Thursday, August 20, 2009
The August 11 performances at Christ Church Cathedral of John Burke's Labyrinth music were a success. Both performances sold out (likely because only 100 tickets sold for each). The continuous performance, in about a dozen sections, created an intense experience, as the music journeyed from simple minimalism to rather more intense musical surprises. Due to the repetition of musical material for long stretches of time with minimal or gradual changes in texture, the sudden changes to a new section had a similar effect to a Philip Glass score, but the harmonic movement is entirely a different beast, taking this music to a place rather far removed from the OpArt-related Glass style.
Today's entry reports my thoughts on the first performance of "La Sombra Espiral" for guitar and string quartet. This special event required that I sit on stage in the orchestra waiting to play for 40 minutes! For a number of reasons, that became a rather unnerving experience. First of all, it was my first participation as musician in this ritual event, and I had essentially no idea how "La Sombra" would sit in the overall concept. Then there is the first performance jitters, which are to be expected.
It is an unusual thing for classical musicians to perform while people engage in any activity other than concentrated concert-hall listening, especially with music designed to engage the listener in a special way, as Burke's music does. So as I sat for 40 minutes watching people walk the labyrinth – which sometimes became quite crowded – I thought about how they might be dividing their concentration. Would they bump into each other if they got lost listening to the music while walking? Would they be able to listen and pay attention to the walking? With the labyrinth so full of people for the first half of the performance, I became convinced that it may have been a wise decision to limit the number of people who could actually walk the labyrinth at any one time. Then, a surprising thing happened: as soon as it was my turn to play, the labyrinth was suddenly empty. This completely changed the atmosphere in the room, as now everyone was seated and it felt just like a regular concert. So suddenly, all eyes were on the musicians. Okay: normal concert now… Strangely, I had prepared myself to play the piece to motivate labyrinth walkers: now it was just a regular concert!
The second performance at 9 p.m. was much better than the first for all the usual reasons, but also because the labyrinth had the perfect number of people on it when my piece came around. Having bult up certain expectations the first time around which were not realized in the first performance, I was ready for the ideal conditions of the second and so was quite pleased with how things went. And the first performance jitters were behind me.
I think John Burke's labyrinth music project is very special. It posits to help those who attend to achieve a catharsis, or to "work through personal issues." The event needs to be presented and handled in a very sensitive way – as it was here, with the possible exception of the traffic problem mentioned above – that is informed by the feedback of those who attend the event. In this way, it can build a dedicated following for a special type of sensitive music-lover who may also be seeking to attend the event to reflect on their own existence. In this way, it is not so far removed from the goals of those who attend performances of the more serious works from the classical music canon.