New Music: "A Sweeter Music" by Sarah Cahill

Under the title "A Sweeter Music" Sarah Cahill commissioned 18 composers, both established and up-and-coming, to write pieces on the themes of peace and war. Sunday's recital at the Hertz Hall on the UC Berkeley campus introduced 10 of them, accompanied by video counterpoint on three screens from Cahill's husband, John Sanborn. The title of the project came to Cahill serendipitously when she encountered this quote while reading the text of Martin Luther King's Nobel Prize acceptance speech: "We must see that peace represents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody that is far superior to the discord of war."

In a blog by SFMike, "My real favorite of the concert was "There Is a Field" by Jerome Kitzke where he had Sarah play the piano, recite poetry (3 Whitmans, 1 Rumi) at the same time, drum on the head of the piano, shout, and sing/scat. She was fabulous and fearless with all of it, shifting as rapidly as the music from mournful to rocking and back again."

Joshua Kosman, of the San Francisco Chronicle, gave Cahill's performance this review,

Sweetness was in fact the reigning spirit - there was plenty of pacifism and gentleness on display, and not much, perhaps, in the way of protest or outrage. But the music, helped along by the impassioned force of Cahill's playing, amounted to a persuasive and varied investigation of the subject.

To this taste, the afternoon's most dramatic offering was Jerome Kitzke's "There Is a Field," a vividly theatrical suite of pieces based on poems by Walt Whitman and Rumi. Cahill declaimed these texts amid various whoops and war cries while performing music that was hyperactive and reflective by turns, and Sanborn's montage of Mathew Brady's Civil War photographs made an eloquent accompaniment.

Frederic Rzewski's "Peace Dances" took a similar tack, bursting with energy at one moment and then subsiding into austere melodic play at the next. Rzewski is a ferocious brand of pacifist, whose political views take on a muscular musical cast.

Lisa Hirsch, a blogger for San Francisco Classical Voice, posted her review agreeing with SFMike and Joshua Kosman, "The two longest and most complex works on the program, Frederic Rzewski’s Peace Dances and Jerome Kitzke’s There Is a Field, were also among the most musically satisfying. Peace Dances, like many of Rzewski’s other works, incorporates a wide swath of vernacular music, including nursery tunes and folk songs from many countries, but the surfaces and structures are so intricate that on first hearing those themes were not easy to discern. Nonetheless, the dense and often contrapuntal music, written in vastly contrasting styles, demanded, and got, the audience’s attention."

Sarah played only half of the commissioned works, to leave more World Premieres for the people in New York, Boston, Houston and Chicago. Here is the complete calendar.


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