Terry Riley “The Sands”
In May 2013, the Cleveland Orchestra performed in Gartner Auditorium of the Cleveland Museum of Art for a weeklong series called “California Masterworks.” This was just the second time in history that the orchestra had performed in the museum, following their 2011 debut, in what was a milestone for both institutions. Works by Henry Cowell, John Adams, Dane Rudhyar, James Tenney, Lou Harrison, and Terry Riley were featured, with the week culminating in an after-hours performance of John Cage ’s HPSCHD.
The Cleveland Museum of Art’s Recorded Archive Editions is a series of select concert recordings of historical significance and artistic excellence. The Cleveland Museum of Art’s concert series is the longest-running series among all museums in North America and is home to a performance legacy unlike any other.
Thomas M. Welsh
Director of Performing Arts
Terry Riley, The Sands
First of all let me say that I don’t believe that going to war ever solves our disputes. Especially, in these times when it is mostly rich aging white men who send tender young lives into the slaughter. We no longer live in the age of heroic leaders who fearlessly led the charge down the slopes of battle. Instead we have the chickenhawks in their protected war rooms pressing the buttons, causing mutilation, mental illness, and death on all sides. With the bombing of Iraq, I had a premonition that we would be at war in the Middle East for years. Unfortunately, that is what has played out and it has gotten worse. The launching of the war over 20 years ago brought on a saddened mental state that I was only able to alleviate with music. Since I spontaneously improvised this music, I feel it is very close to the emotional state and sense of dread I was experiencing at the time. I could not have foreseen how brutally this would be played out in the succeeding administrations, especially of Cheney and Bush the Lesser, acknowledged war criminals who still walk free.
I offer this not as a political diatribe but to share the background and my concerns leading to the creation of first movement of The Sands.
I was quite proud of the fact that it was a commission from the Salzburg Festival, their first ever for a new music work and was written for Kronos Quartet and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie from Frankfort. It had its premiere at the Salzburg Festival in 1991 with Kronos and Dennis Russell Davies conducting. I essentially improvised the first movement into a music software program on the eve of the first Gulf War launched by Bush the Greater and then spent months transcribing and arranging and recomposing sections into a structure with two alternating contrasting thematic areas. There follows three other unrelated movements that are seamlessly connected to comprise a string quartet concerto of 30 minutes. The quartet is the driving force of the first movement, and its energetic opening theme is propelled into existence by the soloists and then taken up by the orchestra.
The first movement is written for strings and timpani and alternates between somewhat anguished, insistent Middle Eastern motives and scales with areas of peaceful C Lydian passages. A kind of metaphor for what the people of a small Middle Eastern country might be feeling when under a savage air attack from the world’s mightiest military. First the explosions, and then the eerie silence.
The work then moves away from the battlefield as it moves on to “Mirage” where the woodwinds enter for the first time. Their sinuous lines set into a dialogue with the quartet, has more the effect of a desert breeze that dispels the energy of the opening. Without a break, “Rubberlady’s Theme Music” opens with a poignant cello solo played over a slow-moving foxtrot with pizzicato strings. It has a bizarrely circuslike atmosphere inspired by my years in France playing piano on the Strategic Air Command bases for circus acts. (OK . . . here is the military connection again.) Each phrase arches more intricately than the one before with drum rolls and scattering woodwinds signaling the top of the phrase and the completion of some incredible acrobatic feat, before it circles back to begin the momentum all over again.
“Rubberlady’s Theme Music” then elides into the final movement, “Ebony Horns.” This movement is an elaboration of a chart which I had composed for my small performance and improvisation ensemble, Khayal, and is propelled by a 6/8 hemiola rhythm from Ghana (kray kray tiri kray ka tay) suggested to me by the wonderful drummer George Marsh. If “The Sands” is a brooding reflection on war and its violence, “Ebony Horns” is an affirmation of irrepressible human spirit, compassion, and love, ignited by a celebration of singing and dancing on this mysterious planet.
Terry Riley The Sands
Recorded May 3, 2013, in Gartner Auditorium at the Cleveland Museum of Art
Part of the “California Masterworks” series
The Sands (1990)
Terry Riley (b. 1935)
- The Sands
- Rubberlady’s Theme Music
- Ebony Horns
The Calder Quartet
Benjamin Jacobson, violin
Andrew Bulbrook, violin
Jonathan Moerschel, viola
Eric Byers, cello
The Cleveland Orchestra
James Feddeck, conductor
California composer Terry Riley (b. 1935) launched what is now known as the Minimalist movement with his revolutionary classic IN C in 1964. This seminal work provided a new concept in musical form based on interlocking repetitive patterns. Its impact changed the course of 20th-century music and its influence has been heard in the works of prominent composers such as Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and John Adams, and in the music of rock groups such as The Who, The Soft Machine, Tangerine Dream, Curved Air, and many others. Riley’s hypnotic, multilayered, polymetric, brightly orchestrated eastern flavored improvisations and compositions set the stage for the prevailing interest in a new tonality.
While working on a master’s degree at UC Berkeley in 1960, he met La Monte Young, whose radical approach to time made a big impact and the two made a lifelong association. During this time Riley and Young worked out many of their seminal ideas while collaborating with groundbreaking dancer Anna Halprin. During a sojourn to Europe in 1962–64 he worked with members of the Fluxus group, playwright Ken Dewey, and trumpeter Chet Baker, and was involved in street theater and happenings.
In 1970, Riley became a disciple of the revered North Indian raga vocalist Pandit Pran Nath and made the first of his numerous trips to India to study with the master. He appeared frequently in concert with the legendary singer as tambura, tabla, and vocal accompanist over the next 26 years until Pandit Pran Nath’s passing in 1996. Along with Sufi Murshid, Shabda Kahn of the Chisti Sabri India, Riley co-directed music study tours from 1993 to 2000. He regularly appears in concerts of Indian classical music and conducts raga-singing seminars.
While teaching at Mills College in Oakland in the 1970s he met David Harrington, founder and leader of the Kronos Quartet, and began the long association that has so far produced 13 string quartets; a concerto for string quartet, The Sands (1990), which was the Salzburg Festival’s first new music commission; and Sun Rings (2003), a two-hour multimedia piece for choir, visuals, and space sounds, commissioned by NASA; and the Cusp of Magic (2004), a quintet for Kronos featuring Wu Man on the pipa.
Riley was listed in the London Sunday Times as one of the “1000 makers of the 20th Century.”
Hailed as “superb” and “imaginative, skillful creators” by the New York Times, the Calder Quartet captivates audiences exploring a broad spectrum of repertoire, always striving to fulfill the composer’s vision in their performances. The group’s distinctive artistry is exemplified by a musical curiosity brought to everything they perform and has led them to be called “one of America’s most satisfying—and most enterprising—quartets.” (Los Angeles Times)
Winners of the prestigious 2014 Avery Fisher Career Grant, they are widely known for the discovery, commissioning, recording, and mentoring of some of today’s best emerging composers. In addition to performances of the complete Beethoven and Bartok quartets, the Calder Quartet’s dedication to commissioning new works has given rise to premieres of dozens of string quartets by established and up-and-coming composers including Peter Eötvös, Andrew Norman, Christopher Rouse, Ted Hearne, and Christopher Cerrone. Inspired by innovative American artist Alexander Calder, the Calder Quartet’s desire to bring immediacy and context to the works they perform creates an artfully crafted musical experience.
In 2011, the Calder Quartet launched a nonprofit dedicated to furthering its efforts in commissioning, presenting, recording, and education, collaborating with the Getty Museum, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, and the Barbican Centre in London. The Calder Quartet formed at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and continued studies at the Colburn Conservatory of Music with Ronald Leonard, and at the Juilliard School, receiving the Artist Diploma in Chamber Music Studies as the Juilliard Graduate Resident String Quartet. The quartet regularly conducts master classes and has taught at the Colburn School, the Oberlin Conservatory the Juilliard School, Cleveland Institute of Music, University of Cincinnati College Conservatory, and USC Thornton School of Music.
The Cleveland Orchestra under the leadership of Music Director Franz Welser-Möst has become Ohio’s most visible ambassador and one of the most sought-after performing ensembles in the world. The orchestra participates in unprecedented performance residencies in the United States and Europe, including residencies in Miami and at the Musikverein concert hall in Vienna, as well as its newest residency at New York’s Lincoln Center Festival. It performs at home in two of the world’s finest concert venues: Severance Music Center and Blossom Music Center. In addition to a series of weekly symphonic programs, the orchestra is broadening its artistic scope by incorporating opera, ballet, jazz, world music, film, and popular music into its annual schedule—and building on decades of education and community programs for students and adults to build increased interest and interaction with music and to positively affect the lives of more people across Northeast Ohio.
James Feddeck is an orchestral conductor whose musicianship is recognized worldwide. He is Principal Conductor of Orchestra i Pomeriggi Musicali in Milan, Italy.
Recent seasons have seen debuts with the Vienna Radio Symphony, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Helsinki Philharmonic, Royal Flemish Philharmonic, Orchestre National de Belgique, Orchestre National de France, Orchestre National de Lyon, the BBC Philharmonic, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Hallé Orchestra, and New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
In North America he has conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; The Cleveland Orchestra; and the Dallas, Seattle, San Francisco, Toronto, and Montréal Symphony Orchestras. Born in New York and a graduate of Oberlin Conservatory, James Feddeck is a winner of the Solti Conducting Award from the Solti Foundation U.S., the Aspen Conducting Prize and was recognized by his alma mater as the first recipient of the Outstanding Young Alumni Award for professional achievement and contributions to society.
Produced by Thomas M. Welsh, Director of Performing Arts, Cleveland Museum of Art
Recorded by Bruce Gigax, Audio Recording Studio, Cleveland
Edited by Gintas Norvilas, Chief Audio Engineer, The Cleveland Orchestra
Special thanks to Carol Lee Iott, Frank J. Oteri, Henry Adams
Concerts and recordings are made possible in part by the Musart Society, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s affiliate group supporting music in the museum since 1946.
Artwork: Untitled (detail), 1969. Claire Falkenstein (American, 1908–1997). Embossed etching, paper: 24.3 x 69.5 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Harold T. Clark Educational Extension Fund, 1969.543. © The Falkenstein Foundation; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY