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Program for Sarah Cahill – January 6, 2023

Friday, January 6, 2023 at 8 pm

download a copy of this program here.

Sarah Cahill, piano


Frederic Rzewski
Humanitas (2020) (premiere)

Arlene Sierra
Birds and Insects Book 3 (2022) (premiere)
            Canyon Wren
            Lovely Fairywren
            Tawny Owls
            Great Grig

Robert Pollock
#2 and #5 from Enneagram (2018) (premiere)

brief intermission

Carolyn Yarnell
Nocturne (premiere) (1983)

Peter Garland
Walk in Beauty (1989)

About the music

About his Humanitas, Frederic Rzewski wrote:The word humanitas means roughly the same as the Greek word philanthropia, or ‘love of humanity’. The word is found in a letter Cicero wrote to his brother Quintus, who was governor of the province of Asia, which was found by the poet Petrarca in the 14th century while working in a library in Liège, which says: ‘Even though chance has put you in a situation of power over lesser peoples, you owe it to your humanitas to treat them decently’. The word later inspired the cultural and scientific movement known as humanism.

I have known Terry Riley since 1964 (when he came to visit me in Rome), and heard David Tudor play his music in 1960. I heard Cornelius Cardew lead a performance of his In C in London in 1968. He is what you might call a ‘good man’. I was really happy when Sarah Cahill asked me to write a piece for his 85th birthday. I hope it is good enough.

There are two texts which appear in it, one at the beginning and one at the end. The first is a brief quote in Latin from the Roman comic writer Plautus, in a play called Mostellaria. Two slaves, one domestic and the other from the country, open the play, the first beating the second. ‘Why are you beating me?’ asks the latter. ‘Because you are alive’ says the first.

The second at the end quotes the end of Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol:

‘And all men kill the thing they love,
By all let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!”

–Note by Frederic Rzewski

The Enneagram is a geometric nine-pointed figure which maps out the nine fundamental personality types of human nature and their complex interrelationships. This piece grew out of conversations between Robert Pollock and Sarah in 2017 about composers who have used the Enneagram, including Thomas de Hartmann and George Ivanovich Gurdjieff. Robert Pollock writes: “The nine pieces that make up my piece, Enneagram, make passing references to the psychological portraits that many recent students of the Enneagram associate with each of the nine points on the circle. Gurdjieff believed that the Enneagram held ancient, occult truths. It is always in motion, like Music. It is a messenger–a legomonism. Embedded within the Enneagram are remarkable numerological aspects. It harmonizes Unity, the Law of Octaves, the Law of Threes, and the Law of Sevens. One commentator called the process ‘progressive harmonization’. As Leibniz said, Music is the unconscious pleasure we receive from counting. So, the form of the piece reflects the Enneagram process. Each of the pieces contain material from other connected pieces. Recurrent musical themes pertain almost in a juxtaposed manner.”  While the nine pieces in Pollock’s Enneagram are interrelated, tonight Sarah performs only two of the nine, and looks forward to premiering the entire set later in the year.

Birds and Insects is an ongoing project of piano works by Arlene Sierra, the London-based American composer whose music is praised for its “highly flexible and distinctive style” (The Guardian), ranging from “exquisiteness and restrained power” to “combative and utterly compelling” (Gramophone). She explains: “Each piece features distinct characteristics to fit its title: spelling the name in pitches, employing a transcription of an animal’s song from nature, recalling its physical movement in various ways, or developing ideas drawn from an animal’s cultural symbolism.” Sarah premiered two pieces from Book 3 at the Barbican in March 2022, and she is preparing to record all three books of Sierra’s Birds and Insects for the Bridge label later this year.

Carolyn Yarnell, composer, photographer, painter, and sometimes poet, expands the realm of classic beauty through sight and sound. Yarnell finds sources of inspiration in nature, science, and in the emotive spectrum of human experience. A California native, Yarnell was raised in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. She holds degrees from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Yale University. Noted as an orchestral composer, her compositions have been performed from Carnegie Hall to the National Cultural Center of Taiwan. In 2022, she composed songs commissioned by soprano Julia Bullock for her project History’s Persistent Voice, fusing traditional songs of enslaved people with new works by Black female composers, which premiered at Davies Hall. Yarnell wrote her Nocturne in about 1982 while a student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. At the time she was also a pianist and especially captivated by Chopin and Bach.

The conceptual basis of Peter Garland’s Walk in Beauty is found in the all-night peyote ceremonies of the Native American Church and the curing ceremonies of the Navajo. There is also a simple musical correlation: In the fast, nervous repetition of single notes, and their high pitch registration (as in the first section) can be heard the influence of peyote drumming and musical style. And perhaps there is a certain similarity in the emotional function of the music too.

The movements follow a hypothetical sunset to sunrise time cycle, and are dedicated to close friends. Movement One is in three parts: (1) Walk in Beauty (opening song) for Aki Takahashi; (2) Turquoise Trail: In memoriam Louise Varese (sunset song); and (3) A Peyote Fan (night song) for Lou Harrison and William Colvig. Movement Two is subtitled A Pine-Pitch Basket (midnight song), after the baskets covered with pitch used as water vessels in the Southwest, and is dedicated to Susan Ohori. Movement Three is in two sections: (1) Lightning Flash (rumba-not really) for Conlon “El Rey” Nancarrow (night song); and (2) Walk in Beauty (Calling Home My Shadow) for Peter Garland—myself (sunrise song). The piece was written from August 15 to October 31, 1989. As mentioned, the second section of the first movement, Turquoise Trail, is dedicated to the memory of Louise Varese—translator, author and wife of the composer—who died July 1, 1989 at the age of 98, and whom I was privileged to know. In the midst of this part a musical “visitor” arrives and interrupts the texture: the ghost of Erik Satie. This is a dual reference: To Aki Takahashi’s fame as an interpreter of Satie and to a comment I made to Louise Varese on my only visit with her, in New York City in 1975, that I was amazed to be spending an afternoon with a person who had entertained Erik Satie on a similar day in 1921. –Notes by Peter Garland

About the musician

Sarah Cahill, hailed as “a sterling pianist and an intrepid illuminator of the classical avant-garde” by The New York Times, has commissioned and premiered over seventy compositions for solo piano. Composers who have dedicated works to Cahill include John Adams, Terry Riley, Frederic Rzewski, Pauline Oliveros, Julia Wolfe, Roscoe Mitchell, Annea Lockwood, and Ingram Marshall. She was named a 2018 Champion of New Music, awarded by the American Composers Forum (ACF) (in a ceremony at Old First Concerts). This year, Sarah will be performing at the National Gallery, the University of Washington, MIT, Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, Four Seasons Arts, and San Francisco Performances. She will also premiere Viet Cuong’s new piano concerto with the California Symphony. Recording projects include Arlene Sierra’s complete Birds and Insects for the Bridge label, and an album of Lou Harrison’s piano music, including unpublished works, for Other Minds. Sarah’s latest two albums, The Future is Female, Vol. 1 and 2, were released last year on First Hand Records. The third volume will be released in March. Sarah’s radio show, Revolutions Per Minute, can be heard every Sunday evening from 6 to 8 pm on KALW, 91.7 FM in San Francisco. She is on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory and is a regular pre-concert speaker with the San Francisco Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

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