Throughout this season there are many concerts celebrating the centennial of American (and Bay Area) composer Lou Harrison, whose 100th birthday would have been this Sunday. The Other Minds Festival‘s tribute on the 20th at Mission Dolores will include a work that he co-wrote, with colleague and violinist Richard Dee, the Suite for Violin and American Gamelan.
There’s more information, including a list of many of the other anniversary concerts at the Other Minds website.
There are only a few works that Harrison co-composed, (he did so with John Cage for Double Music) – and Richard Dee says their Suite arose from wanting to write a piece in celebration of the language Esperanto. “He was very busy at that time, always busy, it seemed. And getting commissions and trying to do things, his life was always rather frantic. And there was to be a big Esperanto conference in San Francisco. And he said, ‘Let’s write a piece for the conference together.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t know how to do it, if you’ll tell me how…’” The piece they wrote had a form that allowed them to hand off the music like a baton in a relay race, since it calls for a melody that evolves over a repeating pattern in the bass. “I write 12 measures, give it to him, he writes 12 measures. Back and forth until it’s finished. We had to figure out how many measures, how long it would last, and so on. And that was the beginning of the idea of the suite. But that’s all we had composed, the last movement, a Chaconne.” The next year, when Harrison received a commission for a longer chamber work, they returned to both the Chaconne, and that way of composing. For one of the other movements, they traded phrases again, and Dee wrote one of the middle movements, the Air.