Benjamin Jacobson, Violin I of the Calder Quartet, excitedly gestured to a David Muller painting of the San Francisco bridge as he talked about how minimalist pioneer Terry Riley’s music was inspired by the symphony of sounds of the Bay, such as fog horns. Jacobson was in the listening chamber at the Blum And Poe gallery in Culver City, where a limited edition Calder Quartet vinyl of previously unreleased works by Riley was playing as part of the album’s release party. The chamber was dimly lit, and the walls were covered in illustrations and paintings by Muller, inspired by Riley and the quartet’s recording. The experience in the chamber was nostalgic, similar to that of being a teenager in your bedroom, getting completely lost in a record of a band whose posters hung on your wall.
The pieces played that evening were not on the record, which was being released that night in honor of Riley’s 75th birthday. Instead, the Calder Quartet asked Riley if it could perform two of his earlier pieces, “String Quartet (1960)” and “String Trio (1961),” from his time at Berkley. Riley was worried about having works he created before he had fully developed his composition style becoming part of the canon of his career, but then he listened. He listened to what the quartet had done with his compositions and could hear some of the “pulsations” that would become more prominent in his later pieces, so they went forward.
The quartet performed pieces written by Riley in the 1980s as a commentary on Westward expansion. After finishing these later Riley pieces, the quartet played “Honey Flyers,” a piece it had commissioned from young composer Christine Southworth. The whole event this Wednesday fund-raised money for the Calder Performing Arts Organization to continue commissioning living composers to create new pieces and keep contemporary classical music thriving. “Honey Flyers” premiered in 2008 at Le Poisson Rouge in New York when the Calder Quartet had played accompanied by a robotic cello and classically trained pianist Andrew W. K. Yes, that Andrew W. K. This past Sunday, September 11, the Calder Quartet played with the National at the Hollywood Bowl. People always seem shocked and think it’s so edgy that rock stars play with the quartet or the quartet plays with rock stars, but the truth is indie music today is just as influenced by the classical music of the 1960s and 1970s as it is by the rock and folk of those decades. The entire shoegaze genre can be seen almost as an offshoot of minimalists like Riley.
Riley’s own work shows influences of European compositions, Indian music, recorded noises, ragtime and jazz. All of these could be heard in the pieces he chose to play that evening.
All photos by Annie Lesser