world premiere of Morton Feldman's Piano and String Quartet, written for her and the Kronos Quartet and now a classic in the modern chamber repertory. The Beatles were on the agenda Sunday. So was Feldman. But the big work of the evening was the first American performance of Peter Garland's entrancingly peculiar "Waves Breaking on Rocks (Elegy for All of Us)."Written for Takahashi three years ago, the 35-minute score was inspired by the deaths of four of Garland's friends — a poet, playwright, photographer and the composer Lou Harrison.
Garland is a composer from Maine whose career and musical style have been a continual trek southward. He studied at CalArts when it opened in 1971, headed to Santa Fe and then Mexico. Although Garland has since returned to Maine, "Waves" was written in Oaxaca, Mexico, and its style might be considered a kind of Postmodern, Post-Minimalist Copland. It has the feel of the big sky and broad plains. Harmonies are generously consonant, chords spaced to give the feeling of openness. Neither time nor space is a worry. The music has a slow and steady gait, as if determined to be aimless.And, like a sunset over a mesa, "Waves" is ravishingly beautiful. Harrison is remembered in a sweet, churchy Virgil Thomson style. Rising parallel chords near the end are, I suppose, the sound of splashing waves. And is that a faltering "I've Got Rhythm" re-harmonized and slowed down to a new hypnotic rhythm?Garland added a small, Ivesian violin echo to the Harrison movement, and the violinist at REDCAT was composer Marc Sabat, whose unpredictable, mechanical "Nocturne" opened the program.Two 10-minute pieces were tributes to Takahashi's lustrous tone. In Feldman's early "Extensions 3," individual notes became quietly transfixing events. In Somei Satoh's "HASHI IV," which received its world premiere Sunday, complex chords floated erratically. Hashi, Somei wrote in his note, is the dark bridge of innumerable magpies over which, in Japanese legend, the dead use to cross over in the journey from this world to the next.
The Beatles arrangements by Oliveros ("Norwegian Wood"), Akira Nishimura ("Because"), Carl Stone ("She Said She Said") and James Tenney ("Do You Want to Know a Secret" and "Love Me Do") was more a bright bridge of doves, an inspiring crossing over from one musical realm to another.
None of these composers do what you'd expect. Tenney, the CalArts modernist who died earlier this year, is here a hipster. Oliveros, a master of meditative art, becomes a Minimalist. The exquisitely abstract Nishimura turns into a flashy Liszt. Stone, an innovative computer composer, adopts a craggy piano keyboard style. In each case, the Beatles sounded born anew.
EMI needs to make widely available Takahashi's four long-out-of-print CDs of these arrangements once released in Japan (and now selling for hundreds of dollars on the collectors market). We don't all have the patience of a saint.