Black Angels, Different Trains, and a whole lotta guitars!
Don't look now, fellow music lover, but for a couple of hours on Friday night, the capitol of the Pioneer Valley, the Paris on the Connecticut, the Paradise City, Noho or just plain Hamp, will be the center of the musical universe! Hyperbole? Maybe. But tell me where else, in the space of two city blocks, there will be a pair of such totally cool concerts as will be given tonight on Main Street, Northampton, Massachusetts, 01060.
So then, who are tonight's concert contenders? In one corner, at the Edwards Church, bearing two violins, a viola, a cello, a grab bag of percussion, wine glasses and other small objects, and a light arsenal of electronics, will be the Amherst College-based Erebos Quartet, performing two modern classics for amplified string quartet. The one, George Crumb's "Black Angels" ("Thirteen Images from the Dark Land") of 1970 is a veritable musical Halloween party. Or as my three-year old nephew opined after being awakened by it one dark December night, "it's a scary song." Over the top, a little dated in its "ooga-booga" effects but unflagging in drama, "Black Angels" is devilish fun. The other, Steve Reich's "Different Trains" of 1988, uses fragments of spoken word and multi-tracked strings to contrast the peaceful life of Reich's bi-coastal childhood with that he would have led as a Jew in 1940s Europe. Musicologist Richard Taruskin has described it as "the only adequate musical response -- one of the few adequate artistic responses in any medium -- to the Holocaust." I would add that like a well-reported news story, "Different Trains" shows but doesn't tell, allowing the listeners to develop their own emotional response rather than projecting its own — a great, unique work.
In the other corner, bearing nearly two-dozen guitars of varying sizes, shapes and degrees of danger, along with a drum kit and mucho amplifiers (don't say I didn't warn you), is the one, the only, Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra! Yet another product of the perfervid imagination of the Hendrix of the archguitar, Peter Blanchette, HVGO will premiere their arrangement of guitarist-composer Frank Wallace's "Nuevas Cantigas," inspired by music of medieval Spain, along with other selections guaranteed to delight the whole family! Especially if the family is comfortable with everything from Bach to Bartók to the Blues to Black Sabbath. Just sayin'.
To paraphrase what the Washington Post 's Anne Midgette said in the blog post I responded to earlier, "so much music, so little time." So, which am I attending? I'm not telling. But I will say that while I'm at one concert, The Wife will be at the other. And vice versa. That's what you have to do when you live in the center of the musical universe. Eat your heart out, Big Apple!
(Photo on top: The Miró Quartet and paraphernalia in a performance of George Crumb's "Black Angels." Photo in middle: Peter Blanchette and the Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra, performing for an incredulous audience at the Northampton Center for the Arts.)