Arts Listings

Other Minds Performs ‘New Music Seance’

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday December 04, 2008 - 10:05:00 AM

The New Music Seance, Other Minds’ wryly titled, more intimate (and historically minded) counterpoint to its bigger annual festival in the spring, will return this Saturday afternoon and evening to the candlelit wood interior of the 1895 Arts and Crafts-style gem designed by Bernard Maybeck, San Francisco’s Swedenborgian Church, 2107 Lyon St. in Presidio Heights, with three programs (1, 4 and 8 p.m.) for the third year of the Seances. 

The program features a wide range of composers’ music, including a homage to Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901–1953); solo piano works by Berkeley High student and composer Dylan Mattingly and Oakland’s Steed Cowart, as well as a violin and piano duet by Berkeley’s Gabriela Lena Frank. Other works will also be featured, by a range of innovative composers from Alexander Scriabin and Henry Cowell through Meredith Monk and Olivier Messiaen at his centennial, played by pianist Sarah Cahill of Berkeley and violin-piano team Kate Stenberg and Eva-Maria Zimmerman. 

Other Minds founder Charles Amirkhanian talked about how the Seances came to be held at the Swedenborgian Church: “Our annual festival’s always been about living composers and their music; the Seances were meant to be in part a historical concert, to look back at the antecedents of today’s new and unusual music. The atmosphere of the church is just perfect, appropriate for looking back over the past 100 years. 

“Sarah Cahill knew the church through her late friend, Helena Breuer of Berkeley,” Amirkhanian continued, “and when I saw it, I decided to make the nature of the music in concert there more spiritual, meditative. The scale’s important, too—there are just three performers, in a 110-seat venue we sell out, where the audience is right there, up close to the players, the church lit by a fireplace and candlelight.” 

Concert I at 1 p.m., “Birds in Warped Time,” will feature, solo piano works by Luciano Berio, Percy Grainger, Meredith Monk, Per Norgard, Tan Dun, Lois Vierk, violin and piano duets by Grazyna Bacewicz, Messiaen and Somei Satoh, the world premiere of Steed Cowart’s “Blackberry Winter”—and the solo piano piece by 17-year-old Dylan Mattingly of Berkeley.  

“It’s the first time we’ve featured a teenaged composer,” Amirkhanian said. 

“Sarah Cahill’s worked with him on this piece,” said publisher George Mattingly, Dylan’s father. Dylan is a Berkeley High senior and student of the John Adams Composition Program at Crowden School, and plays with the Young People’s Symphony Orchestra, as well as with his own band, Funky Bus & The U-Turns.  

Concert II at 4 p.m., “Deep River Dreams,” focuses on the spiritual set for violin and piano by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.  

“Coleridge-Taylor had an English mother and an African father, who left shortly after his son’s birth to return to Africa. Coleridge-Taylor was a leading violinist and a friend of Elgar,” Amirkhanian said. “And in what I thought was an interesting correspondence, Obama mentioned in his victory speech the then-controversial invitation by Theodore Roosevelt for Booker T. Washington to come to the White House for dinner, the first African-American guest there. That was in 1904, the same year Washington wrote the program notes for ‘Deep River,’ stressing its importance.”  

Other works will include solo piano pieces by Samuel Barber, Morton Feldman, Mamoru Fujieda, Ingram Marshall (world premiere), Messaien—and selections from “Suenos de Chambi” by Gabriela Lena Frank. 

Concert III at 8 p.m., “Ruth Crawford And Her Milieu,” features the “prophetic figure, to people in New Music,” according to Amirkhanian, “the first female who made her own distinctive place in the musical avant-garde. who was unafraid to use dissonance, thinking of it as more reflective of society, more inclusive--all the notes; all the people ... an avant-gardist who wasn’t elitist!” Crawford (1901-1953) was a  

musicologist, specializing in folk music—and the stepmother to Pete Seeger.  

“She was influenced by Scriabin and Henry Cowell,” Amirhanian noted. These composers and others among her “influences, contemporaries and successors,” including Dane Rudyar, Lou Harrison and Johanna Beyer, as well as Crawford’s “Sonata for Violin and Piano” (1924), “Study in Mixed Accents” (1920) and selections from “Nine Preludes” (1927-8), will be performed. 



1,4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6 at Swedenborgian Church, 2107 Lyon St., San Francisco. Sliding scale: $25-65; $40-110; $60-170 (including buffet dinner with artists) complimentary tonics and libations for all ticket holders. (800) 838-3006 or For more information, see