Rothko at SAMAfter the lecture ended I had about 45 minutes before the performance. The museum cafe was packed, so I headed out for lunch.  I went to a local Japanese restaurant and had a decent lunch of Udon noodles and sushi.  I made it back to SAM about ten minutes before the performance to find a lengthy line at the admission counter.  Clearly I should have bought a ticket before I went for lunch but I didn’t even think that there’d be this sort of crowd. Turned out that most of them were there for the Gates of Paradise exhibit which I was informed had an hour wait.  No problem, as I was going to the contemporary gallery to see Feldman performed amongst twentieth century abstract expressionism.

Due to the line I ended up in the gallery about 1:35, five minutes after the published start time. They were already playing so I imagine they must have started within a few minutes of the published time and so I missed a couple of minutes.  They were setup in the middle of the gallery, amongst a couple of abstract metal sculptures.  There were a dozen or so chairs but most patrons were standing or sitting on the floor.  I found a spot where I could see the performers pretty well and staked out some floorspace. From where I sat I could see the above Rothko (or one very similar) just behind the piano. To my left was an early Pollock that I quite liked, it looked almost like a bluish gray piece of sandpaper, but with incredible details at closer view.  A stunning black and gray piece whose painter I forget was my view to the right.  Not bad surroundings for an afternoon of music.

People of course freely wandered in an out of the gallery, perhaps watching the performers for a perhaps moving right on. A low murmur from the gallery crowd was always present as were more dramatic interjections of random cell phone jingles, kids and scraps of conversation from those just outside the gallery.  Personally this didn’t bother me too much, I have come to accept all sounds and in some cases it was a nice juxtaposition. But I can understand the argument of wanted a more focused environment, especially as Feldman is so rarely performed in Seattle.  The hall below where the lectures were held would have been a great venue for this, with better acoustics and of course less external noises.  The more major downside for me was three and a half hours sitting on a wooden floor.

Morton Feldman Marathon performed by the Seattle Chamber Players
The Third Floor galleries, Seattle Art Museum

Bass Clarinet and Percussion (1981, ~15min)
This was the piece that was in progress when I entered the gallery and secured some floorspace.  Not one I’ve heard before and really a pretty interesting piece, in terms of instrumentation alone. Feldman always had a pretty adversarial relationship to percussion and when he used it, it was often completely against traditional percussion techniques. Always low volume, he used a lot of shimmering sounds and usually pitched percussion. This piece was all cymbals and gongs for the percussion instruments all played softly and in such a way that the fit right in with the repeated low tones of the bass clarinet.

Nature Pieces (1951, ~15min)
A guest performer with the Seattle Chamber Players was Ivan Sokolov on the piano. He had just played a diverse program in the Chapel the week before and here he played almost every piece.  A really nice player, I wouldn’t say he compares to my favorite Feldman interpreters but his playing was impeccable. Nature Pieces, as I mentioned in the lectures post, was receiving its first US performance on the restored score.  This piece jumped around and was quite different in each of its seven parts. Definitely in the vein of his other earlier pieces it lacks much of the features that people associate with Feldman. It even had a section where Ivan was pounding at the piano — easily the loudest section of the program.  This was another Feldman piece I hadn’t heard and it was again interesting and rewarding.

For Franz Kline (1962, ~15min)
This piece is scored for cello, violin, percussion, piano/celeste, French horn and solo soprano. Little sounds just sparkle out into the air in this piece. The percussion is exclusively chimes, which along with the wordless sing of the soprano gives this almost a sacred weight. The French horn adds an interesting texture to this piece, as per the other instruments its sounds are projected into the space, but its tonalities are quite different from the other instruments and add a richness to this piece. The strings are almost continuo like, add accompaniment though of course not ever present as continuo would be.  Another nice piece, again one I hadn’t heard before and I really enjoyed the different sonorities.

Piano piece (to Philip Guston) (1963, ~5 min)
The shortest piece on the program at only about five minutes, it has much more the feel of Feldman’s longer piano pieces. That is it is short phrases allowed to decay before the next one comes in. Unlike the other piano pieces of this era, it doesn’t feel like a graph paper composition, it seems through composed like the later works. Rather melancholy it does make one wonder what aspect of Philip Guston that was for.

De Kooning (1963, 15min)
This piece scored for French horn, percussion, piano, violin didn’t seem too far off from For Franx Kline. The absence of the cello did make the string seem less like an accompaniment and singular dry tones from the violin came into the space. This piece (if I recall correctly) was the one where there was an actual drum played by the percussionist but it was super soft malletting on the drums. Again the horn was of the French variety which both stood out and yet complimented the other instrumentation. Another nice piece that this performance was my initial exposure to it.

Spring of Chosroes (1977, 15″)
A large amount of my favorite Feldman is his piano based works. The late solo piano is probably my favorite of all, but I love the pieces that add another instrument (or more) to the piano. This piece, again one I’d yet to hear, was for violin and piano and I have to say was really nice.  Almost like a sketch for the much longer For John Cage, the combination of Feldman’s attack free violin combined with the ethereal floating piano sounds is one of my favorite combinations. Getting to hear a number of these middle period Feldman pieces that I hadn’t heard before was an added bonus for this concert.

Crippled Symmetry (1983, ~1’15)
I have a recording of the California EAR Unit’s performance of this piece and so I knew that this was the one piece of longish duration that they’d be playing. Scored for flute, piano/celeste and percussion this piece, especially because of this instrumentation really places bright little twinkles of sound into the space.  The percussion is all mallet percussion; vibes, glockenspiel and chimes and the flute alternates between normal and bass flutes. When the pianist is playing celeste the sounds are all in this metallic, upper register and it is almost cold, like music from space. During this performance the music critics Alex Ross and Kyle Gann both stretched out on the floor right in front of me. As I so often play Feldman when I go to bed at night I find that an understandable impulse. Overall I found the experience if listening to a piece for well over an hour to be very rewarding. It really is a suspension of time, the sounds run in these long, slow patterns to long, too slow for one to fully grasp or even really understand except in flashes as one repeated phrase seems to evoke something you think you heard before. The piece ends with with this long repeated note from the percussionist and during this the flute and then piano ended. Finally there is a series of repeated phrases on the glockenspiel that ends the piece. Absolutely stunning and definitely the highlight of the performance.

During this piece the museum crowd seemed to thin out a lot and there was a lot less ambient noise then during the bulk of the proceeding pieces. At the end of this there was a lot of applause and people standing up perhaps in ovation perhaps just in dire need to stand up!

Palais de Mari (1986, 20min)
Ivan, after so much playing already, came back almost immediately for the final piece. But the crowd hadn’t settled down when he started playing and didn’t seem to notice for a while. But eventually they faded away and the sedate tones of this solo piano piece were allowed to fill the now much emptier space.  I am more familiar with this piece then any other on the program  due to my love of John Tilbury’s All Piano set.  While not as stunning a piece as the epic For Bunita Marcus and Triadic Memories, this is still a wonderful piece and Ivan did a very nice performance of it. Given how much he’d already played it was pretty amazing to me that he was able to still have the patience and presence to play this as it should, with each note allowed to die out before the next one comes in. A really nice way to conclude the afternoons performance and a piece I’m happy to have seen live.

The concert ending about 4:45pm and I figured I’d have a chance to check out the paintings in the gallery. They then announced the museum would be closing in fifteen minutes! I was rather bummed about this, but obviously nothing I could. I did a quite survey of the contemporary galleries and determined that I’d definitely need to return and give this some real time. There was paintings by Duchamp, Guston, de Kooining, a couple Rothkos, the aforementioned Pollock, a Rauschenberg, a Calder sculpture and four Cornell boxes along with intriguing unknown to me painters.  I’ll definitely be back.