In the latest issue of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) journal, Senza Sordino, the Oregon Symphony’s ICSOM delegate, piccolo player Zachariah Galatis, wrote eloquently of the ennui that accompanied our recent ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement. I won’t go into it, he describes everything quite well in the article, but I’ll just say this about how the settlement looks to me, in terms of respect to the musicians:
The musicians of an orchestra are the socks and underwear of the budget line items. Necessary, not exciting. Spend as little as you can get away with on them.
Do you remember the People Mover from Future World at Disneyland? It was a wonderful idea. Little trains of self-contained cars that were envisioned to whisk 1950’s nuclear families to their destinations in style, while allowing them to read, nap, or just enjoy the scenery, free of the onerous duty of driving. Steven Mackey’s 1997 piece “Humble River” is much like that now defunct People Mover. Mackey himself described the piece, which is meant to be performed with portions of the Mozart Flute Quartets interspersed between its movements, as “a river with islands of Mozart.” There are some wonky music theory concepts that bind the Mozart and the Mackey together, but one doesn’t need to know those to enjoy them both. Instead, see the Mozart ensemble as both salve and muse to the Mackey ensemble. Mozart encourages Mackey to sing, which he never quite does, but instead he responds with ever greater rhythmic vitality. The Mackey contains a set of ideas, presented primarily in the opening Prelude, which set the tone for the rest of the piece. There is a texture which he calls “a collection of broken toys”, a West Side Story-like jazzy riff, and a motive that to me sounds like the opening portion of the Westminster chimes. Together, these become a seamless tapestry – almost stream of consciousness, but meticulously worked out as rhythms morph in and out of each other in ingenious (and for the performer, extremely challenging) ways.
Mackey has said that he is very interested in the role of memory both in the act of composing and in the act of listening. In Humble River, he both foreshadows and recalls motives in various guises, calling on our memories to fill in the blanks in between. As an even further leap, he then suggests movements of the Mozart flute quartets be played in between each of the work’s four sections. The Mozart, as an island, or as I prefer to see it, a series of flashbacks, both clears the palate and primes the memory for what is to come. Mackey says in his notes “Humble River can also be performed continuously, without comment from Mozart. I imagine one would gain a clearer sense of the overall evolution from repressed to ecstatic, from modest spring to raging rapids and sea of sound. But one would loose the intermediate tensions resulting from the interweaving of the two worlds of experience.”
It has been a challenge to get this work under our fingers, with its fluid rhythms and not a few unconventional extended techniques, but it is a highly rewarding piece to play as its knotty passages are ‘untied’. We hope you enjoy hearing as much as we enjoy playing it for you!
Who: Zachariah Galatis, flute; Ron Blessinger, violin; Charles Noble, viola; Marilyn DeOliveira, cello.
Program: Humble River,(1997) for Flute, Violin, Viola, Cello By Steven Mackey Commissioned by The Rotterdamse Kunstichting for Leonore Pameijer and friends, Boosey & Hawkes 1998
Prelude Mozart A Major K. 298 Movement 1: Thema Andante– Variazioni I-IV Part 1 Mozart G Major Quartet K. 285A Movement 2: Tempo Di Menuetto Part II Mozart D Major Quartet K. 285 Movement 3: Rondeau Part III Mozart C Major Quartet K. Anh. 171(285b) Movement 2: Thema: Andantino– Variazioni I-IV PartIV
Performers: Zachariah Galatis, flute Ron Blessinger, violin Charles Noble, viola Marilyn DeOliviera, cello