Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond
March 25, 2012
Friday brought an unintentional coda to this month’s Piatigorsky International Cello Festival, which had wrapped up its final performances the Sunday before. The festival brought together dozens of world class cellists from all over the world for a huge variety of concerts, recitals and master classes featuring everything from Bach to Ligeti. Yet there was little in those two weeks that would have prepared us for the sound world that cellist Frances-Marie Uitti brought to the REDCAT on Friday night. Chicago-born Uitti is above all else a trailblazer. A composer herself, she advocates for new music and is known for developing her own extended techniques for playing, including the use of two bows in a single hand simultaneously greatly expanding the amount and types of sounds she can produce from a standard cello. She has written and commissioned new works to explore the sound world created with these approaches, a few of which were featured in Friday’s program. When it comes to rethinking the cello, Uitti wrote the book. And it's expected to be published by The University of California Press in the not too distant future.
Much of Friday’s program featured works from the last 10 years by young composers, some of whom are California-based, including Michael Jon Fink, Gregory Moore, Karen Tanaka, Lisa Bielawa, and Ken Ueno. Both the Moore and Fink works were receiving their world premieres. Many of the pieces used a variety of electronically processed and prerecorded elements including, most provocatively, Moore’s Three Safe Places in which Uitti accompanies her own prerecorded voice describing a semi-autobiographical history of her own view of safety. Moore uses the cello sound to play with sound qualities of natural speech in what was one of the evening's highlights. Uitti's two-bow playing technique was featured in several works including Fink's A Folio of Large and Small Worlds Ending, which also featured assistance from several other CalArts players.
Perhaps the most compelling moments of the show, though, were the pieces that bookended the night, both composed by what Uitti herself referred to as old Europeans. British composer Jonathan Harvey has crafted several works for Uitti, and Curve with Plateau delivers a big punch with relatively simple terms. The solo part transverses the tonal range of the cello from low to high and back again as a simple metaphor for the range of human experience from physical to spiritual. Uitti manages the more delicate and fleeting parts of the piece without any hesitation giving the work a unity it cried out for. The night ended with a work from another long-time collaborator, the always unusual Giacinto Scelsi. Ygghur is the final segment of Trilogia an autobiographical work Scelsi intensely worked on for over a decade with Uitti while she lived in Rome. (She has performed the piece everywhere and recorded it for ECM.) Ygghur is the reflective summation of the larger work using a unique tuning and often reiterating single notes over and over again with only moderate changes in attack and timbre. Uitti's experience with the work again imbued it with a much broader sense of importance and cohesiveness than one might expect in other hands. It was a stunning close to a fascinating show from someone who isn't just a part of the world of cellists but is slowly changing the parameters of what that constitutes.