February 26 - Apocryphal of Lies
Orchestrated XI. What Exactly from Act I of Godot and wrote the sfcv article below.
Will add sound clips to early Mice and Men excerpts plus record above orchestration.
Jon Russell's Up to Some Fine Music
First there was the legendary "Hat's off gentlemen, a genius," said to have
been said by Robert Schuman, in reference to the young Johannes Brahms. Then
there was the apocryphal "Keep your hats on gentlemen, an idiot," bestowed on
the spurious P.D.Q. Bach. The truth lies much closer to the former with regard
to Jonathan Russell, whose dynamic music was heard on February 24, at the
beautiful Recital Hall in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music's impressive
new home at 50 Oak Street.
Russell is a welcome new voice in Bay Area music who has been "focused on
integrating . . . vernacular music of various sorts and minimalism" into his own
endeavors. The results were very happily displayed in an engaging recital
that enlisted many of the SFCM's circle of talent in addition to other first-rate
As a single-reed performer of note, Russell's music is, like many
composer-instrumentalists, informed by his hands on experience, in terms of timbres and
virtuosity. He began in home territory (although foreign to many) with a
sensitive yet pugnacious duet entitled "...and the Beast..." (2006), where he was
joined by fellow bass clarinetist Jeff Anderle as the Sqwonk Duo. Through five
motivically-linked movements, Russell found the beauty in the Beast, as well
as the malevolence and passion, in an essay that seemed to evoke the mysteries
of John Gardner's "Grendel" and other beasties. The interest in evoking
perfectly-tuned intervals of the fifth reflected at once a nice minimal (La Monte
Young, Philip Glass) and medieval consciousness.
"Three Lonely Piano Pieces" (2006) ushered in the highlight of the evening's
enterprises: "Techonobabble" (2007), one of the finest
Pierrot-ensemble-and-percussion pieces that has been heard in quite some time. Aiming to combine
"Latin American dance music, techno dance music, and Minimalist textures" in the
first movement, the composer largely succeeds. This is large-scale, ambitious
music that pleases and finds a balance that neither trivializes nor
de-vitalizes its various influences. Commendations are due all around to flutist Laura
Snodgrass (as our lady of perpetual dancing motion in the third movement);
clarinetist Anderle (who was provided by the composer with the most distinctive
and knowing colors); substantial percussionist Erika Johnson (proving equally
adept at trap set and mallets); and violinist Claude Halter, cellist Hanna
Addario-Berry, and pianist Kate Campbell for overall excellence. Russell proved
a capable conductor of his work in this capacity, and we look forward to his
future activities in this arena as well.
"Runion" (2006) proved to be another basso single-reed outing, in this case
upping the ante by doubling up to four bass clarinetists. The ensemble is
known as Edmund Welles, and consists of group founder Cornelius Boots, plus Aaron
Novick, Anderle, and the composer. They played like they have played for a
time together, and they have -- evincing that kind of ensemble-tightness that
comes from many happy hours in consort. "Runion" rollicked and burped its way
through a variety of territory, yet opened and closed with sustained beauty in
a chorale derived from Charles Mingus. J.S. Bach smiled gently over it all,
despite a title derived from a melding of "red onions" and "Rupelstiltskin."
"Reunion" and "rutting" also came to mind.
The second part of the program was given over to "Night Songs" (2007), which
despite the title and Federico Garcia Lorca settings, called to mind not so
much Bela Bartok and George Crumb, but Russell's own alternative musical
universe. Starting up, and often continuing appropriately enough, in the dark, this
is a dramatic piece that calls for commitment among its various players by
requiring memorized performances and hazardous performer processions in the half
light. It is perhaps a piece only its composer could pull off, being a rather
heterogeneous collection of his various ensemble enthusiasms, that being the
aforementioned Edmund Welles Bass Clarinet Quartet, in addition to Oogog
(Russell's alto sax, joined by electric guitarist Ryan Brown, Josh Campbell, and
electric bassist Damon Waitkus), Duo Fuoco (flutist Snodgrass and guitarist Jacob
Kramer), plus other new-music experts Eric Carter (baritone), Kelcey Gavar
(contralto), Johnson (percussion), Halter and Nicola Drake (violin), Matthew
Davies (viola), and Addario-Berry (cello), all conducted at times by Joseph
If the piece really didn't add up, perhaps it wasn't supposed to. The drama
of the differently-placed ensemble members (Edmund Welles initially in the
balcony, for instance) was intriguing, the opening "Prelude/Chant" evocative.
Various groups were set against each other, but even more convincing were the
more heterogeneously-blended moments, where virtually the entire membership was
allowed to soar or shriek. The composer otter stayed one step ahead of
listeners in terms of setting up and delightfully surprising or thwarting
We look forward to many more works from this fine young composer.