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Partch @ REDCAT May 30, 2008

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By Roger Park

On Friday, May 30th a full house at REDCAT was treated to a special live performance of American composer Harry Partch's (1901-1974) complete score of "Plectra and Percussion Dances: Satyr-Play Music for Dance Theatre" directed by John Schneider. Partch was known for his innovative desire to use a different system of tuning, which inspired him to mutate and beautifully craft custom microtonal instruments. The last time "Plectra and Percussion Dances: Satyr-Play Music for Dance" was performed live was at the work's premiere for a radio broadcast in 1953.


Friday’s performance also included Partch's own introduction to the piece, as heard on Pacifica Radio’s KPFA in 1953. The piece comprises of "Castor and Pollux -- A Dance for the Twin Rhythms of Gemini," "Ring Around the Moon -- A Dance Fantasm for Here and Now," and "Even Wild Horses -- A Dance for an Absent Drama.”

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The eleven talented musicians, under Schneider's direction, played these wonderfully bizarre yet evocative custom-built instruments and brought Partch’s complex and compelling piece to life. Whether it was the clanging of the Cloud Chamber Bowls or the thundering booms of the Bass Marimba, to the layered string textures of the Kithara, guitars and viola, the musicians played with tight precision and powerful grace. The final piece “Even Wild Horses,” which was a treatment of the poet Arthur Rimbuad’s “A Season in Hell”, built an incredible poly-rhythmic passage shaded in various grooves of the samba and the conga.

Overall, the performance was so unique, evocative, humorous, complex yet totally accessible, it kept the audience completely engaged to the genius of Harry Partch.

This is part of a BBC documentary about Harry Partch:

Special thanks to Tamar Fortang at REDCAT
Harry Partch Photo (above) by Fred Lyon, courtesy of the Harry Partch Foundation