Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Innovative “In C” Coming to Yerba Buena Gardens

As a rule I am not particularly big on outdoor concerts. The acoustics are rarely up for seriously attentive listening, meaning that the experience tends to be more on the social side than the musical one. Nevertheless, there are exceptions; and this summer presented us with one of the best of them in last month’s offering by SFJAZZ, in conjunction with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, of John Luther Adams’ “Inuksuit.” This was, after all, a score for 9 to 99 percussionists, who begin in a central location and then are supposed to disperse themselves across a vast outdoor space. At last month’s performance that space was Lands End, and Adams’ conception of an open-ended score realized in an extended outdoor setting could not have been better served.

Regular readers also know that I try to set aside the time to sample some of the outdoor offerings in the annual Yerba Buena Gardens Festival (YBGF). One is surrounded by imposing masses of man-made architecture; and, during this particular summer, that visual factor is being reinforced by the ongoing ambient sounds of the latest construction projects. This is not the best of settings for encountering a promising young soprano or even an innovatively eclectic jazz combo; but, as the hyperlinks reveal, I was there to experience both and take them in as musical, rather than merely social, events.

However, next month, as YBGF runs towards the conclusion of this season’s schedule, it will host an offering that is closer in spirit to Adams than to Jenny Lind or that “border region” between jazz and soul. That offering will be a performance of “In C,” another open-ended score, this time composed by Terry Riley. It would not be unfair to say that “In C” was one of the most revolutionary contributions to the aesthetic shift that began to take place in the early Sixties. The score consists simply of 53 short numbered musical phrases, and it may be played by any number of performers on instruments of their choosing. Among the pieces that have come to be called “minimalist” (for better or worse), “In C” may be the one that has received the most performances by the largest number of different ensembles.

With all that as context, next month’s YBGF offering is likely to be a significantly unique approach to playing the piece. That is because the performers will be Brooklyn Raga Massive, which was co-founded by Sameer Gupta, who used to be based here in San Francisco. This is a group that is inspired by Indian Classical Music and the instruments involved in performing that music; but it takes that foundation as a point of departure for new approaches to music-making, which includes a weekly Raga Music Jam Session and a recent “Coltrane Raga Tribute” concert. Over the past three years this group has been performing “In C” with traditional Indian instruments; and, when they come to visit San Francisco next month, they will bring “In C” to YBGF in a performance that will also include members of San Francisco’s own Classical Revolution. The result should be engagingly consistent with Riley’s personal aesthetic, which has frequently involved approaches to synthesize Western and Eastern perspectives.

from the Facebook Events Web page

This performance will begin at 1 p.m. on Saturday, September 16. Yerba Buena Gardens has a street address of 760 Howard Street. This is the northwest corner of Third Street, and the grounds of the Gardens extend to the north and to the west. The stage for most YBGF concerts is situated roughly to the west of the entrance to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which is on the other side of Third Street. All YBGF events are free, but donations are collected at the conclusion of every performance.