Legendary Philip Glass joins Wendy Sutter at Big Sur’s Henry Miller Library.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Long before the Basin Complex Fire devoured most of the Ventana Wilderness and came close to destroying the community of Big Sur, the Henry Miller Library was planning to host a benefit concert by composer/pianist Philip Glass and cellist Wendy Sutter. However, the proceeds of the $100 per ticket event may now wind up being used to prepare against floods or mudslides, according to HML director Magnus Toren. “The damage to our watershed leaves us guessing with a deep sense of apprehension about what’s to come this winter,” Toren says.
Billed as an evening of chamber music by Glass and Sutter, the event takes its place Friday night as an annual fundraiser organized by HML devotee and performing arts mover and shaker Jesse Goodman. Formerly with the Allen Ginsberg Trust in New York, Goodman has brought to Big Sur such performing eminences as Laurie Anderson, Henry Rollins and Matmos and Zeena.
Glass last appeared locally in a Performance Carmel concert at Sunset Center in 2001 with Gambian-born griot Foday Musa Suso. During an interview at the time he told me the tough part was learning to play his own music. “I write much more quickly,” he said. “Every music style has a performance technique that is unique to that style. It’s true for Wagner as well as Bartók. Musicians complained that their music was unplayable. If musicians don’t understand it, then they simply have to learn it.”
Note for note, Sutter is the star of this appearance, however. While Glass will play a couple of his etudes to begin the program and join Sutter at the end for the brief duo, The Orchard, she plays the major work, the seven-movement Songs and Poems for Solo Cello, which has just enjoyed huge success in internet downloads.
“It hit second best-selling on iTunes in May,” Sutter says, adding with no small amazement, “and in the Classical category.” Lisa Hirsch, writing for San Francisco Classical Voice, said of Sutter’s performance last year in San Francisco, “Songs and Poems is deeply Romantic in spirit, and at the same time deeply Baroque, unavoidably bringing to mind the Bach suites for solo cello. The familiar ostinatos and repetitions of Glass’ style are here extended to tremendous extremes, and turned to produce something like counterpoint, suggesting multiple voices at work throughout.”
Sutter plays a unique instrument, a Nicolò Amati viola da gamba that was reconstructed as a cello by Amati pupil Antonio Stradivari, a man whose reputation still draws musicians and instrument makers from around the world to the small town of Cremona on the Po River plain of northern Italy. The cello, known as “ex-Vatican” after its long years of service there, sports decorative angels painted on the upper belly (the frontal piece) by the 19th century French luthier Georges Chanot and, as Sutter describes it, “has the viola da gamba baritoney sound but with the Strad brilliance and great focus of tone.” (Sutter owns one-tenth of the instrument, with an option to buy out the other investors in 20 years; she expects to be ready to sell at that time.)
Sutter met Glass in 2004 and they soon became an item. This year they played The Orchard at the Vail International Dance Festival, as danced by Carla Körbes and Tyler Angle. Last November, in La Jolla, Sutter played the North American premiere of Glass’ Cello Concerto of 2001, a work commissioned for cellist Julian Lloyd Webber and premiered in Beijing. Since the La Jolla performance was the first opportunity Glass had to hear the work live, he said at the time, “It’s like meeting one of your children and suddenly they’re 6 years old and you missed everything else.”
A champion of new music, Sutter also played the premiere of Tan Dun’s two cello concertos, The Map and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Concerto. In 1994 she was invited by Mikhail Baryishnikov to premiere a dance/cello duet titled A Suite of Dances set to movements from Bach’s solo cello suites and choreographed by the legendary Jerome Robbins. In 2000, she teamed up with New York’s new music icons, the Bang on a Can All Stars. In learning her craft, Sutter studied with the great Mstislav Rostropovich over a two-year period.
When the founding cellist of the Kronos Quartet, Joan Jeanrenaud, retired, Sutter auditioned for the position but later realized that Kronos’ schedule was “tremendous” at the time when she wanted to become a mother (which she did eight years ago). “I really admire her,” Sutter says of Jeanrenaud. “She’s the queen of modern cellists, with great style and easy demeanor.” Jeanrenaud continues as an independent artist and composer. “I always loved to watch her,” says Sutter, “and her arrangements of acoustic and electronic works.”
As of press time, Toren says tickets are still available. He’s hoping for a sell-out, anticipating that the threat of floods and landslides might well continue through the next three winters.
Evening of Chamber Music featuring Philp Glass and Wendy Sutter happens 8pm Friday, Aug. 22, at Henry Miller Library, Highway 1, a half mile south of Nepenthe, Big Sur. $100 donation. 667-2574.