"It's a gem," gushed Dale Speicher, describing Toru Takemitsu's "Cross Hatch," one of many pieces in this weekend's concert by Speicher and the rest of the Seattle Percussion Collective (Fri Jan 15, Chapel Performance Space, 8 pm, $5–$15 sliding- scale donation). I love Takemitsu (1930–1996), so I was flummoxed that I had never heard of it. Impatient, I tracked down the out-of-print Complete Takemitsu Edition 2 (Shogakukan/Toho) and listened for myself.
A masterly miniature for vibraphone and marimba (or, alternately, any two keyboard instruments), "Cross Hatch" epitomizes how Takemitsu transmutes the Japanese notion of ma into unusual harmonic spaces, surprising transitions, and pure stillness. While some musicians compose expertly with space, leavening music with pauses or an ambience-absorbing fermata, Takemitsu was also a masterly orchestrator; one of the few true heirs to the lush, complex textures of Debussy and Ravel, he garlands silence with unabashed beauty.
Alas, the examples of "Cross Hatch" on YouTube go too slowly, floating like a woozy nocturne. At the right tempo—the recommended performance duration is one minute—it should unspool quickly, like a music box that winds down only to seemingly get stuck and yank back to the start.
Dubbed "Metal and Breath," the SPC's concert includes other new and seldom-heard works. I'm eager to hear Milton Babbitt's 1957 All Set, which synthesizes bleach-boned serial music with jazz. Don't bother snapping your fingers: Yoking angular lines to a somewhat swinging rhythm section, Babbitt fashioned one of the few examples of the late 1950s "Third Stream" movement to commingle "classical" and "jazz" prophetically.
Most of the program features new music like Christian Wolff's Metal and Breath for "two or (possibly many) more players using primarily metal (percussion) and sound made with breath" composed in 2007. A close compadre of Morton Feldman, John Cage, and Earle Brown in the 1950s, Wolff, as the last survivor of the New York School, continues to confirm the miracle that poetic directions in a score can indeed yield poetic music.
Also on the docket: Sonnet No. 4 and "A Slightly Evil Machine" by James Romig as well as Greg Campbell's "A Light in Amsterdam" for cymbals and two premieres: Jeff Aaron Bryant's The Raccoon King of Plastic and Tin and the duo Mornings by Stuart Saunders Smith.
Requiring metal pots, pans, cans, and garbage bags, The Raccoon King continues the SPC's fascination with daring instrumental combinations and unorthodox preparation. Last August, the group covered the floor of the Chapel Performance Space with cardboard, platforms, and walkways for an uproarious program of Kagel, Cage, and Stuart Saunders Smith. The SPC is loud, quiet, fun, and brave. Don't miss it.