Tuesday July 26
Dan Plonsey: On His Shoulders Stands No One
Steve Adams, Sheldon Brown, Dan Plonsey - saxophones, Lynn Murdock - keyboards, Masha Albrecht - violin, Steve Lew - bass, Jenya Chernoff, Suki O'Kane - percussion
A couple years ago, Dan Plonsey was excavating through old music notebooks for useful melodies he'd never used in a piece. He came across a particularly long one (approximately eight minutes) which, unusually, he had already titled: “On His Shoulders Stands Nothing.” He copied it onto my computer, and sometime later devised a scheme for turning it into the piece which will be performed on this year's Summit. Three saxophones make their way through the melody, divided into 196 overlapping 4-bar loops, roughly, but never exactly together. The saxophones are in canon, playing pretty much the same thing, but always starting some number of eighth-notes apart. Each loop is different. The bass, keyboard, and violin parts are derived from the saxophone parts, highlighting the most prominent notes. Players drop out or improvise as necessary. The form is that of a long, ragged, processional, a form Dan especially loves to imagine. It is said that each of us who achieves some measure of success does so by “standing on the shoulders of giants.” This processional honors a figure upon whose shoulders no one and nothing has ever stood.
Dan Plonsey is the composer of over 150 works for large and small ensembles, his most recent commission coming from Bang on a Can (composition to be premeired May 17, in New York. Plonsey plays in the Great Circle Saxophone Quartet, which has recently toured the East and West coasts of the US in support of its new CD on New World, and he performs his own music and the music of others frequently in the Bay Area in a wide variety of contexts, including, most recently, John Schott's Diglossia ensemble, Ben Goldberg's Brainchild and Eugene Chadbourne's Insect & Western. He is the resident composer and chief librettist for El Cerrito's Disaster Opera Theatre Co. (13 one-hour operas since 1994), the co-founder of two defunct composers' collectives (New Haven's Sheep's Clothing and the Bay Area's Composer's Cafeteria), the journal Freeway (and co-editor), and the weekly Beanbender's creative music concert series in Berkeley (since March, 1995). Inspired by Sun Ra, Charles Ives, and the dadaists, his compositions "arise from the drama of conflict: at least two ideas, one sensible and one absurd, set in motion together or against one another."